Adventures in UK baking

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Well, I officially live in Scotland.  That’s not something I ever thought I would say.  Every day it feels a little less like we are on vacation and a little more like we actually live here.  Although our house is still pretty empty.  We have one chair and an odd collection of mostly borrowed kitchen items.  Our stuff landed in the UK this past Friday though!  Now it just has to go through customs and make the relatively short drive up here.  Hopefully it will be less than two weeks now.

I’m getting used to my new kitchen and have been doing a lot of good cooking with my hodgepodge collection of kitchen things.  Things are smaller though.  The oven is more narrow that ones back in the states, and we only have space for an under the counter fridge.  These things I am getting used to.  I think we can make a smaller fridge work, and probably the oven too.  But my oven isn’t marked with the temperatures, not even in Celsius (not that I have any idea yet how those numbers relate to a temperature)!  Instead, it is marked 1-9.  1-9?!  What does this mean?  I mean, I’ve figured it out well enough to roast some vegetables.  But you can kinda estimate on that.  Do I want hot hot, medium hot, or a cooler oven for a longer roast.  Baking though, this is another issue.

After 2 weeks of good cooking I felt confident enough to try baking.  I thought I would stay with chocolate chip cookies, a recipe that I have had memorized since I was about 10.  Except they don’t sell chocolate chips in 12 oz bags.  No, they sell them in tiny 100 gram bags.  That equals about half a cup.  And the butter is not sold by the pound, but in 250 gram blocks.  So out came the kitchen scale (one of my first purchases) and I pulled up a conversion chart on google.  I thought I had it figured out.  I measured and I mixed and I got my cookies all spooned out (albeit on my smaller than usual baking sheet, holding a maximum of 12 small cookies).  Then came the guess about the number to set my oven at.  I had glanced at a site that said gas mark 4 was 350 degrees, so I nudged it just above 4 and hoped that would equal 375.  I checked out the cookies roughly 9 minutes later (they are supposed to cook for 12) and realized something was wrong, despite my efforts.  What I had made, rather than chocolate chip cookies, were chocolate chip crisps.  Thin, brown, and very crisp.  Now, don’t get me wrong, they are delicious.  Much more caramely than my usual cookies.  I think they would be divine for filled cookies, or ice cream sandwiches.  They are also good with tea or coffee.  They just aren’t my tried and true chocolate chip cookies.  So I will have to keep trying with this Scottish baking.

Does this sound like something that you need to eat?  Below is what I made.  Perhaps you’ve got some vanilla ice cream sitting in your glorious full sized freezer that needs to be used up.  I think this (accidentally) Scottish take on the chocolate chip cookie is just the thing you need.  ***Disclaimer – I’m not really sure why my cookies were so flat.  I’m guessing it’s either because the sugar is a bit coarser over here, or the butter has a higher fat content.  To attempt the same result, you might try either sugar in the raw or demera sugar, use a higher grade/higher fat butter, or just add a little more butter***

Chocolate Chip Cookie Crisps

4 oz butter, softened
75 g white sugar
165 g light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
145 g flour
2 g (1/2 tsp) baking soda
3 g (1/2 tsp) salt (Only if you used unsalted butter.  Omit salt if using salted butter)
200 g dark chocolate chips

Cream together the butter and sugars.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt if using.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and combine well.  Mix in the chocolate chips.  Scoop 1tsp balls (sounds small, but believe me) on to a baking sheet.  Cook in a 350 degree/gas mark 4 oven for 10-12 minutes.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal

Well, it’s official.  We are moving to Scotland in August.  The philosopher got a job at University of St Andrews in St Andrews, Scotland.  And while I hate to leave California, I’m excited for the great adventures we will get to have in Scotland.  Not to mention how close we will be to other awesome places in Europe.

