Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘holiday’ Category

Why hello, old friends! Happy 11-11-11! It’s been almost 2 years, but I’m making my way back to this portal of my life. The last time I posted here, I was just beginning my adventure at the bakery. And now that I have decided to leave that job behind, I am pretty much picking up where I left off.

Working at the bakery gave me the experience I wanted so desperately at the time. I was producing baked goods in a commercial kitchen and developing new skills, all while learning about an industry that has always intrigued me. Amongst all the fun I was having at the bakery, I continued to incorporate other personal and professional commitments into my life. I like staying busy but then, all of a sudden, I became a robot– routinely forcing myself place to place without the capacity to ever slow down.

Almost 2 years ago, I was searching for something– a sign, a spark of inspiration, a defined awakening that could point me directly toward where I am supposed to be, or rather who I am supposed to be, in this world. At the peak of my foodie frenzy, I allowed myself to accept an opportunity where I could explore whatever doubt I was maybe feeling. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself. Never before had I committed to something on a whim, changing the course of my life plan.

Once my life started getting extremely hectic from bouncing back-and-forth between two jobs and classes, I began to waver between staying and leaving– staying because I truly love it or leaving because I wanted something more. In order to really focus on my long-term career goals, leaving was necessary so I could move forward. Ultimately, I did not choose to pursue culinary school and I am no longer continuing to work at the bakery, but I would still mark the past 2 years as a success. The experience taught me that baking is this big, and so sacred, part of me.

I may have left the bakery, but I don’t think I could ever completely walk away from baking. I am always thinking about what to make next– a recipe I’ve been aching to attempt or a creation idea I want to make real. I just can’t seem to ever turn those thoughts off. And I am sure my friends and loyal taste testers are thankful for that.

So this is where I’m at now… The holiday season is creeping up on me and I’m once again consumed by my kitchen and the persistent desire to create some delicious treats. I have been doing a lot of test baking lately to figure out which creations will make an appearance at Thanksgiving and Christmas. These are some sweets I’ve been experimenting with so far..

Apple Cinnamon Pop Tarts: Pate brisee with an apple cinnamon filling

Recipe for Apple Cinnamon Filling**
2 medium to large apples, peeled and sliced 1/4″ thick
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup white sugar
1 Tbsp + 2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
2 Tbsp flour

**These are estimated measurements. I will probably follow up with better defined measurements and full recipe instructions in a later post.

Pear-Apple Rustic Pie: sliced apple and pear filling with cranberries and sliced almonds wrapped in a pate brisse

Cinnamon Crunch Pear Muffins: moist muffin with bites of diced pear, cinnamon crunch topping

Chocolate-Filled Thumbprints: buttery, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread thumbprint cookies filled with a silky smooth chocolate ganache

Recipe for Chocolate Ganache

8 oz. good semisweet chocolate, shaved
3/4 C. whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla

1. Place shaved chocolate in a bowl.
2. Heat whipping cream in a small saucepan on medium high heat.
3. Take saucepan off the heat as soon as cream starts to boil.
4. Add hot cream to bowl of chocolate. Stir gently until smooth and even consistency. Add vanilla and continue to until incorporated.
5. Let the ganache cool and set before using.

I hope you enjoyed the picture preview… I am excited to get back to chronicling my experiences in the kitchen! This holiday season is going to be a great one!

nom nom nom,

B

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Happy Food Year!

This year, in particular, food has surprised me. I thought that I had already developed a strong connection with food, but the past few months have really made me think. And I like that. In a strange way, we’re starting to communicate.

Before I was Brianna Li: the food blogger, I was a college student cooking on a George Foreman grill in her dormroom. Before that, I was Happy Brianna distributing her ‘happy cupcakes’ amongst the high school halls. And– crazy enough– once upon a time, I was just a girl with an Easy Bake Oven.. for about a minute.

My pure, unconditional passion for food can be attributed to one defining moment in my life: the Christmas I unwrapped an Easy Bake Oven as a gift from my aunt. Unfortunately, with two working parents, I never got a chance to use it. My mom feared this innocent toy that bakes with a lightbulb might lead to some spontaneous accident. Apparently, at 5 years old, I couldn’t be trusted with a toy that bakes. Perhaps too perplexed by the sudden gift eradication, I didn’t even protest to the decision; putting up a fight could only make it worse and possibly more traumatizing. And so, sadly, the most intriguing gift I had ever received was returned before I could even sneak a peak inside the box.. Let alone cradle the pink, child-sized oven in my tiny adolescent hands.

Growing up, every time I saw the Easy Bake Oven commercials on t.v., I hated the children who seemed to be having so much fun playing, baking, taunting me with all of their Easy Baked goods. Not cool. And despite growing older and far surpassing the proper age of ownership, the darn Easy Bake Oven just never went away.. Still around– haunting me– in newer, more advanced versions of the one inside the sealed box. So very cruel, Hasbro.

Since the Easy Bake days I never had, I vowed I would make myself some delicious cupcakes and be as happy as those children in the commercials. Unbeknownst to me, and my mom, I needed a small taste (or, more accurately, a mouthful) of baking in my life. There are no hard feelings toward Mom; she was only looking out for my safety. Plus, in an odd way, she did me a favor. Never being able to use that Easy Bake Oven made me strive for something better– to create something (or shall I say, somethings) better.

