Saturday, December 29, 2012

Baked Sunday Mornings: Classic Shortbread with Fleur de Sel

 There are times that a dream about baking butter cookies for their simple pleasures.  Hubby is from Pennsylvania and craves sand tarts, I enjoy baking rolling, cutting, and decorating sugar cookies made with lots of butter with my grandkiddies, and sometimes I bake chocolate butter cookies.  I love shortbread cookies with a layer of caramel similar to the soft caramel we recently made and maybe covered in chocolate, and sometimes I add finely chopped nuts...these buttery cookies are so versatile and truly say Christmas.

3 of my grandchildren have invited Hubby and I to a talent show at their house New Year’s evening.  They sing, play instruments, have art work, and love to perform and show off.  Their Frolicking Night Owl mom is providing a hot chocolate bar with lots of wonderful mix-ins (including homemade marshmallows, lots of candies, and real whipped cream), and I will bring something to dunk into that delicious, hot, sipping dark chocolate, possibly my shortbread cookies.

These cookies are, however, not really made for dunking.  They have a tender, flaky crumb and are a bit fragile.  I dipped several in dark chocolate and added sprinkles, crushed candy canes, or broken-up whoppers (in honor of all the malt we use in Baked recipes).  But I had to be very careful; I admit to breaking a few.  (We needed something to taste.)

Today’s Classic Shortbread cookies are beautiful, fill the house with their buttery aroma, and taste delicious, but they would not be a good choice to mail as many shortbread cookies are.

These cookies are similar to a recipe I usually bake for my shortbreads, however today’s recipe adds egg yolk and rice flour which is different.  My recipe has no egg and calls for a little corn starch.  I enjoy these cookies with cirtus zests, but chose to go more plain today (I did add vanilla) hoping for a cookie that would pair well with the hot chocolate bar.

Anyway, what a great way to begin the new year!  Time with family, continuing the eating season, and relaxing before getting into my busiest office time of year (year end paperwork and then taxes...UCK!).

Can’t wait to see what you have done with your cookies...I enjoy all your ideas.

Happy New Year to each of you.  Hope you all have a terrific New Year!!!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Baked Sunday Mornings: Holiday Spice Cake

Pure Snow, Sleigh Bells, Glittering Parties, Douglas Firs, and Hot Chocolate--That's what this Cake is Imbued With!!!
Holiday Spice Cake

It’s almost Christmas.  The Baked Holiday Spice Cake with Eggnog Buttercream is perfect for this special time of year.  I did not know exactly what to expect for this photo in the book, and was a happily surprised by how delightful this cake is!  This spice cake is not typical.  Not like a more heavy flavored, traditional spice cake.  The flavors are well defined yet light, as is this cake.

And I was so happy with the buttercream frosting.  Our last episode with a similar buttercream frosting did not excite me.  It was hot here in AZ and with all the butter the recipe did not hold up well.  But today the temps are only in the mid 60's (about 72 inside) and the buttercream is perfect.  I just set the cake outside for use tomorrow at my daughter’s birthday party.  It will be well refrigerated tonight.  The frosting did not require any refrigeration, but came together exactly as it should, and with the flavor additions, it is heavenly.   It truly does “push all the romantic holiday buttons” as the Baked Boys suggest.  For sure, I’ll make this cake and this frosting again!!!

Well, the big day is almost here.  Wishing all of you a Very Merry Christmas and a Wonderful New Year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesdays with Julia and Dorie: Finnish Pulla

I have a few of my own food groups which are necessary for my mental and physical health:

Number 1: Dark Chocolate
Number 2: Caramel
Number 3: Cookies, in general
Number 4: Good Freshly baked breads

I enjoy other foods, but these daily are necessities. 

A great bread completes meals, holds other ingredients such as in a sandwich form, and even greater breads can be the meal.

I enjoyed making today’s dough, shaping and decorating the wreath, smelling the aroma, and now I’m enjoying the great texture and flavor of this Finnish Pulla which is a cardamom flavored bread, that because of shape and flavoring is quickly linked with Christmas.

Being the gift-giving time of year, I made two batches of dough, divided each in half, making one for us to try and 3 for friends.  I used pizza pans, as suggested in the recipe, for baking, and a half-size is a lovely size for those at home today.

A few minutes ago...
My baking was almost done when a friend, Louise,  came with gift in hand and I was certainly happy to be pulling hot bread from my oven, and even better, Christmas, wreath shaped, bread.   Louise, shouted, “Oh, you are baking Swedish bread, I love Swedish bread!”

And interestingly, #1 son returned from a month in Sweden two days ago, so he also is very interested in this bread.  Well, there went three loaves, just like that.  One for us, one for Louise, and one for #1 son.  I’ll find someone special for my last wreath.

I guess Louise and #1 are correct...even though this is Finnish bread, I’m thinking it is also Swedish?  I’m sure they know more than I in this area. 

Except for when l bite into a little pearl of sugar, this Pulla is not a sweet bread, in my opinion, although #2 Son  tasted it right out of the oven and he thinks it is sweet.  I’m thinking cinnamon rolls and those, of course, are much more sweet.

The flavors are very good, yet more subtle that I imagined...again I’m comparing to a cinnamon roll type wreath.  I will serve what remains of our wreath for dinner as I’m sure it will make a good  meal type bread rather than a dessert bread.  I’m guessing that those who enjoy a hot cup of coffee would love to sit down with a chunk of this wreath and with their hot drink this pairing would make a perfect break.  I’ll go for some sipping hot chocolate and with my wreath portion, I’ll take a comforting moment before tackling my next Christmas baking project.

Can’t wait to see your posts and get more great ideas for you...and I always do.
Hope you all have a great week.  Merry Christmas to all.  Happy Baking!


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Baked Sunday Mornings: Soft Candy Caramels


Tis the season for butter and sugar and more butter and sugar.  And all of it creates a jolly joy at my house.  As I make the caramels and type up this post I am interrupted often by the ringing doorbell signaling happy neighbors and friends bringing more sugar and butter for us to try...and so far, it’s all good! 

I made a triple batch of today’s Soft Candy Caramels which have been one of the dreamed about candies for my treat platters.  They did not disappoint!

The texture, consistency, and flavor are all really good, and with a dipping of chocolate and a sprinkling of snowflake like fleur de sel they are even better!!!
I do have two comments for “fixes” I need to make.  First of all, next time I’ll try all cream and no condensed milk...I can taste that canned milk in my final product, and I prefer only cream.  I don’t know if there is a reason for the canned milk...I’ll have to do a search; possibly the extra sugar is needed.  And, Second, I was expecting more flavor from the fleur de sel which is pricy and special so I want to experience it.  This special salt disappeared in this candy.  I was expecting something like the trendy salted caramel flavor.  So I fixed these issues with a chocolate dip and more salt as a garnish.  Perfection. 

These caramels dip well...I’m not a great chocolatier or dipper...but once set and packaged in little candy papers, these caramels look wonderful.

Well, I have to say Merry Christmas and good-bye for now...the bell is ringing again.  Enjoy!

Friday, December 14, 2012

French Friday's With Dorie: Chicken, Apples, and Cream a la Normande

I’m certainly glad I did not miss today’s chicken recipe.  It is, as #2 son describes, fit for a king.  I call it a superb one-pan meal that is good enough for company.

#2 son is back at home with us and we had just finished putting up the Christmas tree.  I’d had a huge lunch and was not very hungry, but I knew that #2 son would be starved after his long day and then helping me with the tree; it was now almost 8 pm.  Hubby is working out of town for a couple of days and I planned to take a cooking break which was not working out for my hungry son.  I mentioned to him that I had all the ingredients for the next FFwD cooking challenge, and if he was up for French food, I’d cook this recipe and get a little ahead...who knows what may happen on any day of busy December.  He was up for anything even though I thought it would most likely take me 1 to 1 ½ hours before we could eat and it was already well past dinnertime.

The recipe is simple using ingredients I already had in my pantry and fridge and the cooking time is short.  I was surprised when this meal was ready in 30 minutes, yet it is special and delicious.  We loved the apples, mushrooms, and onions with the creamy sauce which made this chicken so delicious. 

I served this chicken dish atop mashed potatoes...I continue to use up all those potatoes Hubby brought home at Thanksgiving.  It is about 85^ every day here in AZ, so all the zillions of pounds he thought I would need are out in the garage suffering a quick death.  The creamy sauce was wonderful with our mashed potatoes.  (Well, that was a few days ago.  I don't think the temp reached 70^ today; having a little rain.)

#2 Son was amazed that I could make such a super meal in such a short time.  He loves to cook and knows that chopping, making a delicious sauce, getting the chicken done, etc. takes time.  He was very interested in the process and wants to cook this recipe himself next time.  Ok with me!  Glad he enjoyed it so much.

I would not hesitate to use this recipe as a main course for a holiday meal.  It is different from our usual fare, is delicious, and would go well with many other foods.

Hope you are all enjoying the holidays!!!  Wishing our best for you all!!!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Baked Sunday Mornings: Spicy Brownies

 What size would you like? 
Look at that nice, clean cut...these are perfect brownies!

Growing up in the West, I’ve always loved Mexican foods with flavorful spices and lots of color, but their pastries and baked goodies are lacking.  They have less sugar and, in general, less spice.  They are beautiful, but are often dry and always lack “something,” in my opinion.  For example: I purchased some beautiful cinnamon rolls not to long ago at the Mexican market.  The cinnamon part was great, however, there was no sugar and no butter in that wound up dough bun.  Not what I expected.  And the frosting was something like powdered sugar, shortening, with a little water.  Bleahhhhh!

But the marriage of good  American brownies and a Southwestern flare in the spices department is a wonderful combination.  I’ve always loved spicy brownies, however, I’ve not tried ancho chile powder, only regular chile powder in the past.  And, I’ve not added ginger to my brownies, so this is a new flavor combination for me.

Not too long ago, my daughter, Emmie Lou Who, spent 18 months in Taiwan and while there she introduced her new friends to American baking; specifically brownies which were her specialty.  The Taiwan cuisine uses stovetop cooking and no ovens.  Thus, no baked goods.  They have steamed buns, but few sweets.  There are bakeries, but no brownies.  Emmie was asked to bring brownies wherever she went...the church kitchen had an oven that she was allowed to use.  For fun, she held brownie and cookie baking classes often. Emmie made lots of friends!

Another daughter, Frolicking Night Owl, is our family brownie specialist.  I quit baking brownies as hers are always so much better...and the last  two times I’ve baked them, I’ve not liked crusty on top and too gooey in the middle.  I like to try new recipes, but my past two trials have failed miserably.  My owl bakes them in so many ways and so often that I have taken brownie baking out of my repertoire.  

But for today, I was excited to bake this recipe, as these spicy brownies have a huge appeal to me, and I need a treat for later when my family all comes for Sunday dinner.  The Owl’s family will be here, and I need to be competitive...not winning, but at least have edible brownies that they will enjoy.

When I pulled the brownies from the oven, #2 Son was in the kitchen and said, “What’s that?”  Everyone here knows I don’t do brownies.  I told him about the spices within, and he was quite delighted.  Hard to let them cool before cutting in!  They did look beautiful.  A lovely shiny top, but not that crusty top so loved by many bakers who seem to love anything that says “brownie” in the recipe title.  I did not want cakey brownies, but also did not want them to be too gooey.

The verdict: These are great brownies!  Everyone loves them.  The spicy is not really very spicy, but contributes subtly to the whole flavor of this brownie, creating a phenomenal overall taste.

I’m back in the brownie baking business at my house...well I could be.  The Baked Boys have really good brownie recipes...I should quit trying out new recipes and stick with theirs.  But, I won’t tell the Owl I baked these great brownies or she might quit baking them for me so often.

These spicy brownies are good enough to go on my Christmas cookie platters.  I’m fussy about what gets on these platters.  These brownies are winners!

I love this December time of year.  I’m sure that with these brownies you are all staying on the “Nice List!”  Have a wonderful week!!!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: Creamy Cauliflower Soup Sans Cream

Cauliflower has always been a favorite vegetable of mine.  This is a beautiful, sturdy vegetable with a mild flavor, blending well with many foods.  It is at this time of year in AZ that cauliflower flourishes in our gardens.   I’ve been tending my neighbor’s garden while they are away for a month, and they have beautiful cauliflower growing abundantly.

I don’t think to use cauliflower in soups as it quickly overcooks, making it perfect as an easily pureed vegetable for today's challenge.  This soup is light and lovely and can be garnished with many toppings.  Because I enjoy defined flavors, I chose to top mine with crumbled crispy bacon, shaved Parmesan cheese, and fresh parsley. 

I’m interested to see your presentations.  Personally, I was happy to have a recipe that was simple and healthy for this very busy week of sugar and more sugar.

Hope you all are enjoying this wonderful time of year!!!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tuesdays with Julia and Dorie: Gingerbread Baby Cakes

I love this gingerbread recipe!  With a little warm lemon sauce and a daub of whipped cream, today’s challenge gingerbread is easily the best I’ve ever had.  With lots of ginger spice, chopped fresh ginger, pepper, and other wonderful ingredients this cake is better than I imagined.

When I first read through the recipe, and when I read through a few Ps and Qs, I imagined a very spicy, as in hot spicy, cake that would be an adult dessert.  Then I got out pans the recommended size for baby cakes and they were much larger than what I would term “baby” size, so my mental image was not on target.

I baked the gingerbread as shown in the recipe, but baked it in a pretty bundt pan, putting aside the small pans.  Then remembering that my little kiddies who were coming for dinner would not like a hot-spicy cake, I baked a second more traditional gingerbread recipe in what I  think of as  “baby” size with a seasonal flare, small gingerbread men shapes.


My kiddies loved my small gingerbread men cakelets with lemon sauce and whipped cream.  

Then I cut into today’s cake and served it to all the adults.  Rave reviews!  Again this recipe was served with warm lemon sauce and whipped cream and it was heaven.  My imagined taste for this cake was very wrong.  It was definitely more spicy than the cakelets I served to the kiddies, however I would say there was more wonderful flavor, not a hot or overdone spiciness.   I will definitely bake this gingerbread cake again.
Hope you all enjoyed this gingerbread as much as we did.  Merry Christmas and Happy Baking to everyone.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Baked Sunday Mornings: The No-Bake Peanut Butter Cookie

I certainly appreciated this easy, yummy no-bake CHOCOLATE peanut butter cookie for my busy December schedule.  This is a wonderful treat that I’m adding to my cookie platters.  I rarely purchase cookies at the market or the bakery...I’m particular about my cookies; I like them super fresh, with no shortening or strange oils and I love baking them, usually, several times each week.  Grandma’s house should always have fresh cookies on hand at all times!  But, I’ll admit, that when I see these cookies on the bakery shelf, I can’t resist.  I buy them every time.  Iresistable!   Good childhood memories.  It’s hard to mess them up.  They are a perfect project  to “bake” with my little kiddies.

And...they are healthy, right?  With that high protein peanut butter and all those old fashioned oats they must have some good food value.

The only addition I made to this recipe was I added 2 cups coconut.  I wanted my scooped out mounts not to spread, and the coconut is, in my opinion, a great tasting addition that stiffens the dough a little and my mounds were kept in tact.

Love this recipe and enjoyed making these yummy cookies.

This is the best cookie time of year...hope you are all enjoying it as much as I am!