December 24, 2009

12 Days of Goodies- Day 12: Christmas Sugar Cookies

It's finally the twelfth and final day! I never thought I would say this, but I am pretty relieved to be getting a break from the kitchen! And to close out this 12 day series I've been doing, I thought it appropriate to end on something traditional, like sugar cookies. I grew up decorating sugar cookies every Christmas Eve. But this is my first year to attempt a somewhat professional finish on them. I know they are no where near professional grade, but for a first timer at making royal icing, and practicing certain techniques such as outlining and flood filling, I think I did an A OK job. I imagine that the art of cake and cookie decorating only improves with practice.

I hope everyone has enjoyed my "12 Days of Goodies", but now I'm going to join in on the Christmas Festivities and take a much needed vacation. See ya'll in 2010!

Sugar Cookies
Recipe courtesy of Alton Brown for Food Network

3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough

1. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat until light in color. Add egg and milk and beat to combine. Put mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

3. Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with powdered sugar. Remove 1 wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. If dough has warmed during rolling, place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to chill. Cut into desired shape, place at least 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat.

4. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time. Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack. Serve as is or ice as desired. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week.

Makes about 3 dozen 2 1/2" cookies

**For a great Royal Icing recipe and fantastic tips on cookie decorating, visit Good Things Catered!

December 23, 2009

12 Days of Goodies- Day 11: Banana Bread Pudding

As much as I try to venture out and try new things, until today, I had yet to ever put a spoonful of bread pudding in my mouth. My mom is not a fan of bread pudding, which I guess could explain why I had never eaten it. All my life, the mere mention of the words bread pudding, put a frown on my mother's face. Naturally, I felt compelled to change her mind. Perhaps convert her to a bread pudding lover or connoisseur of sorts. But realistically speaking, I'd be happy if I could get her to take just one bite, and nod with the slightest bit of approval. That was the goal in mind.

I absolutely love banana bread , so I figured bread pudding based off this childhood favorite of mine, could only increase my chances for winning over my mom. I also added a good helping of chocolate chips, because there are few things that contain chocolate that my mom doesn't like. I can't say I necessarily succeeded in my mission; bread pudding will always be one of those things my mom would rather not eat (kind of like my aversion to scallops). But at least I can now say I've tried bread pudding, and I guess all that matters, is that I liked it.

Banana Bread Pudding
Recipe adapted from The Dallas Morning News

6 cups soft French bread cubes, loosely packed
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk (preferably 2% or whole milk)
5 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups mashed ripe banana
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Lightly grease a 9x13 inch glass baking dish with butter.

2. Cut the bread into bite-size cubes (do not use the crust if it is tough) and place in the prepared dish

3. Drizzle the melted butter over the bread cubes, tossing the cubes while drizzling butter. Stir and toss the cubes to distribute the butter as evenly as possible. Set aside.

4. Pour the cream and milk into a small saucepan and bring it just to a boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, place the egg yolks in a small mixing bowl and beat lightly with whisk. When the cream mixture boils, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Whisk in the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour mixture over the bread cubes. Cover the dish with foil and refrigerate at least one hour (and up to four hours) so the bread can absorb the milk mixture.

5. Preheat the oven to 325º F. Remove the bread pudding from the refrigerator and uncover. Combine the bananas, lemon juice, and chocolate chips in a small bowl. Stir the banana mixture into the bread pudding and smooth the top with a spatula. Re-cover the dish and cut six small holes in the foil so steam can escape. Bake, covered with foil, until set, about 50 minutes to one hour.

6. Remove the bread pudding from the oven and cool 15 to 20 minutes. Serve warm in dessert bowls with caramel or fudge and ice cream, if desired.

Makes 12 servings

December 22, 2009

12 Days of Goodies- Day 10: Meyer Lemon and Wild Blueberry Scones

It's hard to believe that I've only been doing this for 10 days, because it feels like a whole lot longer! I hate to admit it, but I'm actually looking forward to a break from the kitchen. I'm starting to lose my sanity ever so slowly. At this point, however, I'm not so much concerned about my sanity, so much as my waist line. I'm literally forcing baked goods upon friends and neighbors, begging them to take things off my hands before I fall into a sugar induced coma, or worse, the next jean size.

But in the meantime, during a couple more days of insanity and chaos, we've got three more sugar filled treats to enjoy. This one being meyer lemon and wild blueberry scones. I've always been a sucker for scones. They sound so sophisticated, especially when eaten with clotted cream. But I actually chose to eat these particular scones with lemon curd. Sadly, it wasn't homemade, but this stuff is so divine, you would never know it came from a jar. It's Stonewall Kitchen Lemon Curd. mmmmmm. Soo good.

Meyer Lemon and Wild Blueberry Scones
Recipe courtesy of

3 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup (11/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups dried wild blueberries (about 10 ounces)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated Meyer lemon peel or regular lemon peel

1. Position rack in top third of oven and preheat to 425°F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Whisk self-rising flour and 1/2 cup sugar in large bowl. Using fingertips, rub in chilled butter until pieces are size of small peas. Add dried wild blueberries and toss to coat. Mix 1 cup buttermilk and finely grated lemon peel in glass measuring cup. Pour buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients and stir until dough begins to form (some of flour will not be incorporated).

3. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and gather together. Knead dough briefly, about 5 turns. Divide dough in half. Form each dough half into ball and flatten into 1-inch-thick disk. Cut each disk into 6 wedges.

4. Transfer scones to prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Brush tops with remaining 1 tablespoon buttermilk and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until scones are golden brown on top and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Makes 12 scones

December 21, 2009

12 Days of Goodies- Day 9: Raspberry Macarons

If any of you know what an authentic macaron really looks like, then I'm sure you're wondering what in the heck happened to mine. These cookies were actually what I was most excited about making for my 12 day Christmas series, but to my dismay, these are what I ended up with. I did give it my best shot though, twice actually. And though I would normally not post something so disappointing, I had to post something for day number 9. They actually tasted pretty good, they just didn't have that crisp, crunchy, airy, ethereal texture that the outside meringue cookie is supposed to have. 

I honestly don't know where I went wrong. I followed the recipe to a "tee", and even paid special attention to François Payard's (pastry genius) words of wisdom for steps to success: making a smooth macaronade (the powdered sugar and almond flour base), a fluffy meringue, being attentive during baking, and having plenty of filling. Alas, my first attempt at making macarons was less than perfect, which if you know me at all, you would know that anything besides perfection is not often accepted. But what am I to do? That's the beauty about cooking though I guess; there is always room to grow. So consider this one recipe not yet accomplished, because one day, sooner or later, I'll get it right. Trust me. But in the mean time, I'm accepting any helpful tips or hints anyone could pass my way. At least the pictures are pretty. 

Raspberry Macarons
Recipe Courtesy of Food and Wine Magazine, December 2009

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup almond flour (finely ground blanched almonds, available in supermarkets)
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 or 3 drops red food coloring
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam

1. Preheat the oven to 400° and position racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a large, wide bowl, using a large rubber spatula or a handheld electric mixer, mix the confectioners' sugar and the almond flour with 1 of the egg whites until evenly moistened.

3. In a small saucepan, combine the granulated sugar with the water and bring to a boil; using a moistened pastry brush, wash down any crystals on the side of the pan. Cook over high heat until the syrup reaches 240° on a candy thermometer.

4. In another large bowl, using clean, dry beaters, beat the remaining 2 egg whites at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. With the mixer at high speed, carefully drizzle the hot sugar syrup over the whites and beat until firm and glossy. Beat in the food coloring until the meringue is bright pink.

5. Stir one-fourth of the meringue into the almond mixture. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the remaining meringue. Transfer the meringue to a pastry bag fitted with a plain 1/2-inch tip; pipe onto the prepared baking sheets in 1 1/2-inch mounds, 1 inch apart. Tap the sheets and let dry for 15 minutes.

6. Transfer the meringues to the oven and immediately turn off the heat. Bake the meringues for 5 minutes. Turn the oven on to 400° again and bake the meringues for 8 minutes, until they are puffed and the tops are firm and glossy. Transfer the baking sheets to racks and let cool completely. Peel the meringues off of the parchment paper.

7. Spoon the jam into a small pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch tip. Alternatively, use a resealable sturdy plastic bag and snip off a corner. Pipe the preserves onto the flat sides of half of the meringues. Top with the remaining meringues and serve.

Makes 20 macarons

December 20, 2009

12 Days of Goodies- Day 8: Apple Cider Doughnut Holes

So I'm sure you're wondering where the doughnuts are, if I made doughnut holes, right? Well, I did in fact make them, I just chose not to show them to you. They were rather... unsightly. It may be hard to tell from the picture, but these doughnut holes are actually quite large. Probably 2 or 3 times the size of your average, run of the mill doughnut hole. The frying oil acted as some kind of mutant enhancement serum, making the once tiny, round forms of dough, grow into these large, irregular puffs. So you can only imagine what the actual doughnuts looked like.

I had never even heard of an apple cider doughnut, until I saw them posted on Smitten Kitchen back in October. There, Deb (the author of that particular blog, which is pretty fantastic by the way) reminisced about these doughnuts, and their unique flavor. I could only assume they were a north eastern thing. Well, since that fateful day in October, I have been dying to join in this New England tradition. And although my doughnuts tasted quite yummy, the appearance was not really what I was expecting. But as they say, it's what's on the inside that counts.

Apple Cider Doughnut Holes
Recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen

1 cup apple cider
1 medium Cortland apple, cored, peeled, and chopped
3 1/2 cups flour, plus additional for the work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
Vegetable oil for frying

For cinnamon-sugar coating:
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For apple cider glaze:
1 cup apple cider (reduced over medium heat in a small saucepan to about 1/4 cup)
1 cup confectioner's sugar

1. In a saucepan over medium to medium-low heat, combine the chopped apples and apple cider. Cover and cook until the apples are softened, about 5 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook until the apple cider is reduced to about 1/4 cup, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.

