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Daring Bakers Challenge: Gingerbread House

I was so excited to find that this months Daring Bakers’ Challenge was to make Gingerbread houses, how fun!

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

This was actually much more fun and relaxing than I thought it would be.  I was prepared to spend a whole day being frustrated and crying over broken gingerbread.  I used Y’s recipe, it was more of a spice dough than a gingerbread, as there was no molasses in it.  It was a little dry, I might add a touch more water next time, but it was enough for two small houses and two dozen cookies.  I used the Gingerbread House 1 template that I found online here.  I forgot to trim it after it came out of the oven but it ended up fine.

I think the thing that made this whole thing easy was using the sugar syrup to hold the houses together.  There was way too much of it, I would make a half or quarter batch next time but it was so helpful.  I didn’t have to worry about the icing drying before I could move on to the next part.

David was excited to help me with this project and we started in the morning by decorating the sides of the houses I had baked the night before.  We decorated them flat and then when they were dry after a couple of hours, I used the sugar syrup to put them together.

My gingerbread house

David's gingerbread house

After the sugar had hardened, only a couple of minutes, I added the roofs using icing.  The regular Royal icing that is used is made with egg whites so I found a vegan recipe online.  Making the icing was the most frustrating part of the whole day.  I don’t know if I measured wrong or if the recipe is wrong but I added too much sugar to begin with and had to add more water but once it was the right consistency it worked great.  This was so much fun I think we are going to make it a tradition to make houses on Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas!

My Gingerbread House

David's Gingerbread House

Anna’s Recipe:
Spicy Gingerbread Dough (from Good Housekeeping) http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/recipefinder/spicy-gingerbread-dough-157…

2 1/2 cups (500g) packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups (360mL) heavy cream or whipping cream
1 1/4 cups (425g) molasses
9 1/2 cups (1663g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon(s) baking soda
1 tablespoon(s) ground ginger

Directions

1. In very large bowl, with wire whisk (or with an electric mixer), beat brown sugar, cream, and molasses until sugar lumps dissolve and mixture is smooth. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and ginger. With spoon, stir flour mixture into cream mixture in 3 additions until dough is too stiff to stir, then knead with hands until flour is incorporated and dough is smooth.

2. Divide dough into 4 equal portions; flatten each into a disk to speed chilling. Wrap each disk well with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until dough is firm enough to roll.

3. Grease and flour large cookie sheets (17-inch by 14-inch/43x36cm)

4. Roll out dough, 1 disk at a time on each cookie sheet to about 3/16-inch thickness. (Placing 3/16-inch dowels or rulers on either side of dough to use as a guide will help roll dough to uniform thickness.)

5. Trim excess dough from cookie sheet; wrap and reserve in refrigerator. Chill rolled dough on cookie sheet in refrigerator or freezer at least 10 minutes or until firm enough to cut easily.

6. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (149C)

7. Use chilled rolled dough, floured poster board patterns, and sharp paring knife to cut all house pieces on cookie sheet, making sure to leave at least 1 1/4 inches between pieces because dough will expand slightly during baking. Wrap and reserve trimmings in refrigerator. Combine and use trimmings as necessary to complete house and other decorative pieces. Cut and bake large pieces and small pieces separately.

8. Chill for 10 minutes before baking if the dough seems really soft after you cut it. This will discourage too much spreading/warping of the shapes you cut.

9. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until pieces are firm to the touch. Do not overbake; pieces will be too crisp to trim to proper size.

10. Remove cookie sheet from oven. While house pieces are still warm, place poster-board patterns on top and use them as guides to trim shapes to match if necessary. Cool pieces completely before attempting to assemble the house.

Y’s Recipe:
Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas http://astore.amazon.com/thedarkit-20/detail/0816634963

1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water
5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]

1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight.

2. Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard.

3. Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place.

4. [I rolled out the dough on a floured bench, roughly 1/8 inch thick (which allows for fact that the dough puffs a little when baked), cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet. Any scraps I saved and rerolled at the end.]

5. Preheat the oven to 375’F (190’C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.

Simple Syrup:
2 cups (400g) sugar

Place in a small saucepan and heat until just boiling and the sugar dissolves. Dredge or brush the edges of the pieces to glue them together. If the syrup crystallizes, remake it.

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Chococococans…are you intrigued?

I have been working on a new cookie recipe for a while.  I started out wanting something that reminded me of Samoas, the Girl Scout cookies, with chocolate, coconut, and caramel.  My first attempt was okay, kind of brownie like but not chocolaty or coconuty enough.  Surprisingly the caramel was a distraction so was quickly dropped from the recipe.  I ended up adding some toasted pecans because how can you go wrong with toasted pecans?  This is now a pretty perfect chocolate cookie, nicely flavored with coconut and the pecans add a great toasted crunch.  After much thought my husband has declared them his new favorite cookie, a decision that he did not take lightly!

Now, you are probably wondering about the name.  I was trying to think of something to call them when my husband helpfully suggested Chococococans.  I immediately rejected such a silly suggestion, how would anyone remember that? Or know how to pronounce it?  So David started a marketing campaign for his name, the slogan is “like sex with an Aztec God” and he even designed a logo.

