Chicago Eats {July 2016}

by byn on January 18, 2017

in Travel

Chicago at Night

This past July, I confirmed something I’ve suspected was true for a long time: Chicago is the perfect place for a long weekend trip. I’ve wanted to go forever, especially since I was supposed to attend a conference there a few years ago (but ended up not going), and had to hear my entire office tell me how much fun they had without me (MAJOR FOMO). It’s a short 90 minute flight from Toronto, you can walk almost everywhere, and there is SO MUCH good food. In a tragic twist, my foodie friends went back in May, but I already had Adele tickets for July, so we couldn’t go together. But on the bright side, stalking their Instagrams was like a trip preview, and helped me narrow down all the things I wanted to try. We rolled into town on a Friday afternoon, and left on Monday evening. Here’s what I ate in between:

  • Giordano’s: I knew the first thing I wanted to eat in Chicago was DEEP DISH PIZZA! I did a lot of research online on this topic, but every “Best Deep Dish in Chicago” article I read had a different winner. I decided to go with Jenny’s recommendation of Giordano’s, and this was where we headed as soon as we dropped off our bags (the other contenders were Lou Malnati’s and Pequod). We ordered a medium Chicago Classic pizza (eight slices for four people) which has pepperoni, green peppers, onions and mushrooms. The crust was at least three inches thick and the pie was just oozing with cheese. I was surprised how un-greasy the crust was, because I was anticipating something like Pizza Hut pan pizza, but I could not have been more wrong. You know how most pizza has a chewy crust? At Giordano’s, it’s more bready, even flaky, as you get to the end of each slice. My advice is to not order any apps (we did because we were starving) and even then you’ll probably only be able to eat two slices. My other tip, which our waiter told us as soon as we sat down, is that it takes 45 minutes to 1 hour for one of their deep dish pizzas to cook, so like, call from the runway and it’ll be ready when you get there!

Giordano's

  • Molly’s CupcakesElly sent me a huge list of recommendations, and one was Molly’s Cupcakes. I was completely and totally smitten! It was just one of the cutest bakeries I’ve ever been in. There are big wooden swings you can sit on at the coffee bar, long communal tables, and a sprinkle bar, I repeat, a SPRINKLE BAR! You can custom design your own cupcake, picking from cake, filling and icing options, or you can choose from their huge selection. We tried four: Cake Batter, Cookie Monster, Molten Chocolate and Boston Cream. Loved them all.

Molly's Cupcakes

  • BeatrixShauna Sever called Beatrix’s “Oh My! Caramel Pie” her favourite dessert of 2016 on Instagram, so I knew I would need to have that at some point during the weekend. It was so sinfully good: a buttery shortbread crust, filled with a deep, rich, complex caramel custard. I can’t find the recipe online, and it’s a damn shame. I also had a simple but delicious “Straight A” salad [arugula, Asian pear, almonds, avocado, asiago] with lemon dressing and loved the combo so much I recreated it at home a few times in the summer.
  • Umami Burger: My plans for Shake Shack were abruptly changed for Saturday night due to a protest on Michigan Avenue, so instead we headed up to Wicker Park where our dessert destination was (more on that in a minute) and found Umami Burger, which Juliet & Jacoby used to talk about on their old Food News podcast on Grantland. I didn’t know what to expect, not having fully researched before we went, but it was incredible! I had the Throwback Burger, which has white cheddar cheese, miso mustard, umami ketchup, soy pickles and minced onions. Delicious! The fries came with four dipping sauces (I’m a sucker for dipping sauces!): umami ketchup, truffle mayo, and two spicy sauces I can’t remember the name of. My friend Sarah also ordered the maple bacon sweet potato fries (sprinkled with rosemary salt and chives) and they were crazy amazing. When are you coming to Canada, Umami???!
  • Frontera Grill & XOCO: Speaking of stalking people on Instagram, I copied Annie’s idea of having a Rick Bayless brunch at Frontera Grill, followed by churros across the street at XOCO. Brunch was delicious, but I was having severe menu paralysis and kept changing my mind from more traditional brunch dishes, to Mexican street food snacks, to full on enchiladas. I think had we gone later in the day I would have had the latter, but ended up going for the former since we were there at 10:30. To drink, I had a cocktail called Good Day (fresh orange juice, tequila, Cointreau, Aperol & champagne) and then Frontera Hot Cakes, which are corn cakes topped with whipped cinnamon pecan goat cheese, plus red-chile glazed bacon and sunny side up eggs. Sadly the churros from XOCO were not that great, so you can skip those.
  • Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream: My life is complete, because I have FINALLY had Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream!!!!! Last year, Danielle and I were so distraught when we went to Atlanta, as all the Jeni’s stores were shut down due to a bacteria breakout in their factory. Even though there are so many of Jeni’s recipes all over the food-blog-osphere, I just had this thing about actually trying the real deal before trying to make it at home, so I would know how it’s supposed to taste. First of all, shout to all the staff at Jeni’s, who are so sweet and helpful as you’re trying to decide what you want! They are so patient and sampling is highly encouraged. Even though I was studying the menu for weeks in advance, I still couldn’t decide when I got there. I ended up going pretty basic with Salty Caramel and Milkiest Chocolate, but I did not regret it. It’s rich, creamy, dense and deeply flavourful.