3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed (with the paddle attachment, if using a stand mixer) cream the butter and granulated sugar together. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue to beat until the eggs are completely incorporated. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the reduced apple cider mixture and the buttermilk, mixing until just combined. Add the flour mixture and continue to mix just until the dough comes together.

4. Line two baking sheets with parchment or wax paper and sprinkle them generously with flour. Turn the dough onto one of the sheets and sprinkle the top with flour. Flatten the dough with your hands until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Use more flour if the dough is still wet. Transfer the dough to the freezer until it is slightly hardened, about 20 minutes. Pull the dough out of the freezer. Using a 3-inch or 3 1/2-inch doughnut cutter — or a 3 1/2-inch round cutter for the outer shape and a 1-inch round cutter for the hole, cut out doughnut shapes, (or do as I did, and use just the 1-inch cutter to makes only doughnut holes). Place the cut doughnuts and doughnut holes onto the second sheet pan. Refrigerate the doughnuts for 20 to 30 minutes.

5. While the doughnuts are chilling in the fridge, make the apple cider glaze by whisking together the confectioner's sugar and apple cider reduction until smooth. Combine the granulated sugar and ground cinnamon to make the cinnamon-sugar coating. Set both aside.

6. Add enough oil to a deep-sided pan to measure a depth of about 3 inches. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and heat over medium heat until the oil reaches 350° F. Have a plate lined with several paper towels ready.

7. Carefully add a few doughnuts to the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan, and fry until golden brown, about 60 seconds. Turn the doughnuts over and fry until the other side is golden, 30 to 60 seconds. Drain on paper towels for a minute after the doughnuts are fried. Coat both sides of each doughnut in the cinnamon-sugar mixture, then drizzle all doughnuts with the apple cider glaze. Serve immediately.

Makes about 18 doughnuts and doughnut holes, or 3 dozen doughnut holes

December 19, 2009

12 Days of Goodies- Day 7: Pistachio, Cherry, and White Chocolate Biscotti

I've aways liked the idea of dipping a crisp, sweet piece of biscotti in my coffee... perhaps as I'm sitting in a café... reading a good book... listening to French music. Ok, so that's kind of a cliché, but that's the image that comes to mind when I think of biscotti. (That does sound like a great way to while away the hours though, huh?)

The best thing about doing this 12 days series, is that I've been able to make so many things that I've always wanted to. And believe it or not, biscotti has always been high on that list. And the great thing about biscotti, is that there is really no limit as to what you can do with it. You could make almond and lemon biscotti, chocolate hazelnut biscotti, vanilla and honey biscotti, even a savory biscotti! Well, I chose this pistachio, cherry, and white chocolate biscotti, because I liked the colorful cross section of it. And technically, the recipe called for dried raspberries, but I was unable to find any. So I went with cherries. Actually what I found was razzcherries (?) I'm guessing that has to be somewhat related to raspberries, right?

Pistachio, Cherry, and White Chocolate Biscotti
Recipe courtesy of

3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
3/4 cup shelled raw unsalted natural pistachios
1 cup dried raspberries or chopped dried strawberries (about 5 ounces) (I used dried cherries)
1/2 cup chopped high-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Perugina)
8 ounces high-quality white chocolate and/or 8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, eggs, oil, and almond extract in large bowl until well blended. Add flour mixture and beat until combined (the batter should be very stiff). Stir in pistachios, dried berries, and 1/2 cup chopped white chocolate. Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls in two 12-inch-long strips on prepared baking sheet, spacing strips 3 inches apart. Using wet fingertips, shape each strip into 3-inch-wide log, pressing evenly (logs may look slightly lumpy).

2. Bake logs until lightly browned and almost firm to touch, about 30 minutes. Cool logs on sheet 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.

3. Carefully transfer logs to cutting board. Line same baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut each log crosswise into generous 1/2-inch-thick slices. Stand biscotti upright, spacing about 1/4 inch apart, in 3 rows on prepared baking sheet. Bake until pale golden (biscotti may be soft but will firm as they cool), about 20 minutes. Cool completely on baking sheet.

4. Line another large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place 8 ounces chopped white chocolate in medium glass bowl. Place 8 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate in another medium glass bowl, if desired. Microwave separately on medium in 20-second intervals just until chocolate is soft to touch, about 40 seconds total (do not overheat or chocolate will burn or seize). Stir chocolate until smooth.

5. Dip 1 end or 1 side of each biscotti in chocolate; place on baking sheet. Chill until chocolate is set, about 30 minutes. (Can be made ahead. Arrange in single layer in airtight container and chill up to 5 days or freeze up to 2 weeks.)

Makes about 3 dozen

December 18, 2009

12 Days of Goodies- Day 6: Almond Lace Trumpets

Wow, so I'm cutting it pretty close today for my daily Christmas goodie post. And as exhausted as I am, I'm dedicated to sharing something yummy with you each and every day until Christmas. I've been in the kitchen for 30 straight hours, prepping to cater my fourth and final party scheduled within the last 8 days. And this one was the largest party I've done yet. You should see my hands. They are utterly and completely raw from all the hand washing and dish washing I've done over the past two weeks. It's rather excruciating. Actually, if there are any professional caterers reading this, or any one for that matter, who could so kindly impart some sage advice on how to keep my hands moisturized during the winter when I'm constantly washing them, I would be forever grateful.