Then when I thought about how far away we will be from family and friends, I though that might be a good real to start back up the blog.  I don’t know how much time I’ll have to post until August, since I’ll still have the 3-4 hour daily commute, but I’m anticipating a much shorter commute once we get to Scotland.  Maybe less than 1 hour total!  That means I’ll have 2-3 more hours each day to fill!  Oh the possibilities.

This recipe isn’t very fancy, but it’s a yummy, filling, and healthy way to start the day, and should be good for those chilly Scottish mornings.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal

2 cups water
1 cup old fashioned oatmeal
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Bring water to a boil in a small sauce pan.  Add oatmeal and cook over medium heat until most of the water has been absorbed.  Stir in peanut butter and cook until the rest of the water is gone.  Remove from heat, stir in cocoa powder, and divide between two bowls.  Top with fruit of your choice, and a little honey or sugar if you prefer your oatmeal a little on the sweeter side.


Chocolate Chip Pound Cake

This is one of the best cakes, dense but moist, not too sweet, perfect for dessert, afternoon snack, and often even breakfast.  It is what I usually picked as my birthday cake request growing up, and part of the reason my in-laws like me so much.

The recipe itself is not difficult, but you make it in a bundt pan, so it can take a little practice to get out nicely.  But, the good news is that you cover the top with melted chocolate in the end.  So if your cake doesn’t come out as nicely as you would like, just piece it back together and cover all the flaws in chocolate!

Chocolate Chip Pound Cake

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 bag mini chocolate chips
chocolate for melting

Pre-heat the oven to 325.  Heavily grease and flour your bundt pan, and set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a mixer, combine the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Mix in the vanilla, and begin adding the eggs one at a time.  Fully incorporate each egg before adding the next.  Then, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, alternate between adding flour and milk, mixing well after each addition.  I usually do 4 additions of flour and 3 of milk.

Leave out 1-2 tablespoons of the flour mixture.  Empty the entire bag of mini chocolate chips into the bowl with the remaining flour, and toss the mix.  Coating the chips with flour is supposed to help them stay suspended in the cake batter better.  Dump the chips and remaining flour into the batter, and fold in so that the chips are spread throughout the batter evenly.  Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan, and bake for 75 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool for 15-20 minutes.  Run a knife along the inner and outer edge of the pan, and then flip the cake out onto a plate.  This is where things can get tricky.  Hopefully you have greased and floured the pan well enough and the cake just slides right out.  If this happens, take a moment to congratulate yourself.  If not, loosen the edges of the cake some more, and try again.  If part of your cake gets stuck in the pan, just gently pull it out and smoosh it back onto the rest of the cake.

After the cake has cooled, melt together some chocolate with a little bit of water to make the topping.  I usually eyeball this, but you probably want to start with about a cup and a half of chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons of water.  Heat this over low heat until the chocolate melts.  You may need to add more water or chocolate chips. You want a thick chocolate sauce that you can pour over top with a spoon.  So it should be pourable, but you want it to seep down the sides of the cake like a slow chocolate mud slide, so it should still be thick.

Chocolate Oatmeal No Bake Cookies

I find myself baking cookies more often than anything else now because they are so quick.  They are also much easier to give away, which is good because we don’t really need to eat an entire recipe of cookies between two people!  These are some of my favorite cookies.  They come together quickly, don’t require any baking, and can really feed a crowd.  I made a double batch (60+ cookies) and took some to work, sent some to the philosophers, and still had a nice pile at home to eat.

Chocolate Oatmeal No Bake Cookies
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups oatmeal
1/2 cup peanut butter

Combine the sugar, butter, cocoa, and milk in a large pan over medium heat.  Stir until everything is combined and melted.  Bring to a boil for one minute.  Remove from the heat and add the oats, peanut butter, and vanilla. Mix until everything is well combined.

After you mix everything together, you might need to let the mixture sit for a minute or so.  You want it to still be very pliable, but not so much that your cookies are going to run.  While the cookies sit, lay out a long sheet of wax paper on a flat surface.  Using a tablespoon, scoop mounds of the cookie mixture onto the wax paper.  The cookies should set up pretty quickly, but if it’s particularly hot or humid they might need to be helped along a bit by the fridge.

World Peace Cookies

I decided that I should try a new cookie recipe last weekend. Not that cookies ever need a reason, but I wanted to be able to take some baked goods to work on Monday and my philosopher loves cookies of all sorts. Sometimes I forget how lovely cookies are. Not only in terms of deliciousness, but in terms of baking loveliness. They’re so quick, and nicely proportioned, and easy to share. Not to mention they allow me to use my beautiful red kitchen aid mixer, which always adds joy to my life. It’s the little things, you know?

This recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan, by way of Smitten Kitchen. I’m not really familiar with Dorie Greenspan, but I hear her name mentioned a lot by other foodies that I admire, so maybe I will have to invest in one of her cookbooks soon. The story behind the name of these cookies is that Dorie Greenspan decided if everyone could have one of these cookies every day, they would not feel compelled to fight with each other, and thus world peace would ensue. If that story isn’t enough to convince someone to make these cookies, I don’t know what is.

World Peace Cookies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into bits, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Combine the flour, cocoa, and baking soda together and set aside.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or a handheld mixer, beat the butter until it is soft and creamy.  Add both sugars, vanilla, and salt, and mix on medium speed for two minutes more.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour mixture, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to keep the flour from flying everywhere, and pulse the mixer at low speed a couple of times, a second or two each time. If the flour is mostly incorporated at this point, remove the towel.  If there is a good bit of flour still left, pulse it a few more times. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough. Work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added. My dough was very crumbly.

Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. This can be a bit tricky because the dough is crumbly, but just bring it together as much as you can.  Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking, just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.

Slice the chilled logs into 1/2 inch rounds.  The cookies will probably crumble a little as you slice them, but just squish them back together.  Place the cookies about one inch apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 325 for 12 minutes.  The cookies will look not quite done, but they will firm up as the sit, so don’t be deceived.

Homemade oreos and an employment update

Well there’s been a lull in my posting here lately, and that is because I got a job!  Woohoo, hiphiphorray, yippee.  It’s definitely nice to have gainful employment again, but between a full-time job and a 1-2 hour commute each way, my cooking time has been severely limited these past few weeks.  I’m not sure what will happen with this blog; I enjoy having it and would like to keep it up, but I can’t promise that will happen.

But for right now, I can tell you that this weekend we hosted a holiday cookie swap party for the philosophers, and it was a huge success.  We now have far too many cookies in our house, but if I take some to work, and Justin takes some to the philosophers I think we can whittle down the numbers pretty quickly.  I made a few kinds of cookies, but the ones I will share with you tonight are homemade oreos from the ever inspiring Smitten Kitchen!  They were so yummy, and a very exciting thing to make from scratch.

Oreos (originally from Smitten Kitchen)

Chocolate Wafers
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cups sugar
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons room-temperature, unsalted butter
1 large egg

Preheat the over to 375.  Spray two cookie sheets with cooking oil or cover with parchment paper.  Set aside.

Combine first five ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and turn on low.  Mix until well combined.  Slowly add the butter with the mixer on low.  Add the egg last, and mix until well combined.

Scoop out rounded teaspoons of the dough and roll in to balls.  Smoosh each ball with slightly wet fingers in to flat disks.  Cook for 9 minutes, turning the cookie sheet once for even cooking.

Allow the cookies to cool for a minute or two and then remove them to a cooling rack.

Cream Filling
1/2 stick room temperature butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

In the bowl on an electric mixer, on low, beat together the butter and shortening until combined.  Gradually add the powdered sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, letting it get totally incorporated each time.  Add the vanilla and beat to combine.  Turn the mixer on high and beat 2-3 minutes until very fluffy.

Load cream filling into a piping bag.  Pipe about 1 teaspoon’s worth of filling on one wafer.  Gently smoosh another wafer on top, squeezing the filling out towards the edges.


Grasshopper Bars

I am notorious (at least with my husband) for underestimating the time it takes me to make a recipe.  Or not reading the entire recipe before I start, so I don’t even have a full understanding of how long it will take.  That’s what happened with this recipe.  I decided to make them for a friend’s birthday party, and gave myself a good two hours to get them together.  But I failed to realize that there were three steps and each step required cooling time.

This is the last recipe from the Baked Explorations cookbook, which I checked out from the library.  Now, the bars were certainly tasty, but I’m starting to see a trend in the recipes from this book that they are not quite as good as the amount of work they require, and a few simple changes could make them tastier, easier, or both.  So I will give you their recipe for these grasshopper bars, and then my suggestions for an easier and still tasty treat.

For the brownie base:
3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dark unsweetened cocoa powder
5 ounces good quality dark chocolate (60 to 72%), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into 1 inch cubes
3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoons vanilla

For the buttercream:
3/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, softened but still cool, cut into small cubes
3 tablespoons creme de menthe
1 teaspoon peppermint extract

For the chocolate glaze:
6 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 to 72%), coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes


To make the brownie base: Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light-colored metal 9-by-13-inch pan. Line the bottom with a sheet of parchment paper, and butter the parchment. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, the salt, and cocoa powder.

Configure a large size double boiler. Place the chocolate and the butter in the bowl of the double boiler and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined.

Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler and add both sugars. Whisk the sugars until completely combined. Remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be at room temperature.

Add three eggs to the chocolate/butter mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour/cocoa/salt mix over the chocolate. Using a spatula (do not use a whisk) fold the dry ingredients into the wet until there is just a trace amount of the flour/cocoa mix visible.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top with an offset spatula, and bake for approximately 12 to 15 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time. The brownies should be just a tad underdone (not too gooey, but ideally, just 1 minute from being cooked through completely). A toothpick inserted into the brownies at an angle should contain a few loose crumbs. Remove the brownies from the oven and let cool completely while you make the creme de menthe filling.

To make the buttercream: In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally until mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, 5 to 7 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until filling is light and fluffy.

Add the creme de menthe and peppermint extract and mix until combined. If the filling is too soft, chill slightly in the refrigerator and then mix again until it is the proper consistency.

If the filling is too firm, place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and re-mix to proper consistency. Spread the filling evenly across the top of the brownie layer and place the pan in the refrigerator, for a minimum of 45 minutes, while you make the chocolate glaze.

To make the chocolate glaze: In a large non-reactive metal bowl, combine the chocolate, corn syrup, and butter. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is completely smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir vigorously for 1 minute to release excess heat.

Pour the mixture over the chilled creme de menthe layer and use an offset spatula to spread it into an even layer. Place the pan back in the refrigerator for 1 hour, or until the glaze hardens.

Remove the pan from the refrigerator, wait about 15 minutes for the glaze to soften slightly, and cut the bars with a warm knife. Cut into squares and serve immediately.

Now, for my recommendations…

Fast Substitutions

I think you could easily use a boxed brownie mix for this recipe without losing out on much deliciousness.  I’m picturing these made as miniature treats in a small cupcake pan.
Instead of the mint buttercream they called for, try this simplier one from my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

1/4 cup softened butter (1/2 stick)
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
a few drops green food coloring

Beat the butter with an electric mixture for a few seconds.  Slowly beat in the powdered sugar until completely combined.  Mix in the milk, peppermint extract, and food coloring and mix until.  Gradually beat in the last cup of powdered sugar until the mixture gets to a soft, spreadable consistency.

You could spread this over a pan of brownies, or pipe it in a swirl on top of brownies made in a small cupcake pan.

If desired, melt 1 cup semisweet or dark chocolate with 1-2 tablespoons of milk and drizzle over the top.

All together, this leads to far less time ’til completion, and no refrigeration time!  Which might actually get me out of the house in a timely manner!