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.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Mission accomplished!

I did it!  NaBloPoMo success--30 posts in 30 days.  I'm still trying to decide if I want to continue the daily posting into December, but it's really nice to know that I can manage it if I put my mind to it.  My goal is to avoid getting hung up on being perfect, and just write more often than I did before this month.

I was tempted to wait on posting about the Gingerbread Cupcakes until I could get a better picture.  But that would have taken a while, since I would have been tempted to make more cupcakes first.  Since I wanted to take most of them to work but keep a few for us, I increased the recipe by half so I got 18 regular-sized cupcakes.  The only ingredient that was a little tricky was the egg.  I cracked an egg into a small bowl and beat it to combine the yolk and white.  Then I measured out about 25 grams of it to add to the batter along with the other whole egg.  It worked out pretty well.  Other than that, the recipe was pretty straightforward to follow.  My cupcakes took 20 minutes to bake.  For the frosting, I only used 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, since I was using high-oil Vietnamese cinnamon.  I only ended up adding a couple teaspoons of milk to the frosting, since I wanted it pretty thick for piping.  One thing to note is that I didn't have to increase the ingredients for the frosting.  The original amounts yielded more than enough frosting for 18 cupcakes.

The verdict?  These were definitely a hit at work--and a nice change from chocolate.  The cupcakes were quite tasty on their own--nice and spicy--and the frosting was very good, too.  The cinnamon kept it from tasting overly sweet.  Both the cupcakes and frosting are going on the make-again list.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Baking therapy

Is it bedtime yet?  This has been a very long week.  I'm sick of everyone being sick, while keeping my fingers crossed that I don't come down with whatever has been plaguing everyone else.  I'm tired of G coughing her head off and B whining that she can't breathe.  And J isn't feeling so hot either.  Might just be a respiratory virus, might be the flu, who knows.  But it can go now.

G managed to be sick on days that she had off from school anyway.  B, on the other hand, missed school on Monday and Tuesday.  As a result, we've been paying for it yesterday and today.  She's had a bunch of math classwork and homework to catch up on, as well as a test that she ended up bringing home today.  Figure in the facts that she still isn't feeling well and that she's a drama queen at the best of times, and you end up with me spending the better part of four hours (over two days) dealing with her as she's been sitting at the kitchen table complaining.

I finally gave up and went for the stress relievers--baking and booze.  Not the hard stuff, just some tasty cider.  And some gingerbread cupcakes that are in the oven now.  If all goes well, the finished products should make an appearance here soon.

Double yolk!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Deck the halls

..or at least the cookies. =)  I had a meeting down in Austin today, and got out early enough to run a couple of errands before I had to head home.  Stop number one was at World Market, since I was just about out of Andes Peppermint Crunch bits after baking cookies last night.  Central Market had them the past couple years, but I haven't seen them there this year, even though there are plenty of other holiday items out.  So I did some searching online to see where I might get them, and was successful in purchasing several bags this afternoon.

My other stop was at my awesome local baking supply shop, Make it Sweet.  I was reading the December issue of Bon Appetit over the weekend, and there's a great cookie article in there from the wonderful Dorie Greenspan.  The recipe for Speculoos Buttons is high on my list of holiday recipes to try, and I was inspired to search out some interested sugars to use for decorating.  It's hard to tell from my picture, but I found pearlized sparkling sugar in assorted colors--it looks really neat.  The great thing is that Make it Sweet has all sorts of sprinkles, etc. available in bulk, so I was able to try out several without spending a lot of money.

Monday, November 26, 2012


I love the smell of bread baking.  It always puts me in a good mood.  There's just something so satisfying about making my own bread.  This recipe is a favorite of mine, in part because it's made all by hand--no mixer involved.  It was a good choice for a lazy afternoon while I was home with a sick kiddo.  I usually prefer rolls for sandwiches, but sometimes a hearty white sandwich bread is just want you need or want.  I had a variation on a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner, and it was delicious.  If you'd like to try this Simple Milk Loaf for yourself, my friend Nancy has the recipe on her bread blog.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tree toppers

My girls were quite interested in these holiday marshmallows.  We had to have hot chocolate this morning to go with them.  I'm glad that they had something to boost their spirits, because it's been a germ-filled weekend around here.  G was sick (fever and icky cough) Friday and Saturday.  She seemed a lot better today, but was still coughing.  B complained of various aches and pains off and on for a couple of days, but I put it down to her usual drama about everything.  Then she got up from rest time this afternoon with a temp of almost 102ยบ.  *sigh*  Here's hoping that whatever virus is making the rounds decides to skip the adult members of the household.  *fingers crossed*

(And for those who might be wondering, these marshmallows aren't flavored like some of the other special edition ones; they taste like the white ones.)

