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Oh, bread. Why are you so scrumptious? I have a serious weakness for 3 things: bread, cheese, and potatoes. Maybe these are my top 3 because they can be devoured in so many different forms. But of the three, bread is especially fascinating for a baker like me. And fresh bread is just incredible.

Yesterday, I was really craving something fresh yet substantial. Immediately, I thought of a Caprese salad. Afterall, what’s not to love? Mozzarella.. Good. Tomato.. Good. Basil.. Good. Put them all together.. GOOOOOOOD. But when I stopped by the bakery, I felt the urge to grab a fresh loaf of French bread. So I decided to build a Caprese French Bread instead.

I sliced the loaf in half to give myself two flat platforms. Next, in a small saucepan, I infused a couple cloves of minced garlic into melted butter at medium heat. That mixture was liberally brushed onto the open bread. I placed the garlic bread on a large sheet tray and baked at 425 degrees until the bread started to get slightly crispy– when edges begin to turn a golden color and the soft middle is just toasted. Then I piled sliced tomato and fresh mozzarella (crumbled into large chunky pieces) all over the garlic bread and popped it back into the oven until the cheese was completely melted. The final touch was a chiffonade of fresh basil sprinkled generously over the top with a little salt and pepper. I chopped the Caprese French bread up into individual serving sizes and they were ready to gobble up! Fresh. Crunchy. Satisfying!

Today, particularly inspired to use my cast iron skillet, I was determined to make these Rapid Rolls I saw on Kelsey’s Essentials on The Cooking Channel. I’ve made many doughs requiring yeast, but this is by far the easiest recipe I’ve come across to date. Anyone can achieve equally as impressive results with just 2 essential tools– a stand mixer and a cast iron skillet.

Rapid Rolls (Courtesy of Kelsey Nixon)

INGREDIENTS

3 (.25- oz) packets active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups warm water
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup melted butter, plus more for brushing
2 teaspoons, plus more for sprinkling
2 large eggs, beaten
4 to 6 cups flour, plus more if needed

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the instant yeast, and warm water. Let it activate for 5 minutes until bubbly. Stir in the honey.

On low speed, add 1/2 cup melted butter, 2 teaspoons salt, and eggs. Slowly add the flour cup-by-cup until fully incorporated and the dough pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl. Add more flour if it is too sticky.

Portion the dough into 24 even servings. Form the rolls into desired shape and place in a cast iron skillet or on a baking sheet spaced evenly apart. Set aside and allow to rise approximately 20 minutes, or until doubled in size. Brush the rolls with melted butter.

Bake for 25 minutes until the tops are golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush with more melted butter, and sprinkle with a little salt.

Notes: Rapid Rolls

When making the dough, I only used 1/4 cup of honey versus the 1/2 cup stated in the recipe. I opted out of making the dough too sweet, because I don’t like sweet dinner rolls. I only used half of the dough to make 12 rolls in my cast iron skillet. With the other half of the dough, I will probably use it to make cinnamon rolls tomorrow morning. When using the rest of the dough, I can then control the sweetness and taste by adding a trusty combination of brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon.

Other than the amount of honey, I followed the recipe as it is.. Even the melted butter before and after baking and a final sprinkling of Kosher salt at the end. The butter and salt at the very end really bring out the flavor of the rolls, so do it!

This is what the rolls looked like before popping them into the oven (with the tops brushed with melted butter)…

And then, straight out of the oven..

When I broke into the perfectly-pieced puzzle of rolls, I fell in love. The rolls pull apart effortlessly. They are light, fluffy, and wonderful. These rolls will surely be at my Thanksgiving table! I suggest you bring them to yours, as well. Super for soaking up all the gravy!

But what did I decide to do with these rolls? I made sliders! I seasoned some ground beef and cooked the patties with my cast iron skillet on the stovetop.

Thanksgiving will be even better this year now that I’ve discovered this recipe. After the big Thanksgiving feast, I can’t wait to make little mini Thanksgiving leftover sandwiches with these!! I can already imagine the turkey, dressing, and gravy goodness stuffed into these yummy rolls!

