Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Bûche de Noël: December Daring Baker

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.
They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand


Ok. This recipe was like 16 pages long with all of the possible variations, so I'm not listing the whole recipe. You can view it on the host, Saffron's, post. Even after I condensed it down to the pieces I used, it was 6 pages or something. Crazy long. I almost didn't do it, but Matt really wanted me to. I broke it up into two nights. It probably took about 4 hours total to make and assemble the 6 parts. It wasn't as daunting as it looked, but I'm still not sure if it was worth it. It was good though. AWESOME? Well, it was good. My favorite parts were the mousse and the cinnamon ganache.

My buche de noel consisted of the following:
Dark Chocolate Mousse: very good. I loved it, but it was slightly too dark for Matt.
Ingredients:
2.5 sheets gelatin or 5g / 1 + 1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1.5 oz (3 Tbsp / 40g) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp (10g) glucose or thick corn syrup
0.5 oz (15g) water
50g egg yolks (about 3 medium)
6.2 oz (175g) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1.5 cups (350g) heavy cream (35% fat content)

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water. (If using powdered gelatin, follow the directions on the package.)
2. Make a Pate a Bombe: Beat the egg yolks until very light in colour (approximately 5 minutes until almost white).
2a. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 244°F (118°C). If you do not have a candy thermometer, test the sugar temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water, if it forms a soft ball in the water then you have reached the correct temperature.
2b. Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. You can do this by hand but it’s easier to do this with an electric mixer.
2c. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.
3. In a double boiler or equivalent, heat 2 tablespoons (30g) of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.
4. Whip the remainder of the cream until stiff.
5. Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir in ½ cup (100g) of WHIPPED cream to temper. Add the Pate a Bombe.
6. Add in the rest of the WHIPPED cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.

Vanilla Creme Brule: not impressed. Bland and icy. Plus, it didn't set up according to the directions in the recipe. I got it to set after turning up the oven for about 3 min. after it was supposed to be done.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
½ cup (115g) whole milk
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean

1. Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour.
2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
3. Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.
4. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.

Coconut Crisp Insert: Tasted fine, but it didn't hold together well. I used crushed up rice crispies, but I don't think it was optimal. I did reduce the rice crispies to 1 oz, but it still seemed like too much cereal to white chocolate.
Ingredients:
3.5 oz (100g) white chocolate
1 oz (1/3 cup/25g) shredded coconut
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) unsalted butter
2.1 oz (60g) lace crepes or rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K

1. Spread the coconut on a baking tray and bake for 5-10 minutes at 375°F (190°C) to toast (a different temperature might work better for you with your own oven).
2. Melt the white chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Stir until smooth and add the toasted coconut.
3. Add the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

Cinammon-Milk Ganache Insert: Both Matt and my favorite layer. I did burn the sugar the first time and nearly burned it the second. Watch it closely! It burns very quickly.

Ingredients
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp / 135g) heavy cream
A pinch of cinnamon
2.7 oz (75g) milk chocolate, finely chopped
3.2 oz (90g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened

1. Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color (for most of you that means darker than last month’s challenge).
2. Heat the cream with the cinnamon (use the quantity of cinnamon you want to infuse the cream, a pinch is the smallest amount suggested) until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.
3. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the milk and dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.
4. Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast (if you have a plunging mixer use it). The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.

Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake): Good, I made it on my silpat and it worked out ok. I also ground my own almonds and it worked out fine.

Ingredients
2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) almond meal
1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner’s sugar
2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar

1. Finely mix the almond meal and the confectioner's sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).
2. Sift the flour into the mix.
3. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.
4. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.
5. Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.
6. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm).
7. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden.
8. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Milk Chocolate Icing: Neither of us liked this layer at all. The gelatin made it look nice and shiny, but it had a weird rubbery texture.

Ingredients
4.2 oz (120g) milk chocolate
2 Tbsp (30g) butter
¼ cup (60g) heavy cream (35 % fat content)
1 2/3 Tbsp (30g) glucose or thick corn syrup

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.
2. Coarsely chop the chocolate and butter together.
3. Bring the cream and glucose syrup to a boil.
4. Add the gelatin.
5. Pour the mixture over the chocolate and butter. Whisk until smooth.
6. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

November Daring Baker: Caramel Cake and Frosting

Wow! I'm going to make today's challenge date by the skin of my teeth. Because I put myself on a sugar treat block 3 weeks this month, I put off making this until I could eat sugar again. I think between Thanksgiving pies and this cake I am on sugar overload. Maybe I should go on sugar block again until Christmas...

Because I didn't want too much sugar after the holiday, I halved everything. I baked my cake in a 6 in. round cake pan. It worked perfectly. The frosting has a very unique flavor. I loved the browned butter flavor, but boy is it SWEET!!! I didn't even add all the sugar it called for. Matt said he thought it tasted like a fancy desert you'd get at a restaurant. You know, the kind you can only eat the small portion you're given before going into a sugar coma. He liked it.

