Reading & Recipes

Review & Recipes from The Baker In Me

Tracy Turlin
Written by Tracy Turlin

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As our family has grown older we’ve begun to pick and choose which Christmas traditions we keep and which we let go. I still love the holiday but am likely to skip “decking the halls with boughs of holly” in favour of a glass of wine and a movie marathon with my husband, dog and cat all curled up on the couch. But one activity we’ve never given up is the baking. My mom and I continue to share new recipes, recreate old favorites and indulge in our perverse love of fruitcake at Christmas. My favourite part of the holidays has always been the anticipation and preparation. December may be the month of parties but November is the month of baking.

Author Daphna Rabinovitch

Author Daphna Rabinovitch

This year we were delighted to be able to use a few recipes from The Baker In Me by Daphna Rabinovitch. Most familiar to us as director of the Canadian Living test kitchen and co-host of “Canadian Living Cooks” for many years, Rabinovitch is now a culinary consultant based in Toronto. She describes herself as a trained pastry chef with the heart of a home baker and this is apparent in her cookbook. She impresses upon us the importance of the science behind baking while maintaining the warmth of a favourite aunt lovingly passing down secret family recipes. Anyone who can write three pages on the joy of baking brownies is someone I’d want to have coffee with.

When I bake goodies I tend to stick with my tried and true recipes but at Christmas all bets are off. No recipe is too involved or has too many ingredients. It’s only in a fit of holiday enthusiasm that I would attempt making a seven layer anything, but Rabinovitch’s Seven-Layer Bars with Marshmallows and Dried Cranberries are as easy to make as they are delicious. It’s an unexpected combination but the contrast of sweet/tangy and chewy/gooey is sublime.

My family members are all aware of my long-time obsession with the perfect shortbread cookie, so none will be surprised to see Hazelnut Shortbread Batons on offer this year. What they won’t know is how much it pains me to add baking powder to the recipe. But I trusted Daphna and she was right, of course. It adds that extra bit of lift needed to accomodate the chopped hazelnuts in the dough. The additional dip in chocolate and hazelnuts turned these from family treats to gift ideas in a moment.

Each year I like to try making something different from my regular round of recipes. No one will ever forget the year I tried to revolutionize hot chocolate by adding homemade Irish Cream marshmallows. This year I made the author’s My Favourite Rugelach recipe — because it’s fun to say and because they are often served at Hanukkah. These are messy and amazing and seem exotically different from the usual drop cookies. They are also addictive and endlessly variable. You will find yourself searching through your baking cupboard trying to invent new filling combinations. I recommend making several batches of dough and inviting as many friends as will comfortably fit in your kitchen to fill, bake and eat these wonderful treats.

The Baker in Me is a fantastic book for the Christmas season but it’s a valuable addition to the bookshelf of any baker at any time of year. I figure that by the time I get through the bars, cookies, cakes and breads this winter, it will be just about time to start thinking about fruit tarts. Now that is a gift that keeps on giving.

Tracy Turlin is a freelance writer and dog groomer in London. Reach her at tracyturlin@gmail.com

Recipes and photos ecxerpted from The Baker in Me, by Daphna Rabinovitch. Reprinted with permission of Whitecap Books, 2016

My Favourite Rugelach

Makes 4 dozen rugelach

What I’d really like to know is why I didn’t grow up with rugelach. Perhaps my mom thought that what was available wasn’t good enough to serve or maybe there just weren’t any around. I’ll never really know. In any case, once I did discover rugelach and how easy they were to make, I just kept on making them.

Rugelach dough is extremely simple to make. While some rugelach doughs are yeast based, I have chosen to go with the simpler non-yeasted version. This is the one I make at home all the time. Some rugelach doughs contain an egg or even include some sour cream for extra richness. I’ve added a little sweetener and some lemon zest for flavour. The zest tickles the tang inherent in the cream cheese, bringing it to the forefront. It’s better to use the brick-style cream cheese for making rugelach and to make sure it’s at room temperature. If it’s too cold, it simply won’t combine well with the butter.

There are no rules or hard and fast formulas when it comes to the filling. The jam or spread is meant to act as a glue for the nuts or chips, so you’re free to choose whatever you want. Same goes for the combination of nuts and other goodies. The two necessary ingredients are some sugar and cinnamon to fully qualify for rugelach status.

You may find that as you roll each triangle into a crescent, some of the inclusions fall out. There’s no need to panic. Simply tuck them into the folds in the pastry. This is one place where you definitely want to use parchment, otherwise jam can ooze out of the dough, making the crescents stick to the pan. Just remember to transfer the rugelach to a separate wire rack while they’re still warm, or else they will stick to the parchment.

RugelachCMYK1 cup (250 mL) unsalted butter, softened (8 oz/250 g)
8 oz (250 g) cream cheese, softened
3 Tbsp (45 mL) icing sugar
2 tsp (10 mL) finely grated lemon zest
2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten, at room temperature
3 Tbsp (45 mL) coarse sugar (optional)

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a hand-held mixer, beat the butter with the cream cheese for 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in the sugar; beat for another 2 minutes. Beat in the lemon zest.

Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the flour and salt and mix just until combined and a dough is formed.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead very lightly into a ball. Cut the ball into quarters; shape each quarter into a ball and flatten into discs. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least 2 hours or for up to 2 days. Let the dough stand at room temperature for 20 minutes before rolling.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

Filling

In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients of your chosen filling, except for the jam or peanut butter.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the discs to a 10-inch (25 cm) or 11-inch (28 cm) circle. Spread 3 Tbsp (45 mL) jam or peanut butter evenly over the surface. Sprinkle with one-quarter of the filling. Cut the dough into 12 pie-shaped wedges. Starting from the wide end, roll up each wedge to form a crescent shape. Transfer to the prepared cookie sheets, spacing each rugelach about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Brush egg over 1 tray of rugelach. Sprinkle with coarse sugar, if desired. One sheet at a time, bake in the centre of the preheated oven until golden brown, 20–25 minutes. Cool the cookie sheet on a wire rack for a while. Transfer the cookies to the wire rack to cool completely.

