Tag Archives: baking

Peanut Butter Cookies

5 Apr

Oh wow.  This has been a week full of white chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, chocolate with hazelnuts and even 99% cocoa chocolate.  My kids have been eating it on their bread for breakfast (they’re half Belgian), straight up for snacks and even popping a few Easter eggs for bedtime snack.  I’ve declared it “chocolate week” and I want them to enjoy it to its fullest.  Plus, I want it all out of my house by next week when they return to school and I return to my no-sugar lifestyle.

But it’s not all bad.  From what I’ve been reading dark chocolate  is the new super food that can help with everything from depression to anemia (my pharmacist told me that the other day).  And I recently found out dark chocolate can actually prevent tooth decay.

To put a little protein into their chocolate diet I decided to make them some Peanut Butter Cookies with, you guessed it, chocolate.  Usually I don’t make peanut butter cookies due to the extortionate price of peanut butter over here (I pay 6 euro for a tiny jar) but since I was brought a huge jug from America I thought I would use some of it to make these delicious cookies.

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All of my Italian and European friends aren’t familiar with Peanut Butter cookies and even look slightly disturbed by the thought of them.  But once they try them they usually can’t get enough.  These cookies are rich, buttery and have a slight saltiness to them.  I love them to no end.  And you will to.

Read on for recipe… Continue reading

Hot Cross Buns

26 Mar

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It has been pretty silent around here on this blog the last week.  I have my (wonderful) in-laws here at the moment and we’ve been busy doing all sorts of things together.  Lots of walks, trips to Milan, delicious meals together and board game playing.  The kids are in heaven with the non-stop playmates (and chocolate givers).

This past week-end the weather was rainy and miserable so we ended up spending the entire Sunday inside the house.  For vieruurtje (Dutch for afternoon-snack and literally translated as “little 4 o’clock”) I made the clan some good ol’ Easter Hot Cross Buns.

This is a basic recipe and much simpler than the traditional recipes that seem to include a ton of steps.  Usually I would also add some candied citrus peel or currents to the dough but unfortunately my kids would disown me for life and run out the door and never come back if they found such things in their buns.


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I took a basic white bread recipe and added some extra sugar and cinnamon (similar to the Cinnamon Swirl Bread from last week).  These buns come out really soft and spongy and actually keep fresh for a day or two.  Before putting them in the oven I take a sharp knife and slash a cross on the tops.  That way there is a perfect indentation for the ever important icing to settle into (after cooled).

Nothing really gives me that Easter feeling more than a pan of fresh-out-of-the-oven Hot Cross Buns (and a sunny garden full of blooming flowers of course).  Throw in some kids wearing pastel coloured spring dresses and straw hats and it’s absolutely perfect.

Read on for recipe.

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Cinnamon Swirl Bread

15 Mar

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For ages I’ve been wanting to try and re-create a bread that we ate often when I was little.  Cinnamon Swirl Bread.  I remember my mom used to buy it on the week-ends and I’m pretty sure my brother and I could polish off a whole loaf in one sitting.  If there happened to be some left over (rarely) we ate it the next day toasted with butter (almost better than eating it fresh).

Yesterday when the loaf came out of the oven and I sliced into it so I could take some photos I knew it was not going to be possible to wait until the week-end to give it a try.  This no-sugar-during-the-week thing that I’m doing is great and I admit that I’m feeling much better in general.  Geesh, it has been almost six months that I’ve resisted the urge to eat everything from chocolate cake to fruit pies to bags of my favorite candy.  But the taste of that bread yesterday was probably the best thing I have eaten in my entire  life (have you noticed that I tend to exaggerate slightly sometimes?). No regrets here.

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When my kid’s arrived home from school famished I served them this and they were ecstatic.  “Mama, it’s like a gooey cinnamon bun in the middle of a  loaf of delicious bread!” and “Mama, this is absolutely the best things I’ve ever tasted in my entire life!” (the exaggeration trait was apparently passed on to a few of my kids).

So my advice to you all is to make this bread this week-end and let your families/friends/pets shower you with praise, love and thankfulness.

