Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Gingerbread House....well, sort of

So, this year, I decided to finally do my first gingerbread house. The stores sell all sorts of kits, but I thought, "why pay for something when I can do it myself." This probably wasn't the best decision, since I have no experience in either cake decorating or gingerbread house construction. Even still, I had all these grandiose ideas of how cool I was going to make my little house, and how perfect it would be. This is the creation I envisioned...
...and this is the house I created.
You could call it a tragedy. You could call it an embarrassment. I call it 'the reason I'm buying a kit next year.' A lot of things went wrong, so here's the list.

1. I rolled out the dough into a jelly roll pan, so I couldn't tell how thick it was. I thought it was only 1/4th-inch thick, but clearly, it is over 1/2-inch thick--definitely more cake than cookie.

2. I wasn't too careful when I was cutting out the pieces, so many of them don't have straight lines, and the house isn't true as a result.

3. I didn't have enough powdered sugar for the royal icing. I thought I would just make less frosting, but as you can see, I ran out and couldn't even put half the candy on the house.

4. Related to number three above, the icing that I did make was too runny. I didn't have any more sugar to thicken it up, and I have no experience with icing of this variety. All the candy started dripping off the house, and I wasn't sure that the house would even hold together. Luckily, it is still standing--a sad testament to my poor attempt.

Hopefully, you'll learn from me and either buy a kit or skip it all together. :)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Oreo Cream Fudge Brownies

I am really proud of this recipe because it is all mine. Well, I combined elements from three different recipes, but the inspiration and end-result were my original idea. These brownies are extremely rich and chocolatey, so if you're not a hard-core chocoholic, you may want to stick to regular brownies. :)

Fudge Brownies
1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup cake or all-purpose flour, sifted
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a saucepan over low heat, combine the butter and chopped chocolate. Heat until melted, stirring often. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar and salt. Add the eggs and vanilla and stir until well blended. Sprinkle the sifted flour over the mixture and stir until just blended. You don't really need to use the cake flour since these are dense brownies, but if you want them to be a little lighter and fluffier, go ahead. Stir in chips. You'll notice that there is no chemical leavening in this recipe. That's what makes these more dense and fudgy instead of light and cakey.

Pour into a greased 8 x 8-inch square, preferably glass. Bake 25-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out almost clean. Do not overbake. Cool completely.

Oreo Cream
1/2 package cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1 cups thawed whipped topping
6 Oreos, crushed

Beat cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl until well blended. Gently stir in whipped topping and crushed cookies. Spread over cooled brownies. You can add as much or as little as you want. The brownies are a very dark chocolate, almost bitter, so the sweetness of the Oreo cream is a great complement.

Chocolate Ganache
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Heat cream in microwave or in saucepan until small bubbles start to form. Stir in chocolate until melted. Let cool slightly. Spread over Oreo cream and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Caramel Apples

If you've ever had a caramel apple at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, you know there's a lot more to these apples than just caramel. I am always dazzled by all the different topping choices, but my favorite is caramel, chocolate, and pecans. Even with all the fabulous toppings, this dessert is still an apple to the core, which makes it healthy, right? With fall in the air and apples on sale, I decided to try my hand at making my own caramel apples. They turned out great, thanks to this great caramel recipe from my sister-in-law Chelsey.
Caramel Apples
1 cup butter
2 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 pinch salt
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
apples for dipping (Granny Smith are perfect for this)

Melt the butter and add the rest to a deep, heavy saucepan. You want a deep pot rather than a wide one to make it easier for dipping and coating the apples. Stir over medium heat until a candy thermometer reaches 250 degrees. (Make sure to calibrate your thermometer!) Remove from heat and add vanilla. Dip apples immediately into hot caramel; then dip immediately into toppings (nuts, chocolate, cookie crumbs, etc.). Place on parchment or wax paper to cool.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Struesel Cake

I have to give credit to Emily Johansson for this recipe. She prepared this cake for us on Conference Sunday when we were freshman roommates. Our family has since adopted this tradition, and my husband always looks forward to warm struesel cake for General Conference.
Struesel Cake
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup shortening
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons melted butter

Beat sugar and shortening. Add beaten egg. Stir in milk; then add flour, powder, and salt. Put half of the batter in a greased 9 x 9 pan, cover with half of the struesel topping, and then repeat. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Classic Birthday Cake

So, here's my first real attempt at cake decorating. Ganache I can do, but frosting can be tricky. The whole idea of making something look presentable with frosting is even trickier. This cake looks plain, but don't let it fool you. It is exceedingly rich, and while it isn't chocolate, it still has taste. Cake mixes may be cheap and tasty, but give the good, old-fashioned, homemade cake a try.
Classic Birthday Cake
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup buttermilk

Grease two 8- or 9-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper. Lightly grease the paper and sides of the pan with butter and dust with flour. In a bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In another bowl, beat butter until smooth. Slowly add the sugar to the butter and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, until just blended. Add the vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, ending with the flour mixture. Pour into pans and bake at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes and then remove from pans to cool completely.

Vanilla Frosting
1 cup butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

Beat ingredients together. Add food coloring if desired. Frost cake.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Creme Brulee--Fancy Word for 'Not Chocolate'

Generally, I'm not a fan of creme brulee as it divides my attention from true dessert: chocolate. But, I find that perhaps I need to adopt a more sophisticated approach to dessert and allow for all types, including custards, bread puddings, fruit tarts, and so on. In truth, I never stray from a decadent chocolate cake or fudgy brownie when I peruse any dessert menu, but I am slowly beginning to appreciate dessert in another medium.

That is why I'm posting this recipe. Not only did I once believe that creme brulee was a fancy word for 'not chocolate', I also didn't think it was anything special. Yet, I found myself positively enjoying this wonderful custard with the burnt sugar on top. I hope you will too.

Creme Brulee
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons fine sugar

Preheat oven to 300F. Have a pot of boiling water ready. Add the cream to a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Warm the cream until bubbles start to form around the edges of the pan and steam begins to rise from the surface. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla extract, and set aside to steep, about 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, salt and the 1/4 cup sugar until smooth and blended. Gradually add the cream to the egg mixture, whisking until blended. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Divide the custard among four 5- or 6-oz. ramekins and place the ramekins in a baking pan. Add boiling water to fill the pan halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and bake until the custard is just set around the edges, 35 to 40 minutes.
Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.

Just before serving, sprinkle 1 Tbs. of the sugar evenly over each custard. Using a kitchen torch, melt the sugar. Serve immediately.

Vienna Waits for You!

The first Saturday I spent in Vienna, I made a wonderful discovery. Our program director took us to the Naschmarkt, which was essentially a large, semi-permanent farmers' market. Among all the purveyors of stinky, foreign cheeses and pungent, marinated olives, I found a treasure: the Doner kebab. Greatly influenced by Turkish flavors and cultures, Austria is certainly the place for such a meal. But in America, you probably only find them in New York.
You may have heard of kabobs, but these are nothing like that. First off, they're pronounced 'kay-bop', but I don't know if that was the German or the Turkish talking. Second, the meat is cooked on a skewer, but it isn't served that way at all. The meat is cooked on a rotating spit (which is where American gyro comes from), and then it is shaved off and paired with lettuce, tomato, onions, and a fabulous sauce in pita bread. Yum!
Sounds pretty standard, but if I only could describe to you how far from prosaic this sandwich actually is. The meat is generally lamb, but for us Americans, chicken is often substituted. The meat alone is fabulous, which its rich and juicy flavor. Skipping past the vegetables, the sauce is fabulous. I believe it is a type of tzatziki sauce, but I've never been able to replicate it. Finally, the bread they stuffed this into was unlike any pita bread I've ever had. It seemed a lot closer to focaccia bread, which I also discovered for the first time at the Naschmarkt.

I recently tried to recreate this wonder in my own kitchen, but I failed to do it justice. Maybe one day I'll visit my beloved Vienna once more and reunite with my friends at the Naschmarkt.
grilled or pan fried meat, sliced
shredded lettuce
sliced tomato
sliced onion
pita bread
tzatsiki sauce

1 8 oz. container plain yogurt
1 cucumber; peeled, seeded, and diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 lemon, juiced
salt and pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh dill, chopped
1 1/2 cloves garlic, peeled

In a food processor or blender, combine yogurt, cucumber, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, dill and garlic. Process until well-combined. Transfer to a separate dish, cover and refrigerate for at least one hour for best flavor.

Stay tuned for some true Viennese cuisine: Wiener schnitzel, apfelstrudel, and Sachertorte!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Strawberry Cream Cookies

While strawberries are in season, this is a great way to use them. The creamy filling is refreshing, and the cookies themselves are sweet and snappy. These are small cookies, so don't be fooled by the picture.

Strawberry Cream cookies
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons seedless strawberry jam
1/4 cup cool whip

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup chopped strawberries

For filling, in a small mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar and jam until blended. Fold in cool whip. Chill.