Jeni's

  • Doughnut Vault: Chicago is known for amazing doughnuts, so I went on a little doughnut tour while my friends were rock climbing in Millennium Park (you can see where my priorities lie), and my favourite hands-down was Doughnut Vault. I had an Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Doughnut (their signature), dipped in a fresh blueberry glaze and I loved it! The others I tried were decent, but my main criteria is that you have to at least be better than Tim Horton’s, and I’m sorry Firecakes and Glazed & Infused, but you are not.

Doughnut Vault

  • Little Goat Bakery: I ran out of time, so didn’t get to eat at Little Goat Diner (sister to The Girl & The Goat), but I did stop into the Little Goat Bakery and picked up a S’mores Cookie and a White Chocolate Dulce Rosemary Scone to take home. Both were just perfect, so I’ll definitely head back there for a meal next time!
  • Garrett Popcorn: Finally, I had to pick-up some Garrett’s to take home. This is the originator of Chicago Mix popcorn, the combination of cheddar and caramel flavours that sounds so wrong, but tastes so right. My only note here is that the cheddar popcorn had already started to soften by the next day (the caramel stayed crispy though), so if you’re planning on bringing it home, buy it at the last possible minute.

 Other non-foodie related notes:

  • I stayed at the Godfrey Hotel in the River North neighbourhood, which I absolutely adored! The ‘L’ train doesn’t run through that neighbourhood, so it’s a bit quieter, and there are great views of the city. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and many of the restaurants mentioned above were close by, which was great.
  • In terms of “touristy” things to do, over the course of the weekend we walked through Millennium Park  (this is where Cloud Gate/”The Bean”) is, visited Navy Pier, and went on an architectural river boat cruise of the city. I wasn’t sure if I would like this, but ended up loving it! The tour guide was so knowledgeable and it was a nice way to learn more about the city and its history, while still being outside, enjoying a sunny day (as opposed to being stuck inside a museum or whatever).
  • The Target downtown was not great for clothes (only got one skirt), but I did stock up on Pretzel M&Ms! Paper Source was my favourite store of the weekend!
  • Obviously Adele was just absolutely phenomenal, like you can’t believe that voice is coming out of that person. She is so chatty and funny, telling stories between songs, so you’re laughing one minute, then sobbing the next as she belts out Someone Like You. You’re just convinced that you would be best friends by the end of the show. So worth it!

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Salty Honey Pie

by byn on January 11, 2017

in Pies & Tarts

Salty Honey Pie

I’ve seen this recipe for Salty Honey Pie on so many blogs over the past few years, and have always been intrigued by it. It sounded kind of weird, but kind of like Crack Pie, but also maybe like a butter tart with honey instead of corn syrup. When Kristine and I went to Cake & Loaf at the end of November, they had Salty Honey Tarts so I finally got to try it. I was into it, but as you know with a tart, the filling to crust ratio is so small, so I felt like it wasn’t an accurate representation of the magic of a slice of this pie. I knew this would make an excellent dessert for our Golden Globes feast, and got to work.

Salty Honey Slice

After years of being frustrated with pie crusts that flop and never hold a crimp, I’ve also just recently learned the secret: METAL PIE PLATES! Who knew? I’ve had a pair of these in my baking closet for years, but always used the glass ones. I also recently read this post from Hummingbird High, and followed her advice on the crimp: go big or go home. I literally counted up the number of crimps in her pie, and aimed for the same amount. I also froze the unbaked pie crust, rolled, trimmed and crimped in the pie plate, overnight before blind baking, and it held up like a champ! Super proud of this one right here. All these years I thought I was doing something wrong, and it turns out it was the stupid plate.

Metal Pie Plate!

Anyway, once the pie crust is baked and bronzed, you pour in the filling, which is just butter, sugar, a bit of cornmeal, honey, vanilla, eggs and cream and bake for about an hour. I had to fold little pieces of tin foil onto my beautiful crimped crust so it didn’t get too brown. The whole thing cools to room temperature and then you sprinkle a very generous tablespoon of flaky sea salt on top.

This pie slices up like a dream, and is a totally delicious combination of salty and sweet. It goes without saying that if you don’t like the flavor of honey, you won’t be into this pie, but we all loved it.

Salty Honey Pie

Source: Crust from The Messy Baker Cookbook, filling from Annie’s Eats

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

3/4 cup sugar

2 tbsp cornmeal

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup honey

2 tsp white vinegar

seeds from 2 vanilla beans OR 1 tsp vanilla paste OR 2 tsp vanilla extract

3 eggs

1/2 cup whipping cream

+ one recipe your favourite pie dough, blind baked until golden

+ flaky sea salt (i.e. Maldon) for sprinkling

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. For filling, mix together butter, sugar, cornmeal and salt with an electric mixer until pale and slightly thickened. Add the honey, vinegar and vanilla (whichever form) and mix again until combined. Blend in the eggs one at a time, and finally the cream.
  3. Pour the filling into the baked pie crust and bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown on top, and the filling jiggles only slightly. Halfway through, check your crust, and if it’s too brown, cover the edges with strips of tin foil.
  4. Cool completely on a wire rack, then sprinkle sea salt on top.

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ultimate-birthday-cake

We’re kicking off another year of Baked Sunday Mornings by celebrating the anniversary of the first Baked NYC, which opened on January 1st! Here’s the boys’ Ultimate Birthday Cake, which is a Very Vanilla Cake, topped with a Very Vanilla frosting, and a whole lot of sprinkles.

I halved the recipe to make one cute little 6″ cake, and all went smoothly. The cake was super fluffy and hydrated, and my cooked buttercream even turned out perfectly. My only problem was the inside of my cake didn’t look as cute as in the book, because as soon as I started to fold the sprinkles into the batter, they pretty much immediately started to leave their colours behind. I should have used the little flat round sprinkles (quins?) because they don’t bleed, but lesson learned for next time.

sprinkle-close-up

My final note is my own issue, which is that although sprinkles are of course so cute and fun for decor, I actually hate the CRUNCH they make when you eat them; an unwelcome texture and distraction in my opinion, straight from my cold, dead heart (I don’t like puppies either).

Happy 2017 everyone! It can’t possibly be worse than last year.

You can find the recipe here!

More Baked Sunday Mornings here!

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December on Planet Byn {2016}

by byn on December 31, 2016

in Monthly Recaps

2016-top-9

December was busy as usual this year: baking cookies, going to work parties, and bringing cardboard boxes to the recycling room because I did 95% of my Christmas shopping online. Here’s the foodie fun I fit in around all that:

  • December was made so much more joyful for me because of a SQUISH Advent Calendar I picked up at the end of November. Yes, it was $29, but the happiness of opening a little window and pulling out a bag of gummies each day of the month was priceless. It also let me sample 31 different SQUISH treats, and my favourite, hands-down is the sour strawberry BRAINS!
  • I co-hosted a baby shower for Aoife & Brad with Lydia and Aoife’s sisters Niamh & Clodagh. I made two recipes from Oh She Glows Everyday, the Peanut Better Balls, and the Strawberry Crumble Squares (both were delish, but the squares started to get really soft at room temperature, like too soft to pick up). I also ordered two dozen mini cupcakes from the vegan, gluten-free bakery in Burlington THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED, as they put the cupcakes in pink liners, when I had specifically ordered them with blue icing for a baby boy shower {insert eye roll emoji}.
  • I was finally able to go to Triple B at Lisa Marie (it’s on Tuesdays and I usually have yoga), which stands for Beer, Burger & BINGO. I loved it, not even just because the MC played 5 minute sets of Ja Rule between BINGO games. There are $5 pints, a list of about 6 or 7 burgers to choose from, plus 6 games of BINGO, and the most hilarious prizes. I will definitely be back, just need to find some glittery BINGO dabbers and I’ll be all set!
  • Inspired by Jenny’s Hot Chocolate Bar at her Cookie Exchange party, I set up a modified version in my cubicle on the last day of work before Christmas holidays. I just brought in two boxes of hot chocolate mix (the kind in little single serve packets), plastic spoons, marshmallows, candy canes, sprinkles and a can of whipped cream. I told my co-workers to fill up their own mug with hot water from the kitchen (I had styrofoam cups as a back-up), then they came to my cube and went crazy. One of my work friends even brought in some Bailey’s (sadly not homemade!), and that was a huge hit too. This was so easy, festive and fun; it’s going to be a new tradition.
  • For Christmas Dinner this year, I was in charge of mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole, so I made the same ones I did at Thanksgiving. For dessert, I thought the kids (and grown-ups, I mean come on) would love a DIY Brownie Bar (obviously still inspired from the Hot Chocolate Bar!). I made a pan of my favourite brownies from the first Baked book, warmed them up in the oven, and set out two types of ice cream, red + green Smarties, crushed candy canes, marshmallows, sprinkles, and finally two types of homemade hot fudge sauce (regular and peppermint).

Other non-foodie things I was obsessed with this month – Best of 2016 edition:

  • Favourite Book of 2016 was Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. I actually just read it again it to finish the year because I loved it so much.
  • Favourite TV of 2016: Stranger Things, How to Get Away with Murder, Pitch, This is Us, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, New Girl and all forms of The Bachelor.
  • Favourite Movies: hands-down Captain America: Civil War. I also liked Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, The Nice Guys, Ghostbusters, and The Girl on The Train.

Flashback!

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Darth Vader Cupcakes

by byn on December 30, 2016

in Cakes, Cupcakes & Icing, Cookies

darth-vader-cupcakes

My niece Rebecca keeps surprising me with her Birthday Cake selections. Last year she asked for a Shimmer & Shine cake, and this year, even though she still loves all things princess, she asked for Darth Vader Cupcakes. I asked my brother how she even knows who he is, and apparently they watched a couple of the movies, and she took a liking to good ol’ DV. Did I mention it’s her 4th Birthday?

For a minute I thought I’d be dealing with a ton of black frosting, but then he sent me a link to these cupcakes. Obviously ain’t nobody got time to make two dozen Darth Vaders out of fondant, so he ordered a silicone DV mold so I could make little chocolates to put on top. That thing still hadn’t arrived as of Christmas, so instead I busted out my Star Wars cookie cutters from Johnny Mac’s 5th Birthday, and made a batch of Darths from these brownie roll-out cookies. (Had enough left over for this too).

