Sunday, December 31, 2006

Chocolate Pecan Fudge

This is one of the fudges I made for the Christmas buckets: chocolate pecan fudge. Unfortunately, this time around I cooked it a little too long so it turned out slightly crumbley and not as smooth as it should be. Oh well, it tastes fantastic, and now the boyo knows what to get me for Valentines Day ;)

1 cup heavy cream
2 cups sugar
4 oz. chocolate chips
1/2 stick salted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 lb. chopped walnuts

1. Combine heavy cream, sugar and chocolate chips in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until sugar dissolves. Wash down sides of pot with a pastry brush to dissolve sugar crystals.
2. Bring to a boil and cook (stir only once or twice during) until mixture reaches soft-ball stage, or 238 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove pan from the heat and stop the cooking by plunging pot in a water bath for 1 minute. Add the butter and vanilla, but do not stir.
3. When the thermometer reads 110 degrees, mix fudge with a wooden spoon until creamy. Add the nuts and mix well.
4. Spoon into a greased 8 x 8 baking pan. Let cool and then cut into squares.

Yield: 1 lb.

Strawberry Almond-Cream Tart

It's a variation on my pear-almond tart. All I did was substitute strawberries for pears, but oh wow the difference. Before the fruit flavor was too subtle; the pears were overwhelmed by the sugar. This time the strawberries and almonds made a gorgeous slightly tart but very sweet overall flavor. When baking it this time, I made an aluminum foil tent to put on top after 40 minutes, then let it bake for 30 more to avoid it being overbrowned on top. All in all, I'm very happy with this version. I might try it with other fruit (apricots!) later; seems like most fruit would work.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Raspberry Strippers

I didn't pick the name! These are ok, more of a breakfast pastry than a dessert. They look pretty though!

* 1/3 cup granulated sugar
* 5 tablespoons butter or stick margarine, softened
* 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 1 large egg white
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 2 tablespoons cornstarch
* 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* Cooking spray
* 1/3 cup raspberry or apricot preserves
* 1/2 cup powdered sugar
* 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
* 1/4 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 375°.
2. Beat granulated sugar and butter with a mixer at medium speed until well-blended (about 5 minutes). Add 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla and egg white; beat well. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture, stirring until well-blended. (Dough will be stiff.)
3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough in half. Roll each portion into a 12-inch log. Place logs 3 inches apart on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Form a 1/2-inch-deep indentation down the length of each log using an index finger or end of a wooden spoon. Spoon preserves into the center. Bake at 375° for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove logs to a cutting board.
4. Combine powdered sugar, lemon juice, and almond extract; stir well with a whisk. Drizzle sugar mixture over warm logs. Immediately cut each log diagonally into 12 slices. (Do not separate slices.) Cool 10 minutes; separate slices. Transfer slices to wire racks. Cool completely.
5. Yield: 2 dozen

Eggnog Cookies with Rum Butter Icing

Best. Cookies. Ever. Oh WOW it surprised me. I was just looking for a recipe to use up the rest of my eggnog. Now I have to go buy some more to fill my new craving. Wow. Wowwowwow.

* 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
* 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
* 1 large egg
* 2/3 cup prepared eggnog
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
* 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
* 1/4 cup unsalted butter
* 3 tablespoons rum
* 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
* 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream brown sugar and first addition of butter until smooth and light. Beat in egg until well blended. Stir in eggnog.
3. Mix together flour, baking soda, salt, first addition of nutmeg and ginger in a medium bowl. Blend into creamed mixture until smooth. Using either a ¼-cup measure or a 2-ounce ice cream scoop, scoop level measures of dough onto ungreased cookie sheets, spaced 2½ inches apart.
4. Bake until cookies are golden and firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool. When cookies are completely cool, decorate with icing.
5. To make the icing, melt remaining butter and combine with rum in a small mixing bowl. Stir in powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, blending until smooth. Let sit for 15 minutes to thicken slightly. Spread icing on top of cooled cookies and garnish with remaining nutmeg.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Christmas comes but once a year...

... thank god! Proof that I am certifiably insane:

The truffles (strawberry, gingerbread, mint, butter pecan, and coffee) are the top layer; below is a layer of fudge (eggnog, divinity, and chocolate walnut), then a layer of almond-pecan brittle. All in all it took me about 4 days of 12 hours, including freezing and waiting time. Crazy I tellya, crazy!! Although a candy basket is a nice idea, the truffles (the best part) actually took a significant majority of time. After this, baking will be a breeze!

Nut Brittle

Recipe found here. I hadn't had brittle before, but this was really good: sweet, slightly salty, and crumbled in your mouth. It wasn't too hard, but flakey in a weird-yet-wonderful way. I'm afraid I ate quite a bit of it before I managed to give it away.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Truffles!

Clockwise from the top: gingerbread truffle, coffee truffle, chocolate mint truffle, butter pecan truffle, and strawberry truffle rolled in coconut. Aren't you in love? These are going in buckets along with almond-pecan brittle and chocolate walnut fudge (which I will post later.) I haven't measured out the weights yet, I might have to slap something else together to fill the gaps (if there are any.)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Gingerbread Men

This and hot cocoa: a Christmas staple. I'm not normally a fan of ginger cookies, but something about gingerbread men makes all the difference. I'm afraid I was (am!) the morbid little girl who would eat first one leg, then another, working my way up until only the head was left. Stars and trees (not shown) I'd just eat haphazardly.

I liked this recipe (from much more than normal because the cookies came out soft, not hard as cardboard like standard ginger cookies. The eyes are chopped crystalized ginger; otherwise I just used frosting for decoration. My frenzed (12 hour) baking day is over, yet not: I finished the goodies (these + hot cross buns) for tomorrow, but I still have truffles and Christmas candy to finish for the gift packages. Good thing I like cooking!

* 3 cups (420 grams) all purpose flour
* 1/4 teaspoons salt
* 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
* 2 teaspoons ground ginger
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
* 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
* 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
* 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated white sugar
* 1 large egg
* 2/3 cup (160 ml) unsulphured molasses

Confectioners Frosting:
* 2 cups (230 grams) confectioners sugar (icing or powdered sugar), sifted
* 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 1 1/2 tablespoons milk or light cream
* Assorted food colors (if desired)

Gingerbread Men: In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, and spices. Set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and molasses and beat until well combined. Gradually add the flour mixture beating until incorporated.

Divide the dough in half, and wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside while you roll out the dough.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Use a gingerbread cutter to cut out the cookies. With an offset spatula lift the cut out cookies onto the baking sheet, placing the cookies about 1 inch (2.54 cm) apart. If you are hanging the cookies or using as gift tags, make a hole at the top of the cookies with a straw or end of a wooden skewer.

Bake for about 8 - 12 minutes depending on the size of the cookies. Small ones will take about 8 minutes, larger cookies will take about 12 minutes. They are done when they are firm and the edges are just beginning to brown.

Remove the cookies from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for about 1 minutes. When they are firm enough to move, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

If desired, you can press raisins, currants, or candies into the dough for eyes and buttons while the cookies are still warm. Otherwise, confectioners frosting can be used to decorate the cookies. You can also use the icing as a glue to attach candies, raisins, and sprinkles.

Confectioners Frosting: In an electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth and well blended. Add the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beater. Add the milk and beat on high speed until frosting is light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes). Add a little more milk if too dry. Place the frosting in a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip and decorate the gingerbread men as desired.

Tint portions of frosting with desired food color (I use the paste food coloring that is available at cake decorating stores and party stores).

Makes about 3 dozen cookies depending on the size of cookie cutter used.

Store in an airtight container.

Eggnog Hot Cross Buns

I had some eggnog left over and I wanted to bake bread. What could be more efficient? I took the original recipe (one I had buried in my recipe folder,) and substituted eggnog for the milk. They turned out crusty on the outside, light and fluffy inside. The eggnog glaze and frosting on top helped sweeten it, and inside I spread some maple-walnut butter I had leftover. The result: a perfect snack for the chilly, rainy day it was.

1 pkg. yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon plus 1 tsp. white sugar
4 cups flour (2 c. white & 2 c. whole wheat)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups warm eggnog
1/4 cup butter -- softened
2 eggs -- lightly beaten
1 cup raisins

Put the yeast, warm water and 1 tsp. white sugar in a small bowl,stir and set aside until frothy about 10 minutes. Put the flour, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a bowl and whisk together. Put the butter into 1 cup of the warm eggnog and let it melt. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture, the warm eggnog mixture and the eggs. Mix until blended, then add the currants or raisins and knead until you have a smooth dough, soft but not sticky about 5 minutes in an electric mixture, 10 minutes by hand. (Add a little extra milk if you need it to get the right consistency.)

Cover with a plastic bag or plastic wrap and leave in a draft-free spot until the dough has doubled in bulk 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Punch the dough down; shape into 16 to 18 balls and place on a greased cookie sheet. Cover with a sheet of plastic, place in a warm spot and allow to rise again until the buns are almost double in volume about 20-30 minutes. Now with a very sharp knife or razor, make a quick cross on top.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Allow the buns to recover from the cross-making for 10-15 minutes, then bake for 12-15 minutes or until they sound hollow when you rap the bottoms.

Make a glaze by boiling 2 Tbs. of the remaining eggnog with the 1Tbs. of sugar until it is very bubbly. Brush the glaze on the buns as you take them from the oven it makes them shiny. Makes 16-18 buns. Drizzle frosting on buns to make a cross.

Vanilla frosting: Stir together 1 1/2 cups icing sugar, 1 to 2 tablespoons eggnog and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Pecan Truffles

I know I promised pictures of my almond cake, but disaster struck during assembly. Instead of looking like a three-tier wonder, the cakes cracked under the weight of the frosting, leaving me with a bakery earthquake. The taste was ok, not something I would make again. Overall it was a disappointment.

These, however, were not! I haven't made truffles in years, and I couldn't remember how to dip them to get that smooth outer coating. With a little practice with a spoon, a corn skewer, and a lot of melted chocolate, I think I've got the knack. Good thing too, since truffles are a major portion of my Christmas goodie bags. These are but the beginning to my seasonal baking frenzy -- I already have a mint version in the frig that will have to wait until tomorrow for coating since it is near midnight. Tomorrow's post should be a long one though! On the agenda: gingerbread men (haven't made those in years either, I even bought sprinkles!), eggnog hot cross buns (since I have leftover eggnog and have a yearning to work dough), almond brittle, chocolate walnut fudge, and of course, truffles. Whew, who needs a job, I'm hard at work already!

* 2 1/2 cups toasted pecan halves
* 3 tablespoons superfine granulated sugar
* 1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs (from about three 5- by 2 1/2-inch graham crackers)
* 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
* 1 teaspoon vanilla
* 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
* 24 oz white chocolate (chopped)

Finely chop 1/2 cup pecans.

In a food processor grind remaining 2 cups pecans with a pinch salt, occasionally scraping down side of bowl, until pecans release their oil and mixture becomes a smooth paste, about 3 minutes. Transfer pecan butter to a bowl and stir in remaining ingredients until combined well.

Form level teaspoons of pecan butter into balls and with a dipping fork dip into melted white chocolate. Adorn with halved pecans, if desired. Chill truffles, in layers separated by wax paper, in an airtight container at least 1 hour, or until firm, and up to 4 days.

Makes about 40 truffles.