Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Chocolate Embelishment for Cookies

I dunno.  It's not frosting.  It's not ganache.  It's just good old melted chocolate, sort of tempered so that it doesn't take a hundred years to harden and piped or dunked on a cookie.  What would you call it, then?  Chocolate Emblishment, it is then.  Oh, oh, oh, I know....enrobed.  Chocolate Enrobed Cookies.  Meh,  I already typed Emblishment up there, it's all good.  And, I mean it.  It's all good.

See how pretty they are, and just perfect for giving out at Christmas.  The chocolate is firm, so you don't have to worry about the cookies making a giant mess.  And it's just so yummy and fun!  You get to be creative and make pretty designs and...

Ugggh.  Fail.  Okay, so don't be like me and do this with your chocolate.  That's not exactly the goal.  I was using a plastic baggy, filled with chocolate with a snip cut out of the corner.  I had made a very petite snip though and as a result, busted out the bag.  Try, try again.  And eat the cookies that were sacrificed for this viewing audience.

Step 1.  Make this cookie  You will not regret it.

Step 2.  Assemble the ingredients you need.  That would be chocolate chips and a bit of vegetable shortening.  I would say I had about 1 cup of chocolate chips.  I used both semi sweet and milk chocolate, actually they were what were left in the bags after I made These Cookies!  And 1 to 2 tsp Veg. Shortening.

Step 3.  Separate the chocolate chips.  Put 3/4 of the chips in one bowl and 1/4 of the chips in another.   Give or take.  Maybe even less than 1/4.

Step 4. To the larger bowl of chips add 1 to 2 tsp. vegetable shortening.

Step 5.  Microwave on full strength for 30 seconds the larger bowl of chips.  Stir.  Microwave for 30 more seconds.  Stir.  You do not want to burn your chocolate, but you also don't want it not melted.  You want it to be just melted.  So after 1 minute, be cautious.  You will have to probably zap it again, but go in much smaller increments, like 10 seconds a time.  Once you have nicely liquid chocolate...

Step 6.  Add the un-melted chips to the melted chips.  Stir until everything is melted.  Voila!  You have sort of tempered chocolate.  Tempered chocolate is super more complicated than this, it involves thermometers and seed chocolate and...I'll get into it another time.  But, this'll get the job done for you.

Step 7.  Spoon chocolate into a baggy, cut a bit off one corner and get all artistic with your bad self.  Do not make the hole too small.  Or face the consequences.  And they are dire indeed.  Too big though, and you might not get the look you're going for.  You can also dunk part of the cookie in the chocolate that spilled.  I like to decorate my cookies while they're sitting on a piece of parchment, it keeps the chocolate from getting everywhere.  You can also take a spoon, dip the tip in the chocolate and swing it back and forth to make your cookies look oh so elegant! 

Step 8.  Let chocolate firm up.  I cannot give you an exact amount of time, as I was gone for about an hour after I had piped and enrobed my cookies with chocolate.  So, somewhere within an hour, they should be nice and solid.

Enjoy your beautiful embelished and enrobed cookies.

Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 16, 2013

Toffee Butter Cookies

This simple cookie doesn't look like much, but oh baby, does it taste wonderful.  It's kind of like those potato chips, you can't eat just one, same deal.  You pick one up, they're deceptive, you think, this isn't going to be much, just something to munch on until the good stuff gets here.  Bite.  Chew.  Close eyes. Heaven.  The caramelized toffee hits you and it tastes so much bigger than you could ever have imagined!  Quickly snatch another one, maybe two more, hoping people aren't watching you make a pig out of yourself.

I originally came across this recipe in America's Test Kitchen's annual Cookie magazine.  I have saved it for many, many years.  It is a go-to recipe for me, because it's easy and so, so good.  I have adapted it a bit to fit my tastes.  This cookie does require chill time, so be aware.  You can't just whip up a batch completely spur of the moment, you've got to give it a couple of hours to chill.

Toffee Butter Cookies
Adapted from:Cook's Illustrated Holiday Baking Magazine, 2008

2 1/3 C.  Flour
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
16 Tbl. Regular, salted butter, softened
1 C. lightly packed brown sugar
1 Egg...fresh, perhaps?
2 tsp Vanilla, homemade if ya got!  I used bourbon vanilla, it was yum!
An entire bag of Heath Toffee Chips.  Either plain toffee or the toffee with chocolate, I like them both...but I do lean towards the toffee with chocolate.  I'm a chocolate kinda gal.

optional ingredients for chocolate drizzle
1 Cup chocolate chips (I use a mix of semi sweet and milk)
A small dollop of vegetable shortening.  Probably a teaspoon or two

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside.