Read on for recipe…

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Oatmeal Molasses Bread

27 Feb

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Today’s recipe is one that reminds me of my childhood in Nova Scotia and the Saturday Farmer’s Market where we bought it.    It reminds me of drizzly mornings at our kitchen table with thick slices of this bread covered in a layer of butter (and sometimes even some molasses on top of that).  I’ve never found another bread that has the same moist and spongy consistency.  And one that seems to be loved by everyone who tries it.

Yes, I am this bread’s #1 fan.

This past week-end I made one big loaf of this Oatmeal Molasses Bread and two smaller loaves.  The large loaf was scoffed down in no less than 5 minutes and the other two I froze for a lunch with some good friends this week.  And just to let you know, once unfrozen this bread feels just as fresh as when it comes out of the oven.  This bread can do no wrong.

Here in Italy it’s almost impossible to get your hands on molasses so I have to use  my stash sparingly.   And I’m pretty sure there is no real substitute for it as well (if you know one please let me know).  I think it’s the key ingredient to making this bread so moist and…perfect.  Luckily my husband is traveling to America for work next week and molasses is on his grocery list of things to bring home.

Continue reading for recipe…
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Brown Sugar Shortbreads

18 Jan

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In a few days my dear grandmother is turning 91 years old.  At almost 91 my grandmother has more energy than I do and a social schedule that would make an 18 year old jealous.  This wonderful woman is sweet, kind, funny , caring and so generous.  In other words, the perfect grandmother (and great-grandmother!).

In the past I’ve mentioned that during my childhood I spent many days in her cozy little kitchen learning how to bake.  It’s definitely there that my passion for baking was ignited.  And over the years I’ve been slowly teaching my own kids the art of making the perfect biscuit or bobo ball just as my grandmother taught me.

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Today I made up a batch of my grandmother’s Brown Sugar Shortbreads.  These cookies are so buttery and rich and make your house smell like absolute heaven when they’re baking in the oven.  Usually you should make a thumbprint in the balls of dough and fill it up with jam before baking but I thought for the occasion of my grandmother’s 91st I’d make little jam filled hearts in the middle.  And they turned out perfectly.  I think I’ll be making these by the dozen to give out on Valentine’s Day as well.  Believe me, cookies like these will make people feel loved.

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Brown Sugar Shortbreads

1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 egg yolk
1 3/4 cup flour
pinch of salt

1. Cream butter and brown sugar.

2. Add egg yolk and mix to combine.

3. Add flour and salt and mix until becomes  dense dough.

4. Roll into balls and place on cookie sheet.  Flatten slightly then either make an indent with thumb (or a carrot heart like me!).  Fill hole with favorite jam.

5. Bake in 350 (180) oven for 10-15 minutes.

Enjoy!

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As you read above in the recipe, I carved out a heart in a carrot to use as my “stamp” for the middle of the cookie.  My kids thought I was nuts but it actually worked out perfectly in the end (and let me tell you how hard it is to carve a carrot with a half-healed broken wrist!).

We’ll be enjoying these this week-end and sending loving birthday thoughts to my grandmother in Canada.

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Wouldn’t a sweet little decorated box filled with these delicious cookies make the perfect Valentine’s Day gift?

Guest Post: JOELIX

19 Dec

{Note from Jillian: Today I have our first guest post on the blog.  Many thanks to the uber-talented Judith from JOELIX for whipping up this amazing Christmas recipe.  I seriously can’t wait until my arm is well enough to make these.  They involve two of my favorite things…mincemeat and cheesecake! Make sure to check out her blog JOELIX and be prepared to be inspired.  She’s one talented lady. }

Bonjour Jillian In Italy readers, I’m Judith from JOELIX.com. Jillian asked me to share something festive with you, while she is recovering from surgery. I hope she’s doing fine, because not being allowed to use your right hand for 6 weeks must be really tough! Especially with 3 kids… Big hugs Jill!

