Baking

Day Of The Leaplings

February 29th is Leap Day. Babies born on this day are called Leaplings. As their birthday only comes once every four years they can choose to celebrate their birthday, on the non-leap years, a day early on February 28th, a day later on March 1st, or they can wait four years and only celebrate on Leap Day.

Legally they grow a year older each year (they don’t have to wait 72 or 84 years to be able to buy a drink!) In New Zealand if you’re born on the 29th of February, your birthday is officially 28th February on the other years. In many other parts of the world it is on the 1st of March in those years. In Australia, it was decided in a court case in 2018 (really 2018!) when an offender argued successfully that she should be tried as a child for offences committed on 28th February 2018. The prosecutors had argued from a different historical position that she should be tried as an adult – with substantially larger possible penalties.

The rest of us can celebrate Leap Day as a day of balance, as this extra day was added to keep the calendar year aligned with the seasonal and astronomical year.

When thinking of celebrating birthdays, I usually think of colourful cakes. One of my favourites, Neapolitan cake, is a tricoloured cake inspired by the colours of Neapolitan ice cream. The most common Neapolitan ice cream block contains three flavours – chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.

As a big fan of cupcakes, I decided to make a cupcake version of this classic cake. My Neapolitan Cupcakes feature slices of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry cupcake sandwiched together with strawberry jam, topped with vanilla cream frosting and a sprinkling of grated milk chocolate. Serve with scoops of Neapolitan ice cream for a truly indulgent celebration!

Neapolitan Cupcakes
makes 9 cupcakes

triple treat

 

Ingredients
for the cupcake batter
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cornstarch (cornflour)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup superfine (caster) sugar
2 eggs

for the chocolate cupcakes
1 teaspoon cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoons water

for the vanilla cupcakes
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons water

for the strawberry cupcakes
3 tablespoons strawberry jam
pink food coloring

to assemble
extra strawberry jam

for the vanilla cream frosting
1 cup double cream
1 tablespoon powdered buttermilk or powdered milk*
1 tablespoon powdered (icing) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

To serve
grated milk chocolate or chocolate sprinkles

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 9 paper cases.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cornstarch and salt. Set aside.
In a medium sized bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy and pale.
Add eggs one at a time and beat well.
Add the flour mix and fold through until combined.
Divide the mixture evenly into three bowls.
To make the chocolate batter add the cocoa and water to one bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.
To make the vanilla batter add the vanilla and water to the second bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.
To make the strawberry batter add the jam and enough food colouring to achieve desired pink colour to the third bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the chocolate batter evenly into 3 paper cases. Repeat with vanilla and strawberry batter making sure to clean the ice cream scoop between batches.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To assemble:
Remove cupcakes from paper lining.
Carefully cut each cupcake horizontally into three even slices with a serrated knife.
Assemble the cupcakes making sure that each cupcake has a different coloured top, middle and bottom.
Use a thin layer of strawberry jam to sandwich the layers together.
To make the vanilla cream frosting, whip together the cream, powdered sugar and milk powder with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined.
Add the vanilla extract and whisk on high speed until stiff peaks form.
Spoon whipped cream into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.
Sprinkle with chocolate.

*I use milk powder in my icings to balance the sweetness but you can omit the milk powder and replace it with extra powdered sugar.

A Rosy Midsummer

The Summer Solstice occurs near xmas in Australia, so while I’m getting ready to celebrate the longest day of the year and the shortest night, most of the stores are selling produce geared towards a winter feast day. I don’t mind, as I always look forward to the range of new shortbreads that are only available during xmas.

One of the other winter treats I used to enjoy at Summer Solstice was a Persian fruitcake filled with plump fruits and crunchy nuts and delicately flavoured with rose water. It was one of the most delicious fruitcakes I had ever tried. Every xmas I eagerly waited for the fruitcake’s arrival at the store until one year it wasn’t there and it never returned. That was almost two decades ago.

A few months ago I went for a country drive to Malmsbury Bakery, famous for its homemade Dundee cake. I was keen to try to this Scottish fruitcake as it was rumoured to be a favourite of Mary Queen of Scots. Queen Elizabeth II is also reported to enjoy Dundee cake at teatime. A cake fit for royalty was something I just had to have!

The cake was quite large, but I was assured that once opened, it would keep for months in an airtight container. I wasn’t sure how long it would last but I was happy to take a chance. As I cut a generous slice I noticed how large and plump the glazed cherries were, which immediately brought back memories of my cherished Persian fruitcake. I took a bite and was rewarded with the flavour and texture of one of the best fruitcakes I had ever tasted. This was as good as the Persian fruitcake.

The cake lasted weeks and I enjoyed every slice. With only a few slices left I decided to make a bold experiment. Could I add a rose water element to a slice without ruining it? I had to try. At first I was going to sprinkle rose water over a slice but I decided to make a rose water icing instead. I simply mixed icing (powdered) sugar with rose water until it was thick enough to drizzle and then drizzled it over my slice of fruitcake. While it wasn’t my coveted Persian fruitcake, it was floral and delicious and brought back many happy memories of solstices past.

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In keeping with the xmas spirit I also dunked a few pieces of shortbread into the rose water icing and then let them set. Happily they were a delicious success as well.

Happy Solstice!

A Day Of Gin And Tonics

October 19th is International Gin and Tonic Day. It is a day to celebrate and drink Gin & Tonics. That’s it! As a lover of gin and also of tonic I need no excuse to imbibe this refreshing drink. 

The Gin and Tonic was introduced during the reign of the British East India Company in India during the 1700’s as a treatment for malaria. Tonic water gets its distinctive bitter taste from quinine which was used as a natural medicine to treat malaria. To counter the bitter taste of quinine, sugar, lime and gin were added to the medicinal tonic water, giving birth to the Gin and Tonics we love today.

A Gin and Tonic is simply a mix of two ingredients – gin and tonic poured over ice. The ratio between the two ingredients depends on personal taste but you can start with one part gin to three parts tonic water and work from there. Garnishing with a slice of lime is traditional but I prefer lemon on the rare occasions that I add a garnish.

I love the flavours of Gin and Tonic so much that I just had to have a go at making Gin and Tonic Cupcakes with Gin and Tonic Icing. I wasn’t sure if they would work, and the thought of wasting a large amount of gin, inspired me to scale down my recipe to one generous Texas muffin sized cupcake. I’m happy (and somewhat relieved) to say it was a success! The cupcake has a hint of gin flavour which is enhanced by the icing. They are a perfect match – just like a G&T. 🙂

Gin and Tonic Cupcake

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Special instructions:
You will need 1 Texas muffin size silicone liner or a Texas muffin pan and paper liner.

Ingredients
for the cupcake
1 egg white
2 tablespoons sugar
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
2 tablespoons tonic water
1 teaspoon gin

for the icing
1/2 cup powdered (icing) sugar
2 teaspoons gin
1 teaspoon tonic water

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg white and sugar until combined.
Whisk in the melted butter.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and stir until combined.
Add the gin and tonic water and stir until just combined.
Spoon the batter into a silicone liner or a Texas muffin pan lined with a paper case.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Mix together the icing sugar, gin and tonic water in a bowl.
The icing should be thick enough to drizzle so add more gin or tonic water or more powdered sugar if needed to get this consistency. 
Drizzle as much icing as you like over the top and smooth over with the back of a spoon.

Midwinter Morsels

The solstices are upon us and here in Australia we’re about to celebrate the longest night of the year. After the winter solstice the nights will get shorter and the days longer but the weather will get colder! Midwinter always reminds me of fruitcake and pinecones so I just had to add a sprinkling of pine nuts to my fruitcake recipe.

Fruitcake Cupcakes

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Ingredients
3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup sultanas
1/4 cup mixed peel, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts
24 maraschino cherries, cut in half

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 150C / 300F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a large bowl cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Beat in eggs one at a time.
Add flour, salt, mixed spice and ginger and mix until combined.
Stir in the dried fruit, mixed peel and pine nuts until just combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into paper cases.
Push four half maraschino cherries into the top of each cupcake. 
Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

When Life Gives You Pineapples

I thought I had all the ingredients to make my version of a wolf bite cocktail, but I had forgotten to get pineapple juice. Rather than make another trip to the store, I opened a can of pineapple pieces and used the juice from the tin instead. Disaster averted, I made the cocktail and it was a tasty success.