I first started by making the caramel syrup. Two suggestions on the forums really helped me out here.
  1. After turning the heat on, don't stir the sugar until it turns amber and you add the water.
  2. When you add the water, use a strainer. I didn't have any splatters or splashes whatsoever come near my tender skin...
  3. Also, don't over cook the syrup. I let mine reduce a little too long and it turned out a little too firm. When I used it in the cake batter there were little crystal shards. It turned out just fine after baking, but I had to add a little water and reheat the syrup just long enough to thin it out so I could use it in the frosting.

I'm obviously no cake decorator!
After cutting out Matt's piece, I thought it quite resembled Pacman.


This month's challenge is hosted by Dolores, Alex, and Jenny.

RECIPE SOURCE

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon (http://eggbeater.typepad.com/), as published on Bay Area Bites (http://blogs.kqed.org/bayareabites/).

CARAMEL CAKE WITH CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature


Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

CARAMEL SYRUP

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light
-

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cooking and Using Fresh Pumpkin

As Halloween is just over and Thanksgiving is coming up, pumpkin season is right on top of us. I had a couple sugar pumpkins I picked up early on (they go so fast!), but I used one for Dean's birthday cake and the other will be for a pumpkin pie. I wanted some pumpkin for the freezer and was happy to pick up a large after-Halloween-pumpkin on sale for $1 a couple weeks ago.

To cook a pumpkin: Preheat the oven to 350*

The small sugar pumpkins make around 2 cups of puree. The large pumpkin I used made 10 cups of puree.
  1. Cut off the top (like you would if you were carving it),
  2. Scoop out as much of the innards as possible.
  3. Cut into chunks. I cut the small sugar pumpkin in half. I cut the large pumpkin into 8ths.
  4. Place skin side up on a cookie sheet. I have done it both directly on the cookie sheet and also on a silpat. I think I liked the silpat better. Less browning.
  5. Cook sugar pumpkins about 30 min. or until tender when pierced with a fork. Cook large pumpkins about 1 hour.
  6. Take out of the oven and cool until you can handle it.
  7. Peel off the skin and remove any remaining strings and seeds you may have missed.
  8. Cut up into smaller chunks and blend in a food processor. I usually have to add a little bit of water or milk. Just enough to get it to move and puree properly.
  9. BLEND UNTIL IT'S VERY SMOOTH. Do not attempt to mash it with a potato masher. Chunks don't "cook out" in pies.
  10. Store it in the fridge if you're going to use it in the next couple of days. Store it in the freezer (I put it in 2 cup Tupperware bowls. That way you can use it a little at a time.) for longer term. To thaw just pop it in the fridge or let it sit on your counter a day or two in advance.
  11. (Use just like canned pumpkin. You don't have to add sugar to it since all recipes using pumpkin will have sugar in them.)

We wanted a "healthier" cake for Dean's first birthday since he's really not eaten refined sugar much. We were going to go with carrot cake, but my sugar pumpkins were calling out for me to bake them. We went with this pumpkin cake and I loved it. It was super moist. We topped it with this cream cheese frosting.

Dean's 1st Birthday Cake (Pumpkin
: Originally found on Allrecipes Modified by me.
2 C. Sugar
3/4 C. Oil
3/4 C. apple sauce
1 tsp. vanilla
2 C. pumpkin puree
4 eggs
2 C. all purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. ground cloves

Bake at 350*. If using a 9X13 cook about 35 min. or until a toothpick comes clean. If using a fluted bunt pan, cook about 50-60 min. or until a toothpick comes clean.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Daring Baker Pizza

I'm late in posting this, mainly because I forgot to look at the post date (which was the 29th).

I make pizza frequently. I have two recipes I really love, but I don't mind trying new recipes. This one was really weird, though. I weighed everything to be as accurate as possible, but boy was it sticky! This was after having added extra flour.


After I was done mixing, I cut it into 6 pieces and placed it on a cookie sheet to sit in the fridge over night. It was very hard to handle because it was so sticky.

Tonight I got it out 2 hours before we were to eat and let it sit. When I went to make them, the dough was totally and completely unmanageable. I had to reform the balls before I could form the pizza crusts.

They were personal sized. I didn't have a chance to get to the store so I didn't have any fancy toppings. I mainly just used a homemade red sauce, pepperoni, olives, bacon. On one I used feta and mozzarella instead of mozzarella and cheddar.

The crust ended up better than I thought it would, but I will not be making it again. It was way too hard to handle and took too long for mediocre results.

For a better crust, I'll stick with Alton Brown's (reduced salt version) or Jay's Signature Pizza Crust.


I'll post the recipe anyway. Just remember, I DO NOT ENDORSE THIS RECIPE!


~ BASIC PIZZA DOUGH ~
Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter).

Ingredients:
4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled

1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast -
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting

DAY ONE

Method:
1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.


3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

DAY TWO

8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.
During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.
In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.
You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.


11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.


14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Was cooking ever so easy?

My husband left today on a business trip so dinner tonight was all me. I found myself "cooking" my most frequently eaten meal as a single adult. It's basically a salad wrap made with whatever I have on hand.

I know the picture isn't magnificent, but it was an afterthought. I'd already eaten one wrap.

