Tuesday, December 16, 2014

TWD: Baking with Julia - Chocolate-Mint Nightcaps

We are back to Baking with Julia this week, with Chocolate-Mint Nightcaps.  Had I not watched a video of Marcel Desaulniers making these cookies with Julia, I would have never figured out the "nightcap" part.  See that swirl on the top of the cookie?  It is supposed to look like an old-fashioned nightcap.  Whatever.  Personally, aesthetically, I am not thrilled at the nightcap swirl.  It too closely resembles things that are not food and should never be confused with food, in my opinion.

However, let's not judge a book by it's cover, okay?  Let's talk about the cookies themselves.  I made half of the recipe, and ended up with 16 cookies.  The clever girl called these "cookie cakes".  The actual cookie part is quite cake-like.  Soft like a moon-pie. I would prefer a little more texture, since the ganache is also soft, but they are nice and soft and airy. 

The ganache is where the mint comes into play, or where it is SUPPOSED to come into play.  You heat cream with some fresh chopped mint, and then strain the cream into a bowl of chopped chocolate (which was supposed to be semi-sweet, but I used 2/3 semi-sweet and 1/3 70% dark chocolate).  The mint flavor did not come through as much as I would have liked.  I think to get a better mint flavor, you would have to heat the cream with the mint and then let it steep for a while, 20 minutes or so, and then heat the cream back up to then strain into the chopped chocolate.  The mint needs a bit longer to release its flavor into the cream.  You could also just add some peppermint extract...

Also regarding the ganache - the recipe says to spread the hot ganache on a sheet pan and refrigerate it to chill completely.  Well, at that point, it is unworkable so you then have to leave it out at room temperature for a while.  I initially thought I'd be lazy, so instead of getting out a piping bag and tip, I just scooped the ganache into a ziplock bag and trimmed the corner to pipe onto the cookies.  Maybe it was just that the ganache was still to firm to use, but it did not work for me.  It was a mess and then somehow the ziplock bag got a hole in another random spot so chocolate was oozing out all over the place!  (This is not always a bad thing, mind you, but in this case I was trying to convince said chocolate to behave and swirl out onto cookies for filling!)  So I went ahead and got the piping bag and a proper tip and suddenly the ganache knew I meant business so it complied and piped out nicely.  I'll show that ganache who is boss!  HA!

Overall, these are yummy and would be really great on a party tray.  You are sure to get oohs and aahs with cookies filled and topped with ganache!  I would probably try to bake the cookies a bit longer next time, and try to extract more mint flavor into the ganache.

This recipe can be found on pages 307-308 of Baking with Julia.  Check out what our other bakers did by clicking here!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

TWD: Baking Chez Moi - Rugelach

This Tuesday is a "Baking Chez Moi" week, not to be confused with the "Baking With Julia" weeks.  If you aren't confused, congratulations, because I sure am!  I can't keep it all straight!  Hopefully I get the hang if this soon....  Surely I will, right?  I mean, RIGHT??

Anyway, the recipe this week was Rugelach, and if you are a frequent visitor to my blog, you will know that rugelach is an important cookie in my house.  We have had them at Christmas for as long as I can remember, and for as long as my sister can remember, and let me tell you, that girl remembers EVERYTHING.  It is amazing, really.  Isn't it crazy how some people remember the details of so many things?  My memory seems to have a quota, so as new memories get in, others get dumped.  Maybe I need ginko biloba or something...

ANYWAY, this is all to clarify why a new rugelach recipe is up to a big test in my house.  We did another rugelach recipe for the Baking with Julia book, so this is rugelach recipe number 3.  I discuss more about the history of Rugelach and the other recipes in the other posts, if you are interested.  According to Dorie, this is the Rugelach that Won Over France.  But will it win over my rugelach-loving house??? 

"My" rugelach recipe rolls the cookies into crescents, as opposed logs that are sliced like in this recipe and the BWJ recipe.  The benefit to the crescent?  You get  more cookie!!  Each cookie is more substantial.  I give that two thumbs up.

This particular recipe uses a dough that is rolled very thin, and then a filling of coconut, dried cherries, toasted pecans and semi-sweet (bittersweet) chocolate is spread across and it is all rolled into a log.  This filling is DELISH.  I will definitely be incorporating it into my family's rugelach when I make it for Christmas this year.  Can you go wrong with that combination?  I say not.  I did switch the semi-sweet chocolate to bittersweet, just because that is how we do things in my house, but I am sure it is delicious the other way too, for those who prefer semi-sweet.

To go back to the substantial-ness of the cookie....  Yes, that is probably not really a word but I think you know what I mean.  The BCM rugelach cookies are TINY.  So yes, it makes like 4 dozen, but they are 4 dozen TINY little cookies.  My rugelach recipe makes about 5 dozen, and they are actual cookies.  So with this recipe, you might want to eat a handful (or two honestly) because you can convince your brain that one or two cookies is just ridiculous and you certainly deserve more than that.  OR, if you have much more self discipline than I, you could only eat your two cookies and be so proud of yourself for really "cutting back" during the holidays. 

This cookies is like a middle ground between the BWJ rugelach and my rugelach.  And it is a very happy, yummy middle.  I still love my rugelach the best (totally biased, I know) so I will stick to that recipe HOWEVER with the addition of this new filling.  This is too good not to share with the rest of my family!!

For other baker's thoughts on this recipe, visit the TWD blog and click on "LYL:  Rugelach".   The recipe can be found on pages 301-302 of Baking Chez Moi. 

(P.S.  I did actually make the previous BCM recipe, Cranberry Crackle Tart, for Thanksgiving this year.  It was dive-bombed before I got photos taken, and I wasn't in love with the recipe, so I didn't bother to post anything.)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Christmas Outfits!

I went a little crazy and made coordinating Christmas outfits for the kids this year!  I figure I won't be able to do this to them for very long, so I had better do it while I can!! 

My idea started with making a long Johnny for the clever boy, using my favorite pattern from Children's Corner.  I made him a short version over the summer and that pattern is so easy and so cute, it is one that I will repeat until he refuses to wear them anymore!  I found some super soft thin-wale corduroy at Joann's, and picked out a red/white stripe to use as lining.  Normally I just use a nice white muslin for lining, but since the legs would be rolled up a bit, I thought a pattern would be fun!  

As usual, I found the graphic for the penguin by searching Google images, and was able to use all scrap fabric to make the little guy!  I thought about finding a cute button or jingle bell for the top of the penguin's hat, but then realized that since the clever boy sleeps on his tummy and he would theoretically take a nap in this outfit some day, a button or jingle bell would not be a good plan.  So I embroidered a little star with some sparkly floss. 

Once his outfit was planned in my head, I had to figure out something for the clever girl.  I browsed my favorite kid pattern source, Oliver + S, and found the Library Dress.  This dress is supposed to have 3/4 sleeves, but I made them long instead.  To do this, I measured another of the clever girl's dresses to figure out the right length, and added the difference between the long length and the pattern's 3/4 length to the sleeve pattern, just continuing the pattern lines straight, no taper.  Easy peasy.  Configuring the pattern to fit my slender little girl was another story!  Based on the pattern measurements, she is a size 6 in length but more like a 5 (or maybe smaller but the pattern sizes start at 5) in girth.  So I cut each pattern piece with this in mind, using the size 5 lines for areas across her body and size 6 lines for areas of length.  The armholes were cut as a 6.  It was a bit tricky, but I finally got the pieces traced and cut!  Phew.

As you can see, I used the same green corduroy and red/white striped fabric for the Library Dress.  And here is where I underestimated my clever girl....  I did not plan on any applique for her dress, as I thought she might be "too grown up" for that.  Ha!  She isn't!  (Yahoo!)  I showed her the dress, sans candy canes, and the Johnny for the clever boy, and she got a sad face and asked where HER decoration was.  Why did he get a penguin and she didn't get anything??  All righty then!  So I added some candy canes with ribbon.  The candy canes are appliqued, but the ribbon is real ribbon that I tied into a bow and sewed to the dress.  That clever girl was on to something, because I honestly think the candy canes MAKE this outfit!  They took it from a pretty Christmas dress to an AWESOME Christmas dress!  The photos don't show the back of the dress, but there are buttons all the way down the back, the same little white buttons that are on the playsuit shoulders. 

This dress looks WAY more complicated than it really is.  I love it.  I think that the photos on the actual pattern cover do not give it justice.  There is another version with a collar, and I wonder if I could make it in a "uniform" color for the clever girl to wear to school??  Everything needs a collar, so surely this pattern would work!  Maybe for next school year...

Three cheers for sewing Christmas outfits for my kiddos!  
Hip hip hooray!  Hip hip hooray!  Hip hip hooray!

Are you doing any holiday sewing???

Monday, December 1, 2014

Juliana's Brazilian Milk Pudding

Earlier in the school-year, the clever girl's school had a "Hispanic Heritage Day" in which we were all asked to bring appropriately Hispanic foods and the kids would have these items for lunch while they theoretically gained some appreciation for another culture.  I say "theoretically" because other than eating, I didn't see many other cultural activities.  However at one point, someone brought out a stereo and turned on some music...

That is when I turned to the mom next to me and told her that I didn't realize that '80s Madonna was, in fact, Hispanic.  Huh.  After a while of playing random non-Hispanic music, the music was turned off.  I am not sure why appropriate music was not played, since we live in Houston and there are several radio stations that would have worked just fine.  But what do I know?  I was there to help with the food.  I stationed myself at the dessert table (if the shoe fits...) and happened to be near this heavenly concoction called "Brazilian Milk Pudding".  It just so happens that my lovely friend standing next to me made this particular dessert so I was able to taste and quiz her about the dish!  First of all, let me assure you that it is AMAZING.  You can't tell from the photo above, but the bottom of this pudding (which is the TOP when it cooks) gets all nice and caramelized and so, so delicious.  You can sort of see this in the photo below.  See how the bottom is nice and dark?  Oh, my, this creamy pudding just melts in your mouth with that yummy caramelized sugar flavor.  I caution you.  Your eyes will roll into the back of your head.

And since we were feeding kids, who were WAY more interested in the store-bought cupcakes with freakishly bright icing instead of trying this truly divine dessert, I was able to have more than one sample.  Yeah for me!  Too bad for those silly kids!  Oh, but  make no mistake, Juliana's son returned repeatedly to the table for additional helpings of this dessert.  He knows what's good!

I, of course, begged for the recipe so I could make it at home and share it with you!  Let me tell you, YOU CAN MAKE THIS.  And you should.  It is super easy and uses 4 ingredients.  4!  Unless you count water as an ingredient, in which case it takes 5 ingredients.

According to my friend, the Portuguese originally created this dish and brought it to Brazil.  My friend had to translate her recipe from Portuguese in order to send it to me, so this is legit, my friends.

Brazilian Milk Pudding

½ cup of Sugar
1/5 cup of water  (3 TB plus a scant teaspoon)

Pour the sugar into a small sauce pan and sprinkle with some drops of water.  Place the pan on the burner on high.  Let the mixture boil without mixing it.  Once the sides start to get dark, wait until it reaches the caramel color you like, then turn the heat to low and mix it with a spoon.  Once completely mixed, add the 1/5 cup water.  BE CAREFUL when you pour the water, as the heat will make the water and the caramel boil and pot at once; so it is recommended that you use a kitchen glove when you do it.  After pouring the water mix it for a couple minutes and remove from the heat.  Immediately pour into a bundt pan.  Twist the pan around so that the caramel will stick to the sides and the raised middle part.  Let it stand to cool.