So anyways, these delicate little cookies are something I've been wanting to make for quite some time now. I think it was on a special holiday edition of Iron Chef America where I first saw these. Paula Deen and Cat Cora were teamed up; I remember watching Paula filling these delicate looking trumpet things with lots of fluffy looking frosting. That memory has been dancing around in my head for awhile now and I thought this Christmas, it was finally time to give them a try. However, I wasn't wild about the recipe I found in Food Network, courtesy of Miss Paula Deen, so I changed it up a bit to fit my liking.

Almond Lace Trumpets with Orange Buttercream Frosting
Recipe adapted from Paula Deen for Food Network

For the cookies:
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup dark corn syrup
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon almond liqueur
½ tsp almond extract
¼ tsp salt

For the filling:
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
½ teaspoon salt
6 cups powdered sugar
7 tablespoons orange juice
2 tbsp heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 teaspoon lemon zest

1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Line a cookie sheet with foil; grease foil well (or use a silpat).

2. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter and corn syrup. Cook the mixture over low heat until the butter melts; remove from the heat.

3. Mix the flour, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. Add to the butter mixture, stirring well. Stir in the liqueur and almond extract, if desired. Drop the batter by rounded teaspoonfuls, 3 to 4 inches apart, onto the prepared cookie sheet. (Bake only 2 or 3 cookies at a time; you must form the cones quickly before they cool.) Bake until the cookies spread and are bubbly and golden brown, 9 to 10 minutes.

4. Let the cookies sit for approximately 1 minute (no more). Then, working quickly, flip one cookie over and swiftly but gently wrap cookie around a metal cream horn. (If a cookie gets too brittle to roll, return to the oven for 1 minute.) Once set, slide the cookie off the metal cone and cool on a wire rack. Repeat with remaining cookies.

To Make the filling:

Beat the butter and salt until creamy. Beat in the powdered sugar, orange juice, heavy cream, and vanilla extract. Add the orange and lemon zest to taste, and mix well to combine

Prepare a pastry bag with a star shaped tip (I used a Wilton #32) and coupler. Fill the bag with about 1/3 of the icing and then apply pressure to fill the lace trumpets. Do not completely fill each trumpet, as the icing is very rich. Repeat until all trumpets are filled. (You may have some icing left over).

Makes about 30 cookies

December 17, 2009

12 Days of Goodies- Day 5: Christmas Brownie Pops

Ok, so I don't usually like to toot my own horn, but these are pretty darn cute, aren't they? So cute in fact, that they have actually won me some awards. Ok, not really. My mom hosts a Christmas cookie exchange party every year, where people nominate and vote on cookies in several different categories: "most effort", "best looking", "best tasting", you get the idea. And even though I am technically not allowed to win in any of these categories, I always enter in hopes of secretly winning. Prize or no prize, I just want the title and prestige. Well, this year I won, in almost every category, but I so graciously stepped down from my throne to the runners up. Like I said, I don't need a prize. Just the glory.

I realized when getting ready to post this particular sweet treat, that I don't necessarily have a recipe to share with all of you. (I used a boxed brownie mix, gasp! But it was Ghiradelli, so that's a little better, right?) I guess all I can do is pass along my decorating techniques, so that you too can impress a crowd with these adorable Christmas goodies. And surprisingly enough, they didn't take near the amount of time that I was counting on. Two to three hours, yes, but I was estimating around four to five. So if you've got some extra time this week, I suggest you give these a try, because I promise you, people will think you've somehow gone and become a professional baker!

Snowman and Santa Brownie Pops

What You'll Need:
2 boxes of brownie mix and the necessary ingredients to go with it (eggs and oil)
a Wilton brownie pop mold
candy pop sticks
vanilla confectionary coating (Ghiradelli recommended)
red confectionary coating (Ghiradelli recommended)
Americolor pink and orange oil based dye, (to make a flesh toned coating for Santa)
dark chocolate confectionary coating (for the eyes and santa's smile)
red and green round sprinkles
Optional: carrot shaped sprinkles for the snowman's nose (or you can use the orange dye to make a small amount of orange tinted confectionary coating)
various cake decorating tips: #2, #3, #7
disposable pastry bags
wax paper


1. Mix together the brownie mix according to the package directions. Fill the brownie pop mold about 2/3 full and bake according to brownie package directions, but adjust the baking time as necessary. (I heated my oven to 325º F and baked each batch for 25 minutes. There are only 8 cavities in the brownie pop mold, so I had to make 4 batches).