Repeat with remaining trays of rugelach, cooling the pans slightly before adding unbaked crescents to them. (Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.)

Alternate Fillings

Apricot Walnut Filling

1½ cups (330 mL) finely chopped walnuts
1 cup (250 mL) golden raisins
¾ cup (180 mL) granulated sugar
1½ tsp (7 mL) cinnamon
¾ cup (180 mL) apricot jam

Peach Macadamia Nut Filling

¾ cup (180 mL) chopped toasted macadamia nuts (or almonds)
½ cup (125 mL) golden raisins
½ cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon
¾ cup (180 mL) peach jam

Raspberry Chocolate Filling

1 cup (250 mL) chopped pecans
K cup (125 mL) miniature semisweet chocolate chips
L cup (80 mL) packed light brown sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon
¾ cup (180 mL) seedless pure raspberry jam

Cherry White Chocolate Filling

1 cup (250 mL) chopped toasted hazelnuts
½ cup (125 mL) coarsely chopped white chocolate
½ cup (125 mL) dried sour cherries
½ cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon
¾ cup (180 mL) cherry jam

Peanut Butter, Chocolate & Caramel Filling

1 cup (250 mL) chopped unsalted peanuts
¾ cup (180 mL) miniature semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup (125 mL) Skor bits
1/3 cup (80 mL) packed light brown sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon
½ cup (125 mL) smooth peanut butter

Marmalade and Almond Filling

¾ cup (180 mL) chopped blanched almonds
½ cup (125 mL) currants
½ cup (125 mL) packed light brown sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon
¾ cup (180 mL) orange marmalade

Hazelnut Shortbread Batons

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

I will never tire of the magical combination of hazelnuts and chocolate. They work so hard to bring out the best in each other. The addition of baking powder to the shortbread (heavens! Is that what you might call blasphemy!?!) lightens the dough for an exceptional texture.

HazlenutShortbreadBatonsCMYK1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour
½ cup (125 mL) finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
½ tsp (2 mL) baking powder
¼ tsp (1 mL) salt
½ cup (125 mL) unsalted butter, softened (4 oz/125 g)
½ cup (125 mL) granulated or superfine sugar
½ tsp (2 mL) vanilla

Garnish

6 oz (175 g) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup (125 mL) finely chopped toasted hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Whisk together the flour, hazelnuts, baking powder and salt in a bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a hand-held mixer, beat the butter for 1 minute. Beat in the sugar for 2 minutes. Scrape down the dough. Beat in the vanilla. Remove the bowl from the stand.

Using a wooden spoon, stir half of the flour into the butter mixture. Stir in the remaining flour just until incorporated.

Using tablespoonfuls, roll the dough into 3-inch (8 cm) logs on your work surface. Spacing the cookies about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart, transfer them to the prepared cookie sheets.

One sheet at a time, bake in the centre of the preheated oven until the cookies start to turn golden around the edges, about 20 minutes. Cool the cookie sheet on a wire rack for 2 minutes. Transfer the cookies to the wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough, cooling, the pans slightly before adding unbaked cookie dough to them.

Garnish

Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler set over hot, not boiling water. Cool slightly. Dip one end of each cookie into the melted chocolate, lightly shaking off any excess. Dip the chocolate end into the chopped hazelnuts until coated. Transfer to a wire rack until the chocolate is set. (Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

Seven-Layer Bars with Marshmallows and Dried Cranberries

Makes about 2½ dozen bars

These bars have been around forever, and are sometimes called magic bars, Hello Dolly bars or seven-layer bars. This particular variation sports marshmallows—which melt into a gooey, sticky crater—as well as tart dried cranberries and coconut. It’s an extravaganza in your mouth.

What is even more impressive is that they’re incredibly quick to assemble and bake. These are the reason I always have sweetened condensed milk in my pantry.

SevenLayer Bars with Marshmallow s and Dried CranberriesCMYK2½ cups (625 mL) graham wafer crumbs
¾ cup (180 mL) unsalted butter, melted (6 oz/175 g)
1 can (300 mL) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup (250 mL) mini marshmallows
1 cup (250 mL) coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup (250 mL) dried cranberries
¾ cup (180 mL) semisweet chocolate chips
¾ cup (180 mL) shredded sweetened coconut

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly grease the sides and bottom of a 13- × 9-inch (33 × 23 cm) metal cake pan. Line with parchment paper so that the bottom is covered and there is a 2-inch (5 cm) overhang on the 2 long sides.

Place the graham cracker crumbs into a bowl. Pour the melted butter over the crumbs, stirring with a fork until thoroughly combined. Pat the moistened crumbs into an even layer on the bottom of the prepared cake pan.

 

Drizzle one-third of the sweetened condensed milk over the base. Then sprinkle with the marshmallows, pecans, cranberries, chocolate chips and coconut, in that order. Drizzle the remainder of the sweetened condensed milk over top.

Bake in the centre of the preheated oven until lightly browned, about 25–30 minutes. Let the bars cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 2 hours. Cut into bars (or cut what you need, cover the pan with plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 5 days).

 

About the author

Tracy Turlin

Tracy Turlin

Tracy Turlin is a freelance writer and dog groomer in London.
Reach her at tracyturlin@gmail.com.