Archive for November, 2016

This week’s challenge almost didn’t happen.  Our roof rat issue in the attic escalated to our water pipes being chewed through 4 nights in a row and we subsequently had to move to a hotel.  The water has been turned off and will not be fixed until we know the problem is eradicated. Those rat bastards!

I spent 2 full days at my parents house helping them prepare for Thanksgiving, which had to be moved there as we were going to host and obviously that wasn’t happening.  Did a lot of baking;  we had a derby pie, cherry pie, and chocolate pie.  They were all pretty amazing.


After spending so much time driving, I didn’t want to drive back to my parents house to do this challenge.  So at the last minute, I decided that I could just wash my dirty dishes in the backyard with the hose. Baking challenge accepted.

The preheat was to make a holiday inspired trifle. I’ve never made one.  After some thought, I decided upon a gingerbread cake with pumpkin whipped cream and candied walnuts.  Was given 45 minutes to complete and had no trouble this week finishing in the allotted time.  Trickiest part was getting the cake cooled in time so the whipped cream wouldn’t melt.  Thank you freezer!




End result . . . not sure how I felt about the cake by itself.  The recipe called for self-rising flour which I didn’t have.  I ended up adding some baking powder and a little more flour because it was very watery.  The pumpkin whipped cream was just right and together with the cake and nuts for crunch, c’est magnifique!  Notice the plastic cups and plastic forks.  Tried to use the least amount of equipment that I would need to wash.

The main challenge this week was Thanksgiving imposters, in cupcake form.  I premade some modeling chocolate and then put 90 minutes on the clock.

For the cake, I took a white cake recipe and added the zest of 1 large orange.  The twist in the challenge was to incorporate cranberries, so I added dried cranberries in the batter.  It took 15 minutes to get the cupcakes in the oven.  I feel myself starting to move faster in the kitchen.  And with about a 30 minute baking time, I was feeling confident on finishing in time.


While the cupcakes were baking, I made the frosting.  A new one for me; champagne buttercream.  And for irony, used Cupcake Prosecco.  Took quite a bit of champagne to reach the desired consistency.  In a taste test, it kind of left a thirstiness behind.


Still had some time while the cupcakes finished baking, so I got started on the decorations.  My family has certain dishes that are a must for Thanksgiving and I wanted to show that on my cupcakes.  Mashed potatoes seemed like a no brainer.  My frosting was white so all I needed to do was dollop some on and put a little pat of butter (yellow modeling chocolate that appeared to be melting) in the middle.

Second imposter would be green beans and ham hocks.  My boyfriend is pretty disgusted with this family tradition as the green beans are cooked to complete mush, but we like them.  I used more colored modeling chocolate for this one.


For my last imposter, I went with sweet potato casserole.  My mom and I love Kathy Lee Giffords recipe (yeah, I know) which is topped with walnuts and brown sugar as opposed to marshmallows.  I already had the candied walnuts from the preheat, so this would be quick and easy; just color the frosting to orange and throw on some of the nuts and brown sugar.

My cupcakes were maybe slightly overfilled, but not a problem.  I threw them in the freezer as soon as they came out to get them cool enough to frost.  Gave them sufficient time in the freezer and only took them out with 10 minutes left in the challenge.  Because the decorations were made while the cupcakes were baking/cooling, it was super easy to assemble.  I finished with 1 minute to spare.


Happy with the result.  The flavor was lovely and the frosting went well with the cake.  I wasn’t as happy with having to wash everything in the backyard with a hose.  Really hoping our house can be habitable (ie. running water) for the next challenge.


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Hey guys.  If you haven’t been watching the Holiday Baking Championship, week 2 started off with making 2 different, Grandma inspired, holiday cookies.  One needed to be a sandwich cookie.  45 minutes on the clock.

I don’t remember my dad’s mom baking.  And my mom’s mom gave us ice cream when we stayed over.  But when my dad’s mom passed and we cleaned out her house, I kept a springerle rolling pin that I thought looked cool, but had yet to use.  Cookie number 1, german springerle cookies.

This dough was not hard to make.  The challenge was rolling them out and baking them for 25 minutes.  Not a quick bake, that’s for sure.  And they also say to dry the cookies for 8 hours or overnight before baking.


