Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie - Low and Luscious Cheesecake

I remember the first time I heard the word "cheesecake", I wondered why on earth anyone would make a cake out of cheese!? Of course, I was young and foolish then. :)

This weeks recipe is a cheesecake, a chocolate cheesecake, and it was chosen by The Tea Lady of Tea and Scones. Yummy choice! Thank you Margaret! I love cheesecake and chocolate so this was one I had to make.

This was super easy to put together. I "played around" with mine and made the Cappuccino Swirl Chocolate Cheesecake. My swirl didn't turn out very "swirly" but the taste was wonderful. I upped the cinnamon to 1 teaspoon. I love the flavor of cinnamon with chocolate. There is a chocolate/cinnamon cake I bake that is one of my hubby's favorites. But, I was talking about this cheesecake.

I made my crust with chocolate graham crackers as I had some on hand and in my book, you can never have too much chocolate!

You use a food processor to mix the filling. Using  the food processor makes putting this cheesecake together a breeze! I may use my processor for more cheesecake fillings in the future.

I also made the homemade hot fudge sauce and drizzled it over the cheesecake when I severed it. (See above comment about too much chocolate!)

The verdict? I loved it! The hubby however wasn't overly impressed. He felt it wasn't as creamy as some I have made. He did eat the piece I gave him though, and ate a piece each night for the consecutive nights I served it for dessert. Go figure! :D

If you'd like to see what the other bakers thought, head over to TWD and check them out.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

I just want to take this time to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. I sincerely hope you are surrounded by family and friends and have a blessed holiday. May the coming year bring you much peace and happiness. Thanks for dropping by my humble blog. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie - My favorite Pecan Pie

This weeks recipe is My favorite Pecan Pie. It was chosen by Brina of Someone's in the Kitchen with Brina. Be sure to stop by her blog to see how wonderful it looks and to get the recipe so you can bake it yourself!

You only get one picture from me. My pie, while tasting fabulous, looked terrible. My crust slid down into the pie plate, even though I filled it with beans. My filling run out of the pie when I cut the first slice. And, that is after baking it for 10 minutes longer than called for in the recipe. I was afraid to bake it any longer for fear of burning the crust.

But, did I mention it tasted fabulous? Oh my! I am not a pecan pie fan. Normally they are waaaaay to sweet for my tastes, and I like sweet things. My hubby loves pecan pie. Love, love, loves it. He and his brother fight over the one his Mom makes for Thanksgiving every year. I had really high hopes for this and was going to surprise my hubby with this wonderful pie.

He was very apprehensive when I cut the first slice and he saw filling run into the pie plate. Every once in a while his Mom will have that happen and I know that is totally unacceptable. Pecan pie should have a thick filling that cradles the pecans in it's sweetness. Not mine. Not all of the filling ran out. And, it wasn't watery thin, it was like molasses, but it still ran.

But, did I mention it tasted fabulous? :D I never would have believed that cinnamon, espresso powder, chocolate and corn syrup could work together, but work together they do. This pie is sweet but not teeth hurting sweet. The espresso is a wonderful background flavor, blending with the chocolate and tickling your taste buds. The cinnamon is there too, but again, in the background, offering another gentle tickle. My hubby's opinion? He asked for seconds the minute he finished the first piece. Said it wasn't much to look at, but boy did it taste good. Said it was the best pecan pie he'd ever had. Pretty high praise indeed!

If you would like to see what all the rest of the bakers thought of this weeks choice, head over to TWD.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Brown Paper Package Exchange

Just a quick post to report that Tuesday morning I shipped off my package for my participant in this years exchange. Unfortunately I forgot to photograph the presents before shipping them. But, there were four presents and they were all wrapped in brown paper. :) I hope she who receives them enjoys them. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TWD - Cafe Volcano Cookies

This will be short and sweet (and that is a really hard thing for me as I love to "talk"!) But, I have laundry waiting in the laundry room, cookies baking in the oven (more Sables), presents to wrap and dishes to do. Sitting here chatting with all my baking friends is what I would rather be doing, but, being the responsible adult I am, I will make this post short and get back to work!

This weeks recipe, Cafe Volcano Cookies, was chosen by Macduff of Lonely Sidecar. Her cookies look fabulous and she even added a chocolate drizzle to them which made them look even tastier! Thanks Macduff for such an tasty and easy recipe!

And, how much easier is it to toast some nuts, toss them into some sugar, egg whites and espresso powder, stir and bake? Not much! I (and perhaps most of the other TWDers) had the required egg whites left over from when I baked the Sables, which only used egg yolks. In fact, I made my Volcano cookies the same day.

What a fun cookie for the mouth! Crunchy, crumbly, chewy, nutty, all at the same time! The meringue is so light and crispy when you first bite into the cookie. Then it becomes chewy. And all the nuts are running around in there too. Delicious!  They aren't the prettiest cookies on the block, but they more than make up for that in taste.

So, thanks again Macduff  for such a fun and easy recipe. Just what the doctor ordered! And, be sure to stop by TWD to see what all the other bakers thought of this one.

PS The cocoa ones I baked today turned out great! Even better I think than the original recipe. I also loved the pecans with the hazelnuts. I made 11/2 times the recipe and added 3 TBLS of dutch processed cocoa to the recipe. Turned out awesome!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pumpkin-Chocolate Tart

Several weeks ago a lady I clean for gave me a copy of Martha's Pumpkin-Chocolate Tart.You know who I am talking about. There is only one Martha, just like there is only one Oprah. Not sure what we were talking about at the time that caused Kate to go in search of the recipe and send me home with a copy of it. The photo from the magazine (which was November of 2003!) shows an amazing looking tart with a chocolate crust and chocolate drizzled over the top. I have had the recipe out on the island in my kitchen since that day. I would pick it up, look at the pictures, think to my self that I really need to make this. Then, put the recipe back down. Kept putting off baking it as I had plenty of other things on my plate keeping me busy.

Until today. :)

Today after I stripped and remade my bed, did two loads of laundry, decorated our Christmas tree, wrapped several gifts, and emptied the dishwasher, feed the hubby lunch, filled the bird feeders and vacuumed the living-room (Christmas tree needles!)  I decided to bake the tart. Thank goodness for the weekends and free time, huh?

I deviated from the recipe in that I used some sweet tart dough I had in the freezer. It was from a Chocolate Pecan Tart I baked last week. That recipe is from "Chocolate Epiphany", by Francois Payard. That tart was a big hit with my hubby and his brother. In fact, I am making another one for my brother-in-law for Christmas. But, I digress. (I do that a lot!) I am supposed to be talking about Martha's Pumpkin-Chocolate Tart.

This was a really simple tart to throw together. Even easier because of the already made dough. I followed the recipe exactly for everything else. Once I baked the crust for the tart I sprinkled chopped dark chocolate over the bottom and when it was melted I spread it around to the edges.

The recipe for the filling calls for creme fraiche. I didn't have any on hand, but do own a copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", and, just as I knew there would be, I found a recipe for making your own creme fraiche. Pretty simple. Mix a cup of whipping cream with a teaspoon of buttermilk. Heat to lukewarm, pour into a loosely capped jar and several hours later you have creme fraiche. Mine didn't get really thick, and I wonder if it was because the buttermilk I used was reconstituted buttermilk, made from powder. Still, it did get a little thicker than it started out being so I used it.

The tart took about 40 minutes to bake, just like the recipe said. I had a bit too much filling for the tart so I poured the extra into two ramekins and baked them along with the tart.(those turned out great, like pumpkin pudding or custard)  I made the tart in a 10" springform pan. I do not own a large tart pan. I have 6 small ones (that's what I used to make my Chocolate Pecan tart) but didn't feel like messing around with 6 tarts, so I just used the springform pan.

Turned out perfect. And, it's delicious! I am sure it is probably that much better in a chocolate crust, but I liked it just the way I  made it. Your first bite is all about the pumpkin filling, smooth, creamy, not too spicy. Then, you realize you are tasting a hint of dark chocolate. It's a wonderful undertone to the pumpkin flavor. And, finishing it off, you have the crust of the tart itself, a little crunchy, buttery, and tender.

When I first mentioned making this tart my hubby's attitude was  "eh".  He is not a pumpkin fan. He will eat pumpkin bread every once in a while. He turns his nose up to  pumpkin pie. This tart? He ate every bite and said, "That was really good." Surprised, like he thought it wouldn't be. Silly man!

Pumpkin-Chocolate Tart
Makes 1 10" tart

1 can (15 ounce) pumpkin puree
3/4 cup finrmly packed light-brown sugar
8 ounces creme fraiche
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (I left this out as I am not a big clove fan)
     Chocolate Crust (recipe follows)
2 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, brown sugar, creme fraiche, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt and cloves until smooth. Pass mixture through a fine sieve set over a clean bowl; discard solids. Pour filling into prepared crust.
2. Bake until filling is set, about 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool at least 30 minutes.
3. Set a heatproof bowl, or the top of a double boiler, over a pan of barely simmering water. Melt chocolate in bowl, stirring occasionally,  remove from heat. Dip a spoon in melted chocolate, then drizzle chocolate over tart, forming decorative stripes. Refrigerate until well set, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Chocolate Crust
Makes 1 10" tart shell

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg
4 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachemnt, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, cinnamon and cloves. Add butter; mix on low speed until butter is the size of small peas, about 5 minutes. Add egg; mix until ingredients come together to form a dough.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to just thicker than 1/8 inch. Brush off excess flour transfer dough to a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Press dough into bottom and up sides of pan;  trim excess flush with edge. Lightly prick bottom of dough all over with a fork. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
3. Bake shell until firm, about 15 minutes. Immediately sprinkle chocolate over bottom of shell; smooth with a spatula.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Puppy Cake for 7 year old

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted to make cupcakes and a cake for a friend's 7 year old daughter. The little girl is having her party at the Richmond SPCA. Mom wanted puppy themed goodies for the two parties the little girl was having. One party, the one the cupcakes were for, was held at school Wednesday afternoon. The cupcakes (see earlier post) were a big hit. I got a call from the Mom and she was thrilled and said the kids loved all the different puppies. She also said the cupcakes tasted as good as they looked. Great stuff for a cake maker to hear.

I finished the puppy themed cake yesterday. I always finish cakes a day before they are due. That way, should something go horribly wrong, I have a day to try and fix it. I also show up 5 minutes early for appointments. I would rather sit around for a few minutes than show up a few minutes late. It's just the way I am.

This cake was so fun to do. A lot of tedious stuff...cutting out each round "paw" and each "toe" for the paws and then carefully placing each piece on the cake.  But it was so fun to see it come together.  I used black fondant for the paws. I cut out the big part of the paws with two piping tips. I used the bottom of an extra large piping tip for the big paws and a medium tip for the small paws. The toes were done with the top of  a #12 tip and a #8 tip.

The dogs were made from fondant. I use Satin Ice fondant. I think it's much easier to work with than Wilton's brand and it tastes tons better. You pay a bit more for it, but some things are worth the extra money. I styled them after dogs Lorraine McKay does. She has several on-line videos teaching you different techniques and I watched the dog one ages ago and remembered how to do them. The two dogs on the board that are holding up the bone banner were made several months ago and have been in a box waiting to be used. I decided to put them on the bottom and have them hold the bone. I do not like writing on cakes. I always worry about messing up the words or how they fit. I almost always make something to either place on the board or on the cake. It's a lot easier to make another plaque then to fix messed up icing. I learned that the hard way.

The dogs on top represent two dogs Loren has. One is named Frank Sinatra, Jr. and the other is Sammy Davis, Jr. And, of course, each dog has it's own food bowl filled with Kibble. :) They are sitting on a "rug" which is hiding a small cardboard circle. The cardboard circle supports the puppies so they don't sink into the icing on the top of the cake.

I love playing with fondant. It's like being a little kid again playing with Playdough. It's so fun to see something "come alive" in your hands, something that began as an idea in your head and suddenly is real and tangible. And, then to see or hear about the joy that something you created with your hands gave to someone else. I thank God for the gift he has given me that allows me to bring such happiness to so many people.

The cake is a White Almond Sour Cream cake with a simple Vanilla Buttercream icing.  It is 2 8" layers, torted and filled and 1 6" layer torted and filled. I will be delivering it tomorrow to the SPCA. I can't wait to hear what the kids think of this one. If they liked the cupcakes as much as they did, they should love this cake.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie - Sables

Wow, two posts in one day. What is this world coming to? This post is about this week's TWD recipe, Sables. This one was chosen by Barbara of Bungalow Barbara and if you visit her blog you can see all the fun and colorful variations on this cookie that she did. Also, all the tips and directions she so graciously took time to type up. Thank you so much Barbara! I really enjoyed baking along with you this week!

These cookies were a breeze to put together. I made up the dough last night and chilled it till today. When I got ready to bake them, while the oven was preheating, I brushed the logs with egg yolk, sprinkled some raw sugar over them, sliced them and put them on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Into the oven they went, and after about 16-17 minutes I had the most perfect looking shortbread cookies I have ever baked. Golden brown around the edges, with the sparkle of sugar. I (barely) waited for them to cool and then tried one.

Fabulous!!! Tender, buttery, melt in your mouth goodness. My hubby said that except for the fact they were missing pecans, they were as good, if not better than the elves cookies. I'll take that as a compliment as I think the elves cookies are pretty good. These are definitely better, and with as easy as they are to put together, you can have a cookie jar of these on hand anytime. I did not try any of the variations, but know that I will in the future. Pecans, chocolate shavings, lemon, orange, cinnamon, just to mention a few.  I see that many of the other TWD bakers did play around with the recipe. You should check out all the different cookies you can have with this one simple recipe.

Cupcakes and a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer

Wow, look at me! Posting about something that isn't related to any of the groups I bake with! I feel so reckless and adventurous! Silly me!

Let me get serious now. I would  like to alert you to a wonderful giveaway my friend Susan of She's becoming DoughMessTic is having. She is giving away the 90th Anniversary Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer. It's red and shiny and even has a glass bowl. It is beautiful and if you visit her blog she tells you how you can have several chances at entering to win one. Even if you already have a Kitchen Aid Stand mixer, like I do, you can always use a second one. Or, as she points out, you can give it to someone for Christmas. Wouldn't that make you the most generous person EVER! So, walk, no run!, over to her blog and read all the details. Maybe one of us will be lucky enough to win. (oh please oh please oh please let it be me!)

Now, the real reason I started writing this morning...Puppy Cupcakes!

I know many of you have seen and perhaps even own "Hello Cupcakes". I think that's the name of that darling cookbook that shows you how to make all these adorable cupcakes using candy and cookies and other items you have around the house.

I don't have the cookbook, but think I am pretty good about looking at a picture of something and figuring out how it is made. So, when a customer contacted me to make cupcakes for her daughter who has two dogs and is having two doggie themed parties I knew I had to make puppy cupcakes. The cupcakes are for the school party and the same lady has ordered a cake for a party to be held at the Richmond SPCA on Friday. I will post pictures of the cake I am doing later this week. But, for now, it's all about the puppy cupcakes.

While time consuming (and so under-priced) these were really fun to do. I used M&M's, chocolate chips, fondant in brown and red, marshmallows, both big and mini and some of those 100 calorie Oreo and Nutter Butter cookies. A couple of puppies looked more like kitties or even a mouse (so said my hubby) but I think for a bunch of 7 year old girls they will be just fine.

And, just as a tease, here are a couple of pictures of things I will be using on the cake for the party on Friday. I am adding a few more details to the over all cake, but these cuties will be playing a major role. Aren't they the cutest?! I have to give Lorraine McKay credit for these. She is an amazing cake decorator and has several videos "out there" showing how to make things like these darling puppies. Google her. I tried to link to the video I watched, but it didn't work! :(

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sunday - Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake with Blackberry Glaze

I write this post with mixed emotions. It is the our last SMS post for 2009. We will start again in January. While I am grateful for the "free" time it will give me, I will really miss my Sunday evenings which are spent reading posts from the other bakers. I am new to this whole experience, blogging and baking with groups on-line. I have to say I really enjoy it. All the new friends I have met. All the wonderful recipes I have tried, many I might not have tried were it not for the groups I bake with. I guess I am just a bit melancholy at this time of year and it is bleeding through to my blog.

But, back to business. Shandy of Pastry Heaven picked this recipe. Any time the word cheesecake, chocolate and espresso are in the same sentence I am hooked. I actually looked at this recipe and had it earmarked to pick if it was still available in April when it's my turn to choose a recipe.  I am not at all upset that Shandy picked it now.

This was (is) a delicious cheesecake! I believe it will be a bit boozy for my hubby. Not that he doesn't drink, but he's funny about alcohol in his foods and if he can taste it he usually doesn't like the dish. While I could taste the dark rum (it's more of a warmth in the mouth and throat than an actual taste) I still liked the cheesecake every much.

As cheesecakes go, it's pretty typical to pull together. A bit more work cooking the cream, cocoa powder, espresso powder and salt, and melting the bittersweet chocolate, but it's really just making a crust, mixing the cream cheese with other ingredients and baking it. It bakes in a water bath and from all the cheesecakes I have made, water baths = creamy filling. This was no exception to that rule. The filling turned out silky, creamy, smooth,and intensely chocolaty.

The crust was a wonderful surprise. A good many crusts get soft and  almost cookie like. This crust stayed crispy, crunchy. It was a nice contrast to the smooth, silky texture of the filling. Perhaps the hazelnuts help to make it crunchy. Not sure, but I really liked it.

The glaze on top, pretty and shiny, is overwhelmed by the chocolate of the filling. I made extra glaze and drizzled it on the plate and that little bit extra added just a hint of the blackberry flavor to each bite. I really can't say I tasted the espresso. I think it serves to intensify the chocolate rather than add a coffee flavor to the dessert.

All and all, this is a fabulous dessert. Rich, creamy, crunchy, tons of chocolate flavor, beautiful on a plate with a bit of the glaze drizzled over each slice. I think you could easily omit the rum and still have a delicious cheesecake. I don't think I would omit it completely next time, but might knock it back to 1/8 of a cup rather than 1/4 of a cup.  I didn't have any fresh blackberries on hand, but think some chocolate curls might dress the plate up nicely, along with the extra glaze. I love how Shandy decorated hers. Stop by her blog to check it out! And, stop by SMS to see what the other bakers thought of this one, and if anyone is as melancholy as I am about not baking with Melissa again till January.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie - Should be...Actually is...

This weeks recipe is Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart. It was chosen by Lauren of I'll Eat You. If you want to see a truly gorgeous photo of what it should look like, and get the recipe so you can try it,  head over to Lauren's blog. Her photo of the finished tart is just beautiful and makes me regret not making it with her. Sorry Lauren. But, reading over the ingredient list alerted me to the fact that I would have to buy a lot of items to make this, and I just don't have the extra money right now. :(  You should check how the other TWD bakers made out with this weeks recipe.

Rather than not do any Tuesdays with Dorie this week, I looked through the book and picked something that had already been done, and that I had all the ingredients on hand for.Thus, the Blueberry pie that is sitting on my counter as I type this. The recipe for Dorie's Double Crusted Blueberry Pie is on pages 361-363 of "Baking - From my home to yours". It was the picture that drew me to this recipe. The pie pictured looks delicious. I love blueberry pie, but don't have it very often. You just don't see it much. Apple. Yes. Cherry. Yes. But, Blueberry. Not usually. And, as much as I love blueberries I never think to make a pie with them.

This was super easy to put together. The pie crust is made in the food processor. I believe I severly overtaxed my processor by making the double crust recipe, rather than making two single crusts. My food processor was whining (read screaming!) when I turned it off to take out the dough. Because I used frozen butter and shortening, I was able to roll out my crusts right away, without having to chill them in the fridge for 20 minutes before rolling.

The filling is pretty simple...blueberries, lemon zest and a splash of lemon juice, salt, sugar and flour. I was a bit puzzled when I read "Taste the filling..." (this is after mixing the berries with the other ingredients and letting it stand for 5 minutes). I didn't have any filling to taste. The berries were basically sitting on top of the sugar and flour mixture. No juice like you would have with an apple pie filling. So, I shrugged and went on with the recipe.

Baked it for the first 30 minutes at 425 degrees. Then turned my oven down to 375 degrees and baked it for the second 30 minutes.

I think my oven may be off. After the second 30 minutes, the pie didn't seem to be bubbling or even look like the filling was hot. I looked at my thermometer in the oven and it was reading 350. Darn! So I cranked up the oven another 10 degrees to 385 and added another 15 minutes to the baking time. Thought it looked pretty good at the end of the additional 15 minutes so I took it out and set it on the back deck to cool.

Just tried a piece. I have mixed feelings on this one. The crust is fabulous...light, flaky, buttery, crisp on the bottom. I guess the bread crumbs really help to keep that crispness even with all the juice. Yeah, lots of juice. None before I put it in the oven, but after I took out a slice, the spot where the piece of pie had been filled up with juice. And, I don't think it's from not letting it set long enough. I left it cooling for several hours before cutting into it. I could see the sugar/flour mixture mixed through the berries too. Not sure you should be able to see whitish stuff on your blueberry pie. :P And, the flavor...I cut back a little on the sugar after reading some old comments on this recipe in the forum. Now I am thinking I should have left the extra sugar in. The pie seems flat. Not sure if that's a good description, but it's what came to mind. There is no real WOW factor. It looks pretty. All those blueberries and that lovely crust. But, what my eyes see and what my tongue tastes are two different things.

I might try this one again. Maybe mash up some of the blueberries to help mix the flour and sugar together. Maybe add a touch more sugar or something.  I really like blueberry pie. Just wish this one had been better.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Chocolate with Francois - Flourless Chocolate Cookies

Month two of Chocolate with Francois and this month's recipe is Flourless Chocolate cookies. You can find the recipe on page 56 of "Chocolate Epiphany" by Francois Payard. It was chosen by Karen of Karen's Cookies, Cakes and more. If you  would like the recipe,but don't have the book, be sure to drop by Karen's blog and check it out. This was a great choice and I want to thank Karen for picking it. With all the other baking I have been doing for the holidays, this was a nice, quick, simple recipe to pull together with fabulous results.

These were easy to put together and even easier to eat! Six basic ingredients that most bakers will already have in their cupboards... cocoa, confectioners sugar, salt, walnuts, egg whites and vanilla. The Dutch-processed cocoa powder give the cookies an intense chocolate flavor. The walnuts added a nice nuttiness to each bite. Francois warns about mixing the dough too much once you add the eggs whites and I guess I must have done just that, though I only beat the dough for the three minutes instructed in the recipe.  My cookies did not spread out like the ones pictured in the book and I have to guess it's because the dough was thicker than it should have been.  My cookies were puffy and rounded on top, not flat and thin. Still delicious, but they didn't look like the ones in the book. Of course, I am the only one who knew what they looked like in the book. The people I shared the cookies with had no idea what they were supposed to look like. They only knew how yummy the cookies tasted.

The cookies bake up shiny and cracked all over. Biting into one is like biting into a brownie with walnuts. I really liked these cookies!  A lot! Chewy, chocolate-y, nutty, delicious! If you need a quick cookie sure to please the chocolate lover in your family, these are for you.

Drop by Chocolate with Francois to see what the other bakers thought of these wonderful cookies. Next month...Pine Nut Turron Cake. I must say, it looks like a decadent cake. I have already purchased the pine nuts and all the different chocolates used in the recipe. You will have to come back next month to see how it turns out.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Operation Baking Gals - Cookies for my soldiers!

If you came looking for my Sweet Melissa Sunday post, sorry to disappoint. I do not do fruitcake in any way, shape or form, not even for Sweet Melissa! :P But, be sure to check out Karin's blog, Sugar and Spice and everything nice. The Golden Almond Fruitcake was her choice this week, and her pictures make me wish I did like fruitcake!  Also, be sure to check out SMS's bakers page to see which bakers did join her in making the fruit cake.

What I did do this weekend was bake cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. About 47 dozen to be exact!

Operation Baking Gals, or Baking Gals as it is now known,  is a group I have been involved with for over a year now. I joined up in Round 2. The first round was when Susan of She's becoming DoughMessTic asked some fellow bloggers to join her in baking for a cousin who was stationed overseas. The outpouring was overwhelming. The rest as they say is history. I have baked in 13 of the 15 rounds since it's beginnings. I missed the first round because I didn't know about it at the time, and I missed a round this October because I was in Germany. I know, lame excuse, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it! :D

This round was a bit more special than most as I was baking for the nephews of two ladies I clean house for. I have been cleaning for them for a long time now and I had told both women about the organization when they mentioned having family members that were serving overseas. I asked them for the names and addresses of the boys (though it is just as often a girl we bake for) and I passed the info onto Lyndsay, who is our fearless (and tireless) leader now. She got both boys assigned to teams for this round and I joined both teams so I could bake for these two boys.

Did I mentioned I baked a lot of cookies. Here's a breakdown on what I baked...

6 Dozen Oatmeal Raisin (would have baked more but ran out of oatmeal!)
13 Dozen Walnut Chocolate Chip
15 Dozen Peanut Butter with Peanut Butter chips
13 Dozen Molasses cookies (the same molasses cookies we baked with TWD this month!)

I started Saturday morning by making the dough for all the cookies. I made double batches of every kind except the Oatmeal Raisin and that is because I didn't realize I only had enough oatmeal on hand for one batch. Once I had all the doughs made I cleaned up the kitchen and began baking. I started baking the first batch of cookies around 11 Saturday morning and finished the last batch about 9:30 that evening. I took a break long enough to heat up leftover Thanksgiving for dinner, eat it, and then get back to baking cookies. It's a labor of love people. :) When I was done I had about 564 cookies all waiting to be packaged for their trip overseas.

I divided the cookies between the two soldiers and vacuum sealed them for travel. I also enclosed boxes and boxes of Starbucks new VIA instant coffee. It's really good for instant; I drink it and took it to Germany with me so I could have coffee whenever I wanted, no coffee pot needed! I think I had 13 boxes of the 12 packs and about 26 packs of the three packs for each soldier. So, what's that, about 234 "cups" of coffee I am sending.  Much easier than sending pounds of ground coffee and worrying about whether or not the guys or girls have a coffeepot handy to brew it in. And, my local Starbucks collects the packages of VIA from customers and gives it to me to send to "my" soldiers! They are the best!

I packed all the cookies and coffee into 4 separate boxes. Couldn't get it all to fit in just one box per soldier. Thank goodness for flat rate shipping as the boxes are heavy. I also enclosed a letter from me and a few pictures of my family, pets and the local wildlife (deer). The guys who get the boxes like knowing a little about who shipped them. 

Tomorrow I will head to the local post office and mail these boxes out. Official shipping dates are December 1-16, but I am shipping tomorrow. One of the reasons is I already have the addresses of the boys since I know the aunts and I figure one day early won't be a bad thing.

If you ever want to do something to let a soldier know that what they do is appreciated, please stop by BakingGals and join a team. It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside when you do. :)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie - Cran-Apple Crisps

This week's recipe is actually the All in One Holiday Bundt cake, chosen by Britin of The Nitty Britty. I made this recipe last week and it was fabulous! So rich and hearty and full of wonderful fall ingredients.

This week I baked the Cran-Apple Crisps, which was the recipe for the week of November 10. It was chosen by Em of The Repressed Pastry Chef.  Be sure to check out both of their blogs to see what they thought of their choices, and to get the recipes to try for yourself.

So, back to the crisps. So easy and so delicious. Not much more to say. I didn't have any dried cranberries so I added raisins to mine. I love apples and raisins anyway so it was a good switch. I also used two different kinds of apples...Granny Smith and Gala. Figured the Gala would offset the tartness of the Granny Smiths and the tartness of the cranberries.

I made the topping just as Dorie wrote the recipe. I like coconut and wanted to see what it added to the topping. I honestly can't say I even noticed it. Something added a nice crunch to the final product and I guess it could have been the coconut, but I really didn't taste coconut. And, I was almost disappointed by that. Almost.

The finished dish was amazing. Tart and sweet. Soft and crunchy. I didn't add anything else to mine, though I did put a dollop of whipped cream on the hubby's. (He eats whipped cream on just about everything!) As with any dish with cranberries, he commented on the tartness. But, he finished the bowl. (He left all the wonderful raisins in the dish though...can't get him to eat those!)  I did have one complaint and that was that the apples cooked down, so that heaping ramekins I put in the oven came out slightly over half full. :(  Next time (Oh yes, I will make this again!) I will pack the fruit in the bowl, rather than just spoon it in as I did.

So, thumbs up to Em for picking this one. It was a big winner with me. Please stop by TWD to see what everyone else baked this week.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sunday - Raised Waffles with Warm Brown Sugar Bananas

Sorry gang, no SMS for me today. I don't own a waffle iron and while I like a banana every now and then, I don't care for them cooked in any way, shape or form. So, I will sit this one out.

But, I would like to thank Lauren of Fried Pickles and Ice Cream for chosing this weeks recipe. I do like waffles and may get an iron one day, but couldn't see buying one just for this recipe. Please stop by Lauren's blog to see how yummy the waffles look. And, check out what the other SMS bakers thought of this one.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie - All in one Holiday Bundt Cake

This weeks recipe is actually supposed to be Sugar-topped Molasses Spice cookies, which Pamela of Cookies with Boys picked. Pamela did bake that recipe this week and has posted it. Be sure to check it out on her blog. (I baked the cookies last week and they are delicious!) But, since Laurie said we could bake November's recipes in any order we liked, I made the All in one Holiday Bundt cake, which is next weeks recipe and was chosen by Britin of The Nitty Britty. Be sure to drop by Britin's blog next week to catch the recipe.

I loved this cake! And, in my case, what's not to love...pumpkin, apples, cranberries, pecans...so many of my favorite, yummy goodies all rolled up in one delicious cake. I considered making changes, using walnuts in place of pecans. I also considered omitting the cranberries as my hubby is not a big fan of them (too tart for his tastes), but in the end I stayed true to the recipe. And, I am glad I did.

This was another easy recipe to pull together. I love that about Dorie's recipes. None have been really difficult to make, or at least as long as I have been with the group that holds true. In no time at all I had this cake mixed up and in the oven.

The aroma as it baked was divine. Holiday aromas to be sure. Smelling it as it baked made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Well, not really, but it did smell great. I could hardly wait for it to finish baking and become cool enough to cut.

I made the maple syrup glaze for the top of it. I also saved a few chopped pecans to sprinkle on top after pouring the glaze over the cake. It was almost too pretty to cut...almost! :)

Delicious!! While my hubby commented on the cranberries ("Boy, these are tart!"), the only other things out of his mouth were mmmmm noises. I didn't waste anytime talking. I just ate.

Please drop by TWD to see what all of the other bakers baked this week.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chocolate with Francois - Charlie's Afternoon Chocolate Cake

Normally, we in Chocolate with Francois, only bake one recipe a month. However, our fearless leader decided we could have a bonus round  this month (so to speak) and chose Charlie's Afternoon Chocolate Cake as that recipe.

What a great choice! This cake was so easy to pull together. I used a springform pan for mine. I was worried about getting it out of a regular cake pan. In less than 30 minutes you can have a cake cooling on the counter.

From the picture I was expecting a dense, rich, brownie, almost pudding-like cake. It also looks a bit tall in the picture. My cake was not so tall...maybe an inch if that. And, the texture, while moist, was not at all like the texture of the one in the book.

First bite and the dense brownie-like cake I was expecting was instead a light, almost airy cake. It almost dissolved in my mouth. Not at all what I was expecting. Then the rich bittersweet chocolate taste flooded my mouth and it was heavenly. I served mine with a dusting of confectioners sugar and a dollop of whip cream. It was delicious and the fact that it was so easy to pull together places it high on my list of favorites. You must try this cake!

Head over to Chocolate with Francois to see what some of the other bakers thought of this one.

Sweet Melissa Sunday - Butter Toffee Crunch

This week's SMS recipe was chosen by Kaitlin  of Kait's Plate, and it's a great choice for this time of year. I personally make or bake something for all 27 of my cleaning customers. Sometimes its mini pumpkin chocolate chip loaves, sometimes I make cake truffles. Last year I made peanut butter balls. It usually takes some time and I spread it out over the month of December, baking or making something almost every night for the next day's customers. But, it's a labor of love and my way of saying thank you for their continued business. I can see using this recipe for Christmas gifts this year.

This was not too difficult to put together. You do need a thermometer for checking the temperature of the toffee as it cooks, but other than that it was pretty simple. I cut the recipe in half, and a good thing I did as I was almost a 1/2 of a cup short of light brown sugar. I subbed dark brown for that little bit, and it may have made a difference. The toffee seemed very dark, even though so little dark brown sugar was used.

But, it turned out great. I have only tried a tiny piece but it was crunchy and chocolaty and delicious. Oh, I also used bitter sweet chocolate chips as that is all I had on hand (need to make a run to the store to restock) but I think the bitter sweet is actually a nice contrast to the sweetness of the toffee. And, the chopped almond give just the right nuttiness to the candy.

So, thanks Kaitlin for choosing such a great recipe. This will not only make great gifts, but I can see using it in recipes (thinking cakes) to add a little something extra, a little something special. If you would like to see what the other bakers thought, head over to SMS.