You all know that Jillian is a talented cook, so I decided to share my favorite christmas recipe with you today. I never cook myself (although I do enjoy baking & making desserts!), but I’m blessed to be surrounded by some amazing chefs. My all time favorite christmas treats are my mom’s mini cheesecakes with mincemeat. They taste very christmassy & sweet and look super cute. Plus they are not too big, which is perfect after a rich christmas meal.

So here is my mom’s recipe:

What you need:
200g digestive biscuits
120g melted unsalted butter
250g firm cream cheese
200ml crème fraîche
75g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
100ml whipped cream
100g dried candied cranberries
2 tbs brandy
400g mincemeat

What you do:
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with cling film. Mix the crumbled biscuits with the butter in a blender until combined. Press biscuit mixture into the base and sides of the muffin holes. Press firmly with a spoon. Place the muffin pan in the freezer while you make the filling.
Combine the cream cheese, crème fraîche, sugar and vanilla extract in your blender and beat until smooth. Mix with whipped cream using a spoon.
Fill the muffin pan with spoonfuls of the cream filling. Freeze for another 30 minutes.
Gently heat the cranberries and brandy in a saucepan over low heat for 2-3 minutes. Then add mincemeat and warm through for another 3 minutes. Remove from the stove.
To serve, carefully remove the cakes from the muffin pan and serve with mincemeat topping. Bon appétit!

You can buy ready-made mincemeat at this time of the year, but my mom suggested it tastes much better when you prepare the mincemeat yourself. She wrote down her recipe and I made an easy downloadable recipe of it!

If you are going to try making these mini cheesecakes, let me know how you liked them! And of course: may your days be merry & bright! Gros bisous from France!

Edible Home-Made Gifts

14 Dec

It’s that time of year to start making little gifts to give your teachers, postman, hairdresser and kid’s bus driver.  The last few days I’ve been busy roasting nuts, melting chocolate and writing out thank you notes.  Here are a few of the home-made gifts on my list this year.  They’re easy, delicious and perfect to show someone your gratitude for all they’ve done the past year.

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We have a few people on our list that aren’t super keen on sweets so I thought I’d make some spiced nuts for them.  I found this recipe in an old Martha Stewart magazine from eons ago and they’re absolutely tasty.  A little sweet, a little spicy and a little salty.  Perfection.

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Here’s how to make them:

Spicy Almonds

1 tsp course salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp molasses
1 tsp white vinegar
2 cups whole blanched almonds, toasted

-First of all toast the almonds in a 350 (180) degree oven for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven.
-In a large bowl combine salt, sugar and spices.
-In a large skillet over medium heat bring butter, molasses and vinegar to a boil.  Add toasted almonds and stir to evenly coat.
-Add nut mixture to spice mixture, toss to coat.
-Transfer to a baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake but mixture for 4 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool.
-Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

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Next we made some orangettes which are chocolate covered candied orange peel.  My daughter made them for her papa’s birthday last week and I realised how easy it is to make them.  Perfect to take as a hostess gift or give anyone who loves the orange/chocolate combo.

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There are only four ingredients to make these professional looking sweets.  Here’s how to make them:

Orangettes

100 g Chocolate (good quality, preferably Belgian of course)
2 oranges
300 g sugar
3 ml water

-Cut the oranges in quarters and cut away everything to leave only the peel.
-Slice into skinny slivers (like above).  Wash under cold water.
-Put sugar and water in pot and bring to a boil.  Add orange peels and cook for approximately 60-80 minutes (or until you see they have become candied).
-Let candied peels cool on parchment paper.
-Melt chocolate and dip candied peels in to completely cover.
-Put peels in fridge so that chocolate hardens.  Store peels in container for up to 2 weeks.

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And last but not least I decided to make yet another edible gift that involves chocolate.  I found some lovely little chocolate liners so I decided to try my hand at chocolate/truffle making.

I put some chopped chocolate in a double boiler and melted it.  I then added some heavy cream and a few drops of mint extract.  I did a bit of guessing at the measurements but at the end I had a thick smooth and pour-able mixture.  I then filled the little chocolate wrappers and sprinkled crushed candy cane on top.  From what the family says they are quite rich but very delicious.