The 2nd cookie I made was a linzer.  Delicious, buttery, lemon cookies sandwiched together with raspberry jam.  Also a cookie I have never made before but always wanted to.  The hard part for me was finding a cookie cutter small enough to cut out a hole for the top.  The snowflake cutter didn’t leave enough dough left to transfer to a cookie sheet without breaking.  I eventually had to take a teaspoon and scoop out a small hole.  Got those cookies baking 3 minutes before time was up.


Needless to say, I failed at baking these within 45 minutes.  I bit off more than I could chew.  I wanted to make cookies I’ve never made before, both of which required rolling out dough.  Not smart for a timed challenge.  Total elapsed time was 70 minutes.


The main event was to make a pie by hand, no electrical equipment, except the oven.  And the twist was to make a 2nd mini pie for the picky eater who doesn’t like the 1st.  90 minutes, go!

Once again, I decided to make pies I had never made before.  Started by making the dough with my pastry blender.  To be honest, I normally make the dough by hand because I don’t like cleaning my food processor.  So that was the easy part.  My trick to rolling out the dough is to do it between two pieces of wax paper, remove one side and replace, then remove the other side, fit the dough in the pan and remove the top piece of wax paper again.



The 1st pie I chose to make was a maple walnut.  While the crust was blind baking, I started to make the filling.  The most important thing was getting this pie baking as soon as possible as it would take 45+ minutes.

I imagined that I was in the competition and didn’t have enough dough leftover for the mini pie.  But a graham cracker crust would be much easier to make than more dough.  What flavors go well with graham cracker?  Well, a lot.  I chose a peanut butter pie.  Only takes 15 minutes to bake after making the filling on the stove, which takes about 14 minutes.  I was determined to beat the clock on this challenge.

The crust was done and filled and pie #1 was in the oven.  Deep breath and onto the filling for pie #2.  No problems there, filled the graham cracker crust that I whipped up and got that in the oven with 20 minutes to go.


Finally, a little bit of down time.  What would go really well with both of these pies is whipped cream.  And what would be really nice to use is a hand mixer.  But alas, that wasn’t part of the challenge.  So I got out a whisk and went to town on some cream.  My arm got sore pretty quickly, but I kept at it and had a lovely, thick cream that my great grandmother (who used to make meringue by hand) would have been proud of.


The maple walnut pie was still a bit wobbly with 5 minutes to go.  I was basically done with the challenge so the pies came out as the timer ticked down to 0.


I think I redeemed myself from the cookie challenge with these pies.  The taste test was a success though I’m not sure I would make the maple walnut pie again without some modifications.  Too much nut flavor, not enough sweetness.



And with a sink full of dishes, the ceiling started raining.  Roof rats have invaded our attic and helped themselves to water by eating up the pipes.  Had to shut the water off and leave the dishes until repairs could be done.  Oh, the excitement never ends!




Springerle Cookies

1 1/2 Tbs crushed anise seeds
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Lightly grease cookie sheets. Sprinkle with anise seeds. Set aside until needed.

Mix the flour and baking powder together in a bowl until well blended. Beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl until light and frothy, 5 to 8 minutes. Slowly stir in the flour mixture until a thick dough forms.

Working with handfuls of dough, roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface until 1/4 inch thick. Lightly sift confectioners’ sugar over the dough. Place springerle molds onto the dough; press down hard and evenly until the mold’s design registers in the dough. Remove the mold. Use a small knife to cut around each cookie, and place on prepared cookie sheets. Repeat, until all dough has been used. Cover the cookies with a lightweight cotton cloth and allow to dry 8 hours or overnight. Or bake immediately if doing a timed challenge.

Preheat oven to 250°F.

Bake cookies in preheated oven until tops are pale brown and set, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container.

Linzer Cookies

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
grated zest of 1 lemon, or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup almond flour
1/4 tsp salt
raspberry jam for filling
powdered sugar for dusting

Beat the butter, sugar, and zest until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as needed, about 3 minutes. Add the yolk and vanilla and beat until combined.

Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, almond flour, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix until just combined.

Divide the dough in half, and pat each half into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

On a lightly floured surface, roll one disc of dough out about 1/4 inch thick. Using the desired cookie cutter, cut out cookies. Transfer to a baking sheet. Gather the scrap dough, roll, and repeat. Place the cut cookies in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

While the first half of cookies is chilling, cut out the remaining dough. Once you’ve transferred these cookies to a baking sheet, use a small cookie cutter to make a peekaboo cutout in the center of each. Place cookies in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill.