This was the version I made tonight:

Salad Wrap
a plate full of chopped lettuce, romaine is my lettuce of choice
black beans mixed with rotel (left over from another dish)
1 cheese stick, chopped into pieces
1/2 avocado, diced
dressing of choice (I used Italian tonight)
burrito sized tortilla or two

Mix all together and either stuff a tortilla or rip pieces of tortilla and eat a bit at a time. Easy. Healthy. Yummy.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hummus and Lavash

Well, for the September Daring Bakers' challenge we had a vegan recipe. Lavash crackers with any vegan dip we wanted. When I told Matt what it was he said, "A cracker? Boring." We already love hummus and I wasn't feeling all creative, so I just used my standard recipe.

The recipe didn't look difficult at all. I had to purchase some instant yeast since I still use dry-active. Not a big deal. I used sugar since I couldn't find agave syrup. The one problem I ran into was in the actual baking. When I rolled out the dough, I couldn't get it perfectly even. The edges were a bit thicker. I must have rolled mine out too thinly, because a good half of my dough burned when cooking a min. or two under the time specified on the recipe. So, the thinnest parts burned. The medium worked just fine and tasted good. The thick edges were a little chewy (but still better than the burned stuff I threw out).

I cut the batter into 3 sections. One section I used brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. One section I used kosher salt and cumin. The last section I used garlic salt. The worst was the sugar. Just didn't work. It burned the worst of the three batches. I didn't even like them enough to try and make a sweet dip for them. The best, by far, was the salt and cumin.

Matt actually really liked the taste of the Lavash with the hummus and said it might even be better suited for it than my pita bread I usually make. I guess I'll have to revisit this recipe and try not to roll my dough so thin next time!



Easy but delicious basic hummus:
Ingredients
1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 cloves garlic (depending on how garlicky you like things and how big the cloves are)
½ teaspoon ground cumin (or you can just shake it in, like me. I never actually measure and it's slightly different every time)
½ teaspoon salt (I use kosher)
1+ tsp lemon juice (the bottled kind works if you don't have fresh)
2+ Tbsp olive oil
water (if needed)

Directions
1. In a food processor (or blender, but blender might be a little more difficult) combine garbanzo beans, garlic, cumin, salt, lemon, and olive oil.
2. Mix it well and taste it. It should be very smooth. If it’s gritty at all, or kind of dry, add more oil or lemon juice or water (a little at a time) and blend some more. Add more salt, cumin or lemon juice, as your taste buds so desire…

Also, if it doesn't taste quite like store bought, it's because store hummus has tahini paste in it that gives a little sesame flavor. I don't care for it much in hummus.

variation ideas:
  • roast a head of garlic in place of the fresh garlic.
  • roast a red pepper (or buy a can of roasted red pepper) and include
  • chipotle pepper (or powder) for a smokey twist
  • fresh dill to taste
  • tahini paste (most store bought hummus has it, but I don't care for it which is why I like mine better!)
  • add cilantro
This pairs well with:

"The best pita ever" (according to my food critic husband)

and/or

Lavash "this might even be better with hummus than pitas" (according to my dh)

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (If you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe)
1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test (see http://www.wikihow.com/Determine-if-Bre … ong-Enough for a description of this) and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

or

2. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), and slightly tacky. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.

or

4. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Lay out two sheets of parchment paper. Divide the cracker dough in half and then sandwich the dough between the two sheets of parchment. Roll out the dough until it is a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. Slowly peel away the top layer of parchment paper. Then set the bottom layer of parchment paper with the cracker dough on it onto a baking sheet.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt - a little goes a long way. If you want to pre-cut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

6. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Vanilla syrup and Pumpkin Waffles

I haven't made the waffles yet this year (I'm holding out for fresh pumpkin), but I thought I'd put it up here because it goes so nicely with the syrup recipe I'm posting. This is heaven. I've heard the syrup is a Magleby's copy cat, but I've never eaten there so I can't tell you. I can tell you it is thick, rich, and oh so goooood.

Devilishly delicious vanilla syrup
Ingredients:
1/2 C. butter (not margarine! The margarine separates and makes it funky...)
1/2 C. buttermilk
1 C. sugar
1 tsp karo syrup
----------
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
Directions:
1. In a medium sauce pan over medium heat bring the first 4 ingredients to a boil.
2. Stir in the baking soda and vanilla.

BEWARE! When you add the soda and vanilla it bubbles us quite a bit. DO NOT MAKE THIS IN A SMALL PAN!!!






Pumpkin Waffles--serves 5 hungry adults

In a large bowl combine:
2 C. flour
2 Tbsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt

In a separate bowl combine:
4 beaten egg yolks (save the whites for later!!)
1 1/2 C. milk
1 C. pumpkin
3/4 C. melted butter
1 Tbsp. vanilla

Directions:
1. Mix the dry mixture into the wet mixture with an electric mixer.
2. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until they form peaks.
3. Fold egg whites into batter with a spatula or large spoon.
4. Pour into waffle iron according to your manufacturer's instructions.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Chocolate Eclairs

This month I decided to join the ever growing circle of Daring Bakers. The challenge this month was Pierre Hermes' Chocolate Eclairs. It was for chocolate glazed and chocolate filled eclairs. We had to keep one of the chocolate elements, but had the liberty to choose which one and what other flavors (if any) we wanted to introduce.

