nutella & cream cheese swirled blondies [cookin’ canuck]

(Originally posted: August 28, 2014)

Somehow, despite the fact that it is already the end of August, it feels as though summer has only shown its face in the past week or so.

Chicago suddenly went from a series of balmy, springy days to BAM–85 degrees, muggy, humid, thunderstorms, and basically everything that one would actually expect from a Chicago summer.

As a result, I’ve been flip-flopping all summer between wanting peach iced tea-strawberry ice cream-blueberry lemon pie bar days, and hot noodle soup-steaming tea and biscuits-hearty tomato sauce and pasta days.

My stomach is terribly confused.

So today, you all get a throwback to these blondies from Cookin’ Canuck, which are absolutely irresistible in any weather.

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I’ve made them in the midst of February for World Nutella Day, I’ve shipped a box of them to my best friend over spring break, and most recently, I whipped them up as finals wound down in the beginning of June–a time when nearly everyone on campus could do with a little Nutella-white chocolate-cheesecake swirl in their lives.

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If you’re feeling crazy, you can sub out 1/2 a cup of Nutella for 1/2 a cup of peanut butter–like the really great honey roasted kind–and you’ll get an even more rich cheesecake swirl in there. Mmmmm.

Not gonna lie: I’m drooling a little bit looking at these photos.

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I really want one now. Dammit. They’re great when they’re hot and gooey, but they really shine when you let them cool and absorb the flavors. Thick, buttery, soft blondies, broken up by mouthfuls of Nutella cheesecake and the gentle crunch of white chocolate chips. Grab a glass of milk with these, because you’ll need one after you realize you’ve accidentally eaten three in a row.

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Sorry not sorry.

Enjoy the blondies, and keep your eyes open for more summery posts as I make the most of what’s left of the best fruit season of the year!

salted caramel apple pie [SBA & smitten kitchen]

(Originally posted: March 14, 2014)

Hey guys.

Guys guys guys.

Guess what today is?

It’s PI[E] DAY!! 😀

I can’t be the only one who geeks out over this.

In celebration of Pi Day, my dorm does a large Pi Day Study Break that includes a pie baking contest, a pie eating contest, and a pi recitation contest. And, of course, lots and lots of delicious pie for everyone to eat.

I’d never made a pie before, but I was feeling ambitious this year and figured I’d try my hand at one for the contest. Plus, looking at pie recipes is a lovely (read: dangerous) procrastination method when you’re spending upwards of 8 hours a day in the library.

Let me just say that I severely underestimated how long it would take me to make a pie for the very first time. My slight procrastination via baking turned into an entire afternoon of slicing, mixing, rolling, and carefully cutting, broken up by periods of waiting for the pie to chill again in the fridge so that I wouldn’t accidentally melt the pockets of butter in the dough.

Still, it was worth every second, as I realized when I checked on my pie in the oven and began shouting excitedly at my roommates.

Dear roommates: thank you for putting up with my sometimes loud, messy, and distracting baking endeavors.

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The final product was a mix of several recipes, parts of which I tweaked slightly, and other parts that I wish I’d tweaked.

I started with one of smitten kitchen’s staple pie crust recipes. Unlike most of the recipes I found, this one requires no shortening and still promises a tender, flaky crust.

The verdict? 10/10 would use again. Granted, I have a particular love of flaky pastry crust to begin with, but this one was actually fantastic. It’s very easy to make–only flour, butter, sugar, and salt!–even for a beginner. Plus it got nice and crispy on the outside while flaking perfectly on the inside and, arguably most importantly, did not crumble. I hate crumbly pie crust. It makes me feel like I’m eating a sad cheesecake hybrid.

Recommendations:
+ Get a pastry blender. Trying to cut cold butter into flour with a fork sucks from all perspectives.
+ No matter what recipe you’re following, keep the dough cold! Seriously, they’re not joking about this. I made a few mini pies with the extra dough, and the crust wasn’t as good because it had warmed up sitting on the counter for too long, melting all the cold butter chunks.
+ Make your dough early, both for convenience and because it’s ideally supposed to chill for a while. I did this on Wednesday night as my don’t-think-just-bake de-stressor after a CS final.

Behold: dough!

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For the filling, I went with salted caramel apple from Sally’s Baking Addiction. If you’ve been with me for a while, you know how much I love Sally’s recipes–trustworthy and always slightly offbeat. I knew I wanted to make an apple pie the first time around, but I wanted to make it unique, and this one fit the bill.

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Remember when I was raving about the salty sweet combination?

Yeah, really not surprising that I picked salted caramel. Or that I fell in love with this candy thermometer-free salted caramel recipe. The only change I made to the caramel was using sea salt instead of regular salt, adding an extra 1/2 tsp to kick up the salty edge. Other than waiting a while for the sugar to start caramelizing, this was incredibly quick and easy.

