dinsdag 25 december 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all of you! I hope you all have a wonderful day, shared with family and others that are near and dear to you, and that you have some fabulous dessert :o).

Here things are a little out-of-the-ordinary, to put it mildly. The past days have been a whirlwind of packing, cleaning the rental house, hauling things over, figuring out what to do first, worrying, making a million calls and running errands, and all the excitement that comes with moving and adjusting to a new place to live. The actual move will start Dec. 27th, and until then, we're trying to relax a little and celebrate Christmas with our families.
Now that my oven is back, I simply could not resist to use it for *something*. So I made a nice lemon cake and paired it with vanilla poached orange segments and lemon curd for a Christmas trifle. It was lovely. Also, I made a big batch of spiced/sugared nuts as gifts to our dads who both adore nuts. It couldn't be simpler and they are just a lovely snack, best eaten straight from the oven. (whisk 1 egg white with a teaspoon of water until frothy, add 1 1/4 lbs of mixed nuts, stir in a mixture of 1 cup sugar and 1.5 tablespoons of cinnamon, and bake at 250 for 50 minutes to an hour). Here they are before baking:
Because I think that we can all appreciate something nice during the whole moving process, I have prepared the dough and streusel for an apricot crumb cake, that my mom has been making since forever and we all love. It makes a big sheet, so there will be plenty to go around and it keeps well too, so I know it will be good for a couple of days. And that will be the last of my (soon to be someone elses) oven I'm afraid.
My husband gave me two magnificent new baking books (The art of the cake and the latest Carole Walters book on muffins, scones and coffeecakes and the like) and I'm itching to try all kinds of complicated new recipes. The rental has an oven, and it looks barely used, but it has yet to be discovered how well it works. For now I'm just glad it is there!

I'll probably be offline for a couple of weeks while we struggle with our internet provider, but I'll be popping in here and there for sure. See you soon, and HAPPY NEW YEAR to all!!
Thank you all for reading my stories, your comments, and your cheering up and cheering on when needed :o). One resolution for next year is for sure to bake lots and blog about it!

dinsdag 18 december 2007


Not a baking report, but just a quick YIPPPPPPEEEEEEEE to say that we sold the house! I'm finishing my nephew's birthday treats tonight, and after that, my better-than-ever just repaired and returned oven will be unemployed to leave room for packing and moving. We have 10 days, yikes....!
Thanks for all the good vibes and finger crossing!!

zondag 16 december 2007

Withdrawal syndrome

Living without an oven just isn't for me. After two weeks, I KNOW. And so does my husband (trust me on this ;o)). I pleaded with the repair guy. And pleaded and pleaded, and there was nothing he could do he said. His changing story about different parts didn't sound very plausible to me, but he has the power and I still don't have an oven. So I pleaded with my mom. And my sister. With a lot more succes I must say ;o). So I ended up with 4 batches of cookie after all (yay!!). First I prepared a double batch of sugar cookie dough, to make cut-outs for my nephew's upcoming birthday. After testing at least a dozen different recipes, I'm sticking to my tried and true that contains a hefty dose of cream cheese. It might be a little harder to work with, because it's kind of sticky, but the taste makes up for it. I sprinkled the leftover dough with cinnamon sugar, pearl sugar and almonds and cut out stars, trees and wreaths and voila, instant Christmas gratification :o). I will use them as teacher gifts this upcoming Friday.
Then today I made one of my all time favorites: Rose Levy Beranbaums linzer jam-filled thumbprints. I filled them with homemade blackberry jam. And because chocolate is always appreciated, I made another batch of Fine Cooking's chocolate crackle cookies. All cookies are securely tucked away into the freezer for the holidays, and will be used for gift-giving as well. Happy Holidays to all of you, and here's to a sweet New Year!! Please send some good vibes our way on the house, because the day after tomorrow we will FINALLY know if we're packing up this week or not...

zondag 9 december 2007

Marshmallow & Fudge

What do you do when you want to bake but have no oven? You make do with candy :o).
I have been wanting to make fudge for a long time, and the one time I tried it, the taste was nice but it was so crumbly that cutting it into blocks was simply impossible. So I looked for a foolproof recipe and found two, one on the Scharffenberger site, and the other was shared by Adele, who sais she found it on the can of the evaporated milk she used. So I got cooking! The first I tried was simply sweetened consensed milk and chocolate. It turned out beautifully, although I doubt I prefer it over plain chocolate.
The next one I tried was the evaporated milk recipe, that I mixed with milk chocolate and peanuts, having peanut clusters in mind. This one was more crumbly, and even sweeter, but prefered over the other by my test team. For good measure I made another batch of the first recipe and added kirsch-soaked dried cherries and cranberries. Very nice as well.

Now that I finally found a readily available substitute for corn syrup, it was time to start cracking on making marhmallows again as well. I fell in love with this candy the forst time I made it myself. There is something about that billowy, cloud-like slab of sweetness that just is irresistable to me. This time I made them with raspberry puree, and a little added straight cranberry juice to get the color a little more pronounced and just because I love cranberries :o). They turned out delicious, the fruit flavor definately shines through the sweetness. Now I really should cover some of these in bittersweet chocolate and they would be nothing short of perfect.

