27 December, 2014

The Only Fudge Brownie Recipe You'll EVER Need!!!

Okay, so one of my favorite indulgences in life is chocolate.  I've been pretty honest about that with you on here over the past 3.5 years.  So it wouldn't be a stretch to tell you that one of my absolute favorite things to closet binge (No, I don't actually hide in a closet...but no one on the planet has any idea how many brownies I can actually put away in one day.  It is astounding...) is fudge brownies, would it??  Didn't think so...

I'm not going to bother with a history of brownies or when I had my first taste of a brownie, I'mna get right to the recipe because lol...let's face it, I'm hungry and there is chocolate involved.  Also, these are TOTALLY the easiest brownies you'll ever make!  You'll wonder why you've ever bothered with box mixes.  Let's get started, no time to waste!

Fudgiest Fudge Brownies
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/2 c. organic cane sugar
1 1/2 c. + 4 T. cocoa powder (I use Callebaut...it is THE best!)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. vanilla paste or extract
4 large free range brown eggs (yeah, brown makes a difference!)
1 c. all purpose flour (I always use King Arthur)
1 1/3 c. walnuts or pecans, optional (I didn't add them)


Preheat your oven to 325 F

Grease well and line 9 x 13 cake pan with parchment paper and set it aside.

In a large glass bowl gently whisk together sugar and cocoa powder.  Cut butter into 1 T. pats and toss them in the bowl with the cocoa and the sugar.  At this point you can either pop it in the microwave for 1 minute, check it and let it go for 1 more minute and then stir OR you can go to the bother of putting water in a large pot and allowing the butter to melt in a double boiler method.  (But, I have a 3.5 month old, an 18 month old, and a 4.5 year old...I'm goin for the microwave every time with this particular recipe.)


Make sure you mix the ingredients together well, scraping down the bowl if necessary to make sure all of the cocoa powder makes it into the butter and sugar properly.  Add in the vanilla paste/extract and salt; stir well.  Now start adding your eggs...tedious as it is going to be, add your eggs one at a time stirring the mixture well after each addition. 

(Now...you can keep stirring if you feel like you have the upper arm strength to do so, but this batter gets awful thick very quickly.  I never make it through the addition of the flour without having to whip out my Cuisinart electric hand mixer.    I've never been able to mix this in my stand mixer without having to stop it and scrape down the sides eleventy billion times to make sure the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure there isn't any rogue batter not getting flour mixed into it....  Just use an electric hand mixer folks...)


Your batter should be beautifully glossy at this point.  All that is left to do is add the flour.  Mix the flour in well; you may have to scrape down the edges once or twice.  When you have the flour completely incorporated turn the batter out into the greased cake pan and spread around so it is evenly distributed in the pan.


Bake for 35-40 minutes, checking at 35 minutes with a toothpick.  If they aren't done, check again at 40 minutes.  Take them out when the toothpick inserts and comes out clean.  Put on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before eat them.

At this point you have options.  One of my favorite things to do to brownies is turn them into German Chocolate Brownies.  I accomplish this by simply adding my Coconut Pecan Frosting to the top of my pan of brownies.


Biggity Bam!....awesomeness.  I can't eat more than one at a time, but with organic cane sugar....you don't need to.  When you eat REAL sugar, your body gets its fix quickly.  Also fabulous on these would be a peanut butter frosting.

  
Errr meeee gerrrrrsh, there are so many wonderful ways to enjoy these, but for me...on most days...I like my brownies NAKED.  Brownies in the buff....  Hope you love them as much as we do in this house!! 

12 December, 2014

12 Days of Christmas, Day 12: Bonus Recipe 2: Nanaimo Bars

Our time in Canada was checkered with various experiences...  I almost died...three times, we had a beautiful little baby girl, I made wonderful friends, got told to "go the hell back where I came from" once, and ate my way through my 3 years there with mixed results.  One of my fondest food memories of Canada, however, was a little dessert shop in the downtown core of Ottawa.  It was a vegan shop that made everything from scones to cupcakes, cookies, and pies.  Another tasty morsel she recommended to me that I tried was something called a nanaimo bar.  Errrr me gerrrrrrshhhhh...

Nanaimo bars...  *scuse me...I'm having a moment.....*  Mmmm...

So, there is this place in British Columbia (a different province...provinces are like what we here in the states call a "state".) called Nanaimo.  Pronounced "na-nay-mo"....say it with me....na-nay-mo.  Get to know the name well, because you're going to have to tell people what it is that you just fed them that they fell in love with.  Trust me.  This bar won "best of" at a baking contest back in the day...after having tried it and becoming shamelessly addicted to it, I understand why the woman won and the predicament your friends are about to find themselves in once they try these.  You've been warned...