You can also check out my Belgian Chocolate Spread which I made for everyone last year.  It was a huge hit and quick to make with only 3 ingredients.

Do you have any favorite recipes or homemade goods that you give away at Christmas?

Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies

21 Nov

Hello all.  I’m back after taking a much needed break.  We had a really tough week last week and we’re just surfacing from some serious grieving over the loss of someone very special.  Dealing with your own grief while dealing with the grief of your children can be quite overwhelming.

But we’re getting our life back together and starting our daily grind again.  And we’re all happy about it.

Today is a beautiful day here in Northern Italy.  The sun is shining and the mountains are in clear view.  Absolutely stunning scenery all around me.

View from my sewing room this morning

Since I started my sugar hiatus five weeks ago I haven’t done much baking.  I had to steer clear of all sweets those first weeks because the temptation was overwhelming.  But the cravings have subsided and I can actually bake without wanting to stick my head in the mixing bowl to devour whatever dough I’m preparing (okay it did cross my mind with these cookies but the urge passed very quickly).

These Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cranberries and White Chocolate are probably one of my favourite cookies (and similar to these that I made a few months ago).  They are sweet with a touch of tart and very hearty.  I could imagine these would be the perfect apres-ski snack with a mug of hot chocolate.

I made up a batch of these and baked half the dough and froze the other half .  As I’ve said in the past, having cookie dough ready in your freezer is great for last minute guests, hungry school kids or late-night cravings.  And people, Christmas is coming up really soon!  We’ve got to get on the holiday baking now!

Continue reading for the recipe!

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Vanilla Bean Pudding

6 Nov

Since I’ve been off sugar for 2 1/2 weeks my baking has come to almost a full stop.  It’s sad really.  I miss all that mixing, kneading, stirring and blending.  Not to mention the eating of all those glorious sweets that I used to bake on a daily basis.  More than anything else I’ve been craving the Italian jam pie crostata.  I wouldn’t even try it for the first decade of living in Italy because it looked so dry but in the end it has become one of my favourite desserts.  I will be trying to make one this coming week-end (because I’m allowing myself the odd treat on Saturday or Sunday).  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Because I was feeling so bad for my kids and the fact they haven’t been able to enjoy some good home-baking I decided to make them something special for when they got off the school bus today.  I was thinking of making a fancy fruit mousse or trifle but in the end I opted for the most basic of desserts.  Pudding.  Vanilla pudding.  I had never made my kids pudding in their little lives so I thought it was time to give it a try.  Plus, my mom bought me the most lovely little glasses that were crying to be filled with something delicious and creamy.

My kids liked the pudding but asked why there were little pieces of dirt floating in it.  I explained to them about vanilla beans and how wonderful they are.  They looked at me like they still thought there was dirt in their pudding.

It’s a simple and quick recipe and I’m amazed at how it turned out so smoothly and lump-less.  Read on to get the recipe…

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Miniature Pretzel Bites

15 Oct


It’s cold and rainy over here today.  It seems as though the summer is finally over and that the heating system might need to be put to work again.  I have to admit that I’m absolutely not looking forward to winter and cold weather.  I’m one of those people who can never feel warm in the winter months.  I walk around the house with double wool socks, thick scarves and lots of fleece and I have the thermostat on 23 degrees and the fireplace on.  It’s one of the main reasons I moved away from Canada actually.  So wish me luck this winter and let’s hope for a short one.

To beat the chill I can usually be found baking.  Last week I made these miniature pretzel bites and they were devoured within minutes of being out of the oven.   The extra step of boiling the dough before baking is daunting for some people but it’s really not that bad!

I came across the idea to make pretzels over on Say Yes to Hoboken and the recipe is from the Our Best Bites site.  I decided to make the dough into miniature balls so that I could make several different flavours.  For this batch I made some savoury ones with sesame and poppy seeds and some sweet ones with cinnamon and sugar.  They really are so chewy and tasty.  My kids are asking for them on a daily basis now.

There’s nothing like Fleischmann’s quick rising yeast packets from Canada.  Good thing my mom arrives in a few weeks with some more.

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