Other than this sweet explosion, I finally seem to have realized it might just be possible that the house will sell (final word on the 18th of this month) and that means I have to PACK! I have been in serious denial all this time, kidding myself that it would not make sense to start packing when the deal is not finalized. But now I realize that if all goes well, we'll have to pack up the entire house in EIGHT DAYS. And those eight days include Christmas. And we won't be packing on Christmas day. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I started organizing my pantry, removing things that are past their expiration date, making a plan to eat as much as we can to save us from moving it all (and that included making another 15 jars of jam in an attempt to clear out the freezer). We even looked at the rental house Saturday, and it is ehhh... awful. Truly awful. It is dark, old, small and not well kept, and that is just putting it mildly. And filthy, but that can be fixed. The good news is, it has an (old) oven that should work.
I guess we are in for a new adventure :o).
And just to make sure that the move won't be easy, we got word on the oven (needs a disgustingly expensive repair) and our fence in the yard broke down. Now all we need is for the roof to start leaking and the party will be complete. Who said selling a house was easy??

woensdag 5 december 2007

Royal icing plaques

My nephew's 10th birthday is coming up, and now that I have no oven, it was the perfect time to start playing around with some ideas for treats he can take to school.
I have made cupcakes for at least 6 times in a row, so I thought cookies might be a nice change. And I love decorating cookies, so this is a treat for me as well. I looked for a nice design to go on a cookie, and found this one, that is pictured on my favorite mug:
I have done this design before for thank you cookies and thought they might make a fun birthday treat as well. I just cut out a part of the box the mug cake in, and traced over it so I had a nice 'template' for making sugar plaques. If you are good at free hand drawing, you wouldn't have to use a template. As I am terrible at it, I need it :o).
So I made a batch of royal icing (1/2 lb of powdered sugar mixed with one large egg white until stiff and no longer glossy) and colored a part of it black to make the outlines with. I slid the template under pieces of silicone mats that are perfect for this type of work. Parchment also works though. I piped over the lines of my template using a pastry bag fitted with a number two (Wilton) tip, and let it dry for an hour or so. Then I thinned down some royal icing with a few drops of water, tinted it pink, and started filling in the nose section:
Key to making this work, is to let sections dry COMPLETELY before starting flooding in other sections with different colors. If you don't, colors will bleed into each other, and it doesn't look as pretty. So I let the noses dry overnight, then filled in the eyes section with thinned, untinted royal icing. As the nose was dry, I added a little dot of white on the nose as well.
At this point I could also proceed with flooding the neck section, as it only borders the already dry nose area. For this I tinted thinned down icing with a color called egg shell yellow, and I tinted a little bit dark brown. I completely filled the section with the yellow, than let some drops of brown fall rondomly into it, swirling them a little bit into the yellow. Because you want the spots to blend in, you do this while the yellow icing is still fluid. I simply used a tiny spoon to spoon some icing in the neck section, than used a very fine paint brush to disperse it evenly and also into all the corners. Make sure there are no holes, as it will reduce the strength of your plaque. So here we stand now:
I let this dry overnight as well. I saved my yellow and brown icing for the next day, making sure it was sealed airtight. All it needs the next day is a nice stir, and maybe an extra drop of water. Now comes the tricky part: the head section. It is tricky because the spaces that need to be flooded are small and are harder to fill in neatly. Smaller spaces are also prone to developing holes because of airbubbles. For this I use a thin paint brush. I make sure my icing is thin enough to spread, and not too thin to make a watery, overflooding mess. I let it 'string' off my paintbrush and fill in the gaps that way. It is kind of elastic if it's not too thin and works beautifully that way. Of course, you could also use a pastry bag fitted with a number 1 or 2 tip for this, but I prefer the brush. I use a toothpick to drag the icing into small nooks and crannies:
Fill in the ears with the brown icing, and let your brush with brown icing 'kiss' the ears of the giraffe to make spots or dots:

As the eye sections were already dry, I could also pipe on the eyes at this point. I used the same icing I made the outlines with, piped on black dots for eyes, and flattened them slightly with a paint brush:
For a little extra glimmer I brushed the white dash on the nose with a little luster dust:
So now you just have to let it dry completely (again overnight is best) and very carefully remove your plaque from the silicone mat. What I do is take it to the end of the table, and let the plaque extend a little over the table while I slowly pull the mat from underneath. Always make sure most of the plaque is still on the table (turn it and pull on other ends). If you want to use it standing up, to top a cake or cupcake, for example, you turn the plaque around, lay a toothpick on it, and flood the whole back with thinned white icing, making sure the toothpick is flooded in. This will strengthen your plaque considerably. If you want to put it on a cookie, like I did, just pipe a little unthinned royal icing on the back, and gently position the plaque on the cookie.
Of course, you could also do the whole proces of filling with colors directly on the cookie, but because of the drying time, I don't like to do it on cookies that need to be eaten. I have done it with cookies I used as Christmas ornaments, and then it looks like this:

vrijdag 30 november 2007

Gingerbread townhouse cake -part 2

The cake is done! And on its way to 2 dozen weekend-working collegues who are going to perform the taste-test :o).
If you want to give the cake a go yourself, go to http://www.marthastewart.com for the recipe and instructions and tell me what you think.

