Well here we are, Week 5.  Quick 90 minute challenges this week.  Spoiler alert: Week 5 sucked!

In the preheat, the bakers were given 90 minutes to make and decorate two dozen rugelach.  We’ve got some remodeling going on at the house, so I asked our electrician to pick a number between 1 and 5.  He picked 3, which was the flavor chai.  I could have hugged him.  Instead, I promised him chai rugelach when he came back next week.

I sort of used a recipe for the rugelach dough, but I also sort of winged-it.  While that was in the freezer chilling, I made a pastry cream by steeping two chai tea bags in the milk before adding the egg mixture.  It was good.  I think it’s safe to say that I’ve got pastry cream down by now.

I rolled out the dough using lots of flour, then spread out some pastry cream, sprinkled cinnamon and sugar over that, and raisins that had been soaked in chai tea over that.  Cut it up like a pizza and rolled, or at least tried to roll, the dough like croissants.  It was totally stuck to the marble board.  The only way I was semi-successful in rolling and removing the dough was to flour up a spatula really well and push it under the dough.  With the trouble I had there, I just barely got the cookies in the oven with 30 minutes left.  They took about 28 minutes to bake.


I had melted white chocolate in a piping bag and blue sprinkles nearby, but there was no way I could finish 24 decorated and plated rugelach in time.  The rugelach was too hot and stacking them would have been a white chocolaty mess.

They tasted quite good, even though they looked nothing like rugelach.  I just had to settle on decorating them after the time expired so they would be edible for our Christmas party next weekend.  Into the freezer they went.


The main heat was 90 minutes to make tiramisu using two favorite ingredients from the judges.  I picked on this one, mainly because I didn’t want to end up with matcha.  Also because I wanted a more traditional tiramisu, so I went with coffee and ginger which are judge Lorraine’s favorites.

I made lady fingers which is a pretty simple recipe.  I added some powdered ginger as well as some grated fresh ginger.  While they were in the oven, I got started on the maple mascarpone cream.  It turned out way too runny.  And I didn’t have extra mascarpone so I had to roll with it.


My original plan to make a “naked” tiramisu that was tied up with a ribbon would no longer work.  The cream would seep out within a second.  So I grabbed a couple of little glass dishes that I have and make individual tiramisu.  Dunked the lady fingers in brewed coffee, layered cream over, and repeated.  Finished just in time, if you can actually call it finishing.  Such a disappointing week.  I may need a pep talk before I tackle week 6!


Not going to type recipes this week because quite frankly, they didn’t work all that well.  But I’m happy to answer any questions you have in the comments.


Here we are, one month in to baking along with the Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network.  Also probably a few pounds heavier than when I started.  Looking for taste testers in addition to dishwashers now.

Week 4 began with the preheat challenge of making stacked cream puffs, also known as religieuse, in 90 minutes.  The theme was to make a family of puffs choosing 1 of 6 holiday characters: snowman, gingerbread man, elf, reindeer, santa, and penguin.  I chose snowman.

The first thing I did was get the pate a choux made because it would likely take about 25 minutes to bake and then had to be cooled enough so the filling wouldn’t melt.  I used a recipe by one of my favorite chefs, Alton Brown.  The batter seemed a little runnier than I expected, but I piped my puffs out and got them in the oven.


Then I started my filling.  My inspiration was a millefeuille (napoleon) I once had in Normandy that was flavored with calvados (apple brandy).  I never managed to find another one like it during subsequent trips, but I never forgot it.  So I made some pastry cream, added some cinnamon and a heavy pour of calvados.  Yum!  Like apple pie a la mode.  Quick!  To the freezer it went.

Checking on my puffs, they weren’t as puffed as I would have liked.  But no time to start over.  Once they were done in the oven, they went straight to the freezer as well.  That gave me a few minutes to make some poured fondant (I bought 6 bags of white chocolate chips after I ran out last week).  The look I wanted to create was a melting snowman family.  Fitting seeing as how I live in Arizona.


My snowman family would need some color, so I made a small amount of american buttercream and colored half red and half green.

Time to assemble.  I made some whipped cream and folded it into my pastry cream to make it lighter and also make sure I had enough cream for all the puffs.  No stinginess here.  I filled those puffs VERY full.  Then I poured the fondant over them.  Stacked them on my prepared plate and piped on some scarves and bow ties.  Super rushed and totally needed 5 more minutes.  Ugh!  My “family” definitely looked like they were melting.


But oh-so-tasty!  They were slightly overfilled but that cream was divine and the poured fondant paired well with the other flavors.


Now, the challenge I’ve been looking forward to.  The main heat was to make a hand painted holiday cake and incorporate eggnog.  Timer set to 2 hours.  Go!

I went with a recipe I found called a hot milk cake.  I wanted a recipe that contains milk so I could swap it out for eggnog, and that’s exactly what I did.  I also added nutmeg and a sprinkle of cinnamon and ginger.  I poured the batter in a large cookie sheet so it would bake quicker and I could also cut it into 4 equal pieces and have a tall rectangular cake.


While that was baking, I got started on a swiss meringue buttercream.  I’m a big fan of american buttercream, but I wanted a more whipped, lighter filling.  I added eggnog and nutmeg in the buttercream too.  There would be no doubt that this is an eggnog cake.

Cake was done and I cut it in sections and stuck those in the freezer to cool.  I pre-made some white modeling chocolate which would be my base for my hand painting.  I kneaded the chocolate to get it pliable to work with and rolled out sections to cover the cake.


With about 45 minutes left, I assembled my layers and covered the cake.  It took more time than I wanted.  I was trying to smooth the edges of the modeling chocolate but the seams were still visible.  Most important thing was having a hand painted cake so I had to move on.  I colored some modeling chocolate and cut out holly, which was the added twist.  They went on top of my cake.


I sat down to paint my cake with 11 minutes to go.  My inspiration here was two-fold.  My boyfriend and I just finished putting up our Christmas lights (we went a little overboard!) so I “wrapped” the cake with a string of lights.  Then I painted a Christmas tree with a couple of presents and an eager dog ready to rip them open.  Obviously my inspiration there was my dog Mickey who loves Christmas more than ice cream.  For the past 4 years, his presents made up about 80% of the gifts under the tree.  He only opens his, cause he’s smart like that, and I swear he’s like an excited child on Christmas.  It melts my heart and I knew I wanted him to be on my cake.  I just wish I had more time to draw him out better, it looked like a dog shaped blob.


Well, I finished.  Definitely would have liked another 30 minutes, but I wasn’t too disappointed.  The layers looked great when cut.  My boyfriend wanted more buttercream in the layers so I told him how much butter was actually in it.  What’s a couple more pounds over the holiday season?



Poured Fondant from King Arthur Flour:

1 cup white chocolate chips
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a microwave safe mixing bowl, melt the white chocolate in the microwave over 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Sift the powdered sugar into a large bowl, add the corn syrup and hot water, stirring until smooth. If you’re using a mixer, set it on low speed so the icing doesn’t become too aerated.

Add the melted white chocolate to the sugar mixture, then add the vanilla. If the mixture is too thick to pour, reheat it briefly over low heat, and stir in 1 to 3 tablespoons additional water. The mixture is easiest to work with, and pours smoothly, at about 100°F.


Hot Eggnog Cake:

4 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup eggnog
1/4 cup milk
10 tablespoons butter, cubed

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Grease and flour a 13×9 baking pan.

In a large bowl, beat eggs on high speed for 5 minutes or until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually add sugar, beating until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder, and spices in a separate bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat eggnog, milk, and butter just until butter is melted.  Alternately add flour mixture and milk mixture to the sugar mixture, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Hi there readers.  Hope you had a fantastic Thanksgiving.  I spent the week in NY and NJ and got back just in time to bake and blog before Week 4.  Without further ado, Week 3 of Holiday Baking Championship Challenge.

The preheat began with 90 minutes to bake up a cranberry combo dessert.  Like always, I wrote down the seven options and out of lime, pumpkin, fig, rosemary, chocolate, pistachio, and ginger, I drew pistachio.  Score!  I have an excellent cranberry pistachio biscotti recipe.  And inspired by the Italian bakery I visited in Queens, I decided to make one more Italian cookie to go with it, called a pizzicati.


I think the biggest challenge to timed desserts is figuring out what order to do things.  The biscotti takes awhile to bake, but the pizzicati needed a cranberry jam that I couldn’t find in store so I had to make it and cool it down slightly.  Therefore, while the eggs and sugar were beating in my stand mixer, I rinsed some cranberries and threw them in a pot with sugar, water, and cinnamon to start heating on the stove.

Back to the biscotti.  The dough is very easy to make.  I also took a few minutes to toast the pistachios before incorporating them.  Got the dough shaped into a log and in the oven within about 10 minutes.  Then it was back to the cranberry sauce/jam.  I smashed the cranberries when they were starting to pop but decided to leave it chunky rather than pureeing it.


The pizzicati cookies were completely new to me, but pretty basic.  I substituted a little bit of the flour for pistachio flour (finely ground pistachios) and also added a small amount of pistachio extract to the dough.  I wanted to make sure the combo flavor was prevalent in both treats.  Then I took the cranberry jam out of the fridge, rolled out the dough, cut out circles, and pinched the ends together over the jam filling.  Those went in the oven as I took out the biscotti log.


I slice and baked the biscotti for 10 minutes on each side and they were done baking with about 2 minutes left to spare.  The cookies came out slightly earlier so I got my cardboard round ready.  I wanted to present the treats similarly to how they are done in the Italian bakeries.  The cookies go on a cardboard round and then wrapped up in cellophane.  I omitted the cellophane for better picture taking.



I had just enough time to drizzle a little white chocolate on a few of the biscotti (I forgot to buy more white chocolate) before time ran out.


Good challenge.  I even had a little bit of time to wash some dishes while waiting for the biscotti to finish.  That was a big bonus since I had to start on the main challenge right after.  That’s the problem with going out of town for a week and having to rush.

The main heat had the same 90 minute time limit to bake up a coffee combo dessert.  I wrote all the options on paper and told my boyfriend to pick a number.  Hmmm… pomegranate syrup.  Well, that required a trip to the grocery.  Couldn’t find syrup so had to settle for pomegranate nectar that I reduced on the stove top.


Taking more inspiration from my recent trip and a visit to Lady M, I decided to make a coffee flavored crepe cake.  I have a crepe maker that I’ve never used so here was the perfect opportunity.

When the clock started, I got to work on the pastry cream I would be using between the layers.  I needed it to cool slightly before assembling my cake.  I added coffee extract and instant espresso powder to the cream and threw it in the freezer.

The crepe recipe is very simple.  Add all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  Making the crepes was not quite as easy.  I tried to use the little wooden batter spreader that it came with, but I couldn’t quite get the circular motion down.  And I also didn’t have enough batter to make a 16″ diameter cake.  I realized after making about 5 crepes that it might be easier to use a small nonstick pan.  I swirled the batter in it and got the hang of it after a couple mishaps.


With 20 minutes left, I had to start assembling while still making a few more crepes.  The twist in this challenge was to incorporate biscotti.  Like most of the competitors, I ground it up in a food processor.  I sprinkled the crumbs over the pastry cream filling on every layer to hopefully give it some texture.  And since the crepes were not all exactly the same size, I used a 7″ cake round and pizza cutter to cut them to shape.


The cake was taking longer than I thought it would.  With 5 minutes left, I had yet to incorporate the pomegranate syrup.  So once again in a time crunch, I resorted to making whipped cream flavored with the syrup.  I spread that over the cake (which needed about 10 more layers in my opinion) and watched the timer hit 0.

Next time I attempt a crepe cake, I will give myself 2 hours minimum.  I would have liked to pour chocolate ganache over it, as that would have gone well with the coffee flavor.  And I really would have liked it to be a bit taller.  I didn’t count how many crepe layers were in my cake but upon inspection once cut, I think it was about 14.


The cake has a different kind of texture.  It’s chewy.  But that’s what I thought of Lady M’s cakes so I guess I did it right.  I’m not sure that I’ll make the cookies again.  They had a good sandy crumb, but they seemed a little dry.

Alright, almost time for week 4.  Now hiring dishwashers!


Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti, courtesy of Joy of Baking.com

2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios, coursely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar and eggs on high until thick, pale, and fluffy (about 5 minutes).  Beat in the vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add to the egg mixture and beat until combined.  Fold in the pistachios and cranberries.

Transfer the dough to the parchment lined baking sheet and form into a log about 12″ long and 4″ wide.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cutting board.  Diagonally cut into 3/4″ slices and place biscotti back on the baking sheet, cut side down.  Bake for 10 minutes, flip over, and bake another 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.


Pizzicati Cookies with Pistachio Flour modifications:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely ground unsalted pistachios
1/2 cup cornstarch
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 tsp pistachio extract
1 cup jam

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, pistachio flour, cornstarch, powdered sugar, and baking powder.  Beat in the egg, butter, and pistachio extract.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough and cut into 3″ rounds.  Put enough jam in the center that still allows you to pinch together two ends and keep the jam inside.

Bake in oven for about 12-14 minutes, or until dough turns a light golden brown.  Cool on cooling rack and store in airtight container.  May dust with powdered sugar.


Dessert Crepes (makes about eight 8″ crepes, recipe can be doubled):

2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup water
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 cup flour

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  Grease a pan heated to medium and pour batter in center.  Swirl pan to evenly coat and cook for about 1-2 minutes.  Lift edge up to test if done, then flip when ready to cook the other side for about 30 seconds.  How long they cook depends on how hot the pan is, keep an eye on them!  I also added about 1 tsp instant espresso powder to the batter for this challenge.


Coffee Pastry Cream:

2 cups milk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp coffee extract
1 tsp instant espresso powder

Over medium high heat, bring milk and 1/4 cup granulated sugar to a boil in a medium pot.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and cornstarch.  When the milk boils (careful, it boils over quick!), drizzle half the milk over the egg mixture, whisking constantly, then slowly drizzle back into pot, continuing to whisk until mixture thickens and comes to a boil.  Remove from heat and add the butter, extracts, and espresso powder.  Pour into a heat proof container and cover directly on the surface with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until cool.

Hi, welcome back.  Week 2 of Holiday Baking Championship Challenge is in the bag!  If you’re new to my blog, I am baking along to the Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network and blogging all my successes and failures.  And believe me, I’ve experienced both.  So that being said, let’s get into it!

Week 2 started with the bakers teaming up and making four pies in the same sheet pan in two hours.  That’s all well and good, but I don’t know of anyone else baking along to these challenges.  If YOU are, please comment because I’d love to follow you!  My boyfriend offered to be on my team.  And it’s not that I didn’t appreciate that (he bought store made pie dough two years ago), but I thought the better choice might be the woman who taught me how to bake . . . Mom!


Mom came over and I showed her the lay of the land (kitchen).  Time was going to fly so I needed her to know where everything was.  After a quick pow wow, we got to work.

I started with the pie dough and used a recipe that my grandma got from her house cleaner.  It uses vodka and LOTS of butter, in my opinion.  But we’re not counting our calories on this one.  While I was whizzing it all in the food processor, Mom worked on the pies that needed to be baked.  You see, I thought it would be nice to have two baked pies and two “nonbaked” pies, but I didn’t want any dividers (pie dough) separating them.  So once the dough was made, I rolled it out onto the sheet pan and carefully put nonstick foil with pie weights in the center where the custard/cream pies would go.  If all goes to plan, the dough in the center would blind bake while the other two pies baked through.


Mom was fast! She cut up the apples and heated them on the stove with some cinnamon, sugar, lemon zest, and butter.  Then she made our family’s traditional pie, the oh-so-beloved derby.  She got started on the butterscotch before I finished getting the dough all set.


When the sheet pan was meticulously laid out with dough, foil, and pie weights, I poured the derby and apple pies in their respective places and got it baking.  This was probably about 40 minutes in.  I wasn’t worried about time since the sheet pie was shorter and longer and would bake much quicker than your typical round pie pan.


I got started on the chocolate cream pie while Mom finished up the butterscotch.  It was a little challenging because we took most of our recipes and cut them in 1/2 or 1/3 mentally.  I had to keep reminding myself that so I didn’t screw up the measurements.  Mom kept busy and washed some dishes and the counters, which was super helpful.

The butterscotch and chocolate cream went into separate metal bowls and placed in the freezer as quickly as possible.  I cut the letters “ABCD” out of pie dough.  (Get it? Apple, Butterscotch, Chocolate Cream, Derby).  The pie came out of the oven with about 35 minutes left on the clock and the letters went in for a quick bake.  I had to scrape off a little of the derby pie which seeped underneath the foil, then I crammed the sheet pie into our spare freezer causing some of the crust to break slightly due to the tight fit.


Okay, checklist time.  Everything is cooling down.  The dough letters were done and put in the refrigerator.  The only things left to make were the meringue and whipped cream, which we would pipe onto the butterscotch and chocolate cream in the last 5 minutes.  Mom made the meringue and I took care of the whipped cream.  We decided with about 12 minutes left on the clock, ready or not, the sheet pie came out.

Phew!  It had cooled down enough and the custard/cream was cold enough to hold shape and not melt the toppings.  I spooned the B and C pies into place and started piping.  Meringue needed to go on first so it could get torched without melting the whipped cream.  Mom did the torching which left me 3 minutes on the clock to pipe the whipped cream.  I did it in 1 minute, placed the letters over each section, and we congratulated each other on finishing with 60 seconds to spare.  Felt nice to finish early!


Holy smokes!  That sheet pie was delicious!  One long slice and you get all 4 pies. The crust was flaky and fantastic.  I joked with the family that if the pie didn’t taste good, Mom made 3 of the 4 fillings.  But we didn’t have to worry about that, she’s still got IT!


While the preheat was a great team effort, it was back to flying solo for the main challenge: two hours to make a stuffed cake.  I wrote “apple, pear, blood orange, and cherry” on index cards and had my boyfriend randomly choose one.  Winner was . . . cherry!


Here’s the deal.  I don’t particularly like chocolate with my fruit.  It must be a family thing cause neither does my mom or sister.  But putting my feelings aside, I decided to stuff the cherries into a chocolate cake.  Wouldn’t exactly be a black forest cake, but along those lines.

I got started on the cake first, using a favorite chocolate cake recipe but adding an extra egg in hopes of making it slightly more dense to hold up the filling.  I have this nifty little cake pan where you put another rounded pan on top and it bakes with an indentation for filling.  I’ve actually never used it before, but now was the time!


When that was in the oven, I got out another little nifty thing I’ve never used before, a chocolate temperer attachment bowl for the Kitchenaid mixer.  I read the quick start guide and threw some semisweet chocolate in the bowl to temper.


While that was doing it’s thing, I put some frozen cherries, sugar, and brandy in a saucepan to cook.  When it cooked down a bit, I added a little cornstarch to thicken the mixture then threw it in the freezer to cool down.

There was about 45 minutes left on the clock when the chocolate was in temper and ready to pipe out in the shape of trees.  I wanted to create a forest scene with 2D and 3D trees standing on the base of the cake which was slightly wider than the dome.  I added some chopped mint to the chocolate (the challenge twist) and it seized.  Really didn’t have time to restart the whole process, so I set the machine at a higher temperature hoping to fix the problem and then bring it back in temper.

The cake was done so I inverted it on a baking rack to cool.  Mistake #1.  The dome that was created started to fall apart.  As gently as I could, I put it back into the mold, pressing it into certain places, and stuck it in the freezer.  It needed all the time it could get to cool down.  I decided I could assemble everything with about 15 minutes left so there it stayed and I shifted my focus on the frosting.


I made a white chocolate ganache and used a hand mixer to whip it up with some extra milk.  It didn’t quite have the fluffy effect I was going for.  Nothing seemed to be going my way.  But to my surprise, the chocolate being tempered looked glossy again.  I quickly put that in a piping back and piped some 2D trees out onto wax paper.  The ticking time took away my chance to make 3D trees.