Milk Pudding:
6 eggs
2 cans of condensed milk (the best brand is Nestle’s La Lechera)
2 cans (use the condensed milk can to measure) of milk

Preheat the oven to 400F. 
In a blender, blend the eggs by themselves first.  Add the 2 cans of condensed milk and blend. Finally, add the 2 cans with milk.  Once blended, pour the mixture into the bundt pan and place it in a roasting pan.  Pour water into the roasting pan until it reaches at least 1/3 the height of the bundt pan.  Bake for about 40-60 minutes.  Since ovens vary, once it gets to 40 minutes, check the consistency.  You want it to be firm (not hard), so if you move the pan a little bit and you see the content move too much it is still liquid, so check every 10 minutes after that.  Once firmer, you can stick a tooth pick in it to confirm it is done.

Remove the bundt pan from the oven and water bath and allow to cool completely before refrigerating for at least 6 hours.  When ready to serve, you will want to warm the bottom of the bundt pan a little so the caramel loosens.  To do this, put your hottest tap water into the roasting pan and let the bundt pan swim around for a few minutes.  Move it around and wiggle around the sides a bit so all of the caramel gets soft enough.  You will see the caramel soften around the sides of the pan.  Once this happens, you can flip it onto a serving platter with a lip.  That lip is important - it catches the running caramel!
Dive in to yummy bliss!

I made Juliana's Brazilian Milk Pudding for church one day and it was a big hit.  I got lots of recipe requests.  I hope they all make it!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pumpkin Cheesecake

A while back, we attended a dinner party with a "fall" theme.  I signed up for the dessert (as usual) and the hostess selected a pumpkin cheesecake.  I used to say that I am not really a "cheesecake person" but now that I keep making them for I  might not like ALL cheesecakes, but I like the ones that I make!  The key is keeping it light.  I am not a fan of the cheesecake wherein you eat a few bites and feel like you just ate a bowling ball.  Those are just too much for me.  But these light ones that are nice and creamy just make me want to keep eating and lick the plate! 

I combined a few ideas for this particular cheesecake, so here is my recipe, which is based on "Gina's Pumpkin Cheesecake" by Patrick and Gina Neely of Food Network. 

Pumpkin Cheesecake
adapted from Food Network
Serves 8-10

1 1/2 cups crushed gingerbread cookies
1/3 cup crushed pecans
1-2 TB chopped crystallized ginger
4 TB unsalted butter, melted

4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
4 extra large eggs (or 5 large eggs)
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (use more if you use ground nutmeg, not freshly grated)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 TB all-purpose flour

Cinnamon Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream, very cold
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Salted Caramel Sauce 
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
1 TB corn syrup
1/2 c. whipping cream
2 TB unsalted butter
1 1/2 ts. sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350F.   Place the gingerbread cookies in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until crumbly.  Add pecans and crystallized ginger and pulse a few times until well mixed.  Pour into a large bowl and stir in the melted butter.  Press the mixture into the bottom (not the sides) of a 9-inch springform pan.  Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Allow to cool completely while you prepare the filling.

Heat water in a teakettle and bring to a boil.

Beat the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer, until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Add the pumpkin and beat until incorporated.  Add the eggs, one at a time, then add the spices through vanilla.  Mix until blended.  Add the flour and mix until the flour is incorporated.

Wrap the bottom and sides of your cooled springform pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil.  Pour the filling into the pan and place the springform pan into a small roasting pan.  Place the roasting pan on the oven rack and then pour the hot water from the kettle into the roasting pan, around the pan.  The water needs to go at least 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the pan, so you may need to boil more water.  If this is the case, VERY VERY CAREFULLY take the pan out of the oven while the water boils.  Place the pan back on the oven rack before pouring the additional water in the pan.  The more water in the pan, the easier it is to spill out while moving, so save your arms and place the pan on the rack first! 

Bake the cheesecake until the center moves slightly when the pan is gently wiggled, about 1 hour and 20 minutes.  Remove the cake from the water bath and allow to cool on a wire rack. 

Chill the cheesecake for at least 4 hours before serving.  Serve with salted caramel sauce and cinnamon whipped cream.

Cinnamon Whipped Cream:
Pour the heavy cream into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until thick and frothy.  Add the remaining ingredients and beat until medium peaks form.

Salted Caramel Sauce:
Place the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a small saucepan, and stir to combine.  Place the saucepan on high heat and bring to a boil without stirring.  Swirl the ingredients in the pan occasionally.  Continue boiling until the mixture reaches a light amber color.  Remove from heat and very carefully add the cream in a slow steady stream, while stirring constantly.  Once combined, add the butter and salt and continue stirring until both are melted and combined.  Cool to room temperature before using.
Printable Recipe

Mmmm...  This combination of flavors is perfection! 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fairies and Gnomes

Yes, I know, Halloween was totally 2+ weeks ago, but I still wanted to post the costumes we made this year in case it inspires anyone for next year!  If I wait until next year to get these posted, I'll forget entirely!! 

When I asked the clever girl what she wanted to be for Halloween this year, it took a while to convince her that Elsa (of the Frozen movie, in case you don't have a little girl running around your house) was not the best idea.  Once I explained that practically EVERY little girl was going to be Elsa this year, and wouldn't it be fun to be something DIFFERENT, she agreed and decided upon being a fairy.  I JUMPED on it.  Truly, I had to get her excited about it so she wouldn't be sad about not being Elsa!  And it worked!  She loved her fairy costume.  Once we decided that she would be a fairy, we brainstormed what the clever boy might be, and came up with a Gnome.  Love it! 

For the fairy, I didn't have to do a lot, as the main part of her costume was a dance recital costume from last summer.  I did make her a wand and her fairy wings.  

For the wand, I followed the directions on this youtube video to make a poof out of sparkly tulle and organza.  It is just like making a pompom, just on a much larger scale.  I cut a donut shape out of cardboard and then folded it in half and wrapped the pink and blue tulle/organza (holding both together) around and around the half-donut.  I wrapped a thin wooden dowel with pink ribbon and attached it to the poof with my trusty glue gun.  Then I tied some ribbon around the top under the poof just to make it extra fun.  I was so thrilled to find this tulle and organza that totally matched the dance recital outfit!  I win!  And the clever girl thought this wand was AWESOME.  She went around turning all of us into princes and princesses for days!

For the wings, I followed this instructable video.  HOWEVER, I could only find white tights, no sparkly pink or purple or blue or ANYTHING (ugh) so I used white and then painted them repeatedly with glitter paint.  And I say repeatedly because let me tell you, it was A LOT.  The thing with glitter paint is this:  It tends to be CLEAR paint with some glitter thrown in.  So if you are wanting coverage, it doesn't work so well.  I would do more searching for the right tights next time and avoid painting altogether!  Once it was fully constructed and painted, I glued sequins all over the wings in random patterns.  I thought they would provide some fun sparkle when lights hit!

Oh and that instructable video had a EXCELLENT tip for coverage under a leotard.  It happened to be cool on Halloween night, so the clever girl needed something over her arms, which a dance costume does not provide.  The idea from instructables was BRILLIANT.  Take a pair of nude tights and cut the crotch out - keeping the crotch seam IN but just cut the fabric part out of the middle.  Pull the tights over the HEAD, so the head is now going through what the crotch area used to be.  Put the arms in the tights legs and cut the tights wrist-length to make them long sleeves.  Now you have a thin nude long sleeved shirt that fits under a leotard!  Ta-da!

For the gnome, I figured he basically needed a hat, beard, belt, and blue jacket.  For the hat, I followed this AWESOME tutorial on deliacreates which uses all sorts of geometry and math to get a perfectly fitting felt cone hat.  I love the math part.  Made me think a bit and was lots of fun.  I pinched the hat together a bit on top to make it more gnome-y, and did a few stitches to hold the pinches together.

I made the beard with fur from the craft store cut into a beard-like shape - like a shaggy triangle-ish shape with a slightly rounded top.  I cut a few slits from the rounded top down about an inch, laid a strip of 1/4 inch wide elastic under the slits, then folded and glued the pieces down. Like this:

I intentionally made the beard so that it hung down around his chest area, not up on his face, as I knew there was no way the clever boy would go for that!

For the belt buckle, I cut a piece of yellow craft foam into a rectangle and cut two slits on the sides:

Then I put a piece of black 2-inch elastic up through one side and down through the other so it looked more like a buckle, and sewed the ends together, making it loose enough to go around the clever boy's belly while wearing the jacket.

For the jacket, I made Simplicity 2526, view D, size 2, out of navy fleece.  I made the sleeves 2 3/4 inches longer than the pattern suggested, and used a 1/2 inch hem on the sleeve, instead of the allowed 1 1/4 inch hem.  I think the sleeves on this jacket ran small, so I made them longer plus added more for a cuff.  I trimmed the cuff with yellow gingham so that the part that folded up was gingham.  I also used the gingham under the collar and in the button facing, so that the jacket would not be as thick in those places.  I love how this turned out!  The pattern was easy and sewing with fleece is a breeze!  No need to finish seams!  I had never sewn with fleece before!  If I ever figure out how to use my serger (some day....) this would be even easier, I bet!

Oh, and as a note, the pattern does not suggest fleece for this view of the jacket but does for another view.  I could not figure out why, so I found an email address for Simplicity and sent them a message.  They contacted me back right away!  Impressive!

So, not only did the clever boy get a great gnome costume, he got a jacket he can wear all the time!  (Note that the hood in the above photo is not part of the jacket but on the shirt he has on underneath.)

In all, a successful Halloween.  Both kids had a BLAST and the costumes were a total hit!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

TWD: Baking with Julia - Amaretti

We made Amaretti this week with Baking with Julia!  Now, I have to admit, I had no idea what amaretti actually were when this recipe was chosen.  I  mean, I knew it had to contain almonds, but I had never heard of amaretti before.  Essentially it is an almond flavored macaron.

Here are my thoughts on amaretti:
1)  They are super easy to make.  Literally, there are 3 ingredients:  almond paste, sugar, egg whites.  Yes there is a pine nut on top so that is technically ingredient number 4 but it isn't actually IN the cookie, just pressed on top so I don't count that one.  It's essentially decoration.
2)  They are gluten-free for the many people who sadly cannot digest gluten well.
3)  Weird technique alert:  After piping the cookies onto the cookie sheet, you dab them with a wet tea-towel to smooth out the tops.  That's a new one for me!
4)  They are crisp on the outside and chewy inside.
5)  They are one of the weirdest cookies I have ever eaten.
6)  However, I can't stop eating them!  I am constantly lifting up the lid on their container and eating another one!!  And each time, I think, "huh, these are weird, but good, too!"

Truly, I think I would enjoy anything involving almond paste.  I love almond flavor so that is right up my alley.  If you DO NOT like almond flavor, these would NOT be the cookie for you!  But if you do, yum.  Get yourself a nice hot mug of tea and a couple of these cookies on a plate and put your feet up.  Well, only put your feet up if the cookie tin is nearby, so you don't have to get up to get more.  Because you might want to do that, and it would be a fat bummer to get all comfy with your cookies and tea and then  have to get up again just to get more!

I might try to reduce the sugar a bit in these next time.  And I am not sure if I really need the pine nut on top.  Why not a slivered almond?  Too much almond?  Maybe do a sprinkle of big-grain sugar?  

Check out the TWD blog under "LYL:  Amaretti" to see what the other bloggers thought about amaretti!