2. After the brownies have cooled, insert a candy stick into the rounded top of each brownie.

3. For the snowman: melt the vanilla confectionary coating in a tall coffee mug in the microwave. Carefully immerse each brownie pop into the melted coating, and set on wax paper to dry. Before the white coating is completely dry, place a carrot sprinkle and 2 green round sprinkles (for the buttons) on each coated brownie. Melt the red confectionary coating in the same manner. Spoon the melted red coating into a disposable pastry bag fitted with a coupler and a #7 Wilton cake decorating tip. Draw on a scarf around the circumference of the brownie. Melt the dark chocolate coating, place in a pastry bag fitted with a #2 tip, and dot 2 eyes on each snowman. Let dry completely and enjoy!

4. For the Santa: Melt vanilla confectionary coating in a tall coffee mug in the microwave. Depending on how much confectionary coating you melt, place a tiny amount of pink and orange dye into the mug and mix to create a flesh tone. (I melted approximately 8 oz of vanilla coating and used about 2 small drops of pink and 3 small drops of orange). Immerse each brownie pop into the melted coating. Place on wax paper to dry completely. Melt red confectionary coating in the same manner. Scoop into a disposable pastry bag fitted with a coupler and #7 Wilton cake decorating tip. Draw on a hat on top of each coated brownie. Melt dark chocolate coating, place in a pastry bag fitted with a #2 tip, and draw on eyes and a small smile on each brownie. Next, melt more vanilla coating, place in a pastry bag fitted with a #3 tip, and do small dots to create a beard. If the dots start to melt together, use the cake tip to pull the chocolate upwards to create little white tips. Lastly, place a red round sprinkle on the white beard, above the smile, for a nose. Let dry completely and enjoy!

* If you live in the Dallas area, I got most of my supplies at Cake Carousel (if you like to bake, this is a really cool store to check out!) If not, order supplies from NY Cake. Visiting the store in person is so much better, but their website can still help you take care of all your baking needs!

December 16, 2009

12 Days of Goodies- Day 4: Chocolate Ganache Truffles

As much as I love sweets and trying new and different baked treats, I always come back to the tried and true chocolate. Sometimes, when that hankering for something sweet kicks in, nothing can hit the spot like a good piece of dark chocolate. And I don't particularly mind what vessel that dark chocolate comes in, be it a liquid, a bar, or candy coated. But there is something slightly better than pure dark chocolate. Chocolate mixed with heavy cream, thus creating one of the most heavenly things on earth... ganache. The word alone drips with decadence. So when I went in search of that perfect bite of chocolate, I immediately turned to Ina Garten. Of course, not to my surprise, I was able to find a recipe for chocolate truffles that seemed as easy as they did delicious. I am usually game for a challenge in the kitchen, but when you sign up to bake something 12 days in a row, taking the easy road every now and then only seems sane. But come to think of it, simplicity and chocolate really go hand in hand. Chocolate is often best enjoyed in its natural state, without all the fuss.

Chocolate Ganache Truffles
Recipes (slightly) adapted from Ina Garten, courtesy of Food Network

1/2 pound good bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghiradelli)
1/2 pound good semisweet chocolate (I used Ghiradelli)
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons orange flavored liqueur, optional (recommended: Grand Marnier)
1 tablespoon prepared coffee
1/2 teaspoon good vanilla extract
confectioners’ sugar
sweetened cocoa powder

Other optional coatings:
toasted coconut
toasted, chopped almonds, peanuts, or hazelnuts
chopped toffee bits

1. Chop the chocolates finely with a sharp knife, or in a food processor. Place in a heat-proof mixing bowl.

2. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just boils. Turn off the heat and allow the cream to sit for 20 seconds. Pour the cream through a fine-meshed sieve into the bowl with chocolate. With a wire whisk, slowly stir the cream and chocolates together until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the orange flavored liqueur, if using, coffee, and vanilla. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

3. Mix about 1/3 cup confectioner's sugar with 3/4 cup sweetened cocoa powder in a shallow dish. With a melon baller or small cookie dough scoop, spoon round balls of the chocolate mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roll each ball of chocolate in your hands to make it round. Roll in the confectioners’ sugar-cocoa powder mix, or try one (or all!) of the other optional coatings. Store rolled truffles in an airtight container and they will keep for weeks in the refrigerator, but serve them at room temperature.

Makes bout 35-40 truffles

December 15, 2009

12 Days of Goodies- Day 3: Caramel-Pecan Bars

It's only day three and I already feel my pants getting ever so snug. But it's Christmas time, so I'm doing my best to throw those concerns to the curb, at least until January 1st when I, like most others, hop on the diet band wagon (only to fall off a couple of days later in order to feed my insatiable sweet tooth). So in the mean time, I'm doing my best to enjoy the calorie-loaded goodies with as little guilt as possible, which is hard to do when these caramel-pecan bars are sitting around in the kitchen. Enjoying them is easy... without any guilt... not so much. Have I yet to mention how much butter I've gone through since the holidays began? Well, I think it's best to keep that information to myself. Let's just say I've been to Costco several times during the month of December, and have yet to leave without a 4 lb. bundle of butter in my basket. 