This was my first time for doing pretty much every part of the challenge: the chocolate glaze, pastry cream, and pastry dough. Oh, and I've never been much of a food photographer, so I'm learning about that as well.

I had to split this up into 2 days because of cooking time constraints with a baby and all.

Day 1
I first started by

so I could make the chocolate sauce and glaze.


Now, I thought it a bit odd I'd have to make a chocolate sauce in order to make the glaze. It felt a little over the top. The glaze only needed 7 Tbsp. of sauce, so I cut the original sauce recipe in half. The sauce seemed to take FOR-EV-ER since you had to thicken it on low. I think I was sitting there stirring about 20 min. or so. The sauce really was essential to the glaze. The glaze was nice and pretty dark. Will I make it a again? No. Took too long for my baking attention span!

I also made the
the first day.
I made a vanilla pastry cream because Matt wanted it simple and not a chocolate overload.
I've been looking for the recipe I used, but I've misplaced it somewhere! I think it may have been a Julia Child recipe I found online though...

For my enjoyment, to a small portion, I added a little
I thought the orange would go nicely with the dark chocolate glaze.
It did.
(But the vanilla was better.)
Day 2
I began on the stove top by


I then took it off the heat and added eggs in 1 at a time.

Don't forget to pipe the dough while it's still warm!

(As an aside here, the recipe calls for the pastries to be baked on wax or parchment paper. I couldn't find my parchment paper, so I did a few on wax and most of them on the silpat. The wax paper started smoking and stinking up the house, so I quickly pulled the few off and baked them directly on the pan. They still worked out. The silpat worked very nicely, though.)

After 20 min. of baking, rotating, and propping the door with a wooden spoon,
Voila!

Now to combine all my efforts...I present to you The Eclair!
These were good. Matt's response after tasting them was, "Yep. This is an eclair." We were happy with how they turned out, especially since it was my first try. It was a whole lot of steps and effort, though. I probably won't be making them again any time soon.
But I'm very glad I made them for this challenge.

So, if you're feeling DARING, here is the recipe:

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• Cream Puff Dough (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm

1) Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with waxed or parchment paper.

2) Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.

3) Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes.

Notes:
1) The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.

Assembling the éclairs:

• Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)
• Chocolate pastry cream (see below for recipe)

1) Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the
bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.

2) The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40 degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream.

3) Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them.

Notes:
1) If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water, stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create bubbles.

2) The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature

1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the
boil.

2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.

3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your
handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough. You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.

4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.

Notes:
1) Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.

2) You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking
sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the
piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

Chocolate Pastry Cream
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by PierreHermé

• 2 cups (500g) whole milk
• 4 large egg yolks
• 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Velrhona Guanaja, melted
• 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1) In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan.

2) Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture.Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.

3) Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat).Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.

4) Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.

5) Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.

Notes:
1) The pastry cream can be made 2‐3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

2) In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.

3) Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.

Chocolate Glaze
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1 cup or 300g)

• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature

1)In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.

2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.

Notes:
1) If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly
 in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.

2) It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.

Chocolate Sauce
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1½ cups or 525 g)


• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup (250 g) water
• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar

1) Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.

2) It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.

Notes:
1) You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.
2) This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bran Muffins: Give bran a chance!

I've been meaning to post this forever, but I've been going through a non-blog phase for some reason.

I try and make Matt some sort of muffin for breakfast about once a week. His favorite happen to be Bran muffins. Yes, you heard me right. Bran. I have had some bad bran muffins in my life, I won't lie. Dry, tasteless, crumbly...you get the point. (Heck, the recipe on the back of my oat bran box is one of those! It calls for all bran and no flour, and it tells you to bake it at 425 for 15-20 min!! WAY too long and too hot! The bottoms of the muffins burned, and the muffins were not that good.)

Well, I've tried a few recipes in the past couple of months, and this is one of my favorites. I like it because it's quite versatile and you can change them up a bit so you don't get too bored. For ideas of how to change it up, look to the asterisks. These were moist and delicious.

(Better than) Classic Bran Muffins--adapted from Classic Bran Muffins
Makes 12 good sized muffins
1 1/2 cups bran (oat, wheat, whatever)
1 cup buttermilk*
1/3 cup canola or EVOO**
2 large eggs***
2/3 cup brown sugar or molasses (or a combo of both)****
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour***** (I like King Arthur brand; it seems smoother and less gritty to me)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt (I use Kosher)
Optional: 1/2 cup mix-ins such as raisins, craisins, walnuts, blueberries (fresh or frozen), dried cherries, etc. (you can also do cinnamon for a change in flavor, but I don't recommend a 1/2 cup!)

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease or line muffin cups.
  2. In a bowl or large measuring cup, mix together bran, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt.
  3. In a separate large bowl, mix together buttermilk, oil, egg, sugar and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients into the wet and incorporate well (though try to not over mix). Fold in the mix-ins if you are including any.
  4. Bake in muffin tins for 14-20 min. (really depends on your oven and elevation and stuff, so check at 14 min. by toothpick test.) 14 min. is perfect in my oven.