Not wanting to waste the pineapple pieces, I tried to think of what to do with them. I had been craving fruit crumble all week so I thought I would try making a pineapple crumble. I was feeling lazy, so rather than rubbing butter into the crumble mix, I decided to melt it instead. The result – a sweet, golden crumble that is now one of my favourite treats!

Pineapple Crumble

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Ingredients
440g canned pineapple pieces, drained
1/2 cup plain flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
60g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Spread the pineapple pieces into a small baking pan.
Mix together the flour, sugar, coconut and salt in a small bowl.
Add the vanilla extract to the melted butter.
Pour butter over the flour and mix until just combined.
Spoon the crumble mix over the pineapple.
Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until the crumble is browned and the fruit is bubbling.
Serve with your favourite topping.

Halloween Down Under

A burst of fallen bamboo leaves decorate my backyard in a swirl of autumn colours. Their dry brittleness holds a promise of the winter to come. This is my favourite time of the year. There are still sunny days and warm patches of sun during the day but the long, hot Australian summer is finally over. The coolness of autumn has arrived and with it Halloween, my favourite Sabbat.

April 30th is Halloween Down Under. It is a night when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest. Halloween is the night when the dead wait between the worlds, ready to visit their loved ones. 

There are many ways to welcome and honour the dead on Halloween. I wait until the sun begins to set and shadows of darkness shroud the coming night. I set an empty plate for the dead at my table. Late in the evening I light a black candle and do a tarot reading. I end the evening with food and drink. I leave a small offering on the table for any lingering spirits to enjoy before blowing out the candle and going to bed. Sometimes I have strange dreams. In the morning I pack everything up and try and do something fun and life affirming. 

So what will I be serving this Halloween? We don’t get trick or treaters in April as most people celebrate Halloween on October 31st. So in honour of these absent door knockers, I thought I would make Trick or Treat Pumpkin Pies. Half of them have a savoury filling and the other half are sweet. You won’t know what you are getting until you bite them!

Trick or Treat Pumpkin Pies

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Ingredients
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten

for the rosemary pies
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dried rosemary

for the pumpkin spice pies
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Divide the pumpkin into two bowls.
Mix the salt and rosemary into one portion of pumpkin and the sugar and spices into the other. 
Using a 6cm (2.25 inch) cookie cutter* cut pastry into 16 rounds.
Place half the pastry rounds on the prepared trays.
Place 2 teaspoons of pumpkin filling on each round.
Cut eyes and mouths out of remaining rounds.
Cover filling with these rounds.
Gently press the edges together to seal the pies.
Press edges together with a fork to create a decorative edge.
Brush tops with beaten egg. 
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until pastry becomes golden and is cooked on the bottom.
Place on a wire rack to cool.

*I used a pumpkin shaped cookie cutter

Wake The Dead Cake

Saturday the 20th of April is Bram Stoker’s 107th deathiversary. To celebrate, I thought I would play around with a recipe from one of my favourite cookbooks – Death Warmed Over by Lisa Rogak. This cookbook is a collection of recipes and customs from different countries and religions around the world with a common theme of death. The recipe I have chosen is an Irish Wake Cake, in honour of Bram who was born in Ireland on the 8th of November, 1847.

Irish Wake Cake

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Ingredients
for the cake
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 cup mixed peel*
1 + 3/4 cups flour
1 + 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
170g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
80g (3oz) cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup buttermilk

for the glaze
1/2 cup icing (powdered) sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons brewed black tea**

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Line a 22cm (9inch) loaf pan with baking paper.
Place the currants and mixed peel in a small bowl.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl.
Add 1/4 cup of the flour mix to the dried fruit and toss until the fruit is coated in flour.
Place the butter, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat until fluffy.
Add the eggs one a time and beat until combined.
Add the cream cheese and beat until combined.
Add 1/3rd of the flour mixture and 1/3rd of the buttermilk to the batter and mix until combined. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk.
Add the dried fruit and mix until combined.
Pour batter into prepared baking pan.
Bake for 1 hour and 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before placing on a wire rack placed over a tray.
Make the glaze by combining the icing sugar and tea together in a bowl.
Drizzle the glaze over the warm cake and allow to cool completely before serving.

