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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Espresso bark

I made some trays of holiday treats this year for our doormen, B's coworkers, and the baristas at my favorite coffee shop. I wanted a nice mix of candies, marshmallows, and cookies.  Which is exactly what I made!  In terms of candies, my super-awesome homemade peppermint bark made the cut (duh!), as did this (insanely easy, melt-in-your-mouth delicious) espresso bark!




This bark......Oh, this bark!  It's melt in your mouth soft but not too sweet and totally caffeinated!  It was a shame that there were so many little shards of it left on the cutting board after I cut it, so I just had to sample every.  last.  one of them.  P.S. that "it was a shame" part was dripping in sarcasm, in case you couldn't tell...



And the best part?  There are THREE ingredients.  Three.  Two different kinds of chocolate chips and roughly ground espresso beans.  And it's amazing!  I bet it would be awesome in homemade vanilla or coffee ice cream (I still haven't tried homemade ice cream....) or in chocolate chip or double chocolate cookies....which I'm totally going to have to real soon!

Espresso Bark
Adapted from The Food Poet (I changed their coffee bark to espresso bark)

Ingredients:

2 cups Extra Dark Chocolate chips
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup whole espresso beans

4 cups of water

Directions:

Pour espresso beans into a coffee grinder and grind until almost fine.  Some slightly bigger chunks are fine.  This allows for a bit more coarseness of beans for texture.

Pour water into a heavy pot.
In a double boiler, pour in the chocolate chips.
Place double boiler over heavy pot.

Cover a baking sheet with sides with a sheet of parchment paper.

Stir the chocolate chips as they begin melting.
Continue stirring them until smooth.
Remove from the heat.

Stir the ground espresso beans into the smooth chocolate until well integrated.
Spoon the chocolate-espresso mixture onto the parchment-lined sheet.  Take care to work it into the corners and try to maintain a level surface.

Place the sheet in the fridge for at least 3 hours.
Break into chunks or chop with a heavy knife.

Enjoy, and try to leave enough over to give as gifts or share with others!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Spritz cookies

This fall, I signed up for my second The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.  In case you missed my post last year, here's a quick rundown: It's really a fantastic event -- a cookie swap of epic proportions, so to speak.  The premise is this: sign up.  Get 3 matches emailed to you.  Bake 3 dozen cookies.  Mail 1 dozen cookies to each match.  Receive 1 dozen cookies from 3 bloggers who received your name as their match.  Blog about your cookies.  And the best part (the other best part, the best part besides receiving 3 dozen cookies mailed.  to.  your.  door!)?  Your $4 admission fee goes to Cookies for Kids' Cancer -- which really helps combine two of my passions: baking and helping kids (I am a pediatric nurse practitioner, after all!).




So last year I made some killer cranberry shortbread cookies.  They were awesome.  I actually made them four different ways, and ended up deciding the cranberry ones were the best.  This year I went with a classic spritz cookie.  A delicious crumbly not-to-sweet butter cookie that I topped with just a sprinkling of colorful nonpareils for a pop of color.  b and his mom were more than happy to be my taste testers for these a few days before I made my cookie swap cookies.  His coworkers were huge fans, too!



Spritz Cookies 
From America's Test Kitchen Step by Step Holiday Baking

Ingredients:

1 large egg yolk
1 Tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
16 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 cps all-purpose flour

Directions:

Adjust oven rack to middle position.
Heat oven to 375F.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Set aside.

Whisk egg yolk, cream, and vanilla in a small bowl until combined.
Set aside.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter, sugar, and salt on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Scrape down bowl as needed.
Reduce speed to medium.
Add egg yolk mixture.
Beat until incorporated.
Reduce speed to low.
Gradually beat in flour until combined, scraping down bowl as needed.
Give dough a final stir by hand.

If using cookie press, follow directions on the press.  If using pastry bag, insert star tip and fill bag halfway with dough.  (I used different tips to make different shapes.)
Hold the bag at a 90 degree angle about 1/2 inch above the prepared tray.
Pipe cookies, spacing them about 1.5 inches apart.
Refill cookie press/pastry bag as needed.
Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until light golden brown, 10-12 minutes.
Rotate sheet halfway through baking.

Let cookies cool on sheets for 10-15 minutes.
Transfer to wire rack to cool.
Let cool completely before serving (or packaging up to mail ;-)).

Peppermint marshmallows

I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  Nothing compares to a homemade marshmallow!  I used to be afraid of them, afraid to make them that is, until I came across one recipe.  One life altering recipe.  And you know what happened the other day when I went to get it?  It had disappeared -- the original blog where I found it gave me one of those error messages.  But then I realized something -- it's a good thing I type out all the recipes that I make on the blog (P.S. as of this morning the original site was back up and running....phew!).