As I wrote before, I was quite well prepared for finishing this cake. I had the genoise in the freezer (it held up beautifully) the daquoise at hand (you can definately keep it for more than one day, unlike the recipe states), the soaking syrup in the fridge and all cookie decorating finished. What was left was making the buttercream and constructing the cake. So I read the directions twice, and started the buttercream. I have to confess I don't have a lot of experience with buttercream, as it's not the first type of filling I turn to when making a cake. I prefer ganache and pastry cream type fillings over buttercream, but you have to venture out and be open to new things, and a gingerbread-flavored buttercream can only be good, right?
So I started heating up eggwhites and sugar in a double boiler. I was armed with my candy thermometer and followed the instructions to the letter. Let it warm up sufficiently, then started beating the crap out of it in my beloved stand mixer (that deserves the name 'thunderbird' for the noise it produces, but is simply THE best ever). It behaved as promised, turned paler, thicker, stiffened up nicely, only, after 15 minutes it didn't seem very cool. It wasn't much cooler after 20 minutes either. What to do? According to the recipe it should be ready for adding butter at this point, and being nervous of overbeating the stuff, I hesitantly started adding the butter. More so, because the recipe said that if the mixture gets too cold, it might curdle. Definately didn't want to deal with that. So I added the butter by the tablespoon as directed, and it looked all fine and dandy, except it still wouldn't cool.
This is when I started to get the icepacks and wet towels out. It didn't help one bit. I don't know what it was, but it stayed warm and when all the butter was added I had a soupy concoction at hand (granted, it tasted great). I tried to calm myself down, having visions of running to the store yet again and buying yet another dozen of eggs and 2 lbs of sugar. I figured I had nothing to loose and put the whole bowl in an ice bath, stirring gently. It got more manageable, never curdled or broke down, so I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and started slathering it on, waiting for disaster to strike. And guess what, it was all fine and it just stiffened up beautifully in the fridge. Victory!!

After this ordeal, I noticed time was running away from me. I still had to bake the last batch of cookie dough I made earlier that morning, before my oven was hauled out of the house for a check up (WHAT was I thinking?). And of course the oven had to be cool again and cleaned before pick up. So I baked cookies, ran around frantically trying to clean up the kitchen that looked like a battlefield at that point, while at the same time trying to look in control when waving at the neighbor who was looking at what I was doing from outside the window ;o).
I got it done, everything looked reasonably normal and tidy, when with 15 minutes left before the repair guys came, I thought I'd better unplug the oven. Then I couldn't find the plug. I called my husband at work, who told me I needed to look for the plug in the basement. When I did just that, I remembered we had recently covered the pipes and cords and all that pretty stuff with a piece of plywood twice my size. It was screwed in position with what seemed like 79 screws. At this point, I was in hyperventilation mode. My husband was trying to calm me down, telling me to give it a try and if I couldn't manage, he'd jump into the car that very moment and be over to rescue me. So I got going, screwing as if my life depended on it. I somehow managed to move all the boxes in front of the darned wall, get the board down without breaking it or hurting myself (don't ask me how I did it), and finding the plug. Of course I couldn't reach it and I climbed on a rather wonky construction, stuck my hand into a cobweb-covered black hole, trying to find the plug. And I did, thankfully. I banged my head and was covered in cobwebs, but I did it a full three minutes before the arranged pick up time.
I washed my face, combed my hair, tried to look in control once again and calmly made myself a cup of tea ;o).

Is it even necessary to say that the pick up only happened TWO FULL HOURS LATER? That I tried to decide whether I could start that cranberry curd, to use up some of the 21 egg yolks in my fridge, or not, for two hours? I guess everything worked out eventually, but that was one crazy day. The curd turned out, the cookies turned out, the cake was in the fridge, and the oven got picked up. Now I'm left with a big hole in the oven cabinet and the kitchen is just empty without the oven. Of course I can only think of dinner options that need to be prepared in the oven. And I want to bake bread and scones and everything else like I will never get another chance. It's official: I'm really crazy.

But, this is getting awfully long and I still haven't talked about finalizing the cake. The thunderbird was in full swing again this morning at 6.00 a.m., whipping up a batch of 7-minute frosting (again that didn't cool, what's up with that??). I slathered it onto the cake that still looked in fine shape, pressed in the cookies, took a few snapshots, listened to my husband who was insisting he was running late, made breakfast and hauled husband, cake and breakfast into the car and drove off.
So what have I learned in the proces?
1. Selling a house is stressful
2. Selling a house is awfully stressful
3. Preparing for a possible move is extremely stressful
4. Do not make this zillion-component cake when you don't have a lot of time on your hands.
5. Do not try to bake another batch of cookies 15 minutes before your oven gets hauled off the house. There WILL be other occasions.
6. I still love to bake, it keeps me both sane and insane :o).

Without further ado: here's the master piece:

donderdag 29 november 2007

Gingerbread townhouse cake -part 1

As soon as I received the december issue of Martha Stewart Living and saw the cake on the cover, I knew I HAD to make it. It is beyond gorgeous. I have always loved gingerbread and have made so many houses and other structures I lost count, but what did it for me this time was that the cookies surrounding the cake reminded me of Amsterdam town houses. So I looked up the recipe in the magazine without even looking at anything else. And there it was in all its glory. Three different frostings (gingerbread buttercream, 7-minute forsting and royal icing), two different cake components (a genoise and a walnut daquise) and of course, the cookies, which are made from two different doughs.
Almost 40 eggs and over 3 lbs of butter. Now is that impressive or what??

