Pumpkin Spice Cookies

HAPPY BIRTHDAY POPPA!

Photo by Ian and Jacky Parker
Badass in a tuxedo at my wedding, holding ice cream.  (Photo by Jackie.)

Today my dad turns SIXTY-FIVE. He’s very well preserved. And still my go-to guy for all information regarding everything. Ever. How to replace a toilet. The exact reasons behind the Red River Rebellion. How to put a motion through City Council.  Which tools are the best for the job at hand. How to use a sextant. The correct procedure for loading and firing a torpedo. Yup, he knows all that stuff.  And more.

Office Reno
Like how to install crown moulding, for instance.

In fact, it’s usually a shock to my brain when I find out that he doesn’t know the answer to something. It’s just too weird.  He’s like prehistoric Google or something.

Dad and Me
Enjoying box seats at the Sens game a few years ago. I actually know more about hockey than he does.  Shocker.  (Photo by Doodle.)

I’m not where he is and he’s not where I am and I have to bake some stuff for the Sweet Treats group at work, so I’m baking today with Dad in mind. He loves cookies pretty much more than anything, and I hope you do, too.  Enjoy!

Pumpkin Things 2012 43

I have so much pumpkin puree.  SO VERY MUCH.  I hacked up our carved jobbies from our pumpkin-off, because we only had them out for the day and they were totally salvageable.

Pumpkin Things 2012 1

And then I boiled the crap out of them and mashed and blended what came out of it.  I know that I should have roasted them instead but the way that my pumpkin bits worked, that just wasn’t possible.  So boiling it was.

Pumpkin Things 2012 3

I ended up with a full 14 cups of puréed pumpkin.  So be warned: there will be several pumpkin-related recipes in the days that follow.

Pumpkin Things 2012 4

With the first bit of it, I’m going to make these pumpkin oatmeal spice cookies (recipe from Love From the Oven) for the good folks at work.  So to start, preheat your oven to 350°F and line a couple baking sheets with parchment paper.

In one bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cups puréed pumpkin (if you’re using canned pumpkin, make sure it’s pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling, which has its own sugar and spices already added), 2 eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla until well-blended.

Pumpkin Things 2012 22

In another bowl, mix together 3 cups rolled oats, 1 1/2 cups flour (you could use gluten-free flour here, as you don’t have to worry about rising), 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and about 4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice.

Pumpkin Things 2012 21

I like to use the cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg/allspice/clove combination I found at My Baking Addiction. If you’re feeling adventurous, try grinding and grating your own spices for it.

Pumpkin Things 2012 6

Cinnamon is harder to grate than nutmeg.

Pumpkin Things 2012 8

Some day I will have a dedicated spice grinder, but until then I just carefully wipe out my coffee grinder and chuck in my allspice and cloves.

Pumpkin Things 2012 10

Then you just chuck it in a jar for the next time you need it — which, with the way we’re going, is going to be soon.

Pumpkin Things 2012 13

Mix the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients.  Your dough is going to be very stiff, so make sure you get everything mixed in well.

Pumpkin Things 2012 24

You can add in more spices, as well as raisins, chocolate chips, or nuts.  I decided to add some chocolate chips and pecans for a bit of extra sweetness and crunch.

Pumpkin Things 2012 25

Use a spoon to drop the dough onto the baking sheets, and press them down a bit with your fingers (they won’t spread).  Bake them for about 12-15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until they start to brown.

Pumpkin Things 2012 27

Store in a sealed container for a few days or freeze for comfort food cravings some time in the winter!

Pumpkin Things 2012 40

The Uber Cookie

Uber Cookie 9

When I experiment with recipes, I usually steer away from tampering with the essentials in baking: the exact proportions of flour and baking soda and all of that jazz.  The thing is, when you are working with gluten-free options, all those proportions go out the window anyway.  All you have to think about is general cohesion and texture.