*the original recipe just uses currants. I substituted half the currants for mixed peel as I like the flavour and texture.
**the original icing is a lemon icing. I substituted the lemon juice with black tea as I was curious to see how it would taste and used Earl Grey to compliment the citrus notes of the mixed peel.

A Tale Of An Unripe Avocado

Every month our big chain supermarkets put out free cooking magazines which I love collecting. It’s an obvious advertising ploy as the recipes “encourage” you to use their supermarket brands. While I’m not usually interested in buying their products, I am interested in their recipes. 🙂 One of the recipes I couldn’t wait to make was an Avocado and Pistachio Cake. 

I bought my ingredients and eagerly waited for my avocado to ripen. Squeezing it every day, it finally felt ripe enough to use. I got my ingredients ready but left the avocado for the end as I didn’t want it to go brown. With a bench full of measured ingredients, the oven preheated and the pan ready, I cut open the avocado only to discover it wasn’t ripe. Instead of a beautiful soft inside, ready to be scooped out into the cake mix, it was tough as rubber and definitely not cake-friendly! 

Thinking quickly I grabbed a ripe banana that I had waiting for another recipe and substituted it for the avocado. The result was a delicious and aromatic banana cake that I would definitely make again! 

The recipe included a lemon icing which I omitted as the cake is sweet enough from the banana. As I wasn’t icing the cake, I didn’t have to wait for it to cool completely so I had a couple of slices warm from the oven. You can ice the cake if you like but I do recommend eating some while it’s still hot. And yes, I do plan on making this cake with avocado, I’ll just make sure I cut the avocado before I start.

Banana and Pistachio Cake

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Ingredients
70g shelled pistachios
70g unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup caster (superfine) sugar
1 large ripe banana, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup almond meal

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 10cm x 21cm loaf pan with baking paper.
Process the pistachios in a food processor until they resemble breadcrumbs.
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in a bowl until combined.
Add the banana and vanilla extract and beat until combined.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
Stir in the flour, baking powder, almond meal and pistachio meal until the mix is smooth.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes.
Slice and eat while warm or place on a wire rack to cool completely before icing.

Autumnal Nights

The Autumn Equinox is here and I’m excited. Even though there still may be hot days ahead, the Autumn Equinox signals a shift in power between day and night. The Equinox is a time of balance, a time when the hours of day and night are relatively equal. After the Autumn Equinox, the long days and short nights will slowly be overtaken by shorter days and longer nights. As a creature of the night, I’m looking forward to a return to the dark half of the year.

One of the things I love doing in cool weather is curling up with a good book. The one I’m reading now is The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, edited by Kate White. It is a collection of over 100 recipes from mystery writers. Each recipe is accompanied by fascinating facts about the author and their murderous works.

My recipe below is adapted from Margaret Maron’s recipe for Granny Knott’s Baked Toast which is a French toast recipe which gestates overnight before being baked and devoured the next day. I’ve added autumnal gingerbread spices to the recipe and serve it with an optional scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Gingerbread French Toast
“An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread,” wrote William Shakespeare in Love’s Labour’s Lost. This delicious and warming bread is definitely worth a penny or two.

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Ingredients
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
75g (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons treacle*
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
brioche loaf**
2 eggs
1 + 1/2 cups milk

for serving
vanilla ice cream (try experimenting with different ice cream flavours)
maple syrup

Instructions
Sprinkle the sugar over the base of a 20cm x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) baking pan.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
Add the treacle, ginger, cinnamon and cloves and stir until combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Cut brioche into enough 1.5cm (1/2 inch) slices to fit snugly into the baking pan.
Place the slices in the pan.
Beat the eggs in a bowl.
Add the milk and beat until combined.
Pour over the bread.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
While the oven is warming, remove pan from fridge.
Carefully pour any unabsorbed liquid into a bowl, making sure you don’t disturb the bread.
Spoon over the top of the bread.
Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until the top is browned.
Serve with a dollop of ice cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

*you can substitute molasses for the treacle.
**you can use any heavy bread like sourdough or wholemeal.

