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Archive for December, 2016

I am beat! My parents and I got into France 2 days ago. And last night, jet lag got the best of me and I was wide awake at 3:00 am. Powered through the day and decided to complete the weekly baking tasks from the Holiday Baking Championship.

A trip to the grocery and $400 later, I was ready to go. We are staying in a house that belongs to my sister’s coworker, which is incredibly nice of her and her husband. However, she does not have many baking ingredients or tools.  The grocery wasn’t easy since some American ingredients don’t exist here. I had to keep it simple this week because of that fact and also wishing not to spend any more money.  Due to timing and coordinating with dinner, I made the main heat first and whipped up the preheat after.

The main heat was a Croqembouche, or stacked cream puffs to resemble a Christmas tree.  How very French!  I went with a classic profiterole recipe with lightened pastry cream.

The first challenge was not having any measuring cups. I found a disposible mini tart pan that looked close to a cup measure and used that.  I weighed the butter and used google to convert tablespoons to grams.  The dough turned out great, to my surprise.  Measurements successful!  I dropped spoonfuls on the only cookie sheet I could find and got it baking.

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Then I made pastry cream.  It turned out quite light in color, I suspect I didn’t use enough egg yolks. In the freezer it went for a quick cool down.  I didn’t think the cream would be enough to fill all the puffs so I made some whipped cream and folded it in.

Got the  pâte à choux out of the oven and stuck that in the freezer to cool.  Meanwhile, I melted a bar of chocolate on the stove which would be my base for putting it all together. Also found a star cookie cutter and used that as a mold for chocolate since the twist was to add a star topper.  Good thing there is a lot of freezer space here so that had time to set up as well.

With 15 minutes to go on the 2 hour challenge, I started filling puffs and stacking.  This is where I got most frustrated. There were no bags to be found.  I’ve never made a piping bag out of parchment paper and one YouTube video was unsuccessful in teaching me.  I didn’t have time to try again, so I split the puffs and spooned cream in the center.  Drizzled the chocolate around the puffs to get them to stick to each other while stacking.

I made a mad dash to the other room to retrieve the pièce de résistance, the star, unmolded it, and practically threw it on the tree at the buzzer.

My tree was a bit rough.  But given the circumstances, it was a miracle I produced what I did.  Tasted pretty good too.

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After dinner, I got started on the preheat; 1 hour to make a dessert in the shape of a stocking.  Once again using pretty basic ingredients, I settled upon making Millionaire Shortbread Bars.

Unable to find a pastry cutter or masher, I used my fingers to cut the butter into flour and sugar for the base.  Found a ceramic pan and got that baking.  Back to the stove to make a luscious caramel and also melt more chocolate.  Once the base was done, I spread the caramel on top and stuck in the freezer for 10 minutes.  Then I spread the chocolate over the caramel and back in the freezer it went.  It didn’t take long to realize that I wouldn’t finish in an hour.  I feel relatively confident that if I had a metal baking dish, it would have worked.  But the ceramic wouldn’t cool down in time making it impossible to cut the stockings out.  I lightly scored the stocking pattern on the chocolate and added the decorations that I could find.  After leaving them in the freezer for another hour, they were impossible to cut.  I got one out for a picture but will cut the others tomorrow.

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I am about 90% sure that next weeks final challenge will have to wait until I’m back home and in my own kitchen.  It’s crazy that I’ve completed half of these in other people’s kitchens.  But I would like the last one to be well executed and I’ll need all the equipment I can get.  Hopefully when I get back in 10-12 days our house will be done with all the repairs.

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Well I’m desperately grasping onto whatever holiday cheer I can grab at this point.  It has been 3 weeks since we’ve been displaced to hotels and Airbnb’s.  The roof rats have been taken care of (I hope), the plumbing has been fixed, but there are still holes throughout the entire house, no insulation, and no hope of moving forward with repairs until our landlord hears from his insurance.  It is beyond frustrating.  But I managed to keep the baking challenges going from my parents house, once again.

In case you’re not following along to the Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network, week 5 was a fun one.  The preheat: ugly holiday sweater inspired desserts.  I LOVE holiday sweaters!  I now own 7 of them, some of which light up.  For this challenge, I decided to make my mom’s favorite Christmas cookie, chocolate chip shortbread, and decorate them as ugly holiday ties, because those are just as fun as ugly holiday sweaters!

The bakers were given 1 hour to complete their desserts.  The cookies take approximately 9 minutes to bake.  Add in the time it takes to make the dough, roll it out, and cut out shapes with a knife (I don’t own a tie cookie cutter), I figured I would have about 25-30 minutes to decorate.

The dough is simple.  These are a variation of shortbread cookies, so you basically just combine lots of butter, sugar, and flour together, mix in mini chocolate chips, and you’re good to go.  This dough rolls out perfectly between wax paper.  I was even able to cut my ties pretty uniformly considering I was doing it by hand.  While they were baking, I got all of my decorating tools ready.  I was using melted chocolate to coat the ties and an easy icing of powdered sugar, milk, and corn syrup that could be colored and put in ziplock bags to pipe out designs.

Once the cookies were out of the oven, I gave them very little time to cool.  Afterall, the first step was to spread on warm chocolate so I didn’t think it would matter much.  The icing didn’t contain butter, so wouldn’t be too affected by heat either.  I piped on some snowmen and pandas (inspired by one of my sweaters but looked more like polar bears or dogs), and dotted green and red icing all over.  No problem completing on time.  I would say the ties turned out more cute than ugly, just like my sweaters!

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Onto the main heat: 2 hours to make an edible box filled with baked treats.  The twist this time was to incorporate popcorn.  I thought a lot about this one.  I didn’t want to make a gingerbread box since I’ve made gingerbread already.  I settled on good ol’ white chocolate.  Some may find it boring, but it hardens fast.  With that settled, the rest just seemed to come together.

I love decorating Christmas trees.  We bought one for our house (always real because they smell and look so good), but it’s still sitting in the wrapping since we’re not there.  Determined to not let it get me down, I went out and bought another little 4 foot tree which is now decorated in the Airbnb.  My tree topper is a star.  Lightbulb!  I would make a star box to look like a tree topper and fill it with cake ball ornaments.

With the timer set, the first thing I made was a white cake batter and divided the dough so I could color half red and half green.  Those were in the oven in 20 minutes.  During the bake time, I made a vanilla American buttercream to mix into the cake crumbles.  The cake would need to cool so I had some time before I could make the cake balls.

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The popcorn twist kind of threw me.  The contestants were given already popped popcorn.  I had to spend extra time popping it with my mom’s hot air popper.  Then I wanted to make caramel corn and treat the pieces as the little golden tops on glass ornaments.  I made the caramel sauce but it smelled a little burnt.  It would still be okay, I’ll just toss it around with the popcorn and get that in the oven on low heat while I started making the white chocolate star.

My mom has an aluminum star pan that I traced out on wax paper.  I wanted sharper lines so I got a ruler out and fixed the design.  Then I started piping the chocolate out.  I wanted this box to be see through so you could see the ornaments inside.  I achieved that by cross-hatching.  The piped chocolate was already starting to firm up but I still put it in the freezer to set up.

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The cake was cooled by now so I mixed in the frosting and formed the balls.  In my original idea, I was going to make half of each ball red and the other half green, but I was running out of time.  I didn’t even have time to make a nice poured fondant like I wanted and had to settle on a powdered sugar/milk mixture to pour over.  I attached the popcorn tops, but the taste test proved that the caramel was indeed burnt.

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Running out of time, I frantically started assembling the star box.  Melted extra white chocolate to hold it all together, but I realized the 3 inch sides were too long and I had to try and offset them so it didn’t fall apart.  The alarm went off and I still had to throw the cake ball ornaments in and close up the top.  That only took a couple of minutes.  I was frustrated that I didn’t finish this challenge on time.  But also reminded myself that I had to take time to wash mixing bowls and pop popcorn which isn’t something the contestants have to do.

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Now to eat the creation.  I love sweet desserts but I thought the cake was too sweet.  The white chocolate complemented the flavor, but wasn’t super inventive.  The overall look to the dessert was quite impressive though so it wasn’t a complete failure.

Now for next week . . . I’m really hoping to get it done but I leave for France on Thursday, have to go through the rubble of my house (everything is sealed under plastic tarps) and somehow pack, and am not so sure my mom wants me frantically baking in her kitchen again.  I will try, but I might have to take a raincheck on the next 2 challenges until I get back in early January.  If that is the case, I’d like to wish you all a wonderful holiday and a happy new year!

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I am determined to see this challenge through.  Even when my kitchen is completely enclosed in plastic from the restoration company, where there’s a will, there’s a way.  There’s also a mother who lives 20 minutes away.

Yes, that’s right.  The water is still turned off at my house and now the kitchen looks like a scene from the movie Outbreak.  Sounds like it could be a couple more weeks until our house is habitable again.  What else can be thrown at me during this baking challenge I’ve taken on?  Well, in less than 2 weeks, I leave to celebrate the holidays with my sister and her family in France.  There will be no baking in their kitchen since it’s a complete disaster.  But I may see what I can do in the house we’ll be staying in.  It’s an adventure, that’s for sure.

This weeks challenge was made in the kitchen of my parents.  My mom used to bake a lot when we were kids.  That’s probably where my love of it came from.  But she only bakes a handful of times a year now, so her equipment and pantry are very limited.  She’s got the basics: flour, sugar, eggs, butter.  As for assembly; cookie sheet, stand mixer, and holiday sprinkles are about the extent of it.

The preheat this week was to make a treat showcasing toasted marshmallows in 45 minutes.  I managed to snatch some marshmallows from under a tarp on our kitchen table and headed to my parents house.  After some digging there, I found a jar of molasses and we were in business.

I whipped up a batch of my favorite spicy gingerbread cookies.  Rolled out the dough and used a knife to cut out squares.  About 8-9 minutes in the oven is all it took and while they were baking, I melted some chocolate and spooned it into a plastic ziplock bag.  I located a small torch in a drawer which was a much better option than cooking marshmallows on the stove.

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Assembly time.  Torch the marshmallow, sandwich between two gingerbread cookies, and drizzle chocolate on the top, sprinkling colored sugar for holiday flair.  Simple enough, but I realized that the marshmallows would need to be cooked more to get gooey all the way through and smash down.  I didn’t have much time left so I stuck a plate of marshmallows in the microwave and heated for 20 seconds.  Spooned them on the cookies and toasted from there.  Voila!  Gingerbread s’mores.  They were good, but I thought the gingerbread overpowered the marshmallow slightly.

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Onto the main heat: 2 hours to make a blinged out yule log.  Didn’t have much in the means of bling in this kitchen, but I had an idea.

The torch I used earlier would be great to toast meringue to look like a log.  And meringue goes really good with lemon.  The first thing I did was grab a saucepan and make lemon curd.  It needed time to cool and the jelly roll cake would only take 14 minutes to bake, which was the 2nd thing I whipped up.  After the cake had a few minutes to cool, I turned it out onto a tea towel dusted with powdered sugar (which also dusted me and the floor in the process) and rolled it up.

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Assembly would be relatively quick, so I started on the decorations.  Pulled sugar!  It was the first thing I ever wrote about on this blog.  While being somewhat successful that time, it also resulted in slightly burnt fingers and a broken mercury thermometer.  So you can see my hesitation pulling out the replacement thermometer I bought that was exactly the same, mercury.

Carefully started heating the sugar and water in a saucepan with thermometer holding on to the side.  Used a pastry brush to brush water on the sides so as not to have sugar crystals.  Walked to the other side of the kitchen to figure out what I could use as gloves since my mom didn’t have any, and came back to find my sugar caramelized.  Great!  But rather than dump it and start over, I used a fork to make little droplets on a silpat which I would call “tree sap.”  The twist in the challenge was also to add a crunch so that solved that problem.  I was originally thinking of rolling the log in crushed shortbread and then topping with meringue, but I was worried the meringue would make it soggy.  And now I didn’t have to go that route.

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Got another saucepan out and started on the sugar again.  Watched it like a hawk and took it off the heat as soon as it hit 298F.  Then I poured it on a clean silpat and prayed I wouldn’t burn myself.  Sugar gets hard pretty fast.  Once it was cool enough to handle, I added gel color and started pulling it.  Holly leaves would be super easy to pull.  I just pulled a piece about 5 inches long, and then grabbed it by the sides and pulled outwards in 3 sections.  Then I took a knife and slightly scored veins.

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I poured a little more sugar on the silpat, colored it red, and tried to blow sugar berries.  One sort of worked, but it was more translucent than I wanted.  So I just took some sugar and rolled them into balls.

With the decorations done and 20 minutes left on the clock, I went into panic mode, dropping spatulas and such as I went.  Unrolled the jelly roll and spread on the lemon curd.  Rolled it back up and put it on a plate.  Whipped some egg whites and made a meringue, spread it on the cake, and got the torch going with 4 minutes to go.  That’s when I figured that my cake would be adorned with uncooked meringue, but it really didn’t take that long to brown.  Grabbed some “sap” and literally threw it on the cake.  Then I carefully picked up the holly and berries, placed it, and threw my hands up with the ringing of the timer.  Made it!

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And I must say, I think my blinged out yule log rocks!  This is the challenge I’m most proud of so far.  The cake had a great crumb and was really freaking good.  So good I had 2 pieces.  Also, no mercury spillage.  Success!

 

Recipes:

Gingerbread Cookies:

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg yolk
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg

In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and sugar until smooth. Stir in molasses and egg yolk. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg; blend into the molasses mixture until smooth. Cover, and chill for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm. Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks. Frost or decorate when cool.

Lemon Jelly Roll Cake:

The Cake

3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 Tbs lemon juice
1 Tbs cold water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon zest

The filling

1 cup granulated sugar
3 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup lemon juice

Preheat over to 375°F.  Line a greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan with parchment paper. Grease the paper; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat eggs for 3 minutes. Gradually add sugar; beat for 2 minutes or until mixture becomes thick and lemon-colored. Stir in lemon juice and water. Combine dry ingredients and zest; fold into egg mixture. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.

Bake for 12-14 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes.

Invert onto a kitchen towel dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Gently peel off waxed paper. Roll up cake in the towel jelly-roll style, starting with a short side. Cool completely on a wire rack.

For filling, in a small saucepan, combine the sugar, flour, egg, water and lemon juice. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Cook and stir for 1 minute or until thickened. Remove from the heat; cool to room temperature.

Unroll cake; spread filling evenly over cake to within 1 in. of edges. Roll up again. Place seam side down on a serving platter.

Pulled sugar:

Heat 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar and 100 ml water in saucepan over medium/high heat.  Bring to a boil and add 1 tsp lemon juice.  Continue to heat until mixture reaches 298°F and remove from heat.  Pour on silpat and use a scraper to fold over liquid until it becomes thicker and cool enough to handle.  Pull sugar and shape.

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