So I invented a cookie recipe from scratch.  I know, it’s not that impressive, but I’m pretty pleased with myself.  Q picked me up from the airport last week and I promised I would bribe him with baked goods, so here they are.  I took input from my husband on what he believes the three main important ingredients in cookies are meant to be: he picked peanut butter, raisins, and oatmeal.

Uber Cookie 1

I can work with that.

Preheat your oven to 375°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

The best part about this is it turns out that I have some osmotically-absorbed or genetic knowledge about how to bake cookies from scratch, so there was no real trial and error here.  I just kept adding stuff in and it all seemed to work out.  I don’t want to get cocky, though; the next time I do this it’s likely I’ll end up blowing something up.  I think the real trick with stuff like this, when you’re not sure what’s going to happen, is to do it by hand, and avoid the labour-saving devices in  your kitchen.  That way you can see how the ingredients interact with each other while they’re being mixed, rather than shoving it all in the mixmaster, turning it to high, and hoping for the best.

Uber Cookie 7

So with that in mind, I started with a bowl and a spoon.  Because I was going to use peanut butter in this recipe I halved the amount of butter I would normally use.  So in a bowl, cream together 1 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup softened butter.

Uber Cookie 2

Then add in 1 cup softened peanut butter.  If you use Jiffy or whatever then it’s probably soft enough as it is, but I used that stuff that you have to stir the oil into and then keep in the fridge, so it needed some time to come to room temperature.  Mix that in well.

Uber Cookie 3

Add to that 2 eggs, one at a time, mixing until each is well combined.  At this point you could add 1 teaspoon vanilla, but I forgot.  Still they turned out great.

Uber Cookie 4

Now for your dry ingredients.  Plop in 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1 1/2 cups buckwheat flour (don’t let that name fool you, buckwheat is gluten-free and not related to wheat at all).  Mix that all together well.  Another bonus of doing this with a spoon instead of a mixer is you can make sure the sides are well-scraped down and that there are no ingredients hiding unmixed at the bottom.

Uber Cookie 5

To your cookie dough add 1 cup gluten-free rolled oats and 1 cup raisins.  You could probably add in some chocolate chips as well if the mood strikes you.  Mix until that’s well-combined.

Uber Cookie 6

Form your dough into balls measuring a bit more than a tablespoon and flatten them with your fingers onto the parchment-lined baking sheets.

Uber Cookie 8

Bake for 12 minutes, rotating your pans halfway through, until cookies are set (they will likely not brown much for you).  Leave them to firm up in the pan for about five minutes before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely.  Seal in an airtight container for up to a week.  I bet they would also freeze well.

Uber Cookie 10

Gluten-Free Chocolate and Raisin Brownies

Gluten-Free Raisin Brownies

Fussellette and I have been attempting to re-create the ooey-gooey goodness of Gluten-Free Pantry’s Chocolate Truffle Brownie Mix.  This recipe, from one of my favourite bloggers Nick at Frugal Feeding, may very well replace that mix in my heart.

The ingredients are simple: chocolate, butter, sugar, eggs, cocoa, almonds, and raisins.  And we all know the best things in life are often the simplest.

Gluten-Free Raisin Brownies

Preheat your oven to 350°F and spray and line a glass baking dish.  The larger your dish, the thinner your brownies will be, so keep that in mind.

Gluten-Free Raisin Brownies

In a large metal bowl suspended over simmering water, melt together 200g dark chocolate and 75g butter until smooth.  Remove it from the heat and put it on a heatproof surface.

Gluten-Free Raisin Brownies

Chuck in 130g sugar and stir that up.  Then add in, one at a time, 2 eggs.

Gluten-Free Raisin Brownies

Stir in, as well, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder and 2 tablespoons ground almonds.  I think next time I might experiment using almond flour instead, but today I didn’t have any. With just ground almonds I did have some trouble with cohesion when it was done.

Gluten-Free Raisin Brownies

When that’s all combined, add in a couple handfuls raisins according to your preference.

Gluten-Free Raisin Brownies

Slide that good stuff into your dish and bake for anywhere between 15 and 25 minutes, depending on your brownie depth, until the centre is JUST set.  If you bake any longer, then you’ll have cake, not a brownie, and that just isn’t the point.

Gluten-Free Raisin Brownies

As hard as it will be, make sure you let the brownies cool completely before slicing and serving.  in fact, it often helps, when making especially tender brownies, to freeze them for an hour before cutting them.  You can always heat them up again later, but if you move in too soon you’re likely to end up with a brownie mess.

Gluten-Free Raisin Brownies


Spy Tarts

Secret AGENT Tarts, Secret AGENT Tarts, he’s givin’ you a number, and takin’ AWAY your name …

Baking is much more exciting if your recipes come from a spy, like this one did.

I have a friend who works for CSIS, which is the Canadian equivalent of the CIA (likewise, our RCMP is the FBI).  And like all good spies, he is multi-talented, and thus has a very good recipe for butter pecan tarts. Or butter tarts.  Or raisin tarts.  Or whatever you call them.  I call them SPY TARTS.  I had to call him at work to get this recipe.  Espionage was involved.

(I also applied to work at CSIS a few years ago, and after a very entertaining 3-hour interview, both CSIS and I decided we wouldn’t be a good fit, though I’m sure they kept that file on me somewhere.  I must be too awesome to be a spy.)

So here is your top-secret recipe.  It’s top secret because it’s super easy.

At some point I will expand my repertoire to include pastry, but at the moment you will just have to be satisfied with pre-made Tenderflake tartlet shells.  This recipe makes 12 3″ tarts.

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Gather together the following:

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup shortening
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup raisins
Divide the raisins evenly among the 12 pre-made shells and place them on a baking sheet.
Mix all the other ingredients together in a bowl.
Fill each shell 3/4 full.
If you have mixture left over do not be tempted to overfill your cups, as they will bubble and get everywhere.
Bake on the bottom rack of your oven for 12-15 minutes.  Be careful not to overbake.  Of course if you underbake then they will stay runny. 
Remove from oven.  They should be all foamy and bubbling and the crust should be a nice brown.  Place a pecan half on top of each tart and allow to cool and solidify.  The reason I put the pecans on after they are cooked is I find that the pecans tend to burn if you do it before cooking.
EAT!

Making Mincemeat (Outta You)

Mincemeat is to the winter holidays what chocolate and beer are to the Stanley Cup Playoffs (I’m serious.  Cadbury Mini Eggs and a microbrew during the finals is to die for).  Originally a combination of dried fruits, spirits, fat, and meat, over the centuries the meat part has all but disappeared from the recipe, and now it’s more of a dessert type of thing.  It does still employ three of the age-old methods of preserving, however: fat, sugar, and alcohol. 

I have adapted Allora Andiamo’s recipe from Jamie Oliver‘s website and it is incredible.  I quadrupled some things, and other things I just chucked in the amount I had, so it’s not particularly faithful to Ms. Andiamo’s original recipe but I give her full credit.

In a very large bowl I chucked the following, by weight:

275g raisins

55g dried blueberries

475g dried cranberries

575g candied orange peel

250g blanched almond slivers

400g finely chopped marzipan

474g (1lb) shredded butter (put the butter in the freezer, then grate it, or break it into chunks and run it through the food processor until you have fine crumbs)

1kg apples, finely chopped (I left the skins on and used a variety of different kinds, whatever I had lying around)

juice and rind of 5 large oranges

juice and rind of 2 large lemons

1kg soft brown sugar

3 teaspoons almond extract

8 tablespoons rum or brandy (I used both, of course)

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

4 teaspoons ground nutmeg

6 teaspoons ground ginger

4 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon allspice

Give that a good stir, cover it, and leave it somewhere to marinate for about 24 hours.

The next day, distribute the mincemeat into casserole dishes (or, if you are clever like me and used a metal bowl, don’t bother), cover with aluminum foil, and bake at 225°F for 3 1/2 hours.