However, the crust in this recipe is so delicious, you won't mind how much butter is actually in it. I'm fairly new to the pastry-making process, and this recipe seemed a little odd to me when it called for vinegar. Perhaps it's not a very unique ingredient to be in a pie crust, but I personally have never made a pastry that called for vinegar. The finished product was so delectably tangy. I actually found myself peeling the crust off the bottom and leaving the caramel and pecans behind for someone else to eat. Maybe not the most mannerly or polite thing to do, but hey, I made them, so I'm entitled to the crust if I want it, right? I think so. Or at least I'll keep telling myself that. 

Caramel-Pecan Bars
Recipe from Food & Wine Magazine December 2009

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1/4 cup ice water, as needed (I used about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound pecan halves

1. To make the crust: in a food processor, pulse the flour with the sugar and salt. Add the cubed butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle on the ice water and vinegar and process until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Turn the crumbs out onto a sheet of wax paper and knead just until the dough comes together. Pat the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until slightly chilled, about 30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 375°. Line the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan with parchment paper. Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of wax paper to an 11- by-15-inch rectangle (1/4 inch thick). Trim the dough to a 9-by-13-inch rectangle and place it in the baking pan. Cut the remaining dough into 3/4-inch-wide strips and press them up the side of the pan to form a rim all around. Refrigerate the dough until firm, about 30 minutes.

3. Line the dough with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, until the dough is just set. Remove the parchment paper and weights and bake the crust for about 10 minutes longer, until lightly golden and set. Let cool.

4. To make the topping: in a large saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, honey and salt and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until melted and slightly foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the cream and cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer inserted in the caramel registers 240° (soft ball stage), about 10 minutes longer. Add the pecans and cook for 2 minutes longer. Pour the filling over the crust, spreading it evenly. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the crust is golden and the topping is bubbling. Let cool completely. Slide the parchment onto a cutting board. Cut into bars and serve.

The bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.

Makes 16 bars

December 14, 2009

12 Days of Goodies- Day 2: Bizcochitos

So on to day two, and feeling a wee bit more rested than I was from day one! Which is a good thing since I have 10 more days to go and many more things to accomplish this holiday season. Nevertheless, I love the holidays. The general spirit in the air, the gift giving (and receiving...), and how this time of year makes for an excellent excuse to bake and eat an obscene amount of sweets. I religiously flip through and browse food magazines and websites, and thus have accumulated quite a large stack of recipes I eventually want to try. Sometimes those recipes are added to the bottom of the pile, only to slowly work their way up, but other times, a special recipe might grab my attention and get ushered straight to the top.

This recipe for bizcochitos (pronounced bees-ko-CHEE-toh) did just that. The story behind these little cookies and the flavors they promised were too intriguing to put off until later. It seemed fitting for the occasion too since it is usually served on special occasions such as Christmas. The bizcochito is of Spanish origin and was named the official state cookie of New Mexico about 20 years ago. The ingredients are equally as interesting: anise, sherry, cinnamon-sugar served along side a dipping sauce of chocolate, coffee, and cayenne. The results were as expected; they were delicious, of course, but the bizcochito was also light, crisp, and completely complex. Each bite kept my taste buds guessing and yearning for just one more cookie, dipped in a rich, and equally as complex chocolate sauce.

Bizcochitos with Mexican Chocolate Dipping Sauce
Recipe Courtesy of Cuisine At Home

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup vegetable shortening
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tsp anise extract
2 tablespoons anise seed

For the coating:
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

2. Using a hand mixer on medium speed, cream shortening, butter, and sugar together until mixture is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Beat egg, sherry, and anise extract into shortening mixture. Add anise seed and half of the flour mixture; beat on low speed until ingredients are blended. Beat in remaining flour mixture until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

3. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a disk; wrap in plastic. Chill dough at least 2 hours before rolling out. (Dough may be frozen up to one month; thaw overnight in the refrigerator before rolling out.)

4. Preheat oven to 350º F. Coat baking sheets with nonstick spray.

5. On a well-floured work surface, roll out dough to a thickness of about 1/8 inch. Shape cookies using a metal ruler, and cut the dough into parallel 1-inch strips, then again at an angle to form diamonds. Transfer cookies to the prepared baking sheets using an offset spatula.

6. Bake cookies until set and lightly golden brown around the edges, 15-18 minutes. Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes.

7. Meanwhile, mix sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Gently coat warm cookies in sugar mixture, then transfer cookies to a rack to finish cooling. Serve cookies with Mexican Chocolate Dipping Sauce (see below).

Makes about 100 two-inch cookies

Mexican Chocolate Dipping Sauce

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur
2 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch cayenne pepper

1. Place all ingredients in a microwave safe bowl. Heat in the microwave for about two minutes. Whisk mixture until smooth.

December 13, 2009

12 Days of Goodies- Day 1: Homemade Marshmallows

Whew! What a week! I catered two dinner parties, ran a half marathon, then catered another party- this one for 50 people. And now? I'm back in the kitchen, of course. I can't help it. I inherited my mom's personal motto: no rest for the weary. Which is why after a completely exhausting week, I've set myself on a mission to bake, photograph, and post a new sweet treat daily leading up to Christmas Eve. But, as everyone knows, the holiday season is hectic enough without spending hours upon hours in a hot kitchen, so I'm going to have to keep these posts for the next 12 days short and sweet (no pun intended). I'm sure you don't mind that either, right?