Changes I made to the filling:
+ 3 Pink Ladies and 3 Granny Smiths, but they were only medium-sized. Still, plenty of apples.
+ No cloves, and instead added about 1/8 tsp more nutmeg.
+ Instead of 1/2 cup granulated sugar, I used 1/4 cup dark brown and 1/4 cup granulated.
+ Thick lattice because I like how it looks. You can do whatever you want here, of course.

I kept picking at the apples and caramel as I mixed them.

No shame.

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Into the oven, cue some shouting and dancing around the kitchen in excitement, then lots and lots of dishwashing (if you can figure out how to do this without making a complete mess of your kitchen, please tell me), and finally…

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omg PIE.

That’s my proud pie face, you guys. I stood there for a good couple of minutes just staring at it.

(Sheena captured the moment. Thanks, Sheena. <3)

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I won’t bother with the step-by-step in between parts, because both the SBA and the smitten kitchen recipes describe them far better than I can. Not to mention both ladies actually know what they’re doing with a pie.

I will, however, tell you that this pie filling is not everyone’s favorite. Sadly, I did not win the pie contest. The lemon flavor was overpowering for some, while others weren’t fans of the more pronounced spices. Personally, I love lemon, and I loved how unexpected and noticeable it was with every bite. If you’re not as much of a fan, make sure you scale back the citrus.

Mostly, though, I was sad about how much of the caramel bubbled out of the pie. There was a puddle of it forming on the baking sheet after only 20 minutes in the oven. So much salty sweetness! Wasted!

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Changes I would recommend:
– Less nutmeg. As in, maybe only 1/8 tsp for the whole pie. And more cinnamon. And cloves, if you like them. (I usually don’t.)
– Less lemon juice, or maybe substituting some orange juice in there for a slightly different flavor.
– Layer the apples with the caramel when filling the pie to avoid losing so much of it in the oven.
– More strips for the lattice, also to keep the filling inside as best as possible.

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All in all though, super pleased with this pie. I poured the extra salted caramel over a slice and happily devoured it. There’s nothing quite like the warmth and comfort of a good apple pie.

I’m already looking for excuses to make another one. Something tells me that my mother wouldn’t appreciate an entire pie sitting in our kitchen, though. Must find a way to get rid of it first.

Finally, in true celebration of today, here are some really awful pi jokes.

And then this last one, because I just can’t help it.

Happy Pi Day, happy Friday, and happy baking! 🙂

peanut butter chocolate chip cookies with sea salt [ambitious kitchen]

(Originally posted: March 2, 2014)

I hate hard pretzels. I have always hated hard pretzels. There’s something about their weird saltiness but not-quite-bread-ness that I can’t handle. I think they’re dry and gross and I do not like them.

BUT. I love chocolate-covered pretzels.

I’m convinced that the salty-sweet combination is pure magic. Salted caramel, chocolate- or yogurt-covered pretzels, dark chocolate with sea salt, a bowl of popcorn sprinkled with M&M’s–I’m in love with all of it.

Enter these obscenely delicious peanut butter chocolate chip cookies with sea salt, courtesy of Ambitious Kitchen.

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Warm, melty chocolate. Creamy peanut butter. The sudden crunch of sea salt every couple of bites. Perfect with a glass of cold milk, and definitely too good to eat just one. Mine did not turn out as thick as the ones in the recipe, but they were still wonderfully chewy, even long after they cooled down. 

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The batch was surprisingly large, and even in my apartment of four (with the frequent visiting friends), these lasted a while, still calling to me from the kitchen counter at 2 am nearly a week after they came out of the oven.

If you’ve ever found yourself studying late into the night anywhere near homemade baked goods, you understand this call that cannot be ignored, no matter how much your stomach may make you regret the decision soon after.

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Seeing Greek yogurt and honey in a recipe can almost fool you into thinking it’s healthy.
Almost.
At the very least, it serves as an (admittedly shaky) excuse to eat more than one when they come out the oven.
If there is a problem with this, I cannot see it.

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Obviously, there is science behind the unbelievable appeal of this salty-sweet combination, and being the nerd that I am, I started googling to find out the truth behind my deep, deep love of those dark chocolate/sea salt Lindt bars.

FUN FACT TIME!

There are a handful of studies that delve into the curious effects of salt on sweet treats. Our taste buds can experience five different categories of tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami, which translates loosely from Japanese as savory. In general, our whole tongue is capable of tasting all five types, but there are different receptors for each one. Many studies suggest that the presence of sodium–half of what we use as common table salt, which is sodium chloride–affects more than just the salty taste receptors and in fact removes inhibitors that exist in other ones, allowing the sweetness of the food to be tasted more intensely than it would’ve been otherwise. In fact, this characteristic is what makes salt such a good flavor enhancer in the first place.

However, there is, of course, a limit. Please don’t go emptying your bottle of sea salt into your next chocolate cake. That is not something that will end pleasantly for you or anyone else.

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All science aside, whether you’re curious about the functions of your taste buds or not, these cookies are delicious and are bound to satisfy some craving of yours.

Stay safe, stay warm, and stir up a batch of these if you find yourself bored at home tonight.

Happy Saturday! 😀