In a bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, egg whites, vanilla and salt until smooth. Whisk in butter until blended. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Preparing four cookies at a time, drop batter by 1 1/2 teaspoonfuls 4 in. apart onto prepared pan. Bake at 400 for 5-8 minutes or until edges are browned.

Immediately remove one cookie at a time from parchment and form into a tube around a greased clean round wooden clothespin. Press lightly to seal; hold until set, about 20 seconds. Remove cookie from clothespin; place on waxed paper to cool. Continue with remaining cookies.
Just before serving, pipe or spoon filling into cookie shells. Dip end of each cookie into strawberries.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Dairy Products: Make Your Own!

As much as I love store-bought ice cream (especially the loaded Coldstone variety), there's nothing more simple and tasty as homemade ice cream. With a basic ice cream maker (hand-crank or electric) and a few simple ingredients, you're on your way to a fabulously, easy dessert on a hot summer day. That's what made my 4th of July!
I could focus on that, but I think you've been there and done that. So, how about homemade yogurt! All you have to do is grow your own bacteria culture using the live cultures in store-bought yogurt. The trick is to keep the culture in a warm, dark environment so that it will grow. (Much like yeast.) A yogurt maker would probably be easiest, but let's face it--we're not all going to go buy yet another single-use, low frequency appliance.
Homemade Yogurt

1 quart whole or 2 percent milk
1-2 tablespoons yogurt as a starter

Warm up the milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat until bubbles appear round the edge and steam rises from the surface. Pour the warm milk into a large bowl to cool until the temperature reaches 110 to 115 degrees.

Put the starter in a small bowl, add some of the heated milk, and stir until well blended. Return the mixture to the large bowl, a third at a time, making sure to stir and blend well after each addition. Cover with a heavy towel and keep in a warm place 6 to 8 hours or overnight. You could put it in the oven with a saucepan of hot water to help raise the temperature.

When set, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours before serving. If thicker yogurt is desired, empty chilled yogurt in a muslin bag or cheesecloth, suspend over a bowl, and drain.

Yes, it really is that simple. You could (and should) add fresh fruit, jam, granola, honey, wheat germ, you name it! This is a fabulously simple and healthy snack, and real yogurt with live cultures works wonders on your digestive tract. Plus, you can make it without all the extra sugars and preservatives that come with store-bought yogurt.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tres Leches Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche Buttercream

Can you believe that I'm posting a dessert that isn't chocolate? What is that about? Well, it's a fabulous dessert! These dainty cakes are sweet and moist, and the buttercream is caramel perfection.
Tres Leches
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup coconut milk

In a large mixing bowl, cream shortening, butter, and sugar. Add egg yolks 1 at a time. Add the vanilla. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add alternately with the buttermilk to the creamed mixture. In a small bowl, beat the egg whites on high until stiff peaks form. Fold into the cake batter. Fill muffin tins 3/4 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. While cupcakes are still warm, stir together the three milks. Poke holes into the cakes and pour milk mixture over each cupcake, filling each hole. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Remove from pans.

1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar

For the buttercream: Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a glass pie plate and cover with foil. Place in a larger roasting pan and fill the pan with hot water, to a depth of about halfway of the pie plate. Place in the oven and bake at 425 for 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Stir until smooth.

Place the egg yolks in a medium mixing bowl. Stir the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a small, heavy saucepan. Whisk in the water first, then the dulce de leche and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 1 minute, whisking constantly. Remove from heat. Gradually whisk the dulce de leche mixture into the 2 egg yolks. Stir in the vanilla. Strain through a wire mesh strainer into a small bowl. Cool completely.

Beat the butter on high until light and fluffy. Beat in the cooled dulce de leche mixture. Beat in the 1 cup powdered sugar until smooth. Frost cupcakes liberally.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Fabulous Sunday Dinner

I thought I'd try to dress up Sunday dinner, so we had a full three course meal.

First course - homemade brioche and a blue cheese, candied walnut, and craisin spring salad
Second course - roast pork wrapped in pancetta and served with creamed corn and tomato relish
Third course - molten chocolate cake

Everything was fabulous, but to save you all the details, we'll just focus on the oh-so-rich molten chocolate cakes.

Molten Chocolate Cake

6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup cake flour, sifted
pinch of kosher salt
1/4 cup cold ganache, plus more for serving (see below)
confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350F. Coat the interiors of four 4-ounce ramekins with nonstick spray. Set aside on a baking pan. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and 1/4 cup water over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and melt the butter. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture over the chocolate, stirring to blend.

Place the eggs, yolk, and the remaining teaspoon of sugar in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a wire whip attachment or use a handheld electric beater. Beat on medium-high speed until the eggs are thick and yellow. Add the melted chocolate and continue to whip until thoroughly blended. Add the flour and salt, beating to incorporate. Transfer the bowl to the refrigerator and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes or ideally up to overnight.

Fill the prepared ramekins halfway with the batter. Place a tablespoon of ganache in the center. Pour in enough cake batter to cover the ganache and fill to 3/4 full. Bake until the sides are set and the tops are puffed but still soft, 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool in the ramekins for 2 minutes before inverting onto 4 dessert plates.

4 ounces white or dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup nutella, peanut butter, or malted milk powder

Place the chocolate in a mixing bowl. Combine the cream and nutella (or other flavoring) in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until bubbles just begin to form around the edges. Remove from heat and immediately pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate in a steady stream. Let it sit for a few seconds to begin to melt. As soon as the chocolate begins to melt, using a whisk or rubber spatula, stir in a circular motion until the chocolate is completely smooth.

The great thing about the ganache is that you can change the flavor by substituting white for dark chocolate or peanut butter for the nutella. Any way you try it, it makes a fabulous cake. It was so rich, it was impossible even for me to finish!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bajio's Sweet Rice

No more need to cook that horrible Spanish rice from the box! This recipe is sweet and savory and complements any type of Mexican food. It's so tasty, that after our first sampling, I promptly got rid of the boxed junk that I'd previously been using. It's a very easy recipe, and is just as convenient as using the boxed mixes.

Bajio's Sweet Rice

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 of a white onion, chopped
1/4 bunch fresh cilantro
2/3 cups long grain white rice
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup sugar

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute the onions until translucent. Add the chopped cilantro and saute a minute more. Add the rice, cooking until light brown. Combine the chicken broth and sugar and let the sugar dissolve. Stir chicken broth mixture into the rice until combined. Bring to a boil Cover and let cook on low until the rice is done, about 25-30 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Feel free to swap out some of the sugar for lime juice, if you prefer that flavor. Browning of the rice is also important, as it helps the rice from losing too much starch and getting too sticky.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Chunky Avocado Salad

Actually buying a California avocado in California is wonderful. They are so much bigger, meatier, and riper. I mean, we get California avocados in Utah, but they just aren't the same. This recipe is really a guacamole recipe, but I like to just eat it as a side dish, especially when the avocados are perfect. Serve it chilled and chunky as a perfect complement to any Mexican entree.

Chunky Avocado Salad

2 large ripe avocados, in large chunks
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup finely diced onions
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
juice of 1 lime
garlic salt, to taste
pepper, to taste

Incorporate all ingredients together in a mixing bowl. The avocado should still be in chunks, but a little mashed avocado should cover all the other vegetables. Spoon into empty avocado peels. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Little Helper

Growing up, my mother always had a jar full of hot fudge sauce in the fridge.  She called it 'Mother's Little Helper', and anytime she needed a chocolate hit, she'd take a spoonful of cold fudge, stick a few nuts or chocolate chips in it, and enjoy a little mom time.  As children, we were forbidden from eating any of her fudge sauce.  She told us that it would stunt our growth or that we had to be 18 to eat any.  

Now that I'm a mom, and well past 18, I frequently indulge in hot fudge sauce, cold and straight from the fridge.  I like mine so stiff and chewy that I often put it in the freezer.  It's the perfect shot of chocolate after dinner.

Mother's Little Helper

1 1/2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
3 Tbsp. butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate, butter, sugar, and corn syrup together very slowly, stirring occasionally.  Heat until almost bubbly.  Remove from heat.  Add milk and vanilla.  Refrigerate until firm or enjoy it hot over ice cream and brownies.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Whole Wheat Bread

Nothing beats fresh, homemade bread! I was lucky enough to enjoy such a treat every week growing up; mom always had fresh bread and homemade strawberry jam, and it is still one of my favorite snacks.