For the cupcakes I used this cake recipe from Sweetapolita, which made 21 cupcakes. I used a full batch of My Favourite Buttercream tinted purple (Rebecca’s favourite colour), and large star tip to pipe the icing on top. I gently pressed a Darth Vader cookie on top, then added a few sprinkles to the edges. The sprinkles are from Sweetapolita’s Sprinkle Shop (the Splendor Twinkle Sprinkle Medley) because I’m a huge hypocrite, but in my defense, she had free shipping for all of December so I thought I’d try them out. I also ordered her classic Rainbow Jimmies, and I can confirm that they are exact same sprinkles you can get at Bulk Barn, except her mix includes turquoise sprinkles. Can I get my $12 back?

happy-birthday-rebecca

Rebecca’s previous birthday cakes:

3rd (Shimmer & Shine Cake)

2nd (Thomas the Tank Cake)

 

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~ Champagne & Cookies 2016 ~

by byn on December 28, 2016

in Cookies

This year was the most dramatic Champagne & Cookies in Planet Byn history (read that in your best Chris Harrison voice). Not only did Weedy show up to steal the show with her Homemade Bailey’s, but I made all new recipes for 8/10 cookie selections. Unprecedented! Certain people were making noise about the missing Pretzel M&M Cookies, and campaigning for a People’s Choice Cookie for 2017 to get it back. Listen up people: your grievances have been noted. They’ll be back next year, because I admit, I missed them too.

I was excited to mix things up this year, and was inspired by two bakeries I visited for the first time this year: Bake Shoppe and Cake & Loaf. Here’s how it went:

1. Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies + 2. Christmas Confetti Cookies + 3. Brown Sugar Bourbon Cookies

molasses-confetti-bourbon-cookies

Last year I had a lot of trouble with the ginger cookies I usually make, so I decided to try a new recipe this year. These Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies were everything I envisioned: thin but chewy and a nice crackle on top. I made the full batch and had a ton. So good with chai tea!

I normally have some type of sugar cookie in the mix, so I took inspiration from Bake Shoppe’s Confetti Cookie and used red, green and white sprinkles to make them more festive! I loved the way these cookies turned out. Again, thin but chewy, and just so pretty.

Now in the spot traditionally reserved for the Maple Pecan Square (which I still love, and in fact Bake Shoppe serves one there), I went with the Derby Cookies (a.k.a. Brown Sugar Bourbon Cookies) I made for Baked Sunday Mornings back in April. These cookies were the stealth winner of the night! They don’t look like much, but they’re nutty from the pecans, boozy from the bourbon, and crunchy because of the raw sugar on the outside, and they’re totally amazing.

4. Chocolate Crinkles + 5. Carmelitas

crinkles-carmelitas

Kristine and I went to Cake & Loaf at the end of November, and I still had a few open spots on my C&C list. She commented on the Chocolate Crinkles there, and I had a moment like, have I been totally overlooking Crinkles this whole time? They immediately went on the baking roster.  I used the Baked Boys’ recipe from Baked Occasions, and they were so incredible. They didn’t spread as much as I hoped, so I would flatten them a bit next time, but the flavour was so on point (i.e. rich and chocolatey). Note to self: make a double batch next year!

Carmelitas are one of the squares Danielle and I had at Bake Shoppe, and are basically a brown sugar oat base/crumble with a chocolate and caramel filling. I used the recipe for Dunbars from the Butter Baked Goods book, and while they were good, I feel like they were a tad underwhelming. I don’t think I would make them again.

6. Unicorn Bars

unicorn-bars

Kristine and I ate these Unicorn Bars from Cake & Loaf while we watched the Gilmore Girls revival and we were so excited for them! They were so cute and tasted so good, I just had to recreate them. I went with a funfetti white chocolate blondie base and a vanilla buttercream icing. I think I nailed the appearance, and I loved the way they looked, but I had two main problems: a) they were WAY too sweet (so much sweeter than the ones from Cake & Loaf), plus I kind of forgot I hated white chocolate and b) not Christmas-y enough! There were a ton of these leftover, so I think the crowd felt the same way. While I’m okay with serving things that are ugly but taste delicious, I’m not okay with the other way around (i.e. cute but gross).