Cream butter and brown sugar until light brown and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla. Mix until combined.  Add flour combo and mix.  Add the heath chips.  Mix.

Now, take your dough and split it in half.  Throw one half of  it on a large piece of plastic wrap and begin to form it.  You want it to be shaped approximately 2 inches wide and 1 inch thick.  Nice and rectangular.  This can take a bit of doing.  I use the plastic wrap and help mush it and squish it and form it.  I open and close the plastic wrap, making it tighter each time to help the dough squish down to the appropriate size and shape.

Do the same to the other half.

Refrigerate, in the plastic wrap for about 2 hours.  You can also freeze them for about half an hour and they'll be fine.

Using a sharp knife, slice logs into cookies, about 1/4 inch thick.  Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.  You can pack them in pretty close as they don't rise much.  Bake for about 11 minutes, until just beginning to brown around the edges.  Let cool completely.  DEVOUR!

Wednesday's post is going to be about how to take them up a notch and add chocolate drizzles.  But, trust me when I say these cookies are perfect just as they are.  Oh, and they are so good for dunking in hot cocoa!

Thanks for reading!

p.s. not to freak you out, but Christmas is in 9 days.  That means 8 more shopping days left...and 8 more days to make Christmas Cookies!!!  Get busy!

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Rebel Mormon Cinnamon Buns, if you want your house to smell like Christmas

Today I am sharing something that's very special to my family.  My roots come from Danish, Mormon pioneers who settled in Utah in the 1800's.  Details are few and hard to come by, but let me share with you the story of one of my most treasured recipes.  Cinnamon buns.  They aren't like any cinnamon buns you've ever had, unless you're related to me.  I originally shared this over at Inspiration Cafe when we were doing our series on recipes from our heritage.  Well, it's Christmas time, and that is the best time to have these, warm from the oven with a cup of hot cocoa.

This recipe was the creation, as far as we can tell, of my Great, Great Grandmother Margaret.  They are what my family affectionately calls buns.  As a child, I was always perplexed by the cinnamon buns with gobs of white frosting at the local mall. Because, our cinnamon buns never had frosting.  What gives?  If you ask me, they're a lot better without frosting.

I wanted to get the origins of this recipe as accurate as possible.  My Mom didn't know all the details so we called my Grandmother Evelyn, and her two older sisters, my Great Aunts to find out what they knew.  Aren't I lucky that I get to call them up for a visit any time I want!!  I cherish my Grandma and love to hear her talk about the "olden days".  

Here's what we know, Margaret was the daughter of a polygamist, and a rebel child at that!  Her family had to send her away to live with another family because she was too difficult!  Sometime in the late 1800's she came up with this recipe.  She made bread two to three times a week and one day decided to make a treat with her bread dough and these buns were born.  In my family, you just say you're making buns, and everyone shows up.

Margaret taught her son's wife, Catherine (My Great Grandma, let's keep all these greats straight, now) how to make buns.  Catherine taught my mother how to make buns (Grandma Evelyn makes pies, but respects the buns), my mother taught me and now I'm teaching my girls.  As far as we know, none of the other children of that old polygamist made these buns.  I am the lucky progeny that gets to pass them on to my young and am sharing them with you. 

It's interesting to me that when people talk about countries that have a deep connection and history with their food, they always say the US doesn't have that.  Well, to heck with that.  I have recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation, that still get made to this day, even though they are old timey and a bit different.  I truly believe, that if you look closely, you'll see that Americans do have a historic food culture, but it's something that has to be passed down.  You have to make these things or they will get lost.  Get ready daughters of mine...this will be your legacy in twenty years or so.

This recipe really isn't hard to make, it does require yeast, which scares some people, and if you happen to have a starter, feel free to use it as that is what my relations always used.  I do not have a sour dough starter, so I use active dry yeast.  It does take some time, as with homemade bread, you have to let it rise, punch it down and rise again, but it is so worth it.  And, it takes some imagination because this recipe is....well, subject to interpretation.  Let's get to it!

Cinnamon Buns
1 quart milk (a quart is 4 cups, but I gotta use old timey measurements! Also, this is how my family makes the milk, you boil 2 potatoes really well in 2 quarts of water, then you take out 1 quart of the potato water, remove the potatoes and set them aside to be mashed in a bit, to the quart of potato water add whatever amount the directions call for on a box of powdered milk to make a quart of milk...why don't we just use regular milk?  I don't know!  My Mom says this makes it taste better and is what her Grandma did.  So potato water and powdered milk).

