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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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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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Today, the 2-week countdown until Christmas begins! I was just thinking about how I haven’t made shortbread cookies in a while.. After making a batch today, I will probably start making them more often. I usually try to avoid cookies that call for refrigeration time and require rolling the dough out. But, I guess since I’ve been making so many doughs lately (brioche dough, pizza dough), I’ve grow accustomed to the process.

Shortbread is actually a pretty basic cookie: flour, salt, butter, powdered sugar, vanilla.

I used a recipe from JoyOfBaking.com. Lately, everytime I’ve been looking for recipes, I always run into the Joy of Baking site. So, I decided to try out the Shortbread Cookies recipe.

Shortbread Cookies

INGREDIENTS

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

1. In a separate bowl whisk the flour with the salt. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth (about 1 minute). Add the sugar and beat until smooth (about 2 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract. Gently stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated. Flatten the dough into a disk shape, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill the dough for at least an hour.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with the rack in the middle of the oven. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

4. On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick. Cut into rounds or whatever shapes you wish using lightly floured cookie cutter. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet and place in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. This will firm up the dough so the cookies will maintain their shape when baked.

5. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until cookies are lightly brown. Cool on rack.

MY NOTES:

I immediately liked this recipe, simply because she said to whisk the flour and salt together. Not many people know that whisking the dry ingredients is the same as sifting them together! The only difference, in my opinion, is that whisking is so much easier! It’s a great tip I learned one day while watching Martha Stewart’s Holiday Cookies special.

Once I added the whole flour mixture, the dough was of a very fragile and crumbly consistency. It reminded me of the flour and butter/shortening mixture when making biscuits before adding the buttermilk. After combining everything to the best of my ability, I pressed the dough into the bottom of my bowl to imitate a disk– a foe disk, I suppose. I laid out a good-size amount of plastic wrap and turned my bowl over onto it. Unfortunately, it crumbled as it fell. But then, I found I was able to reshape the dough very easily by folding over lengths of the plastic wrap and pressing the dough together from outside of the wrap. The dough making contact with the plastic wrap instead of my hands directly, was very helpful. When I tried using my hands, the dough stuck to them like glue! I hate being messy.. and wasteful of the dough!

It is important to form the dough in a disk shape before refrigeration. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but the disk shape will allow the dough to chill quickly and evenly. If you place a cookie dough ball into the refrigerator for the said amount of time, the outside will be chilled but the center will not!

Once the cookies are chilled for an hour, the dough will be very stiff. I tried to roll the dough out with no great success. It was cracking at the edges when I was trying to roll it out! Plus, the dough was sticking to my rolling pin even after I lightly floured it! This was not looking good. I ended up reworking the dough a bit, and that solved all of my problems. Since the dough has so much butter it did, eventually, roll out cleanly.

When baking my cookies, I had one batch on a sheet lined with parchment paper and one batch directly on the baking sheet. Both sheets cooked exactly the same. My understanding is that the parchment paper is mainly used for convenience– the ability to slide the cookies from refrigerator to pan and pan to cooking rack with ease. It can also make cleanup easy. Usually, parchment paper is used to keep cookies or cakes from sticking to the pan. However, since these cookies are butter-based, they will not be sticking to the baking sheet. And because I always wash my baking sheets after I use them, it doesn’t really make much of a difference to me. So, in my opinion, if you don’t have any around, don’t worry about making parchment paper a priority for these cookies.

I ended up going with a basic circle shape. I used the rim of a glass for uniformity. Because I wanted to try this plain shortbread cookie dough first (to see if I loved it enough to want to put my own twist on another batch), I knew I had to find some way to make these cookies my own. So, I made a simple chocolate glaze– chocolate chips, butter, and a little heavy cream melted over a double boiler– to give the shortbread some character. Now, this is the time to use parchment/wax paper. While the dipped chocolate on the cookies set onto the paper,  I added some festive sprinkles as a final touch. I placed the cookies in the refrigerator for a few minutes to allow the chocolate to fully set– doing so doesn’t change the texture of the cookie at all. It just makes it easier to safely and cleanly remove the cookies from the paper. These are a few..

I’ve eaten some shortbread that are too heavy and too dry. I want to savor my cookie, not choke! Don’t worry. This is the recipe to use. These cookies melt in your mouth– and rightfully so because of all that butter! I will be using this shortbread recipe as a base for a few other shortbread variations I will be embarking on this season! Stay tuned!

nom nom nom.

B

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Whenever I make brownies, I usually cut them out into bite-sized squares/rectangles. One bite wonders.

Today I thought about those packaged brownie bites found in the grocery store. I bet they use a mini muffin tin.. but with cupcakes still on my mind, I decided to make some brownie cupcakes. I put the cupcake liners into their designated spots on the pan. Since I didn’t intend on turning this into a huge project, I made a brownie-in-a-box batter. My favorite is Betty Crocker Dark Chocolate. I dribbled enough of the batter to cover the bottom of the cupcake liner. Then, I strategically placed 1/4 of a large marshmallow (I would have used a mini marshmallow if I had them) into the center of the cup. Filling with more batter until the cupcake liner was 3/4 full and completely covering the marshmallow. Of course, I could have taken the marshmallow out of the equation, but I thought I’d try something different. A small dollop of peanut butter or some kind of baking chips would have been interesting, too– mint, peanut butter, or chocolate. But the marshmallows had a unusual effect when baked. They somewhat surfaced because the density of the batter is greater than that of the marshmallow. Thus, the slightly exposed marshmallow toasted nicely during the bake time. The brownie cupcakes baked pretty quickly.. about 22-25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Once I took them out of the oven, the marshmallow looked very puffy.. but went down and settled as it is cooled. I removed the cupcakes from the pan– using a spoon for a little help. As they cooled, I dusted some powdered sugar on top for decoration. And that’s it.. the brownie cupcake.

nom nom nom.

B

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