So to kick off my 12 day sugar laden mission, I decided to make homemade marshmallows. Because what's Christmas time without hot cocoa and marshmallows? However, these marshmallows take hot chocolate to a whole other level. It goes from blissful beverage to decadent dessert. The marshmallows melt slowly, creating a frothy mallow-like-cream that coats the tongue with a hint of vanilla after each sip. It's insanely delicious! The only thing that is slightly more ludicrous than the taste, is the ease of this recipe. Homemade marshmallows are extremely simple to make, and more than worth the small amount of effort it takes to make them. And here's a little holiday hint: they make great little gifts to pass out to neighbors, friends, or co-workers. They'll think you're a rockstar in the kitchen for giving them homemade marshmallows, but little will they know, it took you all of 30 minutes.

Homemade Marshmallows
Recipe Courtesy of Alton Brown from Food Network

3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Nonstick spray

1. Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water. Have the whisk attachment standing by.

2. In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240º F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

3. Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.

4. Combine the confectioners' sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.

5. When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

6. Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners' sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Makes 6-7 dozen marshmallows, depending on size

December 10, 2009

Catering Menu Part 2

Ok, so I'm trying really hard to make additions to my so called catering menu, however, I only have two to add at the moment. I've actually been busy putting my current menu to work, as well as offering up some other dishes on the fly. Come to think of it, I don't believe I've left my kitchen in well over a week now. When I'm not busy making something for someone else, I'm most likely making something for myself or my family to indulge in. I've been doing some advance preparations for a little segment I'm doing for the holidays, "12 Days of Goodies", starting this Sunday, and counting down to Christmas Eve. So tune in December 13th for that! (A little preview: I'll be kicking it off by sharing my homemade marshmallows!) But back to my catering additions, I've got one sweet and one savory item, but both equally delicious.

Tomato-Cheddar Tartlets

Red Velvet Cake Balls

December 4, 2009

Caramel Apple Pie

So I know it's a little late to be writing a post about the Thanksgiving I so thoroughly enjoyed last week, I mean most of us have already moved on into the Christmas mind set, but I really wanted to share with you, at the very least, the pie that I slaved over for more than 5 hours. I was in fact only willing to spend that amount of time on one little pie just so I could take some pretty pictures to upload for all to enjoy. And I really am sorry that it has taken me a whole week to share this recipe. I'm sure some of you may recall the promise that I made after my move back from the north, the one where I vowed to be super committed to this whole blogging thing. And I have just now realized that I only made 5 posts during the whole month of November, but did I also mention the whole catering thing? Yeah, thats a major time commitment, my friends. Also, I confess I've been somewhat of the social butterfly as of late, staying out way too late, thus spending the majority of my days nuzzling my face into a pillow trying to block out the sunlight.

Anyways, I guess sharing this recipe now is better late than never, right? It is worth sharing too, because this pie doesn't just have your run of the mill caramel sauce. No. It has a red wine caramel sauce. Caught your attention didn't I? At first, I wasn't too sure how the red wine would meld with caramel. I actually thought about swapping some Calvados for the wine. (Which I still think would taste divine). But I'm so glad I stuck to the original recipe, because this was such an interesting flavor combination. So rich... and complex... and delicious. I can't wait to incorporate this sauce into something else. However, I should provide a warning. This pie- mainly due to the sauce alone- is not for the impatient. Luckily, I was able to nail the sauce on my second try, but from reading many of the reviews on this recipe, it took others many more times to perfect it, and some never managed to get it right at all.

During my first attempt, I stirred the sugar and water mixture (the only 2 ingredients necessary to make caramel) continuously which resulted in a hardened rock like catastrophe. So I did a little research on the art of making caramel, and I would like to pass along my new found knowledge. The sugar and water should only be stirred together just until the sugar begins to dissolve into the water. Then let the magic happen on its own. The sugar will start to boil, and slowly it will begin to harden, and just when you think you've failed and ruined it, the sugar will melt again, this time turning into a bubbling brownish hue. When you've reached the desired degree of amber, begin to stir it again to smooth out the mixture. This is basic caramel. Adding butter and cream, or in this particular recipe red wine and cream, will result in a caramel sauce. Another little helpful suggestion would be to use a candy thermometer. At around 350º F is when the sugar will begin to brown.

The recipe also suggested using a paring knife to manually slice the apples, or perhaps a mandolin. Well, after three plus hours already invested into this pie, I was desperate to speed things up. I used my new elite food processor to slice the apples. I took all of 5 minutes to very thinly slice 8 rather large apples. Pretty exciting stuff! Hopefully, by offering some of my pearls of wisdom, I'll be able to save some of you some time, if and when you decide to try this pie. Instead of 5 hours, maybe you'll only have to invest, say 3 1/2? Trust me, it's all worth it for the red wine caramel sauce.

