Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!  
I hope you all have a wonderful holiday.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The final countdown

My girls are getting quite excited about the fact that there are only a few more days until Christmas.  Tonight as they were doing their Advent calendars, Gillian told me that there were only two more days until Christmas.  When I pointed out that there were actually three more days, she simply replied, "Yes, but there are only Thursday and Wednesday left until Christmas Eve!"  Can't really argue with that. =)  

Gillian is at a great age for Christmas this year.  It reminds me of the year that Brianna was almost four (at least I think that's right).  Any time that someone asked her what Santa was going to bring or what she wanted for Christmas, her answer was the same, "Cinderella chapstick."  Gillian has only consistently mentioned one thing on her list--"the last monkey Pillow Pet."  Why the last one?  We've only seen one in the store, and for some reason G is convinced that it's the only one left and that it has to be hers.  Who can really understand the 4yo mind? =)  Last week we were in the car after I picked her up from daycare and I was trying to find out some more details about what she wanted for Christmas.  Of course she brought up the pillow pet, but I asked her if there was anything else that she wanted Santa to bring her.  She sat there for a minute, obviously giving a lot of thought to her answer.  Then she replied, very matter-of-factly, "Well....I think I will ask Santa Claus to bring me a big sister who isn't mean to me."  For the record, I did manage to contain my laughter enough that I didn't run the car off the road...

We finally got around to sending letters to Santa on Sunday morning.  The year that Brianna was obsessing about the Cinderella chapstick was also the first year I asked her if she wanted to write a letter to Santa.  Her answer? "No, Mommy. We need to send him an email!" I did some looking online, and found  We still go there every year to send letters.  The other thing we did on Sunday morning was make the latest Tuesdays with Dorie recipe for breakfast.  Jill of Jill's blog picked Cardamom Crumb Cake for us to bake this week.  Crumb cake is always a hit around here, and B & G love to help me make stuff.

I made a few changes, but mostly stuck with the recipe.  I didn't want to mess with making coffee, so I used some brewed tea instead.  I simply left out the espresso powder.  I was going to leave out the nuts in the crumb topping as well, but Gillian suggested that I use cashews since she likes those.  I used the zest from a satsuma (kind of like a tangerine) since that's what we have on hand for packed lunches.  The girls enjoyed helping me make this recipe--Gillian did a fine job rubbing the zest and sugar together.  Then she stirred dry ingredients together.  Brianna got to get her hands dirty, too, making the crumb mixture, and she got to crack the eggs.  They both helped put the crumb mixture on top of the cake batter.  

The verdict?  This one went over reasonably well with everyone here.  I'll probably skip the nuts entirely next time, since even though Gillian suggested the cashews, she said she didn't like them on the cake after all.  I think that's more because Brianna didn't like them than anything else.  So what else is new...  I thought they went well with the flavors in the cake.  The orange and cardamom were good together, too.  My cake seemed kind of sweet, a result of leaving out the espresso powder, I'm guessing.  I might try the cake again, with the coffee.  I'd like to try making it with different spices, too.  

If you'd like to try this recipe for yourself, you can find it on Jill's blog.  To see what everyone else thought this week, check out the Links.    

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I'm late, I'm late

Yes, I'm behind.  But I figured I'd better get another one of these cookies baked and posted before the group disowns me. =)  On one hand, I don't have much of an excuse, since I've been on vacation this week.  But in reality, it's been a busy week--lots of appointments and other stuff I can't get done when I'm working.  Tuesday, Brianna and I went to the eye doctor and we found out that Brianna needs glasses.  She has mixed feelings about it; guess we'll see how things go once we pick up her glasses sometime next week.  Wednesday was Gillian's turn--4-year-old check-up.  Five shots, which she took amazingly well.  I only got one (flu shot), and I think my arm bothered me more than her legs bothered her after the first day. =)  Thursday was consumed with Brianna's class holiday party (I baked cookies for them to decorate), and Friday I helped with Gillian's daycare party.  I had every intention of baking more cookies, but I decided to go with spiced nuts as teacher gifts, figuring they would get plenty of sweets from everyone else.

And so it managed to get all the way to Saturday, and I hadn't baked another one of these Cookies We Love.  To be totally honest, I guess I'm just not feeling the love for any of these cookies.  It seems like I run into problems no matter which one I think about making.  The next one I had my eye on was the Galletas con Chochitos.  Several of the other bakers have made these, and there were some reports that they spread a lot and just weren't that exciting.  But I finally just decided to forge ahead and see how they would turn out. After all, I got these amazing chocolate sprinkles from King Arthur Flour, and really wanted to use them.  

I admit, I can't leave well enough alone, and I made some changes to the recipe.  The first thing I did was replace two of the egg yolks with a whole egg.  I have more egg whites in my freezer than I can count, and just couldn't face the idea of adding three more.  I mixed up the dough, and decided to chill it before forming the cookies, since it was pretty sticky.  I also changed the method for forming the cookies.  I've run into this debate before when making bagels.  I'm firmly in the "form a rope and join the ends together" camp, rather than the "make a ball and poke a hole in the middle" faction.  So I went with my preferred shaping for these cookies, too.  The ends don't always want to stick together, but that's okay, because they'll fuse when the cookies bake.  I also used up the leftover egg white making spiced nuts, so I just brushed the tops of the cookies with some water (I used my finger dipped in a bowl of water) and then dunked them in the sprinkles.  That worked just fine.  The final change I made was to the baking temperature.  I baked one pan at the recipe temperature of 300ºF (for 15 min) and got cookies that were cakey and didn't have much color.  So when I made the second pan (the next morning, after letting the remaining dough chill overnight), I changed the temperature to 350ºF and baked the cookies until they were nicely browned on the bottoms and edges, about 12 minutes.  (I'm not sure of the exact timing;  I turned off the timer without realizing it. Oops.)

Cookie from batch #1 on the left, batch #2 on the right

The verdict?  I definitely liked the second batch better.  I prefer my butter cookies browned and crisp.  Brianna, on the other hand, gave the first batch a thumbs-up, since she liked the softer texture.  Something for everyone! =)  I'm not sure if I'll make these again, since they seemed rather fussy for something that just wasn't that exciting in the end.  I'll definitely be finding a use for the rest of the sprinkles, though. =)

If you'd like to try this recipe, you can find it here.  And be sure to check out what the other cookie bakers have made over the past couple weeks:

Courtney of Coco Cooks 
Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes
Claire of The Barefoot Kitchen
Judy of No Fear Entertaining
Kelly of Sass & Veracity
Michelle of Big Black Dogs
Renee of Flamingo Musings
Sandy of At the Baker’s Bench
Tiffany of The Nesting Project

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A baker's dozen - the Virtual Cookie Exchange round-up

I think it's safe to say that the Virtual Cookie Exchange was a success!  We had participants from all over the country--California, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington.  We even had a couple of international bakers, from Germany and the Netherlands!  And as I hoped, we now have a whole bunch of cookie recipes that have been tested and approved.  So if you have cookie baking on the agenda for this weekend, here are some great ideas...

Abby of Stir it! Scrape it! Mix it! Bake it! starts us off.  Being snowed in gave her the perfect excuse to stay home and bake, and she had fun baking along via Twitter with some of our other bakers.  I bet her  Chocolate Peppermint Sandwiches are very kid-friendly, and I can't wait to try them with my girls.

Andrea of Family & Food & Other Things decided to try her hand at something new, Biscotti.  You can't go wrong adding chocolate chips, and I'm looking forward to using up some of my large stash of cranberries in this recipe!

Caitlin of Engineer Baker reminds us what the holiday season is all about.  It means making cookies that a loved one really enjoys, even when you don't particularly like them yourself.  In this case, it was these yummy Chewy Sugar Cookies.  And I don't know about you, but sometimes it's nice to bake something that I won't really be tempted to eat...

Jessica of A Singleton in the Kitchen was kind enough to share a treasured family recipe with us.  As she puts it, "favorites are favorites for a reason" and I can definitely see these Swedish Vanilla Cookies, (aka Thumbprints) becoming a favorite in my house.

Kayte of Grandma's Kitchen Table shares another minty cookie with us.  Her recipe for Candy Cane Peppermint Cookies started as a recipe from a friend, but Kayte made it her own.  And just think, if the stress of the holidays is getting to you, you can vent your frustrations by crushing candy canes!

Leslie of Lethally Delicious came up with a fabulous recipe that pairs cinnamon chips with browned butter.  I can't wait to make her Cinnamon Cookies for Grownups!

Margaret of Tea and Scones started baking cookies and just couldn't stop!  She shares three wonderful recipes with us: Nutmeg Meltaways, Graham Cracker Pralines & "S"anta Cookies.  I love nutmeg, so those meltaways are first on my list to make, though I'm thinking of trying them with pecans.