Ready or not (I feel this in every challenge), time to assemble.  I grabbed the cake out of the freezer and put the base on a wooden cutting board.  Then I put the cherry filling in the domed cake and inverted it on top of the base.  When I started spreading the white chocolate ganache on top, Mistake #2, the cake started crumbling into it.  This would definitely not resemble a winter wonderland!  I had no choice but to make more whipped cream.  It’s what is used in an actual black forest cake so I consoled myself with that fact.  But I really didn’t want to make whipped cream again.  I am not a one-trick pony!


Well, it worked.  It covered what had become the crumb-coat and was a nice, bright white.  I had about 50 seconds left on the clock at this point.  Frantic, I placed the mint chocolate trees around the side and leaned a few against each other on top, threw 3 cherries on top to show what fruit was picked, and threw my hands up in the air, mainly out of frustration.  Time reminded me that it is not my friend.


So obviously, I wasn’t too thrilled with the overall look of the finished cake.  I had envisioned so much more.  But cutting into it, seeing the filling and everything holding up, taking a bite of the chocolate cake with the sweet, juicy cherries and lush white chocolate frosting; it was good.  The flavor combination was spot on.  And the chocolate tree snapped and faintly tasted of mint.  Mission accomplished.



Fool Proof Pie Dough derived from the NY Times/America’s Test Kitchen:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into slices
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup vodka
3-4 Tbsp cold water

Process flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and pulse briefly, no more than 10 times. Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add vodka and water to mixture and pulse until dough is slightly tacky, about 5 times.  Turn out dough, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour or longer.


Derby Pie

1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
3/4 cup flour
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup light corn syrup
5 3/4 oz evaporated milk
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325F.

Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over a 9-inch unbaked pie crust.

In a mixing bowl, combine flour and sugar.  Whisk in the butter, corn syrup, and evaporated milk.  Beat eggs and whisk into flour/sugar mixture until smooth.  Mix in vanilla.  Slowly pour mixture over the chocolate chips, pushing down any chocolate chips that rise to the top.  Bake for 45-60 minutes until set.


Open Faced Apple Pie

8 apples, cored, peeled, and sliced or chopped
3 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp corn starch
2 Tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 350F

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine apples, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt, sugars, and zest.  Cook until the sugars dissolve and syrup forms.  Add the corn starch and butter and continue to cook a few more minutes until slightly thickened.  Pour over unbaked pie crust.  Bake for 45 minutes or until apples pierce easily.


Butterscotch Pie from AllRecipes.com

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (9 inch) pie shell, baked
3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the brown sugar, flour, and cornstarch. Mix in beaten egg yolks and milk. Cook slowly, stirring constantly.  When thick (after about 12 minutes), remove from heat. Add butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Pour the filling into the baked pie shell.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Beat in cream of tarter, white sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla until stiff peaks form. Spread meringue over pie filling.  Either torch the meringue or bake in a 375F oven until meringue peaks turn a golden brown.


Chocolate Cream Pie

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups milk
4 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips
9-inch baked pie shell

In a saucepan, stir together sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, and salt.  Combine egg yolks and milk and blend into sugar mixture.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil.  Stir an additional 1 minute then remove from heat.  Stir in butter, vanilla, and chocolate chips.  Mix until chips are melted.

Pour into pie shell, press plastic wrap directly on top, and refrigerate several hours until cool.  Garnish with sweetened whipped cream and mini chocolate chips.


Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cups water
2 cups flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease and flour 2 8-inch cake pans.

In mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar.  Add eggs and vanilla and continue beating on high for 3 minutes.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Alternately add flour mixture and water to sugar mixture, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.

Bake 30-35 minutes until cake springs back after being pressed and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes in pans, then run knife along edges and turn out onto a cooling rack.


Cherry Compote

2 bags frozen cherries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp brandy
pinch of salt
1 Tbsp cornstarch

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine cherries, sugar, brandy, and salt.  Cook for 6-8 minutes, then add cornstarch and continue cooking until mixture thickens slightly.  Chill until ready to use.


White Chocolate Ganache

1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 cups white chocolate chips

Heat heavy cream in saucepan until it begins to boil.  Pour over chocolate chips and stir until melted and smooth.

Well, well, well . . . look who it is.  This neglectful blogger is back for another season of Holiday Baking Championship from Home.  If you’ve found my blog, you probably know what the Holiday Baking Championship is.  But just in case, let’s get formalities out of the way.

Holiday Baking Championship is a weekly show on Food Network that airs November and December.  It showcases nine bakers abilities to craft something delicious in a limited amount of time centered around a certain theme.  Two years ago, I challenged myself to bake along and document my successes and failures using the same guidelines.  And here I am, back to do it again.  Enjoy the show!

The preheat for week 1 was to bake up pumpkin spice treats in 90 minutes.  To me, pumpkin spice is a cold weather, comfort food kind of flavor.  So I went with a dessert I had years ago in Scotland and is still one of my favorites, Sticky Toffee Pudding.  Or rather, Sticky Toffee Pumpkin Spice Pudding with whipped cream and a cinnamon tuile.  Recipes at the bottom . . .

I have to say, I was twiddling my thumbs a bit during this challenge.  Maybe I didn’t bite off enough.  The puddings were in the oven within 10 minutes and only took about 30 minutes to bake since I used a muffin pan.  The toffee sauce just required putting ingredients in a saucepan and stirring for a few minutes after it all melted.  And whipped cream, well that’s always pretty simple.  I was proud of myself for remembering to put the mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer at the beginning.





I thought with 30 minutes left, I would be done and waiting for the clock to wind down.  That is until I had to make tuiles three times.  The first batch was too runny and produced a greasy mess.  The second batch burned.  Third time around, it was down to the wire, throwing them on my puddings during the last 10 seconds.  I might have burned my fingertips slightly in the process.  Initially, I wanted to give the dessert some color so I dyed the tuile batter orange.  Then I spooned them out on the baking sheet to resemble pumpkins.  When that batch didn’t work, I figured I’d roll them to look like straws.  But you already know I burnt that batch. So the final result was boring but at least made it on the plate.

Sticky Toffee Pumpkin Spice Pudding.  Sweet, but so good!  An overall success.




Moving on to the main heat.  The challenge was Yule Log Mashups.  I took the 9 choices of mashups available, wrote them on slips of paper, and drew one.  The options were: chocolate cheesecake, pinwheel cookies, pumpkin cheesecake, apple pie, peppermint swirl cheesecake, sweet potato pie, pecan pie, linzer cookies, and ginger molasses cookies.  I just kept thinking “not peppermint swirl, not peppermint swirl” as I drew chocolate cheesecake.  Great!  Except it required a trip to the grocery to get cream cheese.



Once the two hour time limit began, I got started on my swiss roll cake.  It’s pretty simple, just have to separate the eggs, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, and fold them into the yolk/flour/sugar mixture.  I decided to go with a vanilla cake flavor because I thought it would work well with the chocolate cheesecake and it would be light in color and a good contrast when slicing the dessert.


With the cake in the oven, I got started on meringue for the meringue mushrooms. They take a good 90+ minutes to bake, low and slow, so they were early on the priority list.  The egg whites were still cold so I did what some of the others bakers did and took my mini blow torch to heat the bowl while they were whipping.  The bowl must have had some remnants from the previous cake batter because something started burning.  Now my bowl had a burn mark (which I tried to scrub away but still maintains a scar) and my meringue had a burnt taste.  Ah well, the mushrooms are just a decoration so I went ahead with them.  The twist in this round was to incorporate brandy and since I was going to take these treats to work, I put the brandy in the meringue batter and figured I’d leave the mushrooms at home.


Once the mushrooms were piped and in the oven, I whipped up the no bake chocolate cheesecake and stuck that in the freezer to firm up.  No issues there and I was looking good on time.

The cake came out of the oven with no spring in its step.  It was more like a pancake.  Well, I did decide to substitute the flour with almond flour for a subtle nutty flavor.  Apparently it didn’t like that.  Washed the mixing bowl and started over, using a different recipe this time.  Fortunately, swiss roll cakes don’t take long to bake.

The next cake turned out excellent and springy.  I turned it onto a powdered sugar dusted tea towel and rolled it up, sticking it in the freezer to cool.  But by now, I only had about 15 minutes left.

I knew I wanted to roll the finished cake in graham cracker crumbs which would be the crust to the cheesecake.  But I needed to adhere it with something.  I didn’t want to make whipped cream since I did that on the last challenge.  So I melted down some marshmallows with butter and then mixed in powdered sugar hoping it would make it less sticky.  It didn’t work.  But by now, I had 10 minutes to assemble the cake and the meringue mushrooms were still in the oven.  Ready or not, I had to take them out.


While the meringues were cooling, I grabbed the vanilla cake and chocolate cheesecake out of the freezer.  The cake was still a little warm in the center, but I had no more time and needed the spread the cheesecake on top.  I rolled it up at the long side cause I wanted a long cake, but that meant less of a roll.  Oh well!  I took a spatula and spread the marshmallow on the cake as good as I could and threw some graham cracker crumbs on top that didn’t want to stick.  You can only imagine how messy the kitchen looked at this point!

Time ran out.  My mushrooms were assembled but not on the cake.  I chalked it up to the fact that I had to wash bowls several times and the bakers on TV don’t have to do that so I added 2 minutes to my time and threw the mushrooms on the cake.  So maybe it was cheating slightly, but there are some disadvantages that I have that they don’t have on the show.  Regardless, I promise to not let it happen again.

When I sliced the cake to take pictures, I didn’t see a good roll.  Ugh, defeated at this point, I took a slice and sat down to pout.  Fortunately, it all tasted really good.  Even the burnt meringues were fine, though I didn’t get much brandy taste.  I took some solace in the fact that I now had a great go-to swiss roll cake recipe, I just need to roll it from the short side.



Now I’ve got my head in the game, I’m determined to make Week 2 great.  Stay with me, it can only get better.

Egg count: 15.


Sticky Toffee Pumpkin Spice Pudding:

75 g dried cherries
2 Tbsp butter
200 g brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
200 g self-raising flour

For the sauce:
2 Tbsp butter
6 oz heavy cream
200 g brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease muffin tin or cake tin.

To make the pudding, soak the dried cherries in a bowl of hot water for 5 minutes.

Beat the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl on high for 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, pumpkin puree, baking soda, and pumpkin pie spice. Mix in the flour until just combined. Drain the soaked cherries and mix into the batter. Spoon the mixture into the pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan with the sugar, cream, and cinnamon. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

To serve, turn out the pudding (warm) and spoon the sauce over. Top with whipped cream or ice cream.


Tuile Cookies:

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg white
2 1/2 Tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg white until combined.  Do not whip like a meringue.  Whisk the melted butter, flour, and cinnamon until combined.  The mixture should be smooth.

Spoon a small amount of batter on a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Spread out thinly and bake for 9-10 minutes.  Shape the tuiles as desired immediately out of the oven.  They will set up quickly.


Yule Log Chocolate Cheesecake Mashup:

Vanilla Swiss Roll:

4 eggs, separated
5 oz granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of cream of tartar
4 oz all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Separate the eggs and reserve 2 Tbsp of sugar for the egg whites, add the remaining sugar to the egg yolks. Whisk the yolks until thick and pale yellow. Add the vanilla.

Whisk the eggs whites with the cream of tarter until foamy. Turn the mixer on high and gradually add the reserved sugar. Whisk until the whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks.

Gently mix the flour into the egg yolks. Then fold in half the egg whites to lighten the mixture. Fold in the other half and spread mixture onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cake springs back after pressing with one finger.

Sprinkle powdered sugar onto a tea towel, turn cake out onto the towel and roll up to cool.


No Bake Chocolate Cheesecake Filling:

8 oz semi sweet chocolate chips, melted
16 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese, brown sugar, granulated sugar, milk, and vanilla in mixing bowl on high speed for 2 minutes. Add melted chocolate and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Cover and refrigerate.


Meringue Mushrooms:

3 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tarter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp brandy (optional)
1 oz semi sweet chocolate, melted

Preheat oven the 200F. Line baking sheet with parchment.

Whisk the egg whites and cream of tarter on medium speed until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high and gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat until shiny and holds still peaks. Transfer meringue into piping bag fitted with a round tip.

Pipe 2 inch round mounds onto baking sheet. Smooth any pointy tips down with a wet finger. Pipe cone shapes about 1 inch tall for the stems. Bake for 75-90 minutes.

Once they have cooled, spread chocolate on the underneath side of the domes and insert pointy end of the cone into the chocolate covered side. Stand up the mushrooms and let chocolate set before using.

I’m back! . . . in all senses.  Back from France, and back in the “rat house.”  It’s amazing that we spent almost 2 months (7 weeks, to be exact) away from our house and all our belongings because of some stupid little rodents.  And to think, our landlord said we’d be back in shortly after Thanksgiving.

Anyways, I’m sorry for posting this so late after the Holiday Baking Championship ended, but I didn’t want to dive into 6.5 hours of baking until my kitchen was available and thoroughly cleaned.  With all my supplies out and ready to go, it was time for the preheat.


For this challenge, the bakers were given 90 minutes to make one sweet and one savory snack for Santa’s overlooked friends.  In the nature of the competition, I wrote down the 3 subjects (reindeer, polar bear, and penguin) and blindly drew.  Of course, I got polar bear which was the one I was completely unprepared for.  After a quick minute of brainstorming, I came up with Coca Cola cupcakes (who doesn’t remember that polar bear??) and comforting mac n’ cheese.

The first thing I did was put some coca cola in a saucepan and got it simmering.  Then I started on the cupcakes so they would have time to bake and cool before frosting.  I made a cocoa batter adding about a cup and a half of cola.  Took about 20 minutes until they were ready for baking.

Then I got some water boiling and started grating cheese.  In another saucepan, I melted the cheese with some milk, salt and pepper, cream cheese, onion, and jalapeños.  Boiled up some pasta, drained it, and mixed with the cheese, scooped into ramekins and in the oven as the cupcakes came out.


All the while, I was swirling and keeping an eye on the simmering soda.  It was starting to reduce and thicken, but still not quite enough.  The cupcakes had a lovely dome, so I guess the cola didn’t affect the leavening process.  I got those in the freezer for a quick cool down and started on the frosting.  I made the ol’ standard, American vanilla buttercream, adding just a little bit of soda.  Checked back on the reduced soda which was starting to smoke and smell a little burned.  I took it off the stove and set it aside to cool slightly.  Well cool it did, and harden.  I guess I boiled it to hard ball stage.  It was not usable.


I was able to start assembling the cupcakes with 15 minutes left.  After frosting them, they just looked kind of boring.  I didn’t have cola gummy candies, but I still had lots of holiday sprinkles.  So I sprinkled those on.  Drizzled a little bit of cola over the tops, and they were ready to go.

The mac ‘n cheese was bubbling away.  It was left in the oven until the very last minute.  I realize now that they probably don’t qualify as a baked item.  But in my haste, since it goes in the oven for 30 minutes, I was thinking it would count.  Oh well, I like mac ‘n cheese and I think polar bears would too.


The main heat was to create a North Pole inspired cake in 5 hours.  The three options were: elves in the workshop, snowman family Christmas, and Santa’s sleigh ride.  I did not choose this one at random because I wanted the cake to be multi-purpose and work for a family belated birthday gathering.  My aunt celebrated a big birthday while we were in France and we were celebrating late.  I chose to make the elves cake so I could turn all the little elves into my family members.  I set the timer and got to work.

This was going to be a big cake so I wanted 2 flavors.  My aunt doesn’t like nuts, my boyfriend doesn’t like coconut, so I kept it neutral and made a white cake with Christmas sprinkles mixed in the batter, and a moist chocolate cake.  Vanilla frosting would go with both, but I’d need a lot of it, so I settled on swiss meringue buttercream.  The cake batters took about 40 minutes to make and divide into 4 pans.  While they were baking, I made the buttercream.  Whoa that’s a lot of butter!  But a very nice consistency for spreading.



I had pre-made white modeling chocolate so while the cakes cooled, I started on my elves. That is, until I got a message from my mom that our birthday gathering would be postponed until a week later.  This cake was not saving that long!  Making elves that look like us would take a lot of time, probably more than what I had to work with, so I redesigned the cake and made the elves normal looking.  Also scrapped the idea of the workshop being decorated for a birthday and the elves holding a birthday cake.  They would now be working on making Christmas presents, like elves do.



I wanted to have the cake assembled early so I could put decorations on it.  So I put aside making the elves and rolled out a strip of modeling chocolate colored brown to look like a wood floor.  The cakes were sufficiently cooled at this point so I split the small 7 inch cakes and frosted them.  The 10 inch bottom tier was shorter (on purpose) so I didn’t split the cake into layers.  The white cake would have been fine because it was pretty dense, but the chocolate cake would have fallen apart had I split that one.

I stacked the cakes how I wanted them and added the wood floor.  I took time cutting the modeling chocolate to fit the space I needed but it probably would have been quicker to cover the top of the bottom tier with the “wood floor” and then plop the top tier over it.  Oh well, this is a learning experience, after all.


With the cake assembled, I was starting to feel a little better.  Then I realized I was down to about 45 minutes and still had to make 2 complete elves (except the heads I made earlier), a table, some presents, and other little embellishments.  Powdered sugar was flying, it was craziness!  The elves lost a lot of details I had wanted to do.  But I had to get them done as the theme to this cake was Elves in the Workshop.  I only had time to make one little present out of modeling chocolate.  The table I made was sagging.  But I threw as much as I could on the cake before the time ran out.






I wish I had even just one extra hour for some of the other little details I had wanted to do. But it goes to show you how fast 5 hours really is.  One thing I wish I had done was put dowels in the bottom tier because the weight of the top tier pressed down on the bottom.  But I didn’t have any dowels.  Overall, I was happy with the final result.  I love working with modeling chocolate and though I’m not an artist or sculptor, I can usually make things recognizable.  Fondant might be easier to use, but I really don’t like it.

If my calculations are correct, that would wrap up 17 hours and 45 minutes of baking along to the Holiday Baking Championship.  It was fun.  Some challenges were more successful than others, and I got to try new things.  I’ll keep practicing and maybe I’ll give it another go during the Spring Baking Championship.  Thanks for following along!


I am beat! My parents and I got into France 2 days ago. And last night, jet lag got the best of me and I was wide awake at 3:00 am. Powered through the day and decided to complete the weekly baking tasks from the Holiday Baking Championship.

A trip to the grocery and $400 later, I was ready to go. We are staying in a house that belongs to my sister’s coworker, which is incredibly nice of her and her husband. However, she does not have many baking ingredients or tools.  The grocery wasn’t easy since some American ingredients don’t exist here. I had to keep it simple this week because of that fact and also wishing not to spend any more money.  Due to timing and coordinating with dinner, I made the main heat first and whipped up the preheat after.

The main heat was a Croqembouche, or stacked cream puffs to resemble a Christmas tree.  How very French!  I went with a classic profiterole recipe with lightened pastry cream.

The first challenge was not having any measuring cups. I found a disposible mini tart pan that looked close to a cup measure and used that.  I weighed the butter and used google to convert tablespoons to grams.  The dough turned out great, to my surprise.  Measurements successful!  I dropped spoonfuls on the only cookie sheet I could find and got it baking.




Then I made pastry cream.  It turned out quite light in color, I suspect I didn’t use enough egg yolks. In the freezer it went for a quick cool down.  I didn’t think the cream would be enough to fill all the puffs so I made some whipped cream and folded it in.

Got the  pâte à choux out of the oven and stuck that in the freezer to cool.  Meanwhile, I melted a bar of chocolate on the stove which would be my base for putting it all together. Also found a star cookie cutter and used that as a mold for chocolate since the twist was to add a star topper.  Good thing there is a lot of freezer space here so that had time to set up as well.