Bread is most often represented as something we munch on before the meal or as a side to compliment a dish. However, once in a while, highlight the beauty of freshly baked bread. Break that bread apart and decorate it with the food you love most.

nom nom nom,

B

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An idea came to me, I experimented, and I think I’ve stumbled upon something truly extraordinary. I’ve never been a big fan of thumbprint cookies, because I don’t have an affinity for crunchy sugar cookies. But there is one thumbprint exception that seriously changed my life. It was so long ago, but I can still remember how the cookie melted in my mouth, the chocolate fudge in the center was rich and decadent, and the sprinkles on top made the cookie look extra special.

For years, I’ve dreamt about that cookie.. I have just never seen anything like it anywhere else (or maybe I just don’t get out enough). But finally, I made it my mission to recreate this delightful memory from my childhood and reclaim that feeling of oh so happy bite-sized bliss.

I hardly ever make sugar cookies. They get stale quickly and they really just taste like plain white granulated sugar. Conversely, I absolutely love making shortbreads. A plain shortbread is like a blank canvas. It’s so much fun to experiment with different add-ins like nuts, citrus zest, shredded coconut, nuts, dried fruit.. And I’ve even made chocolate Nutella shortbread, too!

Jam is a popular filling for thumbprint cookies. I usually like to make my own jam now, because it makes a huge difference and it’s surprisingly very easy. But since I didn’t have any fresh berries on hand and I wanted to stay true to the cookie I remember, I decided to stick with a chocolate filling.

Chocolate Filled Thumbprint Cookies– yields about 17 cookies

Essential Tools: stand mixer (hand mixer will work too!), small ice cream scoop, decorating tip

Basic Shortbread Dough Recipe

INGREDIENTS
1 C. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 C. powdered sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 C. All purpose flour
1/2 C. cornstarch
1/2 tsp Kosher salt

DIRECTIONS
1. Beat butter in a stand mixer with paddle attachment on medium speed for 1 minute or until it has an even consistency.
2. Add powdered sugar and vanilla to the butter. Start on low speed and then bring up medium speed for 3 minutes, mixing until light and smooth.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, and salt. Set this mixture aside.
4. Use a spatula to scrape down the mixing bowl and paddle. Mix again for 30 seconds on medium speed.
5. Add the dry mixture to mixing bowl. Mix on the lowest speed until everything comes together and completely incorporated. Avoid over mixing!
6. Turn the dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap. Wrap the dough up tightly and then flatten into an even disc shape about 1″ thick. Refrigerate dough for at least 1 hr before using.
7. Use a small ice cream scoop to dish out even proportions of the cold dough onto a parchment lined sheet tray. Place a thumbprint in the center of each rounded portion.
8. Bake for 16 minutes at 350 degrees (300 degrees in a convection oven) rotating the tray half way through.
9. Leave the cookies on the tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

NOTES: for shortbread
Since this is a basic shortbread recipe, it is quite versatile and not exclusive to making thumbprints. Refrigerating the dough is necessary because the dough is very sticky from all that butter! It’s much easier to work with once it has chilled. I also love using this dough to make fun shapes with cookie cutters. If I’m rolling out the shortbread, I like keep the dough at about 1/2″ thick, so the shortbreads have a nice depth to them and they will bake at the same time consistent to what is stated in this recipe.

When baking cookies, it’s easy to look for a golden brown color or how much the cookie spreads to measure doneness. However, shortbreads need to be baked very carefully because you shouldn’t look for either of these qualities. If you notice they are turning golden, then they are overcooked. Although the cookie will still taste good, it will have a crispier and drier consistency. That’s not quite what we’re shooting for with these! But if that’s how you like your cookies, then go for it. I like these to be light and somewhat flaky so they melt in my mouth– really maximizing the purpose of the butter!

Once the shortbread thumbprints come out of the oven, the thumbprint impression won’t be as deep as initially punctured. So immediately once they come out of the oven, while they are still hot, I do a second gentle thumbprint. It will crackle slightly when doing so, but that’s okay because it’ll be covered up anyway. I like to keep the “thumbprint” deep so there is more room to fill with chocolate!

Chocolate Ganache Recipe

INGREDIENTS
8 oz. semisweet chocolate
3/4 C. whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract (*or substitute with your favorite flavored liquor)

DIRECTIONS
1. Shave or grate the chocolate and place into a medium sized mixing bowl.
2. Heat the whipping cream in a small saucepan on medium high heat.
3. When the cream just starts to come to a boil, immediately remove from the heat and add to the mixing bowl of chocolate.
4. Stir gently with a heat-proof spatula until everything is incorporated together. Then add vanilla and continue stirring until even consistency.
5. Let the ganache cool just until it is no longer runny. About 20 min at room temperature.
6. Fill a piping bag fitted with a decorating tip with the ganache.
7. Pipe the ganache into the center of the cookies.

NOTES: for chocolate ganache
I’ve used a great, flawless recipe for chocolate ganache by Pioneer Woman in the past to make chocolate truffles. However, this is a much simpler, and equally as satisfying, way to make ganache. Ideally, I prefer to use good quality chocolate baking bars since chocolate is the star ingredient here. Semisweet is very familiar for most people, but a combination of semisweet and bittersweet (60% cacao) is also fabulous. Or plain old chocolate chips work, too.. I know I always have a bag laying around!

Shaving or grating the chocolate bars will allow the ganache to come together in less than one minute. If the chocolate is chopped up into pieces or if you are working with chocolate chips, constant stirring is very important once the hot cream is added. You definitely do not want a clumpy ganache! It should be silky smooth!

The first time I made these cookies, I made the mistake of popping the bowl of ganache into the refrigerator to cool faster. I forgot I wasn’t trying to make chocolate truffles. For this recipe, be patient when it comes to the ganache. Chocolate can be very temperamental.. The consistency can change very quickly with temperature. It will look runny and liquid-like at first, but it will thicken as it continues to cool and set. Speed up the process by placing a cool towel underneath the bowl. Stir the ganache every once in a while to keep smooth and to check the consistency. When the bottom of the bowl is no longer warm to the touch and the ganache is thick (but also still soft) enough to scoop into a piping bag, it is ready to use. Make sure the cookies have already cooled and try to pipe the ganache into the cookies as quickly as possible. The ganache will continue to set and it can harden suddenly.

Using a piping bag and decorating tip (round or star) will give these cookies a aesthetically neat and clean look. If you don’t have a piping bag and decorating tip, you can fill a plastic ziplock bag with the ganache. Cut one of the bottom corners of the bag and carefully squeeze to “pipe” out the ganache.

If you happen to have extra ganache, make a few truffles! Roll little balls of the ganache into some cocoa powder or chopped almonds. Treat yourself for all that hard work!

Want to know what you can do with chocolate ganache? Here are some ideas!
1. Use immediately when it is liquid-like to cover a cake or to dip cookies.
2. Refrigerate and let it set completely. Then use a small ice cream scoop (or tablespoon) to make chocolate truffles. Dip these into melted chocolate wafers/buttons for a chocolate hardshell.
3. Whip the ganache while it is in liquid form in a stand mixer. As it cools and whips it will incorporate air, creating a fluffier consistency. Use this to decorate cupcakes!

These cookies are now one of my all-time favorites! The best part about these cookies is their shelf life; they won’t “go bad” after a couple days like most other cookies. Both shortbread and chocolate ganache will taste fresh for quite a while as long as they are stored in an airtight container. But really, don’t let these sit around for more than a week. These cookies are so easy to make.. I just made them twice in 2 days!

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do! Make these cookies for people you love.. Or people you want to love you!

nom nom nom,
B

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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

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Sadly, my camera has been idly uncharged for quite a few months now. However, my new Blackberry is equipped with a WordPress application and a flash camera that will hopefully help me chronicle more of my food adventures.

