Tag: winter

Recipe #10: Shortbread Cookies with Toblerone

In keeping with the holiday spirit, I am baking sweets traditionally associated with this time of the year. Shortbread is an iconic biscuit (as they say in the UK for cookie) commonly associated with Christmastime.

The cookie was “invented” in Scotland all the way back in the 12th century. It was often twice baked until it hardened into a rusk, then dusted with sugar and spices. But the biscuit became more popular during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots during the 16th century, when it was often baked for family celebrations and holidays like Christmas.

The term shortbread comes from the fat or shortening used in the recipe–in this instance butter (and lots of it!) and the short crumb or crumbly consistency on the biscuit.

That’s a pound of butter

Most traditional recipes call for the dough to be pressed into the pan, pricked with fork tines and cut into wedges or rectangular biscuits after baking. I follow a recipe that is more like a drop cookie. And I like to change it up a bit and add some additional richness to the already rich dough.

Shortbread is a 1-2-3 cookie; one part sugar (this can be a combination of granulated sugar and icing sugar), two parts butter and three parts flour. My recipe also calls for cornstarch, which is supposed to soften the proteins in the flour. As such, the texture of my shortbread cookies is so crumbly, the cookie practically melts in your mouth.

I use granulated sugar, icing sugar and cornstarch

Shortbread diehards would probably object to the use of cornstarch in the recipe, but I have had great success with this recipe so I’m not going to mess with it.

I like to add chocolate to my recipe so I take a Toblerone bar, which has delicious milk chocolate and nougat in it, and chop it up into small chunks before adding it into the dough.

Mmm! Toblerone

I use a small 1/2 inch cookie scoop to form balls and bake them for approximately 15 minutes.

Half-inch cookies are just the right size

There should be NO browning on the cookie. If it browns, it’s been in the oven too long.

Shortbreads are subtly sweet and deeply rich. They are a perfect companion to a cup of tea or a hot toddy. And they most certainly make a great addition to your dessert table–or even a great gift at the holidays.

These cookies are very crumbly, and very rich

Shortbread Cookies with Toblerone Chunks

  • 1 pound unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 Cup Icing Sugar
  • 3 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Cornstarch
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla extract
  • 1 Toblerone chocolate bar, chopped into small chunks


Beat the butter, icing sugar, flour and cornstarch until fluffy. add splash of vanilla and combine. Sprinkle chocolate chunks into batter and mix until just combined. Spoon onto a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees–make sure the cookies do not brown! The cookies will still be soft when you remove them from the oven. Place them on a rack to cook.

Blossoms in Winter

Fresh cut flowers are one of the simplest ways to remind yourself there’s life after winter. But if they aren’t in the budget, what about a flowering plant? It’s the gift that keeps on giving–if you have a green thumb.

I can’t say I’ve ever had much luck growing flowering plants at home. I never know how much water to give them, if they should or shouldn’t be in direct sunlight. Plant food, what’s that?

Call it beginner’s luck, but I’m pleased to say I brought my wee Christmas Cactus back from the brink.

I bought it at Ikea months ago. It was blossoming then, but within a week or two of bringing it home it stopped thriving. Kind of reminds me of the beta fish my son got for his birthday a couple of years ago. Apparently more fish food does not make for a healthier fish.

The cactus looked like it was on death’s doorstep when I moved it to the window sill in my laundry room. It found company with my three phalaenopsis orchids (which I also brought back from the brink, but that’s another story). Maybe it was the company, maybe it was the window sill, I really don’t know. But it began to grow new buds and that alone made me giddy.

This plant reminds me of my paternal grandmother, Lily. She adored these plants and the colour pink. I don’t think I ever saw her without pink lipstick on except at her sickest. She died far too young at the age of 69. I was 18. She was a stylish lady who loved to doll herself up. She could cook a wicked Hungarian meal and that included sinfully delicious desserts. And her home always had flowering plants. African violets and Christmas cacti come to mind.

So on this snowy, wintry day–less than a month away from what would have been my grandmother’s 92nd birthday–enjoy the colourful blooms of my Christmas cactus to brighten up your day. Who knows? You might be inspired to nurture a flowering plant too!

Christmas cactus in full bloom
Christmas cactus in full bloom

New Theme, New Year (almost)

I decided to give this little pet project of mine a bit of a facelift with a new look. It’s cute, dontcha think? Very girly, which isn’t really me, but it’s easy on the eyes.

