Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Of cheesecake and other things...

I'm tired.  And generally out-of-sorts.  It seems like I have no patience at all lately, especially with my children.  And it's really been bugging me that I couldn't figure out what's been making me so ill-tempered.  And then, this morning, it hit me.  I really, really miss my mom.  

I think it's been lurking in the back of my mind for quite a while.  I'm used to not seeing her much, since I only visit my family once or twice a year.  But I hate that I can't just pick up the phone and call her.  And of course, the times when I'm frustrated with the girls are the worst, since that's when I would call her the most.  

*sigh*  This doesn't have much to do with baking, except that my mom is the reason I love to bake.  She taught me a lot, and was willing to let me try new things (in life in general, not just in the kitchen).  And it really hurts that my daughters won't get to learn the things from her that I did.  

Maybe I'll feel better now that I've gotten some of that out.  Thanks for listening. =)  Now on to the cheesecake!

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was chosen by Anne Strawberry.  She picked Tall and Creamy Cheesecake.  I really wanted to give the recipe a try, but knew that we really didn't need a full-sized cheesecake around here with all the other leftover Christmas goodies.  (Unlike my first Dorie cheesecake.  I've since learned that it's fine to make smaller versions of things.)  So I decided to halve the recipe and make it in my 7-inch springform pan.  It fit quite well.  Fortunately, the quantities in the recipe lent themselves to easy division by two. =)  

I had leftover Oreos in my freezer (from the peanut butter torte--yes, I had them in there for over six months without eating them =) ), so I used them for the crust. I thought about trying one of the filling variations, but was too tired to mess around with anything, so I stuck to the plain recipe.  I did add about a tablespoon of lemon juice, since I like how the tartness cuts through all the cream cheese.  And I used all sour cream (no heavy cream).  My favorite cheesecake is from Rose Levy Beranbaum, and actually uses more sour cream than cream cheese.  My stand mixer made short work of mixing the batter.

I had to guess a bit at the baking time.  I like my cheesecake creamy and not too dense, so I didn't want to overbake it or let it brown on top.  For my smaller pan, I baked it in its water bath at 325 degrees F for 60 minutes.  It was somewhat set, but still jiggly in the middle.  Then I turned off the oven and left it in for about 40 minutes longer, until the middle was pretty set.  I should have let it cool on the counter for a while, but this was at 11pm last night, so I just stuck it in the fridge and went to bed.  

Plain cheesecake isn't very interesting to photograph, so I mixed up some chocolate raspberry sauce to go with it. =)  I started with a recipe for chocolate sauce from Alice Medrich's Bittersweet, and played around with it.  For the raspberry part, I mixed in several tablespoons of raspberry fruit butter and added a splash of light rum to bring out the flavor a bit more.  Yummy.

The verdict?  Ooh, delicious.  The cheesecake has a bit more body to it than my usual one--still creamy, but not quite as silky a texture.  But quite tasty!  How can you go wrong with Oreo crust?  And the chocolate sauce made for a nice contrast.  We'll see how the other taste testers like it later...  

You can find the recipe at Anne's blog.  This one lends itself to all sorts of neat variations, so I can definitely see myself making it again.  Be sure to check out the TWD blogroll for lots of other wonderful cheesecakes!

Delays and cancellations

Check back later...  My Tuesdays with Dorie cheesecake is still chilling in the fridge.  I'll be able to take pictures and finish my post this afternoon.  

And if you're looking for the Daring Bakers December challenge, well, no yule logs here.  I just couldn't find the time to do it with all the holiday craziness.  Be sure to check out the blogroll for some amazing creations.  And I'll be daring again in January. =)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bet you can't eat just one (piece)

Every year, I like to make up little holiday gift bags of cookies to take to the daycare, work, etc.  Brianna loves to help hand them out, and I figured that this year Gillian would want to get in on the act as well.  I usually pick up some cute bags at Target and fill them with a few of whatever cookies I've made.  But this year has been a weird one for baking.  For the most part, I've been making one cookie recipe at a time, and they get mostly eaten before I move onto the next one.  So I didn't have a good stockpile of cookies to choose from.

A few weeks ago, I saw a post on Clara's blog that looked interesting.  It was for a snack mix with cereal, nuts, m&ms and marshmallows.  Instead of being the usual salty mix, it was caramely and sweet.  I've made some yummy caramel things over the past few months, and thought it would be nice to add another one to my list.  Plus, I volunteered to make treats for Brianna's kindergarten class party, and thought this would be something that the kids would like.  

For the party batch, I stuck pretty closely to the recipe on Clara's blog.  I knew the kids probably wouldn't like the nuts, so I decided to substitute mini pretzels.  I kept the m&ms and marshmallows, though.  =)  The recipe takes some time, due to the long baking time, but most of it is hands off and you can work on other stuff in between.  You melt together some butter, brown sugar and light corn syrup, then pour it over the mix of cereal and pretzels (or nuts) and mix them together.  Then it goes into a low oven (250 degrees F) for 45 minutes, to be stirred every 10-15 minutes.  Once it's done, you let the mixture cool a bit and mix in the other ingredients.  

The verdict?  Brianna didn't like it.  Figures. =)  She prefers to just eat the plain pretzels.  Gillian liked it.  I loved it.  This stuff is seriously addictive!  Jamie agreed.  I'm not sure what the kindergarteners thought--they were so wound up that I don't think they ate much of it.  But the parents at the party really liked it.

A few days later, it occurred to me that this snack mix would be a great treat for my holiday bags!  Since my target audience was adults this time, I changed things around a bit.  I kept the cereal and pretzels, but added some pecan halves as well.  And I left out the marshmallows.  I wanted to add a bit more flavor to the caramel part, as well.  I thought about using a bit of cayenne, but decided on ground ginger.  And I sprinkled a bit more salt on everything, as well.  I ended up making two batches with my variations, because one wasn't enough! 

The new verdict?  Everyone seemed to love it.  I love the pecans with the caramel coating.  And the ginger was subtle, but definitely added to the overall flavor.  I printed out the recipe on holiday paper and handed it out with the treat bags, figuring I'd get a number of requests for the recipe. =)  This one is a permanent addition to my holiday baking!

Caramel Snack Mix (adapted from CB and Baking Blonde)

3/4 cup light corn syrup 
1 cup packed light brown sugar 
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter 
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger 
10 cups Crispix cereal 
6 cups mini pretzels 
2 cups pecan halves 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
1 cup plain m&ms 

Preheat your oven to 250F. Line a very large roasting pan (or two rimmed cookie sheets) with quick release foil and lightly spray with spray oil.

In a medium size sauce pan over low/medium low heat, stir together the syrup, brown sugar, butter and ground ginger. Stir constantly until the butter is melted and the sugar has dissolved. Place the cereal, pretzels and pecans into the prepared roasting pan or cookie sheets. Carefully pour the brown sugar mixture over the cereal mixture. Use a buttered spatula to toss and completely coat the cereal, pretzels and nuts with the brown sugar mixture. Evenly sprinkle with the kosher salt.

Bake for 45 minutes, removing the pan from the oven every 15 minutes to gently toss the mixture with a buttered pair of tongs or spatula to ensure even baking. While the snack mix is baking, spread a few large sheets of parchment paper on the counter. After the mixture has finished baking, turn it out onto the parchment, making sure to spread it out to prevent large clumps. Add the m&m candies and stir to combine.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas to all!

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday with your families and friends.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy blogiversary to me!

Wow!  I can hardly believe I've been blogging for an entire year!  And what a year it's been...  It's totally appropriate that I hit such a big milestone on a Tuesday, since Tuesdays with Dorie has been such a big part of the past year.  Almost half of my posts have been related to this wonderful baking group.  43 weekly Dorie recipes for me so far (I joined for week 7 and have missed only 2 or 3 weeks since), plus a few others from the book that I've made on my own.  9 official Daring Bakers challenges completed, plus a couple of rewinds there, as well.  Lots of new things learned.  Lots of ingredients consumed (don't think too hard about all the butter and sugar...)  And of course, many wonderful new friends made out there in blogland!

I don't have as much free time as I'd like right now, what with all the last-minute holiday stuff to do.  But as soon as I have a few more minutes to myself, I'm going to steal Erin's great anniversary idea and highlight some of my favorite recipes from the past year.  So look for a post on that later this week.  In the meantime, let's get back to this week's TWD recipe...

