Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy Gingies!

Yes, I'm still posting all of the things I made for the holidays.  I still have several more before I'm done, so just sit tight.  I promise, these are all great recipes, and next year, they will make one heck of a "things to bake for the holidays" post. 

I'm not entirely sure why, as I'm not a huge gingerbread person, but this year I really wanted to make gingerbread things.  I already shared the Espresso Gingerbread cake with you, and now it's time for something a little more traditional: gingerbread cookies.  I usually stay away from cut-out cookies, because decorating them is an exercise in frustration for me, as I am rubbish as decorating.  But this year, I decided to bite the bullet and go for it.  And I have to say, I think they came out pretty cute!  Even that little guy in the middle there, who lost his arm during the cooling process.  The two things that made a difference for me were that I kept the designs simple (they all pretty much have the same design), and I used a little squeeze bottle for the icing.  I bought a whole bunch of them in a tub at Michael's a while back, and they are pretty great for this.  So much easier to control the icing, as you don't have to mess with a piping bag or anything messy like that.  And, they have caps, so if you want to stop decorating for a while, you can just put the cap on the bottle and walk away!


These are soft chewy gingerbread men.  I like them that way.  They stayed soft for a really long time, which made me really happy.  I made a recipe and a half -- I was going to make a double batch, but I didn't have enough molasses.  I think it made me about 4 or 5 dozen little men.  I gave all of them (except a few rejects and broken bits) away in cookie plates for work.  I got several compliments, and one person even said they were the best gingerbread men she'd ever had! 

Thick and Chewy Gingerbread Cookies
Source: America's Test Kitchen "Family Baking Book"
Makes about 20 cookies (depending on the size of your cutter)

3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup light molasses*
2 tablespoons milk

*fp note: i had full-flavor molasses and golden brown sugar in the house, so that's what i used. didn't notice anything off about the flavor in mine.
  1. Process the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt together in a food processor until combined, about 10 seconds. Add the butter and process until the mixture is very fine and sandy, about 15 seconds. With the machine running, add the molasses and milk in a steady stream through the feed tube and continue to process until the dough comes together, about 10 seconds.
  2. Divide the dough into 2 even pieces and roll each out to a 1/4-inch thickness between 2 pieces of parchment paper (fp note: here's my trick when i have to roll something to a certain thickness: i take a toothpick and make a mark on it at the desired thickness. then i can just poke the toothpick into the dough and see where the dough is in relation to the mark.).  Leaving the dough sandwiched between the parchment, stack them on a baking sheet and freeze until firm, 15 to 20 minutes (you can also leave them in the fridge overnight if you want to).
  3. Adjust the oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  4. Working with one piece of dough at a time, transfer it to a clean counter and gently remove the top sheet of parchment. Stamp out cookies using cookie cutters. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets with a thin metal spatula, spaced about 3/4 inch apart.
  5. Bake the cookies until they are light golden brown and show a slight resistance to touch, 8 to 11 minutes, switching and rotating the baking sheets halfway through baking. (Do not overbake)
  6. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving or decorating.
Royal Icing
Source: "One Sweet Cookie" by Tracey Zabar
Makes so much more than you will ever need.  Seriously, make like 1/3 of this recipe.

1 pound confectioners' sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 large egg whites

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the confectioners' sugar, cream of tartar, and egg whites together until light and fluffy. (fp note: start really slowly, or you will end up with a cloud of sugar. another trick is to drape a kitchen towel over the machine until the sugar is incorporated enough to not float away)

Pipe the icing onto the cookies in your preferred design, or spread with an offset spatula.

fp note: if you make 1/3 of this recipe, i would use a hand mixer or even a whisk for this. on egg white is so little that the whisk attachment won't be able to reach it in the bottom of the bowl.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The recipe that ate my kitchen

You see that pretty, shiny, bright orange stuff in that photo up there?  That stuff is Carrot Confiture (preserves).  Yes, you read that right  -- carrot.  I saw it being made on a tv cooking show - French Food at Home, and I knew I had to make it as a gift for Dear Friend K.  K likes weird things, so I thought this was right up her alley. 

But, that pretty, shiny, bright orange stuff took over my kitchen the first time I made it.  Witness:

As it was cooking, it bubbled and splattered so much that my kitchen looked like some sort of alien war zone.  I am still finding it stuck in weird spots!  The night I made it, after I had cleaned up the wreckage, I looked in the mirror, and found it on my face and in my hair.  And the worst part? Even after all that, I still ended up with this mess:

Yeah. I burned it.  So all that mess and it was a total waste. 

Not one to let failure get me down, I went back to the interwebs to figure out what I did wrong.  You see, the recipe that I found on was not all that specific, so I sort of had to guess.  In the recipe, you boil carrots until they are tender, and then it just says to puree and then cook with sugar and lemon juice.  I wasn't sure if that meant I should keep the water, or drain the carrots, so for the first attempt, I kept the water, which turned out to be a gigantic mistake.  I learned this after I went searching on YouTube for video of the show where Laura Calder makes the stuff.  After I watched the video, I tried again.

The second batch was a success, and not nearly as messy!  The stuff is very sweet, but I thought it was pretty good.  Not sure I recommend making it, unless you want to for the novelty of it.

Carrot Confiture
Source: French Food at Home, Laura Calder
Makes 2 cups

1 pound carrots, peeled
Water, as needed
2 cups sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 2 lemons
10 whole almonds, chopped
2 tablespoons Cognac

Slice the carrots and put them in a saucepan covered with water.  Boil until very soft, then DRAIN, then run through a food mill to puree (fp note: i don't have a food mill, but i do have a potato ricer, which i used for this. i think it worked just fine.).  Return to the saucepan.  Stir the sugar into the puree, and add the lemon juice and zest.  Bring to a boil, and cook until glassy and jammy.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir through the chopped almonds and the Cognac. Cool. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A tradition has begun

I love holiday traditions, especially those that involve food.  Last year for Christmas, I made Dear Friend K chai tea mix, not expecting the overwhelmingly positive response I got from her.  So, I determined this year that I will do my very best to make her something every year that involves chai flavors.  This year, I made chai biscotti.  You see, K moved far, far away, so anything I made for her had to be able to stand up to shipping across the country.  Biscotti are hardy little suckers.

I have to say I was not thrilled with these.  They tasted good, but I felt like they needed more chai flavoring.  More intense spices.  Maybe I will try to remake them with more spices.  But, in the meantime, I added a dark chocolate drizzle, because really, what can't be improved by adding some chocolate to it? 

Chai Biscotti
Source: Kitchen Trial and Error
Makes 24

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 black tea bags, cut open and the tea loose
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 and line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
  2. Using a mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, then add the sugar, spices and tea. Mix until creamed. Add the baking powder and salt and mix until combined. Add the flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until incorporated.
  3. Dived the dough roughly in half (eyeball it). Using wet hands, roll each half into a log about 12 inches long. Lay the lot onto the sheet pan and gently push the log down until it is about 3/4 inch high. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the tops are just starting to crack and brown.
  4. Let the logs cool on the pan for five minutes and then transfer to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut each log into about 3/4 inch pieces. Lay the pieces back on the sheet pan, bottom side down, leaving room between the cookies. Bake an additional 12 minutes, or until the sides feel dry to the touch.
  5. Cool on a cooling rack and store in an airtight container.
  6. If you want to do the chocolate drizzle, melt some dark chocolate in a boil over a pan of simmering water.  When it is melted, drizzle over the biscotti and let set before storing.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Looks like a bakery cake"

Yes, another bundt cake.  What can I say? They are easy to make, and always look pretty (unless the cake sticks to the pan and makes a mess, but we won't think about that).  This is another cake that I made for a party.  I had to work, so I sent the cake with the Hubster.  When I arrived at the party later, I got what might be one of the nicest compliments.  A friend said to me that when she first saw my cake on the table, she looked and it and decided she wasn't going to have any because "it looked like a bakery cake".  But, when she found out I made it from scratch, she had a piece, and said she loved it.