7. Chocolate Caramel Crack(ers)

chocolate-caramel-crackers

Speaking of things that are ugly but delicious, this Chocolate Caramel Crack isn’t winning any beauty contests, but it is SO. GOOD. I kind of can’t believe I haven’t busted this out in the previous six Champagne & Cookies parties! My sister-in-law Debbie brought these to Christmas dinner approximately a decade ago, and I’ve been obsessed ever since. These get filed in the Hello Dolly category of things I love but don’t make, because I’ll eat them all. Anyway, my friend Jen texted me a couple days after the party saying she couldn’t stop thinking about it, to which I replied “that’s why it’s called CRACK!”.

8. Ruffles Squares

ruffles-squares

This is something that both Bake Shoppe and Cake & Loaf sell, and you have to taste it to believe it. It’s basically a Rice Krispie Square, but instead of Rice Krispies, you use crushed Ruffles chips. Did I just blow your mind? YES! They are salty, sweet, and a little bit strange and it’s so much fun to watch people’s faces as they eat them. Bonus points because they could not have been easier to mix up on the morning of the party.

9. Snickerdoodles

snickerdoodles

So I couldn’t go 100% scorch the earth with recipes, because I wanted to re-make a couple of my favourite vegan and gluten-free treats. I made these Snickerdoodles for the first time last year, and knew there would be a return appearance. They’re soft, nutty, cinnamon-y and so good, and I love the coconut oil in them. I made a double batch this year and they were all gone.

10. Almond Butter Cookie Dough Bites

almond-butter-cookie-dough-bites

I made these at Champagne & Cookies 2013, and brought them back this year with a small twist of using almond butter instead of peanut butter. Honestly, these are so good, and if you don’t dip them in chocolate, they’re a pretty healthy Larabar type energy snack. I wish I hid more for myself!

I would give myself an A- this year, only because the Unicorn Bars annoyed me (I also attempted a Swiss Meringue Buttercream for them which failed spectacularly) and the lackluster Carmelitas. Everything else I totally loved, and thought I had a good mix of traditional Christmas cookies and some different things that I was excited for everyone to try (Ruffles Squares, Caramel Crack). I was waffling in the final days of making my list, and almost added a chocolate/mint selection, but I re-read my post from last year and stayed firm. I don’t think anyone really noticed something minty was missing, and I was ultimately okay with this.

And now, good riddance 2016! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!

Flashback to previous C&C parties:

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weedys-homemade-baileys

My friend Weedy showed up to Champagne & Cookies this year (more on that next week) with Homemade Bailey’s, two dozen shot glasses, and the confidence that she was about to blow everyone’s minds. I swear her version is even better than the real deal. She totally stole the show and I asked her to write this post and reveal her secrets to us all! Will I remember Christmas this year? Depends on how much of this I make! Take it away Weedy:

If you are looking to make your mark at any holiday party, this awesome Homemade Bailey’s is the best way to do it. Every time I bring this to a holiday shindig people lose their minds. They can’t believe that I have the time or skills to make this liquid ambrosia.

I usually make up an elaborate back story about the trials and tribulations of my feat, typically involving the use of home laboratory equipment combined with my bathtub, and an extended barrel aging process. This couldn’t be further from the truth. This is the simplest thing to make. Ever. Period. The hardest part is coming up with up with your arduous back story.

My father started making this recipe back in the ’80s when Bailey’s became a thang. Remember those cheesy commercials? I think he cut out the recipe from an old magazine ad for Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk. The paper was all yellowed and gooey when I picked up the tradition while at university.

Our family now runs a Bailey’s Show Down every Christmas and I am the reigning Champion having won the past two years. I’m feeling the pressure this year, and have been experimenting with variations on the theme. So far, nothing beats the original. So go forth, my friends, and spread holiday cheer with this secret not-so-secret family recipe.

Enjoy!

