Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Holiday Baking Play Date

It surely was a baking holiday for me this year. For a variety of reasons, we decided to give baked goods for most of our holiday gifts this year. For the work presents, I was lucky enough to elicit help from my awesome friend Fearnow, who offered up her awesome kitchen with two double ovens - which is about 4x the square feet of my tiny kitchen. So I brought my mixer over and some baking pans and all the ingredients that I pre-measured out to speed things up and we went to town. 6 hours of baking later, plus a little help from some friends, we made 20+ gifts for our co-workers. Here are the photos and recipes.

Fearnow and our curious friend

Chocolate Mint Cookies and Mini Rum Cakes

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies & Chocolate Fudge

Blue Ribbon Almond Roca Cookies

The spread before the boxing bonanza!

The Final Gifts

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

Adapted from Food Network

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cups chocolate chips
1 package Andes Mints chopped up

3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 drops mint extract, or more to taste
3 1/2 teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a medium bowl sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a mixer beat together the butter with the sugars until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until smooth after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add in the vanilla. On a low speed beat in the flour mixture a little at a time. Gently mix in chocolate chips. On an ungreased cookie sheet, drop teaspoons of the batter about 2 inches apart. Bake until just cracked on top, about 8 to10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking time. Cool completely.

For the glaze:
In a small bowl mix together the sugar; mint extract and water until smooth. Transfer mixture to a medium resealable plastic bag and snip off the corner. Drizzle glaze over cooled cookies. Let cookies stand until set, about 10 minutes.

Blue Ribbon Almond Roca Cookies from Food Network

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 package toffee bits
1 cup coarsely ground almonds
4 ounces milk chocolate
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend sugars together on medium speed. Add butter and mix to form a grainy paste. Add eggs and vanilla and mix at medium speed until light and fluffy. At low speed, slowly add the flour mixture and then the toffee bits. Mix until just blended; do not over-mix.
Place ground nuts in a small bowl. Using hands, roll balls of dough into 1 to 1 1/2-inch balls, then roll in the ground nuts. Place on cookie sheets several inches apart. Bake approximately 22 minutes and then transfer cookies to a cooling rack.
Melt the chocolate with the vegetable oil in a double boiler or in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Drizzle melted chocolate over cooled cookies. Place cookies on a cookie sheet and place in freezer or refrigerator until chocolate is firmly set.

Colorful Candy Bar Cookies from Taste of Home

1/2 tube refrigerated sugar cookie dough, softened
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
24 miniature Snickers candy bars
Red and green colored sugar

In a small bowl, beat cookie dough and flour until combined. Shape 1-1/2 teaspoonfuls of dough around each candy bar. Roll in colored sugar. [Tip: it helps to get your fingers wet and lightly coat the cookie balls so the sugar sticks better] Place 2 in. apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Remove to wire racks. Yield: 2 dozen.

Rum Punch Cake

· 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
· 2 cups sugar
· 3 large eggs
· 3 cups flower
· 1 teaspoon baking soda
· ½ teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
· 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or ground nutmeg)
· 1 cup sour cream
· 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
· Grated zest of 2 limes
· ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
· ½ cup top-quality dark rum
· 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
· 2 cups sifted powdered sugar
· ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or ground nutmeg)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter and sugar with electric mixed until light and fluffy. With motor running, beat in eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour, baking soda, salt and nutmeg and whisk to lighten and mix. Combine sour cream and lime juice in second bowl. Beat dry ingredients into batter alternatively with sour cream mixture. Beat in lime zest until smooth. Butter and flour a Bundt pan (or 6 miniature bundt cake pan) and spoon batter in, smoothing top. Bake in center of oven until toothpick comes out clean 65-70 minutes (30-35 minutes for minature bundt cake pan).

While cake bakes, make glaze. Strain lime juice through fine sieve into small bowl and add remaining ingredients. Whisk until completely blended. When cake is done, cool on rack for 10 minutes, then unmold and return to cooling rack (placed over tinfoil or parchment paper). Prick evenly all over with toothpick. Drizzle and brush glaze evenly over cake(s). Repeat until all the glaze is absorbed (re-pricking with a toothpick to make additional holes if you like). Let dry completely, then dust with powdered sugar.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Cookie Carnival: Decorated Sugar Cookies

I helped host a holiday party with my good friend Auburn at her nice place in Pacific Heights. She was in charge of the food menu, and I the dessert. I decided to keep it simple with mini cupcakes in 3 flavors (choc, vanilla and red velvet) and do decorated sugar cookie cutouts for party favors [for Cookie Carnival]. I'll do a separate post for the cupcakes.

Here are photos of the cookies (and my lovely husband who helped decorate them).

Merry Christmas

I am looking forward to updating my blog with ALL the holiday baking that I have done, but wanted to take a moment and share my wonderful holiday gifts with you. I am so lucky to have received two things high on my baker wish list:
A beautiful pale blue Cupcake Courier that I have coveted for a long time. While I do have the white pastry boxes with cupcake inserts in bulk from Big River Packaging, it is hard to carry more than two boxes by myself and I feel bad about the paper waste. So, now I have both!

I was also very lucky to receive a new baking cookbook - I just love getting new baking cookbooks, even with all the great stuff on the web. My in-laws (having ESP) got me the Field Guide to Cookies by Anita Chu. I can't wait to read it and try it.

Merry Christmas to all. And thank you sweet hubby Mathias and William and Locey!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Best Ginger Cookies Ever

So, I had a stand-by ginger molasses cookie from the King Arthur Flour Baking Cookbook, until I tried this highly rated recipe on AllRecipes.com. I figured, this many people can't be wrong - and they weren't. They are crispy on the edges, and chewy in the middle. And, the best part - they have no dairy! Yum. Certified by the mermaid baker herself.

Grandma's Gingersnap Cookies courtesy of Marie Ayers.

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/3 cup cinnamon sugar
1/3 cup chopped candied ginger (my addition - tasted great)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Sift the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a mixing bowl. Stir the mixture to blend evenly, and sift a second time into another bowl.
3. Place the shortening into a mixing bowl and beat until creamy. Gradually beat in the white sugar. Beat in the egg, and dark molasses. Sift 1/3 of the flour mixture into the shortening mixture; stir to thoroughly blend. Sift in the remaining flour mixture, and mix together until a soft dough forms. Pinch off small amounts of dough and roll into 1 inch diameter balls between your hands. Roll each ball in cinnamon sugar, and place 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet.
4. Bake in preheated oven until the tops are rounded and slightly cracked, about 10 minutes. Cool cookies on a wire rack. Store in an air tight container.

Belated Big Game Post

So .. I have been baking like crazy since November, but being new to blogging, have not been good about posting - although I have taken lots of pictures.

So - here is a shout-out to my California Golden Bears. For the big game this year, I made Oski inspired cupcakes (he's the bear mascot). Here is my creation:

For comparison sake, here is a picture of me with the "real" Oski (and some random kid):

The Bears won!!!!! And they are in the Holiday Bowl this Saturday (12/27/08)- Go Bears!

Cranberry Vanilla Coffee Cake (Lactose Free)

So, I started off the 2008 holiday baking season by making the cranberry vanilla coffee cake featured on the Smitten Kitchen blog

I made a few modifications. First, I didn't have any vanilla pods, so I used 1/2 tsp of vanilla bean paste and put it in the food processor with the cranberries. Second, I used Nucoa margarine because I really wanted to try the cake and can't have real butter (sigh). It turned out great! I loved it so much, I am making it again for Christmas, and I had to take 80% of the cake to work to avoid gross over indulgence.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Thanksgiving Recap

Yeah, so this post is LONG overdue, naturally. I actually wrote it a few days ago and was about to publish it when I hit a wrong key, and away it went. So here it goes a second time.
My thanksgiving vacation was filled with baking, baking, and more baking. While my family loves their sweets, I think even they reached their max and cried uncle on the baking.
First I wanted to test out some cookie recipes that I wanted to use for my baked good gifts for christmas. I seem to have only taken pictures of one kind at this time - but I took pictures when making them for the holidays - so they are coming.

Cornmeal Apricot Thumbprint Cookies - I love love love apricot homentashen cookies, and cornmeal anything, so I thought why not make a cornmeal apricot cookie that was dairy free. I didn't love the results, probably because in the back of my mind lingered my memories of delicous apricot homentashen cookies (which I am going to try and perfect a dairy free version of). But they were good and all gone at the end of the weekend!

Recipe adapted from Epicurious

1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) Nucoa margarine
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg yolk (egg white reserved)
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
Apricot Preserves

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all purpose flour, cornmeal, ground cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat unsalted butter and brown sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Mix in egg yolk and vanilla extract. Mix in dry ingredients. Mixture will be dry and crumbly – use some of the egg white to add moisture to desired consistency.
Form dough into 1-inch balls. Arrange on ungreased baking sheet, spacing 1 1/2 inches apart. Make depression in center of each using thumb or handle of wooden spoon. Fill depressions with jelly. Bake until bottoms of cookies are brown, about 10 minutes.

The other 3 things I made that I will include in this post are two recipes from my AMAZING cookbook by Dorie Greenspan - Baking From My Home to Yours. I would highly recommend this book - it is a MUST for all home bakers, as all the people in the Tuesdays with Dorie baking club would probably attest to (which I hope to join as a result of the one-year anniversary enrollement). I am not going to include the recipes because I know a lot of people already have her book, and if you don't I want to encourage you to get it. So pictures only.

All-American Apple Pie

My family LOVED this pie, and some said it was the best apple pie they ever had. My little sister loved it so much that she put a post it note on the pie when it got dangerously low claiming the remaining two pieces. I will make this again for our family dessert party.

Lemon Creme Tarte

My Dad loves lemon and shortbread, big fan of lemon bars, so I decided I had to try Dorie's recipe for lemon creme tarte. It did not disappoint, and was happily devoured by the family. It took a lot of work, especially getting the creme to the right temperature and straining the creme after cooking it. So, I will save this one for special occasions.

Delicious Strawberry Cupcakes (Dairy Free) adapted from Cooking with Amy

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) Nucoa margarine
1 large egg
6 ounces strawberry yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup fresh strawberries, diced

2 Tbsp. Nucoa Margarine, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
2 fresh strawberries, about 2 Tbsp. mashed
1 Tbsp. strawberry jam or preserves

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper liners. With an electric hand mixer, beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the egg, yogurt and vanilla, blending until smooth.

2. Measure the dry ingredients into the bowl and blend, then fold in the strawberries.

3. Divide the mixture equally between the 12 paper-lined cupcake cups. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.

4. Beat together butter, powdered sugar, and mashed strawberry in medium-size bowl until creamy and smooth. Chill frosting for 15 minutes or until thick. Frost cupcakes with a spatula.

Yield: 12 servings

This is my go-to strawberry cupcake recipe, in part because I can eat it, but also because everyone loves these cupcakes and are amazed that they are dairy free. The cupcake part is mildly sweet and more muffin like, but the frosting is so sweet, it makes a great balance. The frosting is a little wet and drips over the cupcake, but worth it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Virgin Post

Well, after reading amazing and wonderful baking blogs for months and months and months, I decided to join the fray. I don't really think I'm gonna turn out to be that great of a blogger - but I really want to join all those fabulous online baking blog clubs like TWD and Daring Bakers and Cookie Carnival. So, here it is.

I think the most appropriate subject and picture for my first post is how my longtime love of baking turned the tide into a full-blown obsession. It was way back in February around Valentine's day. My brother-in-law was visiting from Nicaragua and he and my husband took a road trip to Oregon for business. While he was away, I was brainstorming on what I could do for him for Valentine's day to show my love. I thought about filling the apartment with flowers - aka My Sweet Home Alabama (love that movie) - but thought that while I would love that - he may not. Then my crazy thinking hat came on, and I thought - what if I fill the apartment with cupcakes?? I was sold. So the night before he came home I went to the store and bought baking mixes (I know - but this was before I learned so much on the bloggesphere about how to do it right from scratch). The picture below was the result. My obession with cupcakes, finding the perfect recipes, trying new recipes and scouring the baking blog world began. 11 Months later - Mermaid Sweets is finally on the scene.