Pumpkin molasses whoopie cookie pies and Halloween candy bark: embracing seasonal potlucks with Jessey

And here I thought I would have no time for Halloween baking. I was happily proven wrong.

Last week, my friend Jessey (and founder of the blog I help edit, Local Tourist Ottawa, GO CHECK IT OUT) sent me an email request. Her office was having a Halloween potluck on Thursday and she wanted to know if I could help her make some spooky treats. Of course, I had to make time for a friend. Enabling myself to bake for an entire night wasn’t a bad thing either.

After I got Jessey’s message, I spent the next few hours searching the Internet for perfect, not-too-difficult-but-still-impressive-looking recipes. I finally decided on the Halloween candy bark from Annie’s Eats and some super huge variation on this whoopie pie recipe in order to not use cake mix.

When Wednesday evening rolled around, it was time to ingredient shop. After a trip to the grocery store in which half of the world’s chocolate supply was carried home on my bike (seriously, I looked like a girl scorned by a terrible, broken relationship), Jessey came over to my place and we started the baking. But not before eating some mini chicken pot pies. Recipe to come.

Secret: I’m absolutely terrified to bake/cook with or for other people. Things could happen. My oven could explode, chocolate could burn, stovetop fires could occur or, heaven forbid, something could even taste bad. This isn’t me lying to you or exaggerating in any way. I’m scared that either A through D will happen and that the friend, family member and/or roommate that I’m with at the time will harshly judge me, comment all over my blog, and thereby destroy any sort of little community I’ve built for myself here. Luckily none of these things happened. I know, you were really holding your breath for a moment.

Hey look! It's me! I look super happy and about five-years-old. Photo by Jessey

In fact, there was only one thing that happened throughout our entire baking time that could be ranked on the “I’m judging you, Hilary” scale. Here’s the story:

It was the end of the evening and Jessey and I were making the filling for the whoopie pie cookies. During my trip to the grocery store, I had put both the all purpose flour bag and the icing sugar bag in one spot. Both were clear, since baking supplies are best bought at the Bulk Barn. Both looked pretty darn similar.

Poor hindsight. Can you spot my error?

The icing for the cookies required a cup-and-a-half of icing sugar. Guess what cup-and-a-half went into the mixing bowl instead? You guessed it. Along with the orange gel food colouring, the filling started to resemble more of a magic potion (like the ones I stored in film canisters in my closet when I was 10) than an actual edible frosting (or anything for that matter). The mistake was spotted and we laughed. I was only flush red for a few minutes.

Other than that, everything was super. Realistically, the whoopie pies were more like delicious, soft pumpkin-molasses cookies with icing smushed in between them. My evening ended with me piping leftover frosting onto cookies and, when those were all gone, piping it straight into my mouth. Attractive, I know.

Jessey and I at the end of the evening (Photo by Jeremy)
Instagram, you take pretty cookie pictures

Moral of the story: you always have time to bake (and icing makes your stomach sore). Jessey said our dessert plate was a hit!

Food photo shoots are always better when your pretty roommates join in!

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A very belated Thanksgiving post (in which I do not make turkey, but obviously dessert)

Woah, October 23 already? Yeah, I know, we’re now almost closer to American Thanksgiving than we are Canadian. Shame on me.

It has been exactly two weeks since I made these pumpkin toffee tarts with my mom. In fact, it was probably about two weeks ago at this exact time that we were making them – my mom crushing up the Skor bars, me mixing the pumpkin filling and less-than-sleuthly stealing large masses of said chocolate.

The pre-purchased mini pie crusts. That's right, we cheated.
The inner-tart with a toffee base

But before I talk about the pumpkin toffee tarts, lets talk Thanksgiving. That was, after all, why I was at home.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel home every year for Thanksgiving since starting university. The past few trips have become much more family-oriented, which is to say that I let my parents spoil me, play more frisbee with my brother and watch more episodes of Criminal Minds with my mom.

This time around, I also gave in to their life long request of daily exercise. My parents have always been (and rightly so, I suppose) huge proponents of daily outdoor time. This made me miserable as a child. Temper tantrums accompanied trips to the cross country ski trails, whining would ensue while hiking,… you get the picture. Child Hilary was probably the exact opposite of child Brittany.

But now that I’m old, wise and mature (read: 21, still naive and more than occasionally a child), I decided a change of attitude was in order. The nagging of outdoor time has become less of a nagging and more of a necessity in my everyday life. I’ve started night jogging again, which is always nice. And I still bike places. Even in the rain (see: embarrassing skunk stripe of wet up my butt as I bike in the downpour).

Here! Have a pretty picture of leaves.

There was lots of daily outdoor time this Thanksgiving, thanks to Mother Nature who made the entire weekend a beautiful 25°C. It was seriously hot. All the fashionable fall clothing I brought home was laid aside. In its place, my mom’s stretchy workout shorts. Hell yeah.

On Saturday my mom, dad and I went hiking at Onaping Falls, a trail just a short distance out of Sudbury.

Mom and dad, being cute

Monday was another beautiful day, so we went kayaking as a family on Ramsey Lake. It was beautiful and I only pouted a little bit. I wrapped my iPhone in a plastic ziploc bag and tried to take some artistic shots on the water.

It was a lovely, relaxing weekend and exactly what I needed.

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Lavender lemon cupcake blooms with a lemon cream cheese icing

I know that no one needs to be reminded that I love cupcakes.

But just in case you do…

I LOVE THEM I LOVE THEM I LOVE THEM. I love them so much that my obsession justifies my lack on punctuation.

I also love making them. And buying stuff to make them pretty.

Hence the purchase of these lavender cupcake liners.

Remember a million years ago when I explored St. Lawrence Market in Toronto? In that post, I raved about this wonderful kitchen supply shop they had set up in the middle of the second floor. It was here, that I found these beauties.

I have wanted to make lavender cupcakes ever since.

Since I’m really rather logical, I chose Thursday, the hottest day on record since 1956 to bake things. No, I did not bake them outside. You’re funny, though. Luckily for me, my awesomely super student home came equipped with AC. This blast of cold air made mixing, scooping, piping and living tolerable.

It turns out that because these cupcake liners were so gigantic, I was unable to correctly estimate the amount of batter that was to go in each. And so, the Godzilla-sized cupcakes were born. My doubled (thank god I did this) recipe made a dozen of them, and frankly, each cupcake is the size of a small coffee mug. They were good though, so I didn’t mind. I also still managed to eat two (mom: this does not warrant another hyper-concerned type two diabetes email, but thanks for having my back).

Also, holy cow these were awesome. Seriously, really, really yummy. And I consider myself fairly well versed when it comes to cupcake tasting. The lemon and lavender flavours were balanced in the perfectly moist cake, and the cream cheese icing had a nice citrusy shot. Okay, maybe the icing was a little too sweet for some, BUT I LIKED IT.

Anyways, I took plenty of pictures of my cupcakes in bloom. Since she demanded that I do this, I must say that Ariel was the photo director for this cupcake shoot. She stood outside in a completely inappropriate heatwave day outfit and held cupcakes in the blistering sun while I snapped at my cupcakes from all angles. She also had the idea for the sunflower leaf photos. Very Thumbelina, n’est ce pas?

I have more than half a dozen cupcakes leftover, as of Friday evening. Perhaps I will give them away, or perhaps I will eat them all in one sitting and let a stomach ache blossom in my stomach. Yeah, I just went there.

Update: I brought the cupcakes to a fiesta-themed party I went to Friday night. It was Mexican-themed and they were boys. Could I get the theme anymore wrong?

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Tie-dye cookies

Please forgive me for what I’m about to do:

These cookies were absolutely tie-dye for.

See?  I told you it was going to be bad.  Now, if you can move on from this disastrous display of attempted wit, please continue to read about these colourful cookies.

I figured such colourful cookies warranted the use of my homemade placemats as an appropriate backdrop.

The rekindling of my creative cooking self was partly inspired by my passionate love of colour.

These cookies saw me, once again, utilizing the ever-strong powers of my gel food colouring (well technically, it’s Brittany’s food colouring, but she was kind enough to let me use it for the summer).  The recipe for these cookies was inspired by two different blog postings, one by The Cooking Photographer, and the other by my new favourite baking blog, Diamonds for Dessert.  I’ve only made “icebox cookies” once before.  To make icebox cookies, all you do is refrigerate the dough and slice it to make the cookies.  For me, this refrigeration time lasted for two days, since I had absolutely no time to make them earlier in the week.  I finally got around to baking them while I waited for my portobello pesto pizza to rise.

