Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas to all...

...and to all a good night.  May you all have more than enough marshmallows for your hot chocolate. =)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Peace on earth, and in cookies

Happy blogiversary to me!  5 years and 485 posts later, I'm still here. =)  I'd hoped to be closer to 500, but it's been a busy month.  I've been on vacation for the past few days and have finally had time to do some holiday stuff.  We finally put up the Christmas tree last weekend, and finished putting ornaments on it today.  Yes, it's been that kind of week.  On Wednesday I baked lots of cookies to take to G's kindergarten holiday party.  The kids had fun decorating the cookies (and eating lots of the decorations straight up, since I brought stuff like chocolate chips and m&m's).  B's party was Thursday, and at her request I made brownies for her to take.  Then on Friday I made a batch of caramel snack mix to bag up for my employees.  Right now I'm working on chocolate sponge cake that will be one component of a chocolate mousse cake (G's request for a holiday dessert).  Tomorrow I should finally get to cookies for us--and Santa Claus--now that I've finally gotten my hands on Hershey's kisses after looking at three different stores.  

Along with all the other baking, I wanted to make something for teacher gifts.  The girls were in favor of something chocolate.  I wanted something without nuts, since there are allergy issues at the schools.  I also wanted a dough that was easy to make ahead if necessary and bake off as needed.  I've never been a big fan of slice & bake cookies, but I may have changed my mind this year, after settling on Dorie's World Peace Cookies as the recipe to make.  I've made them before, of course, but not in as large a quantity as I did this year.  To make them more festive, I substituted peppermint crunch baking bits for part of the chopped chocolate, and used mini chocolate chips for the rest.  

The verdict?  I've made three batches so far, and will make at least one more to ship, since these should be sturdy enough to travel.  I got a couple of notes from the teachers, saying that they really liked the chocolate & peppermint combo.  I've stashed away several bags of the mint baking bits so I'll be able to make a bunch more of these if we want.  I've also passed out the recipe to several people, and I hope they'll give them a try for themselves.  If you'd like to, you can find the recipe online at Bon Appetit.

I've really enjoyed sharing both my baked goods and my life with all of you over the past 5 years--I've made lots of great friends, which is without a doubt one of the best things about blogging.  Here's to many more wonderful years!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

With a corncob pipe and a "button" nose

When I got my December issue of Bon Appetit, the pretty cookies on the cover definitely caught my eye.  Then I spyed the small print near the bottom that proclaimed them to be Dorie Greenspan's Speculoos Buttons, p. 96.  I immediately knew that I'd have to make them.  After all, I know I can rely on Dorie. =)  I realized also that these would be perfect for my virtual cookie exchange

The dough is easy to mix up.  You cream butter with regular and brown sugars as well as a little molasses.  Next in are an egg and some vanilla.  Then you add the dry ingredients--flour, salt and spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and a bit of cloves).  The dough is formed into logs and chilled for several hours.  Before baking, the logs of dough are brushed with egg white and coated in sparkling sugar.  This was a great chance for me to use the pretty pearlized sugar that I picked up a couple weeks ago.  The recipe calls for adding a glaze and additional decorations to the cookies after they're baked, but I didn't get that far.

The verdict?  I really liked these cookies--they have a good level of spice and aren't too sweet.  Brianna tried one and didn't really like it.  Gillian wouldn't even taste one.  So I took most of them to work, and found several people who were more than happy to take them off my hands.  I will definitely be making these again--the dough is easy to mix up and stash in the freezer for cookie emergencies. =)  Next time I'll have to add the glaze and play around more with the decorations.  Maybe if the girls get to decorate them, they'll reconsider eating them.  Lol. 

If you'd like to try these for yourself, you can find the recipe here.  Be sure to check back in a few days so see what other tasty cookies my friends have come up with for our cookie exchange!  

3rd Annual Virtual Cookie Exchange!

I am so fortunate that I am friends with a wonderful group of bakers and bloggers.  I wish that we could all get together in person to talk and eat cookies, but we live all over the place.  So until we can manage to meet up in person (one day!) we'll have to make do with drooling over pictures of each other's fantastic holiday cookies.  This is our third year of having a virtual cookie exchange, and I can't wait to see what everyone has to share this year!

I'll tell you all about my cookies later today, and I'll be back sometime next week with this year's round-up so you can check out everyone's wonderful recipes.  Be sure to check out the delicious cookies that we shared in 2010 and 2011, too.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Let it snow?

Good morning!  It's relatively rare lately that I managed to work on a post any time other than late at night, but I have the morning off.  We've finally been getting a taste of winter weather (overnight temps below freezing) down here in central Texas, and I'm really enjoying it.  There's just something so nice about a hot cup of tea and a warm muffin on a chilly morning.  No chance of snow, though, so I'm having to find my own snowflakes. =)  

I could have sworn that I'd already done a blog post on these muffins.  I've certainly made them plenty of times.  But I've found that there are a number of favorite recipes that for whatever reason haven't made it onto the blog.  It's time to do something about that.  These Coffeecake Muffins are from Cook's Illustrated, January 2007.  The recipe uses the food processor to mix everything up.  That alone should tell you how much I love them, because I am not often willing to pull out my food processor, since I hate washing it.  The batter is done in several steps, but after you've made the recipe a time or two, it becomes pretty easy to throw together.  One of the options in the recipe is to top the finished muffins with a powdered sugar glaze.  We always do that, since we love glaze.  Plus it helps keep the streusel on top from falling off. 

