Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oooh, Aahh, Rugelach!

I definitely did my share of holiday baking this year, what with three kinds of candies, three kinds of cookies, and dinner rolls. It's been a busy time in the kitchen, but oh so fun.

Usually, the big focus is on all the chocolate candies that we turn out: toffee, turtles, and fudge. We do some cookies, like Mexican wedding cookies or snickerdoodles, but we're never as excited about them as the candy. Maybe that's just because we all love chocolate so much.

For the past couple of years, I've been wanting to try rugelach (pronounced rug-a-lock), a kosher Eastern European treat, not that I'm Jewish or Eastern European. If I wanted to stick with cultural tradition, I'd limit myself to stroofils (an Italian dessert of deep fried dough balls covered in honey, walnuts, and sprinkles). And then again, I only eat stroofils because they are cultural tradition. I don't actually crave them or think about them at any time other than Christmas. (I'm still trying to figure out the best way to incorporate chocolate into them. Chocolate sauce instead of honey? Chocolate sprinkles instead of colored ones?)

In any case, I stumbled upon rugelach in my cookie bible--a beautiful full-color cookbook made up of just cookie recipes. Did I mention that cookies are my favorite dessert? Sorry, I digress. This year, I finally decided to give it a go, especially since I was cooking for my Christmas party.

Albeit, there is absolutely no chocolate in these cookies, I thought they were wonderful. The cookie itself is made using cream cheese, and the filling can be made with anything from jam to nuts. Mine called for honey, walnuts, and lemon zest--not that I can get excited about any of these ingredients, but the combination was fabulous.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, divided
1 cup ground toasted walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
powdered sugar

Combine flour, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl. Beat butter, cream cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest in a large bowl about 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Gradually add flour mixture. Beat at low speed until well blended.

Form dough into three 5-inch discs; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets; set aside.

Combine walnuts that have been toasted and ground in a food processor with remaining 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon; set aside. Combine honey, remaining 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small bowl; set aside.

Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to 10-inch circle. Keep remaining dough refrigerated. Brush with 1/3 of honey mixture. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup nut mixture. Lightly press nut mixture into dough.
Cut circle into 12 triangles with pizza cutter. Roll up, jelly-roll fashion. Place cookies 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheet. Repeat with 2 remaining dough pieces and filling ingredients.
Bake 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Let cookies stand 1 minute. Remove to wire racks; cool completely. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Store tightly covered.

A party is a party, but a Christmas Party....

I just recently hosted a Christmas party and was asked by my mother to share some pictures. It was a yummy buffet of hors d'ouvres and desserts, so what could be better? The pictures don't really do it justice, so as to the menu:

Hors d'ouvres
Little smokies in barbecue sauce
Meatballs in a sweet and savory sauce
Homemade dinner rolls
Cheeseball and crackers
Jalapeno poppers
Artichoke dip and crackers
Crudites with ranch and onion dips
Christmas punch with cranberry juice, lemon juice, orange juice, and ginger ale

Peppermint pinwheel cookies
Eggnog snickerdoodles
Peppermint fudge
Walnut fudge
English toffee with almonds
Chocolate pecan turtles

As always, it was a lot of work, and I even vowed that I would just get everything from Costco with all the business going on. In the end, the only things that were ready-made were the jalapeno poppers and the meats that I still made sauces for. Oh, and I guess the tangerines, too. We definitely had plenty of rich, yummy food, and it was a delightful party with lots of dear friends.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips

As promised, here is one of my favorite fall treats. There's nothing special about this recipe; you may have one just like it. Even still, if you don't have a good pumpkin bread recipe, I suggest you try this one. I think the original recipe called for nuts and raisins instead of chocolate chips, but can anyone honestly get excited about nuts and raisins?

Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips

2/3 cup shortening
2 2/3 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 pound can of pumpkin
2/3 cup water
3 1/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream the shortening and sugar. Beat in eggs, pumpkin puree, and water. Combine dry ingredients and beat into pumpkin mixture. Stir in chocolate chips, as many as you want.