Besides the whole baking aspect, there is nothing about the Easy Bake Oven moment that really epitomizes me anymore. I am not a child (I can use the big girl oven now) and I have everything at my disposal to bake without any hesitation or restraint. Although I have devoured many boxed cakes, I now recognize that a true love for baking– for cooking– doesn’t always mean the preparation will be as easy as flickering on a lightbulb.

This year, I’ve come across a variety of recipes ranging in difficulty. I find that simple, easy-to-do recipes are absolute crowd-pleasers; everyone wants to be assured that an aesthetically pleasing and delicious product can be executed flawlessly on the first try. I am guilty of getting just as excited encountering such culinary treasures. However, for me, I’m also beginning to appreciate the bumps in the road– the little pointers I wish I would have known to perform the process more smoothly– that help me grow as a homecook, baker, foodie. And hopefully, for those of you who try some of the recipes on this blog, my notes can help you anticipate and appropriately address the challenges I stumbled upon along the way.

As I solidify my resolutions for 2010, I surely have not forgotten about food. Food has played a big role in how I got here– more confident in my abilities to improve my current skill set. Some people are destined to be accountants, or teachers, or professional athletes; I am destined to be a foodie. Though, nothing achieved is without hard work.

This upcoming year is my food year– my year to keep pushing myself forward on this adventure, to continue to forcefully and intrepidly attend to my undeniable attraction to food. Because, if there is anything I am certain of, I am certain that food will always co-exist in my world. Wherever my free-spirited and multi-faceted life takes me, there is something about the kitchen that makes me feel especially patient, quirky, motivated, happy. For that reason alone, I have nothing but time for food.

Food has evolved into the most sincerely complete art form; it is the only art form that can tackle all 5 senses at once.. sight, touch, smell, taste, hearing (Yes, hear it! Just listen to the bite you take or even a subtle Mmmm reaction). Be creative, be satisfied, be amazed, be thankful, be inspired, be proud, be happy.. These are the moments of glory I hope, in some way, food will bring to everyone this year.

I believe food says more about a person than words can. So, in 2010, you know where to find me… I will be making memories.

nom nom nom.

B

Read Full Post »

My preparation for the Christmas holiday weighed heavily on developing a variety of baked goodies for Mom’s side of the family. But, particularly, this Christmas was filled with happier memories than most.

We usually don’t spend much time visiting with the relatives during the Christmas holiday– a rushed one day trip. This year, we were able to spend the whole weekend at my grandparents’ house, resulting in a more relaxed celebration. Quality family time.

I must get my intensity in the kitchen from Mom’s side of the family. My grandparents are excellent cooks. They wake up at the crack of dawn just to make sure our meals together are memorable. Sure enough, they always succeed. During the holidays, boy do they produce.

My aunt, who formally baked all the Christmas cookies, brought over a few side dishes– a layered bean dip, salad,  potato casserole, etc etc etc.. A couple of my other aunts also supplied dishes for the dinner. My grandparents presented a carved turkey and ham– a showmanship of edible artwork. M caught a picture of the turkey platter before it made its way to the table.

I ate my heart out on Christmas day. We had a well-balanced buffet of food and a case of Blue Moon stocked in the refrigerator. Needless to say, I didn’t even make it to dessert.

When I woke up, I wasn’t even hungry. My aunt and my cousin stopped by the house. They went after-Christmas shopping at 6am. HAH. Not me. The idea of after-Christmas shopping didn’t even phase me; I would rather avoid the traffic and long check-out lines. However, it somehow became an outing. And as the hours passed, my tummy was growling for food. M, Dad, Zach, and I piled into one car. None of us in the car except M really cared about shopping. Zach and I figured we had a better chance at getting food if we left the house since the grandparents were spending the day preparing dinner. It wasn’t long before our car became the I’m Hungry crew.

Eventually, in between shopping locations, my hungry tummy welcomed a Double Double and a strawberry shake from In-N-Out. YUMMM. I haven’t had In-N-Out in while, but danggggg.. that was TOO GOOD! The toasted and buttered bun, the juicy burgers, the crisp lettuce, the tasty sauce.. tomatoes, cheese.. Mmm. Don’t make me go on..DROOL.

The Double Double tied me over for the remainder of the shopping outing until finally heading back to the house for dinner. Prime Rib Night.. You don’t even know!!! But just to taunt your taste buds.. here’s a picture of one of the three dishes of prime rib!!

The prime rib melt in my mouth with savory satisfaction. After I inhaled my first piece drenched in gravy within 3 minutes after sitting down at the table, I went for a second piece. I put myself into a very pleasant Prime Rib Coma, watched the NBA game on tv, and ended the night watching She’s the Man with Zach. LOVE STM!

Stuffed from the night before, I slept off my coma and woke up late. Before packing up the car, I found myself in the tangerine tree in my grandparents’ backyard.

My grandparents told me to pluck the tangerines from their tree to take home. He didn’t want the tangerines going bad up there. So, I went in for the kill and felt oddly comfortable up in that tree. It ended up being a bigger hoopla than I thought.. Pictures were taken to document the experience.

I may have gotten carried away with all these tangerine pictures.. similar to how devoted I became to the process of collecting these little fellas. If you cannot already tell from some of the content in my blog, I have a pretty steady love affair with orange.. the color, the fruit, all of the above.

Sometimes, I feel like an orange– built with multiple layers. Zest, pith, pips, juice.. citrusy, sweet, sour, fragrant, bright.. An orange holds purpose. It is somewhat undecided in how it would like to be presented to the world, as it is does not have one distinguishable quality. Instead, it allows the world to have a taste of everything it has to offer, fitting in wherever it’s needed.

The light in the day paired with the bright orangey color of the tangerines was a perfect combination. The tangerine, cousin to the beloved orange, adventure was a wonderful closing to the weekend’s festivities.

I may have been a little overzealous in collecting tangerines, but they sure are sweet!

nom nom nom.

B

Read Full Post »

What has happened in the past 24 hours? Well, let me tell you.. an immense amount of insanity around my kitchen, that’s for sure.

This year, I decided to step up and prepare the desserts for Christmas. My aunt, who usually has the cookies covered, has passed the torch down to her wannabe pastry chef of a niece. Me. And of course, my biggest problem in creating in the kitchen is my lack of boundaries. I get so excited that I can’t help but want to make EVERYTHING.

Since that fateful day I spoke to my aunt on the phone, I have been anxiously awaiting this Christmas adventure. For the past few nights, I have been having dreams about food. It’s an occasional occurrence that I have learned to love despite waking up frantically hungry. But lately, it’s been all about baked goods all the time.. spurts of ideas from my whacky palette communicating through my subconscious.

My journey began at 5am on Christmas Eve. I spontaneously woke up from my deep, baked goods slumber and, realizing the day and time, I couldn’t go back to sleep. I tried forcing myself to catch some z’s for a couple more hours, because I was concerned that I might burn out mid-day. But with no success, I crawled out of bed and headed straight to the kitchen. I had so much to do and I just wanted to hurry up and get started.

Shortbread Cookies

Because the chocolate ganache for my truffles needed to come to room temperature before I could work with it, I prepared my shortbread cookie dough knowing it requires an hour of refrigeration time.

I told you these cookies would be making another appearance this holiday season. And, as promised, I tried something a little different with the recipe. I finely chopped some pecans and dried cranberries and added them to the plain shortbread dough.

Already, the cookie is looking good.. but chocolate dip is hard to resist. We’ll get back to that later.

Chocolate Truffles

M introduced me to the Pioneer Woman’s blog. When I expressed my desire to make chocolate truffles for the holidays, M suggested a recipe from PW. I took a look at it and it seemed easy enough, especially with the step-by-step pictures and instructions provided. I didn’t have sea salt on hand so I cut that part out of the equation.

Chocolate Truffles

INGREDIENTS

8 ounces, weight (up to 9 oz.) good semisweet chocolate
8 ounces, weight (up to 9 oz.) good bittersweet chocolate
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
meltable milk chocolate

DIRECTIONS

1. Heat dark chocolates and condensed milk in a double boiler over medium low heat until chocolate is melted.

2. Stir. Mixture will have a slight marshmallow texture.

3. Stir in vanilla.

4. Remove from heat, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

5. Once chilled, roll in balls, then roll in melted milk chocolate coating. Sprinkle with sea salt or other fine, coarse sprinkles.

As I mentioned, I made the chocolate ganache the night before. The melt-in-your-mouth rich ganache was surprisingly simple to prepare. I may have tasted a little bit while I waited for the batch to soften up a tad. If you are rolling them into balls or other shapes with your hands, the temperature from your hands will help work the ganache. Working the ganache is important if you plan to roll the pieces in cocoa powder or nuts.. this will ensure an even coating. If you overwork some chocolate with your palms, set it back into the bowl and come back to it later. You can try reworking the ganache again after it comes to room temperature.

After tasting the ganache, I instantly thought up of ways to tamper with the original ganache recipe. Mint liquor, orange liquor, rum, caramel, marshmallow.. these additives, in moderation, would accentuate the decadent, chocolately bite. Since this is my first time making truffles, I decided not to diverge too much from the recipe. However, pleased with the result, I intend on testing out variations for future occasions. For now, nuts will have to do.

I made some plain chocolate ganache pieces. But then I started adding finely chopped pecans into the mix. I rolled some ganache pieces into the nuts, while others I mixed the pecans straight into the ganache before shaping. It was quite a long process, so Mom helped while I started rolling out the gingerbread dough.

Once all of the ganache was used up and shaped into bite-size pieces, I placed them into the freezer for 15 minutes. Before removing the ganache pieces from the freezer, I heated my meltable milk chocolate wafers (I used Dolci frutta brand that I also use to dip fruit. Also, PW likes Merckens). These wafters are meant to be melted, dipped and set, resulting in a milk chocolate hard shell. Always a treat to have a few containers of these on hand!! If you set the chocolate dipped ganache onto wax paper, they will be easy to remove. The hard chocolate shell will set quickly, so if you want to add sprinkles, sea salt, or nuts, have whatever extra topping you like ready to go.

These truffles are rich and you may not be able to eat them all at once. However, if stored properly in an airtight container, they will not go bad. After all, chocolate rarely ever goes bad! I guess I could have separated the batch and frozen some of the ganache. But, it’s the holidays.. And of course I’m going big!

Gingerbread Cookies

I don’t usually make gingerbread cookies, because  I really didn’t think anyone would eat them if I made them. However, the other day my dad made mention that he wouldn’t mind some gingerbread cookies. So, I made it my mission to find a good recipe and whip up a batch.

I’ve come to really love RecipeZaar as a source for great recipes. The site is essentially a network of homecooks– regular people who are cooking and baking in their kitchens just like me! It’s always helpful to see the good and bad reviews, advice, techniques, and alterations from others before I attempt to take on unfamiliar territory.

So, yes, my first gingerbread cookie came from RecipeZaar and thrilled I found it. I knew it was a winner because homecooks in mass commented on the recipe, saying the gingerbread cookie was true to its name: The Most Wonderful Gingerbread Cookies. I am happy to report that I won’t be needing another recipe to fulfill my gingerbread needs.

The Most Wonderful Gingerbread Cookies

INGREDIENTS

3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1-3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel (optional)

DIRECTIONS

1. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves until well blended.

2. In a large bowl beat butter, brown sugar, and egg on medium speed until well blended.

3. Add molasses, vanilla, and lemon zest and continue to mix until well blended.

4. Gradually stir in dry ingredients until blended and smooth.

5. Divide dough in half and wrap each half in plastic and let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours.

6. (Dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, but in this case it should be refrigerated. Return to room temp before using.) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

7. Grease or line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

8. Place 1 portion of the dough on a lightly floured surface.

9. Sprinkle flour over dough and rolling pin.

10. Roll dough to a scant 1/4-inch thick.

11. Use additional flour to avoid sticking.

12. Cut out cookies with desired cutter.

13. Space cookies 1-1/2 inches apart.

14. Bake 1 sheet at a time for 7-10 minutes (the lower time will give you softer cookies!).

15. Remove cookie sheet from oven and allow the cookies to stand until the cookies are firm enough to move to a wire rack.

16. After cookies are cool you may decorate them any way you like.

There are so many reasons why I should hate this recipe. The number of ingredients! The laundry list of directions! AH! This is all wrong for me. However, in the spirit of the holidays, I have put aside my prejudice. And, actually, it’s not as complicated as it seems.

I made the dough the night before, mostly to cut the prep time on Christmas Eve. I remember a tidbit from Martha Stewart’s Holiday Cookies special on t.v. While she was making her gingerbread people, she claims that the rest time (she requires 2-hour chill in the refrigerator for her recipe) allows the spices to really come through into the dough. I suppose, by allowing the dough to stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours, we are expecting the same sort of result.

When you roll out the gingerbread dough, it is important to be conscious of the thickness of your dough. The thickness and the bake time determine the soft, chewy or crisp texture of the final product. I like my gingerbread on the soft and chewy side, so I baked my gingerbread men on the lower end of the bake time scale– about 7-8 minutes. My dough was rolled out to slightly less than 1/4″ thickness, and I did not use parchment paper-lined pans. I simply did not have parchment paper on hand, so I lightly coated my baking sheet with cooking spray instead. This worked just as well. After pulling the sheet from the oven, allow the sheet to cool for about 2 minutes and then immediately transfer the gingerbread to a cooling rack. I found that waiting for the gingerbread to cool on the pan for too long will make it quite difficult to get them off! I suppose, in this case, the parchment would have been helpful. But again, not necessary if you take the appropriate precautions. I say, work with what you have. If you have it, use it. If you don’t, no problem.

I decided to pair these gingerbread men with an orange royal icing. Mostly, I wanted to break in my new KitchenAid stand mixer. The spices in the gingerbread are very powerful, which is what I love about the dough. I figured an orange royal icing will bring a citrusy sweetness to the gingery cookie that would be uniquely enjoyable. I was right.

Orange Royal Icing

INGREDIENTS

3 egg whites
1 pound powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed juice from an orange

DIRECTIONS

1. Sift powdered sugar and cream of tartar.

2. Combine all ingredients and whip for 8 minutes at high speed.

To frost my cooled gingerbread men, I dipped them face down into the royal icing mixture. I set them onto parchment/wax paper until the icing completely dried. Pictured below are my finished gingerbread men with orange royal icing. The plate is decorated with a number of the homemade chocolate truffles.

Shortbread Cookies Continued

I consciously saved a container of meltable milk chocolate wafers to dip my shortbread cookies. I like how the cookie itself looks very simple but there is still a lot to enjoy.. the slight tartiness of the dried cranberries, the bits of finely chopped pecan, the half dipped portion covered in a shell of milk chocolate. But all of that hardly overpowers this buttery shortbread cookie. The cookie crumbles in your mouth in all of its light, airy glory. I like that its not a dense cookie that tends to taste stale after a couple days. These shortbread cookies will last and hold up for up to a week tasting just the same. Store them in an airtight container.. savor in moderation.

After dipping in the chocolate, I rested them onto a wax paper lined pan and decorated with the festive sprinkles I love so much.

Caramel Corn and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

These are the 2 recipes from my A Few of My Favorite HOLIDAY Things post that I decided to repeat. My goal was to create a diverse menu of desserts. The caramel corn and peanut butter chocolate chip cookies made the cut. They are both very simple recipes that I can probably mimic in my sleep. So, these weren’t too much of a challenge.. just a few favorites I thought the relatives might enjoy. I needed a basic cookie and a snack and these seemed like the right picks.

Petit Fours: Lemon Cake with Raspberry Filling and a White Chocolate/Vanilla Poured Fondant

Throughout the week, I have been debating on what type of “cake” to make. It was between petit fours and cupcakes. My cupcake idea was to make vanilla-vanilla cupcakes– a homemade vanilla cupcake with a vanilla pudding/mouse piped into the center. Then to finish, a coating of chocolate glaze and a snowman made of marshmallows. When planning out all the baking I would need to do, I didn’t think that I needed to do 2 cake desserts. Hopefully, my version of petit fours will be enough.

The petit fours were the last on my list to bake, because I wanted the cake to be as fresh as possible. Originally, I had anticipated on making a simple lemon genoise (sponge cake). However, as my all-day baking adventure rolled into the night, I started facing quite a few obstacles. Because I altered the original genoise cake recipe to add my lemon flavoring, this tampered with the outcome of the genoise cake. I also think not using parchment paper to line my pans (as instructed) was the wrong move in this scenario. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Big upset. But I wasn’t discouraged quite yet. There was no way I was sleeping until my petit fours were complete!

Round two: I went with a lemon pound cake recipe from Joy the Baker. It looked pretty good from the oven. So once it was cooled, I used a sharp knife to slice the loaf horizontally– about 1/2″ thickness. I wanted the petit fours to be about 1″ tall. I was able to get 4, even 1/2″ slices from my loaf. Sandwiched in between 2 slices, I slathered on a hearty portion of raspberry preserves. Then, I wrapped my cake sandwiches in plastic wrap and chilled in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Once removing my cake sandwiches from the freezer, I sliced them into bite-size rectangles/squares. I set them onto a wax paper lined pan. Then, I prepared a white chocolate/vanilla poured fondant adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe.

Poured Fondant Icing

INGREDIENTS

1 cup (5 ounces) white confectionary coating or white chocolate chips
4 cups (1 lb) confectioner’s sugar or glazing sugar
1/4 cup (2-3/4 ounces) light corn syrup
1/4 cup (2 ounces) hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
food coloring (optional)

DIRECTIONS

1. In a saucepan set over low heat, or in the microwave, melt the white coating or chocolate, stirring until smooth.

2. Sift the confectioner’s or glazing sugar into a large bowl, and add the corn syrup and hot water, stirring until smooth. If you’re using a mixer, set it on low speed so the icing doesn’t become to aerated.

3. Add the melted coating to the sugar mixture, then add the vanilla and the coloring (if you’re using it). If the mixture is too thick to pour, reheat it briefly over low heat, and stir in 1 to 3 tablespoons additional water. The mixture is easiest to work with, and pour smoothly, at about 100 degrees F.

To my pleasant surprise, I had no problem with this recipe. Because I have been baking a lot, I was able to eye ball the measurements of the ingredients. Do not attempt this unless you are comfortable and confident that you have developed this eye-balling skill– you have to know what measurements look like in their dry and liquid form. It can be tricky.

I used white chocolate chips. When heated on low heat, do not expect a smooth liquid-like result. Instead, you should look for a smooth paste-like consistency. So, do not keep heating waiting for it to appear smooth and glossy.. otherwise, you may end up burning the white chocolate.

I also did not use a mixer.. just a spatula for everything. When I added the white chocolate to the sugar mixture, it initially looked a little clumpy. However, as I continued to stir and swirl the mixture around, it turned into the lovely smooth texture I was hoping for.

Mom is a perfectionist.. this was made very clear by her tedious effort to make the truffles as uniform as possible. In my everyday life, I often find the same perfectionist quality in myself. However, when it comes to food, I always have a distinct, creative vision.. a product that usually shines in its taste and artist merit.

Instead of covering every centimeter of the little cakes, I aimed toward a more loosely decorative approach. With my spatula, I drizzled the poured fondant all over my petit fours. I didn’t want to soak them in the sugary coating but enough to bring the bite together. I planned on topping the petit fours with candied lemon peel I prepared a day in advance. However, the candied lemon peel pieces seemed too big for these little cakes. Instead, I used the extra lemon-infused sugar stored with my candied lemon peels to sprinkle on top.

Perplexed by the occasion and chaos in the kitchen, Cooper remained close-by from day to night as the house filled with the sweet sweet aroma of baked goods galore. My efforts did not go unnoticed by this lovable pooch!

Almost a full 24 hours later, the desserts were finished. Pecan/Cranberry, Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Cookies. Chocolate Truffles. Gingerbread Cookies with Orange Royal Frosting. 2 batches of Caramel Corn. Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. Petit Fours– Lemon Pound Cake with Raspberry Filling, a White Chocolate/Vanilla Drizzle and Topped with Lemon-Infused Sugar Crystals. Done.

Everything was packed up for the drive..

And then, at my grandparents house, we set up a table just for all the desserts..

So, there it is.. the complete Christmas compilation of desserts. Whew. Never thought I’d finish it all. But, behold, a variety of sweet treats for all tastes.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

nom nom nom.

B

Read Full Post »

Last night my parents decided to give me my Christmas present a little early: A KitchenAid Professional stand mixer. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted.. AND MORE. For weeks my mom has been trying to convince me that, even though it’s the only thing I want for Christmas this year, it wouldn’t make an appearance under the tree. It worked.

She assured me that I would enjoy my alternative present. Oh great. I didn’t know what to expect after she said that. When she hauled my present downstairs and unveiled that big box of spectacular, I was on the verge of tears. Really, I was that happy. This is the best Christmas ever! And now, the rest of my holiday baking will be executed with much more ease. My parents are THE GREATEST!

My sister is coming home today AND 2 days before Christmas?!!? EEEK! Better get going. Lots to do.. I will post a big Christmas update.. I must tell you about the cute gingerbread people I made the other day. Great recipe! And definitely more to come!

nom nom nom.

B

Read Full Post »

The gusty wind and the countless holiday-themed movies already dominating the main television channels officially declare that the holiday season has arrived. So, to commemorate this time of the year, I’m going to share a few of my favorite holiday things (and by things, I mean treats). During this time of the year, my baking goes into full drive.. Some recipes are super easy while others require a little more time, patience, and attention. But all are wonderful! For your convenience, I will list the recipes in order of difficulty (beginning with the easiest). Prepare for a plethora of tasty options to try for yourself!

Chex Muddy Buddies

INGREDIENTS

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup butter or margerine
1 teaspoon vanilla
9 cups Chex cereal (any variety)– about one 12-13 oz bag
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS

1. In 1-quart microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter uncovered on High 1 minute; stir. Microwave 30 seconds longer or until mixture can be stirred smooth. Stir in vanilla.

2. In large bowl, place cereal. Pour chocolate mixture over cereal, stirring until evenly coated. Pour into 2-gallon food-storage plastic bag.

3. Add powdered sugar. Seal bag; shake until well coated. Spread on waxed paper to cool, about 30 minutes. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

*Recipe courtesy of General Mills Chex cereal

As you can tell from eyeing the ingredients, this recipe makes hardly a small batch. The little dish in the picture is only a tiny sample of what the actual recipe yields. Chex Muddy Buddies are a great snack for entertaining.. an easy, sweet crunch of a snack. But, I know what you’re thinking.. How much of these little guys can you eat? Honestly, I’m a one handful type of person. I think it’s tasty but–as much as I love making sweets– I’m a true fan of savory dishes.. Surprising, right? But Chex Muddy Buddies is one of my favorite recipes for sharing purposes. I personally find it messy to pass around a big container full of Buddies.. and it’s also flu season. However, a great idea is to get some cute containers or bowls (perhaps just cellophane wrap with a nice bow) and give them as token holiday gifts to friends, family, or neighbors.

As far as simplicity.. this is a no brainer. You can use the saucepan method, but the MICROWAVE in less than 2 minutes!!.. Well, I think that says it all. I did not have the 2-gallon food storage plastic bag. We only have 1-gallons in this household. No big deal. I just split the Chex mixture into two 1-gallon food storage plastic bags. Don’t try fitting the whole batch into one 1-gallon bag. That is forcing it. Trust me. Not a good idea. As for the powdered sugar, use just enough that will coat the Muddy Buddies. Don’t stress about measuring the powdered sugar, especially if you decided to separate the batch into a couple bags. Just have fun and enjoy!

Best Seller Caramel Corn

INGREDIENTS

1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon vanilla
8 cups popped popcorn (1/3 cup unpopped)

DIRECTIONS

1. Pop popcorn

2. Preheat oven to 275F; have ready jelly roll pan.

3. Placed popped corn in a very large bowl.

4. In a large saucepan over high heat, combine the sugar, butter, and corn syrup and bring to a boil; let boil for two minutes, stirring continuously.

5. Remove from heat.

6. Note that it is IMPORTANT to use a large saucepan, as this mixture will bubble up. (I don’t know why this is stressed so much in the recipe. A good-sized medium pot works just fine!)

7. Add baking soda and vanilla to sugar mixture and combine well.

8. Pour this mixture over popped corn and combine, then spread mixture out onto jelly roll pan.

9. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes, stirring well every 10 minutes.

10. Let cool before eating.

*Recipe courtesy of RecipeZaar


For me, it’s hard to trust the Internet. Especially when I want to try out a new recipe, I’m always skeptical about following one from an unfamiliar source. Even after examining reviews and comments, how am I supposed to know if they’re lying? Well, you are hearing it firsthand from me.. Whoever posted this recipe on RecipeZaar was not lying about this recipe being “Best Seller Caramel Corn”. This is possibly the BEST (yes, THE.. BEST) caramel corn I have ever eaten.. including all of the store bought brands and holiday tins. If you have 40 minutes to spare, I guarantee you can successfully execute this recipe.** And then you’ll probably end up doing what I did and devote another 40 minutes to making another batch! I believe the response I received was: “You know what? It melts in your mouth.” It’s true. Somehow, even though you know that that plain low-calorie popcorn is covered in brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup.. it still seems light.

This past summer, my family invested in a Cuisinart popcorn maker. Not a very expensive kitchen appliance but I can understand how it may seem like an unnecessary one. However, after hearing some pretty terrible things about microwave popcorn and trying to cut back on chips, freshly popped popcorn sounded like a good alternative. And the popcorn maker has proven to come in handy. A little bit of corn kernels goes a long way (1/3 kernels makes 8 cups of popcorn!). My personal opinion is that freshly popped popcorn makes a big difference. I don’t mind plain popcorn but if I want some melted butter and/or salt, I can control how much to use. Carmel corn is a great treat to mix it up! I say ditch the big tin and make a batch of this caramel corn.. Oh yeah, and share.. if you want. If you really miss the big tin, then do what I did and put a batch into a tin. Like the Chex Muddy Buddies, you can also package this up as gifts. Just don’t forget to save some for yourself! You’ll regret it!

**SIDE NOTE: At the end of the 40 minutes, I suggest immediately transferring the pan of caramel corn onto parchment/wax paper to cool. Allowing the caramel corn to cool on the pan will make it difficult to remove when you are ready to eat. You don’t want to eat this in crumbs! Once the caramel corn is cooled (about 2 minutes), you can sift through the batch and gently break apart the clumps of corn so that every piece is a bite sized piece!