I liked this cake.  I generally prefer to make chocolate desserts, but this seemed festive and different, and for some reason this holiday season I want to make gingerbread things.  It wasn't hard.  The hardest part was actually finding ground cloves.  In the end, I couldn't find them ground, so I bought whole cloves and ground them in my spice grinder.

Espresso Gingerbread Cake

1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup very strong brewed coffee or espresso, cooled to just warm
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons brewed espresso (or 1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 1/2 tablespoons hot water)

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 12-cup bundt pan with baking spray.

Whisk the molasses and coffee together in a measuring cup. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, espresso powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

In the  bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. One at a time, add the eggs and egg yolks, beating well after each addition and stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. With the mixer on low, alternately add the dry ingredients and coffee mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat just until the ingredients are incorporated and the batter is smooth.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top. Run a knife through the batter to eliminate air pockets (or you could gently tap the pan on the counter a few times). Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool for 15 minutes, then turn it out onto the rack to cool completely.

To make the glaze: add the confectioners' sugar to a small bowl (or a glass measuring cup, like i do). Gradually whisk in the espresso until you reach your desired consistency. Drizzle the glaze over the cake (put something under the cooling rack to catch the drips!).  Let the glaze set before serving.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

"Not what I should be eating for breakfast..."

Since my boss celebrates Hanukkah, I try to give her a food gift that would be appropriate for the holiday.  Last year I made a challah.  This year I made rugelach.  Truthfully, I've been wanting to make rugelach for a long time, and then I saw a recipe from one of my favorite bakers, and it was a sign.

I got this recipe from Confections of a (Closet) Master Baker.  Please check out her site.  Her book is also wonderful.  I received it as a gift a couple of years ago from a dear friend, and it was so inspiring to me. 

The recipe for the rugelach dough is amazingly delicious.  I could eat it plain, but it was so so good with fillings.  As you can see in the picture, I made two fillings (well, "made" is a generous term): strawberry pistachio and Nutella.  I prefer the Nutella, but that isn't a shock, now is it?

The boss loved these.  The day after I gave them to her, she came in and declared that rugelach are not what she should be eating for breakfast, but boy were they good with coffee.

Source: Confections of a (Closet) Master Baker
Makes 36

2 packages (1 pound) cream cheese
1 pound unsalted, room temperature butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon milk
4 cups all-purpose flour

  1. Cream together cream cheese, butter, sugar, salt until creamy. Add vanilla and milk. Mix until incorporated.
  2. Slowly add all flour until just combined.
  3. Using your hands turn the dough out onto a floured surface and lightly knead until smooth.
  4. Divide the dough into three even pieces.
  5. Pat each piece of dough into a circle and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour.
  6. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12 inch circle (fp note: i can never make things roll out into pretty circles. do the best you can, but no one will know in the end)
  7. Score the dough into 12 pieces. Don't cut through just yet, you'll find that unless you have a pie marker, you won't be as good at this as you'd like (totally true). Once you are happy with your score marks, go ahead and make your cuts (fp note: i used a pizza cutter. worked really well).
  8. At this point, you can either smear the whole circle with your choice of filling, or you can separate all of the pieces and smear them individually.  I found that things were messier if I smeared the whole circle, so I recommend doing them individually, even if it seems like a pain.
  9. Roll each triangle of dough, starting at the wide end, into a crescent.
  10. Brush each piece with a little milk and sprinkle with sanding sugar.
  11. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Issa Boon-t-t"

If you get that reference, you get a cookie :)

A programming note: I have been baking A LOT in the last week or so.  I have a ton of recipes to share with you, so I'm probably going to keep the banter on the short side until I get through all of the holiday baking.  But, it's worth it, as I have some fantastic stuff to share with you!

