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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.

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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.

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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 . . .

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Time’s up!

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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.

So.Much.Fun.

 

 

Recipes:

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.

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Oh my! Has it really been 8 months since I last blogged?  My apologies.  The holiday season is coming up, I’ll try to keep you better updated.

Decided it was about time to get back into the Daring Baker’s Challenges at the Daring Kitchen.  And this month, it was Sachertorte.

I have to say from the start… not my favorite.  But I’m not a big fan of chocolate and fruit.  This chocolate cake was drenched in apricot jam and topped with a chocolate/water mixture.  I was disappointed I didn’t like it better.

The cake was quite simple to make, and I had all the ingredients on hand.  The chocolate sauce on top stumped me though.  It looked shiny like a ganache, but used a sugar/water mixture rather than heavy cream.  Water and chocolate?  I thought for sure the chocolate would seize up, and it did!  It looked like dry brown sugar initially.  Had to keep adding water to get it to thin back out.  But nothing I did could completely save it.  So I spread it on as best as I could and attempted to cover it up with a white chocolate spider web.

Overall, it didn’t look terrible with the decorations.  But I had one small piece and took the rest to work because it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

The October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Korena of Korena in the Kitchen. She took us to Austria and introduced us to the wonders of the Sachertorte.

Lady-part bread, say what?  Don’t worry, I’ll get there . . .

Hi!  It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Daring Baker’s challenge!  Wish I could say it was due to traveling (went to Australia in November), but mainly I’ve been working my butt off.  Glad I found the time for this month’s challenge: beautiful bread.

Bread is always fun to make.  Very satisfying to watch a lump of dough expand, then bake into light, mouth-watering deliciousness.  We had two recipes to choose from and I picked the one that resembled a cinnamon roll, of course.

No issues arose with the recipe.  The only thing I did differently was cut the cinnamon from four tablespoons to three because I’m stingy and felt that three was more than enough.  And I didn’t top the bread with sweetened condensed milk as I felt it would be sweet enough.  What I didn’t expect to find in the finished product was the distinct resemblance to a, ahem, vagina.

Good recipe, though next time I may just roll all the layers for even distribution.

That’s all folks.  Will play catch-up soon and fill you in on what’s been going on in the last four months.

Ingredients

For the dough

1/4 cup (60 ml) warm water
3/4 cup (180 ml) warm milk
1 large egg
1/4 cup (60 ml) (60 gm) (2 oz) butter, softened
1/4 cup (60 ml) (50 gm) (1-3/4 oz) white sugar
1/2 teaspoon (3 gm) salt
3-1/4 cups (780 ml) (450 gm) (16 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, approximately
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (8 gm) dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon (1 gm) cardamom, optional

For topping

1/4 cup (60 ml) of milk
1 tablespoon (15 gm) (1/2 oz) sugar

Between the layers

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) (1/4 cup) (60 ml) (60 gm) (2 oz) butter
4 tablespoons (60 ml) (25 gm) (1 oz) cinnamon
1/2 cup (120 ml) (100 gm) (3-1/2 oz) sugar

For drizzling

1 can (400 gm) (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk

Directions:

1. In a bowl whisk the egg with milk, water, sugar, butter and yeast. Set aside
2. In another bowl sift the flour with the salt and the optional cardamom.
3. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and knead until you get a smooth dough.
Note: This recipe requires between 3-1/4 and 3-1/2 cups of flour depending on the weather, humidity and the flour brand. Start with 3-1/4 cups and if you feel that the dough is too soft, add the extra 1/4 cup
4. Place the dough in a bowl you have brushed with some oil and cover it with a wet cloth and leave it in a warm place to double
(If you are tight on time you can heat your oven to 390°F/200°C then turn it off and place your dough in a glass bowl and place it in the warm oven with the wet cloth covering the bowl)
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface
6. Divide the dough into 4 parts
7. Roll each part into a circle at least 20 cm (8 inch) in diameter
8. Brush the first layer with butter then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon
9. Place the second layer on the first layer repeat the brushing and sprinkling and then do the same with the third layer.
10. Top with the fourth layer, this time only brush it with butter.
11. Using a knife make cuts that divide the dough circles into 8 triangles
12. Make cuts that go 2/3 of the way in the middle of each triangle. The cuts should not reach the base of the triangle nor the tip as you can see in the picture
13. Take the tip of each triangle and insert it into the cut you made and pull it from the underside
14. Arrange the triangles on your baking sheet
15. Pinch the two angles at the base of the triangle together
16. Brush the dough with milk
17. Allow to rest for 15 minutes during which you would heat your oven to very hot 500°F/240°C/gas mark 9 (rack in the middle). (Go for the hottest your oven will do).
18. Bake for 5 minutes on very hot 460°F/240°C/gas mark 9, then lower the temperature to moderately hot 390°F/200°C/gas mark 6 and bake for 15-20 more minutes
19. Take it out of the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rick and drizzle with sweetened condensed milk while it is still warm.

I’ve come to realize I make empty promises.  Not intentionally!  I would like to blog more, but time doesn’t seem to slow down enough for it.  With the holiday season approaching, my time will be stretched even thinner, but I’ll certainly try to update along the way.

So it’s been 3 months since I did a Daring Kitchen baking challenge.  I must admit, I wasn’t thrilled about this month’s which was Pot Pie.  And we could NOT make a sweet version, which in my opinion, doesn’t count as a baking challenge.  But alas, I was craving a Cornish pasty so I decided to give that a go.  Not exactly a pot pie, but it has all the same components:  savory filling in a closed pastry crust.

I looked up a couple of recipes and found Jamie Oliver’s version on a blog.  Not really wanting to make six pasty’s, I cut the recipe in half.  And the meat was marinated in Guinness over night.  I also left out the carrot in one pasty, as I’m not a huge fan of carrots in anything other than carrot cake.

Some baked potato slices and brown gravy accompanied the pasties.  My boyfriend highly approved the meal.  I’m just hoping we bring back the sweet for November’s challenge.

Hannah of Rise and Shine was our October 2013 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she challenged us to bake our own double crusted savory pot pies. Using any from-scratch crust and filling we choose, we were allowed to get completely creative with our recipe, showing off the savory flavors and fillings from our own home or region.

Hey guys.  I am back from my grand adventure.  Spent two amazing weeks in Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Cape Town.  Logged lots of hours on planes, but it was worth it.  Was finally able to do the one and only thing on my bucket list:  see a great white shark in person.  And boy, did they put on a show for me!  Flying out of the water, chasing seals, and showing off around the shark cage.  Beautiful animals!  The trip only deepened my love for them and filled me with a desire to see more.

Settled back in at home, but didn’t quite complete this months baking challenge, which was pie.  I decided I’d still make a pie, but was missing one or more ingredients from the three different recipes that was to be made.  Therefore I thawed out some leftover pie dough I made a month ago and whipped up a delicious butterscotch and meringue pie, which I had all the ingredients for.

Even recipes I’ve made before can turn out differently each time.  Butterscotch seems to be a hit or miss for me.  I added an extra tablespoon of cornstarch and an extra egg yolk to try and get a more solid pudding since I had 1% milk, not whole milk.  But it turned out a bit runny still.  The meringue didn’t help when it weeped all over the pudding.  Damn meringue!  Just goes to show that sometimes you should take the extra step and make a tried and true recipe than the quick and simple one.  Meringue is so easy yet so finicky!

The pie dough gave me more trouble.  I didn’t have pie weights or dry beans so I just put a mixing bowl on top of the crust when blind baking.  It didn’t work.  I had to take it off and then the crust bubbled up and the edges shrunk.  It was unusable.  Thankfully I had a graham cracker crust in my pantry and used that instead.  But I didn’t completely scrap my homemade crust.  I cut out a couple small circles, put them in the bottom of espresso cups, then filled those with pudding and meringue for mini desserts.  Worked well.

In conclusion, pie is not my friend.  I’ve known it for some time now.  But we get along as best as we can.

In other news, I’m sad to report that Paddy (my sour dough starter) has left this world.  I was a bad mom and let him become overrun by mold.  I tried to resuscitate him, but it was too late.  He was a year and a half.

Rachael from pizzarossa was our lovely June 2013 Daring Bakers’ host and she had us whipping up delicious pies in our kitchens! Cream pies, fruit pies, chocolate pies, even crack pies! There’s nothing like pie!

Another baking challenge completely just under the wire!  Phew!  Really wanted to do this one but it’s been a busy month.  And I put off vacation planning (leave for Germany, Amsterdam, and South Africa in one week with nothing but flights set up) to get it done.  Swedish Prinsesstårta: Challenge accepted.

The cake to make is elegant and light.  Just a simple sponge (with a rather odd ingredient: potato starch), pastry cream, whipped cream, and raspberry jam which I substituted with chocolate ganache, covered with marzipan though I forgot to buy some so I made white modeling chocolate instead.

The only problem I ran into while making the cake was the pastry cream.  Different recipe than I’m used to and it separated twice while over the heat.  My guess is that I cooked it too long, but it said to bring it to a boil and it never seemed to quite get there.  I had to stick with the results from the 2nd attempt because I ran out of eggs, so I put it in my kitchen aid mixer and beat the liquid back into the custard as well as I could.

When assembling the cake, I also chose to brush the sponge with a simple syrup because the recipe just didn’t sound sweet enough.  And I added mini chocolate chips in the top layer for a bit of crunch (and duh!  Because chocolate makes everything better). It all came together well and made for quite a pretty cake.  Didn’t have time to go all out on the decorations so I piped a couple of chocolate butterflies and made a single flower out of modeling chocolate.

Hate to rush, but I must get back to planning my trip.  So much to do!!!

Korena of Korena in the Kitchen was our May Daring Bakers’ host and she delighted us with this beautiful Swedish Prinsesstårta!

Hello hello!  It’s been some crazy busy few months, but I’m back, baby!  No more half-assed, thrown together, just to say I made it, baking challenges.  If you don’t know already, I love the Daring Baker’s Challenges at the Daring Kitchen.  I’ve learned so many great recipes (and some that I have no desire to make again, honestly) of desserts I had never even heard of.  This month’s challenge was no different.

Savarin.  Say what?  Yeah, well it’s a rich yeast cake that’s soaked in a liquid and served with lightened pastry cream and fruit.

So I’ve been traveling a lot lately.  I had to carefully plan out the day I would make this cake.  However, days off where I am home and not jet-setting are becoming few and far between so by the time I finished all my needed errands, it was 4 pm.  FYI . . . it is impossible to start making a yeasted cake at 4 pm unless you intend to stay up until 4 am.

The cake really isn’t hard to make, thanks to the good ol’ Kitchen Aid.  But with all the rising time involved, I only had time to bake the cake itself.  Then it went into the freezer while I went off to New York for the weekend.

Picked it back up the next week, making the pastry cream and the syrup to soak it in.  Now the syrup . . . I probably should have looked up a different recipe.  But I went with the one provided in the challenge.  It tastes a lot like tea.  I think a spiced rum would have been better.  But nonetheless, that cake was thirsty.  Crazy how much liquid it soaked up.  And I don’t think I had enough time to let the excess drip off because the piece I tried tasted more like a sweet tea sponge.  But maybe a day in the fridge will help.

I think all this cake really needed was a cup of simple syrup.  It kind of reminded me of a spongy angel food cake with the cream and berries, but the peach syrup was just too much liquid.  If I make it again (which is a big “if” since the cake takes so long to make), I will make a different syrup and use much less of it.