Marthe of Culinary Delights was the first one I talked to about this virtual cookie exchange.  She jumped on board immediately, and before I knew it, we had a whole list of participants. She picked a cookie that is very popular with her family & friends, White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies.

Mike of Good Things About Living Out West brings us another minty treat. It's part shortbread cookie, part peppermint bark, and looks totally delicious.  I can't wait to try this Virtual Bark. No Bite.

Nancy of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs was a huge help in getting this cookie exchange off the ground. I really wanted a badge for the event, but didn't know where to start, and she offered to ask her daughter to design one!  And then she baked one of my favorite types of cookies, Triple Ginger Cookies.  I can't wait to try baking them.

Phyl from Of Cabbages and King Cakes had trouble getting into the holiday spirit this year.  Once he did, though, he baked not one but two cookies for us--Cranberry Pumpkin Biscotti & Gingerbread Biscotti.  One he had made before, and one he came up with this year.  Both look fantastic, but I think I want to sample the gingerbread ones first.

Tracey of Tracey's Culinary Adventures combined two of my favorite flavors, chocolate and caramel, for her Chocolate Turtle Cookies.  She assures us that they're good without the pecans, too, if you don't like nuts.

Last but not least, we have my contribution.  Like many others, I did a minty cookie, combining peppermint crunch chips with some amazingly chocolatey cookie dough.  I also made some festive lemon wreaths (not pictured here).  You can find both in my post All's well that ends well.

So there you have it, a baker's dozen (plus a few extras) worth of wonderful cookie recipes.  The only question now is, where do I start, and when can I find time to make all of these? =)  Thanks so much to everyone who participated, and I look forward to making this an annual event!

Oh, and one more thank you to Nancy's daughter Allison for making our beautiful logo.  I hope she'll do another one for me next year!

Monday, December 13, 2010

All's well that ends well

Okay, it's official.  I'm about to be late to my own party.  As I sit here typing this by the light of my Christmas tree, the official phrase for the day is "All's well that ends well."  My day got off to a pretty good start.  I did lots of shopping today.  It was supposed to be Christmas shopping, but the only one I bought stuff for was me. =)  I did end up getting a bit of shopping done for the girls after I left the outlet malls.  But I was later than expected getting to pick up Gillian and then Brianna, so we got home later than I'd hoped.  My KAF order was waiting for me, though, so that was nice.  My original plan for dinner was shot (due to the lateness of the hour), but I managed to feed the girls and finally got them to bed.  I wasn't in the best mood at that point, but we've been trying to get the Christmas tree decorated, so I started trying to put the lights on it.  That was when things really went downhill...

When I was at Target the other day, I picked up a couple extra strings of lights.  I hadn't tested ours yet, but it seems like every year we lose one or two. So to be safe, I bought two.  Sure enough, when Jamie tested the lights last night (we started pulling stuff out of the closet then, but didn't get very far), two strings were totally dead.  The other four seemed okay.  The only problem was that when I looked more closely at the ones I bought, I realized that I'd bought one with white wire instead of green.  Oops.  No problem, I just figured I'd exchange it today.  I stopped at one store and returned the incorrect one, but discovered that they were out of the one I wanted.  So after picking up Gillian, we stopped at the store here in Georgetown, and found what we needed--I even bought two just to be safe.

Fast forward to when J and I were putting the lights on the tree.  After we put the first couple strings on, J plugged them in.  The string on the very top of the tree was dead.  That was supposed to be one of the good ones.  We checked the others, and another one that had been fine the night before was also only half lit.  Great.  But we had three new strings, so we could probably manage.  Except that when I took one of them out of the box, only half of it worked.  Grrr.  I got upset, and stewed about what to do for a bit.  Then I thought to look at Target's website.  This time of year, they're open until midnight!  So yes, off to the store I went.  I returned the faulty lights and bought two new strings.  Both worked when I checked them after I got home.  They're all finally on the tree.  Ornaments will have to wait until tomorrow, though.

Okay, so now that I've gotten that out of my system, we can talk about cookies. =)  I mentioned in my intro for the Virtual Cookie Exchange that I have lots of recipes that I wanted to make, from a number of sources.  When I first looked through the Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies magazine, one of the first cookies to catch my eye was some pretty Ciambelle, or wreath cookies, flavored with lemon.  I immediately thought of my friend Kayte, who loves lemon as much as I do.  It's nice to have a non-chocolate choice, too.  I found some nice-looking Meyer lemons as Central Market last week, and thought it would be interesting to use them for this recipe.  The dough is easy to mix up, and the shaping isn't bad either.  It reminded me of making bagels.  Don't worry if the ends of the dough don't seem to completely stick together when you're forming the rings; they will bake up just fine.  And it's fun dipping the finished cookies in the lemon icing and topping them with sprinkles.

I couldn't help sharing a second cookie as well.  This one is for those chocoholics out there.  This time last year, I made Alice Medrich's Cocoa Wafer Cookies.  These cookies are very chocolatey--the cocoa really shines through, in part because there are no eggs in the recipe.  When I got her new book, I discovered that she has a cookie that uses that same delicious dough, but packs it full of chocolate chips, dried cherries and pecans.  I came up with my own variation that I thought was better for the holidays.  I kept the chocolate chips, but replaced the other mix-ins with something new I picked up recently--Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips.  They have bits of crushed candy canes in them.  This cookie seemed like a great place to try them out.  The original recipe calls for making the dough in the food processor, but I hate washing mine, so I made my dough in my stand mixer.  You can find the full recipe at the end of this post.

The verdicts?  I didn't like the lemon cookies quite as much as I hoped to.  I wonder if that was due to the Meyer lemon, though.  I would like to try the recipe again with regular lemons.  They were still tasty, though.  (I love cookies with icing).  The chocolate ones?  They are fabulous!  I love them with the peppermint chips, but I actually tried them a couple other ways as well.  The first was chocolate chips and dried cranberries, and the second was a combination of chocolate and peanut butter chips.  And I'm sure I'll think of more yummy ideas.  While both of these cookies have a holiday feel to them, if you don't get to them until after the holidays, they'll still be good.

If you'd like to try the Lemon Wreaths, you can find the recipe here on the Martha Stewart website.

Peppermint Chocolate Chunk Cookies
(adapted from Alice Medrich's Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies)

190g (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
70g (3/4 cup) natural cocoa powder (I used Hershey's)
225g (1 cup + 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp fine salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
200g (14 tablespoons) unsalted butter, slightly softened
42g (3 tablespoons) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
170g (1 cup) chocolate chips (I used Guittard Extra Dark 63%)
170g (1 cup) mint chips (I used Andes Peppermint Crunch baking chips)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.

Measure the flour, cocoa, sugar, salt and baking soda into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Mix with the paddle attachment until the dry ingredients are well combined.  Cut the butter into about 12 pieces and add them to the mixer.  (It's a good idea to put a towel over the mixer or use a pouring shield if you have one before you start the mixer again.)  Mix on low speed until the butter is broken into smaller pieces.  Mix the milk and vanilla together.  With the mixer running, gradually add the liquid and mix until the dough starts to come together in clumps.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the chocolate and peppermint chips.  Quickly knead the dough until the chips are incorporated and the dough comes together.  Scoop the dough by rounded tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets (I use my #40 disher).  Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, or until they look dry but are still soft to the touch (not too squishy, though).  Let the cookies cool on the pan for about 5 minutes, then move to a rack and cool completely.  I bake the cookies one sheet at a time on a rack in the middle of the oven.  My yield is about 42 cookies.

Note: Any mention of specific products is because I happen to like those items; I have not received any compensation to promote them.

Virtual Cookie Exchange

This time of year is so wonderful for bakers.  All of the cooking magazines feature baked goods--unlike July and August when there's way too much about grilling, with a few fruit desserts thrown in. =)  Heck, there are even whole special (newsstand) issues devoted to things like holiday cookies.  I know, because I've purchased most of them.  I've lost track of how many recipes I've bookmarked to try, but it's a lot.  And on top of it, I even got a new cookie book from one of my favorite authors, Alice Medrich.

So there's lots of new stuff to try.  A lot of the recipes are from pretty reliable sources, but sometimes things don't turn out.  So how to know which ones are worth making?  And of course there are all the recipes in my recipe box from when I was a kid.  Nostalgic favorites, but even those often benefit from some tweaking.  (For instance, lots of them use margarine, and don't always turn out quite the same when you substitute real butter.)  It can get overwhelming.  Not to mention the fact that we don't really need to eat all the cookies that I'd have to bake to really find the good ones.  

Enter the idea of a cookie exchange.  People bake recipes, then get together to sample everything and swap cookies.  We all get tried-and-true recipes that may be new to us.  There are problems even with that idea, though.  This is a busy time of year for a lot of people, so good luck actually getting enough people to actually show up.  Plus I don't know that many people who are as crazy about baking as I am.  Or do I?

I know a whole bunch of people who love to bake.  They just happen to live all over the country--even in a few different countries, for that matter.  While I'd really love to have an in-person physical cookie exchange, it occurred to me that the people I really wanted to do this with are my online blogging/twittering friends.  I bounced the idea off a few of them and got a very positive response.  It's a good excuse to bake cookies, but no need to make a ton of them or send them anywhere.  The idea was pretty simple:  Bake some cookies.  Write about them--why you picked that recipe, or the history of that cookie, or whatever.  Take some pictures so we can see what they're supposed to look like.  Include the recipe (or a link to it).  Have fun!

So today you may see a number of posts out there for the Virtual Cookie Exchange.  (My actual cookie post will be up later today.)  You can identify them by the lovely badge pictured at the top of this post.  (Many, many thanks to my friend Nancy's daughter, who created it.)  Don't worry about tracking them all down; I'll have a round-up in a few days.  Imagine, a whole list of wonderful cookies to bake.  You know, because your list isn't already long enough.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Oh, nuts

It's been one of those weeks.  Not completely crazy at work (that was last week), but just kind of all over the place. Up and down, up and down.  I knew it was off to a great start on Monday, when I got a call from one of Gillian's daycare teachers.  We've had a lot of trouble with Gillian defying authority lately, which I know is not unusual for 4-year-olds, but it's been starting to get out of control.  In Gillian's own words, she got in trouble "because I ran out into the hallway when I wasn't supposed to, and I spit at Miss S--, and I called Miss S-- a butt-face."  *sigh*  We'd even had a talk before she left the house on Monday about listening to teachers and other adults (since there had been lots of not-listening going on the previous Friday).  I can't wait for the teenage years...  (And yes, if you're wondering, J & I could barely keep straight faces when I asked G to tell her father why she'd gotten in trouble at school on Monday.)

So we tried something new for the rest of the week.  When Gillian left for school on Tuesday, I told her that if she could behave and have a much better day, I would have a surprise for her at the end of the day.  I was off that day, and while I was out running errands, I picked up some cute sparkly snowman stickers.  If she has a good day, she gets one (just counting weekdays for now). If she gets at least four for the week (I know better than to expect a 4yo to be good every single day), she'll get a special treat.  Brianna wanted in on it, too, so for her, the goal is to have a good morning before she leaves the house--getting ready for school without a fight.  So far it's going well--Gillian was much, much better the past three days (confirmed by her teachers), and Brianna has been much more pleasant to be around in the morning.  Now I just need to stock up on inexpensive prizes. =)  

After everything that's been going on, I think the daycare teachers need a treat, too.  So I'm going to make them a batch of the spiced nuts from Around My French Table.  They're one of the December recipes for French Fridays with Dorie.  As with the November recipes, we get to pick which recipe we make when, and I was happy to find an easy one to make this week, since my motivation has been lacking a bit.  

It doesn't get much easier than this.  Mix together some sugar, salt and spices.  Toss a couple cups of nuts with a slightly beaten egg white, then toss with the sugar & spice mixture.  Spread everything on a sheet pan and bake for half an hour at 350F.  Enjoy!  To be a bit more specific, I stuck with the recipe for the first attempt at this one.  So the spice mixture was sugar, salt, chili powder (I like Spice Islands), cinnamon, and a bit of cayenne.  My nuts were a cup each of cashews and pecans, both favorites around here.  I lined my sheet pan with non-stick foil to make things easier.  That's pretty much it.

The verdict?  Well, these certainly don't last long!  I took some to work, and they were a big hit.  My original thought was that I should get them out of my house, but having them at work just meant I could keep eating them.  Oops. =)  Even B & G liked them, at least the cashews (not fans of pecans).  These are definitely going in my holiday goodie bags this year.  I tried out another version this morning--chai spiced.  Half a teaspoon each of Vietnamese cinnamon, ground ginger and ground cardamom, along with a quarter teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg, a pinch of cloves and a few grinds of black pepper.  The house smelled fantastic by the time they finished baking.  I can't wait to try some more variations.  

For this one and lots of other wonderful recipes, I highly recommend that you check out a copy of Around My French Table.  And if you aren't a member already, we'd love to have you join in the fun at French Fridays with Dorie.  

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fruitcake, Italian style?

I'm slowly but surely working my way through the BBA Challenge.  It's taken me longer than I expected, but I'm still enjoying baking through all the recipes in The Bread Baker's Apprentice.  I have jumped around a little bit lately.  One of the recipes I initially skipped over was Panettone--I got to that point in the "P" section back in July.  I wasn't in the mood for a holiday bread then, so I decided to save it for closer to Christmas.  This past weekend was the perfect time, since it was the weekend of our annual potluck with the Italian genealogy group.  It was a crazy weekend due to work stuff, but I'm glad I had time to make this recipe--it gave me a chance to get geeky about bread dough.

The panettone recipe starts with a wild yeast preferment--it's the first dough in the book to use a sourdough starter (which can catch you by surprise since it's not in the sourdough section).  Rather than make the sourdough starter from BBA, I used the one that I developed using the method in Reinhart's most recent book, Artisan Breads Every Day.  It's a firm starter with about 67% hydration.  Since the BBA one is 100% hydration, I got to do some math!  I know, I'm crazy like that--math is fun. =)  

First, I converted everything to grams, since I find that much easier to work with.  For the sponge, you need 200g of 100% hydration starter, 225g milk, and 125g all-purpose flour.  So the starter is contributing 100g each of water and flour.  There isn't any other water in the sponge, so I needed 100g of water from my starter.  With my starter being 67% (meaning 2 parts water for 3 parts flour) I would have to use 250g to get 100g of water.  The total flour for the sponge is supposed to be 225g--100g from the starter, and the additional 125g.  My 250g of starter has 150g of flour, so I only needed to add 75g of additional flour.  The 225g of milk did not change.  Did I totally lose you yet?  It wasn't really that scary, was it?

I went with dried fruit rather than candied.  I ended up using 170g of golden raisins, 85g of dried cranberries, and 85g of dried apricots (snipped into small bits with my kitchen shears).  I used light rum for the alcohol.  For other flavoring, I used maybe half a teaspoon of Fiori di Sicilia (the 1 tablespoon called for in the recipe seems outrageous--that is very strong stuff) along with about half a teaspoon of vanilla and a few drops each of lemon and orange oil.  I didn't have my fruit in time to do an overnight soak, so I used heat to speed up the process.  I put the fruit in a medium saucepan with about 1/4 cup of water.  I brought it to a boil and them simmered it until most of the water was absorbed.  Then I removed it from the heat and added the rum and flavorings.  I let it macerate for a couple hours, until most of the liquid was absorbed. 

Other than that, I mostly stuck to the recipe.  I left out the almonds.  I did use SAF Gold yeast, and had no problem with my dough rising.  I let the dough rise until it was about one and a half times its original volume, then stuck it in the fridge for the night.  For the first hour it was in the fridge it was still rising quite a bit, so I deflated the dough a couple times.  When I pulled it out the next morning, the dough had mostly filled my 4-quart container.  I shaped the dough while it was cold.  I had decided to make lots of mini panettones--I formed 25 at 70g each.  2 dozen went into cute little wrappers (that you can find at Sur la Table) and one went into a greased 4 oz ramekin.  The dough took about 90 minutes to proof, then I baked the minis for about 30 minutes (at which point they were 190ºF and golden brown on top).  

The verdict?  These were a big hit with the Italian crowd.  I was a bit worried that they weren't sweet enough (I don't eat much panettone, so I had no frame of reference).  A couple people assured me that they were just right.  I sent some home with the people who enjoyed them the most, and had a few left over.  They made a great breakfast for a couple of days.  (It's got fruit, so it's perfect for breakfast, right?)  I can definitely see myself making these again during the holidays.  I even have a dedicated panettone spatula now--boy, that Fiori di Sicilia is strong stuff.  I think the spatula will smell like it forever. =)

If you'd like to try this recipe for yourself, do yourself a favor and get your hands on a copy of The Bread Baker's Apprentice.  It has many wonderful recipes.  Check out the BBA blogroll to see how others did with this recipe (though most made it quite a while back).  For other yummy yeasted creations, check out Yeastspotting (including this great post on holiday breads).  

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Life got in the way

I've barely adjusted to the idea that it's December, and now it's the 5th already!  I really intended to have this post done for the 1st, but work was (unexpectedly) way too crazy this week.  Hard to post about a cookie that you haven't had time to bake yet. =)  (In fact, as I'm starting this post, the cookies in question are still in the oven.)  But I'm glad that I'm finally squeezing in some Christmas cookie baking.  It's just about the only sign around here of the impending holiday.  None of our decorations are out, much less the tree.  I did manage to pull out the Christmas books this evening, though.  Over the past several years, Brianna and Gillian have amassed quite a collection.  They get put away with the tree and other stuff, and don't come out again until after Thanksgiving.  Between Thanksgiving and New Year's, we read a book or two before bed at least a few nights a week.   

Another tradition that they look forward to is helping me with the cookie baking, especially when it involved sprinkles.  I'll be posting some of that soon, but for tonight I have a cookie that they won't eat anyway, since it has nuts.  This particular recipe continues a tradition for me instead, if you can call two years of something a tradition.  Last year, I was invited to participate in 12 Days of Cookies with some other great bloggers.  That ended up taking me 20 days instead of 12, and I know a lot of the other participants had trouble keeping up as well.  This year, we're going with one cookie per week for four weeks.  This year's recipes come from Saveur, and include cookies from around the world.  

My first cookie selection is Vanillekipferl.  They were on my list as soon as I read through the list, but get to be first in the line-up because they're quite easy to make.  I just did half the recipe, which gave me 2 dozen cookies.  The ingredient list is simple--butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, ground walnuts and flour.  I also added 1/4 teaspoon of salt (for the half recipe).  The mixing is easy as well--cream butter and sugar, mix in vanilla (and salt), stir in nuts and flour.  No chilling necessary, you just form bits of dough into crescents.  The cookies don't spread very much, so you can fit the two dozen on a single baking sheet (which I lined with parchment).  The recipe says to bake the cookies until golden, 12-15 minutes.  Mine were in the oven for almost 20 minutes, and barely started to color.  Once they're out of the oven, you shower them with more powdered sugar.

The verdict?  I liked these.  I usually make cookies like these with pecans, so the walnuts were a nice change of pace.  Jamie said he liked them as well, and he doesn't usually go for this sort of cookie.  They are definitely quick to make, even with the shaping.  I might adjust the baking temp a bit (up to 350ºF) next time so they get a bit more color without overbaking them.  

There will be more cookies to come, though I'm still deciding which ones.  If you'd like to try this recipe, you can find it here.  And be sure to check out what the other cookie bakers have made this past week:

Courtney of Coco Cooks 
Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes
Claire of The Barefoot Kitchen
Judy of No Fear Entertaining
Kelly of Sass & Veracity
Michelle of Big Black Dogs
Renee of Flamingo Musings
Sandy of At the Baker’s Bench
Tiffany of The Nesting Project

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The devil went down to Georgia

I really wish Mother Nature would make up her mind what season it is here in central Texas.  Saturday morning when I got up, it was in the mid-20s.  Today it was about 75ºF.  Tomorrow night it'll be below freezing again.  I'm so ready to be done with the temps in the 70s for a while.  The calendar almost says December, and I want it to feel at least a little like Christmas is approaching.  So I'm doing what I can to get into the right frame of mind.  I have some pretty snowflake earrings, and a string of Christmas lights necklace.  (Both get lots of comments from my customers at work.)  And I started pulling out the wrapping paper to use as backgrounds for my blog photos. =)

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe is a little seasonally confused, too.  Tania of Love Big, Bake Often (who currently lives in Savannah) picked Devilish Shortcakes for us to make.  I typically consider shortcakes to be a summer dessert, and wouldn't think to make them at the end of November.  But these aren't typical shortcakes--they're chocolate!  And since I love chocolate with berries (especially raspberries), this recipe sounded like a winner regardless of what the calendar says.

Shortcakes are basically biscuits, and not all that hard to make.  You mix together dry ingredients (including cocoa powder for these chocolate ones), rub in butter, add wet ingredients & gently mix.  I added about 1/3 cup (70g) of mini chocolate chips before I added the wet ingredients.  I only made half the recipe, and formed my shortcakes using my #16 (1/4 cup) disher.  I got eight, and baked them for about 15 minutes.

For serving, I went with some organic raspberries that I picked up at Central Market.  I thought I was going to have to go with frozen berries, but these looked really good (and while they were a bit more expensive than frozen, they weren't totally outrageous).  I mixed the berries with some raspberry fruit butter that I thinned with a little water and a couple splashes of framboise.  And to boost the chocolate flavor, I made a quick sauce by melting together some chocolate and cream, and adding some vanilla and dark rum.  Naturally, there also had to be some whipped cream.

The verdict?  To be honest, after reading the comments on the P&Q from Nancy and Caitlin, I was a bit worried.  By themselves, the shortcakes seemed somewhat dry and not very sweet, even with the added chocolate chips.  But put together with the saucy raspberries and with an extra hit of chocolate, this was a very tasty dessert.

If you'd like to give these shortcakes a try for yourself, you can find the recipe on Tania's blog.  And to see what everyone else thought of this week's pick, check out the Links.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


It's been a while since Brianna lost another tooth.  But that changed when I picked her up from daycare (because she didn't have school) on Wednesday.  She had a tooth that was just barely hanging on.  As has often been the case, I ended up having to pull it the rest of the way out for her, because it was bothering her so much.  It didn't take much.  As we were driving home, B mentioned that she wanted to write a note to the tooth fairy to put under her pillow along with the tooth.  Once we got home, she got to work on it.  She drew pictures of turkeys (see below), and wrote "Gobble! Gobble! Gobble! What are you thankful for? Write bellow (sic) two things."  Hey, nobody told me that this tooth fairy thing was going to involve essay questions...

Thank goodness Brianna has always been a sound sleeper.  It definitely makes the whole tooth fairy thing a lot easier.  Teeth are one thing--they're small, and B puts hers in a little pouch that's pretty easy to find, even under a pillow in the dark.  Turns out it's a lot more nerve-wracking to try to remove an 8½x11 sheet of paper from under the pillow of a sleeping child.  The tooth fairy folded it up after writing her answers, making the return a lot less harrowing. =)

After some consultation with others online, I came up with some answers for the tooth fairy. (You can see them here.)  As for me, I'm thankful for creative kids with active imaginations.  And I'm thankful that I'm not the turkey in the picture above. (In case you can't quite tell, that's a turkey on a table, and a turkey on a spit, and a live turkey in between, looking scared.)  Oh, and I'm very thankful for pie.

I'm running a bit late for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie, but that was kind of on purpose.  This week is a rewind week, meaning that we are free to pick whatever past recipe we'd like to make this week.  Things were a bit crazy last month when Janell of Mortensen Family Memoirs picked the Caramel Pumpkin Pie, and I didn't have time to make it.  So I figured Thanksgiving would be the perfect time to try it out.  Jamie loves pumpkin pie, but I don't make it very often since I don't like it.  (It's the custardy texture that turns me off; I love most other pumpkin baked goods.)  

I had some of Dorie's pie dough stashed in the freezer (from when I made apple pie last month), so I pulled it out last night and put it in the fridge to thaw.  This morning, I rolled it out, put it in a pie pan, and blind-baked it.  (I have a bunch of black beans that I reserve for use as pie weights.)  The edges of the crust started to get rather browned when I was doing the initial bake, so I made sure to shield them with foil when I baked the filling.  The filling starts with making caramel using the dry method, meaning that you just put sugar in a pan and start heating it.  It quickly starts to melt and caramelize.  I didn't want the filling to be bitter, so I was careful not to let the caramel get too dark.  Cream, butter and rum are added to make a caramel sauce.  

I changed the mixing order for the rest of the filling, first mixing the spices (cinnamon, ginger & a bit of allspice) with the sugar to make sure they were evenly dispersed.  I whisked the eggs in separate bowl, added the sugar mixture, then added the pumpkin and vanilla.  Finally the caramel sauce went in.  I baked my pie for a total of 48 minutes, at which point the edges were starting to puff up and the center was just set.  As the pie cooked, the filling settled to an even layer.  It had plenty of time to cool to room temperature before we sampled it.

The verdict?  I'm pretty sure I'll never be a big fan of pumpkin pie.  That being said, I did have a small taste of this one, and the flavor was very nice.  The rum and caramel flavors were lovely with the pumpkin, and I liked the combination of spices as well.  Jamie really liked the pie, and so did Brianna.  Gillian did try some, but decided she'd rather eat apple pie.  I'm with her. =)

If you'd like to try this recipe for yourself, you can find the recipe on Janell's blog.  To see what everyone else made for this rewind week, check out the Links!