I stirred mine halfway through, just to be thorough.  And also because I don’t trust anything on its own in an oven for three and a half hours.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit.  The liquid will thicken as it cools so make sure to stir it occasionally in order for the syrup to coat all the fruit. 

Before it completely cools, pour into sterilized jars and seal — can according to your canner’s instructions, or check out our tips to canning here.

Store in a cool dark place for about 3 weeks before using. 

Christmas Fruit Cakes

My mother calls them fruit cakes.  My father calls them Christmas cakes.  Or it’s the other way around.  I can’t keep track of those two.

Nevertheless, before every holiday season, my dad makes between two and three dozen of them to give away to all their family and friends.  Being the stalwart Scots that we are, we fight over who deserves a whole cake and who gets only a slice.

You can’t be ambivalent about fruit cake.  You either love it or you hate it.  And I can promise you that this is not the leaden, dry, horribly frosted version that you hate.  This is the ooey-gooey sticky sweet and moist brick of goodness that you will LOVE.  Guaranteed.

Keep in mind that this recipe is easy to make.  Especially if you make several dozen.  However, you have to start your preparations the day before and baking time can take up to four hours for large cakes.  Not to mention that you can’t eat them right away — these cakes need a spell before they’re good to eat.  These ones here are from back in 2007.  They should be super excellent now.

Day the First:

In a large bowl, measure in 1 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds (blanched is key because the skin is bitter), 2 cups dark raisins, 2 cups light raisins, 1 cup currants, 2 1/2 cups chopped dates, and 2 1/2 cups candied citron peel.  My dad says that when making several batches it helps to bring a measuring cup to the health food or bulk store and measure what you need right into the bag so you don’t have to worry about having any leftover.

Drain a 12oz (340g) bottle of maraschino cherries, saving the juice.  The cherries should measure about 1 1/4 cups.  Add them to the mixture in the bowl.

Pour in 1/2 cup brandy (or fruit juice, if you prefer) and give it a stir.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature overnight.

In a heavy saucepan, simmer one 19oz (540mL) can crushed pineapple with 2 cups granulated sugar.  Cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 45 minutes.  Make sure to stir frequently. 

By the end, the sugary pineapple should measure 2 1/2 cups.

Let the pineapple cool, and then stir in 1/2 cup reserved cherry juice.  Stir in as well 1 cup strawberry jam (the more all-natural, the better).  This doesn’t necessarily need to be done the day before, but it has to be cool before you add it to the cake batter.

Day the Second:

Preheat your oven to 275°F.  Butter your pans (we use four regular-sized loaf pans) and line them with parchment paper.The knob on our oven is positioned badly so we take the knob off in order not to hit it accidentally.  And yes, we probably should clean our oven more often.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together 4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda.

Add about a cup of the flour mixture to the fruit and nuts and toss until the bits are all covered.  This will prevent them from sinking to the bottom when you mix them in the batter.  Set the rest of the flour aside for now. 

In another large mixing bowl, cream together  2 1/4 cups granulated sugar with 1 pound (2 cups) butter.

Beat in 12 eggs (yes, 12!), two at a time.  This is less of a pain in the butt if you have someone crack the eggs while someone else runs the mixer.

Take your flour mixture and your pineapple mixture and, alternating them, stir them into the butter and egg mix.  Make 3 dry and 2 liquid additions and stir it all in well. 

Your batter will be a lovely pink colour once you’re all ready.

Pour over your flour-coated fruit and nuts and mix well. 

Pour into your pans and chuck them in the oven.

Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven to keep the cakes moist.

Bake in your oven for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, for the larger cakes.  Smaller cakes might be done in about 3 hours. If you have a fast oven you might want to lay a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the top to prevent them from drying out in the last hour or so.

The cakes should be fairly firm to the touch in the centre and should test clean with a toothpick.  Once you’ve removed the cakes from the oven let them cool in the pans for about five minutes. 