I don’t actually have much to tell you about right now so I thought I’d show off the planter at the front of my house. I’m proud to say that I’ve managed to use the same birch logs, some branches and the white berries in the arrangement for the last three or four years. I wish I could do the same with the evergreen boughs, but they just don’t last. Yes, very frugal of me.

New this year are the little battery operated LEDs, which I love, but seem to be rather unreliable. But you must agree, they really do complete the look, don’t they?

Winter evergreen planter arrangement with LED lights
Winter evergreen planter arrangement with LED lights

Happy Holidays to you all during this unseasonably warm winter evening!

Chestnuts, Brownies and Snowdrops

I feel like I’m having a bit of an identity crisis. I’m eager to get into my garden as I see the first signs of Spring have sprung in the form of crocuses and snowdrops. But I’m a cautious optimist. Unlike friends and neighbours who have already raked up the remnants of Fall’s leaves and collected dead branches and dried up plant stalks in anticipation of the Spring bloom, I’m waiting to see if Old Man Winter has really left the building. While I’d like to be out in the garden getting everything “ready,” there’s a voice playing in my head saying, “ready for what? Have you read the long range forecast lately?” And so I continue to exercise restraint, choosing instead to pay my respects to the last vestiges of winter by baking the ultimate comfort dessert, super chocolatey brownies and throwing together a pot of puréed chestnut soup.



I attempted a new brownie recipe this weekend from a book given to me by my brother and sister-in-law. It’s simply called “Bars & Squares” by Jill Snider. I’ve casually flipped through the book and thought about attempting a few of the recipes. I thought there were only a couple of brownie recipes in the book when I first started assembling my ingredients. Well, had I been paying closer attention I would have noticed the book has an entire section devoted to the brownie. In my haste I began putting the ingredients together for the “Brownie Overload” recipe, which calls for an astounding 2 1/2 cups of coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate. Then I notice the recipe calls for nuts and dried cranberries. Yuch! That’s not a brownie! So I start flipping pages only to discover I have 23 brownie recipes to choose from. But I have to stay the course, because I’ve already measured and mixed my dry ingredients and chopped up most of my chocolate. So, about an hour later I end up with a 13 x 9 pan of ultra-rich brownies. I think I over baked them a bit much, but all I need to do is throw one into the microwave for 11 seconds and it is absolutely heavenly. Perfect for an early Spring day to fight off a chilly breeze.

bars & squares by jill snider
bars & squares by jill snider


And finally, before the weekend concluded I promised myself I’d get around to making the chestnut soup recipe that my close colleague and friend, Susan Bishop was kind enough to share with me. She gives credit to New York Times cooking columnist and author, Mark Bittman, for the recipe. And true to Susan’s words, this was a very easy recipe to make. The hardest part of this recipe was finding the main ingredient, because fresh chestnuts are out of season. So I decided to do like Susan and buy the package of roasted and peeled whole chestnuts. A simple enough task, no? No. Upon inquiring as to the whereabouts of said chestnuts, not a single grocery store clerk had any idea what I was talking about let alone where in the store I might find said chestnuts. But I persevered and eventually after visiting grocery store #4, I found them in amongst the dried fruit and nuts. I was pleasantly surprised to see several brands available. In the end I opted for two different size packages because I wasn’t sure how many came in a package or how many I’d need. The recipe essentially involves sweating chopped onions and celery in olive oil with salt and pepper. Add 10 large chestnuts (I didn’t really measure this out) and cook in 4 cups of chicken broth for roughly 30 minutes. I let it cool and then threw it all in a blender. Susan says she likes to garnish the soup with shitake mushroom caps sliced and sautéed in butter until crisp, but I didn’t have any. And after the hunt for the elusive chestnuts I didn’t really want to venture back into the grocery store. As for the soup, it has a nice, light nutty sweet flavour and because it’s cooked in a chicken broth and there’s no cream added, it’s not a heavy soup. No doubt great as a starter or on it’s own with a good piece of fresh baguette for sopping it up.

Peeled chestnuts
Peeled chestnuts


So there you have it. A weekend spent looking forward to the impending Spring with a nod to the passing winter, which no doubt will have its final day of reckoning before we can safely put away our boots, jackets, gloves and hats. In the meantime I’ll be happy slurping my soup and nibbling brownies.