Saturday, November 24, 2012


I have a fridge full of Thanksgiving leftovers, yet this was my lunch.  That's because eating the meal once is about all I'm up for.  I just don't like turkey that much.  So my husband gets the leftover dinner items to eat for lunch, and I eat the leftover pie for breakfast. =)  I had to work today, and since I don't have that many employees working on Saturdays, it's often hard for me to sit down to eat lunch.  This actually worked out quite well for grazing.  I had cinnamon sugar pecans, dried cranberries, sesame bagel chips, and some slices of a nice cheddar.  (Not pictured--miniature Hershey bar.)  Mmm, a grown-up lunchable. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Breakfast of champions

My favorite part of Thanksgiving?  That would be eating leftover pie for breakfast the next day.  I did that this morning.  This piece is actually my dessert.  Yes, pie twice in one day.  That's why I only make pie a couple times a year.  Since my husband isn't that big a pie person, I get to eat most of it.  I can't afford to do that too often. =)

I was talking with someone the other day about baking, and she asked my what my specialty is.  I thought about it for a minute, and told her that I don't really have one.  That's true in the sense that I like to make lots of different baked goods, and I'm good at a lot of them.  But if I had to pick a favorite, it would be pastry--anything that ends up buttery and flaky.  I'm actually getting pretty good at making my own puff pastry and croissant dough.  Fortunately, my other favorite is yeast bread, and most of the ones I make are lean enough to offset all the butter.  I'll have to put some of those on the baking agenda for this weekend, I think.  But for now, I'm going to go finish my dessert.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving thanks

Happy Thanksgiving!  No new recipes for me today, just slight variations on some old ones.  For me, the best thing about food at Thanksgiving is the pie.  I don't make it all that often, because I'll want to eat it all, and I know how many calories there are in all-butter pie crust. =)  Okay, I'll want to eat it all if it's the right kind of pie.  The pie you see above, which is Caramel Pumpkin Pie, is not for me.  I don't actually like pumpkin pie.  But my husband loves it, so I make it for him.  You can read about my previous experiences with this Dorie recipe here.  What I did differently was to make mini pies this year.  I bought a couple of really cute 7" pie plates at Crate and Barrel a couple years ago, and I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've used them.  

I also made apple pie, since that's my favorite.  You can read some of my ramblings about apple pie here.  I started off making my usual recipe, which isn't really one recipe, but pieces from several recipes, all put together.  The crust is an all-butter one that originally belonged to a freeform fruit tart from Cook's Illustrated.  The filling comes from my Betty Crocker cookbook.  And I do a crumb topping--my current favorite is the one from this Epicurios recipe.  My only change this time around was to rub the seeds from a vanilla bean (I got a whole bunch at Costco recently) into the sugar that I used in the filling.  The result was quite tasty.  

The best part of my day was early this morning, though, when I found out that Gillian made me this:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mug shot II

One of the other places Gillian and I went yesterday was Crate and Barrel.  They're still focused on Thanksgiving (which is good), but the other holiday stuff is starting to creep in.  We found these cute mugs, and couldn't pass them up.  We're amassing quite the collection of C&B seasonal mugs.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sugar rush

All work/baking and no play makes Di a dull girl.  So this weekend, we had some fun. =)  B&G have been bugging me to go to the movies, so that's what we did yesterday morning.  Wreck-It Ralph was quite entertaining.  And I managed to get a good candid picture of my girls afterwards, which is rare.  Gillian and I also had a fun day today.  We went out to run a few errands, and were gone for over three hours.  A lot of that was because we stopped into Williams-Sonoma shortly after they opened, and stumbled upon a demonstration on baking pies.  Gillian was pretty impressed that we already knew how to do the stuff being presented.  She was also happy to sample the end products.  I think I'll have a helper when it comes to making dessert for Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A bouquet of muffins

Today's muffins were inspired by using up stuff in my fridge.  I had a bunch of cream that needed to be used in something.  What does that have to do with muffins?  Well, with the help of a bit of buttermilk and a bunch of time, I turned the cream into creme fraiche.  Of course, once I had that on hand, I had to find some recipes to use it.  Eat Your Books to the rescue!  When I searched for creme fraiche and muffins, one of the first recipes to come up was Chocolate Chunk Muffins from The Essence of Chocolate by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg.  As much as I love chocolate, I don't pull that book off the shelf often enough.