Bake all of the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges are just beginning to turn brown. Let them cool for 5 minutes on the pan, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Place the cookies with the holes in them on a cookie sheet and sift powdered sugar over the top. Turn the remaining cookies flat side up and spoon 1/2 teaspoon of jam into the center, spreading it slightly. Top with the sugar-dusted cookies.

Maple Walnut Pie

3 eggs
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 Tbs butter, melted
1 cup pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs, salt, and sugar together.  Stir in the butter, maple syrup, and vanilla.

Poor the filling in a prebaked pie crust and sprinkle the nuts on top.

Bake until just set, about 40 minutes.  Cool on a rack.  Decorate with whipped cream if desired.

Peanut Butter Pie

3 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
600 ml evaporated milk
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Combine the egg yolks, sugars, cornstarch, and salt in a heavy saucepan.  Slowly whisk in the milk.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens.  Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes.

Remove from heat.  Stir in the butter and vanilla.

In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter and powdered sugar.  Work with your fingers to blend together until a consistency of fine crumbs.

Sprinkle the chocolate chips and all but 3 Tbs of the crumbs evenly over crust (graham cracker or prebaked pie dough).  Pour in the filling and sprinkle with remaining crumbs.  Bake for 15 minutes.

Let the pie cool for an hour and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

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Wow!  I don’t know where to start.  I don’t know if this is even the right font.  It has been two years since I last blogged, which is completely unacceptable.  I feel sometimes like my creativity is evaporating out of my pores.  Don’t get me wrong, when I have an imaginative spark, I can still bring it to life.  It just seems fewer and far between these days.

That’s one reason why I have challenged myself this holiday season.  Since I no longer participate in Daring Baker’s Challenges (miss them!), I’ve decided to take on the Holiday Baking Championship, airing on Food Network, from home.

Each week, I am going to put myself through the challenges that the competitors face in the same amount of time that they’re given.  Obviously, I cannot be eliminated.  But I’m hoping to gain some skills, and if nothing else, eat some good food.

Week 1:

If you don’t watch the series, the preheat was to make a sweet treat inspired by a holiday drink.  The bakers did not get to choose what they were to make, but rather had to pick a cup and hope for the best.  In the spirit of things, I wrote each option on a slip of paper and randomly drew my flavor.



Believe me, this was random because never would I have chosen Peppermint Mocha!  I don’t like mint.  In fact, I almost had to jump in the car and buy peppermints or peppermint extract.  But I found something that I considered to be close enough; Ghirardelli dark chocolate mint squares.

60 minutes on the clock and I got to work.  I made a very simple cocoa cookie, slightly adjusting the recipe by adding an egg white, because it seemed like it needed a binder.  Also omitted coffee/espresso powder because I had to consider my “audience.” A couple of friendly neighborhood taste testers aren’t big coffee fans.

After dropping the dough on a cookie sheet, I pressed half a Ghirardelli square into each cookie and covered with a little more dough.  Then I sprinkled a little holiday cheer on top (red, green, and white nonpareils) and popped them into the oven for about ten minutes.


At this time, I had a landscaping matter to attend to and was to and fro for about half an hour.  The cookies were out of the oven and cooling but didn’t look all that appetizing, and seemed rather boring.  They needed something . . .


I whipped up some sweetened whipped cream.  But the cream wasn’t getting very thick.  It had been opened for just over a week, so I had to scrap it and started over with a fresh bottle of whipping cream.  That did the trick.  I sandwiched the cookies together with some cream and time was up.


On to the main event: Filled bundt cake wreath which had to include decorative cookie leaves.

Speaking to my mom after she watched the episode, she was surprised that no one made a Tunnel of Fudge cake.  I had never heard of it, so after doing a quick Google search, I decided to make that my bundt.  Kills two birds with one stone by making a batter that is essentially a lava cake and fills itself.


It took me 30 minutes of the allotted 2 hours to get the batter made.  No problem, cake takes about 45 minutes to bake.  Had to make a minor adjustment to the recipe because I was 1/4 cup short on cocoa powder.  Melted chocolate chips and mixed that into the batter.


While the cake was baking, I decided against a chocolate ganache glaze as dark brown holiday wreaths are scarce, unless it’s due to them hanging on the front door for 3 months.  But my favorite accompaniment to a nice chocolate cake is vanilla ice cream.