The recipe suggests baking these in two greased 9x5x3-inch pans, but that takes at least 60 minutes. I'm usually too impatient for that, so I cook mine in mini loaf pans for 20 minutes. Of course, that means you need at least 9 mini loaf pans for this whole recipe, but you could bake in shifts, if you need to.

The best way to eat this bread is after it has cooled and sat wrapped up overnight or all day. It's much more moist that way. My husband likes to heat it slightly at this point and then eat it with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Yummy.

Dark Chocolate Fondant

My mom has requested this recipe, so I thought I'd post it. The name of this recipe may be misleading; this is really just a molten chocolate cake. I know I've already posted a molten chocolate cake recipe, but this one is better, trust me.

Again, the quality of your finished product will depend on the quality of the chocolate that you use. It is a very simple recipe, so all of that great flavor and rich chocolate taste come directly from the chocolate. I used the Ghirardelli 60% cacao chocolate chips, as mentioned in the previous post, but I also really like using Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate when I have it.

Dark Chocolate Fondant
7 oz. dark chocolate (at least 52%)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
4 eggs
3/4 cup soft brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour six ramekins. Break up the chocolate and melt with the butter in a double boiler or in a microwave. If you don't have unsalted butter, just use salted butter but omit the salt at the end. Beat the eggs and sugar in a bowl with a whisk. Add the flour while continuing to beat, then add a pinch of salt and the melted chocolate-butter mix. Blend well.

Pour into the prepared ramekins, put in the oven, and bake for 13-15 minutes. You want the little cakes mostly set with a little bit of jiggling in the middle. You may need to increase your baking time 2-3 minutes, depending on your oven. It also helps to make these ahead of time and then keep them in the refrigerator until you are almost ready to serve them. When the batter is chilled, it helps with the temperature gradient that produces a baked outer cake with the molten center.

Remove from the oven; wait 5 minutes before turning onto plates. Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Since I haven't posted in a quite a while, I figured I'd better post something. My baking and experimenting have slowed a little with the new baby and the move, but rest assured, I am still at it.

I just thought I'd tell you about my new favorite bag of chocolate chips. For the longest time, I have been an ardent enjoyer of Guittard's semisweet chocolate chips. (I judge the quality of chocolate chips for my cookies based on my desire to snack on the said chips. I won't touch store brand, and even Nestle and Hershey present no temptation.) There are many nights when I just need a little chocolate after dinner, and Guittard has always satisfied my palate.

Much to my dismay when we moved, I had to start grocery shopping at a store that doesn't carry my beloved Guittard semisweet chocolate chips. Every time I passed the baking aisle, I silently cursed the store for my misfortune, until I discovered Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips. Oh yeah. I haven't been much of a fan of the regular Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate chips, but one handful of the bittersweet variety, and I was hooked. Especially wonderful is that these chips are a bit bigger than regular chips, so you get more chocolate flavor in each bite of cookie. I still love my Guittard, but these chips have been a wonderful find. Keep in mind, that this is all just the grocery store variety. If you can get Scharffen Berger, by all means, do it!

Bottom line: If you want to make exceptional cookies, you have to use exceptional chocolate chips. It is definitely worth it.

And coming soon is one of my favorite fall desserts: pumpkin bread with chocolate chips, and plenty of them. I'm even more excited to make it this year because I know the bittersweet chocolate chips will make it even better.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cake Decorating 101

Now that all the baby showers are out of the way, I've been trying my hand at cake decorating.
I took Wilton Course 1 through the local Michael's, and I'm really glad I did. Granted, I've tasted more super-sweet buttercream than I've ever wanted, but I've also learned a little bit about piping and creating flowers with the pretty stiff frosting stuff. I don't think I'll be giving up ganache anytime soon, but at least I've got something else in my repertoire.This is the first cake that I did. We had to practice the star piping technique, so that was the point of this cake.This is the second cake I did, and I opted for using the ganache to ice the cake. There isn't much exciting about eating a white cake with white buttercream frosting. The cake is a bit busy, but at least I was practicing some new techniques.The point of this cake was to make roses. I had grand ideas of filling my cake with a rose spray, but in the end, my frosting was a bit dry, so this was as good as I could do. I'm pretty proud of myself, considering, but I don't think I'll be signing up for the next class.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

