Wow! I don’t know where to start. I don’t know if this is even the right font. It has been two years since I last blogged, which is completely unacceptable. I feel sometimes like my creativity is evaporating out of my pores. Don’t get me wrong, when I have an imaginative spark, I can still bring it to life. It just seems fewer and far between these days.
That’s one reason why I have challenged myself this holiday season. Since I no longer participate in Daring Baker’s Challenges (miss them!), I’ve decided to take on the Holiday Baking Championship, airing on Food Network, from home.
Each week, I am going to put myself through the challenges that the competitors face in the same amount of time that they’re given. Obviously, I cannot be eliminated. But I’m hoping to gain some skills, and if nothing else, eat some good food.
If you don’t watch the series, the preheat was to make a sweet treat inspired by a holiday drink. The bakers did not get to choose what they were to make, but rather had to pick a cup and hope for the best. In the spirit of things, I wrote each option on a slip of paper and randomly drew my flavor.
Believe me, this was random because never would I have chosen Peppermint Mocha! I don’t like mint. In fact, I almost had to jump in the car and buy peppermints or peppermint extract. But I found something that I considered to be close enough; Ghirardelli dark chocolate mint squares.
60 minutes on the clock and I got to work. I made a very simple cocoa cookie, slightly adjusting the recipe by adding an egg white, because it seemed like it needed a binder. Also omitted coffee/espresso powder because I had to consider my “audience.” A couple of friendly neighborhood taste testers aren’t big coffee fans.
After dropping the dough on a cookie sheet, I pressed half a Ghirardelli square into each cookie and covered with a little more dough. Then I sprinkled a little holiday cheer on top (red, green, and white nonpareils) and popped them into the oven for about ten minutes.
At this time, I had a landscaping matter to attend to and was to and fro for about half an hour. The cookies were out of the oven and cooling but didn’t look all that appetizing, and seemed rather boring. They needed something . . .
I whipped up some sweetened whipped cream. But the cream wasn’t getting very thick. It had been opened for just over a week, so I had to scrap it and started over with a fresh bottle of whipping cream. That did the trick. I sandwiched the cookies together with some cream and time was up.
On to the main event: Filled bundt cake wreath which had to include decorative cookie leaves.
Speaking to my mom after she watched the episode, she was surprised that no one made a Tunnel of Fudge cake. I had never heard of it, so after doing a quick Google search, I decided to make that my bundt. Kills two birds with one stone by making a batter that is essentially a lava cake and fills itself.
It took me 30 minutes of the allotted 2 hours to get the batter made. No problem, cake takes about 45 minutes to bake. Had to make a minor adjustment to the recipe because I was 1/4 cup short on cocoa powder. Melted chocolate chips and mixed that into the batter.
While the cake was baking, I decided against a chocolate ganache glaze as dark brown holiday wreaths are scarce, unless it’s due to them hanging on the front door for 3 months. But my favorite accompaniment to a nice chocolate cake is vanilla ice cream.
I don’t have a high end ice cream maker that can take hot custard to frozen deliciousness in a matter of minutes. My cream takes several hours in the fridge before it can go in my Cuisinart ice cream maker and I didn’t have that kind of time. So I got a vanilla bean out of the pantry and made a creme anglaise.
In the fridge that went and onto the cookie leaves. Lost some time washing dishes as I only have one Kitchenaid mixing bowl. At this point, the quickest and easiest thing to do was make a vanilla spritz cookie, color the dough green and red, and make leaves and berries. Well, there aren’t really tips for those. I picked the closest looking one to a leaf and added a little stem to each cookie. Then I made round cookies for the berries that, yes, were pretty disproportionate to the leaves. But oh well, it was getting to be crunch time. The cake was just coming out of the oven (about 35 minutes to go) and I needed to get all components ready to assemble.
The cake takes (gasp!) 3 1/2 hours to cool. Where’s a blast chiller when you need one? I cleared some space and stuck it in the freezer along with the creme anglaise that was still warm.
Do do do! Just waiting for things to cool. Washed some dishes, wiped the counter down, watched the clock. At the 8 minute mark, I had no choice but to start assembling.
The cake came out of the pan with ease (bundts are the only pans I will use cooking spray on). I drizzled the cream anglaise over the whole thing and could immediately see it starting to absorb into the cake. Gave the cake a winter wonderland feel with a dusting of powdered sugar, then placed the leaf and berry cookies on top. More powdered sugar.
I was very happy that I finished it in time. I don’t know how different it would have been had it had 3 1/2 hours to cool, but my neighbors were impressed, nonetheless.
The peppermint mocha cookie was a challenge to eat as the whipped cream oozed out on first bite. But it had a slight hint of mint and the dark chocolate gave it a smooth richness.
The bundt didn’t bleed chocolate when cut into, but was moist and tasty. Not sure it would qualify as filled. My taste testers didn’t seem to mind. One saw heaven upon tasting it, or in her words, “When I die, if I see God, I’m going to tell him it doesn’t matter what his little community is like because I’ve already been to heaven.” Another said it belongs in a 5 star restaurant.
Making food that people enjoy; I would call the challenge a success.
I’m not always a speedy baker. I like to take my time when decorating. And I know the race against the clock is only going to get more difficult. But I’m ready for next week.
Chewy Cocoa Mint Cookies:
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Ghirardelli chocolate mint squares
Preheat oven to 325°F. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl with electric mixer. Beat in egg and vanilla extract. Gradually add dry ingredients to form a smooth dough. Drop dough on cookie sheet, press half a chocolate square in the middle, and cover with more dough. Bake 12 minutes or until firm to the touch.
Tunnel of Fudge Cake, with my modifications. Derived from Pillsbury:
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
2 1/4 cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup melted semi-sweet chocolate
2 cups chopped walnuts (lightly toasted)
Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube cake pan or 10-inch tube pan. In large bowl, combine sugar and butter; beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add 2 cups powdered sugar; blend well. By hand, stir in flour and remaining cake ingredients until well blended. Spoon batter into greased and floured pan; spread evenly.
Bake at 350°F. for 45 to 50 minutes or until top is set and edges are beginning to pull away from sides of pan. Cool upright in pan on wire rack 1 1/2 hours. Invert onto serving plate; cool at least 2 hours. Or if rushed like me, stick in the freezer for as long as you can.
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
In a small, heavy saucepan, heat cream over medium heat. Split the vanilla bean and scrape seeds, add to cream along with the bean. Bring to boil.
Whisk together egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale yellow. Slowly pour half of the hot cream into egg mixture, whisking constantly. Slowly return mixture back into the remaining cream and whisk until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Do not allow to come to a boil.
Strain into a bowl. Discard the bean or rinse, dry, and add to a jar of sugar. Stir in the vanilla extract. Cover liquid directly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Spritz Cookies (I halved for the challenge):
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbs milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 375°F. Cream butter and sugar. Add egg, milk, and vanilla; beat well. Add flour and baking powder until dough is smooth. Place dough in cookie press and press out desired patterns on an ungreased cookie sheet. Shake sprinkles on top if desired. Bake 10 minutes or until lightly browned around edges. Remove cookies from sheet and cool on wire rack.