Weedy’s Homemade Bailey’s Irish Cream

Ingredients

  • 1 cup heavy cream (35% whipping cream)
  • 1 cup Jameson Irish whiskey (bourbon or rye will do if you are in a pinch)
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp chocolate syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp instant coffee

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender for 30 seconds.
  2. Decant into an airtight container and refrigerate. It should keep in  your fridge for a month if you have a reserve of willpower. Mason jars will make it look fancy.
  3. Serve cold over ice, or put a splash in your coffee to kick start your morning (or dull the noise of your family gathering).
  4. Make up elaborate back story about how you made your Bailey’s.

Variations

Make a simply syrup with your favourite ingredient (for example: almond, mint, caramel, chipotle, or Sriracha). Substitute some of the sweetened condensed milk for the syrup. You’ll need to take your time and taste as you go to get the perfect balance of flavour.

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chocolate-pretzel-inside

I didn’t think I needed to start off this post with a description of what a Cookie Exchange is, but evidently I do, since I had to explain it to about six of my co-workers this week. So before we get into the details, a brief lesson: a Cookie Exchange is a gathering/party where each person in attendance brings a large quantity of the same type of cookie, and then everyone trades/swaps so you get to take home some of whatever everyone else has brought. The idea is that you then have a huge volume of different varieties of treats to serve when guests drop by throughout the holidays*.

chocolate-pretzel-crumb-squares

I can’t believe I had never been to a Cookie Exchange before this weekend**. The Brunette Baker hosted one at her house, and it was epic. Jenny’s rules were that you had to make 4 dozen cookies (or squares) and you could make whatever you wanted (i.e. it didn’t necessarily have to be a traditional Christmas Cookie, because then you end up with a table full of shortbread and gingersnaps, which = snooze). Because she had mentioned to me that she was making some savoury snack recipes from some of the cookbooks whose authors would be coming to the party, I had the bright idea to make a square from her blog, and these Chocolate Pretzel Crumb Bars were a no brainer. They have a salty/sweet crust and crumble made with pretzels and coconut and a rich filling made from dark chocolate and dulce de leche. I actually think closer to 3 dozen made it to the party because I legit could not stop eating them (for quality control purposes of course).

Here’s a shot of the table with all the treats on it:

cookie-spread

Jenny also had savoury snacks all over her house (warm brie, meatballs with fresh ricotta, cheese, charcuterie, etc. etc.), plus this amazing HOT CHOCOLATE BAR:

hot-chocolate-bar

After snacking and catching up with everyone, we basically all queued up with our empty tupperware, then went around the table, taking two of everything, doing laps until everything was gone. I ate so many of the cookies myself, and the rest came to work with me, where I cemented my reputation as everyone’s favourite co-worker. Check out the Instagram hashtag #bbcookieexhange to see more pictures from the party!

*Does anyone ever drop by anymore? I think the art of the ‘drop by visit’ died with our generation and beyond. Millennials have clearly never showed up anywhere unannounced in their entire lives.

**I did participate in The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap for two years (2013 & 2014), but that doesn’t really count.

Chocolate Pretzel Crumb Bars

Source: The Brunette Baker

Ingredients

Crust & Crumble

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

2 cups finely chopped pretzels (I put mine in the food processor and pulsed until they were crumbs)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup coconut

1/2 cup flour

1/4 tsp baking soda

Filling

1 can dulce de leche sweetened condensed milk

1 1/4 cup chocolate chips (dark or bittersweet)

1 tsp vanilla

+ 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a 9×13 pan with parchment paper or tin foil.
  2. Place the butter in a large microwave safe bowl, then microwave for 1 minute until melted. Stir in the pretzel crumbs, brown sugar, coconut, flour and baking soda, and mix until evenly combined.
  3. Add about half the mixture to the pan, and press into an even layer, using a bit more if needed to fill in any gaps. Set aside the remaining mixture.
  4. In a medium microwave save bowl, add the condensed milk and chocolate chips, and microwave for 1 minute. Give it a stir until it’s smooth, and heat for another minute or so if there are still unmelted chocolate chips. Stir in vanilla. Pour over pretzel crust and spread into an even layer.
  5. Crumble the remaining pretzel mixture overtop and sprinkle with chocolate chips.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, and cool completely before slicing into squares.