* you can substitute 1 cup regular milk + 1 Tbsp white vinegar or lemon juice
** OR applesauce OR banana mash OR pureed pumpkin OR a combination of the above (I'd keep in at least a Tbsp of oil because it helps lengthen the shelf life.) I used about 1/2 EVOO and 1/2 applesauce. I've actually used a mixture of oil and sweet potato puree successfully as well.
*** I did 1/3 cup of each. I like this amount. Matt thinks it could use a little more molasses.
**** Can use all purpose flour, oat flour, etc. or a combo of them all.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Italian vinaigrette from scratch

I didn't have any salad dressing on hand, so I threw this together. It turned out pretty decently. I didn't measure anything, so this is more for my sake in remembering what I used. The amounts are guestimations!

Italian vinaigrette
2 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 tsp vinegar (I used rice vinegar)
1-2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic minced
generous pinch of sugar
celery salt to taste

Optional toppers: fresh grated parm cheese and crushed black pepper

mix well and pour over the salad. I actually put mine in the salad spinner after dressing it to help mix the dressing throughout. I then spooned a little of the leftover dressing on top and grated the cheese and added pepper. Oh, and I soaked some boxed croûtons in the dressing for a min. to help them soften a little.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Strawberry Jam

A couple weeks ago I decided to try my hand at jam. I've never tried it before, but I had some great strawberries that needed to be used. I didn't have any room in the freezer, so I decided to actually cook and can jam. Here are a few things I learned.

Freezer jam will taste fresher and lighter since you don't have to cook the fruit and you can use less sugar. Only problem with that for me is a need for freezer space. I like the idea of putting it on my shelf if I don't have room in the freezer.

Sugar helps with gelling and it helps preserve and lengthen shelf life. If you use less sugar than called for by the type of pectin you're using, it will not set up properly. You'll have syrup rather than jam.

I bought the regular pectin since I didn't know there were different kinds. Big mistake. It meant that I had to use TONS of sugar (7 cups of sugar to 4 cups of fruit!) to make it gel properly. I didn't put in the full amount called for and decided I'd just use it as syrup if it didn't gel. That's exactly what happened. Even with the reduced amt. of sugar it still tasted super sweet. Fine for syrup, but it would have been too sweet for a basic fruit jam that I wanted.

There are different types of pectin you can buy. Regular pectin requires a lot of sugar if you can. It doesn't take quite as much when you do freezer jam, but it's still more than I want in my jam. There are also low sugar and no sugar pectins. No sugar pectins require a sugar substitute like Splenda if you use it according to the box. I found out this weekend that you can actually add sugar to jams made with the low/no sugar pectins and make it still work. My sister made some DELICIOUS jam with no sugar pectin by adding just 1 cup of sugar to it. It gelled well and tasted like fruit rather than sugar. Definitely do that next time.

So, my "recipe" suggestion:
1 box no sugar pectin
1 C sugar
1 C unsweetened juice (white grape or something that fits with the type of fruit you're using)
4 C strawberry

Follow the directions for cooked jam on the box.

ALSO: If you're doing cooked/canned jam, spend the $6 or whatever for the propper tongs! I totally burned myself when the bottles splashed back into my water bath because I couldn't grip them well with what I had.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cheesy Breadsticks

Matt requested cheesy bread to accompany our dinner tonight. Since he rarely has requests, I thought it best to comply forthwith. So I went to looking for a recipe. I was disappointed in the lack of cheesy bread recipes online! Almost everything I found called for canned biscuits or frozen pizza/roll dough.

So, I got out my trusty recipe collection and decided to create a cheesy variation of a fast bread stick recipe I got from a friend last year at a recipe swap. (Thanks Amy!) It worked so fabulously. I got one of the best compliments EVER from Matt. He said it made him think of something off of the food network (possibly a Diners, Drive-in, and Dives episode) where people say, "I come from miles away just for this bread". Yeah. It was good.

So, here's the recipe.

Easy Cheesy Breadsticks
Ingredients
1 Tbsp yeast
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus some for sprinkling the top
1 1/2 C warm water (around 110*)
Approx. 3+ C BREAD flour (Trust me!! This makes a HUGE difference in the final texture of the bread!)

a little butter
a cup or two of cheese: I used mozzarella and cheddar inside and parmesan on top

Directions
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400*
  2. Dissolve yeast and sugar in the water. (Don't add the salt in yet because at this point it can kill the yeast.) Let it sit about 5-10 min. to bloom.
  3. In a stand mixer (or by hand), knead in the 3 cups bread flour and salt. Mix for a couple min. The dough is a bit sticky with just 3 cups. At this point I took the dough out of my mixer and kneaded in about 1/4 cup more flour by hand, just enough to get it not sticky and to a point where you can roll it out. You can probably keep it in the mixer and add a little flour at a time until it pulls off of the side of the bowl.
  4. On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle, approx. 15 X 12. Put this onto a greased cookie sheet or baking pan (I bet a pizza stone would work nicely too, though the cooking time would change a bit if you did that).
  5. Sprinkle the cheese over half the bread vertically, leaving about 1 in. on the edges cheese free.
  6. Fold the un-cheesed (short) side over the cheesed side and press the edges closed. You will have a long strombli/calzone like bread.
  7. Brush the top with some butter, grate as much parm cheese as you'd like, and sprinkle the top with kosher salt. I didn't let the dough rest or rise any more than the time it took me to fill it and get it ready for baking.
  8. Bake at 400* for about 15 min.
  9. Let it rest about 5-10 min. after pulling it out so the cheese doesn't just goo out everywhere when you cut it.
  10. Cut it into 1-2 in. strips and serve as a breadstick.
* Just so you know, this dough doesn't have any butter or oil in the dough. The means it doesn't keep as long. You can always add in 1-2 Tbsp of EVOO or canola oil if you find you don't eat it quickly enough before it spoils.*