Donna of Spatulas, Corkscrews and Suitcases chose Real Butterscotch Pudding for us to make this week.  Unlike last week, I didn't mess around with this recipe at all.  Okay, that's not entirely true.  I didn't mess around with the ingredients at all.  The method is another story.  Until I was reading this week's P&Q, I'd forgotten all about the mess I made when making Dorie's chocolate pudding back in July.  The recipe calls for using a food processor.  I have a large one, but it can't handle the amount of liquid in this recipe.  I thought about using my regular blender or immersion blender, but was feeling lazy and didn't want to clean much of anything.  So I went totally low-tech and just used my heavy duty whisk for the whole thing.  It worked just fine.

I did get to add one new thing to my pantry this week.  Up until now, I didn't have any scotch.  And real butterscotch pudding calls for real scotch.  So I headed over to my favorite source of wines and spirits to acquire some.  A very nice person there helped me find a relatively small (200 ml) and not too expensive ($9) bottle of scotch that would work fine for any cooking needs I might have.  It's a blended scotch (Dewar's), rather than a single malt.  It's now residing next to my small bottle of bourbon that I also only use for baking (nice with pumpkin things...).  

And the verdict?  I normally don't go for butterscotch desserts because I find them overly sweet, but I really liked this!  The scotch actually made a huge difference.  I tasted the pudding before I added it, and it was pretty good.  But the scotch made it so much better!  It reminds me of when I add rum to chocolate desserts.  You don't really taste the rum itself that much, but it enhances the overall flavor of the dessert.  Jamie really enjoyed this one as well.  But the biggest fans had to be Brianna and Gillian.  I shouldn't be surprised--I think they love all pudding (okay, except maybe rice pudding).  

Thanks to Donna for picking this week's recipe.  You can find it on her blog, along with lots of neat posts about how she bakes while living on a sailboat.  And to see what the other TWD folks did this week, check out the blogroll.   

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In a jam

The past couple weeks have been crazy, and I've barely managed to get my TWD posts done on Tuesday.  In fact, I was still baking on Tuesday!  =)  Since I knew that I didn't have the luxury of being off on Tuesday again this week, I figured I'd better get a jump on this week's recipe.  Heather of Randomosity and the Girl selected Buttery Jam Cookies for us to make.  I actually made them at the same time as last week's Sugar Cookies.

The ingredients list for these cookies is pretty straightforward.  Flour, baking powder, salt, butter, sugar, egg, vanilla.  There's a bit of milk, which I predicted would give them a cakey texture.  And for flavor, your favorite jam and some ground ginger.  My favorite jam was easy--I'm still stockpiling Clearbrook Farms Raspberry Butter.  But then I thought I'd try a twist on the recipe.  One of my absolute favorite combinations is raspberry and chocolate.  So I pulled out another favorite, Scharffen Berger cocoa powder, and used half a cup (1.5 ounces) in place of half a cup of the flour.  I left out the ginger, since I wasn't sure how it would be with the chocolate.

Since Dorie said to scoop the dough by rounded teaspoonfuls, I used my #100 disher.  I actually got more cookies than the recipe states--56.  I couldn't really go by color to figure out when they were done, so I just sort of guessed. =)  I baked them on parchment-lined sheets for about 12 minutes.  They didn't really spread much.  

The verdict?  As I expected, the texture was cakey, which is not my favorite.  Dorie says something about them being flaky, which mine certainly weren't.  Right out of the oven, I didn't really taste a lot of the raspberry flavor.  But it was much more noticeable the second day and later.  The chocolate flavor was fantastic. =)  These were a hit with all my taste testers.  I really wanted to make them again to try some changes, but didn't have time.  I'm thinking of reducing or eliminating the milk to change the texture.  And because the chocolate is stronger than the raspberry, I'd probably increase the jam amount by a tablespoon or two.  I'd also like to mix the jam in at the end, for more of a swirl.  When I finally get a chance to play around some more, I'll be sure to post the results.  In the meantime, if you want to see the original recipe, head on over to Heather's blog.  And check out what the other bakers did over at the Tuesdays with Dorie blog roll!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Simple pleasures

I love weekend breakfasts.  Things are always crazy around here during the week, and no one really gets to eat at home.  Jamie eats oatmeal at work.  Brianna and Gillian get fed at school, though one or both of them may take a granola bar or some dry cereal to munch on during the car ride.  I sometimes get to eat here, but more often it's a muffin or bagel eaten on the run.  

Weekends are different.  Even if I work on Saturday, I get at least one day where I can make something for everyone for breakfast.  My girls love pretty much any breakfast food except eggs (they get that from me).  French toast is their favorite, but they also love pancakes, waffles, muffins...  And along with whatever we're eating, Brianna and Gillian often ask if I'll make them hot chocolate.  

Now I've mentioned before that my girls both love chocolate.  But most of the time, I think the hot chocolate is really just an excuse to eat marshmallows.  Who knew that the mini marshmallow could bring such joy?  =)  Up until yesterday, I've been giving Gillian her hot (well, warm) chocolate in a cup with a lid, so she would just eat all the marshmallows before she even drank anything.  But she's getting better with drinking without spilling, so I gave her a plastic mug and a spoon and let her go crazy.  She had lots of fun putting the marshmallows in her mug and fishing them out again to eat them. =)  Brianna also likes putting some of her marshmallows in her hot chocolate, but first she has to count them.  She's actually getting practice at some simple multiplication and subtraction as she organizes them into groups and then eats them.

As for the actual recipe, sometimes I just wing it, but it finally occurred to me to write down a version that they liked.  You can use whatever dark chocolate you have on hand, adjusting the added sugar to taste.  And while the girls like marshmallows, I actually prefer whipped cream on mine. =)

Easy Hot Chocolate
(2 kid-sized servings)

1 cup (8 ounces) milk (we use 1%)
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped (this time was Ghirardelli 72% pieces)
pinch of salt
1 to 3 teaspoons granulated sugar (to taste, depending on the chocolate you use)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
mini (or large) marshmallows

Place the milk and chocolate in a small saucepan.  Heat until the chocolate melts, whisking frequently.  Add the sugar and salt and stir to dissolve.  Continue to heat until it just begins to steam, but not simmer.  Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.  Whisk until frothy.  Pour into mugs and serve with marshmallows on the side.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Handy helpers

When I was a kid, my mom made a bunch of the ornaments on our tree.  One year she painted a bunch of wooden ones, including some Disney characters.  Another year, she made a bunch of "stained glass" ones, where you had to fill a metal outline with different colored bits and then put them in the oven to melt into the finished ornament.  Again, there were a bunch of Disney ones, as my mom was a big fan of Mickey and Minnie.  For as long as I can remember, she had a Mickey or Minnie Mouse watch. =)

For Brianna's first Christmas season, she was about eleven months old, and was already walking.  So when we thought about putting up the Christmas tree, we were understandably concerned about what ornaments were in her reach.  That year my mom sent me a bunch of the old ornaments that she had made.  They have the handy feature of being non-fragile if they get knocked off. =)  As it turned out, I don't think Brianna really paid that much attention to the ornaments that first year.  But a couple years ago she started wanting to help decorate, and those ornaments were the first ones I let her put on the tree.

Fast forward to this year.  We managed to get the tree put up and put the lights on on Sunday night.  That took longer than expected, so I told Brianna that we'd wait until Monday to put ornaments on so she could help.  So when we got home last evening, I got out the wooden and stained glass ornaments for her.  Of course, Gillian wanted to help, too.  There was quite a bit of debate over who got to put which "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" ornaments on the tree.  I told them to stick to the bottom part of the tree (which is the only part that Gillian can reach anyway).  I'm sure you can guess what happened...

I'm glad that they wanted to help, since it's fun to build holiday memories like this.  But sometimes I wish I had more patience with my children.  Like when it comes to cookie baking and decorating.  They love to do it (well, Brianna does and I'm sure Gillian will, too), but I just get so frustrated with the whole mess sometimes.  I learned something last year, though.  Even though Brianna would really like to help cut out the cookies, it's better if I do that part.  That way I can get it done quickly and get the cookies in the oven.  Then she can have fun with the sprinkles, which is really her favorite part anyway.

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe will be a great one for that.  Ulrike of Küchenlatein chose Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies for us to bake this week.  I mentioned last week that I'm not a big fan of cut-out cookies.  Mostly that's because I find it hard to concentrate on what I'm doing with the two girls in and out of the kitchen and interrupting me constantly.  I was going to let them help anyway, but I ran out of time (which is why I'm writing this on Tuesday afternoon).  

I actually made the dough on Sunday, so it had ample time to chill in the refrigerator.  And I made it by hand rather than with my mixer.  Since this is a softer dough (even chilled), I rolled the dough pretty much right after I took it out of the fridge.  I divided it in half so I could keep some of the dough chilled while I was cutting out the shapes.  I made sure not to roll the dough too thin, as well.  I didn't have any trouble, but I was trying to work as quickly as possible so the dough wouldn't warm up too much.  The scraps from each round of cutting went back into the fridge to get cold again.  They're still there at the moment, and I may just make thumbprints or something out of them.  I ended up baking my cookies for 12 minutes, but that may vary depending on the size of the cookies.

I like icing on my cookies, so I mixed up a simple glaze of powdered sugar (3 ounces or 3/4 cup), milk (a tablespoon) and vanilla (a splash).  I used the back of a spoon to spread the icing on the cooled cookies.  As I iced each one, I sprinkled it with sparkling sugar, gently shaking off the excess.  You can use a variety of colored sugars and sprinkles, but I went with plain white this time.

The verdict?  I sampled one of the cookies plain to see what I thought.  I liked it.  With the baking time I used, the edges were crisp, but the middle was a bit chewy still.  I haven't tried one of the iced ones yet.  And I'll have to come back and give my taste testers' feedback later this evening.  Over all, this is a recipe I'd make again.  And I may be doing it sooner than I think, since I volunteered to make cookies for Brianna's class holiday party next week.  =)

If you want to give these a try, head on over to Ulrike's blog for the recipe.  She is kind enough to post in English as well as German.  And check out the blog roll for more delicious cookies!

Stay tuned...

...this week's Tuesdays with Dorie sugar cookies will be coming later today.  The dough is chilled, but I haven't had time to bake the cookies.  But I'll have time this afternoon, after a fun-filled morning of teacher conferences and attempts to finish my Christmas shopping. =)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


How did it get to be December already?  Time really seems to be getting  away from me.  Which might be why it's taken me until Tuesday morning to actually bake this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.  This week's recipe of Linzer Sablés was chosen by Noskos of Living the Life.  I'm not a big fan of making cut-out cookies, so that might also be why it took me so long to make these cookies.

The dough itself was easy to mix up.  I'm fortunate enough to shop at a store with a great bulk department, so I was able to buy hazelnut meal to try in these cookies.  Since I was down to the wire, I didn't change anything with the ingredients, though another time I might play around with the spices (Dorie calls for cinnamon and a bit of cloves).  Rather than roll the dough out and chill it, I took the easy way out.  Or so I thought... =)  

I scooped the dough out with my #70 disher, and rolled it into balls.  Then I rolled the balls in turbinado sugar and placed them on a baking sheet.  I put them in the oven, but then realized that they might not flatten out enough.  So I pulled the sheet back out of the oven and flattened the balls with the bottom of a glass.  Which was where things got a bit difficult--the dough stuck a little to the glass.  I thought it was because the dough was warm.  Turns out, that might have made it easier--when I did the second sheet with colder dough, they stuck a lot worse.  Something to figure out for next time.  I baked them for about 12 minutes, just until they were getting brown around the edges.  

I thought chocolate would be good with the hazelnut in the cookies, so while they were baking, I mixed up some ganache.  A least that was easy.  When the cookies were cooled, I sandwiched a few of them together with the chocolate.

one of my favorite teas is Tazo Awake; not sure how much it helps with the sleep-deprivation, but it tastes good =)

The verdict?  I'm still not sure on this one.  I liked the taste of the dough. =)  I think the flavors need more time to meld, which might be because I didn't chill the dough at all.  And a lot of times spice cookies are better after a day or two.  I'll have to see what I think of these tomorrow.  I liked them with the chocolate.  I think I'll do a few with jam as well, so see if I like them that way.  (I only sandwiched a few to take pictures.)  And none of my other taste testers are here right now.  (I have the day off; Jamie's at work and the girls are at school.)

Thanks to Noskos for this week's recipe--it was something I haven't tried before, which is always fun.  You can find the recipe on his blog.  And of course, you can check out lots of other cookies from the other TWD members if you check out the blogroll.