Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo BarsFor the mint version of this dessert, add some mint extract and green food colouring to the middle layer. This recipe will make about 32 bars.

Ingredients:

Bottom Layer:
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup white sugar
⅔ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 eggs, beaten
3 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups flaked coconut
1 cup finely chopped almonds (optional)

Middle Layer:
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup plus 2 teaspoons heavy cream
¼ cup custard powder (if you can’t find this, use vanilla pudding mix)
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon mint extract (for mint flavoured option)
2-3 drops green food colouring (for mint flavoured option)

Top Layer:
8 (1 ounce) squares semisweet baking chocolate
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter

Directions:

For the bottom layer:
In the top of a double boiler, combine 1cup butter, white sugar and cocoa powder. Stir occasionally until melted and smooth. In a small bowl, beat the 2 eggs until they are well combined. While constantly mixing, add a small amount of the cocoa mixture to the egg mixture so that the eggs can come up to temperature. Slowly add the egg mixture to the main cocoa mixture, until both are combined. Make sure to whisk the entire time so that the eggs do not cook and curdle. The mixture will thicken up, after about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove it from the heat and mix in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut and almonds (if you like). Press into the bottom of an un-greased 9×13 inch pan.

For the middle layer:
Cream together 1 cup butter, heavy cream and custard powder (pudding mix), and if using, the mint extract and food colouring, until light and fluffy. Mix in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Spread over the bottom layer in the pan. Chill to set.

For the top layer:
While the second layer is chilling, melt the semisweet chocolate and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter together in the microwave or over low heat. Spread over the chilled bars. Return to the refrigerator to let the chocolate set before cutting into squares.

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Linzer Tarts

Linzer CookieThe Linzertorte is one of the oldest known tarts with a recipe discovered in an Austrian abbey from 1653.  Johann Konrad Vogel (1796-1883) is credited with first mass producing it while Franz Holzlhuber, an Austrian émigré who worked as a baker, is recognized for introducing it to America around 1856.  Linzer cookies employ the same recipe as the Linzertorte but instead the dough is cut into cookies and two of them form a sandwich around the preserves.  Moreover, the top cookie has a small cutout in its centre (known as Linzer eyes), thus exposing the underlying jam and adding to the visual appeal.  While the traditional cutout is circular, all sorts of shapes, such as hearts, are also popular. This recipe will make 2 dozen finished tarts/cookies.

Ingredients:

2 ½ cups unsalted butter or margarine, softened
1 ⅓ cups white sugar
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour, divided
3 ½ cups finely ground almonds (or a mixture of your favourite nuts)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup and 2 tablespoons raspberry jam (or other jam of choice)
⅔ cup confectioners’ sugar for decoration

Directions:

Beat butter and sugar together until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in ½ cup flour, the ground almonds, and cinnamon. Mix in remaining flour ½ cup at a time until the mixture becomes a slightly stiff dough.

Shape the dough into a ball; divide it in half. Wrap both halves in wax paper or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour, even better if you can leave them overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface, or even better, on a piece of wax paper, roll half of the dough into a sheet ⅛ inch thick. With a 2 ½ inch cookie cutter, cut as many circles from the sheet as you can. Before separating the shapes from the remaining dough, stick your whole dough sheet (on the wax paper) in the freezer for 5 minutes. This will make separating the cut cookies from the extra dough easier and there is less of a chance that your cookies will break when you lift them. Knead the leftover scraps of dough into a ball and roll it out again into a ⅛ inch sheet. Cut out more circles. You should now have about 24 circles.

Arrange cookies on prepared baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch of space between them. Refrigerate while working with remaining dough.

Repeat the rolling and cutting process with the other half of the dough, but after placing the second batch on the baking sheet, cut out the centre of each circle with a ½ inch cookie cutter.

Bake cookies in preheated oven until light brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool on wire rack for 20 minutes.

In a small saucepan or microwavable bowl, gently heat up the jam, so that it can be easily spread. Spread a thin coating of jam on each of the base cookie rounds.

Meanwhile, take the top portion of your cookies (the ones with the cut-out sections) and lightly dust the tops of them with confectioners’ sugar. If you coat them now, you don’t have to worry about getting sugar inside your “jam window” later.

Set a cut-out cookie on top of each base cookie, pressing the two together so they make a sandwich. Serve and enjoy!

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

This recipe calls for dairy ingredients, however they can be substituted for non-dairy (parve) items of the same type: i.e.: margarine or shortening instead of butter, soy cream cheese instead of regular. Regarding the use of the crystallized ginger, it is a really wonderful and unique ingredient. It starts off slightly citrusy when you first bite into it, and then you get the heat of the ginger. If you’re finding it difficult to find crystallized ginger, just know that it is the same as candied ginger, sugared ginger, or ginger chips – they are all just different names/sizes. If you choose not to use it, just up the total amount of powdered ginger to 1 ¼ teaspoons instead.

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant butterscotch pudding mix
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
⅓ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 24 muffin cups, or line with paper muffin liners. Whisk together the flour, pudding mix, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice, cloves, and crystallized ginger in a bowl; set aside. Beat the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar with an electric mixer in a large bowl until light and fluffy. The mixture should be noticeably lighter in colour. Add the eggs one at a time, allowing each egg to blend into the butter mixture before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla and pumpkin puree with the last egg. Stir in the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Bake in the preheated oven until golden and the tops spring back when lightly pressed, about 20 -25 minutes. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

Allspice Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

1 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
¼ cup butter, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon allspice

Directions:

In a medium bowl, blend the cream cheese, butter, and allspice. Gradually mix in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla until the mixture is spreadable. Spread or pipe onto the cupcakes.