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What we ate: week 2

  1. Sausage, homemade rolls, coleslaw-The rolls were pretty decent. I just got the recipe off of allrecipes. Matt wasn't in the mood for a crusty roll, so I brushed them with butter and let them sit a little and the tops softened. I made the coleslaw mix with purple and regular cabbage, julienned carrots, small broccoli, green onions. The dressing recipe I use is Alton Brown's.
  2. Potstickers and fried rice (I made too much coleslaw mix, so I chopped it up into small pieces, added peas and used it in the fried rice. It worked well.) The potstickers I made awhile back froze really nicely. I just put two Tbsp oil in the pan, frozen potstickers, 2/3 C water and covered. Cooked for 8 min. on medium high, took off the lid and made sure everything had crisped up on the bottom.
  3. Chipotle beef soft tacos
  4. Homemade Chili Chock-full o' Veggies, Cornbread
  5. Hot dogs, spicy potato salad (made by a friend), watermelon

Cheesecake Pops

I recently found out about a cool blog-ring called The Daring Bakers' Challenge. Every month all participants get a challenge. They have to make the same recipe, take photos, and blog their end result on the same appointed day. This was the April challenge. I love challenges, so I decided to join the Darking Bakers and I will officially start with the challenges in August.

They are from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor.

Cheesecake Pops
Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream
Boiling water as needed
Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks
1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer set at low speed, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at lwo speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Lightly grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan). Pour the cheesecake batter into the cake pan and place in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly goldenon top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchemtn paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
My review of the cheesecake:
Most of the reviews said that this cheesecake didn't set at the time and temp. given in this recipe. So I wne to my normal recipe and took the time and temp from there. That was kind of a mistake because I ended up overcooking it a little.

Overall the taste was good, but this recipe called for a lot of eggs and I could actually taste the egg on the slightly overcooked edges. I didn't have a large enough pan to do a proper water bath and my cake ended up rising, splitting, and then collapsing a little bit. I think this was because of the eggs and perhaps over mixing combined with no water bath. I make cheesecake every valentine's day and I've never had problems like this. I think I will actually stay with my normal recipe from now on. Once I trimmed the top, bottom, and sides off, I was ready to scoop.

The ball rolling was a little messy, but I didn't have huge problems with it. I just had to periodically wash my hands to get the stickiness off. The sticks were easy enough, and dipping was fairly easy. However, because the cheesecake was frozen, it made the dipping chocolate firm up rather quickly, so I had to decorate fast. I just let them sit head up in a cup to firm before putting them back in the fridge.

Oh, I dipped a few in jam before I dipped in the chocolate. It made the chocolate a little tricky, but the pops with the thinner homemade strawberry jam turned out quite tasty. The ones with the thicker freezer jam were too sweet.

Main problem:
The main problem with this recipe was the stick. This is a rather cute idea, but the cheesecake just didn't adhere well enough to the stick to actually eat it like a lollipop. If I set them upside down the stick just pulled out when the cheesecake was at room temp. If I turned them right side up, the cheesecake slid right down the stick. So, overall, these were a little tricky to serve.

Cupcake bites

So, Bakerella got onto Martha Stewart with her little Cupcake Pops. Since I was already doing cheesecake pops for the party, I decided to make her Easy Cupcake Bites instead. They are pretty much the same thing, just less time consuming. This recipe is directly from her site.

Easy Cupcake Bites
1 box cake mix (cook as directed on box for 13 X 9 cake)
1 can cream cheese frosting (16 oz.)
1 package chocolate bark (or candy melts for cupcake bottom)
Colored Candy Melts (for cupcake top)
Candy Cup Mold
Sprinkles and m&ms for decoration
  1. After cake is cooked and cooled completely, crumble into large bowl. (The texture should be fine/fluffy)
  2. Using the back of a large spoon, mix thoroughly with 1 can cream cheese frosting. (It may be easier to use fingers to mix together, but be warned it will get messy.)
  3. Roll mixture into quarter size balls (make sure they are smaller in diameter than that of your candy mold) and lay on wax paper covered cookie sheet.
  4. Chill in the freezer for a few minutes, until they are slightly firm, not frozen.
  5. Melt chocolate bark and candy melts in microwave per directions on package.
  6. Using a spoon or squeeze bottle, fill each mold cavity with a small amount of chocolate. Sorry, I didn't think to measure how much. But as soon as you fill the cavity, go ahead and place one of your rolled balls into it. Carefully push it down until the force causes the chocolate to push up and fill in around the sides of the ball. You may have to experiment with a couple to get the right amount. Stop pushing once the chocolate reaches the top edge.
  7. Place the mold tray filled with cupcakes in the freezer for just a few minutes to let the chocolate set. Remove and then gently pull up on the cake ball top to release from candy mold.
  8. Now, holding the bottom of the cupcake, dip the top in another color of melted chocolate.
  9. Decorate.
  10. And, probably impress your friends and family
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What I used:
I used a butter pecan box cake. I only had about 1/4 of the cream cheese frosting I needed, and I used all my cream cheese on the cheesecake, so I had to improvise. I made an almond flavored butter cream frosting and added it to the cream cheese frosting. These two things combined made for a very sweet little cupcake bite.