I love making bread now, though I'm not so sure I've got it perfected the way I want. It took me years to perfect my mother-in-laws dinner rolls, so maybe it will still take years for me to perfect my mother's wheat bread. I've only just started to make it since I now have my own flour mill and can grind my own wheat. Fresh wheat flour is so much better than store-bought and makes the bread all that much better.
Whole Wheat Bread
1/4 cup warm water
1 Tbsp. yeast
1/2 Tbsp. sugar
2 1/2 cups warm water
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup oil
1 tsp. salt
4 cups wheat flour
3-4 cups white flour

Mix 1/4 cup warm water, yeast, and sugar in a small bowl. Allow the yeast mixture to rise and double in size. In a large mixing bowl, mix 2 1/2 cups warm water, sugar, oil, and salt. Add yeast mixture once it has proofed. Add wheat flour and mix. Switch beaters to dough hooks on your mixer. Add enough white flour so that dough begins to form a ball, but not a stiff ball. Knead the dough by hand or with dough hooks for 10 minutes. (I just use my Bosch) Put dough in a greased bowl, cover, and allow to rise until double. (1 1/2 hours)

Punch down and let rest for 10 minutes. Grease three 8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 loaf pans. Divide the dough into three balls. Roll each into a loaf and place in prepared pans, seam side down. Cover and let rise for 45 minutes or until loaf reaches the top of the pan. Bake at 350F for 35 minutes. Remove from pans, brush tops with melted butter, and let cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


It's candy time. Generally, I save candy making for Christmas, but who says you can't make it all year round? I made two kinds this week: walnut truffles (right) and chocolate marzipan truffles (left). The walnut truffles are fabulous, and you could substitute any kind of nuts. The recipe actually calls for pistachios, but I don' t generally buy unsalted pistachios. The salted ones are just so much better for snacking.

Walnut Truffles
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tbsp. sour cream
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 cup medium-fine chopped walnuts

In a double boiler, combine the chopped chocolate and cream. Set over barely simmering water and melt the chocolate, then whisk until the mixture is glossy and smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool to lukewarm, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the butter pieces, stirring until smooth and well blended. Add the sour cream, vanilla, and salt and stir until blended. Let cool, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes.

Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Fit a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch plain tip. Fill the pastry bag with the chocolate mixture and pipe into 1-inch mounds onto baking sheet. Freeze the truffles until very firm. Roll each truffle in the nuts, pressing to coat. The truffles should be served slightly chilled. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Marzipan Truffles
3 cups blanched almonds
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 2/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 tsp. almond extract
Dipping chocolate

Combine blanched almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor and process until the nuts are very finely ground. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a heavy saucepan. Stir over low heat with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved. Brush down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in warm water. Increase the heat to medium, place a warmed candy thermometer in the pan, and cook, without stirring, until it reaches 244F, firm ball. Remove from the heat, turn on the food processor, and immediately pour the sugar syrup through the feed tube in to the almond mixture. Grind to a fine paste and then add almond extract.

Lightly coat a medium bowl with spray and remove the paste to the bowl. Place a damp towel over the top and let cool. Shape into 1-inch balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with tempered dipping chocolate and allow to set on the baking sheet.

Make sure to calibrate your thermometer. I calibrated mine, but I still ended up overcooking the sugar syrup. I thought it would be done at 238F, but I guess it was too long and my marzipan didn't turn out perfectly. It still tastes fine, but it was a little stiffer and drier than it should have been. All in all, both truffles make great little treats right from the freezer.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

French Chocolate Macaroons

This recipe is courtesy Luscious Chocolate Desserts, and yes, all of the desserts have indeed been luscious. Generally, you think of macaroons as having coconut, but traditionally, they were done with almonds. These almond macaroons were fabulous and very well received. If you don't normally stock blanched almonds, just blanch your own. It's very easy to do; just plunge them in to hot water, boil for 1 minute, then plunge them in to cold water, peel off the skins, and let them dry on paper towels.

1/2 cup blanched whole almonds
1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
3 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
2 tsp. granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 400F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Pulse the almonds with 1 cup of the confectioners' sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Add the cocoa powder and the remaining 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar and pulse until well blended. Beat the egg whites with the salt with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until the whites form soft peaks when the beaters are lifted. Add the granulated sugar and beat just until the whites form stiff peaks when the beaters are lifted. With a whisk or a rubber spatula, gently fold in the almond mixture.

Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip. Pipe out 1-inch-diameter mounds about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 6-8 minutes, until the tops are cracked and appear dry but the macaroons are still slightly soft to the touch. Transfer the cookies, still on the parchment paper, to barely dampened kitchen towels and let cool for 5 minutes. Carefully peel the paper off the macaroons and transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

Bring the cream just to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cocoa powder. Add the chocolate and butter and whisk until smooth. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate, covered, for at least 30 minutes, or until the filling is firm enough to hold its shape when spread. Spread generously on the flat side of half of the macaroons. Top with the remaining macaroons, flat side down, pressing together gently to form sandwiches. Makes about 20 sandwich cookies.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Onion Tarts with Mixed Greens

Here's a new twist on salad, courtesy Williams-Sonoma. This recipe pairs a lightly tossed salad on a flaky, baked onion tart and really is more tart than salad. It's great with lean, grilled meat or just by itself for a light meal. I'm not a fan of goat cheese, so I used blue cheese instead.

Savory Tart Dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
12 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 to 7 Tbs. ice water

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in the butter until pea-size crumbs form. Add the water 1 Tbs. at a time and mix with your hands, adding more water as needed until the dough comes together. It should be moist but not sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, divide into 2 balls and shape each into a 5-inch disk. Cover separately with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out each dough disk into a 12-inch round about 1/8 inch thick. Using a small knife, trim the uneven edges. Transfer each round to a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Onion Tarts with Mixed Greens
2 rolled-out rounds savory tart dough, each 12" in diameter
5 Tbs. olive oil
4 yellow onions, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. minced fresh thyme
2 Tbs. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 oz. mixed salad greens
2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

Position rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 400F. In saute pan over medium-high heat, warm 3 Tbs. oil. Add onions, salt, and pepper; cook 15-20 minutes. Add garlic; cook 1 minute. Add thyme, parsley, and 2 tsp. vinegar; cook 2 minutes. Let cool. Spread half of onion mixture on each dough round, leaving 1" border. Fold dough up; pinch together at 2" intervals. Brush dough with beaten egg. Bake 30-35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes.

In bowl, whisk 2 tsp. vinegar, 2 Tbs. oil, salt, and pepper. Toss half of vinaigrette with greens; place rest in a mister. Top tarts with salad; sprinkle with cheese. Mist salads with vinaigrette. Serves 8.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

This should have been my first post to explain the name of this blog, but I've finally gotten around to taking pictures of my cookies. Sure, I've made plenty of cookies over the past few months, but I always forget to take pictures before they get eaten. They don't last more than a day at our house. I played with this recipe for months, and to you, it may look just like any other recipe. However, I've learned how to get the dough to turn out just right to make the perfect cookie.

1 c. butter, softened
3/4 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
3(+/-) c. flour
3/4 c. Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 c. butterscotch or white chips

Cream the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, vanilla, salt, and soda. Add enough flour so that the dough is firm but slightly wet, but not too sticky or too stiff. Stir in desired chocolate chips. Using a large ice cream scoop, scoop onto aluminum air bake pans. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. (If using other pans, decrease baking time by 2-3 minutes). Cookies should be set and just starting to brown. Let rest for 2-3 minutes. Remove to racks to cool. Makes 18 large cookies.
For a chewier cookie, swap out one of the egg whites for 2 T. of milk and increase the ratio of brown to white sugar. For a flatter, more buttery cookie, decrease the flour by 1/4 - 1/2 c. You can also make these cookies much smaller if you prefer, but the man of the house likes a cookie of substance. I increased the salt and vanilla amounts because it adds more flavor to the dough. Also, you could try using shortening or margarine instead of butter. I find that it makes a fluffier cookie, but it just doesn't have as good of flavor. I used to make these cookies half butter, half shortening, but in the end, all butter is better.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Luck of the Irish!

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I made the "traditional" Irish meal: corned beef and cabbage, boiled potatoes and carrots, Irish soda bread, and shamrock shortbread cookies for dessert. The meal turned out great, but I remember my mom's corned beef tasting better. She cooks it in the pressure cooker, and I just simmered mine in the crock pot. Maybe that had something to do with it....In any case, we ate our meal in remembrance of the day, though we
can't tell you the reason why we celebrate the day or eat the "traditional" meal. We aren't Irish, but it is still fun to try new cuisine and learn something about other cultures.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pots de Creme

Well, I'm finally posting again, but I've done plenty of baking and cooking even though I haven't posted. Our recent favorites include fabulous chocolate-caramel-pecan cookies, kahlua pork, southwestern nacho bake, and ham-and-swiss stromboli. Maybe I'll actually get around to taking pictures and putting up recipes, especially for how to make the best chocolate chip cookies.

These pots de creme were very good; pretty much a glorified chocolate pudding, but much, much richer. Oh how I do love chocolate. If it ain't chocolate, it ain't dessert. At least, that's my motto, and I've converted Barrett. He used to live a life of savory and salty, but with me, it's all about the sweet.