Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chocolate with Francois - Chocolate Macarons

Hello fellow Chocolate with Francois bakers! Long time no post from me. I have missed you all and can't tell you how wonderful it is to be back!

This month's recipe was Chocolate Macarons chosen by Leslie of Lethally Delicious . Leslie is a fabulous baker (you really are Leslie!) and someone I am glad to call friend. Be sure to stop by her blog and check out some of the wonderful recipes she has made.

I have made macarons before, but never using this method. I almost didn't make these as I was afraid of the whole cooked sugar into whipped egg whites juggle I would have to do, but, since it had been so long since I had baked with the group, and, since it was Leslie who was hosting, I decided to put my fears aside and just dive in.

I am so glad I did! I did have some of the sugar harden on the side of my mixing bowl and some small pieces of that hardened sugar made it into the cookies, but, other than a few bumps here and there, the cookies turned out wonderful. Well, actually the first batch ended up scorched a little. I think they baked a tad too long and I ended up cutting back on the baking time by 2 or 3 minutes. The rest of the batches turned out perfect. All but a few of the cookies had "feet", that ring of bubbly looking cookie around the bottom edges. Each puffed up and spread out perfectly. I think I could have piped them a bit larger as I ended up with about 50 individual cookies and I only made half the recipe!

The cookies were delicious just plain, no ganache. They were crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. Rich with the flavor of the chocolate. I really had to sternly talk to myself in order to stop eating the cookies as they were cooling on the rack. I kept popping one into my mouth every time I walked by them. :)

I did manage to save a few and dipped them into the cooled and slightly thickened ganache. I didn't think they could be any better than they were, but I was so wrong. The ganache added a whole other dimension of chocolate, richness, and texture to the cookies. Absolutely Fabulous!  I lost count of how many I tasted, strictly  for quality control purposes. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it! :D)

I had only one complaint. Once the cookies went into the fridge, as Francois says they should be stored, the texture changes. They are no longer crispy on the outside. Don't get me wrong, they were still delicious and it didn't keep me or any of the people I shared them with (the hubby and the gang at Starbucks) from devouring them, but I think I liked them better freshly baked, still crisp and airy. But, crispy or soft, these are some dangerously delicious cookies, at least around me. They are a little bit of work, but so worth the effort. Give them a try!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

TWD - Hazelnut/Nutella/Vanilla Cakes

Here we are again with another Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. This weeks recipe is Rum-drenched Vanilla Cakes that Wendy of Pink Stripes picked. Please be sure to drop by her blog and check out the great pictures of her version...yummy!

I had every intention of making this as the recipe is written. That is my usual routine. I don't often vary from the instructions. I am not that adventurous. At least not when it comes to baking. But, I guess the past year or so that I have been baking with TWD has loosened me up a bit. I have come to realize, mostly from reading the posts of other TWD bakers, that it is not only okay to vary from the recipe, sometimes it can be fun.

Take this recipe. As I mentioned, I was going to play it safe and make this as Dorie suggests. However, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the dark rum...I stumbled upon a bottle of hazelnut syrup I had in the pantry. That made me go "hmmmm". I know the hubby isn't crazy about rum in baked goods. I have tried it a couple of times and he says he can taste it and doesn't like it. So, when I saw the bottle of hazelnut syrup I thought "why not?". In addition to the syrup I decided to toast some hazelnuts I had and add them to the batter.

I followed the recipe exactly for everything else, only I halved it and baked just one cake rather than two. I had some vanilla sugar on hand that I made a while back with some vanilla beans I had and I used it in the recipe.

The cake came together so easily. Not many dishes. And, I liked that I could whip it up by hand and not use the big mixer.

I loved how wonderful it smelled while it was baking. I did have to tent it after about 30 minutes of baking as it seemed to be browning rather quickly.

When it was out of the oven I poked holes all over with a wooden skewer and then brushed about 1/3 cup of the hazelnut syrup over the top. Then I was struck with a ingenious idea...Nutella!! I got out my jar (I always have a jar on hand) and spread a little over the top of the still warm cake.