What I suggest to remedy that:
I think these would work really well with a dark cocoa (preferably homemade) cake and cream cheese frosting. That way the frosting would balance out the cake rather than overtake it.

Problems I had and a few remedies:
  • I'm pretty sure the candy mold I used was a little shallower than Bakerella's. I just got it at Michaels. Anyway, because it had such a small base it was a little difficult to hold when I was dipping the tops. It was also difficult to set them down without getting chocolate smearing on the bases.
  • I just used candy melts from Michaels. The dark chocolate worked the best and stayed melty longer than the colored white chocolates. The colored melts seized pretty quickly and I kept having to remelt them.
  • After doing the bases, I tried dipping the tops. The cake had thawed and when I tried dipping the top ripped right off into the chocolate. I had to refreeze the bites before dipping the tops. This worked but presented a new problem.
  • Because the cake was frozen, the top chocolate cooled too quickly for me to properly decorate it by myself. It would have been easier with a helper, but I ended up with plain bites because I was cooking solo. They still looked cute.
  • Lastly, because I used a light brown cake, I was afraid it would look too bland inside. Bakerella's red velvet is stunning. I thought, "Hmmm...why not just color the frosting I mix in with the cake?" So I made pink frosting. Once I mixed it in with the cake and rolled it into balls, I realized that it made them look like uncooked meatballs. Eeew. So, I strongly discourage mixing a light cake with pink frosting.
  • Oh, and make sure there aren't any little pieces of cake not completely mixed in (like you see the white pieces below). They just made frosting a bit more difficult.
  • I first tried to "frost" the tops with a knife because it was hard to hold the little bottoms. DID NOT WORK. It was a much smoother top to just dip. That meant I needed a fair amount of chocolate. You can't just work with a little bit of chocolate at a time or the cake gets stuck and mucked up.
  • I kind of had a hard time figuring out the "perfect amount" of chocolate for the bases, because my bases weren't 100% even my top frosting was a little hard to get right on.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What we ate: week 1

  1. Stuffed chicken, sautéed purple cabbage, mashed garlic and rosemary red potatoes: The filling was left over from the ravioli. I butterflied chicken breasts, filled them with the artichoke/ricotta mixture, topped it with red sauce and grated parmesan cheese on it. Baked it in a small glass dish for 35 min. at 400*. The chicken was a little dry, but I like it like that. So, I'd probably reduce the heat to 375 or 350* if you like it juicier. For the cabbage, I just shredded it and cooked it in a small amount of EVOO with salt and pepper. Sometimes I add the fresh, precooked bacon bits for a little extra flavor.
  2. Homemade artichoke and ricotta ravioli, yellow squash: On the back of my leftover potsticker wrappers it said you can use them for raviolis, so I tried that. It was gross. The dough was too slimy when boiled. It may have been ok if we'd done fried ravioli, but I won't try it. The filling was good. It was my own concoction of garlic, onions, artichoke hearts, ricotta, parsley and salt.
  3. Curried vegetables and paneer cheese, rice, baked green beans: We ate this the night my crockpot shattered. We needed something quick, and the curry mixture was prepackaged. It was Tasty Bite: Cuisine of India brand. We both really liked it. It was very tasty. I can't remember the exact name of it though. I baked the green beans on a cookie sheet with a little olive oil, garlic, onions and pepper. I really like beans done this way, but I always over cook them. I bake them on 400* and depending on the bean size, it will take 10-20 min. Stir and check them every couple of min. to make sure they don't get over cooked.
  4. Beef and bean flautas, salad, and Matt made pico: The flautas are just flour tortillas with refried beans (cannery is what I use), cheese and seasoned ground beef down the middle. I roll them up without folding the ends (flauta means flute), and then I crisp them on all sides in a pan with a tiny bit of extra light olive oil.
  5. Bean, veggie, and bacon soup, sourdough bread: The soup base I use for this quick meal is Campbell's Bean and Bacon soup. I dice and sautéed veggies (save the zucchini till after you simmer the rice though) to a crisp tender, added in about 1/4 cup uncooked rice, and about 3/4 c water. Covered and simmered on low for about 15 min. and then added the soup, 2 cans water, and a little "better than bullion chicken base" to make up for the extra water I added. Carrots, celery, onions, a little garlic, zucchini are the veggies I use, but I'm sure bell peppers and other veggies would work fine too.
  6. Hamburgers,fries, and onion rings: Sometimes we indulge. For those in our area, Baker's drive in on Hwy 5 has great onion rings. Their fries are nothing special, the burgers are pretty decent, but their onion rings are delicious.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rival Crockpot lid shattered


What the???

