Tastes Like Christmas

I know, I know, you’re wondering why I’m posting about Christmas in mid-August. Bear with me here…

I made lemon coconut bars yesterday–a super easy recipe that I chose out of sheer laziness (and the fact I’d written ‘excellent’ beside it in the cookbook).

As I bit into one of them today, I was struck that they taste like Christmas.

Now, if you had asked me what Christmas tastes like, I would have said cinnamon, cloves and black walnuts.

My Christmassy lemon coconut bars contain none of these ingredients. As you would imagine, lemon and coconut are the primary flavours.

But these bars are loaded with brown sugar, and the more I considered it, the more I thought that must be the true flavour of Christmas. It shows up in most Christmas cookies, and even makes an appearance in some of the traditional savoury dishes, like mashed sweet potatoes.

I use brown sugar in many of the baked goods I make, so theoretically, they should taste like Christmas, too. So, why don’t they?

I think it has to do with the concentration of brown sugar. We tend to prefer baked goods that aren’t pure sugar bombs. For my everyday baking, I usually stick to less sweet items. Not so at Christmastime. Then, I throw all caution to the wind and make the most decadent sweets possible.

The lemon coconut bars fall into that decadent category, containing more sugar than flour. They taste like the decadence of Christmas.

And, perhaps that is the true taste of Christmas–the taste of decadence.

 

Eggsplaining the Difference

A standard egg at the supermarket weighs 53 grams, large eggs are 62 grams and jumbo eggs are a massive 68 grams.

My new chickens just started laying yesterday, and I smiled at the tiny eggs they laid.

Then I weighed them—far from being tiny, they weigh as much as a standard egg.

Turns out the ‘normal’ egg from my chickens weighs 80 grams or more (I had a 92 gram one last week—I know because it looked big, even to me, so I weighed it).

I’ve known this for some time. My eggs are bigger than the eggs called for in your average recipe. I can usually skimp on the number of eggs I use, with no repercussions. It comes in handy in wintertime, when egg production is down, and I’m often rationing eggs.

But I hadn’t really quantified it before. So, doing the maths, if a recipe calls for four large eggs, that’s 248 grams of egg. Just three of my 80+ gram eggs will do, in that case. That matches my experience with skimping on eggs in a 4-egg cake. In recipes that call for three eggs, I can probably get away with two. Start looking at a genoise cake that may call for 7 eggs, and I should really be using closer to 5.

I can’t tell you why my chickens lay such enormous eggs. I assume it’s a combination of genetics and diet. Coming from the same breeder, I expect my new ones to eventually lay 80 gram eggs, like the older ones do. But if they don’t, that’s just fine. Truth is, those super jumbo eggs don’t fit very well in the egg holder on the fridge door. Sometimes, when I open the fridge, an egg flies out to splat on the kitchen floor. I wouldn’t mind non-ballistic eggs.

Funny Fruit

Some days you just have to be silly.

Half way through cooking yesterday’s dinner, I felt it was incomplete. It need a little something extra. Something light and fresh. By the time I thought this, it was already dark outside. I didn’t feel like picking a salad in the dark, so I thought I might make a fruit salad.

But neither the bananas, nor the pears in the fruit bowl were ripe yet, and that left just apples and mandarines. Pretty boring fruit salad.

How could I make plain old apples exciting?

Turn them into swans, of course!

I found instructions for these fun little fruit birds on the Curious Little Kid blog. Hers are much prettier than mine, but mine got a laugh at the table all the same. They turned boring apples into an exciting side dish.

Homemade Oreo Cookies

I’ve had a hankering for my ice cream sandwich cookies for weeks, but it’s midwinter—who wants to eat ice cream sandwiches?

But yesterday I had an idea. What if I turned those same cookies into homemade Oreos?

Oh. Yes.

I took my ice cream sandwich cookie dough and, rolled it out a bit thinner than I do for ice cream sandwiches. Instead of cutting it into rectangles, I cut circles with a cookie cutter. I baked them for 8 minutes at 190ºC (375ºF), and then let them cool completely on a rack.

When cool, I stuck them together with the following icing:

60 g (1/4 cup) softened butter
60 g (1/4 cup) Olivani at room temperature (shortening will work, for those in the US)
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups icing (confectioners) sugar

Beat butter and Olivani until smooth and light. Add vanilla and beat thoroughly. Sift confectioners sugar over the butter mixture and beat until smooth.

The icing was too soft at first and tended to squeeze out of the cookie when we bit into them, but it hardened overnight into the perfect Oreo filling consistency. I found this quantity of icing perfect for the number of cookies, but if you like double-stuff Oreos, make twice as much filling.

It has been decades since I last ate a real Oreo cookie, so I can’t say whether they are exactly like Oreos or not. But they are FANTASTIC!

Cinnamon Biscuits

The line between biscuits (in the American sense of the word) and scones is a blurry one—add an egg and little sugar to a biscuit and, hey presto, you’ve got a scone! Take away the egg from a scone and, voila, you’ve got biscuits!

This morning, wanting scones but facing an egg shortage, I found myself improvising. The biscuit variation I came up with was absolutely marvellous, particularly when eaten with a dollop of honey.

This is a giant Sunday morning quantity of biscuits—enough for breakfast for four, plus extra snacking through the day. Easily halved, if you’re not feeling like Sunday decadence.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp brown sugar
125g (8 Tbsp) cold butter
1 1/2 cups milk

Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Stir in milk. Briefly knead dough, just until smooth. Roll to 1.5 – 2 cm (1/2 – 3/4 inch) thickness and cut into squares, rounds, or whatever biscuity shape you like. Bake on an ungreased sheet at 210ºC (425ºF) for about 15 minutes, until browned.

Nostalgic Baking

I made Irish soda bread to go with dinner today. As I mixed up the dough, I remembered making soda bread back when the kids were preschoolers. The recipe I have is easily quartered, so I would make a full batch, and each of the kids would make their own quarter-sized loaf. It didn’t even require any calculations—I simply gave them a smaller measuring cup (1/4-cup and 1/4 tsp to my one-cup and 1 tsp measures) and they could follow the recipe just like I did.

They loved baking their very own loaf, and then seeing it next to their plate at the dinner table.

Of course, these days, the teenagers are less keen on baking the bread and more keen on eating it, but I reckon one day they might make their own Irish soda bread again and remember making mini-loaves with Mum.

The recipe I use comes from Beard on Bread, by James Beard. I don’t know if this wonderful little cookbook is still in print, but I encourage you to find a copy—if you’ve never made bread before, Beard will walk you through it. If you’re a seasoned baker, Beard’s comprehensive selection of recipes will give you plenty to riff off as you experiment.

3 cup wholemeal flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
2 cups buttermilk

Combine dry ingredients. Mix in enough buttermilk to make a soft dough. Knead on a lightly floured board for 2-3 minutes. Form a round loaf and place on a buttered baking sheet. Cut a cross in the top with a sharp knife. Bake at 190ºC (375ºF) for 40-45 minutes.