An Easter Baby Shower

I know, I know; another baby shower. It has been the season. We hosted this one the day before Easter, so that seemed like a fitting theme. We decided to use purple instead of pink this time, purely based on the fact that the store was out of pink plates. Even still, it was nice to switch up the colors a little bit. Our main course was ham and cheese sandwiches on fresh, homemade rolls. If you want the roll recipe, it's my mother-in-laws, and it is a fabulous recipe.For side dishes, we had a veggie tray, pasta salad, and deviled eggs. Yum!And for dessert, we served fruit pizza and little brownie bites made into edible Easter baskets. Too bad the licorice was so soft; the basket handles just kept falling over.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Springtime Baby Shower

There's something about spring and babies. This is the second shower of three that I have hosted thus far. We used a pink/green color scheme, but I was a little bummed that I couldn't get pink tulips.We served chicken salad in pastry cups as the main course, though these don't quite look like main course. The pastry shrank while it baked, so the cups were a little smaller than desired.This is a vegetable pizza, but you don't actually cook it. The crust is crescent rolls; the spread is a savory ranch; the toppings are broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, tomatoes, green onions, and cheese.I tried my hand at a fruit bouquet this time. It turned out cute enough, if you ignore all the skewers.These are turtle brownies, a combination of my favorite ingredients: chocolate, caramel, and pecans. There must always be a chocolate dessert.And finally, these are mini cheesecakes, some with strawberries and some without. I just bought ready-made crusts, and that made all the difference.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Cake Lady Strikes Again!

I did this cake for a girly get-together. Again, nothing too fancy here, but it was a cute idea that I found online. All you need are two 8-inch or 9-inch rounds, some buttercream (homemade or otherwise), some licorice, and jelly beans. Saw off the bottom of each of the rounds, frost, and decorate!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

An Elementary Birthday Cake

Since my daughter loves school buses, I thought I'd get creative for her 2nd birthday and make a school bus cake. I just used an idea from a cake decorating book since I have absolutely no great experience with cake decorating, and I'm really not creative enough to cook up a scheme like this. It was so easy--elementary even.

Start with a cake mix. I used Pillsbury Funfetti since the kids seem to like it, and it's a little jazzier than just plain white. Bake the cake as a directed in a square 9x9-inch pan. Only fill the pan two-thirds full and use any leftovers for cupcakes. Let it cool completely and then remove from the pan. Sometimes heating just the bottom of the pan on a burner helps to loosen it a bit. Using a serrated knife, cut the cake in half; it doesn't matter if you go length-wise or width-wise since it's a square. It helps to freeze the cake for a half hour before cutting to minimize crumbs.For the frosting, you can use store-bought, but I like a simple, homemade buttercream. Whip together 6 tablespoons of butter or margarine, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 5-6 cups of powdered sugar, and 4-5 tablespoons of evaporated milk to the desired consistency. Use food coloring to reach the right color. Spread between the two layers of cake and place one on top of the other. A twinkie can be used for front of the bus or just use some of the extra cake/cupcakes.Cover the entire cake with frosting and then gather the following items: 4 Oreos for wheels, 2 round chocolate-filled cookies or 2 long Tootsie Rolls for bumpers, 2 white Lifesavers for headlights, 2 red Lifesavers for taillights, Tic Tacs or jelly beans for turn lights, 5-6 pieces of white Wrigley's gum, and 1 vanilla wafer cookie. Decorate. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Lovely Shower

