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5th Annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Portland

16 Dec

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Five years and 200 cookies later, here’s a holiday tradition I look forward to every December. Hannah and I have participated in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap since its first year in 2011, and it’s been a blast every year.

Not only does the swap benefit a great cause — Cookies for Kids’ Cancer — but it’s a fun way to virtually meet new baking bloggers and gives me a great reason to try a new recipe around the holidays.

As always, thanks to Lindsay at Love & Olive Oil and Julie at The Little Kitchen for organizing and creating the swap — and to OxoDixie Crystals and Land O’ Lakes, which all partnered with the swap and sent along some great kitchen goodies.

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In a search online, I became fixated on chocolate-espresso crinkle cookies and decided they would be the perfect recipe for this year’s swap. I also liked the idea of using an ingredient I haven’t used before: espresso powder.

Now, before I bake, I like to do some research. In past years, I’ve used various cookbooks to find my recipes, but this year, I decided to compare recipes on a few different websites to get an idea of the technique and tips for this type of cookie.

Here are the recipes I consulted:

Because I needed to make four dozen to send (three for my cookie swap matches, plus one for Hannah), I tripled the Martha Stewart recipe, which gave me plenty of wiggle room with 54 cookies. Here’s the technique:

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The first step was melting the bittersweet chocolate. I typically opt for the double-boiler bowl method, since it gives me more control than melting in the microwave.

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Then, while the chocolate cooled off, I sifted together the flour, cocoa powder and instant espresso.

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The cooled chocolate then gets added to sugar and butter, which was creamed in a previous step.

After adding the flour mixture to the bowl, the dough needed some time to firm up in the fridge. I opted for an overnight chill, which made it much easier to roll out and work with.

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The dough, rolled into 1.5-inch balls, got a hefty coating of powdered sugar before heading to the oven.

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As you can see, the bake on these wasn’t consistent across all the batches. This project taught me just how wildly off my new oven’s temperature can be. Thank goodness for my trusty oven thermometer.

The cookies turned out chewy and rich, with the espresso powder adding to the flavor of the chocolate.

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Once cooled, I packed up my crinkle creations in these penguin tins and shipped them off across the country.

Now for a shout-out to the bloggers behind the delicious cookies I got this year.

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First were these festive, delicate and delicious pizelles (Italian waffle cookies) from Meggan at Culinary Hill. Loved the design and the flavor of these.

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Next, in time for National Cookie Day on Dec. 4, I got these chocolate-dipped shortbreads from Melanie at Gather for Bread. Loved the addition of the orange peel and the various holiday shapes.

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That same day, these tahini butter cookies arrived from Hannah, the other half of this very blog. They reminded me a lot of traditional peanut butter cookies but with a more savory flavor. And I loved the look of the sesame seeds on top.

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Soon after, my third and final batch of official cookies arrived (Hannah and I swap on our own, as a bonus), from Lauren at Bite of Health Nutrition. She sent these rich and chewy coffee-cocoa-ricotta cookies, which also had a fabulous texture.

Thanks to everyone for sharing your cookies, and happy holiday baking!

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2015

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Pie: Portland

7 Dec

Happy Holidays, everyone! All in all, the Thanksgiving baking was a success and lots of fun. Had a blast making three pies and a batch of sesame rolls (my first attempt at a yeast roll, as opposed to yeast bread).

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For the big day, I made a traditional Libby’s pumpkin pie, but I did add some black pepper and nutmeg, which the original recipe doesn’t call for, to give the filling some extra flavor (a la Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Pie).

The crust turned out well, but darn it, I baked it too long again, and it cracked horribly down the middle. Hence, pecans to the rescue! It looks like I almost meant to decorate it that way.

The sweet sesame rolls were an Associated Press recipe I saw in Foodday. They were super simple and delicious. Having never made yeast rolls before (IMO cinnamon rolls don’t count), I wasn’t sure what to expect, but these seemed foolproof. Highly recommend for their crunchy texture and subtle nutty flavor.

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The day before Thanksgiving, I took these two pies to the office (something I do every year). Typically, I pick something traditional and something experimental. This year, I picked cranberry-apple with a crumb topping and maple-walnut. The walnut was almost like a pecan pie, with its gooey center, but I have to admit that I favored the fruit pie. Both recipes from the always-reliable “Pie.”

Thanksgiving pumpkin pie challenge: Day-of edition

26 Nov

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Happy Thanksgiving!

I meant to write this introduction a few days ago, but moving got in the way. I’m in a new (and bigger) kitchen this holiday, which is great news for my baking, bad news for my productivity in all other things.

This year, Hannah suggested we do a pumpkin pie challenge. It’s something we typically bake every year, so I’m betting we’ll have some variations up our sleeves.

The pie at the top of this post is Hannah’s from last year. So lovely! The one on the bottom is mine from 2013. All I’m hoping for this year is not to crack the custard. And I’ve had varying degrees of luck with this (read: ugly pie).

Lesson learned from past pies (common knowledge): Take the pie out when it slightly wobbles in the middle, or it will weep and separate from the crust.

Here’s to a perfect pumpkin pie!