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November on Planet Byn {2016}

by byn on November 30, 2016

in Monthly Recaps

beechwood-doughnuts

November is usually a quiet month around here, where I can re-charge and get set for the holidays, and this year was no different, except I was also sick for most of the month, which sucked. Here’s what else was going on:

  • My Mom took me for a belated birthday brunch to The Crepe Kitchen in Oakville. It was so cute! Little mis-matched tables and chairs, and a huge list of savoury or sweet crepes to choose from. I had the Good Morning crepe with bacon, cheddar and egg, and Mom had Mediterranean with goat cheese, spinach, tomatoes and onions. We loved them both.
  • I went on a little Stateside road trip to Target and Trader Joe’s for treats and Christmas stuff, and on the way there, we stopped at Beechwood Doughnuts in St. Catherine’s where I had the best doughnut of 2016 (even better than Donut Monster that I mentioned last month!). I can even deal with how good this place was, and I need to go back soon! I had their French Toast doughnut, and it was the best kind of yeast doughnut: soft, squishy and so fresh. St. Catherine’s already held a special place in my heart because I visited Kristine and Alexis there so often when they were at Brock, and now they have the best doughnuts ever!
  • Kristine and I made another trip to Cake & Loaf, our favourite new bakery, to check out their holiday menu and so I could get some inspiration for Champagne & Cookies VII! We had Salty Honey Tarts and Unicorn Bars as we watched the final episode of the Gilmore Girls Revival on Netflix (more on that below!).
  • Nicole and I had our annual Christmas baking day this past Sunday, and a special new helper, baby Francis, was on the scene this year! We made Buckeyes, which is our tradition, plus Maple Pecan Squares and Ginger Molasses Cookies. This is always the day that puts me in the holiday spirit!

Other non-foodie things I was obsessed with this month:

  • GILMORE GIRLS! This was the focus and joy of my month. GG was my favourite show back when it was on in the early 2000s, and I remember I would call Kristine at university (St. Catherine’s again!) after each episode when she was still there so we could discuss everything, and we would binge watch the DVD sets when they were released. I knew I wouldn’t have time to re-watch the entire series, so starting at the beginning of the month, I just watched my favourite episodes of each season. Best ones: Sookie’s Wedding, Dear Emily & Richard (when we flash back to teenage Lorelai), Rory’s graduation from Chilton, the trial run of the Dragonfly Inn when Luke kisses Lorelai, the 100th episode with Emily & Richard’s vow renewal, plus any episode with Christopher, an epic fight between Lorelai and Emily, or a freakout by Paris. I totally loved the revival, with the exception of a few small things, and thought it ended perfectly. Don’t want to write too much here in case of spoilers, but as Lorelai says: Full. Freakin’. Circle.

Flashback!

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cinnamon-chocolate-cookies

This week for Baked Sunday Morning, we’re baking Chocolate Cinnamon Sugar Cookies. They’re actually supposed to be Chocolate Cinnamon Chipotle Sugar Cookies, but I wasn’t too keen on that. I have enough problems with mixing chocolate and cinnamon together, so I just left the chipotle powder out.

The dough for these cookies was easy to mix up, and rolled out like a dream. I found I could re-roll the scraps twice, and the dough was still pretty smooth.

Instead of dressing up my cookies for the Day of the Dead (as done in Baked Occasions), I went with a Halloween theme of pumpkins and spiderwebs. See, while I enjoy decorating cookies with royal icing (and I still follow Annie’s recipe and tutorial here), I’ve learned a few things about myself and this process over the years. First, it’s only fun (and even relaxing) if I have lots of time. Whenever I try to rush the process, things never go as well. Second, I know myself well enough to know that I get bored doing large quantities of these. So small batches of cookies are the way to go. Third, I only ever do one or two designs at any time, and try to limit the number of colours involved. More than that and it looks like a bomb went off in my kitchen – a bomb made up of squeeze bottles, icing bags, food colouring, bowls and toothpicks.

I brought these into work on Halloween and they were a hit!

You can find the recipe here!

More Baked Sunday Mornings here!

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