Then remove the cakes from the pans and peel off the paper.  Let the cakes cool completely.

Now you do your wrapping.

Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on your work surface.  Overlay that with some plastic wrap.

And some cheesecloth.

Plop your cake in the centre.

Baste it generously, all over, with rum or brandy (if you don’t baste you will need to keep the cakes in the refrigerator).

Wrap the cheesecloth tightly around the cake.  Then the plastic wrap.  Then the aluminum foil.

As the cloth dries out, give your cakes a periodic dousing with rum or brandy.  Don’t freeze the cakes or the flavours won’t mellow properly.

The cakes will make good eating in about three weeks, just in time for the holidays.

Classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

These are the Pie’s favourite variety of cookie, though he won’t kick any other kind out of bed, either.  This one comes from the Joy of Cooking (1997 edition, page 822).  It’s easiest to do this one outside the stand mixer, as the oats tend to tax the motor a bit.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Whisk thoroughly until well combined, 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 3/4 teaspoon baking soda, 3/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg.

In another bowl, beat 1 cup softened butter (2 sticks), 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 eggs, and 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla until well blended and thick.

Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended and smooth.  You will get quite a workout, I promise.

Gradually add 3 1/2 cups rolled oats.  At this point I generally give up the spoon and mix everything in with my hands.

Stir in (or knead in) 2 cups raisins. Alternately, you can add in a cup of raisins and a cup of nuts.  But that’s your choice.

Drop the dough in heaping teaspoons (or a small spring-loaded ice cream scoop, like I do) onto a greased baking sheet, spacing the drops about 3 inches apart.

Squish them down a bit with a fork or your hands.

Bake 6-9 minutes in the centre of the oven or until the cookies are lightly browned all over and almost firm when pressed in the centre.  Rotate your sheets halfway through to make for even baking. 

Let them firm up a bit on the sheet out of the oven for about 2 minutes before transferring them to a rack for cooling.  Makes a couple dozen.

Don’t forget what I told you yesterday – you can also freeze the cookies in tightly sealed plastic bags before they’re baked to save time later.  Just defrost them fully before baking them according to the instructions.

Bran Muffins

The Pie LOVES bran muffins.  I have never truly understood this addiction but nonetheless he persists.

Get all your ingredients out before you start.

This is a modified recipe from the Joy of Cooking (1996 edition).

Position a rack in the centre of your oven and preheat it to 400°F.  Grease 2 standard 12-muffin pans or line with paper baking cups.  I prefer to use baking cups when it comes to bran muffins because they’re extra sticky due to the honey, molasses, and sugar they contain.  It just makes cleanup easier.

Leave the bran to soak for 15 minutes.

In a large bowl (I used the bowl of my KitchenAid mixer, which I adore), combine 1 2/3 cups wheat bran with 1 cup boiling water and let stand for 15 minutes.

In another bowl (or a measuring cup, which I find is easier because it has a handle), whisk together 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup all purpose flour, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Into the bran mixture, whisk 3/4 cup honey, 1/3 cup light molasses (I used dark, because I prefer the taste), 6 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and then 1/4 cup of plain Balkan style yogurt instead), 1/4 cup packed brown sugar (again, I prefer the darker stuff), and 1 teaspoon grated orange zest (which I didn’t have, so it’s not in these muffins).  I also added in 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract because I generally add vanilla to everything.

I mixed all the wet ingredients together first.

Whisk in (well if you’re using a mixer, then mix in) 2 large eggs, then stir in 1 1/3 cups raisins (I would up this next time to 2 full cups).

Stir in the raisins. Use lots.

Fold in the flour mixture until just moistened.  The batter should be lumpy but still soupy.  Spoon the batter into the muffin pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 15-18 minutes.

I'm not very good at being tidy with muffins.

Let cool for 2-3 minutes then use a fork to gently pry the muffins out of the pan.  Serve hot or cool on a rack for eating the next day.

Mmmmuffins . . .