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: