Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Chewy, chocolatey cookies... and they're healthy (ish)!

Since the low fat chocolate mint cake went down a treat, I'm being bombarded with requests for cookies, cakes and traybakes with reduced fat and sugar.. thankfully I never really need an excuse to bake, so I'm more than happy to oblige.

Low fat mint chocolate cake complete with kettlebells,dumbbells and penguins for a recent gym Christmas party 

I was visiting a friend over the weekend, and never one to arrive empty handed, I decided to work on a reduced fat chocolate cookie...I have to say, I was delighted with the end result of a chewy, chocolatey cookie that tasted just as good as any other cookie I'd ever baked.

To make the cookies:

200g icing sugar
85g cocoa powder
30g plain flour
3 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g chopped pecans

Start by preheating the oven to 170d (fan oven)
Sieve dry ingredient into a large bowl.
Add egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add in vanilla extract, and stir in gently.
Finally fold in the chopped pecans until just combined.

This is quite a liquid mixture so don't be surprised that you haven't got a regular type cookie dough.

Using a spoon, place generous mounds of the mixture on a baking sheet. Leave small gaps between the cookies as they will spread during baking.

Bake in a preheated oven for 12-14 minutes, until slightly firm to touch. These cookies are supposed to be chewy so they need to be a little soft when you remove them from the oven, or you'll end up with crunchy
overcooked cookies.

These cookies are perfect if you're trying to reduce your fat intake.Whilst the pecans contain fat, nearly 90% of this is unsaturated 'heart healthy' fat.

Best of all, they actually taste pretty awesome!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

What happens when a childhood favourite and a cookie unite?...

For anyone who follows me on Twitter @gingerbreadmiss, you will have been forewarned of an impending annoying cheery Christmas post... so no complaints please, it's December so I'll ramble about Christmas right up until the big day.. deal with it!

Christmas is one of those times that brings out the best in everyone, even those who like to act like they've a stone cold heart. This Christmas, give someone the gift of your time, your conversation, a listening ear, a hug, or even just a smile... You never know how much the little things will impact upon someone else, and after all, smiling is contagious so who knows, you might just make someone's day by giving them the simplest gift... 

Baking for me, is all about giving... as much as it's about the food, there is a huge part of me that thinks taking the time to bake something for a friend, is worth so much more than a gift picked up in haste, with very little consideration. 

As a child, I always loved candy canes... well, technically that's not true. I loved the festive appearance of candy canes, but despised the artificial peppermint flavour. It was probably just as well that I wasn't a fan, since my mother was hugely opposed to boiled sweets since they are so bad for your teeth. Since candy canes are clearly the sweet of choice of the tooth fairy's evil twin, I decided to make candy cane cookies which are hopefully marginally less damaging to your teeth!

To make the cookies: 

200g butter
110g icing sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tsp peppermint extract (Always use the best quality you can afford as the flavour is far superior in the slightly more expensive varieties...I use this one)
300g plain flour
red food colouring (using a paste gives a much better colour)

Start by creaming the butter and icing sugar together until pale and smooth. 
Add in the egg yolks and peppermint extract, and beat until well combined. 
Next, add the sieved flour, and fold the mixture until you have a smooth dough. 
Divide the mixture in half, adding a few drops of your food colouring and mixing until you have a rich red dough. 

At this stage, it's best to place the two batches of dough in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow it to firm up, making it easier to work with. 
Preheat your oven to 170 (fan oven). 

To form your candy canes: 

Take a generous teaspoon of each dough and place on a clean counter top lightly greased with vegetable oil to prevent sticking. 
Using your finger tips, roll each ball of dough into a long sausage shape. 

Place the dough side by side, and again using the tips of your fingers, use a gentle rolling action to roll the two pieces together. 

By rolling gently up and down the dough, you will create a lovely swirl effect of a traditional candy cane.
Once you have rolled the dough together, place on a baking tray, curling the end into a hook shape to give the correct shape. 

Repeat until you have used up all the dough, or alternatively you can keep some of the dough in the fridge for a few days and bake as required. 

Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, or until firm and pale golden. 

These candy cane cookies are light and crispy, with a beautiful peppermint flavour. They are simple enough for budding little bakers to make over the Christmas holidays, and if you're very lucky, they might even embrace the festive season, and share them with you! 

Sunday, 2 December 2012

It's beginning to taste a lot like Christmas.....

I've mentioned once or twice about my love of Christmas, so now that December has finally arrived, I will be unashamedly nattering on about all things festive..

I couldn't possibly fail to mention how Christmas came early this year for me, when I won the Arro Ghoulishly Good Halloween Recipe contest, taking home €1,000 worth of AMAZING baking equipment from Kenwood, Prestige Meyer and Kitchen Craft.

Incredible!! Like a kid at Christmas! 
I love everything about Christmas, the lights, the music, the parties, and obviously the wonderful food. For anyone who has been living under a rock for the past few years, you need to have Christmas FM in your life. It's a charity Christmas radio station raising money for the ISPCC, and I am addicted. I fully expect to be evicted from my house this month, given it's turned on the moment I wake in the morning!

Over Christmas, everyone has guests coming and going, and if you're like me, you love to have something home baked to cater for those unexpected guests. Pistachio, cranberry and dark chocolate cookies are this year's go to cookie recipe for me. They have a rich buttery taste which is only improved by the saltiness of the pistachios and the tangy dried cranberries. I also add a teaspoon of grated orange zest to the cookies, which makes them even more flavourful.

To make the cookies: 
160g butter
75g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
220g plain flour
80g pistachios
80g dried cranberries
40g dark chocolate chips (I always use Dr Oetker chocolate chips as they're heat stable, taste great and reasonably priced)

Start by creaming the butter, sugar and orange zest together until pale and light.

Add in the remaining ingredients, and mix until all the ingredients are combined giving you a smooth dough.

Place the dough in the fridge to chill and firm up for 30 minutes.
Roll out to 1/2 an inch thick, and use festive cutters to create the perfect Christmas cookie.

Place on a baking tray, and bake at 170d (fan) for 10-12 until firm, but still pale in colour.

This cookie dough is great to keep in the fridge for a few days to allow you to cater quickly for unexpected drop ins over Christmas. The green pistachios, and bright red cranberries make these cookies wonderfully festive, and they really do taste amazing.