With 15 minutes to go on the 2 hour challenge, I started filling puffs and stacking.  This is where I got most frustrated. There were no bags to be found.  I’ve never made a piping bag out of parchment paper and one YouTube video was unsuccessful in teaching me.  I didn’t have time to try again, so I split the puffs and spooned cream in the center.  Drizzled the chocolate around the puffs to get them to stick to each other while stacking.

I made a mad dash to the other room to retrieve the pièce de résistance, the star, unmolded it, and practically threw it on the tree at the buzzer.

My tree was a bit rough.  But given the circumstances, it was a miracle I produced what I did.  Tasted pretty good too.



After dinner, I got started on the preheat; 1 hour to make a dessert in the shape of a stocking.  Once again using pretty basic ingredients, I settled upon making Millionaire Shortbread Bars.

Unable to find a pastry cutter or masher, I used my fingers to cut the butter into flour and sugar for the base.  Found a ceramic pan and got that baking.  Back to the stove to make a luscious caramel and also melt more chocolate.  Once the base was done, I spread the caramel on top and stuck in the freezer for 10 minutes.  Then I spread the chocolate over the caramel and back in the freezer it went.  It didn’t take long to realize that I wouldn’t finish in an hour.  I feel relatively confident that if I had a metal baking dish, it would have worked.  But the ceramic wouldn’t cool down in time making it impossible to cut the stockings out.  I lightly scored the stocking pattern on the chocolate and added the decorations that I could find.  After leaving them in the freezer for another hour, they were impossible to cut.  I got one out for a picture but will cut the others tomorrow.



I am about 90% sure that next weeks final challenge will have to wait until I’m back home and in my own kitchen.  It’s crazy that I’ve completed half of these in other people’s kitchens.  But I would like the last one to be well executed and I’ll need all the equipment I can get.  Hopefully when I get back in 10-12 days our house will be done with all the repairs.

Well I’m desperately grasping onto whatever holiday cheer I can grab at this point.  It has been 3 weeks since we’ve been displaced to hotels and Airbnb’s.  The roof rats have been taken care of (I hope), the plumbing has been fixed, but there are still holes throughout the entire house, no insulation, and no hope of moving forward with repairs until our landlord hears from his insurance.  It is beyond frustrating.  But I managed to keep the baking challenges going from my parents house, once again.

In case you’re not following along to the Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network, week 5 was a fun one.  The preheat: ugly holiday sweater inspired desserts.  I LOVE holiday sweaters!  I now own 7 of them, some of which light up.  For this challenge, I decided to make my mom’s favorite Christmas cookie, chocolate chip shortbread, and decorate them as ugly holiday ties, because those are just as fun as ugly holiday sweaters!

The bakers were given 1 hour to complete their desserts.  The cookies take approximately 9 minutes to bake.  Add in the time it takes to make the dough, roll it out, and cut out shapes with a knife (I don’t own a tie cookie cutter), I figured I would have about 25-30 minutes to decorate.

The dough is simple.  These are a variation of shortbread cookies, so you basically just combine lots of butter, sugar, and flour together, mix in mini chocolate chips, and you’re good to go.  This dough rolls out perfectly between wax paper.  I was even able to cut my ties pretty uniformly considering I was doing it by hand.  While they were baking, I got all of my decorating tools ready.  I was using melted chocolate to coat the ties and an easy icing of powdered sugar, milk, and corn syrup that could be colored and put in ziplock bags to pipe out designs.

Once the cookies were out of the oven, I gave them very little time to cool.  Afterall, the first step was to spread on warm chocolate so I didn’t think it would matter much.  The icing didn’t contain butter, so wouldn’t be too affected by heat either.  I piped on some snowmen and pandas (inspired by one of my sweaters but looked more like polar bears or dogs), and dotted green and red icing all over.  No problem completing on time.  I would say the ties turned out more cute than ugly, just like my sweaters!




Onto the main heat: 2 hours to make an edible box filled with baked treats.  The twist this time was to incorporate popcorn.  I thought a lot about this one.  I didn’t want to make a gingerbread box since I’ve made gingerbread already.  I settled on good ol’ white chocolate.  Some may find it boring, but it hardens fast.  With that settled, the rest just seemed to come together.

I love decorating Christmas trees.  We bought one for our house (always real because they smell and look so good), but it’s still sitting in the wrapping since we’re not there.  Determined to not let it get me down, I went out and bought another little 4 foot tree which is now decorated in the Airbnb.  My tree topper is a star.  Lightbulb!  I would make a star box to look like a tree topper and fill it with cake ball ornaments.

With the timer set, the first thing I made was a white cake batter and divided the dough so I could color half red and half green.  Those were in the oven in 20 minutes.  During the bake time, I made a vanilla American buttercream to mix into the cake crumbles.  The cake would need to cool so I had some time before I could make the cake balls.


The popcorn twist kind of threw me.  The contestants were given already popped popcorn.  I had to spend extra time popping it with my mom’s hot air popper.  Then I wanted to make caramel corn and treat the pieces as the little golden tops on glass ornaments.  I made the caramel sauce but it smelled a little burnt.  It would still be okay, I’ll just toss it around with the popcorn and get that in the oven on low heat while I started making the white chocolate star.

My mom has an aluminum star pan that I traced out on wax paper.  I wanted sharper lines so I got a ruler out and fixed the design.  Then I started piping the chocolate out.  I wanted this box to be see through so you could see the ornaments inside.  I achieved that by cross-hatching.  The piped chocolate was already starting to firm up but I still put it in the freezer to set up.


The cake was cooled by now so I mixed in the frosting and formed the balls.  In my original idea, I was going to make half of each ball red and the other half green, but I was running out of time.  I didn’t even have time to make a nice poured fondant like I wanted and had to settle on a powdered sugar/milk mixture to pour over.  I attached the popcorn tops, but the taste test proved that the caramel was indeed burnt.


Running out of time, I frantically started assembling the star box.  Melted extra white chocolate to hold it all together, but I realized the 3 inch sides were too long and I had to try and offset them so it didn’t fall apart.  The alarm went off and I still had to throw the cake ball ornaments in and close up the top.  That only took a couple of minutes.  I was frustrated that I didn’t finish this challenge on time.  But also reminded myself that I had to take time to wash mixing bowls and pop popcorn which isn’t something the contestants have to do.




Now to eat the creation.  I love sweet desserts but I thought the cake was too sweet.  The white chocolate complemented the flavor, but wasn’t super inventive.  The overall look to the dessert was quite impressive though so it wasn’t a complete failure.

Now for next week . . . I’m really hoping to get it done but I leave for France on Thursday, have to go through the rubble of my house (everything is sealed under plastic tarps) and somehow pack, and am not so sure my mom wants me frantically baking in her kitchen again.  I will try, but I might have to take a raincheck on the next 2 challenges until I get back in early January.  If that is the case, I’d like to wish you all a wonderful holiday and a happy new year!

I am determined to see this challenge through.  Even when my kitchen is completely enclosed in plastic from the restoration company, where there’s a will, there’s a way.  There’s also a mother who lives 20 minutes away.

Yes, that’s right.  The water is still turned off at my house and now the kitchen looks like a scene from the movie Outbreak.  Sounds like it could be a couple more weeks until our house is habitable again.  What else can be thrown at me during this baking challenge I’ve taken on?  Well, in less than 2 weeks, I leave to celebrate the holidays with my sister and her family in France.  There will be no baking in their kitchen since it’s a complete disaster.  But I may see what I can do in the house we’ll be staying in.  It’s an adventure, that’s for sure.

This weeks challenge was made in the kitchen of my parents.  My mom used to bake a lot when we were kids.  That’s probably where my love of it came from.  But she only bakes a handful of times a year now, so her equipment and pantry are very limited.  She’s got the basics: flour, sugar, eggs, butter.  As for assembly; cookie sheet, stand mixer, and holiday sprinkles are about the extent of it.

The preheat this week was to make a treat showcasing toasted marshmallows in 45 minutes.  I managed to snatch some marshmallows from under a tarp on our kitchen table and headed to my parents house.  After some digging there, I found a jar of molasses and we were in business.

I whipped up a batch of my favorite spicy gingerbread cookies.  Rolled out the dough and used a knife to cut out squares.  About 8-9 minutes in the oven is all it took and while they were baking, I melted some chocolate and spooned it into a plastic ziplock bag.  I located a small torch in a drawer which was a much better option than cooking marshmallows on the stove.


Assembly time.  Torch the marshmallow, sandwich between two gingerbread cookies, and drizzle chocolate on the top, sprinkling colored sugar for holiday flair.  Simple enough, but I realized that the marshmallows would need to be cooked more to get gooey all the way through and smash down.  I didn’t have much time left so I stuck a plate of marshmallows in the microwave and heated for 20 seconds.  Spooned them on the cookies and toasted from there.  Voila!  Gingerbread s’mores.  They were good, but I thought the gingerbread overpowered the marshmallow slightly.



Onto the main heat: 2 hours to make a blinged out yule log.  Didn’t have much in the means of bling in this kitchen, but I had an idea.

The torch I used earlier would be great to toast meringue to look like a log.  And meringue goes really good with lemon.  The first thing I did was grab a saucepan and make lemon curd.  It needed time to cool and the jelly roll cake would only take 14 minutes to bake, which was the 2nd thing I whipped up.  After the cake had a few minutes to cool, I turned it out onto a tea towel dusted with powdered sugar (which also dusted me and the floor in the process) and rolled it up.



Assembly would be relatively quick, so I started on the decorations.  Pulled sugar!  It was the first thing I ever wrote about on this blog.  While being somewhat successful that time, it also resulted in slightly burnt fingers and a broken mercury thermometer.  So you can see my hesitation pulling out the replacement thermometer I bought that was exactly the same, mercury.

Carefully started heating the sugar and water in a saucepan with thermometer holding on to the side.  Used a pastry brush to brush water on the sides so as not to have sugar crystals.  Walked to the other side of the kitchen to figure out what I could use as gloves since my mom didn’t have any, and came back to find my sugar caramelized.  Great!  But rather than dump it and start over, I used a fork to make little droplets on a silpat which I would call “tree sap.”  The twist in the challenge was also to add a crunch so that solved that problem.  I was originally thinking of rolling the log in crushed shortbread and then topping with meringue, but I was worried the meringue would make it soggy.  And now I didn’t have to go that route.



Got another saucepan out and started on the sugar again.  Watched it like a hawk and took it off the heat as soon as it hit 298F.  Then I poured it on a clean silpat and prayed I wouldn’t burn myself.  Sugar gets hard pretty fast.  Once it was cool enough to handle, I added gel color and started pulling it.  Holly leaves would be super easy to pull.  I just pulled a piece about 5 inches long, and then grabbed it by the sides and pulled outwards in 3 sections.  Then I took a knife and slightly scored veins.


I poured a little more sugar on the silpat, colored it red, and tried to blow sugar berries.  One sort of worked, but it was more translucent than I wanted.  So I just took some sugar and rolled them into balls.

With the decorations done and 20 minutes left on the clock, I went into panic mode, dropping spatulas and such as I went.  Unrolled the jelly roll and spread on the lemon curd.  Rolled it back up and put it on a plate.  Whipped some egg whites and made a meringue, spread it on the cake, and got the torch going with 4 minutes to go.  That’s when I figured that my cake would be adorned with uncooked meringue, but it really didn’t take that long to brown.  Grabbed some “sap” and literally threw it on the cake.  Then I carefully picked up the holly and berries, placed it, and threw my hands up with the ringing of the timer.  Made it!






And I must say, I think my blinged out yule log rocks!  This is the challenge I’m most proud of so far.  The cake had a great crumb and was really freaking good.  So good I had 2 pieces.  Also, no mercury spillage.  Success!



Gingerbread Cookies:

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg yolk
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg

In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and sugar until smooth. Stir in molasses and egg yolk. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg; blend into the molasses mixture until smooth. Cover, and chill for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm. Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks. Frost or decorate when cool.

Lemon Jelly Roll Cake:

The Cake

3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 Tbs lemon juice
1 Tbs cold water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon zest

The filling

1 cup granulated sugar
3 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup lemon juice

Preheat over to 375°F.  Line a greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan with parchment paper. Grease the paper; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat eggs for 3 minutes. Gradually add sugar; beat for 2 minutes or until mixture becomes thick and lemon-colored. Stir in lemon juice and water. Combine dry ingredients and zest; fold into egg mixture. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.

Bake for 12-14 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes.

Invert onto a kitchen towel dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Gently peel off waxed paper. Roll up cake in the towel jelly-roll style, starting with a short side. Cool completely on a wire rack.

For filling, in a small saucepan, combine the sugar, flour, egg, water and lemon juice. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Cook and stir for 1 minute or until thickened. Remove from the heat; cool to room temperature.

Unroll cake; spread filling evenly over cake to within 1 in. of edges. Roll up again. Place seam side down on a serving platter.

Pulled sugar:

Heat 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar and 100 ml water in saucepan over medium/high heat.  Bring to a boil and add 1 tsp lemon juice.  Continue to heat until mixture reaches 298°F and remove from heat.  Pour on silpat and use a scraper to fold over liquid until it becomes thicker and cool enough to handle.  Pull sugar and shape.

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.