Here's the thing.  This recipe is INSANELY easy.  No candy thermometer.  Just "boil for one minute."  I kid you not.  So.  Easy!


And adaptable.  Like these peppermint marshmallows I made last night.  I took a plain vanilla marshmallow recipe and made it a red-swirled fluffy peppermint marshmallow.  I even piped a little bit of the leftovers into a mini ice cream cone and made a super cute treat.  But I digress....fluffy pepperminty marshmallow pillows of deliciousness.  Make yourself a cup of hot cocoa and dig in!


Peppermint Marshmallows
Adapted by yours truly from this recipe

Ingredients:

1 cup of water, divided
3 envelopes unflavored powdered gelatin (3 Tbsp + 1.5 Tbsp)
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp fine salt
1 tsp peppermint extract (I used an organic peppermint oil that I had on hand)
5 - 10 drops red food coloring

3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup corn starch

Directions:

Spray a 9x9" pan with cooking spray.
Line with parchment paper.

In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, pour in 1/2 cup water.
Sprinkle gelatin on top.
Let stand.

In a medium saucepan over high heat, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining cup of water.
Stir until sugar dissolves and mixture begins to boil.
Stop stirring and once mixture comes to a rolling boil, continue boiling for 1 minute.
Remove from heat.
Carefully pour mixture into a 2-cup measuring cup.

Turn the mixer to low.
Mix the gelatin to loosen a bit.
Very slowly and carefully add the hot mixture by pouring it gently down the side of the bowl.
Continue to mix on low until all the sugar mixture is added.

Turn the mixer to high.
Whip the mixture for 10-12 minutes until the marshmallow batter almost triples in size and becomes very thick.
If you have a smaller mixer bowl, you may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently to avoid the batter overflowing.
Stop the mixer.
Add the peppermint.
Whip briefly to combine.
Taste the mixture -- if it's not minty enough for your taste, continue adding peppermint, 1/4 tsp at a time, until you reach the level of mintiness that you want.

If you want yours to look like mine, add 5 drops of red food coloring over the top of the mixture in different places.
Turn the mixer on for a few seconds to incorporate the coloring.
It will look pink but still have some sections that are white.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan.  I used a rubber spatula for this.
Use the spatula or a bench scraper to spread the marshmallow evenly in the pan, pushing it down into the corners.
Work quickly, as the marshmallow becomes more difficult to manipulate as it begins to set.

Drop 1 drop of red food coloring in each of the corners and one in the center.  
Using a knife, or even your finger, quickly swirl the red drops into the marshmallow batter to get awesome red swirls (seen above).

Spray a sheet of plastic wrap liberally with cooking spray and lay it across the top of the marshmallows, sprayed side down.
Using your fingers, smooth the plastic wrap on top of the marshmallows to seal it smoothly and tightly against the mixture.

Leave the marshmallows to set at room temperature for at least 3 hours (can sit overnight).
They'll be too sticky and soft to cut if you try too soon.

Mix together the corn starch and powdered sugar.
Sprinkle some liberally onto a cutting board.
Remove the plastic wrap and flip the marshmallows onto the prepared board.
Rub more powdered sugar-corn starch mixture on top of the slab of marshmallow.

Using a pizza cutter or large knife, cut the slab into 1 x 1 inch squares.
Roll each in the powdered sugar-corn starch mixture.
Shake off excess coating and allow to dry slightly before packaging them up.

I think they're super cute tied up in a bag with a mini candy cane attached.  But that's just me ;-)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sugar cookie donuts

With tonight being the first night of Channukkah, and preexisting plans for tonight, I wanted to make donuts but didn't have the patience to try deep frying for the first time.  A while ago I had seen someone make donut shaped cookies and thought they were adorable, but was saddened to read that people who made them were unhappy with the way they tasted.


So I went on a google search and found these cookies, which looked good and pretty tasty, too.  I went a little crazy with the decorations because, well, why not?


Sugar Cookie "Donuts"
From Lovely Little Kitchen

Ingredients:

For the cookies:

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extrat
2 Tbsp Greek yogurt (I was out, so I used sour cream)
2 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda

For the glaze:

2 cups powdered sugar
6 Tbsp half and half (I used cream, and I needed more than 6 Tbsp)
1 Tbsp cocoa powder (I used Dutch press)
1/4 tsp almond extract (I used vanilla extract instead)
Food coloring, if using
Nonpareils, sprinkles, other decorations

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.
Add the egg and mix.
Add vanilla and almond extracts, and Greek yogurt.
Beat until smooth and creamy.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour and baking soda.
Gradually add dry ingredients to the batter and mix until combined.

Place tablespoon sized balls of dough into each section of a mini donut baking pan.
Press the dough around the donut mold, making sure to push it into the mold and to make sure that the center piece is visible.

Bake for 7-8 minutes.
All to cool for another 7-8 minutes in the pan before removing.
To remove, gently twist the donut to loosen the edges.
Turn the pan upside down and the cookies should come right out, if not, then give the pan a firm whack on the counter.

Make the glaze.
I wanted some chocolate glazed and some vanilla, so I did the following:
Place 1 cup of powdered sugar in 1 bowl with 1 Tbsp cocoa powder.
Add in 3 Tbsp of half and half or cream.
Mix well until you get a glaze-like consistency.
If too thick, add cream/half and half 1 tsp at a time to thin it out until you get the desired consistency.

In another bowl, add 1 cup of powdered sugar.
Add in 3 Tbsp of half and half or cream and the 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract.
Mix well until you get a glaze-like consistency.
If too thick, add cream/half and half 1 tsp at a time to thin it out until you get the desired consistency.

Dip the top of the cooled cookies into the glaze of your choice.
Allow the excess to drip back into the bowl before placing them on a cooling rack.
Sprinkle with nonpareils/sprinkles/decorations while the glaze is still wet.

You can also drizzle glaze on top of dipped cookies, as I did with some. 
Allow the dipped cookies to dry slightly.
Place contrasting colored glaze in a ziplock bag with a small corner cut off .
Drizzle icing onto cookies.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Cinnamon apple crumb cake

Thanksgiving was a blur.  B's mom came in town so that we could all celebrate at my parent's, but my work schedule was such that I did a lot of running around.  I ended up leaving work early on Thanksgiving, and making it to my parent's without a hitch, but then working on Friday (and again on Sunday) meant that I was one tired lady come the end of the weekend!


But that's OK, because when I finally did get a chance to sit down and relax, albeit briefly, on Saturday morning, I got to partake in a (leftover) slice of this cinnamon apple crumb cake.  This heavenly cinnamon apple crumb cake.  Loaded with crumbs, there's barely any cake to hold it together...but that's just the way crumb cakes are supposed to be!  (I so wish you could see the delicious middle layer of this cake with cinnamon crumb and apple deliciousness and the tasty cider glaze drizzle in this picture.)


I didn't have an 8" springform pan, so I ended up using a regular 9" cake pan.  Not a worry at all, but it did make my cake layers ever so slightly thinner.  It did not affect the taste at all, but it did make for a not-as-pretty photo op of the cake.  Please, don't go by the look of my photos, this cake is totally a keeper.  And easy.  And delicious.  Well, you get the picture (no pun intended, I swear!)...

Cinnamon Apple Crumb Cake

Ingredients:

For the cinnamon streusel crumb:

1.5 cups flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon (I pretty much use a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon in every recipe that calls for a tsp of cinnamon, so that's what I did here, as well....so good!)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup butter melted
1/2 tsp vanilla

1 large (or 2 small) tart apples -- peeled and chopped

For the cake:

4 Tbsp butter -- room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp alt
1/2 tsp baking powder

For the cider glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1.5-2 Tbsp apple cider

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Grease an 8" springform pan (or 8" or 9" cake pan) and line the bottom with the parchment paper.
Set aside.

Make cinnamon streusel crumb mixture.
Whisk together dry ingredients.
Add melted butter and vanilla.
Stir until the mixture if evenly moist.
Set aside.

Peel and dice apples.  
Cover loosely with saran wrap to avoid apple turning brown.
Set aside.

Make the cake.
Cream together 4 Tbsp butter with 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the egg and beat well.
Add vanilla and sour cream.
Beat again.

In another bowl, stir together 1 cup flour, baking soda, alt, and baking powder.
Add to the butter mixture.
Stir until just combined.

Spread half of the cake mixture on the bottom of the pan (it will be a very thin layer).
Spread the apple chunks evenly over the batter.
Sprinkle 1 cup of the cinnamon streusel crumbs over the apples.
Spread the remaining batter over the crumbs.
Top with the remaining crumb mixture.

Bake 35-40 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Before removing from the pan, run a knife around the cake.

