Monday, March 9, 2015

Secret Recipe Club: Caramel Apple Shortbread Squares

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I always look forward to the second Monday of each month. That's when my group posts their reveals as part of Group B of Secret Recipe Club. I usually so look forward to my blog assignment each month that I bake from it within the first week… and then I have to wait three whole weeks to write about it!

This month, my assigned blog was Flavors by Four - an amazing blog by an awesome cook, baker and blogger duo - Susan and Nicole. This mother-daughter team takes turns blogging about the yummy recipes they find and cook! I love that they do this, and I hope that one day, my daughters will want to share my blog with me! My older one is already super interested and I can't get her out of the kitchen… :) Thanks for the yummy recipes, and inspiration, Susan and Nicole!

I had quite a few recipes shortlisted at first - my favourite being these awesome looking Buckeye Brownies! And since I love muffins so much, these Dark Chocolate Cherry Muffins were a close second. But after much pondering and browsing, I chose these delicious, buttery Caramel Apple Shortbread Bars
These are so flavourful and delicious, and were a hit in our home. The only change I made was that for some reason, my caramel was a little too runny and I wasn't sure I should pour such runny caramel over the shortbread base. So I used a tiny amount of cornstarch to thicken the caramel before using it. I think maybe it was the kind of apples I used. So if you have a thickish caramel, please feel free to omit the cornstarch I have used. 
Caramel Apple Shortbread Bars
Adapted from Flavors by Four
Shortbread crust & topping
3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4-1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened

Caramel Apple Filling
3 large or 4 medium apples, peeled and sliced thin 
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp butter
1-2 tbsp cornstarch (optional - only if required)

1. Preheat your oven to 180C/350F. Prepare a 9"x13" baking tin by lining the bottom and sides with parchment or non-stick baking paper. I used non-stick baking foil. 
2. In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Stir to combine.
3. Add the softened butter and using a mixer or a wooden spoon stir to bring the dough together. Mix until the dough is uniform but do not over-mix.
4. Press about 2/3 of the shortbread dough into the bottom of the prepared baking tin. Allow to parbake in the oven for about 20 minutes. This is sufficient time for you to get the filling ready. 
5. To make the filling, combine the sugar and water in a heavy bottom saucepan and stirring occasionally until the sugar has completely dissolved. Then allow the mixture to come to a boil. Keep an eye on the sugar and watch it while it caramelises. It will turn a beautiful amber colour. Once you've achieved this colour, it can go for caramelised to burnt in a matter of seconds - so work quickly. 
6. As soon as the sugar is caramelised, stir in the sliced apples. This can cause the sugar to seize up and harden a little, but keep stirring and the sugar will dissolve. Once you have apples in smooth caramel, add in the cream and butter, stirring constantly. This mixture may bubble but it will subside. 
7. At this stage if you feel the mixture is too thin and runny (like mine was), dissolved about 2 tbsp of cornstarch in the caramel sugar and stir it back into the saucepan. Allow to cook for 3-4 minutes until the mixture is thick and luscious. 
8. Remove the par-baked base and pour the caramel filling over the top. Spread it out evenly using a spatula.
9. Crumble the reserved 1/3 of the shortbread dough over the top of the caramel apple filling.
10. Continue baking for a further 15-20 minutes until the shortbread on top is lightly golden and the caramel is bubbly but set. 
10. Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares. I let it sit overnight before cutting it into squares. 
These were absolutely delicious. Everyone's favourite part was the yummy shortbread crust. I can imagine using the same crust for tons of different fillings. So delicious! And the caramel apple filling was so addictive that you could eat it with a spoon. Thank you Susan and Nicole for a truly delicious recipe! Don't forget to check out the other awesome Group B recipes in the link-up below! 

Until next time… 

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Strawberries & Cream Scones

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I love that strawberry season comes twice a year. The whole family rejoices when we walk into the market and find a table filled with box upon box of ripe, red strawberries. Both my daughters are just plain strawberry-mad! I've been buying so many boxes! Most of the berries are just washed and eaten, but I usually manage to hide a box or two to bake with. I love baking with fresh strawberries.
This recipe is one that I've made a few times now. It is no secret that our breakfast favourites are muffins and scones. So, I'm always trying out new scone and muffin recipes, and my family never complains. Of course, when you're trying out so many new recipes, you're bound to have some recipes you never want to try again. This isn't one of them.

If you want a lighter crumb and are baking for an occasion or for guests, and you don't want to worry about health, you could just bake it with all regular flour.

