random brownies

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Putting together a bunch of wee packages of gifts and homemade candy and stuff, I find that I still have a bunch of baking-related ingredients on hand and want to rid myself of them. First I had the urge to make cinnamon rolls for the first time in about eight years (underway); I was in the midst of making candy for the first time since probably 2001 (?). Then I thought I should use some other stuff and made a random batch of brownies – no clue how they have turned out or how they taste since I don’t eat this stuff… this is why I work. Not for professional pride or a paycheck… but to feed fellow workers with sugar. Haha. Not really, but yeah, when I have taste tasters, I am always more willing and inspired to make things to test.

Meanwhile my house is heavily fragrant with cinnamon and vanilla. My hands, even after washing them a million times, carry the faint aroma of vanilla caramel.

Try your hand at brownies:

1/2 cup melted, unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 175C/350F

Mix melted butter and the two sugars.

Add in eggs, one at a time.

Add vegetable oil and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and then add them to the wet mix in a few intervals. Don’t overstir.

Bake in a greased 8″x 8″ square pan for 25-30 minutes. I also added in some holiday red and green chocolate chips I had on hand. You can add nuts or sprinkles or chocolate chips or whatever strikes your fancy. Obviously – they’re your brownies.

Doing vanilla orange biscotti with Cointreau

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Leftovers leftovers leftovers. I had some rice and some chicken, so I tossed it all together to make chicken and prawn fried rice. I never used to be the type of person who casually prepared anything – from scratch or from leftovers (when it comes to cooking). It seemed like no matter what I cooked, I had to think about it and plan it. Now I have become something else. The casual cook who can throw things together.

I have always been able to bake casually, quickly, without a plan but always organized. Even when I made vanilla orange biscotti the first time and subsequent times, I substituted the required orange liqueur with orange juice. This time, for the first time, I was so prepared that I even had Cointreau on hand. Imagine that.

Cointreau-ified vanilla orange biscotti

Cointreau-ified vanilla orange biscotti

Vanilla orange biscotti (did with Cointreau this time)
1 1/2 cups sugar
10 tablespoons butter, melted
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon orange liqueur (first few times around, I used orange juice but this time made use of Cointreau)
1 tablespoon orange zest (I used the zest of an orange)
3 1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup sliced/slivered almonds
1 large egg white

Preheat oven to 175C.

Mix all ingredients together (except the egg white at the end, which is for brushing onto the logs of dough), adding the dry ingredients only at the end, just before the almonds, which will be added last. The dough is very sticky, so handling it will require either that you flour your hands or keep wetting your hands with cold water. Make two logs with the dough, each about 2 1/2 inches wide and 1 inch tall. (You will need your hands for this, and this is where the sticky part gets… stickiest!) Whisk the egg white and brush it onto the dough logs (will help them lightly brown).

Bake 30 minutes, remove from oven and allow to cool. Once cool, slice the logs into 1/2 inch slices and turn them on their side. Reduce the oven temperature to 150C and bake on each side for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Vanilla orange biscotti and the dullness of liquor stores

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It seems that when I bake, I like to include biscotti in every big haul of baking. No clue why. This recipe is a new attempt – not sure what I think of the dough or the recipe itself. I had to make modifications – the recipe that inspired this choice called for orange liqueur, and I am not really someone who has a large stock of alcohol on hand. I happen to have a handful of things specifically for baking (Guinness, Baileys, Kahlua and vodka…), and I find it to be one of the dullest things on earth to go to liquor stores. (It has always been the “norm” for me that alcohol is only available in a state-run liquor store – in Washington state, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, this was normal. Washington recently passed a law privatizing liquor sales, so all alcohol is now available in grocery stores and the like… but that does not help or concern me, not only because I no longer live there but also because I would hardly go out and buy a whole bottle of something just to get a tablespoon of it for a cookie recipe.)

Orange zest and a dash of orange juice just have to cut it. (And it did! These were quite popular and well-liked.)

Vanilla orange biscotti
1 1/2 cups sugar
10 tablespoons butter, melted
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon orange liqueur (I used orange juice)
1 tablespoon orange zest (I used the zest of one whole orange)
3 1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup sliced/slivered almonds
1 large egg white

Preheat oven to 175C.

Mix all ingredients together (except the egg white at the end, which is for brushing onto the logs of dough), adding the dry ingredients only at the end, just before the almonds, which will be added last. The dough is very sticky, so handling it will require either that you flour your hands or keep wetting your hands with cold water. Make two logs with the dough, each about 2 1/2 inches wide and 1 inch tall. (You will need your hands for this, and this is where the sticky part gets… stickiest!) Whisk the egg white and brush it onto the dough logs (will help them lightly brown).

Bake 30 minutes, remove from oven and allow to cool. Once cool, slice the logs into 1/2 inch slices and turn them on their side. Reduce the oven temperature to 150C and bake on each side for about 10 to 15 minutes.

October baking ambitions

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Baked Goods in B2B: Russian tea cakes

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To accompany the chocolate biscotti with me at work today, I took Russian tea cakes (and peanut butter cookies). I don’t have any backstory on the tea cakes except to say that they are part of the traditional Christmas cookie repertoire my mom has always baked for as long as I can remember (at least back when she used to bake every year…). Even the years now when she does not bake very much, she still bakes these because they are just an integral part of Christmas in our household, I guess. That said, they have absolutely no connection to Christmas but have naturally become a part of the line-up. I sometimes wonder (especially now that it is too late to ask her myself) what was in my grandmother’s traditional set of holiday baked goods. I spent so much time with her growing up but don’t have much recollection of the holiday cookies except for gingerbread men (and a few feeble attempts at building gingerbread houses). These kinds of traditions have a way of being passed along while at the same time new traditions are added. For example, I almost always bake all the same cookies my mom made but have added a wide variety of cookies to my must-do holiday baking list.

(The other side story – or complete tangent,if you prefer – is just the words “tea cake” together, which always remind me of the character Tea Cake in the Zora Neale Hurston novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. A book that was difficult to appreciate at the time (required high school reading) but its layers unfolded to me in subsequent years. A good example of the diversity of American literature. My then-best friend, Terra, and I used to laugh about someone being called “Tea Cake”. At some point Tea Cake says, “You got de keys to de kingdom.” That has always stuck in my head. See—absolutely nothing to do with cookies or baking.)

The Russian tea cake (alternately known by the names Mexican wedding cake, Italian butter nut, Southern pecan butterball, snowdrop, Viennese sugar ball or snowball) is a fixture in my holiday baking, but I quite often make them at other times of year because they are simple, small/delicate and can, if the right quality ingredients are used, illustrate perfectly how sometimes simplicity is best. Good quality butter and vanilla make a big difference in a cookie like this. Unfortunately there are not that many choices in terms of butter quality or vanilla here in Oslo (at least not that I have discovered), so I take what I can find and work with it. Some recipes call for very finely ground nuts in the cookies. I usually just use finely chopped nuts (I generally use walnuts or almonds but other recipes call for pecans). Some recipes also instruct the baker to toast the nuts first, but I generally skip this.

RUSSIAN TEA CAKES (or any of those aforementioned names people call them; I happen to like this name)
Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C when ready to bake (dough should chill for an hour or two before baking)

1 cup butter
½ cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup finely chopped nuts (almond, walnut, pecan, whatever you like, more or less)

Mix all ingredients together. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 1-2 hours.

After chilling, preheat the oven while rolling the dough into 1-inch balls. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets. The baked cookie should still be white, not browned.

While still warm, roll the cookies in powdered sugar.