You all know that I love Baileys.  LOVE IT.  It is easily my favorite alcohol to bake with.  In fact, I don't normally like alcohol in desserts at all, but I do love Baileys.  Earlier this year I tried to make a Bailey's pound cake, and was not super-pleased with the results.  I came across the recipe for this cake in my googly reader (which is pretty much where I find all of my inspiration these days).  At first I was turned off by it, as it uses boxed cake mix and pudding mix.  But, I needed to bake up a dessert for a party, and I was short on time, so I threw this together.

It was a total hit.  This cake is delicious.  The pudding mix makes it really moist and there is just the right amount of Baileys to be flavorful without being over powering.  And it comes together in a snap. 

The only thing I will say is that I thought the glaze as the recipe instructs came out way too thin.  I actually ended up pouring the too-thin glaze on, and then making more, thicker, glaze.  So, I would use more powdered sugar and/or less Baileys.  But I will print it as I originally found it, so you can decide for yourself.

Bailey's Bundt Cake
Serves 12

1 box yellow cake mix
1 box chocolate pudding mix
3/4 cup Bailey's Irish Cream
all ingredients required for cake as directed by box mix

Preheat oven to the temperature recommended on cake mix.  Spray your bundt pan with baking spray (the kind with the flour in it).

In a large mixing bowl, mix together cake mix, pudding, eggs, water, oil, and Bailey's.  Mix at low speed to incorporate, then increase speed to medium and mix for about 2 minutes.  Pour into prepared bundt pan and bake according to package directions.

Cool for 15 minutes in the pan and then flip it out onto a wire rack to cool completely before glazing.

Bailey's Glaze

6 tbsp powdered sugar
2-3 tbsp Bailey's Irish Cream

Mix powdered sugar and booze in a small bowl or glass measuring cup (I use the measuring cup -- easier pouring).  Pour over cooled cake.

Monday, December 12, 2011

These are not cupcakes

These are not cupcakes.  Cupcakes require cake and frosting, and these have neither.  

These are peanut butter milky way blondie cups.  They are a blondie base, with peanut butter and bits of Milky Way bar mixed in, and cooked in a mini muffin pan.  I stuck a slices of Milky Way on top after they baked, just because I had extras, and I thought it would be cute. I’m sure you could bake these in a rectangular pan and cut them up like regular blondies if you wanted to.  But the cups are so much cuter!

I made these for a coworker’s birthday.  We had a big show that day, and I knew this would make a lot and be easy for the crew to eat on the go.  They were very popular.  I barely got a couple for myself!!

The original recipe says to bake these in a regular muffin pan, but they are really rich, so I highly recommend making them in a mini muffin pan.  If you make them in the mini pan, shorten the baking time (I think mine took 12 minutes, but every oven is different - check them after 10 minutes).  Otherwise, these were super easy, and so good.  Make them. Make them soon!

Peanut Butter Milky Way Blondie Cups

Source: The Sweets Life
Makes about 70 mini cups

10 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 ½ cups brown sugar
1 cup peanut butter
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder

1 cup Milky Way fun-sized candy bars, coarsely chopped (about 10 ten fun-sized bars), plus more for garnish if desired
  1. Preheat oven to 325. Line a muffin pan with paper liners and set aside.
  2. Add butter and sugar to a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until butter is melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool for for 5 minutes. Stir in the peanut butter until melted and set aside for another 5 minutes to cool.
  3. Whisk in the eggs and the vanilla extract with the peanut butter mixture. In a separate bowl, mix together salt, flour and baking powder. Add dry ingredients all at once to the wet ingredients, stirring just until incorporated. Mix in chopped candy.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared muffing pan, filling each cup about ¾ of the way full. Bake for 10-15 minutes for mini cups, until a toothpick comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake - err on the side of underbaking. Remove blondie cups and cool completely on a wire rack.