The hard part was finding an occasion to make it for. I couldn't justify two people having a sliver of cake, not knowing what else to do with the rest, looking at these ingredients. But then, Marco had to work three weekends in a row, and his collegues make a perfectly sized group for sharing. Plus, they love baked goods :o).
So I got going. I prepared the genoise Sunday, and *loved* the recipe, judging on the scraps I tried. It's in the freezer now, and we'll see how it held up tomorrow. Then I got going on the cookies, and honestly, they were a pain in the you-know-what to make. Two kinds of doughs, that need to be mixed, chilled, rolled out, frozen, cut out, frozen, decorated with windows, refrozen, and baked. A dozen cookies took me almost three hours and they weren't even decorated at that point. I ran into a little trouble with these cookies. YOu are instructed to cut out windows and doors to decorate the cookies with, contrasting the types of dough to create more interest with the different colors. What should have been noted though, is that the dough for the windows should be rolled THINNER than the dough you cut your templates out of, because the thicker windows distort the cookie shapes when baking. I swear, the minute I saw it happening, I was reminded of the same problem I had with these cookies that have appliqué dough as well (also Martha Stewart ;o))
But, as I said, it was only until I saw my cookies bend out of shape that I remembered having seen this before. And I wasn't about to spend another three hours on 12 cookies. So I tried to cut somewhat cleaner edges, and froze them.
Today I got them out and decorated with royal icing, and I have to say, in spite of the fact that they are prone to breaking on top of everything else, they are so cute that all is forgiven :o).
Here are the results, pictured next to the cookies in the magazine:
So that leaves the buttercream for tomorrow, as well as the construction of the cake. The daquise layers are also ready to go (and they gave me grief also, one has broken into more shreds than I care to mention), and I'm determined to make this a succes. So determined, that I'm getting up at 5.30 a.m. on Saturday to make the 7 minute frosting and get the cookies up before Marco leaves for work around 6.45.
And after that, I'm afraid I'll have to come up with some baking solution, as my oven will be removed from our house for a repair tomorrow.
What in the world am I going to do with myself without an oven?? And if nothing else, I need to keep up with my blog! The last word hasn't been spoken on this issue yet, that's for sure!

zaterdag 24 november 2007


I found this bread in a German magazine and knew it would probably make a good alternative to stollen (which I happen to love and Marco hates ;o)). It's a yeasted bread, filled with a mixture of cherry jam, dried cherries, an apple and nuts. And very easy for such a festive outcome, I must say, even more so if you have a powerful standmixer that will do your kneading for you. I liked the result so much that I'll post the recipe here:

Kirsch-Nuss-Striezel (cherry nut bread)

1 scant cup whole milk, warmed (225 ml)
1.5 oz fresh yeast, or 1.5 envelopes dried yeats (42 g fresh)
4 TBS butter, melted (50 gr)
3.5 cups flour (400-450 gr)
salt, to taste
1/4 cup sugar (50 gr)
1 egg
1/2 c walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped (75 gr)
1 apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped (200 gr)
2 TBS cherry jam (40 g)
2 oz dried cherries (50-75 gr)

1 egg yolk, for glaze

Crumble yeast into luke warm milk, add melted butter and egg and stir to break up the egg yolk. Mix flour, salt and sugar, then add wet ingredients. Knead until smooth and pliable, adding more flour of dough is very sticky. (I used my stand mixer and let it go for 5-10 minutes, I could see the dough improve during kneading).
Let dough rise in an oiled. covered bowl in a draft free space until doubled in volume (approx. 45 minutes).
Roll out dough on floured counter, into an 8 by 24 inch rectangle (20*60 cm). Spread filling onto dough and roll up jelly-roll style. Cut dough in half, and intertwine two halves into 'braid'-like shape.
Let rise for another 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°(convection setting) or 400° upper/lower heat. (175°C convection / 200°C upper/lower heat). Bake for 35-40 minutes, if bread browns to quickly, drape foil over to prevent from overbrowning. Bread is ready when it sounds hollow when tapped.


vrijdag 23 november 2007

Chocolate makes you happy!

This week we got a call from or realtor, telling us we might have sold our home. That's right, MIGHT. We know for sure in about 3 weeks, but this time things might actually work out. I was in denial for three days, determined to not let this get to me, as the last time we heard a message like this, it ended up not being true after all, and I didn't enjoy that rollercoaster ride much.
But all of the sudden, it hit me that *if* this time it's for real, I have a heck of a lot of work to do. And probably months and months ahead of me in a rental house without an oven. So yes, I did start to pack a little (how many baking related things can a person have??), but I'm also determined to make the most of the time I have left with my treasured oven :o).
As Marco has to work again Saturday morning, I decided he and his collegues needed a real pick-me-up and I went all out with a decadent chocolate cake.

