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Well, well, well . . . look who it is.  This neglectful blogger is back for another season of Holiday Baking Championship from Home.  If you’ve found my blog, you probably know what the Holiday Baking Championship is.  But just in case, let’s get formalities out of the way.

Holiday Baking Championship is a weekly show on Food Network that airs November and December.  It showcases nine bakers abilities to craft something delicious in a limited amount of time centered around a certain theme.  Two years ago, I challenged myself to bake along and document my successes and failures using the same guidelines.  And here I am, back to do it again.  Enjoy the show!

The preheat for week 1 was to bake up pumpkin spice treats in 90 minutes.  To me, pumpkin spice is a cold weather, comfort food kind of flavor.  So I went with a dessert I had years ago in Scotland and is still one of my favorites, Sticky Toffee Pudding.  Or rather, Sticky Toffee Pumpkin Spice Pudding with whipped cream and a cinnamon tuile.  Recipes at the bottom . . .

I have to say, I was twiddling my thumbs a bit during this challenge.  Maybe I didn’t bite off enough.  The puddings were in the oven within 10 minutes and only took about 30 minutes to bake since I used a muffin pan.  The toffee sauce just required putting ingredients in a saucepan and stirring for a few minutes after it all melted.  And whipped cream, well that’s always pretty simple.  I was proud of myself for remembering to put the mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer at the beginning.

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I thought with 30 minutes left, I would be done and waiting for the clock to wind down.  That is until I had to make tuiles three times.  The first batch was too runny and produced a greasy mess.  The second batch burned.  Third time around, it was down to the wire, throwing them on my puddings during the last 10 seconds.  I might have burned my fingertips slightly in the process.  Initially, I wanted to give the dessert some color so I dyed the tuile batter orange.  Then I spooned them out on the baking sheet to resemble pumpkins.  When that batch didn’t work, I figured I’d roll them to look like straws.  But you already know I burnt that batch. So the final result was boring but at least made it on the plate.

Sticky Toffee Pumpkin Spice Pudding.  Sweet, but so good!  An overall success.

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Moving on to the main heat.  The challenge was Yule Log Mashups.  I took the 9 choices of mashups available, wrote them on slips of paper, and drew one.  The options were: chocolate cheesecake, pinwheel cookies, pumpkin cheesecake, apple pie, peppermint swirl cheesecake, sweet potato pie, pecan pie, linzer cookies, and ginger molasses cookies.  I just kept thinking “not peppermint swirl, not peppermint swirl” as I drew chocolate cheesecake.  Great!  Except it required a trip to the grocery to get cream cheese.

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Once the two hour time limit began, I got started on my swiss roll cake.  It’s pretty simple, just have to separate the eggs, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, and fold them into the yolk/flour/sugar mixture.  I decided to go with a vanilla cake flavor because I thought it would work well with the chocolate cheesecake and it would be light in color and a good contrast when slicing the dessert.

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With the cake in the oven, I got started on meringue for the meringue mushrooms. They take a good 90+ minutes to bake, low and slow, so they were early on the priority list.  The egg whites were still cold so I did what some of the others bakers did and took my mini blow torch to heat the bowl while they were whipping.  The bowl must have had some remnants from the previous cake batter because something started burning.  Now my bowl had a burn mark (which I tried to scrub away but still maintains a scar) and my meringue had a burnt taste.  Ah well, the mushrooms are just a decoration so I went ahead with them.  The twist in this round was to incorporate brandy and since I was going to take these treats to work, I put the brandy in the meringue batter and figured I’d leave the mushrooms at home.

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Once the mushrooms were piped and in the oven, I whipped up the no bake chocolate cheesecake and stuck that in the freezer to firm up.  No issues there and I was looking good on time.

The cake came out of the oven with no spring in its step.  It was more like a pancake.  Well, I did decide to substitute the flour with almond flour for a subtle nutty flavor.  Apparently it didn’t like that.  Washed the mixing bowl and started over, using a different recipe this time.  Fortunately, swiss roll cakes don’t take long to bake.

The next cake turned out excellent and springy.  I turned it onto a powdered sugar dusted tea towel and rolled it up, sticking it in the freezer to cool.  But by now, I only had about 15 minutes left.

I knew I wanted to roll the finished cake in graham cracker crumbs which would be the crust to the cheesecake.  But I needed to adhere it with something.  I didn’t want to make whipped cream since I did that on the last challenge.  So I melted down some marshmallows with butter and then mixed in powdered sugar hoping it would make it less sticky.  It didn’t work.  But by now, I had 10 minutes to assemble the cake and the meringue mushrooms were still in the oven.  Ready or not, I had to take them out.

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While the meringues were cooling, I grabbed the vanilla cake and chocolate cheesecake out of the freezer.  The cake was still a little warm in the center, but I had no more time and needed the spread the cheesecake on top.  I rolled it up at the long side cause I wanted a long cake, but that meant less of a roll.  Oh well!  I took a spatula and spread the marshmallow on the cake as good as I could and threw some graham cracker crumbs on top that didn’t want to stick.  You can only imagine how messy the kitchen looked at this point!

Time ran out.  My mushrooms were assembled but not on the cake.  I chalked it up to the fact that I had to wash bowls several times and the bakers on TV don’t have to do that so I added 2 minutes to my time and threw the mushrooms on the cake.  So maybe it was cheating slightly, but there are some disadvantages that I have that they don’t have on the show.  Regardless, I promise to not let it happen again.

When I sliced the cake to take pictures, I didn’t see a good roll.  Ugh, defeated at this point, I took a slice and sat down to pout.  Fortunately, it all tasted really good.  Even the burnt meringues were fine, though I didn’t get much brandy taste.  I took some solace in the fact that I now had a great go-to swiss roll cake recipe, I just need to roll it from the short side.

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Now I’ve got my head in the game, I’m determined to make Week 2 great.  Stay with me, it can only get better.

Egg count: 15.

 

Sticky Toffee Pumpkin Spice Pudding:

75 g dried cherries
2 Tbsp butter
200 g brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
200 g self-raising flour

For the sauce:
2 Tbsp butter
6 oz heavy cream
200 g brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease muffin tin or cake tin.

To make the pudding, soak the dried cherries in a bowl of hot water for 5 minutes.

Beat the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl on high for 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, pumpkin puree, baking soda, and pumpkin pie spice. Mix in the flour until just combined. Drain the soaked cherries and mix into the batter. Spoon the mixture into the pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan with the sugar, cream, and cinnamon. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

To serve, turn out the pudding (warm) and spoon the sauce over. Top with whipped cream or ice cream.

 

Tuile Cookies:

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg white
2 1/2 Tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg white until combined.  Do not whip like a meringue.  Whisk the melted butter, flour, and cinnamon until combined.  The mixture should be smooth.

Spoon a small amount of batter on a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Spread out thinly and bake for 9-10 minutes.  Shape the tuiles as desired immediately out of the oven.  They will set up quickly.

 

Yule Log Chocolate Cheesecake Mashup:

Vanilla Swiss Roll:

4 eggs, separated
5 oz granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of cream of tartar
4 oz all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Separate the eggs and reserve 2 Tbsp of sugar for the egg whites, add the remaining sugar to the egg yolks. Whisk the yolks until thick and pale yellow. Add the vanilla.

Whisk the eggs whites with the cream of tarter until foamy. Turn the mixer on high and gradually add the reserved sugar. Whisk until the whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks.

Gently mix the flour into the egg yolks. Then fold in half the egg whites to lighten the mixture. Fold in the other half and spread mixture onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cake springs back after pressing with one finger.

Sprinkle powdered sugar onto a tea towel, turn cake out onto the towel and roll up to cool.

 

No Bake Chocolate Cheesecake Filling:

8 oz semi sweet chocolate chips, melted
16 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese, brown sugar, granulated sugar, milk, and vanilla in mixing bowl on high speed for 2 minutes. Add melted chocolate and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Cover and refrigerate.

 

Meringue Mushrooms:

3 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tarter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp brandy (optional)
1 oz semi sweet chocolate, melted

Preheat oven the 200F. Line baking sheet with parchment.

Whisk the egg whites and cream of tarter on medium speed until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high and gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat until shiny and holds still peaks. Transfer meringue into piping bag fitted with a round tip.

Pipe 2 inch round mounds onto baking sheet. Smooth any pointy tips down with a wet finger. Pipe cone shapes about 1 inch tall for the stems. Bake for 75-90 minutes.

Once they have cooled, spread chocolate on the underneath side of the domes and insert pointy end of the cone into the chocolate covered side. Stand up the mushrooms and let chocolate set before using.

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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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