1 C. Sugar
1 Tbl. Salt
2 Tbl. Shortening plus more for greasing the pans and dough
2 packages Active Dry Yeast
1 Lb. raisins 
Light corn syrup (like Karo...well, this isn't exactly the way Gr. Gr. Grandma Margaret made it, a few alterations have been made thanks to science)
a bunch of white sugar and cinnamon

Place your raisins in a bowl and pour over them the hottest tap water you've got and let them sit and soak until needed in a little while.

Grease a 12 quart stainless steel bowl with shortening and set aside...if you don't have a 12 quart bowl, then use a couple large bowls and/or dutch ovens...like me.  Use what you got.

Mash the potatoes in a stand mixer and to them add the "milk", sugar, salt and shortening and mix well.  Once this mixture has cooled to luke warm, add the yeast and let it dissolve. Mix to combine.

***here's where you've got to go with the flow...this is a pioneer recipe after all***

Using paddle attachment on your mixer, add enough all purpose flour so the dough is like a stiff cake batter.  Drain your raisins and add them in (they don't have to be patted dry, just drain them.)  Mix.

Now, continue slowly adding flour and mixing with the paddle attachment until it just pulls away from the bowl (My mother thinks it took about 12 cups of flour, but she is just guessing as she was using her sifter and sifting it in).  At this point, switch over to your bread hook and knead for 5 minutes.

You could of course, go full pioneer woman (not that pioneer woman) and not use a mixer, and just use brute strength, in which case you stir until you cannot stir any more. 
Place dough into greased bowl.  Grab a handful of shortening and smear it on top of the dough.  Cover with a tea towel and let rise until doubled in size.  This will probably take a couple of hours....depending on how hot or cold your house is.

Punch the dough down.  You do this to de-gas it.

Let rise again until doubled... now, this is where you get all old timey again, you know your dough is done when you stick two fingers in and the marks stay!  If you look up at the picture at the top you can see where my mom tested her dough!

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Grease a bunch of 9" x 13" cake pans...and by a bunch I mean, as many as you've got.  This recipe will make approximately 4 dozen buns.

Mix up a pile of cinnamon and sugar.  Sorry for the vagueness.  I would say get 3 cups of sugar and enough cinnamon so that the color is light tan, or until it tastes good.  Take half of this mixture and put it in a small sauce pan.  Measure it because you need exactly the same amount of water that you have cinnamon and sugar.  So, if you have 1 1/2 cups cinnamon and sugar, you need to add 1 1/2 cups water.  Add in a large dollop of corn syrup.  This is to make your cinnamon syrup that gets brushed on top of your buns.  Place on stove, stir and bring to boil.  Once it has boiled, reduce heat to low and keep at a low simmer until needed.  The rest of the cinnamon sugar is going in the buns.

Spoon a bunch of cinn/sugar onto your very clean counter tops.  Cut off a hunk of dough.  How much is a hunk...well...let me put it like this, take your hand, grab some dough, that's a hunk.  Now's the fun part.  You are going to roll out snakes with your dough in the cinn/sugar.  Make sure to always have your dough snake rolling in the cinn/sugar.  You want to get them really well coated throughout. Once you feel it is long enough and cinnamon-y enough, then you coil it up and place it in your greased pan.

Now you need to let the rolled buns rise for a little bit, so here's what you do.  When you get a pan filled, set aside and cover with a tea towel. Fill some more pans and set on top of each previous pan, cover with tea towel.  Now that you've got your pans filled, take the bottom one and cook it while the others continue to rise.

Bake buns at 350 F for 15 to 20 minutes until GBD (golden brown and delicious).

Once done, brush on your cinnamon syrup over each bun.

And then dump, upside down onto a piece of parchment or wax paper.  Hopefully if you greased them well enough, they'll just fall out easily...if you didn't grease enough...you might have to pry them out.

Let cool until you can't stand it any longer!   Unwrap the luscious coils a few inches at a time and devour.  The best way, is warm from the oven...and maybe dunked in hot chocolate!!  My Great Grandma would dip her's in her tea. 

p.s. These freeze really well!  Put them in a freezer bag, squeeze the air out and you will have buns at a later date when the craving hits...and it will, oh it will.

Grandma explaining that she expects these girls to carry on this tradition of making buns...

Something tells me they will...as long as this mama has anything to say about it.

Thanks for reading!


Monday, December 9, 2013

S'more Cookie Bars

December is here and prepare for me to share all my favorite treats so you can impress family and friends with your baking talents! 