The recipe for the chocolate cake was recommended by Heather (and I trust every word she sais after that awesome shortbread recipe), and the frosting came highly praised by Marie Louise. The frosting, together with a cake that resembles the one I tried, can be found at the Scharffenberger website. I'll post it here as well:

That Chocolate Cake

This recipe is from the book The Essence of Chocolate, Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate (Hyperion, 2006), the story of Scharffen Berger chocolate. The introductory notes say, “If you could only have one recipe for chocolate cake, this would be the one.” With a recommendation like that, how could we not share it with you?



Unsalted butter and flour for pans
2 cups granulated sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup Scharffen Berger unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup canola oil
1 cup whole milk
1 cup boiling water

1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
5 ounces Scharffen Berger 99% Cacao Unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Cake:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter the bottom of two 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom with parchment paper, then butter and flour the parchment and the sides of the pans.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, and baking soda, mixing on low speed. Min in the eggs, oil, and milk.

Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and mix in the water. The batter will be soupy.

Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool on a cooling rack for 5 minutes, then turn the layers out onto the rack and cool completely.

When the cakes have cooled, check the frosting. It should have the consistency of mayonnaise. If it is still too thin, allow it to cool longer.

For the Frosting:

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and cream and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer for 6 minutes. Add the chocolate and butter and stir until melted. Pour into a bowl and stir in the vanilla.

To Frost the Cake:

Place one cake layer on a serving plate. Spread the frosting with a hot palette knife or icing spatula to give the frosting a beautiful shine. Run the knife under hot tap water and dry with a towel. Spread about ¾ cup of the frosting over the top of the first layer. Top with the second layer. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake, heating the knife again as necessary.

Serves 8 to 10

Doesn't the name alone make you want to run into the kitchen and try it? Anyway, I lucked out and found Lindt unsweetened chocolate while doing some grocery shopping this morning, and that pretty much sold the deal. I was a little suspicious (I seem to be suspicious often when baking, LOL!) of the cup of boiling water that needed to be added, as well as the 2 1/2 cups of sugar my recipe called for, but I always make a recipe as written the first time I try it. The cakes baked up beautifully, in spite of my inferior 9' cake pans. I can't believe that I have a zillion pans, and do not own a decent 9' cake pan, but I digress. I made the frosting, and was suspicious again, as it looked somewhat soupy. But after an hour or so, it had a nice consistency, and I used it to frost the cake. I spread beautifully into a shiny, smooth layer, and the smell of the cake and the chocolate frosting is just intoxicating. I thought it looked a little naked with just the frosting, so I sprinkled it with chocolate curls, and the result is pretty impressive, if I do say so myself. So I suspect that even if they have to work on the weekend, some people will be pretty happy tomorrow. And so am I, now that I'm smelling of chocolate myself, after what might be one of my last rendez-vous with my oven :o).

dinsdag 20 november 2007

Thank you hearts

So tomorrow is the day when two collegues and I say 'goodbye' to our current department at work. We'll still be working for the same institution, but it's a big change nonetheless. One that needs to be marked with a small gathering and a small token of our thanks to the people we've worked with in the past 4 years. I thought cookies would be appropriate, and hearts the perfect shape, to say 'thanks'. So here is the result after three nights of baking: almond filled cookies:

And brownie hearts:

Filled speculaas hearts:

And shortbread/sugar cookies dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with hazelnuts:

I'm hoping the people at work will enjoy them and have a sweet little moment with the cookies :o).

For good measure, I'm adding the recipe for the brownie hearts, which came from the Martha Stewart site:

Brownie hearts and brownie bits
Makes 12 hearts
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 1 hour

After you cut out the hearts, roll the brownie leftovers into bite-size morsels. Once coated with cocoa or sugar, they resemble truffles. You'll get about forty-four bites.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups packed light-brown sugar
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Confectioners' sugar, colored sugar, cocoa, or crushed toffee bits, for decoration

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan; cut a piece of waxed paper to fit the bottom, and press it onto the buttered surface. In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, and chocolate. Microwave on high for 1 minute; stir. If the chocolate is not softened, continue to microwave at 10-second intervals, removing before it's completely melted.

2. Beat eggs and vanilla into the melted chocolate with a wooden spoon. Beat in flour and salt. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool.

3. Run a knife around the edge of the pan. Turn the brownie cake out onto a baking sheet, and flip over onto a work surface. Cut out the brownies with a 2 1/2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter. Dust with cocoa if you like. Form the scraps into 1-inch balls, and roll them in the coating of your choice.

Variations: If you don't have a heart-shaped cutter, you can cut the brownies into squares or other shapes. If you like, add one cup chopped nuts to the batter, or decorate the top of each brownie with a whole pecan or walnut.

zondag 18 november 2007

All kinds of baking

I tried a lot of new recipes and yet I don't have even one picture to show for it, but I can still report on my progress ;o).

Yesterday we had invited friends over for dinner, and I found this recipe for the cutest little appetizer quiches in Fine Cooking magazine (it's in number 82 and I promiss you this issue of one of the best ever published). You basically make a traditional filling of bacon, leeks, eggs and cream, and use puff pastry for the crust. The puff pastry is rolled out, cut into small circles that fit the wells of mini-muffin tins, filled with a tablespoon of filling and then frozen. You bake them frozen, and in 25 minutes you have a very festive looking appetizer, best of all, it was really delicious. We were so enthusiastic about it we're going to try it with different fillings (we love salmon-broccoli) and make sure we have a stash in the freezer with the holidays approaching and all.