Strawberries & Cream Scones
Adapted from Taste of Home 
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar (plus 2 tbsp for sprinkling)
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp flaxseed meal
1 tsp orange zest
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup cold butter, cubed
2/3 cup half and half, or medium-fat cream
2/3 cup chopped fresh strawberries
1 egg, lightly beaten

1. Preheat your oven to 200C/400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or greaseproof paper, or use a silicone baking mat.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flours, 1/3 cup of sugar, baking powder, flaxseed meal, orange zest, salt and ground cinnamon. Mix well.
3. Add the cold butter and using just the tips of your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture. Work quickly, and gently until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.
4. Add the cream and bring the dough together gently.
5. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, and add the chopped strawberries.
6. Working very lightly, so as to not bruise the berries too much, gently work the strawberries into the dough.
7. Transfer the dough onto your lined baking sheet, and form into a rough 8 or 9 inch circle. Pat down the dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Using a sharp knife, cut the circle into six or eight wedges.
8. Brush the top of the scones with the egg and sprinkle with the 2 tbsp of sugar you have reserved. You could also sprinkle the top with chopped nuts.
9. Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes or until the top is a light golden brown.
The flaky, buttery scone is rich with cream and loaded with tangy-sweet berries that drip their juice and make a very welcome mess. I wish I could get my hands on some clotted cream. I think it would be perfect with these particular scones.

My husband had a valid complaint. While he love the sugary crunch on the top of the scones, he felt these scones would benefit with some more texture and crunch. So the next time around, I thought I'd throw in some hazelnuts or pistachios for some texture.
In other news, with my birthday and Valentine's Day falling in the same month, I have received a bounty of new cookbooks that I am SO excited about. I have the best husband, friends and family in the world! I can't wait to be sharing some awesome tried and tested recipes from these awesome new books! :)

But, for now, watch out for another awesome strawberry recipe to celebrate the season of yummy strawberries!

Until next time…

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Secret Recipe Club: Bacon Cheddar Cornbread

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I get so excited every time the reveal date for the Secret Recipe Club rolls around. It is just so much fun to see who has been cooking and what everyone's been cooking! I missed having SRC in January, but it was our month off for the year. And now I'm back and ready to go!

When I received this month's assignment, I was in awe of the site. The site has so much going on, and in a great way! And when I read the 'About me' section, I knew just why. She isn't a just a blogger like me; she's a blogger who is a professional trained chef! I'm so happy to introduce you to Chef Becca from It's Yummi! She's just amazing, and SO versatile. Whether it's a fancy dessert, an elaborate main course, a simple starter or a healthy snack - she's got it all! Visit her and I know for sure you won't be disappointed with what you find.

As always, I had a rough time trying to pick just ONE recipe from Chef Becca's blog. So I ended up making two this time around. Actually, originally picked only one - a cookie recipe. Unfortunately, I neglected to take pictures before I put the cookies out when some friends came over. I figured I'd take the pictures after they left with all the leftover cookies. Well, who would have thunk there would be no leftovers! I recommend her Triple Chocolate Cookies, for sure! She has some fabulous muffin recipes too! I have several bookmarked!

The recipe I finally made for this month's reveal was her Bacon Cheddar Cornbread. It was my birthday on Saturday, and I decided to make one of my favourite meals. So we ate this yummy cornbread with my Beef and Navy bean Chili and it was oh so yummy!
Chef Becca uses her homemade Bisquick mix in this recipe. I just halved her Bisquick mix recipe, used what I needed for this recipe, and stored the rest in the fridge for later. So convenient!

I just combined 4 cups all purpose flour, 2 1/2 tbsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt and 1 tbsp sugar. Then, I rubbed in 1/2 cup unsalted butter until I had a mixture that resembled fresh bread crumbs. Since I used butter instead of shortening, I store this mix in the fridge.

Bacon Cheddar Cornbread
Adapted from this recipe on 
1 1/4 cups of homemade Bisquick mix (see previous paragraph)
3/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup creamed corn
1 cup skim milk
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup cooked bacon, chopped
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Into a 9x5 rectangular glass baking tray, or a cast iron oven-safe skillet, put 1 tbsp of butter. Place this into an oven and begin to preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
2. In a large bowl, combine the baking mix, the cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir to combine.
3. Combine the egg, creamed corn, milk and oil in a medium bowl.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
5. Stir in the chopped bacon and the shredded cheese.
6. Remove the hot baking dish from the oven. Pour the batter into the tray over the melted butter.
7. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
8. Serve warm with extra butter, and some honey, if desired.
We ate this cornbread straight out of the oven with super spicy chili and we really, really enjoyed it!

The flavours are amazing, the cornbread is moist and the salty bacon is just perfect with the corn. So tasty! Or should I say SO YUMMI! My older daughter loved snacking on these beautiful squares of cornbread even after she was done with dinner. Definitely a keeper! Thanks Chef Becca! :)

I always enjoy the recipes my fellow bloggers from Group B cook up! To see what everyone else has made, check out the links below! :)

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