Sunday, December 28, 2008

Daring Bakers: French Yule Log


This isn't the Yule Log of which you're thinking (can't end in a preposition). No little mushrooms and holly berries. This is a complicated, time consuming masterpiece of a dessert. It was awesome! It took me all day Christmas Eve, and then some of Christmas morning after needing to be frozen over night. But I'm getting ahead of myself. A French Yule log has these components, all of which had to be homemade: Dacquoise, Mousse, Ganache, Feuillete, Creme Brulee, and Icing. Look at all those fabulous French words! Yay! This is everything a dessert should be. It was like doing a puzzle, this challenge was fabulous.
Kristinepoe (a new Daring Baker, no blog posted yet), posted some pictures on the Daring Baker's website that inspired me to do it her way instead of the way the recipe was originally writen. My log has a White Chocolate Mousse instead of chocolate, and a Chocolate Creme Brulee instead of vanilla. She mentions, and I agree, the chocolate creme brulee tastes odd with cocoa powder; next time I'll put in chocolate instead of cocoa. I also had a really hard time getting the creme brulee to set up. It took turing up the oven a full 100 F higher and baking almost 2 hours extra. Perhaps this is a problem similar to what I've had with the cheesecakes?
The rest of the Yule log layers are to die for, though. The white chocolate mousse, heavenly. The whipped chocolate caramel ganache, divine. Ahhh. Those two in particular I'll have to use in other recipes. For the Feuillete I used gingerbread crisp cookies instead of the gavottes; the ginger added a nice note.

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.
They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Iron Cupcake Earth: Chocolate with a Twist

This months Iron Cupcake Earth challenge is Chocolate with a Twist. So, as a continuation of my last post with the Chcolate Truffles, I decided my twist would be more chocolate! Chocolate Truffle Cupcakes. I placed one truffle inside the cake batter and baked it inside. I wasn't sure if it would melt away completely and make a weird gooey cupcake, but it worked! The truffle stayed together in the middle of the cupcake and the flavor difused throughout the cupcake. Mmm. Then I frosted the cupcakes with vanilla buttercream (not chocolate buttercream, that would be toooooo much), dipped them in cocoa powder and decorated them like my truffles. I wish I had a better way of photographing, these pictures don't really do the cupcakes, or the truffles, justice. But they did look pretty cute!
Voting begins 8PM December 29, you can vote for me (Tranquilitea Party) here. :D

As always, this months prizes and sponsors:


BETTY TURBO - http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=5002976
as well as a pair of cupcake earrings from LOTS OF SPRINKLES at http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=6057281.
PLUS, IronCupcake:Earth can not forget our good friend, CAKESPY, http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=5243382, who is now going to be doing a piece for our winner each month until further notice - sweet!As an added bonus for December we have adorable cupcake pincushions complements of SWEET CUPPIN CAKES BAKERY AND CUPCAKERY SUPPLY, http://www.acupcakery.com/index.html.Last and certainly not least, don’t forget our corporate prize providers: HEAD CHEFS by FIESTA PRODUCTS, http://www.fiestaproducts.com, HELLO CUPCAKE by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson, http://blog.hellocupcakebook.com, JESSIE STEELE APRONS http://www.jessiesteele.com; the CUPCAKE COURIER http://www.cupcakecourier.com; TASTE OF HOME books, http://www.tasteofhome.com. Iron Cupcake:Earth is sponsored in part by 1-800-Flowers, http://www.1800flowers.com

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chocolate Truffles



After I started college and first moved away from home, returning home for breaks was when my mom and I would go on adventures around SLC. Granted, SLC is not that big a place and I'd lived there my whole life, but for whatever reason that was when we started exploring the "off the beaten path" areas around the valley. One of the first shops we came across is called Xocolate. I'd never had chocolates fancier than See's before that (the cheap stuff you see during Valentine's). The truffles at Xocolate are exoctic flavors and are art work unto themselves. Not your everyday chocolate covered peanut glob. We would go every time I came home to get a handfull of their fancy truffles.
Skip forward a few years and we first heard of Lavender Days, a festival at the lavender farms in the middle of Utah. They have baking, aroma therapy, gardening, a western village, a medieval village (including a very real jousting tournament!), and dozens of essential oils. We bought a packet that included lavender essential oil. (An essential essential oil!) And that's when it finally dawned on me to make my own truffles, starting with the Xocolate inspired lavender truffle.
So now it is tradition to make chocolate truffles for Christmas gifts. (Ok, this is only the second Christmas I've made them, but in true Bryn Mawr style, anything done more than once is a tradition!) Along with the essential oil flavors, I've moved onto flavored syrups by Monin. Though meant for cocktails, they work very well for baking, too. I wish I had more time, I would do dozens more flavors, but these have taken me all week and it's almost Christmas already, so these will do for this year. Buon Natale!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rose Macarons (4th time's the charm!)


Yes, you read that right. Macaron, not macaroon. Macaroon = coconut cookie. Macaron (one 'o') = French meringue cookie. After a dozen wasted egg whites and three wasted evenings, I have beat the meringue. (Ha ha, get it!? I 'beat' the meringue ... sorry ;) )
I had never even heard of these cookies before a few months ago when I started blogging and suddenly they were everywhere! These beautiful little sandwich cookies of all variety of couleurs and parfums. I tried a few flavors and colors the previous failing times. Recently I got some flavored syrups (for this years chocolate truffles, post coming soon); one of the syrups is Rose, and it is absolutely divine. I wanted to make cookies for the ladies I get together with each month, and what would be better than pink rose flavored happiness?
Except for proof that my oven bakes horribly unevenly (I tried to hide that the cookies are lopsided in the pictures), they came out perfectly, little feet and all! I used an Italian meringue because it is supposed to be a more stable meringue, and I wanted to make an Italian buttercream filling. Like I said, I've never actually had macarons before. I know these look right, hopefully they taste right too! Here is my version of My Food Geek's macaron recipe.

Macarons
from www.myfoodgeek.com

Meringue
90 g egg whites
35 g sugar
75 g (ground) almonds
75 g confectioners sugar

Syrup
150 g sugar
50 g water

Combine the syrup ingredients in a saucepan and heat to 230 F.

Divide egg whites into 30 g and 60 g. (Eggwhites should be left to sit for a day so they are room temperature. I never plan that far ahead, though. I lightly whisk my eggwhites in a bowl set in hot water until they are room temp. Not the best, but it seems to be good enough.)

Whip 60 g eggwhite and 35 g sugar to soft peaks. Add the sugar syrup. Beat for another 10 - 15 minutes until the meringue is completely cooled an
d shiny.

Grind almonds in a food processor if they are not already ground. Add the confectioners sugar. Combine the remaining 30 eggwhites with the almond mixture. (This is also a good time to add food coloring.) Divide the meringue in half; add one half to the almond mixture. Fold together (Helen from Tartlette says not to use more than 50 strokes. An over mixed batter will yield flat cookies.)

Pipe onto a silicon mat or parchement paper. Bake at 320 F for about 10 minutes, or until the
dome of the cookie barely slides against the feet.

Christi's Rose Italian Buttercream
The other half of the meringue from the macarons
4 T shortening
3/4 c confectioners sugar
4 T rose syrup

Combine all the ingredients and whip until combined. (As the name implies, Italian Buttercream should have butter in it. But everytime I make i
t I think it tastes awful. Maybe that's just me. But I like it better with only shortening.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Done is Good


In college at Bryn Mawr there is a tradition called "Done is Good". Everybody on your hall gets together one evening a couple weeks before finals for a Done is Good Tea. (Note, this is where the idea of tea parties came from. Not that we ever drank tea or ate scones, but I'm sure they did in the past and Bryn Mawr is obsessive about traditions.) We would eat candy and pizza and makes lists on construction paper of what needs to be done before you leave for break.
It's really just the old checking off technique. Check. Done. Yay! And every time you check something off you get a piece of candy!
My list this holiday season is mostly food (hence the reason I'm posting about it here) and is mostly fun stuff, so I'm calling it my Done is Fun list! Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: Caramel Cake

Daring Bakers is another blogging bakers group I joined a few weeks ago. Daring Bakers are given a recipe each month that can be modified, accessorized, and individualized any way you like. Thousands of bakers around the world all using the exact same recipe, but getting different results. I love this connection with all these bakers so close yet so far away!
This months challenge is Caramel Cake and comes from Shuna Fish Lydon at http://blogs.kqed.org/bayareabites/2006/12/24/caramel-cake-the-recipe/.The challenge was chosen by Delores at http://culinarycuriosity.blogspot.com/ with co hosts Alex (at http://blondieandbrownie.blogspot.com/) and Jenny (at http://forayintofood.blogspot.com/).

I was in a pomegranate mood, and thought it would be a fabulous complement to caramel. I still think it's a good complement, but this is not going be a recipe I'll make again. It is sooooo sweeeet! Don't get me wrong, I love sweet. Obviously. So for me to say this is too sweet, I really don't know how you're supposed to eat it. Other Daring Bakers have been discussing this problem the last few weeks, so it's not just me. You'll have to really like sugar to be able to handle this cake. The cake is a basic yellow cake with caramel mixed into the batter.
The frosting is a browned butter caramel frosting. I love browned butter frosting, but I don't think it is a good choice for this cake. First of all, it is a strong flavor, and with more caramel in the frosting on top of a caramel cake, whew! Way too much. Second, it's a beige frosting on a brownish cake. BOR-ing. That's where I thought the pomegranate would come it particularly handy. I made a separate pomegranate buttercream to add to the browned butter caramel buttercream. A tart flavor and different color to offset all the yellow and caramel. Unfortunately it was around midnight when I got to actually frosting the cake. I'm not an artist, I'm a baker. So the late hour and my lack of artistry added up to quite an ugly cake. Especially after seeing Cannelle Et Vannile's cake. Blah, ok, here it is...There was a second, optional part to this months challenge, Golden Caramels. These caramels call for an ingredient called Golden Syrup,

From what I've read from other Daring Baker's, I'm lucky to have actually found it, just sitting there at Albertson's (though I doubt it's at Acme!). According to a little reseach on the nets, Golden Syrup is essentially light molasses. While I don't doubt the necessity of molasses in gingerbread and I'm an Anglophile in many ways, I don't think I'll ever be convinced of molasses. I added pomegranate juice to these caramels, also, but the molasses flavor overwhelms and makes the pomegranate indetectable. It was a fun expirament with a different recipe and ingredient, but I'll stick to my caramel recipe in the future. Oh, well. Here's to a less controversial challenge next month!


Don't forget to vote for my cupcakes here!!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Iron Cupcake: Earth CRANBERRY!


This is my first month as an Iron Cupcake: Earth Challenge Baker. I only discovered this group a few days ago, and was accepted on Saturday evening. My cupcake has to be submitted today, so that left about one hour to come up with an idea, one hour to shop, and a few hours before and after church yesterday to do all the baking. It's like really being on Iron Chef! Craziness!
The challenge for November is cranberry. Gingerbread was the obvious cake base to me. After that it was a little harder. I'm not really the most creative baker; I steal most of my recipes and ideas from Martha Stewart. But no cheating this time, these cupcakes were going to be all me. Thus was born the Cranberry Gingerbread Cupcake with White Chocolate Buttercream.
The point of all of this is to convince you to vote for me!!! over at No One Puts Cupcake in a Corner. Voting begins Sunday, November 30. You can check out the other entries here. The winner of this month's challenge wins prizes from these fabulous people:

Lollipop Workshop
Cookie Sunshine
Lots of Sprinkles (cupcake earrings)
CakeSpy
Sweet Cuppin Cakes Bakery and Cupcakery Supply
Head Chefs by Fiesta Products
Hello Cupcake by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson

Cupcake Courier
Taste of Home books
1-800-flowers


Cranberry Gingerbread Cupcakes with White Chocolate Buttercream


Make 12 cupcakes


Cupcakes

1 ½ c flour

¼ t baking soda

¼ t salt

1 ½ T ginger

1 ½ T cinnamon

¼ c molasses

1 c water

6 T butter

6 T sugar

2 eggs

Cranberry sauce


1 Whisk water and molasses; set aside.

2 Beat butter and sugar; add eggs.

3 Mix dry ingredients. Add flour mixture in thirds alternately with molasses mixture to egg mixture.

4 Spoon batter into cupcake cups. Drop ½ teaspoon cranberry sauce into each cup and loosely swirl with a toothpick. Bake in 350 °F for 15-18 min.


Cranberry Sauce

6 oz fresh or frozen cranberries

½ c water

½ c sugar


In a saucepan dissolve the sugar in the water over medium heat, about 3 minutes. Add the cranberries, let cook another 10 minutes until all the cranberries pop. Stir occasionally. Remove from heat. Sauce will thicken as it cools.


White Chocolate Buttercream

½ c butter

½ c shortening

½ c melted white chocolate

4 c powdered sugar

~ 3 T milk


In a standing mixer, beat butter and shortening until light, about 4 min. Add white chocolate and mix until combined. Add powdered sugar slowly. Add milk until desired consistency is reached.




Sunday, November 23, 2008

Another try at Cheesecake


A few weeks ago when I made a cheesecake I mentioned that it wasn't exactly what I was looking for in a cheesecake (Cheesecake Factory being perfection, of course!). Hillary over at Hilary's Random Thoughts suggested that I try this recipe on the Food Network. Yesterday I was trying to think of blueberry recipes since the frozen bags of 'em are taking up too much room in the freezer. So this was a perfect opportunity to try the new recipe and use some of the blueberries. (I also made blueberry scones for breakfast. If you've never had English scones, not the fry bread kind, they are fabulous.)
The only differences between this recipe and others I've tried are that it calls for more sour cream, and less egg white. The baking time was the biggest distinction. I think this might be a typo, though? Are you really only supposed to bake it for one hour at 250 F? Does this work for you, Hilary? My cheesecake was still just soup after I'd followed the baking instructions. I turned the oven back on (it calls for you to let it sit in the turned off oven for another hour after baking), and checked it every half hour hoping to see it set up. After another hour and a half of no change, I gave up and turned the oven up to 350 F. This finally yielded results. I kept it cooking until I was too tired to keep watching it (around 12:30 am), and gave up. I just left it in the turned off oven until the morning, hoping it would work out. Fortunately when I checked it this morning it had set up just fine. I think the problem with my cheesecakes is not the ingredients but the baking method. So unfortunately this did not solve that problem. As I do with most baked goods, I tend to over bake. But with cheesecake it's so hard to tell, so I have no idea how long I'm over baking.
It didn't, however, crack, which is a feat for cheesecakes. It fell a little, but not as bad as last time, so maybe it is getting better. If you haven't noticed, though, the Cheesecake Factory always covers their cheesecakes in whipped cream, so I suspect it's nearly impossible to get a pretty looking cheesecake. In any case, that's what I did, too. They say appearance is 90% and taste is the other 10%, so if that's true this cheesecake is right on. Ok, it's not that bad. The crust is made from ginger snaps from World Market, and the stripes are just pureed blueberries. Perhaps it's more 70/30 (I'd rather go 50/50), and that's pretty good for now.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lemon Drops


I've been in Holiday mode for over a month now, and, well, I guess this is why most people wait until Thanksgiving. I needed a break. I was in the mood for a little bit of summer, a little bit of lemon. These are just shortbread with lemon rind in the dough, and a lemon frosting. A supremely simple, yet solidly satisfying summer sweet. In the middle of November. ;)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Harvest Season


It's that time of year when you finally have to give in and pick anything left in your garden before the frost gets to it. We rake in the leaves, cut down the dying stalks of summer flowers, mulch the flower beds and lay aside the autumn harvest for the long winter months. That last part isn't as important as it was a hundred years ago, but the sentiment and idyllic motions of a harvest are just as, if not more appealing now that it isn't necessary. Most days I get so wrapped up in what I'm doing on the computer at work, I forget where I am. I exist only on the interblag. I love going out into the garden in the evening just to water my herbs and flowers. I need that quiet physical connection with reality. So it makes me sad that part of my day is gone for the next six months, but this time of year, at least, I get to enjoy the literal fruit of my summer labors.
I attempted raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes and eggplant this year. Lessons learned: raspberries like sunshine, but not too much of it. Strawberries are susceptible not only to birds, but to potato bugs. Blueberries need acidic soil and probably won't grow in Utah, but I won't know until next summer if it survives not only the cold but the soil here. Tomato plants should not be bought at Walmart. I have no lesson from the eggplant. If someone wants to clue me in as to how to make your eggplants grow bigger than the "egg" in their name, please let me know.
Herbs: the best part! I have a sage bush that is threatening to take over now. The oregano and thyme will be replanted next year so as not to be literally overshadowed by the sage. The rosemary, parsley, lemon balm and bergamot grew beautifully and without reserve. My basils, sweet and cinnamon, grew just fine until October, when they up and died in the space of just a few days :S. This is the first year I've tried chamomile, and while the plant grew great, I only got two almost flowers. They never actually bloomed. Another mystery if anyone has an answer for me. And, the most varieties of mint I've tried yet: 7! Apple mint, pineapple mint, peppermint, lime mint, chocolate mint, grapefruit mint, and spearmint. The differences between them all are very subtle, but you do notice the undertones that their names imply. Lovely!
As you might have noticed, I love tea. Drying my herbs for tea, then, is the obvious result. I got some other herbs and berries from Whole Foods and in the next few weeks I'll be making and testing homemade teas to give to friends for Christmas. Friends that are close by, I hope you like the teas, and friends far away, if you want a couple tea bags I could mail them to you. Let me know if you want them :).

Monday, November 10, 2008

Scary Cheesecake!

Ok, so it's not really scary. But it is pretty cool, right?! I can say that because, again, I stole the idea from Martha Stewart. Oh, Martha. Why do I love you and love to hate you? Anyways, my cheesecake isn't as good as Cheesecake Factory, but someday it will be. And in the mean time, at least it looks good!
And now on to holiday baking!!!!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween Cookies

Martha Stewart may not be the most personable tv cook out there (I tried to find an old episode from her pre-prison days where she has Conan O'Brien on her show - amazing!, unfortunately, I couldn't find it.) However, she has undoubtedly built a fantastic empire, and she and her creative staff know what they're doing. Her website has a "Cookie of the Day" section, that I love! I picked two recipes to try out: Cookie Art and Dulce de Leche Bat Cookies.
The Cookie Art cookies I didn't use the recipe, I just used the "art" part of the recipe. Instead I used shortbread as my palate. All you do is put a few drops of food coloring on an unbaked cookie and blow on the drops to create a splash-like pattern.Again, I altered her recipe a little for the Bat cookies, but only in that I didn't use a bat cut out, because I don't have the tools for it. These cookies are fabulous, though! I've never had dulce de leche before, and I had assumed it would be something like sweetened condensed milk, but it's not. It's completely it's own flavor. These will definately be worth doing any time during the year.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A No Tea Tea Party

Who says you have to have tea at a tea party? Well, it's autumn, and apple cider is showing up at the food markets, and I want mulled cider and hot chocolate! I have a really fabulous fall tea from The Metropolitan Tea Company that I used at a tea party last fall, but I decided to save that for another day. I also usually go way over the top with food, so this time I thought we could just decorate cookies and call that good.
Mostly it was about the mulled cider, though. You can make mulled cider from regular apple juice, but it's much better with cider. Cider is the unpasteurized, unfiltered version of apple juice. It's thicker, has a cloudy coloring, and has a more full bodied flavor than apple juice which tastes flat in comparison. I don't have an exact recipe for the mulling spices, I just let the cider mull until it tastes right. The ingredients are brown sugar, orange juice, whole cloves, and cinnamon sticks. I've found that usually cider is only mulled with the spices, but the brown sugar gives it some needed sweetness, and a hint of seasonally appropriate molasses. The orange juice is the surprising ingredient. But the tart from the apple and the tart from a bit of orange really compliment each other. It's perfect. Even just the smell makes me happy. Mulled cider makes me want to put on a big comfy sweater and read a good book. (Although, honestly, lots of things make me want to put on a sweater and read a book, but that's beside the point!)
My avant-garde Andy Warhol pumpkin.
Annie's abstract expressionist spider and spiderweb.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Not Snickerdoodles

I brought these cookies to work a couple weeks ago, and all day long people were excitedly coming into my office for "Snickerdooles". But I would have to dramatically stop them: "Wait!", I'd say. "They aren't snickerdooles! They're anise cookies! Anise, like black licorice!" And then they'd get this awful, horrible look on their faces. "Black licorice? Seriously? I hate black licorice! Nobody likes black licorice! How could you possibley ruin perfectly good cookies with black licorice!?!?" "It's ok", I soothed. "It's subtle. You probably won't even notice. Come on. Just one bite. I won't hurt..."

Ok, so that's a bit of an over dramatization of what actually happened. But it's more fun to pretend like I'm the wicked queen from Snow White. Anywaaaayys... The cookies were actually quite popular once I convinced people to try them. The cookies are called "Biscochitos". Apparently they are the state cookie of New Mexico. A friend made some last year, and I really liked them, so I thought I'd give them a try. They are a shortening based cookie, which sounds gross, I know. But the shortening gives the cookies a nice, flaky texture. And the anise really is subtle. I ground my anise (by hand, mortar and pestle style, good old timey fun), so it's not like you're taking a bite of anise seeds, it's more smooth than that. Probably not a cookie that I'll make again soon, but it is a different, easy backup.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pane e Tulipane

I admit it. I love white bread. Pure, fluffy, simple white bread. One of my favorite things in the whole world is a fresh, warm loaf of french bread from the super market. It is a life goal of mine to create a loaf of bread like that. I know. I hear it all the time. Why make a loaf of bread like the store? Isn't the point of homemade bread to be homemade bread? Well, I just don't like a heavy crumb. This is one of the few times I give props to the bakeries at the grocery store. Crunchy on the outside, light and pull-apart inside. Fragrant, salty, slightly sweet. Tear off a hunk and dip it in olive oil and balsamic vinegar... oops, sorry, didn't mean to drool.
Buuut, I cannot seem to figure out how to make this kindof bread myself. All my loafs come out heavy heavy heavy. All white bread recipes are pretty much the same. Flour, water, salt, yeast. Maybe some sugar, or an egg, or some powdered milk. It isn't the ingredients that are the problem. It is the rising method. You name it, I've tried that method. Raise once, bake. Raise twice, bake. Raise, kead, sit overnight in the refrigerator, bake. Raise, punch, do a little dance, sprinkle pixie dust, bake. Lather, rinse, repeat. All ineffective. They all come out heavy, sometimes even inedible.
Finally, however, I think I have found a good method. A woman I work with gave me her recipe and I recently fell in love with a fabulous bread book, The Bread Bible. Between my coworkers method, and the Bread Bible's recipe and method, well, you be the judge:
Not to be egotistical, but doesn't that bread look beautiful!? All the little tricks from the Bread Bible were great, but I greatly owe the success of this bread to my coworkers recipe. Wanna know the secret? After you knead the dough, you let it raise for 10 min, then punch it down, then repeat this 5 more times. (One hour total.) The Bread Bible doesn't exactly ever use this method, but it does talk about why this works. I had always been under the impression that punching down your dough is bad, because, well, you're letting the air out! Very scientific reasoning ;) The reason punching is good, though, is because every time your dough rises, the gluten strengthens. Gluten is a protein in flour that traps the air bubble created by yeast in the dough. So stronger glutten actually holds the air in better.
The flavor of this bread was a little dull - I'll add more salt next time. But my quest for the perfect white bread is one large step closer to the goal.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Masala Chai

I learned recently that what I (and most Americans) call Chai tea is not only redundant, but non-descriptive. Chai is the word for "tea" in the Middle East/India/Asia. Pretty much it's just another English misrepresentation. When we say Chai, we really mean Masala Chai, or Spice Tea. What exactly those spices are seems to be defined by location and culture. There is no set "recipe" for Masala Chai. The only spice that I can find common between all the recipes and articles I looked through is cardamom. I don't know that I've ever considered cardamom by itself, so when I opened up the jar of it that I bought at the grocery store, I was amazed. It is the smell of chai! So in my opinion, any masala chai should be based on cardamom. After that, you name a spice, somebody puts it in their masala chai. I gathered all the spices around that could be used for a homemade chai - peppercorn, cardamom, anise, cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg, and I used them all! With a roiboos base, it made a very fragrant and lovely mix. (Roiboos is a caffeine free South African plant that has a flavor similar to black tea. It is, therefor, an excellent substitute for any black tea based tea.)

I was doing this late at night, other wise I would have thought about getting a better fabric for the tea bag, but the best I had around was muslin. While the muslin made a very pretty tea bag, it is unfortunately too thick a fabric for a tea bag. I had to steep the tea for a veeeerrryyy long time, and even then it was only a faint flavor. I think next time I'll also use more spices in one tea bag. When I was able to get a cuppa with a stronger flavor I was quite pleased.
It's going to take some more experimenting to find a combination of spices, amounts and ratios, that I'm satisfied with, but overall this was a fun first attempt. I liked mixing the spices, seeing the flavors and scents and colors come together. I'm excited to experiment more with homemade teas - I think I've found my Christmas gifts for this year!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Whoopie Pies

I was looking for a different chocolate cookie recipe for the Turtle cookies on Saturday. I came across a Martha Stewart recipe that looked perfect. But later that day I heard some good news about Philly, and so I decided to stick with what the cookies were supposed to be for: Whoopie Pies!
These amazing cookies are a Pennsylvania Dutch (Amish) tradition. I had never thought much about their history - I just loved buying them from the Mennonite bakeries at the markets in and around Philly. On What's Cooking In America, they say Whoopie Pies were originally made from left overs, and when the Amish children found the "pies" in their lunch bags, they would shout, "Whoopie!" This is the only history I could find on the internet, but true or not, these cookies are amazing.
The traditional kind is a cake-y chocolate cookie sandwiched with a marshmallow creme buttercream filling. It's not really like having a slice of cake, but it's also not at all like an Oreo. They are their own fabulous thing. I can't believe I hadn't thought to make them before. The recipe made a lot of them, so I gave a plate of Whoopie pies to a neighbor's family because she's from the north east, and I knew she'd appreciate them. But then I got in trouble with my family for giving the cookies away! I guess I'll be making these again soon.
The other fabulous thing about Whoopie pies is their evolution. Because it's really just a cake-cookie with filling, you don't have to stick with the traditional chocolate/marshmallow combination. The possibilities are endless! A very popular version is pumpkin Whoopies pies - I think I'll try that for Thanksgiving. But they might have to be for Canadian Thanksgiving so that I can make them sooner ;)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Turtle Cookies

I was brainstorming all the things I want to bake yesterday. As you might have noticed from my last post, I love all things autumn. So my list of things to bake was mostly fall themed or flavored foods. Unfortunately, it's hard to feel like eating spiced baked goods when it's 84 F outside. Sigh. So, I had to think of some other creative thing to bake. I'm trying to branch out into recipes that I have invented myself, and to that end, I decided to make Turtle Cookies. Admit it, have you ever seen a cookie that represents all the fabulosity of a turtle candy? If you've never had a "Turtle", you've definitely been missing out. Usually, it is a lump of caramel over a few strategically placed pecans, the whole thing dipped in chocolate. Mmmm...

There is a surprising lack of history on the internets regarding Turtles, but apparently they are originally from Rowntree DeMet’s Inc., a candy company that was bought out by Nestle in 1988. According to this blogger who found a linguist who identified turtles, "DeMet's Turtles was introduced in the early 1920s by Rowntree DeMet's Inc. An employee at the chocolate factory remarked that the new candy, with pecans protruding from its side, looked like a turtle. The name stuck. NestlĂ© acquired Rowntree DeMet's Inc. in 1988. In January 1996 the name changed to NESTLÉ® TURTLES."

But more to the point, they are seriously one of the best candies out there. Unless you don't like nuts - but it's chocolate and caramel together! How much better can it get!? I used a chocolate cookie recipe from my favorite baking website. Alas (I just used the word "alas", how nerdy am I?), the recipe is only so so. Granted, I probably overbaked like I always do, but still, next time I'll write my own chocolate cookie recipe.

The caramel recipe I got from some website somewhere a long time ago, I don't remember where, though. If you've never made your own caramel (or any sugar candy, for that matter), it is not a simple task. I've made so many of batches of caramel rocks over the years, it's awful. Cooked/melted sugar has stages that it goes through. You have to heat the sugar long enough to caramelize it, and the more you cook it, the harder it will be once it is cooled. That's the hard part. You can't tell how hard it will be while you're cooking it. You have to use a candy thermometer and the "ice water teste". So, one hand is stiring, one hand is dripping caramel into a glass of ice water, and one ... wait, there are no more hands. Well, one eye is watching the themometer. Not a casual process. I wanted a caramel that was more sauce, less wraped candy - something that wouldn't just ooze off the top of the cookies, but still soft and gooey. I think this caramel was just about right. Probably the first time I've made caramel that came out the consistency I wanted!

Assemble cookie/caramel/pecan and tada, a pretty good cookie.


Thanks, Dad, for taking the picture! My photography skills are pretty bad, and as you can see from my other posts, this is much better!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fall is here!

It's an enigma to me how to reconcile my love for the autumn season with my extreme loathing of being cold. There's nothing wrong with cold weather, but that invariably means that I personally am cold. However, I am putting aside thoughts of lower temperatures in favor of thoughts of oranges, reds, yellows, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, apple cider, pumpkin pie, sweaters, and Halloween candy. So, in honor of the first day of Fall, Gingerbread Cookies! I made lots of batches last year, and I think I've finally perfected a recipe I'm excited to call my own. They are spicy, but not overwhelming. Soft, not crispy. Cute, but not time consuming. All five of you who actually read this blog, I hope you're excited to decorate gingerbread cookies in a couple weeks!

Rolling out cookies is one of my favorite tactile experiences ;)Some "creative" cookie decorating

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Some winners ... and some losers ;)

Despite a lack of posts, there has not been a lack in baking. Not all the "adventures" from the last month or so were successful. But failure's are part of the fun. As per the scientific method, any result tells you more than you knew before, especially when it's not what you expected! So, in chronological order...

Saffron Cookies:
A friend sent me a recipe for Saffron Cookies. If you've never had saffron, you might have seen it before as a color. Saffron is the stigma from the saffron crocus, painstakingly picked by hand mostly in Iran, India and the Middle East. It is the most expensive spice on the market - the best price I found was $6/gram! But you only need a little to flavor a dish or for dye. The strands are a beautiful dark orange, and when steeped the liquid turns a lovely yellow to orange color depending on how long it is steeped. So, I'd never actually used saffron before, and though it is usually used in savory dishes, cookies are way more exciting! I deviated from the recipe my friend sent, and made a traditional shortbread cookie flavored with the saffron and crushed almonds. I wanted to used cardamom, or coconut, or orange, unfortunately none of those items were around, so I used the almonds. The end result was pretty disappointing, though. I figured it would be bitter, but, whew! The cookies were unpalatabley bitter! Laurel, if you read this, I'm going to try again with the recipe you actually gave me and maybe that will make all the difference!

Panna Cotta Torte:
Another failure! Panna cotta is a dessert from the Piemonte region of Italy, which means "cooked cream". And that's all it is! You cook cream, add sugar and geletin, and then refrigerate it like jello. Fabulous with a fudge or fruit sauce. The panna cotta itself was not the failure. And actually I was fairly pleased with it, but I'm getting ahead of myself. My church group had a cookoff for an activity, and I figured I could make chocolate chip cookies (boring!) or something off beat, but cool! So I decided to steep a tea bag (Mighty Leaf's "African Autumn") in the panna cotta, layer it with a vanilla cake, and drizzle lavender white chocolate on the top. It wasn't perfect (and silly me, I forgot to take a picture), but I was pleased with the outcome more or less. The failure came at the cookoff. People are so boring! Everyone thought it was "cool", ie, wierd. Anyways, guess what won: chocolate chip cookies! And I'm pretty sure they were from a tube!!!! Negative ten points for Salt Lake City. (I think that puts SLC at negative one bazillion points.)

Lemon Cream Tarts:
I went for a simple, yet elegant approach with this one. Really I just wanted this Lemon Cream (a previously tried recipe) and everyone else wanted pie. A sort of compromise. The lemon cream is just whipped cream mixed with sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice. Mmmmm.... I used an egg based pie dough recipe, which is nice because it's more sturdy, but the crust is more like a butter cookie than a pie crust. Still a good crust, though. So, put cream in the crust, add some berries, and tada! An easy, pretty dessert.Plum Upsidedown Spice Cake:
An amazing dessert a la Martha Stewart: http://www.pbs.org/everydayfood/baking/recipes/plum_upsidedown_cake.html. This is the perfect dessert for August/September. The spice cake feels like Autumn, and the plum feels like summer, so the mixture of both is wonderful. It's a lovely looking dessert, too. Add some whipped cream, and a cool afternoon, and it's one of my favorite desserts so far this year.

Ta da, Lena! This one was for you! :)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A New Direction

Since the discovery of googlepages, the existence of this blog seemed unnecessary. But a comment in a previous blog has inspired a new direction for my blog. As might be obvious to you faithful bloggers out there, I'm now going to post my adventures in baking and tea. Yes, yes. I know. There are about a bazillion (the physicist in me points out that a more accurate number is maybe hundreds of thousands... anyways), about a bazillion blogs about various adventures in baking. I probably can't claim to be very original in my love for both baking and tea, either. But nevertheless, since I always take pictures of the stuff I bake, I might as well let you see them and drool (or snicker and think 'I can do better than that!').
So here it is, googlepages for business, blog for fun...

Even though the Salt Lake City Downtown Farmers Market has been open since 14 June, I wasn't able to go until last week. It's really the most amazing farmers market I've ever been to. Not that I've been to tons, but believe me, it's big. According to their website (http://www.downtownslc.org/events/farmersmarket/farmersmarketinfo.htm) there are over 80 farmers, and near 100 crafters and artists. There is a family that sells berries, and in particular, red currants. If you've never had a currant, they're fabulous. Across the pond they are the flavor. Instead of grape Skittles, you get black currant Skittles. I don't know why they haven't caught on over here. So, the woman selling them gave me a recipe for currant pie. The recipe had more of crumble topping, but I can't resist a traditional lattice, so I did that instead. Currants are pretty sour, so you have to put a considerable amount of sugar in the filling. We also had homemade vanilla icecream to help, and it was pretty good. It also makes for a very pretty pie - red currants are just such a pretty fruit!
Tomorrow we're having a little birthday party for a coworker. I, of course, volunteered to make the cake. (They said they'd buy a cake - what a silly idea.) My coworker is in his 50's, and very male. So my usual habit of making "pretty" cakes didn't seem like the right approach. I figured chocolate is always a good plan, but what else? For all that I love fancy baked goods, at heart I love the simple, traditional stuff. Chocolate cake with vanilla butter cream - no filling, no nuthin', that's my favorite. But that's kindof boring. So I figured I'd go with a chocolate on chocolate, intense, but not girly. So in the end, I did a dense chocolate cake with cream cheese filling and light chocolate buttercream, and white chocolate shavings. Exciting without having to pull out the cake decorating tips and royal icing flowers. I was only going to make the one cake, but my family loudly protested, so I made them one, too. It came out like an Orea, my family said. Not exactly my intentions, but why not! A yummy, uncomplicated cake.
PS, in case you're wondering, the Art Market Afternoon Tea went perfectly. I had about 25 people sit down for tea. Not too few, not too many. I had wonderful help from my mom and my sister, so besides being a successful day, it was pretty fun, too. Kindof makes my desk job seem lame. ;)