Due to poor planning on my part, I decided to knead the gel food colouring into the cookie dough, rather than mix it in pre-flour when it would have actually been easy.  As a result, the dough wasn’t completely dyed, creating this sort of cool tie-dye effect.  It also meant that my hands were dyed with pink, green, yellow and purple dye for three straight days.

Hulk-like

Gel food colouring – it’s powerful stuff. (PS: in my recipe below I’ve changed around the instructions so you can get solid cookie colours…unless you want to make them look tie-dye, that is, in which case add in the food colouring last).

My favourite part of photographing these cookies, was that a little girl strolling along the street with her mom stopped and stared for a bit.  Something about rainbow-coloured cookies make kids coming running. I gave her a her mom a cookie and snapped their picture just because the kid was so damn cute.  I also happened to be a fan of her pink colour scheme.

I already have a few tricks up my sleeves for the next time I make cookies like this.  I’m thinking of making two layers mint green and adding in peppermint extract instead of vanilla.  The other two layers will then somehow have oreo crumbs mixed in, making them either (a) like a girl guide cookie or (b) like the best Dairy Queen blizzard in existence.  Stay tuned.

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Sunday dinner with Ariel and Alex: Chilled guacamole soup and double chocolate chipotle muffins

…And Ariel made the fajitas (and Alex hung out with us but ate some vegetarian-friendly meal)!

There is little I love more in life than an impromptu, Mexican-themed meal.  Throw a couple of good friends into the mix, and you have the ingredients for a terrific night.

My charming friends
My fajita, served with a side of iPhone

The dynamics of my friendship with Ariel
(I’m in the mood for headings)
This past Sunday, Ariel invited me over to her house (my old house) for a taco dinner.  Obviously, I accepted.  It was Ariel’s turn to make me something anyways.  You see, the two of us have a payback system that never involves the exchange of money.  I make Ariel supper?  She makes me supper in return.  Ariel buys me an oat fudge bar from Starbucks and a fun popsicle after I forget my wallet at home?  I buy her a movie ticket at the Mayfair.  It’s a good system.  Yesterday we even had a muffin exchange at lunch.  This is why we are friends.

The appetizer
When brainstorming things to make on Sunday, I came across two recipes on Tastespotting.

The first was for a chilled guacamole soup.  I was intrigued.  I had never made guacamole before, but am passionately in love with avocados.  I figured I’d try this one out, and cart it over to Ariel and Alex’s as an appetizer.  It was super easy to make (it took 20 minutes + chill time) and gave me an excuse to buy and munch on my favourite fruit.

Please note the metal chunk that was once attached to Ariel's bicycle, Hans

But don’t get me wrong – this soup was not made without sacrifice.  Oh whatever do I mean?  Well, you know how a few blog posts back I mentioned that you need to wear gloves when you cut jalapeno peppers?  I decided to disobey my own advice, promising that I would be careful and not burn my fingers.

Good news: I didn’t burn my fingers.

JUST EVERY SINGLE PART OF MY FACE, INCLUDING EYELIDS, NOSE AND FOREHEAD.

Pain and agony.  Whine, whine, whine.

The dessert
Okay, I’m over the pepper burns.

I spotted these “muffins” shortly after the soup discovery.  Why the air quotes?  It’s because these were more or less cupcakes.  I’m sorry, anything with the term “double chocolate” in its name has no choice but to be excluded all together from the muffin category.  The addition of the chipotle spice was simply an excuse for me to use more of that $8 bottle of chipotle chili pepper that I bought when I made my Cinco de Mayo brownies (yes, I realize that these are the muffin equivalent of that dessert, shh).

I decided that if I was going to classify these as dessert, I might as well go all out.  I scooped out the top and plopped in a spoonful of ice cream.  Great summer dessert.  In true west coast fashion, Ariel had blackberries with hers.

Final note: the vanilla I used for the cuppins wasn’t just any old vanilla.  When I babysat for this family the other week (the girls and I made 50 cupcakes from scratch for their school classes, but that’s another story…), the mom gave me a bottle of homemade vanilla extract.  It was made with boiled down Grey Goose vodka and real vanilla beans (which were still sitting in the bottle).  So awesome.

PS: Oh old front porch, it was good to be back.  I missed standing on a chair to take photos (not).

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