I love baby showers; I love bridal showers. I love getting together with girlfriends to eat cute and yummy food. I especially love giving showers. I gave a baby shower for a friend just recently, and because of the proximity to Valentine's Day, we decided to let that be our theme.
This is our buffet line. We had sandwiches, salads, fruit, desserts, and punch. The punch was fabulous. A friend made it from raspberries, grapefruit soda, raspberry Crystal Light, cranberry juice concentrate, and pineapple juice.
Chocolate dipped strawberries are always fun, and both chocolate and strawberries seem popular around Valentine's Day. We did tea sandwiches in three different varieties: egg salad, cucumber and herbed cheese, and BLT chopped salad. Each sandwich was on a different kind of bread, and we used a cookie cutter to make them heart-shaped. Cute!
One of our desserts were strawberry tartlets. I used heart-shaped pans to make them even more cute, but anything dainty and a little different is always a good idea for a shower.
Our second dessert were these chocolate heart cookies. They're just a basic butter cookie with cocoa powder, dipped in white chocolate, and drizzled with semi-sweet chocolate. So easy and so pretty.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cinnamon Swirl Loaf

Sometimes a fresh-baked loaf of sweet bread just really hits the spot. I definitely have a soft spot for bakeries and their wide variety of breads and pastries, but I have a hard time buying things that I know I could and should make myself. So, I decided to make my first cinnamon swirl bread. It turned out great, so great that I was too impatient to wait for it to cool. As a result, my bread separated from the cinnamon swirl just a little bit since it was still too hot. Oh well, it tasted great!

Cinnamon Swirl Loaf
7 to 7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 packages active dry yeast (about 4 1/2 teaspoons)
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup shortening
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Confectioners' icing

In a large mixing bowl, combine 3 1/2 cups of the flour and the yeast. In a saucepan, heat milk, 1/2 cup sugar, shortening, and salt just till warm (115-120 degrees), stirring constantly to melt shortening. Add to dry mixture in mixing bowl; add eggs. Beat at low speed with a mixer for 1/2 minute. Beat 3 minutes at high speed. By hand, stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough. Turn out on lightly floured surface and knead till smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball. Place in lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease surface.

Cover; let rise in warm place till double (about 1 hour). Punch dough down; turn out on lightly floured surface. Divide in half. Cover; let rest 10 minutes. Roll each half into a 15x7-inch rectangle. Brush entire surface with water.

Combine the 1/2 cup sugar and ground cinnamon. Spread each rectangle with half of the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Roll dough up as for jelly roll, beginning with narrow side. Seal long edge and ends. Place, sealed edge down, in 2 greased 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Cover and let rise until almost double (35-45 minutes). Bake at 375 till done, 35-40 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on racks. Drizzle with Confectioners' Icing.

Chocolate Souffle

Understanding that a souffle is a work of art, I set about to try my hand at this art. Souffle is not my favorite thing to eat (it's not rich and dense enough), but it is still a yummy dessert. I would say that my first attempt was a success as far as preparation and taste goes. However, the souffle dish was filled a little too full, and thus, my souffle puffed up so nice and high that it spilled over the sides of the dish. So, I don't have a picture of the finished product, but be assured that it was fabulous.

Chocolate Souffle
7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
5 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar
Whipped cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Butter a 1 1/2-quart souffle dish and dust it with sugar. Have a 9x13-inch baking pan ready and put a kettle of water on to boil for the water bath.

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of about 1 1/2 inches of simmering water, whisking until smooth. My first choice for chocolate is Scharffen Berger, but if you can't find it, Guittard makes an excellent semisweet morsel that can be found in most grocery stores. Remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat and whisk in the egg yolks and butter until well blended.

Beat the egg whites and salt with an electric mixer on medium-high speed in a large bowl until the whites form soft peaks when the beaters are lifted. Beat in the sugar about 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition, and beat just until the whites form stiff peaks when the beaters are lifted.

With a whisk or a rubber spatula, fold one-quarter of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold in the remaining whites gently but thoroughly, and pour the mixture into the souffle dish. Place the dish in the baking pan, place it in the oven, and add enough boiling water to the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the souffle dish. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the souffle is set but the center is still jiggly and soft.

Serve immediately, with the whipped cream, if using. I highly recommend using the whipped cream to complement the chocolate.