I don’t have a high end ice cream maker that can take hot custard to frozen deliciousness in a matter of minutes.  My cream takes several hours in the fridge before it can go in my Cuisinart ice cream maker and I didn’t have that kind of time.  So I got a vanilla bean out of the pantry and made a creme anglaise.


In the fridge that went and onto the cookie leaves.  Lost some time washing dishes as I only have one Kitchenaid mixing bowl.  At this point, the quickest and easiest thing to do was make a vanilla spritz cookie, color the dough green and red, and make leaves and berries.  Well, there aren’t really tips for those.  I picked the closest looking one to a leaf and added a little stem to each cookie.  Then I made round cookies for the berries that, yes, were pretty disproportionate to the leaves.  But oh well, it was getting to be crunch time.  The cake was just coming out of the oven (about 35 minutes to go) and I needed to get all components ready to assemble.



The cake takes (gasp!) 3 1/2 hours to cool.  Where’s a blast chiller when you need one?  I cleared some space and stuck it in the freezer along with the creme anglaise that was still warm.

Do do do!  Just waiting for things to cool.  Washed some dishes, wiped the counter down, watched the clock.  At the 8 minute mark, I had no choice but to start assembling.


The cake came out of the pan with ease (bundts are the only pans I will use cooking spray on).  I drizzled the cream anglaise over the whole thing and could immediately see it starting to absorb into the cake.  Gave the cake a winter wonderland feel with a dusting of powdered sugar, then placed the leaf and berry cookies on top.  More powdered sugar.



Time’s up!



I was very happy that I finished it in time.  I don’t know how different it would have been had it had 3 1/2 hours to cool, but my neighbors were impressed, nonetheless.

The peppermint mocha cookie was a challenge to eat as the whipped cream oozed out on first bite.  But it had a slight hint of mint and the dark chocolate gave it a smooth richness.

The bundt didn’t bleed chocolate when cut into, but was moist and tasty.  Not sure it would qualify as filled.  My taste testers didn’t seem to mind.  One saw heaven upon tasting it, or in her words, “When I die, if I see God, I’m going to tell him it doesn’t matter what his little community is like because I’ve already been to heaven.”  Another said it belongs in a 5 star restaurant.

Making food that people enjoy; I would call the challenge a success.

I’m not always a speedy baker.  I like to take my time when decorating.  And I know the race against the clock is only going to get more difficult.  But I’m ready for next week.





Chewy Cocoa Mint Cookies:

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
Ghirardelli chocolate mint squares

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.  Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl with electric mixer.  Beat in egg and vanilla extract.  Gradually add dry ingredients to form a smooth dough.  Drop dough on cookie sheet, press half a chocolate square in the middle, and cover with more dough.  Bake 12 minutes or until firm to the touch.


Tunnel of Fudge Cake, with my modifications.  Derived from Pillsbury:

1 3/4 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups butter, softened
6 eggs
2 cups powdered sugar
2 1/4 cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup melted semi-sweet chocolate
2 cups chopped walnuts (lightly toasted)

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube cake pan or 10-inch tube pan. In large bowl, combine sugar and butter; beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add 2 cups powdered sugar; blend well. By hand, stir in flour and remaining cake ingredients until well blended. Spoon batter into greased and floured pan; spread evenly.

Bake at 350°F. for 45 to 50 minutes or until top is set and edges are beginning to pull away from sides of pan.  Cool upright in pan on wire rack 1 1/2 hours. Invert onto serving plate; cool at least 2 hours.  Or if rushed like me, stick in the freezer for as long as you can.


Creme Anglaise:

1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a small, heavy saucepan, heat cream over medium heat.  Split the vanilla bean and scrape seeds, add to cream along with the bean.  Bring to boil.

Whisk together egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale yellow.  Slowly pour half of the hot cream into egg mixture, whisking constantly.  Slowly return mixture back into the remaining cream and whisk until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.  Do not allow to come to a boil.

Strain into a bowl.  Discard the bean or rinse, dry, and add to a jar of sugar.  Stir in the vanilla extract.  Cover liquid directly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.


Spritz Cookies (I halved for the challenge):

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 Tbs milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Cream butter and sugar.  Add egg, milk, and vanilla; beat well.  Add flour and baking powder until dough is smooth.  Place dough in cookie press and press out desired patterns on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Shake sprinkles on top if desired.  Bake 10 minutes or until lightly browned around edges.  Remove cookies from sheet and cool on wire rack.

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