One of my co-workers recently went on a low-carb diet, omitting heavy starches and sticking to whole grains. Eh.. That is way too extreme for me because I depend on starch to maintain daily sanity. I could never give up potatoes, a fresh baguette, pasta or white rice. You might be expecting a post depicting some food ideas for someone pursuing the same feat as my co-worker. Sorry, wrong. Instead, I would like to celebrate my love for starchy goodness.

I have grown up eating rice with pretty much everything. However, when it comes to dishes over rice, I’ve never really explored outside of my comfort zone. Lately, I have become a big.. HUGE fan of arborio rice. I had the sudden urge one day to make risotto because I hear it is one of those dishes that can easily go wrong. But, I bought a jar of arborio rice and went for it. On the back of the label, the brand (RiceSelect) even included a simple “cooking arborio rice” recipe. If you can believe it, you only need 5 ingredients that are most likely already stocked in your kitchen.

I feel like they should just tell you the key to arborio rice ahead of time: stirring. And you’ll see why. Here’s the recipe that RiceSelect offers:

Cooking Arborio Rice

INGREDIENTS

1 cup uncooked rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth, salt and pepper optional

DIRECTIONS

1. Saute onion in oil and butter for 3 minutes
2. Add rice, stirring for about 2 minutes
3. Stir in 1 cup of broth. Continue cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed.
4. Gradually stir in remaining broth 1 cup at a time, cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed before adding the next cup.

Yields approximately 3 cups cooked rice.

Just like any rice you will make the rice soaked up the liquid you cook it in. That’s why, a little bit of arborio rice will go a long way. It will soak up the 3 cups of broth you use and fluff up into 3 cups of flavorful, decadent starch.

For my first risotto meal, I made zucchini risotto with brown-buttered chicken tenders. I followed the instructions on how to cook the arborio rice, except I also tossed in a whole zucchini (thickly sliced and quartered) about a minute after adding the rice. By the time the rice was fully cooked and ready to serve, the zucchini was also very tender.

A day later, in my risotto frenzy, I put another dish together: mushroom risotto with lemon peppered salmon. Mushrooms can be a bit tricky.. Mushrooms retain water, so when you heat them up, they will not only shrink but expel a great deal of liquid as well. I questioned whether or not I should satuee the mushrooms first, drain, and add them at the very end. However, I decided that by doing so, my mushroom risotto might not be as mushroomy as I would like it to be. I added the mushrooms in the same time I added the zucchini previously– about a minute after adding the rice. From there, “cooking arborio rice” became more of a guessing game. I added lots of somewhat thickly sliced mushrooms (knowing that they would cook down a lot before serving). The “mushroom liquid” adds extra moisture; thus, I accounted for this while adding the portions of broth. I ended up using just enough broth that will cook down and also fully cook the rice. With the mushroom risotto, I prepared a lemon peppered salmon.

To reiterate once more, keep stirring. If your arm gets tired, try switching off between the two. At least by the time you eat, you know you’ve squeezed in a light workout. Always keep an eye on your rice, which shouldn’t be hard since you will be standing there stirring the whole time. But after you add the final cup of broth and the risotto is really coming together, pay extra attention to the doneness. You do not want mushy risotto! If you aren’t sure, find yourself a small spoon and take a taste. And finally, make sure you plan your meal accordingly. Risotto is to be served piping hot hot hot. So, if you don’t have a sous chef in the kitchen to help out, prepare your meat/fish/vegetables ahead of time before you begin cooking the rice. Keep in mind that you want everything to be finished at about the same time! Otherwise you will be waiting on something and that will be no bueno.

Wishing you the best on your risotto adventures. Long live starch!

nom nom nom,

B

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Mom says I never make any of my great creations while M is home. Geez. It’s not like I’m a professional here. But I promised that I would feed M well while she is home for the holidays. The holiday baking was quite intense, but we all survived. Unfortunately, the pounds of brown sugar, powdered sugar, chocolate, flour, eggs, and vanilla did not make it past December 25th. Christmas was a big baked goods extravaganza. But now, it’s time to settle back into reality.

So, I’ve been repeating a number of the recipes I’ve already tested for M to try out. Poor girl never got the chance to indulge the first time around. She finally tried the caramel corn when I made it for Christmas. Yesterday we made strombolis with tomato basil sauce, pepperoni, salami, and mozzarella. This morning, we made buttermilk pancakes. M didn’t quite understand the process. It is obviously more effort than using pancake mix from a box. However, like I said before, it is well worth it. M gobbled up the light, fluffy, airy, scrumptious buttermilk pancakes hot off the griddle. So good that she didn’t even want syrup! What a happy camper.. Made me happy to share the same pancake heaven I experienced for the first time a few weeks ago.

It’s been nice having someone around to eat all this food! Sometimes, it gets overwhelming producing so much food without enough mouths to finish everything when it’s hot, fresh, at its most desired eatability. Today, after buttermilk pancakes, I made the pizza dough again. This time, we used the pizza dough recipe to make pizzas instead of strombolis. We had a whole bunch of extra ingredients. In addition to the tomato basil sauce, pepperoni, salami, and mozzarella, I loaded some sauteed chopped broccoli, red bell pepper, and onion onto my pizza.

We had a couple somethings hot.. so, to mix it up, here’s something cold. It may be winter, but you can’t fool me– it’s never too cold for ice cream. As you know, I’ve only made ice cream once before and I told you I would continue to put my ice cream maker to use.

Last night, I adapted my own Orange Creamsicle Ice Cream using the Ben and Jerry’s French Vanilla Ice Cream recipe as a guide. The plan was to create a vanilla ice cream base and orange combination that will model the idea of an orange creamsicle.

Orange Creamsicle Ice Cream

INGREDIENTS

2 eggs
3/4 cups white granulated sugar
2 cups whipping cream
3/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 fl oz. (1/2 16 fl oz can) frozen orange juice concentrate

DIRECTIONS

1. Whisk the eggs until light and fluffy

2. Whisk in the sugar until completely blended.

3. Pour in the whipping cream and milk. Whisk until blended. Then add vanilla extract and frozen orange juice concentrate, and keep whisking until smooth.

4. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

5. Store in an airtight container and keep in the freezer.

If you love ice cream and orange like me, you will adore this recipe. It’s refreshing, creamy, and better than any creamsicle you will ever eat!

For a special treat, ditch the extra sweet toppings and make an ice cream float! I placed a couple scoops of my Orange Creamsicle ice cream into a glass. Then, instead of using soda, I topped my glass off with Martinelli’s Apple Sparkling Cider. It’s fabulous!!

M will be around for a few more days before she returns back to the other coast right after New Years. I’m sure we will have a many more adventures in our kitchen before she leaves. With that said, I should start coordinating a few more meal ideas for the rest of the week.

nom nom nom.

B

P.S. Thanks for the mention, M. 🙂

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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

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I hate to see my blog steering solely towards baked goods and sweets. The truth is, savory food really hits the spot for me. However, unlike the meals I used to prepare with my friends in college, I am hoping to do more than just cook a 30-minute meal. I know how to grill. I know how to throw together a hearty meat lasagna. I know all the shortcuts. But now, I’m trying to avoid them all. I want to explore my abilities in the kitchen and bring something new to the table.. literally.

Luckily I have an open palette to match my open mind, so there is nothing holding me back. A serious foodie never discriminates against food! And with that said, part of my mission is to also honor dishes of various styles, backgrounds, and cultures on this journey.

This morning, I came across a half moon press in our baking drawer– 3 half moon presses, actually (small, medium, and large). My mom bought them many many years ago, probably thinking we could use them to make pastries.. even though she doesn’t bake. She really loves kitchen knickknacks. (Guilty. I get that from my mama.) But what’s the point in owning appliances and gadgets that aren’t being used? Big pet peeve. Hence my sudden urge to break in the ice cream maker and popcorn maker within the past couple of months.

It took me about 20 seconds to think to myself: Empanadas! The half moon press is perfect for empanadas! And I saved myself a trip to the grocery store, because I had all the ingredients for the dough. As for the filling, I quickly played around with a few ideas in my head as I scanned the kitchen. I wasn’t worried.

Empanada Dough

INGREDIENTS

2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into 1/2-in cubes
1 large egg
1/3 cup ice water
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

DIRECTIONS:

1. Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.

2. Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with a fork until just incorporated. (Mixture will look shaggy.)

3. Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring the dough together. Form dough into a flat rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour.

*Recipe courtesy of Epicurious.

The empanada dough is comparable to a flaky Pâte Brisée (tart or pie dough). Same basic ingredients, same procedure. The addition of the egg, which differs from a Pâte Brisée, acts as a binding force for empanadas. When rolling out the dough, you will see that it has a semi-elastic quality that a Pâte Brisée does not. Thus, when baked, the empanada will be able to hold its shape (and the filling) and won’t immediately crumble apart when broken into to eat! The final empanada will have a bite to it.. a slightly tender chew.. with a flaky exterior.

Once you place the dough into the refrigerator, keep time in mind; you have an hour to spare. It’s better to let the dough chill in the refrigerator for a little bit longer (if the filling isn’t quite done) than have the filling be ready before the 1-hour chill time is up. It only took me about 30 minutes to make my filling, including prep time.

This is my original recipe for the filling I created:

Sausage, Spinach, and Mushroom Empanada Filling

INGREDIENTS

1 package of frozen sausage links (I used Hot Italian because I like the spicy flavor), defrosted
1 medium onion, sliced (cut in half vertically, then cut in slices end to end)
2 cups white mushrooms, sliced
1 cup uncooked spinach, washed and dried
3 tablespoons sour cream

DIRECTIONS

1. Cut a slit in each sausage link with a knife and remove meat from the casing.

2. Place sausage meat, onions, and mushrooms into a heated and lightly oiled pan. Cook on medium to medium high heat. Stir occasionally and break up large chunks of sausage to ensure thorough cooking.

3. When the meat has just about reached its doneness, stir in spinach. Let the spinach wilt down. Then add sour cream, stirring until incorporated. Turn the heat down to medium low and keep it on the stove for about 3 more minutes.

4. Take the pan off the stove. Let the filling cool down before placing it onto the empanada dough.


After you add the sour cream and let it all heat up a little longer, the filling really came together. The sour cream thickened the juices from the ingredients. By allowing the filling to cool down, the juices dissipate and get soaked up by the whole mixture.

So, let’s see how it’s all put together..

I removed my chilled dough from the refrigerator. Lightly flour the board and rolling pin.. keep some  flour around for additional use but avoid over-flouring. Roll out the dough to an approximate 1/8″ thickness. It should be rolled out fairly thin, but NOT paper thin. I just know I don’t want them to end up too doughy. I hate that.

For the next part, my medium half moon press comes into play. But, remember, if you don’t have a half moon press, don’t be intimidated. You can use the same procedure. Instead, cut your dough into circles (for a half moon shape) or rectangles (for a square shape) and pinch to close with your fingers or the back of a fork.

I was able to use the back of my press to cut out the circle shape into my dough. I rolled and cut, re-rolled and cut.. until all the dough was used up, placing all my circles onto a plate. I prepared an egg wash (one beaten egg) in a small bowl.

I placed the dough on the inside of my press, added the filling into the center with a little bit of shredded cheese (although the empanada surely doesn’t need it).

With a small dabble of egg wash, I brushed along the edge of the dough. This acts as the glue.. keeping it sealed up.

Then, all I had to do was press the two handles together. Tip: If the dough circles feel sticky, lightly flour one side (the side laying directly on the press) with your fingertips. Do so as needed.

Once all the empanadas were pressed. I place them onto a cookie sheet. Brushed each with the egg wash. Fit as many empanadas onto the sheet as you can without crowding.

I put the sheet into a preheated 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes, checking them out periodically and rotating the sheet halfway through. I knew they were done when they turned a golden brown color.

And there you have it.. Empanadas! Or shall I say MmmPanadas.

nom nom nom.

B

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