Caramel Apple Pie
Recipe adapted from Tyler Florence at Food Network

3 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut in pieces
2 eggs separated (yolks for pastry, whites for glaze)
3 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed
For Caramel Apples:
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 lemon, juiced
8 apples (I used Granny Smith and Honey Crisp)
1 tablespoon flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup unsalted butter
cinnamon-sugar spice mixture
Turbinado sugar (optional)

1. To make the pastry, combine the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Cut in the pieces of cold butter with a pastry blender, a little at a time, until the dough resembles cornmeal. Add the 2 egg yolks and the ice water, and blend just long enough to pull the dough together and moisten. Be careful not to overwork the dough. Form the dough into a ball, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and let it rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour. (To speed up the process, you can use a food processor. Pulse the flour and butter together, add the egg yolks and water, pulse again to moisten the mixture, then form the dough into a ball with your hands).

2. While the dough is resting, prepare the filling. To make the caramel sauce, place the sugar and water in a small pot, and stir until the mixture resembles wet sand. Cook on medium-low heat and stir just until the sugar begins to dissolve. At this point, avoid stirring any further. The sugar will harden (and you will think you have burned it) but it will begin to re-melt and turn brown. A candy thermometer can help you know more exactly when to expect this re-melting process. The sugar will begin to turn brown at around 330º to 340º. Once the sugar is browning, begin to stir again to smooth out the caramel. (This process took me about 20-25 minutes). Remove the pot from the burner and add the cream, and then the wine slowly, so as not to seize the caramel. It may bubble and spit, so be careful. When the sauce has calmed down, return it to the flame, add the vanilla bean scrapings, and heat it slowly, until the wine and caramel are smooth and continue to cook slowly until reduced by half, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool until thickened.

3. Fill a large bowl with cold water and the lemon juice. Peel the apples with a paring knife or peeler, cut them in half, and remove the cores with a melon baller. Put the apple halves in the lemon-water (this will keep them from going brown).

4. Preheat the oven to 350º F. Take the dough out of the refrigerator, unwrap the plastic, and cut the ball in half. Rewrap and return 1 of the balls to the refrigerator, until ready for the top crust. Let the dough rest on the counter for 15 minutes so it will be pliable enough to roll out. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch circle. Carefully roll the dough up onto the pin and lay it inside a 10-inch glass pie pan. Press the dough into the pan so it fits tightly.

5. Drain the apples, blot dry with paper towel, and toss with the flour and cinnamon. Slice the apples using a very sharp knife, a mandolin, or a food processor fitted with a slicing blade. The apples need to be thinly sliced so that as the pie bakes, they collapse on top of each other with no air pockets. (I set my food processor slicing blade on 4). This makes a dense, meaty apple pie. Cover the bottom of the pastry with a layer of apples, shingling the slices so there are no gaps. Ladle about 2 ounces of the cooled red wine caramel sauce evenly over the apple slices. Repeat the layers until the pie is slightly overfilled and domed on the top; the apples will shrink down as the pie cooks. Top the apples with pieces of butter.

6. Now, roll out the other ball of dough just as you did the first. Brush the bottom lip of the pie pastry with a little beaten egg white to form a seal. Place the pastry circle on top of the pie, and using some kitchen shears, trim off the overhanging excess from around the pie. Crimp the edges of dough together with your fingers to make a tight seal. Cut slits in the top of the pie so steam can escape while baking. Place the pie on a sheet tray and tent it with a piece of aluminum foil, so the crust does not cook faster than the apples.

7. Bake the caramel apple pie for 25 minutes on the middle rack. Remove the foil from the pie and brush the top with the remaining egg white. Generously sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar mixture, and if using, a little of the turbinado sugar (this gives it a rustic look). Return the pie to the oven, and continue to bake for another 25 minutes, until the pie is golden and bubbling. Let the apple pie rest at room temperature for at least 1 hour to allow the fruit pectin to gel and set; otherwise the pie will fall apart when you cut into it.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

November 28, 2009

Catering Menu Part 1

Since moving back from New York a matter of weeks ago, I decided, somewhat on a whim, that the impending holidays provided a good opportunity for me to try my hand at catering. I mean, if I could perhaps score a couple bucks while doing what I love, well, I can't imagine anything much better than that. It would certainly beat the days that I served as an office drone, staring blankly into a computer screen for more hours than I care to admit. However, with those days behind me, I welcome the challenge. I've started working on a menu of appetizers and desserts, but of course I would never be willing to sell anything that hasn't been painstakingly tested and approved. I'm slowly, but surely, trying out new ideas and recipes, and will be making additions to my catering menu every week, so be sure to check back often! Below are the current items on offer, so if you live in the Dallas area, and need someone to help you throw a tasty soirée, please keep me in mind and feel free to contact me via email:

Cheesy Zucchini and Onion Flatbread

Spicy Cheddar Cheese Straws

Fig-Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Pizzettes

Beef and Gorgonzola Crostinis

Pesto Rubbed Steak Skewers with Blue Cheese Fondue

Mini Crab Cakes with Remoulade Sauce

Sun-dried Tomato and Goat Cheese Skewers

Chocolate-Espresso Caramel Bars