I had 2 chicken breasts in my crockpot cooking away like they're supposed to. I put them in a little later in the afternoon, so I had them on high. I was sitting in the computer room when I heard a loud pop from my kitchen. Upon inspection, the crockpot lid shattered into tons of pieces. It was all intact until Matt tried to lift it up. The handle came right off and the glass all fell into the pot. I have no clue why it would have done that. I've used the crockpot for so many things, but I've never had this happen. There was ample water, so it wasn't because it had boiled out or anything. Nothing else seemed amiss.

I JUST threw out the box too. I've had this crockpot for only a few months. Lame.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Candy Bar Bar Cookies

Matt was going to be out last night, so I decided to try and get a spur of the moment craft group together. After contacting a few people, I decided I ought to make a treat just in case. I needed something easy for which I had all the ingredients on hand. I love trying new recipes, so this recipe caught my eye.

I was afraid they'd be overpoweringly sweet, so I made some minor changes. They turned out quite good in my opinion. I usually can resist going back for more, but these kept calling my name and I had a few. My changes are in red.

Candy Bar Bar Cookies
Ingredients
3/4 C butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1/4 C peanut butter (I used organic natural PB)
1 C firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 C all purpose flour
1/2 C whole wheat flour
2 C rolled oats, pulsed a couple times in the food processor

1 egg
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated!)
3 C chopped candy bars (mixed is fine. I used a combo of snickers, almond joys, 1000 Grand, butterfingers, and a few peanut m&m's for kicks. The almond joys were my favorites)
1 C chopped nuts (I used pecans and walnuts)

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350*
  2. In a large bowl combine softened (room temp., not melted) butter and peanut butter until smooth. Add brown sugar and baking soda. Beat well and stir in flour and oats. Set aside 1 3/4 C oat mixture for later.
  3. Stir egg into the remaining oat mixture in bowl. Pat into a 9 X 13 in. baking dish (I used metal) and bake for 15 min. Remove from oven.
  4. Pour sweetened condensed milk over the crust and spread evenly. Stir together reserved oat mixture with the candy bars and nuts. Sprinkle mixture evenly over top.
  5. Bake 25 min. or until golden brown. Store left overs loosely covered at room temperature.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Pecan Pie

Pecan Pie
Ingredients
3 eggs
2/3 C sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 C melted butter
1 C corn syrup (I use dark)
1 1/2 C pecan halves

1 pie crust

Directions
Heat the oven to 375*. Beat everything together except pecans. Place pecans on the bottom of an unbaked pie crust (I used 9 in. pan). Pour mixture on top of pecans. Cover the crust with foil. Bake 45-55 min. or until it's not real jiggly. Uncover the crust and bake about 5-10 min. more until golden.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Classic Stir-fry Sauce

This was adapted from Restaurant Teriyaki Sauce recipe from Gourmet Mom on-the-Go. If you're looking for a good homemade teriyaki sauce, follow that link. It really is good. We just needed something not quite as sweet.

Classic Stir-fry Sauce
Ingredients
1/4 C. soy sauce
3/4 C. water
1-2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 Tbsp. honey
1 1/2 Tbsp. corn starch dissolved in a couple Tbsp. water
a couple drops of sesame oil

Directions
In a small sauce pan stir together all ingredients. except the cornstarch/water mixture. Heat until sauce bubbles and thickens, stirring frequently with a whisk. It's important to get the sauce to bubble so it boils out the "cornstarch" taste. You can add more water if it gets too thick.

We both really liked the sauce for the veggie stir-fry.

I might try variations on this including ginger and crushed red pepper.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Basic Brownies

I wanted to provide treats last night for the recital. At first I thought I'd just purchase some cookies and fruit, but as I was going down the cookie isle and reading the ingredients, I decided the cheap cookies were cheap for a reason! And while the expensive cookies may have been good, they were TOO EXPENSIVE!

So I came home and made my own lemon bars and brownies. I'm not giving you the lemon bar recipe. It was a new one and it was ok, but not good enough to give out with my stamp of approval.

The brownie recipe is SO easy, and I got it from my friend Pam (the same friend from whom I got the apple pie and crust recipe). They are chewy without being gloppy/gooey and underdone or cakey. They're really good.

Brownies: Full 9X13 batch
Ingredients
2 c sugar
2 cubes butter
4 eggs
1 ½ c flour
1/3 c cocoa
dash of salt

Directions
Cream sugar and butter, add eggs then dry ingredients. Cook at 350 for 25-30. Greased 9X13 pan

Brownies: Half batch for 8X8 pan
Ingredients
1 c sugar
1 cube butter
2 eggs
3/4 c flour
1/8 C + 1 Tbsp cocoa
pinch salt

Directions
Cream sugar and butter, add eggs then dry ingredients. Cook at 350 for 25-30. Greased 8X8 pan.

I don't frost mine, but she does.

Easy Chocolate Frosting
Melt 2 tbsp butter. Add powder sugar until you get a consistency a little thicker than you want. Add a little milk, a little cocoa, a little vanilla. (Real specific, hu? That's how I like it!!)