There are some discrepancies about the amounts of things that go into certain parts of this dessert.  One thing is for CERTAIN, the middle layer has to have Bird's custard in it.  There is no give on that.  I get my Bird's off of Amazon.com just like every other cotton pickin' thing on the planet that I can't find in local stores when I am stationed in certain places.  Every duty station has a problem like this with some item or another.  No place has been immune from it yet.  Don't skip the Bird's.  If you do...you didn't make a nanaimo bar.  You just didn't.  Some people have told me that I "could" make a passable pan of bars using vanilla pudding packet powder instead of Bird's but....I somehow doubt that.

Nanaimo Bars

Crust
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. cocoa powder (I used Callebaut, I buy it on Amazon.com)
1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1 c. unsweetened coconut
1/2 c. crushed pecans or pecan meal

Custard Layer
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
2 T. + 2 tsp. heavy cream
2 T. Bird's custard powder
2 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla paste or vanilla extract

Chocolate Topping
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
2 T. unsalted butter

Line a 9 x 13 inch cake pan with aluminum foil, grease it with butter, and then set it aside.

*I used a 9 x 9 inch pan for my bars because I liked the thickness of them, but it is completely unnecessary to do that, and quite frankly they aren't easy to fit into your mouth when you make them that thick.  I have a pretty small mouth as adults go, so this may just be a personal problem.  But, if you want your friends and family to attempt their own version of cranial kinesis (what people call a snake "unhinging their jaw") in order to eat these bars...it is best to use a 9 x 13 inch pan.

Beat your egg in a medium sized bowl.  In a large sauce pan over low heat, melt the butter, sugar, and cocoa.  Whisk a small amount of the hot melted mixture into the beaten egg to temper it.  Then pour the tempered mixture into the sauce pan, whisking it constantly.  Cook and stir the mixture until it reaches 160 degrees and appears to begin to thicken.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the graham cracker crumbs, crushed pecans, and the coconut.  Press the mixture into the foil lined pan and set it aside to cool completely.  Do NOT put the custard layer on the crust until it is totally cooled.  You may want to refrigerate it beforehand just to be sure it is no longer hot.

While the crust layer is cooling in a large mixing bowl beat together the butter, cream, custard powder, and powdered sugar until well blended.  Spread over the cooled crust and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before putting the chocolate topping on it.


To make the chocolate topping melt the 4 ounces of semi sweet chocolate in the microwave with the butter.  Put it in for 30 seconds, remove it from the microwave to stir it, then put it back in for 30 more seconds, and remove it to stir again.  Repeat these steps using ONLY 30 second bursts of time until the chocolate is melted and completely smooth.

Pour the chocolate mixture over the chilled custard filling.  You can either spread it with a spatula or you can turn the pan about in your hands to get it into the corners completely.  When it seems evenly distributed, set it on the counter, and jiggle the pan about a little bit to smooth out the top completely.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before cutting and serving.  The bars will keep up to 1 month in a solid block like that covered and refrigerated.  Once you slice them, they will keep for about 1 week covered in the fridge.

When you want to cut them to serve, remove the foil from the pan, and slice the bars on the counter so the knife can completely go through the bars without hitting the sides of the pan constantly.  This will also prevent you from splintering the chocolate topping.  It is also a good idea, for presentation purposes only, to clean the knife after every pass you take so it doesn't deposit the custard layer onto the edges of your chocolate topping...like this...


Believe it or not lol...I did that on purpose so you could see what I meant.  But, that may not matter to you in the least.  Either way, you've been warned.

These bars are extremely thick when put in a 9 x 9 inch square pan.


Like I said, they were almost too thick for me to even fit them in my mouth.  Then again...also, like I said....I have a smallish mouth for an adult.


They were really quite tasty.  I wasn't sure if I was going to let any leave the house when I sent trays of goodies to work with the Mister.  My waistline begged me to let some go though...


I love these bars with passion that I almost feel is inappropriate.  I normally pick apart each component of the things I make and tout their qualities and assert how they perfectly compliment the dish as a whole, but the fact is with this particular dessert it the individual layers themselves would taste absolutely awful without the others.  I've never experienced this with a bar.  But likewise, I've never found one that I could honestly say was something I would drive across town for and buy by the half dozen every other month for 3 years.  And for these...I did...and it was worth it every single time.  The folks that work with my Mister certainly seemed to enjoy them.  The Mister himself...well, you know him.  He merely "liked" them.  He didn't love them.  The love he saves for ME.

12 Days of Christmas, Day 12: Kringle

Kringle is a dessert that, being from the northern Midwest, I am quite familiar with.  They are common enough that there is a company in Wisconsin that does nothing but make Danish Kringles year 'round.  I know because I have ordered one...it was delightful.  But I couldn't help but wonder if I could make it myself.  You know...that whole "fresh is best" theory that I have.  I wonder...

I am sure that the recipe that follows is a total sacrilege of the tradition, but...you gotta start somewhere, and they weren't going to advertize their recipe, now were they?  Nope.

Kringle

Filling
2 c. pecans
1 1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
8 T. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1 T. pats

Dough
4 c. flour
16 T. (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, 1 T. pats and cold
4 T. lard
2 T. powdered sugar
2 1/4 tsp. rapid-rise yeast
3/4 tsp. salt
2 c. sour cream
2 T. cold water
1 large egg, beaten

Icing
1 c. powdered sugar
2 T. whole milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla paste or vanilla extract

Make the filling by processing sugar, pecans, cinnamon, and salt in food processor until pecans are coarsely ground. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer to bowl.

To make the dough add flour, sugar, yeast, salt, butter, and shortening to empty food processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer to bowl and stir in sour cream until dough forms. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and form a foot and a half long roll.  Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes.  I did mine overnight just because I was busy.


To roll out the dough roll the dough into a length of approximately 48 inches long and 6 inches high.  Starting 2 inches in from the left end pour the filling down the center and bring it all the way down to the other end of the strip leaving 2 inches without filling on it.

  
With a small bowl of water (the 2 T.) at the ready, dip your fingers in the water and slowly run them down the filling lightly.  Then fold the top edge of dough down onto the filling.


Now, dip your hands in the water again, getting just the tips of your fingers wet, and run the fingers along the flap of dough that you just folded down onto the filling.  Then fold the bottom flap of dough over the other flap you just folded down from the top.


Now using the parchment paper, lift up the long edge of paper furthest away from you and roll the dough towards you, so the seam is now down on the parchment paper.  Once you've done that, carefully gather the two ends of the kringle and bring them to each other and open the flap of dough on the left hand side and insert the end of dough in your right hand.  (Don't worry, if you think it will effect the appearance, it won't.  The icing will cover up the flap.)

  
Let the kringle rest for 4 to 12 hours before baking.  When you've preheated the oven to 350 degrees, brush the kringle with a beaten egg.


Bake the kringle for 50-60 minutes, rotating the sheet 180 degrees half way through baking.  ***The filling may ooze out if the seals broke during baking.  Don't worry.  The filling candies when it oozes out.  Any that presents itself can be cut away from the kringle easily and again...can be covered up with the icing job you do when the kringle cools.  Wait a minimum of 1 hour for the kringle to cool before you ice it.

To make the icing whisk together the sugar, milk, and vanilla in a bowl until any lumps of sugar are gone.  Drizzle the icing over the kringle with a spoon or do what I do and buy those short, fat bottles made by Wilton from Wal-Mart and put the icing in there and squirt it onto the kringle evenly.

  
The kringle is effectively made out of bread dough...yeast.  So, this won't keep much longer than 2 days without you needing to do different things to refresh and loosen the glutens in it somehow.  Which is usually....warming it up, and that's about it and even then.....there is just nothing like the same day as it was made.  Ever.

Make sure that you cut the kringle into sane sized slices when you serve it....  That way people have the choice of eating it with their hands or a fork.  Both are appropriate.  One last side note, the only other fillings I would bother putting in these are spiced apple or cherry.  Not many other fruits would hold up to the baking time that the dough calls for.  Raspberries would disintegrate completely, for instance.  I suppose you could try some other stone fruits (peaches, etc.) but, cherries seem to be the most traditionally Dutch.


Everyone that tried the kringle loved it.  I loved it.  Truly....that should be all that matters, but I am a people pleaser.  The Mister liked it, the in laws LOVED it (ate almost half of it themselves....good use, I say!), and the half of it I sent to work with the Mister for his office mates liked it as well.  The one guy who called it a "squashed cinnamon roll" is on my naughty list for Christmas though.

The dough turned out beautifully tender and flaky, the filling was just the right amount of nutty and sweet and the icing added beauty and a creaminess that I didn't expect.  Almost the perfect dessert.  But this is an item that could serve as a dessert OR an article on the Christmas breakfast table.  Scrambled eggs, meat of your choosing, slab of kringle, and a tall glass of fresh squeezed orange juice.  Sounds like a plan to me!

11 December, 2014

12 Days of Christmas, Day 11: Eggnog Cake

One of my Mister's favorite things to have around the holidays starts appearing on shelves even before Thanksgiving now (seriously....could people START celebrating Christmas after Thanksgiving instead of the day after Halloween?  Thank you.) which seems odd to me because it is most widely consumed at Christmas and not any other time of the year unless you make it at home.

Eggnog.

Excuse me while I vomit in my mouth a little...  *gags*  There.  All better.  

I'm not sure what it is but, I've never been able to handle the texture of the drink, the thickness of it, or even the copious amounts of nutmeg that they use to try to cover up the fact that you're drinking liquified egg with a dash of cream.  But, for whatever reason, the Mister loves it.  He and I clash on a number of flavors (ahem...beans on toast) and textures (again...beans on toast) and sometimes even methods of cooking (He cracks an egg into a pan, lets it cook a couple seconds and then attempts to scramble it in the pan.  It never does.  The whites never fully mix with the yolk so it results in dry, narsty whites and an over all feeling of shredded rubber in your mouth when you eat it.  He wonders why the 4.5 year old won't eat his eggs in the morning.).  So, the eggnog thing is something we've just decided to agree to disagree on in our household.  *mentally adds it to the list of the other billion things*

I see thousands of cartons of eggnog in stores every year and wonder who these people are.  I only know one.  It can't all be for him.  So, one can deduce there are a lot of folks out there that like the flavors associated with eggnog.  It's Christmas...the season of perpetual hope...so why not extend the olive branch to the person who should matter most (next to my children of course..).  I bought him a carton of eggnog.  He drank it.  Show's over right?  Nope, still not satisfied.  You know those folks who want to love the same things their spouses love...sometimes?  Yeah, I am one of those...

I love all things baked.  So, getting to love eggnog in terms of baking seemed easy enough to translate.  You just pick things apart to get to the heart of the matter.  Eggs, milk, nutmeg....you get the idea.  That is how the idea of eggnog cake was formed.

Eggnog Cake
18 T. (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 c. buttermilk, at room temperature
1 T. vanilla paste or vanilla extract
1 T. lemon juice
2 c. sugar
3 large eggs + 1 yolk, at room temperature
1/4 c. brandy
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour your cake pan (I use a 12 cup sized bundt pan) and set it aside.

Combine flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a small bowl and set it aside.  In a small mixing bowl whisk together buttermilk, lemon juice, and the vanilla.  In the bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl beat the butter and sugar together until they are slightly pale and fluffy.  Add in the eggs, one at a time and the yolk.  With the speed on low add in the flour mixture and the butter milk mixture alternating starting with the flour.  (It would be best if you used a paddle that had a scraper on the side or stop to scrape down the sides after each addition.)

Combine 1 c. of the prepared batter with 1 T. of brandy, nutmeg, and the cinnamon in a separate bowl and stir it until it is well mixed.  Spread 1 c. of the plain cake batter into the bottom of the cake pan and then spread the spiced batter over that.  Spoon the remaining batter over the spiced batter and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Allow to cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes then invert the pan and turn out the cake onto waxed paper.  Allow to cool completely before putting the icing on the cake.

To make the icing mix the powdered sugar with 3 T. of brandy OR 3 T. of buttermilk (I used buttermilk) and allow it to cascade down the edges of the cake.  Let the icing set before serving.  It will take about 25 minutes.


Alright, fine.  So....this cake was mildly awesome.  I can see some of the merits of the combination of eggs, nutmeg, and buttermilk.  To me, personally, fresh is best when it comes to this sort of thing.  I prefer things to be made right before I eat them.  This cake was no different.  I could learn to love eggnog in this form easily enough.  The cake was moist and tender and the icing kept it that way and it also helped lend a hand in the constant battle of cake having to be consumed with a glass of milk.  The icing was enough.  The true test was...did the Mister like it.  The answer was yes!  He absolutely liked it.  His parents happened to love it as well.  If you need me, I'll just be over here in the corner....being awesome.  (If you knew me...you'd know I don't really believe that lol...)

10 December, 2014

12 Days of Christmas, Day 10: Almond Butter Toffee

During my 34 years of life I haven't come across many things at Christmastime that are classified as "candy" that I felt like I could love.  Certainly not the more average than average peanut brittle (Ewwww....still can't believe it is the Mister's favorite.  Always tastes burned to me.) you are most likely to see broken into eleventy BILLION pieces inside a very unstable package job in your run of the mill big box store, no thanks.  I even struggle with one of my own Mum's favorite.  The holy trinity of yuk....the red, green, and white MINT flavored gumdrops.  Yikes....can't handle it.  Mint coupled with that texture sets my brain on edge.  I can't explain it because I DO, in fact, love true peppermint oil.  Fabulous stuff.  Use it in my baking and cooking quite often, but the mint extract laden gelatinous confections you find at the grocer's caked in sugar, oy.  Can't do it.  There are just a few Christmas delights that I can handle and this recipe is one of them.  Toffee.  Yep...plain, simple clean flavors not time consuming in the least and still miraculous flavor.  Almond Butter Toffee.  Spectacular....  Mmmm...  Sorry, I'm having a moment.  
*brief pause for me to gather myself please...look away from the screen if you must...*

Okay.  Whew...  Alright, here we go folks. 

Just a tip, you'll need a candy thermometer for this recipe.  Any cooking thermometer should do.  Either way, test it before you use it.  Either stick it in your mouth (remember to clean it before using it on the toffee!) and check for anything between 97-99 F.  Or boil some water and stick it in there and wait for it to hit 212 degrees.  If it is off up or down on either test...remember to add or subtract that amount of degrees off of the final temperature when making your toffee.


Almond Butter Toffee
14 T. (1 3/4 sticks) of organic unsalted butter
1 1/3 c. organic cane sugar
3 T. water
1 T. brown rice syrup
8 oz. milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 T. shortening or lard
1/2 c. almonds, toasted and finely chopped

Line a 13 x 9 inch cake pan with foil, grease it, and set it aside for later.


Melt the butter in a medium sized, heavy bottomed sauce pan with the heat set to medium.  Stir in the sugar, water, and brown rice syrup and bring the mixture to a boil.  Stir constantly until the mixture is a light caramel color and the temperature registers 310 F on your thermometer.  This could take 10-12 minutes.

 
***If you have an electric stove, you may have to turn your heat onto high.  Especially if you have what they call "blooming heat" action going on.  This is usually seen with glass top electric stoves.  The only way to get a constant heat is to either have TWO burners going on at high and alternate between them or keep the one on high constantly.  I had a hellova time making toffee and other confections on our glass top stove in Canada.  Now we have a gas stove which has MANY advantages for stove top cooking.  It however, is a bane for baking at times.***

Carefully, pouring AWAY from you, pour the hot toffee into the prepared pan.  Quickly giggle it gently to make sure the toffee is an even thickness from end to end in the pan.  Let it cool until it is slightly firm, but still warm, or about 5 minutes.  


In a microwave melt together your choice of chocolate with the lard or shortening.  Adding the fat keeps the melted chocolate from turning white when it hardens again.  It also helps it stay shiny.  Once the chocolate is melted and smooth, pour it out onto the toffee and immediately sprinkle with the toasted, chopped almonds.


Let the toffee cool in the pan for at least 1 hour.  Lift the candy out of the pan by the foil and carefully peel it off of the candy and throw it away.  Now you can either use your hands or a very sharp knife and break the toffee into various sizes for eating.  I used a knife.  When I did, I placed the knife over where I wanted to cut and slammed down HARD on the knife with my other hand to get a nice, clean, QUICK chop so as to not splinter the toffee.  Toffee is like glass in that respect.  If you don't do clean, quick breaks...you'll end up with a mess of tiny pieces.  

This keeps for just under a month, about 3 weeks or so in an airtight container at room temperature.  I imagine it keeps longer in the fridge.  But, I can truly tell you, this won't last more than 1 hour at a party or gathering once it is set out.  I have never had to test the time on it.




I obliterated an iceberg of this stuff in 1 minute flat.  I had to package it up so I wouldn't touch it anymore.  It is sitting over on my toaster...calling to me daily.  The Mister forgot to bring it to work with him this morning.  I'll thank him for the extra 5 lbs on my behind when Christmas rolls around.  Yay...  In the meanwhile, I'll let you know, this is absolutely the BEST toffee recipe I've ever used, it never fails (when done as directed!), and it is SO flavorful and creamy.  Just wonderful stuff that is SURE to make you the talk of the party, or house, this year!  Happy cooking!

09 December, 2014

12 Days of Christmas, Day 9: Chocolate Sugar Cookies

So...one of the most talked about cookies in our household EVER has got to be sugar cookies.  I ask the Mister what kind of cookie he'd prefer and inevitably the answer is "Sugar cookies, Dear...".  I get sick of asking.  I know what I am going to hear, but just once I suppose I hope the answer that comes out of his mouth will rhyme with "shmocolate".  It never does.

How to make him happy and me happy at the same time?  The answer is, of course, simple.  A chocolate sugar cookie.  But we've tried them over the years and neither one of us ever found a recipe we liked.  A recipe that when we tried it, we turned to each other, and at the same time said "That's it!  Jinx, you owe me a trip to Disneyland!" (shut up...we grew up in the 80's...).  That is...until I stumbled upon THIS recipe...

Chocolate Sugar Cookies
12 T. unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c. cocoa powder (I use Callebaut; I buy it on Amazon.com)
2 T. molasses (I always use Grandma's)
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. sugar + more for dipping
1 large egg at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla paste or vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F and put parchment paper on 3 trays.

Melt 4 T. of butter in a medium sized bowl and whisk in the cocoa powder and molasses until well incorporated; set aside.  Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl (I used my stand mixer for this...if you don't have one and you bake a lot, I recommend getting one.  Look on Craigslist, eBay, Amazon, and garage sale pages on Facebook for the best deals.  I see people selling them all of the time!).

Using a spatula paddle (scrapes the sides of the bowl continuously) beat the remaining stick of butter and 1 c. of sugar until it looks slightly fluffy.  Add in the cocoa mixture and beat until combined.  Add in your egg and vanilla mixing until that is completely incorporated.  Then, using a low speed, add in the flour mixture and mix until the flour appears to be completely mixed into the dough.

Pour about 1/4 c. of sugar onto a small plate and using 1 T. of dough at a time (I used my Pampered Chef medium scoop...it makes measuring out cookies go SO quickly!), dip the top of each ball of dough into some sugar and put the sugar side UP onto the parchment paper.

   
Do this until all of the dough has been portioned out.  Bake 1 sheet at a time in the oven for 12-14 minutes, rotating the sheet half way through (this is usually a move that has to be done with gas ovens or ovens that YOU have personally noticed have "hot spots", or places that cause uneven baking to occur.).  My cookies took the whole 14 minutes.  When the cookies are done, remove pan from oven and allow to cool on the pan for at least 2 minutes before removing to the cooling rack.  Allow them to cool completely before serving.



(The difference between the two photos was daylight lighting in the top photo and inside lighting (light bulb) in the bottom photo.  Your cookies don't change color...)

My Mister and I tried these at roughly the same time and decided that we could make these every year, no problem, and it would cover the bases of sugar cookie and chocolate sufficiently.  Ha!  We loved them.  They were chewy enough and had the texture that resembled what they needed to for his brain to register "sugar cookie" and because of the Callebaut powder's deep, rich chocolate flavor they were chocolatey enough for my brain to decide it had chocolate and it was rich enough that I don't need to eat 10 of them before I am satisfied.  Much less than that; 2 cookies were good enough for me.  These cookies are sure to be a hit with your crowd this Christmas.  The best part is that they are SO easy to make! 

08 December, 2014

12 Days of Christmas, Day 8: Candy Bars

I have a hellova a time every year finding bars for my Christmas trays that I am able to fall in love with.  Some of them just don't stand the test of time or durability compared to the ones that I grew up with.  (Seriously, there is just nothing like a big, fat O'Henry Bar on a tray.  It is universally recognized, and seriously scrummly.  Everyone seems to think so, it always disappears FIRST when I bring a tray to a party!)  I spend so much time finding something that fits my trifecta of pleasure.  Looks great, easy to make, and tastes like eleventy billion dollars in your mouth.  Easy, right?  Ha, ha....right.  Not so much.

This year I had a horrible time finding recipes for bars that I could love.  I could only find 3 this year.  That is a crying shame but, I suppose when you can only find 3, it might as well be the best dang 3 that you have had in the last year.  This bar would be one of them....

Candy Bar
1 c. unsalted butter
1 1/2 c. light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla paste or vanilla extract
2 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
6 two ounce milk chocolate candy bars
2/3 c. chopped pecans
2/3 c. toffee bits

Preheat oven to 375 F degrees and line a 9 x 13 inch cake pan with aluminum foil and grease it well with butter or butter flavored non-stick cooking spray.

In a large mixing bowl (I used my stand mixer) beat your butter on medium high until it begins to lighten a bit in color.  Then add in your brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla.  Beat for a couple of minutes until the mixture seems to have gained a little bit of volume.  Add in the flour and salt and beat until it is well combined.

Turn it out into the prepared baking pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from the oven to a cooling rack and immediately put the chocolate bars on the top so they can begin to melt.  Once they are completely melted, spread to the corners and all over, evenly.  When you feel like you have covered them well enough, give the pan a little shake and you'll see the chocolate lose the grooves from the knife or spatula you used to spread the chocolate.  Then, sprinkle the toffee bits and chopped pecans on the top.  Allow the bars to cool completely before cutting them.

  
I suppose I don't need to explain to you why I called these what I did, do I?  I feel like these don't take much explaining.  Hell, I just like looking at them.  It is my next favorite thing to do AFTER eating them.  About a half of a pan of them.  Errrre me GERRRRRSH!  Between my mother in law and I, I had to get them out of the house.  They were safely deposited at the office where the Mister works.  I heard they were well received.  Go figure.  It seems like pecans, toffee, and milk chocolate are sort of....popular.  Whew!  Here I was worried he would bring some of it back home and tell me everyone hated it lol...

07 December, 2014

12 Days of Christmas, Day 7: Linzertorte

Linzertorte.....sure, if you were hanging around last year for the flogging of Europe, then you know that I covered Austria's Linzer Sables last year on Day 5.  But tiny little cookies weren't what the Austrians had in mind when they came up with "Linzer" anything.  Someone came up with the portable version long after the Linzertorte had become a popular Ă–sterreichische Weihnachten dessert.  The original was a largish, wonderfully tender hazelnut and butter pastry bottomed confection loaded with sweet raspberry or black currant filling.  Christmas was finally HERE when one of those landed on the middle of the table in Austria.  For anyone that has Austrian ancestry, that may still be the case here.  To this end, I offer this awesome recipe.

Linzertorte

Torte Dough
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla paste or vanilla extract
1 c. hazelnuts, skinned
1/2 c. + 2 T. sugar
1/2 c. blanched almonds
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. allspice
12 T. unsalted butter, cut into 1 T. pats and kept cold

Filling
1 1/4 c. raspberry preserves
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. heavy cream or milk
1 1/2 T. sugar

Whisk the egg and vanilla together in a bowl.  Process the hazelnuts, almonds, salt, and sugar together in a food processor until they are ground very fine.  Add the lemon zest and pulse.  Then add the flour, cinnamon, and allspice.  Toss the pats of butter into the processor, evenly distributing them around the processor container and pulse the processor until the contents look kind of HUGE wet granules of sand.  With the processor still on, pour in the egg mixture and process until the dough starts to just come together.

Pour the dough out onto the counter and make into one large ball.  Divide the ball in half.  (If you aren't going to make the torte right away, go ahead and refrigerate the dough balls at this point.  They will be alright for a couple of days.)  Take one ball of dough and break it up into small half dollar sized pieces and toss it into your tart pan and set the other ball of dough aside.


Once you have it torn up and in the pan (in what seems like an even distribution of dough) start pressing the dough down into the pan working outwards as you press.  You need to work the dough into the fluted edges and about 2/3 of the way up the edges all the way 'round the tart pan.  Once you've done that pop the tart pan into the freezer for at least 30 minutes to allow the dough to rest and cool again.

  
 Take the other ball of dough and roll it out between two sheets of parchment paper and set it in the fridge to cool or anywhere that is cold.  It was cold enough here that I just stuck it out in the garage.  While those are cooling, take your raspberry filling and mix it with the lemon juice in a bowl.  Lemon juice forces the natural pectin in the fruit to thicken even more when heat is applied to it.  So, even jam/preserves that seem fairly loose will thicken up in the oven when the 350 degree heat is applied to it with the help of the lemon juice.  Never fear!

Preheat the oven to 350 F

When the dough in the tart pan has finished its 30 minute rest, take the pan out of the freezer and line it with aluminum foil and add either a pastry weight chain or...do what I did because I forgot to order them from King Arthur Flour's store for the THIRD year in a row....fill the tart pan half way with uncooked rice or beans.  Works like a charm!

    
Bake the tart in the oven for 25 minutes, rotating it 180 degrees half way through the baking process.  While it is baking take your other ball of dough that you rolled out and start working with it.  Now, at this point you can decide to do the traditional Linzertorte lattice top OR...you can be cool like me, and do something a little more festive.  I broke out the cookie cutters (mini ones) and cut out shapes with the dough and popped those onto the top of the preserves instead of a lattice top.  It seemed like more fun, and if you are trying to get the children involved in the baking process this is the perfect opportunity to do it.  I picked little snowmen, stars, and Christmas trees.  Once you are done cutting them out, brush the cut outs or the lattice top with the milk and sprinkle on the sugar and pop it in the oven to bake.



It will need to bake for another 50 minutes, or until the crust is a deep golden brown color.  Don't worry, it isn't burned.  Hazelnuts just get a very dark golden color when they are baked/toasted.




 I can see why this torte is a big deal at Christmastime.  Not only is it a beautiful centerpiece to the table but, it is a fairly elegant tasting dessert that you don't need to tell ANYone only took you 30 minutes to make and then the oven did the rest of the work!  Shhhh....I won't tell either!

The crust is the perfect crisp when you fork into it, and the raspberry filling holds very well thanks to that tiny little addition of lemon juice.  When it first hits your tongue you expect a crunchier than crunchy crust but, the butter and the nuts just melt in your mouth.  It does, however, still give you a nice contrast to break up the one note texture of all of that jam.  I loved the Linzer Sables last year, but I love this even MORE!  There is no harm in serving this as is but...even just a small tinge of powdered sugar could dress this up immensely and give it the feeling of new fallen snow right there at your dinner table.  Minus the actual wet and cold!

06 December, 2014

12 Days of Christmas, Day 6: Bonus Recipe 1: Gingerbread

When I was still in the planning stages of this year's series, I asked some of the Foodnatic Nation fans what kinds of recipes they'd like to see.  A number of people just indicated their like or dislike of some of the options I gave them, but a couple folks volunteered some options that I hadn't considered seriously myself.  The number 1 reason being....I wasn't a fan of it myself.

Gingerbread.

I'm not talking the cookie.  We found a recipe for gingerbread cookies that we loved WAY back in the first year of the flogging magic.  I've never replaced that recipe with another.  If I ever do, you'll all be the first to know.  But, this woman meant the gingerbread...as in the cake/quick bread.  It is almost a given that some home you visit at Christmastime is going to have it.  It has been a dreaded dessert for most folks in my age group, and I'll tell the folks from my momma's generation why....  It usually sucks.  For whatever reason, the gingerbread the baby boomers had when THEY were growing up was indeed magical, but whatever recipe the baby boomers themSELVES were handed and led to believe was awesome and that it was "Grandma's exact recipe" was a total lie.  It wasn't Grandma's cake...it was a recipe your mom got out of a magazine and gave to you to get you off of her back so you wouldn't ask for Grandma's recipe for the elventy billionth time.  The dreamy, gingery warm and moist cake that my mom's generation knew and loved has long since been forgotten and replaced with food colored, marshmallow laden Corn Flake wreaths with cinnamon imperials.  I was never a fan of those, but apparently they have a cult following.

The recipes I found to test out for this year's series weren't wildly different.  There was ONE that was set apart from the rest just because it was peculiar.  It reminded me of last year's series entry from Iceland...the ginger cookies with black pepper in them...yeah, those ones.  Fabulous cookie!  It also reminded me of a cake that I made for a friend when we were stationed in Ottawa..it used grated "sticky stem ginger".  However, this year's recipe didn't use quite so much ginger as that previous cake did, so that was a plus right there.  But what it had going for itself the most was that it was easy, and it seemed to sound to my own mother close enough to her Grandma's cake as it could get.  Except for three things that truly make this cake stand out...stout, black pepper, and fresh grated ginger.  Seriously...doesn't that sound so interesting, you just HAVE to make it...just once?  Yes...that's what I thought as well.  Quite...

Gingerbread
3/4 c. stout (Guinness Stout) OR apple cider not from concentrate
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 c. light brown sugar
2/3 c. molasses (I always use Grandma's)
1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. flour
2 T. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 large eggs
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 T. fresh ginger, grated (I used Opie's Sticky Stem Ginger from Amazon.com)

Preheat oven to 350 F

Grease and flour an 8 x 8 inch or 9 x 9 inch glass pan (I totally recommend glass over any kind of metal simply because glass has a more even heat disbursement and retention.) and line the bottom with parchment for extra insurance...there is a lot of sugar in this small cake.  (An 8 x 8 will give you a seriously high cake that will seem almost like a double layer cake in thickness.  After making an 8 x 8, I felt like slices of a 9 x 9 would have been just on the sane size of large.)  Then, prepare a cake strip for the edge of your pan by taking a long sheet of tin foil (long enough to fit around the edge of your pan in one LONG strip) and fold it down into a strip.  I added a long strip of wet paper towel to the inside of my foil strip for some steaming action as well.  Wet heat helps a cake rise better than a dry heat.



What you do is simply wrap this strip of foil (with or without the wet paper towel inside) around the edges of the pan.  It won't be hard to secure the foil to itself as long as you made a bit of an overlap for the foil.  If you've ever made gingerbread and had it cave in on you right in the middle, this is what the foil is for.  Trust me.  Either that, or you'll be baking your gingerbread in a bundt pan for the rest of your life lol...

Bring the stout or cider to a boil over medium heat in a medium sized saucepan.  Off of the heat, stir in the baking soda.  When the foaming stops stir in the brown sugar, molasses, and white sugar until dissolved and set the pan aside.  In a large mixing bowl whisk together the flour, ground ginger, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and pepper and set it aside.

Add eggs, oil, and grated ginger to the wet mixture and then turn the wet mixture out of the saucepan and into the mixing bowl with the dry ingredients in THREE additions, do not add it all at once.  Stir quickly after each addition...you don't have to be gentle with this batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and tap it gently on your counter to release air bubbles.  Bake it until the top of the cake is firm to the touch and toothpick clean.  This will take somewhere between 35 and 45 minutes.  Make sure you rotate the cake 180 degrees half way through the baking.


   
Now, my momma and my Auntie Tari both remember this cake at my Great Grandma Alverna's house baking WHILE Christmas dinner was being eaten and then, quite magically, it was done just as they were finishing the main course.  It was served warm with lemon sauce (not lemon curd...big difference!) and a dollop of fresh whipped cream.  They'd have me believe it was Heaven on Earth.  Growing up on a farm in rural Minnesota, I bet that it was.

This version of gingerbread was a home run with everyone that chanced to try it.  My little family, my in laws, and the people who happened to be at my physical therapy clinic that night.  It was thoroughly enjoyed.  If this version of gingerbread cake is what my momma was talking about when she reminisced about gingerbread from her childhood, then sign me up!  I truly loved it.  It tasted best to ME the day after.  Most desserts that are harvest spiced like this do taste better a day or two after they've been made.  I call it "maturing".  This, just a day old with a loverly dollop of sweetened whipped cream is a fabulous dessert option for any Christmas get together.  I hope you'll give this one a whirl.  You'll be the most popular person at the party!