15 batches of Christmas cookies!

When I was a girl, we had Christmas cookie day at my house. We’d get up in the morning and fill the kitchen table with every ingredient we’d need to make all the cookies we wanted, as well as the necessary bowls, measuring devices and recipes. Mom would then assign recipes, the type and number dependent on age and skill, and bowls, based on the size and number of batches we were to mix. Some of us would have two or three bowls in front of us.

We’d then begin the mixing, Mom had divided the recipes up into stages that had us all adding the same things (if out recipe called for them, of course) at the the same time, i.e. we’d pass around butter and shortening, everyone getting what they needed, then we’d pass around the sugar, e.t.c. We kept going in this manner until they were all completely mixed. We’d cover them and label them with type, temperature, and baking time. Batches that need chilled would be placed in the fridge or on the front porch and we’d turn our attention to the others.

There were several stations, dropping/rolling and cutting, decorating (if the cookie called for it), baking (you were to rotate trays/shelves and make sure they were done perfectly), and cooling and removing from trays. When I was little, I remember Dad being on oven duty most of the day, but as my two younger sisters and I aged, we would rotate through with Mom, at least per batch, more frequently if it was a “fun” batch, say rolled sugar cookies.

We’d have most of them baked by the end of the day, and filled most of Mom’s larger food storage containers with cookies. Most common were chocolate chip, party, rolled sugar, dropped sugar, sand tart, pecan crispies, chocolate peanut butter chip, oatmeal, and snickerdoodle. The days that followed would find us sharing them with neighbors and people at church.

Since I moved out six years ago, I’ve only made more then one batch once. I’m only one person and living with lots of cookies isn’t great for my figure (plus I feel terrible if I end up throwing any away), plus the idea of doing it all solo was slightly overwhelming. Anyways, it was after my last move, as a thank you for the friends who helped (and when you have 3,000 books, you really do owe them!) I did it similarly to the method described above, moving around my table and adding each ingredient to all the appropriate bowls, then stirring. I tried out several new recipes and found a few favorites. It worked out rather well for being just me.

Now, my fiance’s mother has, for as long as anyone can remember, made batches and batches of cookies over several weeks and frozen them until she needs them. Then, assuming they’ve survived the “human mice” who know they’re there, she can assemble trays and have plenty at her disposal. (Oh, I can’t wait to get a freezer!) However, this year, she was experiencing a great deal of back pain, later revealed to be due to several cracked vertebra, and didn’t manage to make any. She’s mending well, but prayers are appreciated, especially as it gets cold and icy up this way.

In light of this, he asked if I would make a batch of one of his favorite kinds, peanut butter temptations. I said sure. The day before I went to the store, I asked if there were any other kinds he’d like, already planning to make another of this favorites, auntie Marys. He responded with another seven or so, including some I’d never tried to make. Now this was more then I’d originally thought I’d be baking, but he had a lot going on at work and I wasn’t going to see him for several days, meanwhile I had off work for Thanksgiving, so I thought, why not?

Made a master list of all the ingredients, and just how much of each I’d be needing, and set out to the store. Home again, I began mixing, using both my six quart and four quart stand mixers, I bounced back and forth between the two and two mixing bowls with the dry ingredients in them. When I finished a batch, I’d pack it away into the fridge, wash the bowl and beater and start in on another batch.

Baked the ones that didn’t need to be chilled at all right away, then saved the rest for the following morning. Over the course of the weekend, I made the following kinds of cookies:

Chocolate Chip

Oatmeal Scotchies (New to me)

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pinwheel (New to me, and neither as good looking or tasting as I wanted. I shall either modify or drop this recipe next time)

Chocolate Surprise

Auntie Marys (a bit trickier then I remembered, but I got them made eventually

Peanut Butter Temptations (really

Snickerdoodles

Peanut Butter

Chocolate Truffle Tart

Molasses

Chocolate Lava

Packing them all up, I found myself out of storage containers, but what a lovely tower I had.

wpid-img_20141201_182321_772.jpg

Upon reflecting though, I didn’t have the variety I found myself wanting. Soon, I was plotting to make more the following weekend, all of which I’d never tried before:

Linzers (with Red Current Jelly)

Lemon Thumbprints (with Black Raspberry or Wild Blueberry Jelly)

Spoon (with Four Fruit Preserves)

Russian Teacakes.

Now, I’ve never been a fan of the first two, passing over them every time. They tend to be dry and bland, so I set out to combat that. Made sure that I had good jellys and paid attention to the baking time very closely, pulling them out when they were just done.

The linzers took forever, you have to rechill the dough after rolling and cutting them, before baking. Then once they’re out, you have to dust the tops with powdered sugar before putting jelly on the bottom halves and assembling them. Of the four I made that day, these were my least favorite, though they were better then any others I’ve had.

The thumbprints were quite good, surprising the fiance, who been dreading having to tell me he didn’t like them. Fortunately, he liked all of them.

Made up trays to give to neighbors, friends, pastors, and so on. I was pleased with their presentation, like something from a bakery…

wpid-img_20141206_154103_265.jpgwpid-img_20141207_085254_144.jpg

After two weekends in the kitchen I was tired, but had a lovely time and so many tasty results!

Meyer Lemons

I found Meyer lemons at the fancy grocery store last week and couldn’t wait till the weekend to turn them into something tasty…it was a long week!

Yesterday was finally the day. I’d decided to try Anne Burrell’s recipe for a ‘Meyer Lemon Curd Tart’. We’ve only ever made one tart before (ala Heston Blumenthal) and it was a long, complicated process, which, in my opinion, wasn’t reflected in the taste. This was part of my apprehension, the other was I only bought a 1 lb. bag and didn’t want to muck it up!

First things first, I blitzed the crust together in my food processor (it was a very moist dough) and put it in the fridge to chill for half an hour. I had several things going in the kitchen yesterday and found plenty to do with that time!

Rolled it out once, but it was so moist that it absorbed the flour and I found it was stuck to the counter. I dusted it liberally with flour, scraped it up and folded it back together, then re-rolled. Much better! This time, I had no issues whatsoever when I tried to roll it around the pin to transfer it onto the tart pan (newly purchased at ‘The Restaurant Store’ for just this occasion) and easily placed, arranged and trimmed it. Trimming was the easiest thing, I simply rolled the pin over the top of the pan, slicing of the extra and getting a nice, uniform edge.

I followed Anne’s instructions to line the shell with foil for baking and poured some of the contents of my coin jar on to that for a “pie weight”, a tip from our first tart experience, though Heston had us use parchment paper, which let the oil from the butter through and I had a fun time getting it back off my coins. Foil worked perfectly, but I think I’ll fold it over the top edge next time, so that it browns a bit more evenly.

wpid-img_20140921_124149_119.jpg

Now for the curd! I had 8 lemons and it took 7 1/2 of the to get the 3/4 C. I needed. I also had to zest three of them, this took the longest, cracking 5 eggs and adding salt and sugar was far quicker. On to the stove, whisking and whisking, paranoid that it might burn.

It was very easy to tell when it had cooked enough, the consistency changed, yes, but the color changed too, so there was no second guessing there, which made me happy. Poured it into the shell and put it into the oven. Let it in for the max time (and as long as I dared!), then pulled it out, though it still seemed a little swimmy.

Now the hard part, letting it cool. Fortunately, I had those other things I mentioned earlier to focus on and didn’t suffer too badly. After 3 hours, during which it had moved out of the kitchen and into the air-conditioned living room, we declared it cool enough and he sliced into it (I was too scared).

Mmmm. It was rather perfect, if I do say so myself, maybe could have baked another 30 seconds, but the flavor, yum, lemon! The texture was good too, smooth and creamy. He liked it too (see below).

First we shared a slice.

wpid-img_20140921_171309_250.jpg

Then he had another.

wpid-img_20140921_171826_853.jpg

Then I had one of my own.

wpid-img_20140921_171948_530.jpg

Then he had one more.

wpid-img_20140921_172304_053.jpg

How do you know when it’s good? When you eat half of it in one sitting!

wpid-img_20140921_171357_030.jpgwpid-img_20140921_171332_570.jpg

S’mores Cookies

It was my birthday a little while ago and a friend gave me 3 s’mores cookies from a local convenience store, which was perfect, for I was hungry for some good, chocolate, cookies, but didn’t want to bake them or have an abundance to eat later.

They were better than I expected, given their origin, and I thought, if they’re this good from a store, I should be able to make some that are even tastier! Plus, I’d gotten a 6 qt. KitchenAid stand mixer for my birthday and it seemed like the perfect thing for its maiden use.

Found a recipe online that was similar to what I’d eaten, a chocolate cookie with chocolate chips, marshmallow bits, and graham chucks, and set about mixing it up. It said it served 12, but not how many cookies I should expect from it, so I made a triple batch, wanting to have enough for several events over the weekend. It nearly filled my new mixer bowl,  see?

wpid-img_20140830_191846_658.jpg

And it looks so chocolately too!

Used my largest cookie scoop and baked them just until the wet look was gone from the top. They looked good.

wpid-img_20140830_195933_905.jpg

Three batches might have been too many though, I started running out of containters.

wpid-img_20140830_221054_812.jpg

Tasted one, the big moment… They were full of chocolate flavor, no complaints there, but the graham flavor didn’t come through at all. You could see them, but not taste them! The marshmallow could be found, but nowhere near as much as the chocolate.

I’m thinking maybe some sort of graham cookies will add some of the flavor I’m looking for, but I’m stumped on the marshmallows. In the cookies that were given to me, they weren’t as melted, how? Does anyone out there have a tip they’re willing to share? I want to mix them in, not add them on to at the end… please help!

Chocolate & Caramel Ombre Cake

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1161646/chocolate-and-caramel-layer-cake

This is the cake I made for my family’s Easter gathering last Sunday. I’d never made such an ambitious cake before. I was done with work early on Friday, around 1:30 and found myself with plenty of time to bake and assemble, thinking everything through twice, since I wouldn’t have time to start over.

It took me two hours to mix and bake the first two layers, which would end up being layers 1 and 4 in the end product. I followed Cook’s Illustrated instructions for mixing it together, since my family hasn’t had much success with white cakes in the past (but then, we hadn’t a stand mixer then either). Feel like I should have prehaps sifted the ground almonds, but the recipe wasn’t very specific with those sorts of details. Also, I maybe should have used granulated sugar instead of raw… to make it more white. Washed up the dishes I’d made up to that point while they baked.

Once the cakes were cool enough to remove from their pans, I started on the second batch, which went quicker. Used various shades of brown sugar, since I don’t have all the British ones (at least not at prices I could afford right now). So at this point, one could find this on my kitchen table,

wpid-img_20140425_172916_879.jpg

Looks good already, right? Let them cool for awhile while I washed the dishes and ate some dinner.

Frosting went smoothly enough, though it took a while for the ganache to cool. I’d delayed making it, not wanting it to set up too much before the cakes were ready for it. I’d never used canned caramel before and was surprised by how thick it was, but I managed.

wpid-img_20140425_201312_249.jpgwpid-img_20140425_210053_620.jpg

As you can see from the picture on the left, the gradient layers were working on the outside, at least…. That’s what ‘ombre’ means in this instance, by the way, gradient layers.

At this point, I just had to sit back and wait until Sunday afternoon when it was time to serve it. I had a very hard time waiting for all my nieces and nephews to finish finding eggs! But, once they had, I carefully, ever so carefully, cut into it and found this:

wpid-img_20140427_181003_755.jpgwpid-img_20140427_181329_030.jpgwpid-img_20140427_181352_606.jpgwpid-img_20140427_182457_974.jpg

I’m rather happy with the results and my family seemed to be as well. The two-year old niece said ‘yum’ with every bite and her father had three pieces. For me, it was moist and rich, but, the texture was a little odd (maybe the almond flour) and it could have had more flavor. Still, the family was happy and I got to stretch my baking skills, so that works for me!

Malt Syrup in Sourdough Bread

I got a book on baking artisan bread by the Culinary Institute of America from the library several weeks ago that has a different approach to making sourdough, so I was curious to try it out and since I’d recently acquired malt syrup and had Friday off from work, it seemed like a good time to give it that try.

(On a side note, malt syrup (if you’re curious, I know I was) is similar to molasses in appearance and behavior and not that far off from it in flavor too.)

Got my starter out of the fridge and followed the instructions for feeding it, which resulted in something that resembled a dough itself, then let it sit for close to 21 hours… I needed the time to match up so that after all the raising it would be ready to bake on Sunday morning in time to be done for church but not too early either!

Saturday afternoon, I took the fed starter and, again, following the very specific instructions in the recipe, turned it into dough. First mix was the starter, water, and malt syrup. Second was flour (it said to use about 1/3 a cup of wheat flour, which I didn’t have, so I made it all ‘unbleached, all-purpose white flour’ instead), then I left it sit for 15 minutes before adding in the kosher salt.

It rose for an hour in a lightly greased bowl (I followed the directed times more than growth), then turned it out on the table and let it sit for another hour, after which I divided it in half and let it sit for another 10 minutes. Shaped it and let it rise for another hour before sticking it in the fridge overnight.

Sunday morning, I was up at 6:15 to pull it out of the fridge and turn the oven on, then I went back to bed for another hour’s sleep. Put it in the oven at 7:30 and then set about getting ready for church while it baked, making sure to pull the parchment paper from under it at 12 minutes.

Out at 8:00, it looked good, nice and brown, though the slashes didn’t really seem to much. It had a firm crust, but wasn’t overly crunchy where you’d cut your mouth on it. The aroma was lovely as well, it sure made my fiancé hungry when he arrived to take me to church (I’d had plenty of time to get ready), and was still lingering when we got home…though we soon replaced it with aroma of roasting. Cutting into it revealed larger air bubbles then I normally have, but it holds together when we eat it, so no complaints there. The flavor isn’t all that different from my other recipe.

All in all, I’m happy with the results, but it’s quite a lengthy process! Maybe there’s a way to combine the two recipes?

Easter Cake!

I now know what I’m making for my family’s Easter get together. I found recipes for a pear and blueberry cake, vanilla cupcakes with ‘surprise’ bunnies inside, a strawberry layer cake, and a four layer, chocolate and caramel ombre and submitted my ideas to the sister in charge of planning the menu. She choose the last one (my family loves chocolate), so there you have it.

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1161646/chocolate-and-caramel-layer-cake

After a trip to the local Wegmans last night, I’ve found all I need, except for the exact sugar, but then, I don’t live in Britain, so I’ll make do.  There will be several new experiences in this process, i.e using almond flour and yogurt in a baking, so here’s hoping it all turns out. Stay tuned!

P. S. (Off Topic) I also bought Malt Syrup last night and will be using it in my bread this weekend. I’ll post about that once it’s done.

Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

We have a friend in the Navy and it’s been on my heart for a while now to bake up some cookies and send him some… keeping some for myself too, of course.

After much debate (I have so many, many cookie recipes) and trying to figure out what we were hungry for, I went hunting for a new one, I had a recipe for peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, but it called for chopped up butterfinger candy bars, and I had none.

Found one on Epicurious and they haven’t led me wrong yet, plus, I thought, if there’s no flour, they should be full of peanut butter flavor and not get overly dry (two of the ways my fiance prefers his cookies).

After copying it over into a Word document and formatting it to match me other saved recipes (a project from last winter), I headed to the kitchen to mix them up.

The recipe calls for ‘super crunchy peanut butter’ and I only had creamy, so I found a cup or so of salted peanuts and blitzed them in my mini processor, then stirred them into an entire jar of peanut butter.

It mixed up easily enough, but the dough seemed rather soft. I cautiously Scooped out a tray and put them into the oven, keeping an eye on them the entire time they baked, just waiting for them to start spreading out. They never did however and were nearly the same shape/size when I took them out as when I’d put them in.

They had to sit and cool off/firm up for a while, but once that happened, they’ve been in high demand here, as well as with my nieces (the 5-year-old asked for the recipe) and hopefully in the Navy (I haven’t heard that they arrived yet).

Next time, I want to make sure the chocolate chips are more evenly distributed and I may try it with creamy peanut butter.

Sorry that I can’t post a picture, they disappeared that fast!

Lemon bars – for his birthday

wpid-IMG_20140301_152427_066.jpg
Friday was my fiancé’s birthday and I let him decide what sort of sweets he wanted. We’re not really cake people, so I wasn’t too surprised when he asked for lemon bars instead. The one, slight problem? I have no experience with lemon bars, none, not even eating them, as I’ll opt for chocolate instead, every time. Not a big deal though, I simply had to find some recipes and do as I’ve done before, taking what I want from each to make my version of lemon bars.

First up, I made the dough. It was quite simple, butter, sugar, flour and a teensy bit of salt. Room temperature butter is hard to come by lately, but when the mixer is the one doing the creaming, I don’t mind. Pressed it into an aluminum pan (my pyrex was busy) and put it into the oven. As it baked, I noticed it sliding down the sides, so I took the back of a spoon and pressed it up again. Didn’t bake as quickly as I expected, but I left it in until it was golden brown.

As part of my mash-up, I sliced some of my lemons as thin as I could with my knife, which proved to be easier if they weren’t the same lemons I had zested. I then tossed them in the zest and sugar and let it sit while I mixed up the rest of the lemon filling. Gently combined them and poured it onto the crust, spreading out the slices evenly.

They took awhile longer to bake than the recipe said they would, with the outer inch finishing far before the rest.

As far as taste goes, he had to be the judge of that, I’ve nothing to base it on. It was fresh and full of lemon flavor. He found parts of it to be bitter, but sifting some powdered sugar on top helped. One can tell the outer edge was overdone and the crust was a little off tasting (which I can’t figure out, unless the pan had something to do with it), but all-in-all, for a first attempt, it managed to hit the spot.

I’d love it if some of you would comment and give me tips on how to improve the process. Citric acid? Pyrex? Anyone?

Baklava: The Chef’s Thoughts

As you can see in the previous entry, I made baklava this past Monday, which was a new experience on many levels.

I’ve never made Greek food, or used phyllo dough before. I wanted to make the phyllo dough myself, as I’m that sort of baker; I want to make everything from scratch whenever possible! However, my fiancée was more familiar with it and urged me to spend the $4.00 for a pound, rather than complicate the process (at least until I’m more experienced with it). And when I opened the package and unrolled it that morning, I was glad that I took his advice, for it was far thinner then I imagined!

Sometimes, when I look up a recipe, I find very different ingredients and/or amounts, so I tend to take the different parts I like of each one, whether it be technique or ingredients and combine them to come up with my own plan. This time, I had three I sourced from and I’m rather pleased with how it turned out.

One thing I did that I didn’t see on my source sites but wanted to do anyway was to toast all my nuts beforehand. I used a glass pan and trimmed each sheet to size with a plastic knife, then managed to use the scraps to compose two more layers.

Added cinnamon and lemon juice to my syrup. We don’t like things to be too sweet. The suggestion of vanilla made by one source seemed as though it would mute the flavors.

Having only ever had baklava in ice cream, I expected it to be a bit more dough-like or cakey, but it turns out that I like it this way too.

I leave you with my favorite shot of the final product, you can’t tell its baklava, but I love the layers! I’m off to plot this weekend’s sourdough.

wpid-IMG_20140217_142540_504.jpg

My First Sourdough Boule, the Olypmics and Snow Shoveling

Yesterday, I made my first sourdough boule. Also a first, this bread has things in it! Sunflower seeds and oatmeal, up till now the only thing I’ve ever put in my bread was raisins. But I found the recipe at http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/sourdough-boule-recipe, where I’ve been spending a lot of time since receiving some of their sourdough starter for Christmas (which is another story for another time) and they haven’t been wrong yet. I’m now feeding it every weekend and baking every weekend. I enjoy plotting my next bread adventure throughout the proceeding week.

This week, it was a boule, but I had to shovel all the snow from the driveway first. Since it took me two hours to shovel the 8+ inches we had fall on Thursday, I waited till I was back inside to even mix the boule, as I didn’t want it to rise for too long if I was out later than I expected.

Good thinking on my end, as I was outside for about 2 hours. I went a bit gung-ho and shoveled everything that needed it at all, more than I ever have before. Once I was warmed up, I got the dough mixed, which was easy enough. As the directions say to “mix and knead … until you’ve made a soft dough”, I didn’t leave it in the stand mixer any longer than that.

Tucked it into the bed to rise (we have a water bed that runs around 75º under all the covers and as we’ve been keeping it around 55° inside this works best to accomplish rising in any semblance of a ‘normal’ amount of time) and watched the Olympics on NBC until the time came to shape it.

I was stuck for what to bake it in (having only a very large Dutch oven) until my fiancé remembered a Pampered Chef Stoneware Baking Bowl his mother had given me, it seemed the perfect size, but I wasn’t certain as the recipe simply said ‘One large loaf’, which is relative.

Put it in the baking bowl after shaping and back into bed it went.

Time came to bake it and the method given in the recipe seemed a bit odd to me. Put it in a cold oven?! I know that I didn’t want to crack the bowl, but it still felt odd. Then, there was the added complication of baking it covered, so I couldn’t see it and watch it bake, which I consider part of the fun.

45 minutes later, it came out and easily flipped onto a rack to cool. The baking bowl ended up being the perfect size. Wanted to let it cool entirely, so…

Fast forward to this afternoon, when we finally (after returning from church) finally sliced it open and had a taste. It could have baked a little longer, but was still done. He toasted it and we ate it with some butter and honey spread on top. It tasted far better than I expected, as I feared a case of too many things in my bread. I’m not a fan of having to floss after eating bread, but I loved the nuttiness that this had. He thinks with a bit more practice and it will taste as good as any rustic loaf one can get from a bakery.

All in all, not bad for my first time baking a boule in a bowl.