The verdict? The flavor was fabulous...nutty and buttery with the flavor of vanilla mingling throughout. The texture was terrific. A nice tight crumb, moist and tender. The crust around the edges and sides had a nice crunch to it. I ate a small slice and then decided that I should eat another one, just to be sure it really was okay. :)

I can see making this one again. Next time I will bake two loaves. Swing by TWD and see what everyone else thought of this one.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

TWD - Raisin Swirl Bread

I get a lot of emails from friends and family. Jokes. Stories. Prayers. And questionnaires. You know the kind...what's your favorite season? What's your favorite color? What's your favorite smell? Whenever I am asked what's my favorite smell (and isn't smell a verb??) I always list two...fresh ground coffee and fresh baked bread. Guess the fresh ground coffee explains why I chose to work at Starbucks part-time. :)

As for the fresh baked bread...I don't think there is anything that smells as wonderful as the yeasty aroma of bread as it is baking. Unless you add cinnamon. Cinnamon smells fabulous coming from the oven. Think apple pie or cinnamon buns. So, when I saw that Susan of Food.Baby had chosen Raisin Swirl Bread for this week's TWD I was ecstatic! I love making home-made bread. For me it is an almost zen-like experience. The aromas, the kneading, the blending of flour and yeast resulting in something so wholesome and comforting as fresh bread. I am always much more relaxed after baking fresh bread. What a perfect recipe for me to get back into my baking with.

My only disappointment in this recipe was I didn't get to knead the bread! The kneading is done in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Or at least mine was. I suppose there are those who aren't lucky enough to have an electric mixer with a dough hook, but I am. And, I used it to make this bread.

It came together quite easily. In fact, each step turned out exactly as Dorie writes in the recipe. It rose beautifully and smelled divine even before I baked it. I didn't use the orange zest, as I had no oranges. I was going to add the nutmeg, but forgot. :} I did add the vanilla and the cocoa. I was intrigued by the addition of cocoa and couldn't wait to try it. I love raisins so not adding them was never an option. Well, in all honesty I did think about not adding them, because the hubby doesn't like raisins, but, decided this one was for me!

As the bread baked the house filled with the wonderful aroma of cinnamon and yeast and I found myself taking deep breaths as I puttered around. Within minutes of removing it from the oven I was cutting a slice from the end of the loaf. The swirl inside looked perfect. All along the swirl, like little travelers on a road, were the raisins. The steam rising from the slice was scented with a sugary cinnamon smell. I popped it into the toaster (I always toast raisin bread) and spread some butter over the freshly toasted slice and took my first bite.

Heavenly! The bread had a tender but tight crumb. The crust on the outside was chewy and crisp. The raisins were moist and chewy. The cinnamon swirl was delicious...I did not notice the cocoa, but felt that a bit more swirl would have been nice. In fact, the next time I make this I think I will double the amount of swirl. As easy as this was to put together (lengthy but easy) I can see making it again and again. I took two slices into work and shared it with my co-workers. They loved it! The rest is here, with me. In fact, I had two slices this morning for breakfast. And, I may have two slices for lunch!

So, thank you Susan for such a terrific choice. It was a wonderful way to come back to baking and blogging. If you would like to see who else tried this fabulous bread, look here.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Walnut Chocolate Tart

Today's dessert is brought to you by the letter "W". The letter "W" stands for walnuts. And warm. And wickedly wonderful! All words that describe this delicious and incredibly easy dessert. Just a handful of simple ingredients, many I know I always have on hand, and I am sure you do too. In no time at all you can have this fabulous dessert baked and cooling on your counter.

I found the recipe for this for tart on the Taste of Home website. My daughter gets their magazine and is always telling me about this or that great meal or baked good. I forget now what I started looking for the day I came across this recipe, I think it was savory tarts, but when I saw the recipe for this tart,  I knew I had to make it.

It calls for a simple to make tart crust, that whips up in minutes. But, you could use your own favorite tart crust as long as you prebake it. Then, cook up some butter, brown sugar, dark corn syrup and heavy cream, pour the cooked mixture over a couple of cups of chopped walnuts and put the whole thing back in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes and, voila! One, simple, delicious, warm (and it is better warm, trust me on that!)

The only change I made to the recipe was I added mini chocolate chips. Everything is better with chocolate, right?  and as good as this recipe sounded, I thought it would be better with a little bit of chocolate.  I added about 3/4 of a cup of mini chips to the freshly baked crust when I first took it out of the oven. The chips softened and anchored the walnuts that you fill the baked crust with.

The hubby had his doubts when I first told him what was for dessert. Walnut tart? Walnuts in a tart shell? As always, I told him to trust me. He was blown away by it. Said it was one of the best desserts I have made. And, you know what? He might have been right! Give it a try. I have posted the recipe as I found it on the website. Make it that way, or add the chocolate chips. Either way, I don't think you will be disappointed. :)
One last note...thank you all for the kind and thoughtful words you left me after my last post. It warms my heart to know that there are so many people "out there" who care about me and what I am going through. It's nice to be back. :)

  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, cubed
  • 1/4 cup dark corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, divided


  • In a small bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolk. Gradually add flour just until blended (mixture will be crumbly).
  • Press onto the bottom and up the sides of an ungreased 9-in. tart pan with removable bottom. Place pan on baking sheet. Bake at 375° for 12-14 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.
  • Sprinkle nuts over crust. In a small heavy saucepan, combine sugar, butter, corn syrup and 2 tablespoons of cream. Boil and stir over medium heat for 1 minute longer. Pour over walnuts.
  • Return pan to baking sheet. Bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes or until bubbly. Cool on a wire rack.
  • In a small bowl, beat remaining cream until stiff peaks form. Serve tart at room temperature with whipped cream. Yield: 10-12 servings.

    Editor's Note: An 11-in. x 7-in. x 2-in. baking pan may be used instead of a tart pan.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010's me...

...and I have been lost for a while. I am trying to find my way back. It's slow. But, I know I can do it. I have done it before. I will probably have to do it again. And, I thought perhaps I should share some of it, some insight;  that perhaps someone else out there is feeling like I do, that perhaps my pain can help someone. Isn't that what it's all supposed to be about? Reaching out? Helping and being helped? I hope so.

There's a line from a song that goes..."Most of every day is filled with tired excuses. But it's too hard to say, I wish it were simple"...those words touch me, describe me.

Confused?  Sorry.  I don't mean to confuse anyone. If there is anyone still following me after, hmmm, 5 weeks? 6? (I did hear from someone who missed me.  She left me not only a comment, but sent me an email, and I was very touched) Where was I? posts. No comments left on anyone's blog. No baking. No pictures.  Kind of like I fell off the face of the world.  That's what depression does to me. Maybe it does the same to everyone, but I can only speak for myself. And, I struggle with depression.

I have actually struggled with it for years. As far back as I can remember. I am often filled with self-doubt. Feelings of worthlessness. Insecurity. Emptiness. Sadness. Tiredness. I look at my life and all my blessings and berate myself for feeling down. For feeling so empty, so inside of myself. I think about doing something that normally brings me joy and calm, and it seems like too much effort. Too much work. I think, why bother?

I can't get to sleep at night, and then I can't get up in the morning. I'm tired. I hurt all over. I feel like I am on the outside looking in. I feel like an impostor. I don't feel anything at all. I am on a roller coaster ride, climbing up and up with feelings of happiness and then plunging down into despair and sadness. I never know when the depression will overwhelm me, when I will begin to feel it's all just too much.

Most of the time I can fake it...I go along day to day, doing what needs to be done, working, cooking, cleaning, interacting with others. But, inside my head, in my heart, there is such emptiness. That's when I feel most like an impostor, most like an actor. Few people know of my struggles. My hubby (poor guy has lived with it for the last almost 20 years), my psychologist ( a wonderful woman I have been seeing for about 8 months now) my doctor (who recently prescribed medication for me) (though after a month on it I haven't seen any improvement). My best friend Linda knew, but she's gone. I have acquaintances, but no real friends. Not like Linda. Not that I feel safe to share how I feel. I am sure no one wants to hear my problems. I am sure that they have better things to do than listen to me whine. When I have a great life. A good husband. Two great kids. A nice home. Work. Food. Clothes. No reason to feel like I do. (If you are reading this and consider yourself my friend, I thank you and beg you not to feel offended. I am just stating how I feel.)

During the day I work alone, cleaning two or three houses. At night, at Starbucks, I work with people I like, people who I laugh with and enjoy working with. But when I get into my car to come home, the emptiness swallows me again. I get home and sit in front of the computer, playing mindless games, then berating myself for not "doing something". Problem is, there is nothing I want to do. I don't want to bake...too much trouble. I don't want to take pictures...nothing interesting to photograph. I don't want to clean my house....too tired. I have an excuse for everything. And nothing.

I am hoping, praying, that the medication I started a month ago will help. I get so tired of feeling this it will never be any different. I have felt this way so much of my life. I used to think it was because I was (am) an alcoholic and drug addict. But, after 23 years of sobriety, and 23 years of still having the same feelings I had when I was using, I realize the drug/alcohol abuse masked the depression. My doctor says the prescription I am on can do wonders for people suffering from depression. She tells me to be patient. That it takes time to take effect. I have dealt with how I feel for all these years...what's a couple more months?

So, I am hoping I am back. I am hoping to get back into those things I love...baking, photography, blogging, life. I am sorry I have not kept up with my baking groups...Tuesdays with Dorie, Have the Cake, Chocolate with Francois...I have missed you all. I am sorry if I have offended anyone with my "confession" here. I mean no harm. I only hope to heal myself. And, perhaps help someone else who might feel like they are alone, that no one feels like they do, that no one would understand...I do. And, I know it's hard. But, I am going to keep hanging in there. Because it will get better. Right?

"I'll mend myself before it gets me...falling down, but I'll rise above this doubt"