Today's recipe is so good, and so rich and so...I want it to be summer and we're having a picnic in the mountains somewhere instead of cold and snowy...but at least it's almost Christmas, so that's a good thing...right?  I have to think if I'd rather it were Christmas day or summer.  Tricky.  I love Christmas...but I hate the cold.

Well, while I ponder Christmas or summer, here's the recipe...

Baked S'mores
Recipe inspired by: The Apron Gal  

3/4 C. Softened Butter (It's Christmas, butter doesn't count).
1/3 C. Brown Sugar
3/4 C. Granulated Sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla (Use your homemade vanilla if ya got it)
2 Skimpy Cups Flour...just go with what you think is skimpy....by the way anything "skimpy" and "scant" are my favorite measurements
1/4 tsp. Salt
8 Graham Crackers crushed into crumbs
1 1/2 tsp. Baking Powder
7 Oz. Marshmallow Fluff
10 Hershey's chocolate bars...because, well who makes s'mores with anything but Hershey's?  This'll be a bit too many bars, but you want to be able to fill in the edges.

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease a 9 x 13 cake pan.  I use shortening.

In medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, grahams and baking powder.  Set aside.

In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time and mix well.  Add the vanilla and mix.

Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and blend until just combined.

Take half of the dough and press into the bottom of the greased cake pan with your fingers.  Make sure you are pressing an even thickness across the entire pan, and get the dough all the way to the edges.  It takes a bit of manipulating, but you'll get there.

Place whole chocolate bars across the dough.  Fill in where necessary with pieces.  Cover as much of the dough as you can with chocolate.

Spread your fluff over the chocolate bars.  This wasn't as tricky as I was expecting it to be.  I placed dollops of fluff evenly over the chocolate and then, using a frosting spatula just spread it out until there was a nice, even layer.  Zero stickiness!  I was expecting this step to be a mess, so I was pleasantly surprised.

Take the remaining dough and put it on a piece of parchment paper.  Place another piece of parchment over it and mush until it is approximately the size needed to fit over the marshmallow fluff and fill in all the way to the edges.  I put my cake pan over the top so I had a good idea of what size I needed.  Don't stress this too much, because the dough is very soft and workable, and as soon as you plop it on top of the fluff, just spread it over to where you need it.  Take the time to cover your fluff edge to edge.

Cook for 30 to 35 minutes.  Mine took 35 until golden brown and delicious.  Let cool, at least until you can hold a bar without burning yourself.  Once I took it out of the oven, I covered it in aluminum foil and it sat for...oh I'd say at least an hour and a half if not two hours until it was served and it was still a bit warm and gooey.

Because it was warm when I served it, the chocolate was ooey, gooey good.  The Mister wished the chocolate had solidified a bit so he could dunk it in a glass of milk.  I'll have to make it again and let it cool completely.  Either way, this is a great addition to your holiday baking.

Thanks for reading!!


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Cranberry, Orange and White Chocolate Love

I have loved these bars for a long time.  Ever since I was in...we'll just call it...college...and my roommate brought these to my folks house for dinner one Sunday...I found my dessert bar soul mate.

Starbucks rolls these around every holiday season and I used to pine for them all year long.  I no longer need to pine.  They're also good for my family because I have a brother in law who's allergic to chocolate.  Poor guy, I know.  Even if you don't have somebody with a chocolate allergy in your family and really, really REALLY like chocolate, you have got to make these.  

I got the recipe from this website and only changed it a bit.  I even went so far as to buy the correct size pan for these...10 x15.  Who has a baking pan that size?  Unthinkable.  I think next time though...I will just use my 8 x 12.  They might be a bit thicker...but not by much.  Also...go buy the orange extract that it calls for.  I know, I know, I didn't have it on hand either...but, by golly...it's an important part of this recipe!  Do it. 

Cranberry Bliss Bars...Starbucks knock-off
adapted from Cookin' Diva on Food.com

2 Sticks butter, softened
1 C. Brown Sugar
1/3 C. Sugar
3 Eggs
2 tsp. Orange Extract
2 C. Flour   Plus a tiny bit for coating the cranberries before they go in the batter
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp ground ginger (next time I'm going to put finely diced candied ginger in it...oh yeah)
3/4 C. Dried Cranberries
3/4 C. White Chocolate Chips

3 oz. Cream Cheese, softened  (look for the 3 oz mini block of cream cheese in your dairy section. Perfect.  Because if you're like me...you are never going to use the rest of the huge block of cream cheese and it's just going to sit in your fridge taking up space for a good few weeks until you wise up and toss it....I should not be so wasteful, I know.)
2 Tbl. Butter, softened
3 C. Powder Sugar
1/2 tsp. canola or veg oil

1/3 C. Dried Cranberries, chopped
Grated orange peel.  Just grate the entire orange using a micro-plane grater...use all the zest
1/3 C. White Chocolate Chips
1/2 tsp. canola or veg oil

Preheat oven to 350 F. 

Prepare you baking dish by first spraying it all over with non-stick spray.  Over the cooking spray, place a piece of parchment.  You can cut it to fit exactly, or just scrunch it in.

Prepare your bars by mixing your butter and sugars in a mixer until nice and fluffy.  Approximately 5 minutes.  Add eggs and orange extract and mix until just blended.  Add the remaining dry ingredients except for the cranberries and mix until just combined.  Place your cranberries and white chocolate chips in a bowl and toss around with a tablespoon of flour in and coat completely.  (By doing this step, you are going to prevent the cranberries and chocolate chips from sinking to the bottom of the pan...it's important.  Do it.)  Once they are coated with flour, fold chips and cranberries into your batter.

Spread batter in your prepared pan and cook for 18 to 28 minutes (look, I know this is a huge amount of time difference, I mean, 10 minutes.  I put such a range because depending on your pan size, you don't want to overcook these and make them too crumbly.  They should be moist and delicate.  Start checking at about 18 minutes, once they are golden brown, take them out and let cool completely.

Frosting time...

In mixer, combine cream cheese and butter until nicely mixed and fluffy.  Add orange extract and powder sugar and mix until fluffy again.  You may need to add a Tablespoon or so of milk, if it's too thick.  Play it by ear.  Spread over cooled bars.

Now for the topping...

Sprinkle cranberries and orange zest on top of the frosting.  So pretty!  And perfect for any family event or holiday cookie party you are going to this season.

Combine the oil and remaining white chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl. Zap for 30 seconds at a time until the chocolate is just starting to melt, (you'll still see outlines of the chocolate chips, that's okay). Stir until completely melted. Drizzle over the top of bars. Allow the chocolate to harden before cutting.  This is so you don't make a giant mess with your knife.

If you want to be like Starbucks...cut into triangles. Devour on sight. My family loved these. The Mister couldn't stop eating them. Please, if you want a non-chocolaty dessert that's sure to please, this is the one. Because...white chocolate doesn't really count as chocolate...right?  It doesn't.  There is no actual cocoa solids which makes it not chocolate.
So pretty.  And so yummy.

So remember these sweet bites of goodness, when you're planning your next holiday dessert.  They will be a hit.

Thanks for reading!


Monday, December 2, 2013

Triple Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies with Fresh Cranberries

Tis the season to start thinking about Christmas Cookies...or, if you don't celebrate Christmas, to think about some seriously good cookies, that you really, really, really need to make.  These cookies are one of my favorites, probably the #1 spot, actually.  I got the recipe originally from my Mom and I've made a few changes, like increasing the amount of cranberries from the original, because I really love the zippy burst they provide.

They're just the right amount of rich and sweet and tangy and crisp.  And the red from the cranberry makes them so pretty.  Pretty enough to give as a gift.

Triple Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies with Fresh Cranberries
1 C. Flour
1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
Large dash Cinnamon
10 Tbl. Butter, room temperature
1/2 C. Granulated Sugar
1/2 C. Dark Brown Sugar
1 Egg
1 tsp. Vanilla Use homemade if ya got it!!
1 C. Old Fashioned Oats (don't use quick cook....or steel cut, for that matter)
1/2 C. Milk Chocolate Chips
1/2 C. White Chocolate Chips
1/2 C. Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
3/4 C. Fresh Cranberries, chopped in large pieces (cutting each cranberry about in half as you want nice big pieces of cranberry)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In medium bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon, set aside.

In stand mixer, cream butter and both sugars until lighter in color and fluffy-ish.

Add egg and vanilla, mix until incorporated.

With mixer on low, add flour mixture and mix until just combined.

Add oats and all the chocolate chips.  Mix.

Add the cranberries, and, last time...Mix.

On parchment lined cookie sheet, spoon dough out in teaspoon-sized dollops.  You're using butter here, so the cookies spread a bit and are a touch crisp and a bit chewy.  They're heavenly.  So you want to use a tinier amount of batter than you would normally use per cookie.

Bake about 14 minutes, until golden brown. 

Eat as soon as they are cool enough to hold.  Don't wait a minute more.  Dunk in milk.  Definitely make these for your friends and family, they will thank you...and beg for the recipe, just like I did.

Thanks for reading!


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