Make the glaze.
Whisk together the powdered sugar with apple cider.
Drizzle over the cake.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Crisp and chewy chocolate chip cookies

Today I met friends for brunch. Then, I decided I had to come home and bake.  Its the first time in a while I've had more than one day off in a row.  Did I use my free time to catch up on sleep?  No.  Get a massage?  No (though that would've been a smart idea, in retrospect).  Get a much-needed manicure?  Nope.  I baked cookies.  Huge, giant-chocolate-chip-studded, crispy edged, chewy-centered cookies!


Here's the thing you need to know about me (in case you didn't already): when I'm stressed, I bake.  I find it relaxing. Therapeutic, even.  So the fact that I added 25 hours to my schedule last month and another 26 hours this month means I have significantly less free time, yet I've been baking more. B has also been working a ton (as have his colleagues).  So I found the best outlet for my stress-relief/baked goods -- I ship them off to work with B!


I have to say, I was super-impressed with these cookies.  I added them to my "bakery list": the list of things I'd serve in my bakery, if I ever opened one.  These made the list.  They're huge, with the most perfect chewy-crisp edge and a yummy chewy center.  And I used these super huge chocolate chips in them, which just took them over the top!

Crisp and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
By none other than Ms. Martha Stewart

Ingredients:

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2.5 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed dark-brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I strongly recommend these, by Guittard)

Directions:

Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Beat butter and both sugars with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
Beat in eggs, 1 at a time.
Add vanilla.
Reduce speed to low.
Add flour mixture.
Beat until combined.

Mix in chocolate chips.  Because I used the large chips, I folded them in with a spatula instead of using the mixer, since I didn't want them to break up in pieces.

Using a 2 1/4" ice cream scoop (about 3 Tbsp -- I don't know how many inches mine was, but I used a standard issue ice cream scooper), drop dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart.
Bake until golden around the edges but soft in the middle, about 15 minutes (mine took 14 minutes).
Let cool for 5 minutes.
Transfer cookies to a wire rack.
Let cool completely.

**Dough can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.  Cookies can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days -- but I doubt they'll last that long, anyway!**

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Salted vanilla caramels

A few weeks ago, while cleaning the apartment, I came across (translate: had misplaced earlier, but found) an Amazon gift card that I received as a gift.  I knew I had to spend it or risk misplacing it again, so I ended up shopping and spending more than the amount on the gift card...But I gained four candy and baking cookbooks.  Four!


The first night I got them I read one from cover to cover, and placed little ripped up pieces of paper to mark the recipes I wanted to try (spoiler: there were a lot!).  One book was late to arrive, and came the other day.  This one was called "Artisan Caramels" (I'll write a different post about this book another time), and it had tons of different caramels in it.  Ones with crusts, ones with toppings, and some interesting flavored ones, too.

With Halloween right around the corner, I had a bunch of candies and candy-related things I wanted to make now.  Some caramels, I figured, would be perfect for a Halloween get together that B and I might attend.  So I started with the salted vanilla caramels, the most basic of flavors in the cookbook.

These caramels were so tasty that I ended up eating the caramel off of the spoon while I was sitting at the computer doing work.  I would've gone back for more but I had already start soaking the pot (damn!).  Clearly, I have no shame.

And with B out of town this week, and Halloween right around the corner, my goal is to make one new flavor of caramels each day this week...wish me luck, since I'm on the schedule at work for 44.5 hours this week and making caramels is quite time intensive... 

Salted Vanilla Caramels
From "Artisan Caramels"

Ingredients:

4 cups heavy cream
4 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups light corn syrup
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 Tbsp coarse sea salt 

Directions:

Spray a jelly roll pan (17.5" x 12.5") pan with a thin layer of cooking spray, making sure you get the sides as well as the bottom of the pan. 
Using a clean, dry paper towel, wipe off the excess. 
Trim a piece of parchment paper so that it covers the bottom of the pan, leaving a 2" overhand over either the handles or the sides.  
Spray the parchment paper again with a light layer of cooking spray and wipe the excess off. 
Set aside. 

Combine the cream, sugar, butter, and corn syrup in a 8-quart stock pot. 
Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Be careful -- it can bubble over very quickly if you aren't paying attention. 

Cook over medium-high heat, and continue to stir until a candy thermometer reaches 248 degrees.  This takes about 45 minutes.  

Remove from the heat and very quickly stir in the vanilla and sea salt. 

Pour the caramel into the prepared pan. 
Let it cool completely before cutting.  This takes about 8 hours. 

Remove caramel from the pan. 
Remove parchment paper.  
Cut into squares. 
Top with sea salt.

Wrap caramels in either cello wrappers or parchment squares.  Wrapped caramels have a shelf life of about 3 weeks; those wrapped in parchment tend to get stale faster.