In the meantime my Dad suggested Gilligans as a name, which I liked but by that time everyone was calling them Chococococans and so I have been out voted.   So here is the world premiere of Chococococans…

Chococococans

1 ¾ cups white wheat flour

½ cup cocoa

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

2/3 cup canola oil

¼ cup sugar

¾ cup brown sugar

2 oz. melted bittersweet chocolate

½ cup milk

1 Tbsp ground flax seed

½ tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp coconut extract

1 cup coconut

1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  On one baking sheet spread out the pecan pieces and toast in the oven for five minutes.  Let cool.  In a medium mixing bowl sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  In a large mixing bowl combined the sugars and oil then add the melted chocolate and milk and mix well.  Add the flax seed and extracts and mix to combined.  Stir in half the dry ingredients until just moistened.  Add the coconut and pecans with the rest of the dry ingredients and stir until the dry ingredients are fully incorporated.  Drop by rounded tablespoon on baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes.  Let cool on baking sheet for five minutes and then move to cooling rack to cool completely.  Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Why are they called Cowboy Cookies?

Cause they have nuts!

Hehe.

I had never heard of Cowboy Cookies before but when I got the new “Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar” they were one of the recipes that I wanted to try.  I couldn’t figure out why they were called Cowboy Cookies though, I mean what does oatmeal, coconut, pecans and chocolate have to do with cowboys?  Then my cousin, Sophie, filled me in.  I guess it all makes sense…

Anyway, these are awesome cookies.  They are chewy and dense in a good way, very moist in the center and full of chocolate and toasted pecans.  They are also huge!  They are the size of two regular cookies but I still wanted to eat more than one because they were so delicious.  I made 20 cookies and they were gone in less than a day, we were fighting over the last cookie too.  I would bake these when you are going to be alone so you can have them all to yourself.  Maybe that is why they are called Cowboy Cookies, because you need to be miles from the nearest person to keep from sharing!

Cowboy CookiesCowboy Cookies

From “Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar”

2 cups quick-cooking oats

2 cups all-purpose flour (I used white wheat)

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2/3 cup canola oil

2/3 cup sugar

3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar (I used light brown)

1/2 cup nondairy milk (I used soy)

1 Tbsp ground flax seed

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup shredded coconut

1 generous cup semisweet chocolate chunks or chips

1 cup toasted pecan pieces*

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a medium size bowl, stir together the oats, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, beat together the oil, sugar, brown sugar, nondairy milk, flax seeds and vanilla.  Fold in the coconut and then half the flour mixture.  Fold in the remaining flour, adding the chocolate and pecans before the mixture is completely combined.  For each cookie, drop a 1/4 cup of dough onto the cookie sheets.  Leave about 2 inches between each cookie.  Flatten each cookie slightly using moistened fingers.  Bake for 14-16 minutes, until edges start to brown.  Let cookies cool on cookies sheet for five minutes and then move to cooling rack.  Store in a loosely covered container.  Makes 2 dozen.

*To toast pecans, place them on a baking sheet and place them in the oven as it preheats.  Keep a close eye on them, they should be fragrant and just golden brown when done.  Let them cool before chopping and adding to the cookies.

Cookbook Review: Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

I had ordered “Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar” in August not realizing that it was not going to be published until last month.  It was a long wait for it to arrive in my mail box last week but boy was it worth it!  I had heard so many good things about Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s (of The Post Punk Kitchen) first book “Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World” that I was excited to see they were doing a cookie book.  As much as I like cupcakes, cookies are my favorite thing to bake, they are easy to mix up and just the right size to grab when you need a little pick me up.

I have already made three of their recipes and they have all been really good. First I made the Brekky Banana Cookies, which were lovely, chewy little cookies that taste just like Banana Bread.  Next I made Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles, although I left out the Mexican part, and the Peanut Butter Blondies for a girl’s night out.  Everyone loved them and the few leftovers were devoured at home.

The nice thing about this book is you don’t need all sorts of weird ingredients, they use things that can be found in most households.  There are some recipes that call for tofu and some that use ground flax seed but those can be found in most grocery stores.  The other thing that is nice is that a bunch of the recipes call for oil instead of vegan margarine, it is nice to have that option for when I can’t get to the big city and buy margarine.  I can’t wait to make more cookies from this book.

Cookies on a board

From left to right: Brekky Banana Cookies, Peanut Butter Blondies, Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles

Brekky Banana Cookies

Adapted from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

1 very ripe medium banana

1/3 cup canola oil

2/3 cup agave

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup white wheat flour

2 Tbsp ground flax seed

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cinnamon

2 cups quick cooking or rolled oats (I used rolled oats)

1/2 cups chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or light grease.  In a mixing bowl, mash the banana well.  Add the oil, agave, and vanilla and mix with a strong fork.  Add the flour, flax seed, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and mix until the dry ingredients are just moistened.  Add the oatmeal and walnuts and mix well.  Roll the dough into balls slightly smaller than a golf ball.  Flatten it a bit in your hands and place each ball about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned.  Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack.

Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles

Adapted From Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

For the topping:

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

For the cookies:

1/2 cup canola oil

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup or agave (I used agave)

3 Tbsp nondairy milk

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 2/3 cups white wheat flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon  (the original recipe called for a 1/2 tsp of cinnamon and a 1/2 tsp of cayenne)

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.  Mix the topping ingredients together on a large dinner plate.  Set aside.  In a medium-size mixing bowl, use a fork to vigorously mix together the oil, sugar, syrup or agave, milk and vanilla.  Sift in the remaining ingredients, stirring as you add them.  Once all the ingredients are added, mix until you’ve got a pliable dough.  Roll the dough into walnut-size balls.  Pat the dough balls into the sugar topping to flatten into roughly 2-inch discs.  Transfer the dough balls to a baking sheet, sugar side up, at least 2 inches apart (they do spread).  Bake 10 to 12 minutes; they should be a bit spread and crackly on top.  Remove the cookies from the oven and let the cool for 5 minutes, then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely.

Peanut Butter Blondies

Adapted from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

3/4 cup peanut butter

1/3 cup oil

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup nondairy milk

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup white wheat flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Lightly grease a metal 8×8 inch baking dish.  In a mixing bowl, use a fork to vigorously mix together peanut butter, oil, and sugar.  Stir in the milk and vanilla.  Stir in the flour, salt and baking powder.  Once you get the flour somewhat mixed in, it’s easier to just use your hands to knead the dough until soft.  It will be very very thick and won’t spread on its own.  Transfer dough to the baking pan and press it into place.  Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top and lightly press them into the dough.  Bake for 22 to 25 minutes; the blondie edges should be just barely darkened.  The top will appear soft, and that’s okay.  Remove the blondies from the oven and cool completely before slicing.

Soft Molasses Cookies

So my husband, David, hardly ever bakes.  He is an excellent cook but a bit of an innovator and that can be dangerous when you bake.  Luckily for me he decided to make cookies the other day and I was introduced to an excellent new recipe.  I love Molasses cookies in the fall and these are spectacular.  They are chewy and yet still soft with a spicy hit that lasts on your tongue.  If you like ginger these cookies are for you.  They are a little bit like Gingersnaps or Gingerbread cookies but softer.  We finished off the batch that David made in less than a day and then I made a batch that only lasted a day.  I guess I will wait a few days before I make them again…or maybe not!

Soft Molasses Cookies

Soft Molasses Cookies

Adapted from allRecipes.com

2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup margarine

1 cup white sugar

1 Tbsp Ener-G Egg Replacer mixed with 3 Tbsp water (or 1 egg and 1 Tbsp water)

1/3 cup molasses

Sugar for rolling

Pre-heat oven to 350*F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt.  Beat margarine and sugar until fluffy, add egg replacer and molasses and beat well.  Add dry ingredients to molasses mixture and mix well.  Shape dough in to walnut size balls (I used my new cookie scoop!) and roll in sugar.  Place cookies two inches apart on baking sheets and flatten slightly.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until puffed and cracked.  Cool on baking sheet for five minutes and then move to rack to cool completely.  Store (if you don’t eat them all) in an air tight container.  Make 2 dozen.

Just another Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe…

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I know what you are thinking, not another Chocolate Chip cookie!  But yes, it is another Chocolate Chip cookie.  This one owes something to both Kris at nom! nom! nom! blog and Alton Brown.  I also made a Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip version.  These are going to work with David tomorrow for his lucky co-workers.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks butter, melted

1 1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 Tbsp milk

1 tsp cornstarch

2 1/4 cups white flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups chocolate chips

1 cup walnuts

Pre-heat the oven to 350*F.  Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat together the butter and sugars.  Dissolve the cornstarch in the milk and add to the butter mixture with the vanilla, beat well.  Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt then beat in to the butter mixture.  Stir in the chips and nuts.  Best if chilled for a few hours but if you are in a hurry they will just spread a bit more in the oven.  Drop by rounded tablespoon on parchment paper lined cookie sheet.  Bake for 9-11 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges.  Cool on pan for 5 minutes and then move to cooling rack until cool.  Make 2 1/2 dozen.

Cookies

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

1 stick butter

2 1oz squares unsweeted chocolate

1 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

2 Tbsp milk

1 tsp cornstarch

1 1/2 cups white flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 2/3 cups peanut butter (1 package)

Pre-heat the oven to 350*F.  Melt together the butter and the chocolate (I used the microwave.)  Beat in the brown sugar.  Dissolve the cornstarch in the milk and add to the chocolate with the vanilla.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Beat into the chocolate mixture.  Stir in the peanut butter chips.  Drop by rounded tablespoons on parchment paper lined baking sheets and press down lightly on top of each cookie.  Bake for 12-14 minutes.  Let cool on pan for 2 minutes and then move to rack to cool completely.  Make 2 dozen cookies.

Seven Layer Bars

Seven Layer Bars

Seven Layer Bars

1 stick of butter

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 cup butterscotch chips

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 1/2 cups shredded coconut

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Pre-heat oven to 350*F.  Put butter in 9×13 inch pan and put in oven until melted.  Spread rest of ingredients on top of butter in order given.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until light golden on top.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Cut in to 24 squares.