Peanut Butter Cookies

INGREDIENTS

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup pack brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Stir together flour, soda, and salt.

3. In a mixer bowl beat butter for 30 seconds. Add peanut butter and sugars; beat till fluffy. Add egg ad vanilla; beat well.

4. Add dry ingredients to beaten mixture; beat till well blended.

5. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll in granulated sugar, if desired. (I don’t roll the dough in the sugar.. It really doesn’t need it!!)

6. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet; crisscross with the tines of a fork.

7. Bake in a 375 degree oven about 10 minutes. Cool about 1 minute before removing to a wire rack.

*Recipe courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

When I was in high school, I used to make cookies at least once a week. Especially during this time of the year, I had tons of extra gift boxes (probably from all of that holiday shopping). So in the large clothing boxes meant to wrap up the ‘Christmas gifts’ I bought for myself, I neatly packed as many cookies as I could fit inside.. tied a bow on the box.. and safely brought them to school.

I always go overboard during the holidays, so I usually made at least 2 or 3 different types of cookies. One chocolate chip, one snickerdoodle.. and then there is peanut butter. This peanut butter cookie is terribly wonderful. It is, indeed, terrible that they are so wonderful because I always do my best to avoid packing on the dreadful holiday weight. Since I like baking more than eating sweets, I’ve never had a problem. However, there is something about these peanut butter cookies that do it for me.

The cookies bake in the most amazing– surprisingly perfect– way. Uniform circles. The lovely criss-cross pattern. The slightly crisp outside with a chewy inside. These are by far the best shaped cookies you will ever make. I am sure that if I ever parted with my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (but let’s hope it never comes to that), I can whip these up on the spot with no problem. If you take a look at the ingredients, you’ll notice that more than half of the ingredients are “1/2”. 1 egg. And the dry ingredients all require a “1/4” cup or teaspoon. These little tidbits have made it easy to remember and certainly an easy cleanup.

Somehow, I haven’t yet found a plain chocolate chip cookie recipe that I have fallen in love with like I have with this peanut butter cookie recipe. So, these days, I’ve been adding some chocolate chips into the equation (about 1/2 cup-1 cup.. use your own judgement). Don’t let that fool you.. this cookie can stand on it’s own. I haven’t had any complaints.. and I don’t think I ever will.

Clementine’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: 5 dozen 2-inch cookies

INGREDIENTS

12 ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (2 cups)
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup unsifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
3 cups oats, uncooked
1 cup walnuts, chopped

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 375F.

2. In a large bowl, beat butter with sugar and brown sugar at medium speed until creamy and lightened in color (about 4 minutes). Add vanilla and egg, and mix on low seed until incorporated.

3. Stir flour with baking soda, salt, and spices; add to creamed mixture, mixing well. Stir in oats.Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts.

4. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheets.

5. Bake 8-9 minutes for a chewy cookie, 10-11 minutes for a crisp cookie. Cool 1 minute on a cookie sheet; remove to wire cooling racks. Store in tightly covered container.

*Recipe courtesy of Ghirardelli Chocolate

You know my favorite shaped cookie.. this is my favorite drop cookie of all time. I believe it was one fine day during my senior year of high school. Well, now that I think about it, it could have been my junior year.. Yes, junior year..

First of all, I would like to say that I am very loyal to my favorite recipes.. especially when it comes to cookies. However, one night, I stumbled upon this Clementine’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe on the back of a package of Gharadelli Semisweet Chocolate Chips. Simply because it was different than my usual repertoire of cookies and it was a recipe with such a large yield (don’t forget I was baking for the mass.. well, kind of), I decided to try it out for fun. Quite possibly one of the best decisions I have ever made.

You may think.. What’s so great about an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie? Once you take a bite of this cookie.. you will know exactly why. Everything about this cookie is, well, everything a cookie should be and more. The very buttery and sugary paired with the combination of cinnamon and nutmeg. Good. Then you have chocolate chips and chopped walnuts. Good. The oatmeal that keeps the cookie nice and moist (I go with the bake time of the chewy cookie!!). Good. And, as if all that isn’t enough, I add Craisins! mmm.. Yep, that’s the topper. I have been adding Craisins to this cookie recipe since my first batch (as a substitute for chopped nuts because I didn’t have any at the time). Now, I never make these if I don’t have Craisins. Whenever I’m dealing with the works (chocolate chips, walnuts, and Craisins), I cut the walnuts down to a 1/2 cup and add a 1/2 cup of Craisins. You can certainly ration them out any way you like or stick with the original recipe. There really is no way you can go wrong.

There are small reasons why I rate this recipe with more difficulty. Large yield means lots of time. It takes 8-9 minutes (for the chewy cookie).. but the time adds up. So, if you are baking the whole recipe batch, it requires patience. Secondly, the batter is a bit sticky.. It’s not too bad, but I suggest keeping the bowl of your batter in the refrigerator while you are waiting for the sheet(s) baking in the oven to finish. By chilling up the batter (even just a little bit), it will be easier to work with when you are ready to dish out more spoonfuls to be baked. Thirdly, there is a lot going on in this cookie batter. I know that when I give the batter the works it seems like the amount of dough disappears and the extras (chocolate chips, walnuts, Craisins) seem to overpower my spoonful. Try your best to get those even spoonfuls (with a good amount of extras but enough of the dough to hold up the cookie). Definitely not too difficult. And lastly, the number of ingredients.. you had to know it was coming. For someone who looks for simplicity, this is one busy cookie. Although, to be fair, I can’t say it’s not worth it.

Overall, as much as I can appreciate the uniformity displayed by my favorite peanut butter cookie, drop cookies tend to look fancier for some reason. The time and effort really does show. I have received so many compliments because they taste and look so “professional”. I think I have been given a lot more credit than I really deserve. These cookies are just some type of magic; they turn you into a baked goods GENIUS overnight.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Red Velvet Cupcakes

INGREDIENTS

2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 oz. red food coloring (2 bottles)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers.

2. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set  aside. In a small bowl, mix food coloring and cocoa powder to form a thin paste without lumps; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla and the red cocoa paste, scraping down the bowl with a spatula as you go. Add one third of the flour mixture, beat until well combined. making sure to scrape down the bowl with a spatula.

4. In a small bowl, mix vinegar and baking soda. Yes, it will fizz! Add vinegar mixture to the cake batter and stir well to combine. Using an ice cream scoop, fill the cupcake cups with cake batter (they shuld be 2/3-3/4 full). You may not fill all the cups. Place muffin tins on the middle rack of a preheated 350 degree oven. Bake for approximately 20-22 minutes, rotating pans halfway through. Cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Check early and don’t overbake!

5. Cool the cupcakes in their tins on a wire rack for 10 minutes then remove and allow to cool completely before frosting. frost cupcakes with cream cheese icing (recipe below) and decorate with red sprinkles if desired.

Cream Cheese Frosting

INGREDIENTS

16 oz. cream cheese (2 cups), softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS

1. With an electric mixer, blend together cream cheese and butter until smooth.

2. Turn mixer to low speed and bend in powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla extract.

3. Turn mixer on high and beat until light and fluffy.

4. Use immediately or refrigerate, covered, until ready to use. If refrigerated, the frosting will need to be brought to room temperature before using (after frosting softens up, beat with mixer until smooth).

*Recipe courtesy of Pinch My Salt

I tend to end most things in my life with a cupcake. In high school, I ended the school week with Happy Friday Cupcakes. As I was driving back to school with a carful of my friends from NYC, I ended Thanksgiving break with Red Velvet Cupcakes from Buttercup Bakery. So here it is.. the finale to a few of my favorite holiday things.. coincidentally, Red Velvet Cupcakes.

I have sifted through more Red Velvet Cake recipes than I would like to openly admit. Was the Red Velvet Cupcake with Vanilla Frosting from Buttercup Bakery more memorable than their Banana Pudding? ehhhhh.. not really. When it comes to any dessert, pastry, baked good– sweets, in general– I am somewhat hard to please. Call me a tough critic, but if I’m gonna indulge in some sugary bliss.. let it be bliss.

The cupcakes came out beautifully. I even made JUMBO cupcakes.. JUMBO cupcake liners and used a muffin tin to accommodate the extra large size. They were big enough that I had to use a knife to cut my cupcake to eat like I would cut a slice of a cake. The cream cheese frosting is delicious. The frosting is the perfect balance of sweet but with a distinct and enjoyable tanginess of the cream cheese, which pairs well with this cake. After making the frosting, I put it into a gallon-sized sealable plastic bag. To frost the cupcakes, I used the age old trick of cutting a corner of the plastic bag to create a disposable piping bag. My mom reminds me that we have piping tips somewhere in the kitchen.. but if you have a plastic bag, it works just as well. A very easy, very clean way of frosting a cupcake.

So, yes, let’s hear it.. Did these Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting make the cut? Truthfully.. for me.. not exactly. I realized that perhaps my attraction to the bright deep red color of the cake has confused me for loving the cake itself. BUT it certainly has nothing to do with this recipe or any Red Velvet Cake. In fact, when my dad brought these to work, everyone raved about how much they enjoyed them! Hmm.. I think it is just me.. Again, I stress to you, try it for yourself!

As far as difficulty.. this is the most difficult one out of the 5 I have presented to you today. Though, you can’t expect to make a homemade cake without it being a bigger challenge than if it came from a box. Making this cake– sifting the flour and then all the dry ingredients together, the separate bowls to the side, the alternating buttermilk and dry ingredients– does take work. The process really made me appreciative of cake-in-a -box (4 ingredients and less than 5 minutes to prepare the batter) that make cupcake-making so fast.. easy.. convenient. Attempting a cake from scratch is none of those things. That is a big warning. But, if you are someone who really loves baking (like me), you will love the challenge. And now, after this experience, I will probably bake many many more cakes from scratch until I find just the right selection of favorites.

For a cake without Betty or Duncan to credit, this cake is great. The festive red color is appropriate for the season, so it does make the cut for a one of my favorite holiday things. Because I do believe there is a Red Velvet Cake/Cupcake that will WOW me one day.. it will be my side mission to find it. I think I’ll try that Buttercup Bakery Red Velvet Cupcake recipe.. banana pudding was quite the distraction last time. As much as I liked the cream cheese frosting (and believe that people love Red Velvet for the cream cheese frosting), maybe a simple vanilla will make a difference for me.. or the cider vinegar instead of the white vinegar. I’ll let you know.

For now.. nom nom nom.

B

Read Full Post »