Baking muffins also gave me a chance to try out something new that I bought recently.  I've eyed the tulip-shaped cupcake papers in the KAF catalog on more than one occasion, but couldn't decide if I wanted to get them.  Then recently, my local grocery store started carrying these from PaperChef.  As I've mentioned before, I have a habit of saving things instead of using them, and I'm trying to do better. =)

The verdict?  The muffins are quite rich, definitely not something for every day.  But they are quite tasty, and Brianna & Gillian certainly approved.  The best thing, though, may have been the tulip papers.  I really like the fact that they're taller, which makes them perfect for batters that might spread.  It drives me crazy when muffin or cupcake tops run into each other and stick to the top of the pan.  The papers neatly prevent that issue.

If you'd like to give these muffins a try, you can find the recipe in The Essence of Chocolate, or here online.

Friday, November 16, 2012


This was my latest order from KAF.  No flour this time, since I'm still pretty well-stocked.  I can buy AP, bread, www and unbleached cake flour blend in my local grocery store for quite reasonable prices.  Durum flour is the one I order most often, but I just opened a new bag, and I have cake flour, high gluten flour and pastry flour that I've barely touched.  So I'm good there.  I love the boiled cider, so I try to keep a bottle in reserve.  As for the vanilla, I really like King Arthur's relatively new house blend a lot.  I have to admit, the fact that it's a big bottle makes me use it more liberally than I might otherwise. =)  Again, this new bottle is for my reserve.  I don't want to run out of a lot of things, but vanilla is very high on the list!  As for the sprinkles and cupcake papers, look, it's more evidence of my love of snowflake items. =)  I bought some snowflake papers from KAF last year, which were great.  These are a slightly different design, but still very pretty.  I couldn't pass up the sprinkles, either.  I'm sure B&G will enjoy helping me use them to decorate cookies and top cupcakes.

Note--I just happen to like KAF products; they have not compensated me in any way.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I like small bundts

I actually managed to plan ahead for something!  Today is National Bundt Day, and I actually baked my cake three days early.  If I'd really had my act together, I would have written the post early, too, instead of sitting here trying to finish it when I'm tired and cranky.  Luckily I still have a piece of cake left, so my day will end on a good note, as long as I get to it before my husband does. =)

I first became aware of National Bundt Day thanks to my blogging friend Mary, the Food Librarian.  For the past several years, she baked 30 bundts in the 30 days leading up to National Bundt Day.  You can read all about it here.  She didn't have time to do it this year, but she did bake a bundt for today.  In fact, I was quite amused to discover that she made the same cake that I did, the Vanilla Bean Malt Cake from Baked Elements.  

The recipe makes a small bundt cake, baked in a 6-cup pan.  I haven't used my small pan very much since I got it a few months ago, so I was happy to get it off the shelf.  Besides the vanilla bean and malted milk powder alluded to in the recipe title, dark brown sugar and buttermilk contribute to the flavor of the cake.  The cake batter is pretty easy to mix up; it uses the creaming method.   I deviated from the recipe just a little--in the technique, not the ingredients.  The recipe says to scrape the vanilla seeds out of the pod and mix them with a bit of bourbon.  Instead, I rubbed the vanilla seeds into the sugars before creaming the butter with them.  I added the bourbon before mixing in the eggs.  Other than that, I followed the directions, and my cake took 40 minutes to bake.  Once the cake was cool, it got topped with a simple glaze made from powdered sugar, vanilla and a bit of milk.  

The verdict?  Wow.  This cake is really good.  Like many cakes of this sort, it improves with age.  It's probably good that it's a small cake, because I would have eaten way too much of it if it had been bigger.  As the recipe notes indicate, you don't really taste the malt in it, but it gives the cake a bit of "something" that makes it really appealing.  I will definitely be making this one again.  

If you'd like to try the cake for yourself, I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Baked Elements.  Don't forget to check your library if you want to preview it before deciding whether to buy it. =)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My weigh

One of my recent Costco acquisitions was a copy of Bouchon Bakery.  It's quite the impressive tome.  In fact, it's heavy enough that I haven't wanted to carry it around a lot, so I haven't read as much of it as I would like to yet.  I did read enough to realize that one aspect of the book was going to make me very happy.  One of the sections in the front of the book is titled "Throw Out Your Measuring Cups--and other notes on using this book."  I'm a firm believer that using a scale in the kitchen is essential.  I love the fact that the ingredient measurements are first given in grams.  This book has reminded me that I really need to get a scale specifically for measuring small amounts (fractions of grams), so I can throw out my measuring spoons, too. =)  Time to put that on the Christmas list.