Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

I’m back! . . . in all senses.  Back from France, and back in the “rat house.”  It’s amazing that we spent almost 2 months (7 weeks, to be exact) away from our house and all our belongings because of some stupid little rodents.  And to think, our landlord said we’d be back in shortly after Thanksgiving.

Anyways, I’m sorry for posting this so late after the Holiday Baking Championship ended, but I didn’t want to dive into 6.5 hours of baking until my kitchen was available and thoroughly cleaned.  With all my supplies out and ready to go, it was time for the preheat.


For this challenge, the bakers were given 90 minutes to make one sweet and one savory snack for Santa’s overlooked friends.  In the nature of the competition, I wrote down the 3 subjects (reindeer, polar bear, and penguin) and blindly drew.  Of course, I got polar bear which was the one I was completely unprepared for.  After a quick minute of brainstorming, I came up with Coca Cola cupcakes (who doesn’t remember that polar bear??) and comforting mac n’ cheese.

The first thing I did was put some coca cola in a saucepan and got it simmering.  Then I started on the cupcakes so they would have time to bake and cool before frosting.  I made a cocoa batter adding about a cup and a half of cola.  Took about 20 minutes until they were ready for baking.

Then I got some water boiling and started grating cheese.  In another saucepan, I melted the cheese with some milk, salt and pepper, cream cheese, onion, and jalapeños.  Boiled up some pasta, drained it, and mixed with the cheese, scooped into ramekins and in the oven as the cupcakes came out.


All the while, I was swirling and keeping an eye on the simmering soda.  It was starting to reduce and thicken, but still not quite enough.  The cupcakes had a lovely dome, so I guess the cola didn’t affect the leavening process.  I got those in the freezer for a quick cool down and started on the frosting.  I made the ol’ standard, American vanilla buttercream, adding just a little bit of soda.  Checked back on the reduced soda which was starting to smoke and smell a little burned.  I took it off the stove and set it aside to cool slightly.  Well cool it did, and harden.  I guess I boiled it to hard ball stage.  It was not usable.


I was able to start assembling the cupcakes with 15 minutes left.  After frosting them, they just looked kind of boring.  I didn’t have cola gummy candies, but I still had lots of holiday sprinkles.  So I sprinkled those on.  Drizzled a little bit of cola over the tops, and they were ready to go.

The mac ‘n cheese was bubbling away.  It was left in the oven until the very last minute.  I realize now that they probably don’t qualify as a baked item.  But in my haste, since it goes in the oven for 30 minutes, I was thinking it would count.  Oh well, I like mac ‘n cheese and I think polar bears would too.


The main heat was to create a North Pole inspired cake in 5 hours.  The three options were: elves in the workshop, snowman family Christmas, and Santa’s sleigh ride.  I did not choose this one at random because I wanted the cake to be multi-purpose and work for a family belated birthday gathering.  My aunt celebrated a big birthday while we were in France and we were celebrating late.  I chose to make the elves cake so I could turn all the little elves into my family members.  I set the timer and got to work.

This was going to be a big cake so I wanted 2 flavors.  My aunt doesn’t like nuts, my boyfriend doesn’t like coconut, so I kept it neutral and made a white cake with Christmas sprinkles mixed in the batter, and a moist chocolate cake.  Vanilla frosting would go with both, but I’d need a lot of it, so I settled on swiss meringue buttercream.  The cake batters took about 40 minutes to make and divide into 4 pans.  While they were baking, I made the buttercream.  Whoa that’s a lot of butter!  But a very nice consistency for spreading.



I had pre-made white modeling chocolate so while the cakes cooled, I started on my elves. That is, until I got a message from my mom that our birthday gathering would be postponed until a week later.  This cake was not saving that long!  Making elves that look like us would take a lot of time, probably more than what I had to work with, so I redesigned the cake and made the elves normal looking.  Also scrapped the idea of the workshop being decorated for a birthday and the elves holding a birthday cake.  They would now be working on making Christmas presents, like elves do.



I wanted to have the cake assembled early so I could put decorations on it.  So I put aside making the elves and rolled out a strip of modeling chocolate colored brown to look like a wood floor.  The cakes were sufficiently cooled at this point so I split the small 7 inch cakes and frosted them.  The 10 inch bottom tier was shorter (on purpose) so I didn’t split the cake into layers.  The white cake would have been fine because it was pretty dense, but the chocolate cake would have fallen apart had I split that one.

I stacked the cakes how I wanted them and added the wood floor.  I took time cutting the modeling chocolate to fit the space I needed but it probably would have been quicker to cover the top of the bottom tier with the “wood floor” and then plop the top tier over it.  Oh well, this is a learning experience, after all.


With the cake assembled, I was starting to feel a little better.  Then I realized I was down to about 45 minutes and still had to make 2 complete elves (except the heads I made earlier), a table, some presents, and other little embellishments.  Powdered sugar was flying, it was craziness!  The elves lost a lot of details I had wanted to do.  But I had to get them done as the theme to this cake was Elves in the Workshop.  I only had time to make one little present out of modeling chocolate.  The table I made was sagging.  But I threw as much as I could on the cake before the time ran out.






I wish I had even just one extra hour for some of the other little details I had wanted to do. But it goes to show you how fast 5 hours really is.  One thing I wish I had done was put dowels in the bottom tier because the weight of the top tier pressed down on the bottom.  But I didn’t have any dowels.  Overall, I was happy with the final result.  I love working with modeling chocolate and though I’m not an artist or sculptor, I can usually make things recognizable.  Fondant might be easier to use, but I really don’t like it.

If my calculations are correct, that would wrap up 17 hours and 45 minutes of baking along to the Holiday Baking Championship.  It was fun.  Some challenges were more successful than others, and I got to try new things.  I’ll keep practicing and maybe I’ll give it another go during the Spring Baking Championship.  Thanks for following along!


Read Full Post »

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.




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.



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.



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.

Read Full Post »

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!




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.


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.


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.


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.




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!

Read Full Post »

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.


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.



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.



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.



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.


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!






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!



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.

Read Full Post »

This week’s challenge almost didn’t happen.  Our roof rat issue in the attic escalated to our water pipes being chewed through 4 nights in a row and we subsequently had to move to a hotel.  The water has been turned off and will not be fixed until we know the problem is eradicated. Those rat bastards!

I spent 2 full days at my parents house helping them prepare for Thanksgiving, which had to be moved there as we were going to host and obviously that wasn’t happening.  Did a lot of baking;  we had a derby pie, cherry pie, and chocolate pie.  They were all pretty amazing.


After spending so much time driving, I didn’t want to drive back to my parents house to do this challenge.  So at the last minute, I decided that I could just wash my dirty dishes in the backyard with the hose. Baking challenge accepted.

The preheat was to make a holiday inspired trifle. I’ve never made one.  After some thought, I decided upon a gingerbread cake with pumpkin whipped cream and candied walnuts.  Was given 45 minutes to complete and had no trouble this week finishing in the allotted time.  Trickiest part was getting the cake cooled in time so the whipped cream wouldn’t melt.  Thank you freezer!




End result . . . not sure how I felt about the cake by itself.  The recipe called for self-rising flour which I didn’t have.  I ended up adding some baking powder and a little more flour because it was very watery.  The pumpkin whipped cream was just right and together with the cake and nuts for crunch, c’est magnifique!  Notice the plastic cups and plastic forks.  Tried to use the least amount of equipment that I would need to wash.

The main challenge this week was Thanksgiving imposters, in cupcake form.  I premade some modeling chocolate and then put 90 minutes on the clock.

For the cake, I took a white cake recipe and added the zest of 1 large orange.  The twist in the challenge was to incorporate cranberries, so I added dried cranberries in the batter.  It took 15 minutes to get the cupcakes in the oven.  I feel myself starting to move faster in the kitchen.  And with about a 30 minute baking time, I was feeling confident on finishing in time.


While the cupcakes were baking, I made the frosting.  A new one for me; champagne buttercream.  And for irony, used Cupcake Prosecco.  Took quite a bit of champagne to reach the desired consistency.  In a taste test, it kind of left a thirstiness behind.


Still had some time while the cupcakes finished baking, so I got started on the decorations.  My family has certain dishes that are a must for Thanksgiving and I wanted to show that on my cupcakes.  Mashed potatoes seemed like a no brainer.  My frosting was white so all I needed to do was dollop some on and put a little pat of butter (yellow modeling chocolate that appeared to be melting) in the middle.

Second imposter would be green beans and ham hocks.  My boyfriend is pretty disgusted with this family tradition as the green beans are cooked to complete mush, but we like them.  I used more colored modeling chocolate for this one.


For my last imposter, I went with sweet potato casserole.  My mom and I love Kathy Lee Giffords recipe (yeah, I know) which is topped with walnuts and brown sugar as opposed to marshmallows.  I already had the candied walnuts from the preheat, so this would be quick and easy; just color the frosting to orange and throw on some of the nuts and brown sugar.

My cupcakes were maybe slightly overfilled, but not a problem.  I threw them in the freezer as soon as they came out to get them cool enough to frost.  Gave them sufficient time in the freezer and only took them out with 10 minutes left in the challenge.  Because the decorations were made while the cupcakes were baking/cooling, it was super easy to assemble.  I finished with 1 minute to spare.


Happy with the result.  The flavor was lovely and the frosting went well with the cake.  I wasn’t as happy with having to wash everything in the backyard with a hose.  Really hoping our house can be habitable (ie. running water) for the next challenge.

Read Full Post »

Hey guys.  If you haven’t been watching the Holiday Baking Championship, week 2 started off with making 2 different, Grandma inspired, holiday cookies.  One needed to be a sandwich cookie.  45 minutes on the clock.

I don’t remember my dad’s mom baking.  And my mom’s mom gave us ice cream when we stayed over.  But when my dad’s mom passed and we cleaned out her house, I kept a springerle rolling pin that I thought looked cool, but had yet to use.  Cookie number 1, german springerle cookies.

This dough was not hard to make.  The challenge was rolling them out and baking them for 25 minutes.  Not a quick bake, that’s for sure.  And they also say to dry the cookies for 8 hours or overnight before baking.


The 2nd cookie I made was a linzer.  Delicious, buttery, lemon cookies sandwiched together with raspberry jam.  Also a cookie I have never made before but always wanted to.  The hard part for me was finding a cookie cutter small enough to cut out a hole for the top.  The snowflake cutter didn’t leave enough dough left to transfer to a cookie sheet without breaking.  I eventually had to take a teaspoon and scoop out a small hole.  Got those cookies baking 3 minutes before time was up.


Needless to say, I failed at baking these within 45 minutes.  I bit off more than I could chew.  I wanted to make cookies I’ve never made before, both of which required rolling out dough.  Not smart for a timed challenge.  Total elapsed time was 70 minutes.


The main event was to make a pie by hand, no electrical equipment, except the oven.  And the twist was to make a 2nd mini pie for the picky eater who doesn’t like the 1st.  90 minutes, go!

Once again, I decided to make pies I had never made before.  Started by making the dough with my pastry blender.  To be honest, I normally make the dough by hand because I don’t like cleaning my food processor.  So that was the easy part.  My trick to rolling out the dough is to do it between two pieces of wax paper, remove one side and replace, then remove the other side, fit the dough in the pan and remove the top piece of wax paper again.



The 1st pie I chose to make was a maple walnut.  While the crust was blind baking, I started to make the filling.  The most important thing was getting this pie baking as soon as possible as it would take 45+ minutes.

I imagined that I was in the competition and didn’t have enough dough leftover for the mini pie.  But a graham cracker crust would be much easier to make than more dough.  What flavors go well with graham cracker?  Well, a lot.  I chose a peanut butter pie.  Only takes 15 minutes to bake after making the filling on the stove, which takes about 14 minutes.  I was determined to beat the clock on this challenge.

The crust was done and filled and pie #1 was in the oven.  Deep breath and onto the filling for pie #2.  No problems there, filled the graham cracker crust that I whipped up and got that in the oven with 20 minutes to go.


Finally, a little bit of down time.  What would go really well with both of these pies is whipped cream.  And what would be really nice to use is a hand mixer.  But alas, that wasn’t part of the challenge.  So I got out a whisk and went to town on some cream.  My arm got sore pretty quickly, but I kept at it and had a lovely, thick cream that my great grandmother (who used to make meringue by hand) would have been proud of.


The maple walnut pie was still a bit wobbly with 5 minutes to go.  I was basically done with the challenge so the pies came out as the timer ticked down to 0.


I think I redeemed myself from the cookie challenge with these pies.  The taste test was a success though I’m not sure I would make the maple walnut pie again without some modifications.  Too much nut flavor, not enough sweetness.



And with a sink full of dishes, the ceiling started raining.  Roof rats have invaded our attic and helped themselves to water by eating up the pipes.  Had to shut the water off and leave the dishes until repairs could be done.  Oh, the excitement never ends!




Springerle Cookies

1 1/2 Tbs crushed anise seeds
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Lightly grease cookie sheets. Sprinkle with anise seeds. Set aside until needed.

Mix the flour and baking powder together in a bowl until well blended. Beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl until light and frothy, 5 to 8 minutes. Slowly stir in the flour mixture until a thick dough forms.

Working with handfuls of dough, roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface until 1/4 inch thick. Lightly sift confectioners’ sugar over the dough. Place springerle molds onto the dough; press down hard and evenly until the mold’s design registers in the dough. Remove the mold. Use a small knife to cut around each cookie, and place on prepared cookie sheets. Repeat, until all dough has been used. Cover the cookies with a lightweight cotton cloth and allow to dry 8 hours or overnight. Or bake immediately if doing a timed challenge.

Preheat oven to 250°F.

Bake cookies in preheated oven until tops are pale brown and set, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container.

Linzer Cookies

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
grated zest of 1 lemon, or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup almond flour
1/4 tsp salt
raspberry jam for filling
powdered sugar for dusting

Beat the butter, sugar, and zest until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as needed, about 3 minutes. Add the yolk and vanilla and beat until combined.

Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, almond flour, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix until just combined.

Divide the dough in half, and pat each half into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

On a lightly floured surface, roll one disc of dough out about 1/4 inch thick. Using the desired cookie cutter, cut out cookies. Transfer to a baking sheet. Gather the scrap dough, roll, and repeat. Place the cut cookies in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

While the first half of cookies is chilling, cut out the remaining dough. Once you’ve transferred these cookies to a baking sheet, use a small cookie cutter to make a peekaboo cutout in the center of each. Place cookies in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill.

Bake all of the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges are just beginning to turn brown. Let them cool for 5 minutes on the pan, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Place the cookies with the holes in them on a cookie sheet and sift powdered sugar over the top. Turn the remaining cookies flat side up and spoon 1/2 teaspoon of jam into the center, spreading it slightly. Top with the sugar-dusted cookies.

Maple Walnut Pie

3 eggs
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 Tbs butter, melted
1 cup pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs, salt, and sugar together.  Stir in the butter, maple syrup, and vanilla.

Poor the filling in a prebaked pie crust and sprinkle the nuts on top.

Bake until just set, about 40 minutes.  Cool on a rack.  Decorate with whipped cream if desired.

Peanut Butter Pie

3 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
600 ml evaporated milk
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Combine the egg yolks, sugars, cornstarch, and salt in a heavy saucepan.  Slowly whisk in the milk.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens.  Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes.

Remove from heat.  Stir in the butter and vanilla.

In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter and powdered sugar.  Work with your fingers to blend together until a consistency of fine crumbs.

Sprinkle the chocolate chips and all but 3 Tbs of the crumbs evenly over crust (graham cracker or prebaked pie dough).  Pour in the filling and sprinkle with remaining crumbs.  Bake for 15 minutes.

Let the pie cool for an hour and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Read Full Post »

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.

Week 1:

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.



Time’s up!



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
1 egg
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
6 eggs
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.


Creme Anglaise:

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
1 egg
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.

Read Full Post »