This batch of muffins also gave me a chance to try out the new snowflake papers that I got from KAF.  I don't like the design quite as much as the ones I ordered last year, but they're still nice.  I've said it before, but it is so worth it to spend the money on quality supplies.  The papers come off easily, without destroying whatever is inside, and the colors show up well, too.  

The verdict?  Of course, these were a hit with the whole family, as always.  We love coffeecake, and it's so handy to have it already portioned out.  Brianna and Gillian don't like nuts in baked goods, but they don't seem to have figured out that there are pecans in the streusel--they eat these up.  The muffins keep pretty well, and provided the girls with breakfast for several days.  I recommend microwaving the leftover muffins for about 10 seconds before eating them.  I think these would make a holiday breakfast treat.

If you'd like to give these a try for yourself, you can find the recipe here at Cook's Illustrated.  If you have a copy of Baking Illustrated, they're in there, too.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A cake of holiday cheer

It felt like a pretty good baking weekend--two recipes made and photographed, as well as some cookie dough made to bake during the week.  I really meant to have a post written yesterday, but I decided it was a better idea to go to bed early.  I stayed up entirely too late on Saturday night (after midnight!) so I could finish the book I was reading.  And to be honest, because I was enjoying the solitude.  I haven't had nearly enough time to myself lately, and it's been making me cranky and unfocused.  Sadly today wasn't much help as far as that goes, since I was at work later than expected.  But I still hope to get the girls to bed early so I can have some quiet time.  Quiet time with a mug of tea and another piece of this cake. =)  

I made this Eggnog Bundt Cake for our annual holiday potluck with the Italian genealogy group.  I can always count on them to help me eat cake (so I don't eat it all myself).  To be honest, I'm not a fan of eggnog.  But when I read the recipe, I realized that it doesn't actually have any eggnog in it.  Instead, it incorporates the flavors associated with eggnog.  There's a full teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg in it, along with a bit of dark rum.  While I don't like eggnog, I'm a fan of nutmeg, and rum. =)  To make the flavors stand out, they're mixed into a cup of the cake batter which is then used to make a swirl in the cake.  The cake is topped with a simple powdered sugar glaze that includes a little more rum.

The verdict?  Well, most of the cake disappeared pretty quickly, so I think it's safe to say that it was a success.  The taste was good, and so was the texture--the cake had a good level of moistness.  The only thing that didn't work as well as I'd hoped was the swirl.  Mine ended up mostly at the bottom of the cake.  I'm not sure if that's because of the pan I used (my Fleur de Lis pan) or something else.  I'll have to try it again in my Classic Bundt pan to see what happens.  I also cut back on the rum in the glaze (using about a teaspoon) because I knew my girls wanted to try the cake.  I'll have to make it again with more when I'm just serving adults.  

If you'd like to try this recipe for yourself, you can find it in this year's Cook's Illustrated Holiday Baking newsstand issue.  It's also available to subscribers of the Cook's Country website.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

December decompression

December has barely started, and I'm already stressed.  I have too much that I want to do, and no idea how I'm going to find time to do it all.  Thank goodness I have vacation time later in the month, though that adds to the stress a bit, since I have so much to do at work before then.  But somehow or other, it will all get done--probably with the aid of not enough sleep and lots of caffeine.

Since I don't drink coffee, the caffeine comes from Coke or tea.  I bring a big mug of tea from home in the morning, but sometimes I want more during the day.  A walk to Starbucks gives me the chance to get out of the branch for a bit and decompress.  Unfortunately, our weather right now isn't always conducive to hot drinks, so I'm still drinking a lot of ice tea.  However, I've also discovered that you can get them to make a Gingerbread Latte with tea rather than espresso, and it's quite tasty.  (Ask for an Awake Tea Latte with gingerbread syrup.)

And sometimes I forego the caffeine in favor of chocolate.  During the fall, the seasonal hot chocolate drink is Salted Caramel.  I'm not sure if it's actually still available in the shops, but I've discovered that I can buy boxes of Starbucks hot chocolate in various flavors at Target.  For the salted caramel one, the caramel flavor seems to come from little chips of some sort.  That gave me the idea to add butterscotch chips and some extra salt to my homemade hot chocolate to see if I could duplicate the flavor.  I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, so I can make it whenever I want.

Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate

45 grams (about 1/4 cup) chocolate chips
15 grams (about 1 tablespoon) butterscotch chips (I used Guittard)
60 grams (1/4 cup) boiling water
225 grams (1 cup) milk
1/8 - 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 - 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
whipped cream or marshmallows (optional)

Place the chocolate chips and butterscotch chips in a small saucepan and pour the boiling water over them.  Let sit for about 5 minutes, until the chips melt.  Whisk the mixture until smooth.  Place the saucepan over medium low heat and bring to a simmer, whisking occasionally.  Whisk in the milk, and bring the mixture to a simmer again.  Whisk in kosher salt and sugar to taste.  (The amount of sugar needed will depend on the sweetness of the chocolate chips used.)  Pour into mugs and top with whipped cream or marshmallows if desired.  Makes 2 servings.