— Nora
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It’s that time of year: Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2015

8 Oct

Five years and dozens of cookies. Since 2011, we’ve loved taking part in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, hosted by Love and Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen — and benefitting Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. Every year, we up the ante by baking an extra dozen cookies — in addition to the three we already bake and send to other food bloggers — to send to each other.

In honor of five years of holiday cookie creation, here’s a look back at our lineup from years past.

2014

2014 cookie swap

Hannah: Green Tea Biscotti

Nora: Cranberry-Pistachio Shortbread

2013

Hannah: Swirled Sugar Cookies

Nora: Pecan Sandies

2012

Hannah: Cranberry Noels

Nora: Cherry-Almond and Chocolate-Walnut combos

2011

Hannah: Chocolate-Cranberry Biscotti

Nora: Ginger Snaps

 

Can’t wait to see what we come up with this year. Happy Baking!

Rosettes: Portland

6 Oct
Sometimes, baking inspiration just comes to you. For Hannah and I, it took a trip to the Scandinavian Heritage Center in Southwest Portland (with a delicious brunch at my fav place, Broder) and a random garage sale next door.
It was our first try at rosettes, a traditional Scandinavian cookie much like a funnel cake, and these were probably three of the best.
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Our rosette adventure started when we stumbled upon this vintage Nordic Ware rosette iron set — for only 25 cents. And who wouldn’t pass up that kind of deal? Let us also point out that a new set with essentially the same equipment will cost you close to $50.

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Equipment in hand, we mixed up some rosette batter and heated up some oil. We soon learned that the tutorials online make this look a lot easier than it is. Lesson 1: Heat the oil in a deeper pan next time, and make sure the irons are really hot before starting. (Side note: This vintage set is cool because you can, in theory, fry two cookies at once.)

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The recipes we found told us to dip the irons in the oil until hot, then dip in the batter and return to the pan until the bubbling stopped. Lesson 2: Do not get the batter too high on the iron, or it won’t come off easily (kind of duh, but you’d be surprised how many times I messed this up at first).

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Sometimes the rosettes came out perfectly (see below), but most often they didn’t look like the pictures we saw online. Still, now that I’m the proud owner of a rosette set, I’ll have to try these again, probably closer to Christmas.

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Once I try a couple recipes, I’ll get back to you on which worked best. The batter recipes don’t vary much, but the technique and cooking equipment does. Here are a few I looked at online, with some tips from each.

From Food.com: gives a specific temperature and depth for the oil
From Rachael Ray: liquid measure used to hold the batter
From Pinch My Salt: uses a Dutch oven to hold the oil
From Food Network: batter adds cardamom, a lovely spice
From King Arthur Flour: suggests chilling the batter before frying

Belated baked goods: Portland

5 Oct

 

It’s been a busy baking year, though when it comes to sharing (the photos, at least), it’s been a struggle. Here’s a look at some of the more memorable baked goods I made in the first nine months of 2015.

Sept. 1: Chocolate chip bundt cake with chocolate ganache glaze. By special request for a retiring coworker. Recipes: a combination of one from Serious Eats and All Recipes. The ganache was a little too runny, but it worked out ok.

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Sept. 25: Brown sugar apple pie with oatmeal crisp topping. The thin-sliced apples really made this one. Recipe from “Pie,” adapted slightly for more brown sugar.

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April 28: Grilled cheese waffle with homemade tomato soup. Great comfort-food combo. Recipes: waffles from my “Waffles” cookbook (but similar to this one) and soup from the Neelys of Food Network.

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April 12: Beef and bacon pie. Essentially a beef stew inside a savory crust. And with an honest-to-goodness bacon lattice. Baked in honor of the Game of Thrones premiere. Recipe from Blaine’s “A Feast of Ice and Fire” cookbook.

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April 25: Shrimp, leek and asparagus pizza. And hence began this spring’s obsession with leeks, a vegetable I had previously (and quite wrongfully) ignored. Recipe from Foodday in The Oregonian.

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Aug. 23: Tomato tart with mustard, garlic-cheddar cheese and caramelized onions. This summer’s record heat meant Portland’s tomato crop went wild. My coworker was nice enough to donate his extras, and this was the result. Heavily adapted recipe from “The Oregonian Cookbook,” but along these lines.

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Deep-dish apple tart: Portland

5 Oct

Well, it appears I started this post months ago and forgot to finish it. (Rats!) So, much delayed though it is, I present my attempt at an Amsterdam-style apple tart. All in all, I’d say it turned out pretty well for a first attempt.

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Used a combination of apples, including golden delicious and probably gala (honestly, it’s been too long).

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Love how cut butter looks before being blended with sugar.

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The key, it seems, is dough that’s sturdy enough to hold up in a pie crust-like shape, yet dense enough to be fluffy like cake.

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Apples and cinnamon: no better combo

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A little egg wash before baking

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The top came out wonderfully browned

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Not quite the same texture as the piece we ate in Amsterdam, but it was well received at the office and is probably the best-looking baked good I’ve ever made (and mine usually aren’t so aesthetically pleasing), so I’ll call it a victory for Upfish.

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