For dessert, I made a classic crumb cake, also from a Fine Cooking magazine. I always find crumb cakes a little on the dry side, and wanted to put a layer of pureed apricot in between the cake and crumb part. I think apricot is the perfect tangy counterpart for cakes like this, but, I ran out! There wasn't an apricot left in the house (not even a can! the horror!), so I had to improvise and filled half with a seedless forest fruit jelly, and the other half with an apricot jam that didn't have any sugar added. The result was decent, but I know I would have *loved* it with apricots. Will make it again the *right* way (grin).

Then, I have this bake-a-thon coming up because two of my collegues and I are switching departments at work and there's a little 'goodbye' thing going on wednesday in our current department. So I've decided to bake heartshaped cookies, bag them in pretty cellophane bags and add a tag that says 'a heartfelt thank you'. I'm making chocolate dipped sugar cookies, heart shaped brownies (both are ready in the freezer), and heart shaped filled speculaas and almond filled cookies (see earlier post). I'm definately taking pictures of the whole project, so that report will follow sometime this week.

Then it will be time to think about the holidays, and my nephew's 10th birthday. It is my honor to make him treats to hand out at school every year, and it gets harder and harder to come up with something original. It must be some kind of cupcake with a nice decoration, but after the ones I've done I'm running out of ideas. If you have any, please don't be shy! For good measure, I'm adding a few of the treats I baked for earlier birthdays, so this entry won't go picture-less after all. First are jungle cupcakes:

Next up: snowmen cupcakes (sorry for the bad picture):

And reindeer cupcakes:

Last, a couple of birthday cakes for him:
Pirate ship:

And dragon cake:

zondag 11 november 2007

Caramel macadamia nut chocolate tart

As I said before, a caramel macadamia nut tart also was part of the weekend cooking and baking fest. I made this for dessert, for a lasagna, salad and tomato bread diner party. Somehow we ended up with other guests than planned, but it turned out to be a very nice evening anyway :o). This tart comes from Fine Cooking magazine, issue 82, which I think is one of my favorite issues ever. The lasagna took a long time to prepare, but was worth every minute. And I knew this tart couldn't be anything else than a winner when I saw the recipe. You make the crust, completely bake it, then prepare the caramel, sprinkle toasted nuts on, let cool, and prepare the chocolate layer. Before serving, you whip up some heavy cream and creme fraiche and sprinkle with additional nuts. I really liked the tart, but thought the chocolate was a little overpowering to the caramel, which could have shined more (it was delicious on its own, with the pronounced vanilla flavor and the nuts). But, when I added the dollop of cream (which I usually avoid as much as I can), it surprisingly came together perfectly. It mellowed the chocolate out a little bit, making it more balanced. Still, the caramel was a little washed out by the rest. I think the 70% chocolate was a bit much, and 50-60% would have been better, but all in all, it was a lovely dessert. I didn't hear any complaints for that matter.
Next week I'm definately trying other desserts from the same issues, because one is more tempting looking than the next! Stay tuned :o).

Tomato-garlic bread

Yesterday I made this wonderful tomato-garlic bread, that I found in one of Jamie Oliver's cookbooks. The book has a basic recipe for yeasted bread, followed with flavoured variations on this master recipe. I make this variation often as a small appetizer before dinner, and serve it with herbed butter, olive tapenade or a bread dipper. It makes a great sandwich too, or, lightly brushed with olive oil and grilled, a perfect starting point for bruschetta.

The recipe starts with roasting 2 lbs of tomatoes, fresh basil and a bulb of garlic (drizzled with oil seasoned with salt and pepper) in the oven for an hour, so some planning is essential. After roasting, the mixture is pureed and to be used as the liquid in the basic recipe. I sometimes add sliced sun dried-tomatoes for an extra flavour boost.
One recipe yields two loaves, but yesterday I discovered I still had half a batch of the pureed tomato mixture in my freezer, so I made 9 small rolls, which was a beautiful presentation also. It saved me so much time I'll always roast double batchesw of tomatoes now to freeze and have on hand whenever the mood strikes. Oliver bakes them in tomato cans, which also looks festive, but I never tried that variation. I never seem to have enough empty cans on hand ;o). The bread has a wonderful soft texture, stays fresh for at least a day and also freezes beautifully.

zaterdag 10 november 2007

Macadamia dulce de leche biscotti

As I announced in my previous post, Silvana passed on the most yummy-looking recipe for biscotti, and seeing it has three of my favorite ingredients that make a combination I just adore, I knew I had to try it. Unlike the 'dunking' biscotti kind that can be bone dry (and lovely, don't get me wrong), this recipe includes a stick of butter, which I think makes them more of a decadent American cookie and less biscotti-like, taste-wise, if that makes sense. Anyway, she was kind enough to let me share the recipe here as well, so without further ado, here are my new favorite not-so-biscotti-like biscotti:

Macadamia Dulce De Leche Biscotti
2 ⅓ Cups All-Purpose Flour
1tsp bp
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ c macadamia nuts roughly chopped
1 c commercial white chocolate chopped aprox ½ inch pcs (Use the cheaper commercial kind if you want dulce; it caramelizes while baking and toasting Lindt and the better stuff not so much!)
1 c dried cranberries (or apricots) plumped in vanilla vodka (or alcohol of choice)
¼ lb (1 stick) of butter at room temp
1 ¼ c sugar (I used just 1)
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 375
In a bowl stir together dry ingredients.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
In a small bowl, lightly whisk eggs, then add to butter mixture in a slow steady stream
add any leftover vodka, and incorporate briefly
Fold in flour in 3 additions just till incorporated
lightly fold in nuts and fruit
Prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment and scoop dough out with spatula onto baking sheets equally in long logs
Wet hands and smooth down sides and top of logs flattening as you go to about ½ thick. Logs will spread while baking. Leave at least 3” space around them (keep wetting hands as you go; it prevents the soft dough from sticking.
Bake logs in preheated oven until a light gold color about 18 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board as soon as cool enough to handle slice with a sharp knife into slices ½ inch wide. Arrange back onto the parchment lined sheet, making sure to leave room between the slices. Bake until lightly toasted and the edges start to turn golden. Let cool completely on the baking sheet

Just a few notes to this recipe: I soaked my cranberries in brandy I have been infusing with vanilla beans and it added a nice touch. The cookies are on the sweet side because of the white chocolate (I just chopped a large block of white Lindt chocolate), but to me, the combo with the macadamia's and the cranberries is nothing short of perfect. I love them (as did my husband).
And after learning our house didn't sell after all, what's a girl to do but do some mean therapeutic baking and cooking? So a report on Jamie Oliver's tomato bread and a Macadamia nut-caramel-chocolate tart (Fine Cooking magazine), which were on the menu also, will appear here shortly. And before anyone starts to worry: we didn't finish all these goodies just between the two of us. Everything was shared and much appreciated :o).

zaterdag 3 november 2007

Cookies, cookies

After a frantic week of possibly selling our house, and possibly not having sold it after all (we still don't know), preparing for an open house that was planned before all the hectic set in, I tried to calm myself with baking. It always does the trick, plus, there's the added bonus of a lovely smelling house :o).

Again, my inspiration came from the Fine Cooking forum, and, of the Fine Cooking magazines. I found a biscotti recipe that called for apricots and lots of ginger, and knew I would make my mom pretty happy with those, so I decided to give it a try. Let's just say Silvana inspired biscotti baking (thanks Silvana, and I'm trying your macadamia nut biscotti soon!)

The recipe is out of FC 75, the cookies are called gingerbread biscotti.

10 oz (2 1/4 c) AP flour
1 1/4 c packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg (I used cloves, I hate nutmeg)
1/4 tsp baking soda
4 oz (1 c)pecans coarsely chopped
4 oz dried apricots (1/2 c) coarsely chopped
1/4 c molasses
2 large eggs
2 tsp finely grated orange zest.

Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment. In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, combine floour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, salt, ginger and mix to combine. On low speed, briefly mix in pecans and apricots.

In a measuring cup, mix eggs, molasses and orange zest. With mixer on low, slowly pour in egg mixture. Mix until well blended and dough comes together in moist clumps, 1-2 minutes. Divide dough in two equal piles and shape into 10 by 1 1/2 inches logs. Shape with floured or slightly wet hands (dough is sticky). Position logs 4 inches apart and bake 30 - 35 minutes. Let cool on rack until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Slice with serrated knife into diagonal slices, 3/4 inches wide. Bake another 10-20 minutes on baking sheet, to desired dryness. Store in airtight containers after cookies have completey cooled.

My notes: the second bake I only baked them for 10 minutes, yet they are quite crunchy. Seeing the recipe has no butter, I think they'll end up bone dry no matter what. The flavor is excellent though. A really wintery, spicey cookie. I think that dipping in bittersweet chocolate would be a nice addition, but they are good without as well.

Next up were the dark chocolate crackle cookies, out of the latest FC issue (I can assure you this recipe is worth the prices of the magazine all by itsself).
The recipe calls for cocoa, melted chocolate, and chocolate chips and adds orange zest for some extra flavor and interest. The end result is a deeply chocolatey cookie, with a hint of orange. This is definately on my list of new favorites (I'm so psyched to have discovered so many of those since starting this blog!). Karen told me she used espresso instead of the orange, and I'm trying that the next time I'm making them, as I know it will be a fantastic flavor combination. So without much more ado, here are the cookies, dressed up for festive occasions :o).

I bet these would make a great Christmas gift!

Hopefully, in the next week we'll learn more about the house selling or not, so until then, please send some house-selling vibes our way!!

zaterdag 27 oktober 2007

Italian shortbread

Looking for something new to bake, as usual, I asked the ladies and gents at the Fine Cooking forum what they were baking. Heather mentioned an Italian shortbread she had tried and liked a lot. She was also kind enough to share the recipe, and I'm doing that here as well:

Italian Shortbread with Almonds and Jam
Desserts: Mediterranean Flavors, California Style
by Cindy Mushet

Yield – 6 – 8 servings

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup apricot jam or other not-too-sweet jam (I used strained raspberry jam)
1/3 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and set the rack in the middle of the oven. Have ready a 9-inch ungreased fluted springform pan. (I used a 4” by 13” tart pan with removeable bottom)

Beat the butter and sugar on medium speed in a stand mixer for 3 to 4 minutes until very light, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle from time to time. Add the almond extract and beat on medium speed for 30 more seconds to blend.