Gothic Meditations

It’s been a long time since I’ve knocked on a stranger’s door for an esoteric experience. The first time was over 30 years ago when I was invited to a witches coven meeting. There were so many reasons why my hand was shaking when I knocked on that door. As an introvert, walking into a room filled with strangers had its own set of terrors. The fact they were witches was only one of them! Three decades later I was knocking on another stranger’s door. This time it wasn’t witches I was meeting. I was here to participate in a “Meditations on Death” workshop. I couldn’t wait to get inside!

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I walked into a room where a diverse group of people were sitting on cushions. I found a cushion with a cupboard behind me so I could sit in a comfortable position. As expected, we all had different backgrounds and different reasons for being there. Some had friends or family members who were dying, others had been diagnosed with terminal illnesses and a few just wanted to be comfortable with the concept of death. I was there continuing my life long journey of exploring death in all its forms. The only thing we all had in common was that one day we would die. But the point of the workshop was not to see that truth as morbid, but rather to use it to empower our lives.

The workshop explored the different ways we have viewed death historically and from different cultural perspectives. I found my head was nodding in agreement with many of the things our host was saying. As a Goth, I am comfortable in the world of the dead. But as the workshop continued, I found myself reflecting on how I was brought up. Coming from an Eastern European background, death was no stranger to me. I grew up on stories about the horror of war, pain, loss and death. I was taught from a young age how precarious life is and how easily it can be taken away. These lessons weren’t meant to instil fear, but rather to highlight how precious life is. Understanding the fragility of life and how close we are to death at any moment, can be liberating. It can help you live your life more fully because you don’t know how long you have left. At least that’s the way I have always viewed it.

Another lesson I learned growing up was that accepting death as a natural part of life doesn’t stop you from feeling pain and loss when loved ones die. Quite the opposite actually. As the workshop wound its way to a conclusion, my thoughts roamed to the elaborate death rites and rituals I grew up with. Some of them were challenging, like kissing a dead body in a coffin, others were less extreme. All of them were ways of dealing with the loss of a departed loved one, the need to say goodbye and the importance of moving on. It was during these reminiscences that I had the most disturbing thought of all – I was raised by Goths! I had always thought my love of vampires had turned me into a Goth but I realised I had been born into a culture where being a Goth was a way of life and death. As I pondered on these revelations, the workshop moved on to the next stage and the one I was really looking forward to – a death bed meditation!

We were first asked to stretch out on the floor if we were comfortable to do so. I pushed away from the cupboard and stretched out. With my eyes closed, I listened as our guide asked us to feel what it would be like to die. We began by releasing from our bodies each of the four elements in turn. It was an extraordinary experience. When it came time to release the element of air, I had a minor panic attack. Being claustrophobic, I hate being in situations where I feel like I can’t breathe. Being asked to feel like all the air was pushed out of my body had me almost physically clawing at the air. I really did feel like I was dying and I was surprised at how panicked I felt.

Calming myself, I continued with the meditation and was rewarded with some extraordinary insights and a feeling of peace. But there was pain and sadness too. I don’t want to die, but one day I will. All I can do is live my life as best I can. Experiencing this symbolic death was more powerful than I thought it would be. I left the meditation will many things to ponder. But the one thing I was truly grateful for was that I was born and raised a Goth.

Black Tahini Cookies
To ground myself after esoteric explorations I always have something to eat and drink. I thought a plate of black cookies and a pot of black tea would be most appropriate. I used black tahini as a natural food colour and because I love tahini. These biscuits are really strong in flavour so you can try substituting the tahini with peanut butter or another nut butter and adding a few drops of black food colouring if you like.

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Ingredients
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup caster sugar
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup black tahini
1+1/2 cups plain flour

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 320F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Mix together the sugars, butter, beaten egg and vanilla in a large bowl until combined.
Add the tahini and mix until combined.
Add the flour and mix until combined.
Place tablespoons of batter on prepared trays, flattening slightly with a fork.
Bake for 10 – 15 minutes. The shorter they cook the softer they will be. 
Allow to rest for 5 minutes before moving to a cooling rack to cool completely.