In a small bowl whisk the flour and salt together. Add to the butter mixture and beat on low speed to combine, just until the dough is thoroughly blended, 30 to 40 seconds. The dough will be stiff. Remove 1/2 cup of dough and spread it on a small plate in a thin layer; place it in the freezer.

Press the remaining dough into the pan evenly – it can be a little higher at the edges, but the center shouldn’t be elevated. Spread the jam evenly over the dough to within an inch of the edge. Retrieve the remaining dough from the freezer and crumble it over the jam. Sprinkle the almonds evenly over the top.

Bake the shortbread for 40 to 50 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a rack before removing from pan.

Cut the shortbread into serving sized triangles. (Can be frozen)

Despite the fact that I have made more cookies than I can ever recall or count, I haven't made much shortbread. I always thought it somewhat boring, with just the butter, sugar and flour, and ventured more into the -studded with nuts, chocolate and everything else you can imagine- category.
I am so glad I tried this one though. It is very simple to prepare, and just very delicious and interesting with the jam and almonds. This recipe made my top ten of favorite cookie recipes easily, and I know I'll be making it often from now on.
I was looking for a rectangular pan to bake it in (like Heather did) and had to increase my ingredients because I didn't have a small enough one. It was no problem at all. I bet you could easily double the recipe too, and freeze part of the cookies (Heather said they freeze beautifully) so you always have something nice at hand for unexpected occasions.
I used store bought cassis jelly, just because that sounded good and it definately was a great choice. But I'm sure this would be nice with any not overly sweet kind of jam (I have some homemade blackberry jam left that I think would be marvelous too). Just another picture in case more convincing is needed for trying this one:

Edited to add that Heather recommends to freeze the cookie as a whole, and only cut them after thawing. I can see how that would help prevent them from drying out. Thanks Heather!

zondag 21 oktober 2007

Sugar cookies

I was suddenly in the mood for plain, sugar cookies and Maida Heatter has just the ticket. The title only made it sound as if I didn't have to look any further: plain, old fashioned sugar cookies. I used vanilla infused sugar, my best vanilla, and looked for some nice cookie cutters that fit the season. And there you have it: delicious cookies in leave and acorn shapes. When they were baked it did think that they looked a bit too 'plain' so I jazzed them up with some nuts and a little chocolate:

Aren't they just beautiful? If you want to give them a try, I just have to warn you that they are not all that suitable for cookie cutters with intricate designs, as the cookies will puff up and lose some of their shape. If you need crisp, clean lines, this is not a suitable recipe. For these acorns it worked perfectly though:

zaterdag 20 oktober 2007

Apple pie

The markets are still overflowing with gorgeous looking crisp apples, and I realized it had been ages since I made apple pie. So apple pie it was. I have a few favorite recipes that I tend to fall back on. There is the luxurious looking apple pie from Rose Levy Beranbaum's 'Pie & Pastry Bible', where she has you arrange thinly sliced apple slices like a blooming flower. Another tried and true is a recipe for a deep dish caramel apple pie I found on epicurious and have been making many times since. It is sweet, but definately delicious. I was looking for simple this time though, and as the ladies on the Fine Cooking board were raving about Dorie Greenspan's apple pie, while I was about to give up on the book as I hadn't liked the few recipes I tried from it, I thought it would only be fair to give it another go. So many skilled bakers couldn't be wrong!
So I got to work. The crust calls for both shortening and butter, and I personally prefer them over all butter crusts. They are just flakier. The recipe is easy, calls for straightforward foodprocessing of the ingredients, and isn't as fussy as RLB's (which is admittedly delicious, but still fussy). I made a double crust recipe and found my foodprocessor was a bit too small, as the ingredients weren't getting mixed properly. So I dumped the whole batch out, put half back in, and went from there. Went without a glitch :o). I let the pastry rest in the fridge over night, but I'm sure with freezing all ingredients before making it, I could have rolled it out directly. (Great to know if you're pressed for time). I subbed the sugar for brown sugar (great idea) and for the spices I used a mix called 'apple bake' from Watson that my dear friend Jane sent me and which I use only very sparingly.

The crust behaved perfectly when rolling (although I started out lining the pan with earlier prepared sugar cookie dough, wondering how the dough behaved so differently, duh!!). The apples were piled high into the crust, covered with the second crust, painted with cream and sprinkled with sugar. And into the oven it went. The house still smells divine hours later. We tried our first piece when the pie was still slightly warm and we both *loved* it. A winner!! Which means, there is no such thing as giving up on this book yet. I'll have to try more from it now, with newly gained confidence ;o). Here is the master piece:

Even after my oven leading a life of it's own again (it miraculously switches to different settings while baking, this time switching from lower/upper heat to only lower heat, leaving me wondering why the crust didn't brown as quickly as usual) you can see how nicely the crust baked into this flaky, crackly-with-sugar perfection: