Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Bake-Tastic Thanksgiving!

Yeah, I know. Thanksgiving was a little while ago, but cut me a break! I've been a busy gal!

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I had two events to attend. One being Thanksgiving over at my Mom and Dad's, the other being my parent's annual "First Saturday After Thanksgiving" party. I'm always the "dessert bringer", so I decided that I wanted to make three different desserts from three different recipe sources!

My first dessert was for Thanksgiving itself. I chose a recipe I found on Pintrest; Martha Stewart's Maple Cheesecake with Roasted Pears.

I finished up work at 11:00 in the morning the day prior to Thanksgiving to attend my son's "Pie with Parents" event at daycare, then came home to run, clean, do laundry and start baking!

The cheesecake has a lovely Nilla Wafer crust, so I dragged out my trusty food processor and started on that right away!

Once my crust was out of the oven and cooling, I got my other ingredients out and started getting them warmed to room temperature while I attended to my time on the treadmill.

Mmmmmaple Syrup; YUM!
Now I was ready to get to baking my cheesecake! Then I read the recipe a little more closely, and I realized HEY! THIS IS A NO-BAKE, WTF!? A FREAKIN' NO-BAKE?! I haven't come this far in my baking journey to show up to Thanksgiving with a NO BAKE! Now, in years past, no biggie, but I've become arrogant and proud of my baking efforts of late, and I was actually insulted by the idea. Well, not too insulted...I already had all the ingredients and the crust was baked up and ready to go...I might as well do as Martha Stewart commands and press on!
I whipped up my filling, which was delicious! The maple syrup is a nice addition!
There's something special about a bowl of whipped egg whites, don't you think?
Now that the filling was in the crust and happily "Not Baking" in the fridge for the night, it was time to make my roasted pear topping! This is where things got interesting...
I lovingly brushed my pear slices with maple syrup and placed them in the oven for roasting. The roasting part went quite without incident, then it came time to throw them under the broiler...turns out, parchment paper (like it's other paper brethren) is flammable...

Luckily, all you need to do it close the oven door, and the fire will smother itself from lack of oxygen, and the pears were just fine! They had a nice color after their momentary brush with death!
Once gently arranged on the cheesecake, my dessert was actually quite appealing to look at!

The cheesecake was, indeed, very good! But I have some commentary. First, It's difficult to slice with the pears on top because the cheesecake itself is not very dense at all. This is probably due in part to the fact that it was a no-bake.

I think that I would actually like to try and make a traditional, water bath, cheesecake utilizing the same maple flavors and pear topping some time in the future! I'm getting to the point where some culinary experimentation might be in order!!
Now, Thanksgiving dessert aside, it's time for party desserts! I love making the desserts for my parent's party! So much so that I actually start looking for dessert ideas months in advance. This year, I upped the dessert quota from one to two, as I have some family members that (yeah, crazy, I know) don't care for chocolate?! GASP! I suppose it's OK. To each their own right? After all, I don't like mushrooms and I have family that think that it's something of a character flaw, so I guess I won't hold it against them. So. I opted for one chocolate/peanut butter dessert and one non-chocolate dessert.
For my chocolate offering, I chose my favorite go-to dessert gal Heather's Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Cheesecake! I've wanted to make this ever since I discovered her Sprinkle Bakes blog earlier this year!! It just strikes me as the perfect combination of peanut butter, chocolate cake, caramel and cheesecake!!
If you're planning on making this, heed Heather's warnings! It's a monster and should be made over the course of a few days! I, myself, started on Black Friday (I don't shop with the crazies, I'm more of a Cyber Monday gal, so nothing lost there).
The ceremoniously unwrapped a bag of mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and about 2 bags of caramels and set to work. The recipe uses an entire bag of PB cups and I think I had to slap my husband's hand away more than once!
Next came the cheesecake batter (REAL CHEESECAKE, nothing 'no-bake' in this recipe)! YUM!
So fluffy, so yummy, throwing caution to the wind, I had a spoonful or two of batter, raw eggs be damned! I found this on my pal Linda's Pintrest Page...Sums it up perfectly!
I was happy that I didn't need to do a water bath though! Not that I mind, it's just an extra step! I threw together the caramel sauce in the microwave and got the cake layers baked and topped before getting everything wrapped up and into the freezer for the night!

Now that I was at a stopping point with my Chocolate dessert, it was time to start on my non-chocolate dessert; Lemon Meringue Pie!
I've never made a meringue pie of any kind, too scared to tell you the truth. I've heard the horror stories about filling not setting up, meringue that fails and I just never ventured into that section of the cookbook. However, my Dad has waxed poetic for years about his late mother's famous Lemon Meringue Pie, so I figured, what the hell. No time like the present!
Much to the chagrin of my Mom; Grandma Miller didn't really write down her recipes. She just BAKED. HOW TO PEOPLE DO THAT?!?! My Mom has been trying for YEARS to replicate her apple coffee cake, so I figured I'd just go with the Food Network app that I've had for a few years and search there. I typed in Lemon Meringue Pie and filtered by rating, it came down to a close race between Alton Brown and Paula Deen. After reading the reviews, I opted to go with Ms Deen's recipe, doubling the filling and meringue as per the suggestions I read in the reviews.
I decided that real, fresh squeezed, lemon juice was only appropriate, so I unearthed the citrus-squeezer that I typically reserved for margaritas and got a'squeezing!
I did break down and use one of those refrigerated pie crusts that they sell in the grocery store, simply because I knew that I was going to be doing a lot of baking (and Paula Deen said it would be OK).
Now, time for the meringue! I had made meringue cookies last Christmas, so I wasn't too terribly daunted by the concept. The only thing I really needed help with was making sure that I really had stiff peaks. Thank you Google Images!!!
Stiff Huh?
Now that I had my meringue, I slapped it artistically on top of my pie and threw that bad boy into the oven!
I did heed some of the recommendations in the comments on Paula's recipe page and upped the heat and baking time a bit to make sure that the eggs were cooked all the way (and I was really hoping that everything would set up well)!
Pie out of the oven, garnished and cooled! Pie into the fridge and I into the bed for the night! Hopefully it will taste good for the party! Tomorrow, we assemble the monster Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake!!!
Some much needed sleep later (and once minor incident with the little one, must have been the Mexican food), it was time to get to putting the cheesecake together!
Trimmed and ready to go! Time to make my whipped ganache and ice this baby! The only thing I would change would be making 1 and a half batches of ganache, just to have enough to really go around without having to scrape the bowl! The peanut butter butter cream is really what made this cake beautiful! But keep in mind, you will want to keep this in the freezer! I did have some caramel seeping out through the ganache...
Once sliced and dished out, I think everyone was pleased with the selections! The cheesecake was AMAZING!!! Probably 2000 calories a slice, but amazing none the less! I would make this again in a heartbeat!!
The Lemon Meringue Pie was great as well! The greatest compliment came from my Dad who said it tasted JUST LIKE HIS MOM'S!!! He said that the only difference was that her filling was a tad more yellow in color. Must have been the lemons!
All in all...success all the way around! Score one (or two) in my baking 'YAY ME!' column! Tomorrow, it's back to more baking! I'm heading over to my Mom's to bake cookies with her, my Grandma and sister!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Birthday Cookies for Me!

Yes, tomorrow is my birthday, the BIG 33!

In the grand tradition of workplace birthdays, I am compelled to provide some type of baked good for my co-workers to commemorate the occasion!

Into my collection of recipes I dove, resurfacing with a cookie recipe I haven't made in a good 10 years. A cookie recipe that I had hand written on a tiny piece of notebook paper, copied over from my former Bostonian neighbor Rosemarie many moons ago. I present to you;

Triple Chocolate Chunk Cookies

1 Cup Butter
3/4 Cup Sugar
3/4 Cup Packed Brown Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
2 Eggs
1 Teaspoon Vanilla
3 Ounces Unsweetened Baking Chocolate, Melted
2 Cups Flour
8 Ounces Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips
6 Ounces White Chocolate Chips
1 Cup Pecans (Optional)

I doubled the recipe to feed my coworkers in case you're wondering why there are so many yolks floating around in the bowl!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. I discovered the joys of baking with parchment paper about 5 Christmas' ago and I haven't looked back! It makes for a quick and easy cleanup and I hardly even need to break out a cookie spatula!

Beat the butter in a mixer for about 30 second before beating in the sugars, baking soda, eggs and vanilla. Lower the speed to 'stir' and add in the melted baking chocolate, flour and chocolate chips.

Now, for the fun part. Get out a 1/4 cup measuring cup or disher. Yes, I said 1/4 cup! These are going to be some monster cookies! Space them out quite well though, or you may wind up with touchy feely cookies (like I did).

Bake for about 12-16 minutes, depending on your oven and cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy on your birthday, the night before your birthday, after lunch on your birthday, or just anytime! Here's to birthdays and cookies! A great combination!

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Well I’m glad that’s over with!

If you’ve seen some of my recent posts, I’ve been gearing up for my son’s second birthday party (a.k.a. Operation Elmo) that occurred this past Saturday. Thanks to this handy dandy Internet (and Pintrest; which I’ve only just gotten addicted to); I was inspired to make WAY too much really cool stuff for the party! Cake and Cookie Pops, Flooded Sugar Cookies, Cake Batter ‘Puppy Chow’, Cookie Dough Dip, the crazy ass Elmo head fruit plate AND the cake. The 3 tiered, all from scratch, Elmo cake!

So, as you saw in my last post “Commence Operation Elmo”, I managed to get my fondant embellishments made and dried for the big day! I also succeeded in creeping the hell out of my husband one day when he peeled back the paper towel only to see two little fondant Elmo Eyes staring up at him from a cookie sheet on the counter!
I had an itinerary for party prep starting last week Monday. I began with the best of intentions, I was going to blog every step as I usually do; cleaning up the kitchen, moving stuff so it looks semi organized and less like a real person’s kitchen, etc. Yeah…didn’t happen! I will, however, share my secret (?) family cookie recipe with you; right here:

Mom/Grandma's Christmas Cookies
2 Cups Sugar
1 Cup Shortening or Butter (I used Shortening)
2 Eggs
1 Cup Buttermilk
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1 Tsp Baking Powder
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Vanilla or Almond Extract (I use Almond, of course!)
4 Cups Flour
Cream together sugar, shortening/butter, eggs and buttermilk (adding buttermilk 1/2 cup at a time). Alternate adding wet/dry ingredients together. Chill dough for 2-4 hours (or overnight in my case). Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

I’ve only attempted this recipe a few times and I’ll tell you why…it’s a messy, pain in the ass to make. My Mom and Grandma have been making this for years and probably have it so down to perfection that they can make it in their sleep. I can only hope, one day, to say the same. But, it’s a tasty little concoction, and I wanted sugar cookies, so I made them.

I threw together my cookie batter, wrapped it up and chucked it into the fridge to chill until Tuesday evening…
Hello Tuesday.

It’s time to make the cookies! I HATE this part. Every other time I’ve made these I’ve struggled with rolling the dough, getting the cut outs right, and then there’s getting the little bastards onto the stupid cookie sheet. WHY did I decide to make these? Grrr! I’ll tell you why, because I’ve fallen hard for this whole outline and flood icing technique and I really wanted to try it out! I know that I could have just bought the dough from the supermarket, but I love the taste of these (they taste like Christmas, *happy sigh*), and I’m all about this whole “from scratch” thing now, so what the hell…

I discovered that it’s best to flour the crap out of my surface, roll just a little bit of dough at a time, and get enough flour on top of the dough (and the rolling pin) and just roll it out with the rolling pin a few times to keep it from sticking.  I dipped the cookie cutters in flour also before cutting and gave the cookie cutters a good wiggle to make sure that the cut outs would get off the work surface in one piece. I used a thin, metal spatula to get the cut outs from the counter to the cookie sheet. What made me sad was how much dough I had to discard. I only did two ‘rollings’ of each dough hunk so as to avoid them getting too much flour and getting too dry, because that’s happened to me in the past…

It’s times like this that I’m so happy to have double ovens! I can get one batch into the oven, set the timer, cut out more cookies, get them into the other oven, lather, rinse and repeat! Works like a charm! The cookies just need to start getting a tiny bit brown around the edges to be done and actually turned out quite moist and fluffy (FOR A CHANGE). I guess I AM learning a thing or two with all my recent baking escapades!

Once the cookies were cooled, it was into a nice sealed container for the night. Time to kick back with a nice brewski! Oh, and in case you’re wondering – one, unfrosted, cookie is 6 Weight Watchers Points Plus!

Wacky Wednesday.

Time to ice the cookies! YAY. My resolve is weakening slightly. I haven’t been looking forward to this. Up until now, my method of icing cookies has been just “spread icing with knife, dip into sprinkles, eat cookie”. Now, I was setting out to, not only make an icing I’ve never made before, but a take on a new technique I’ve never done before. Yikes. I used the Color Flow recipe from the Wilton Yearbook. I mixed up my icing, complete with the Wilton Color Flow powder and about an entire container of “No Taste Red”, and I STILL didn’t get the color as red as I wanted.

I did manage to outline the cookies pretty well. The first few were pretty disastrous and were set aside for Fox (my son) to eat in the days before the party. I also found that putting the tray of cookies on my cake turntable and sitting down instead of standing was helpful!

Once the outlines were done and set aside to dry I needed to thin out the icing. The Wilton directions said to add just a few drops of water at a time, mix well and drop some icing off of the spoon back into the bowl. Once the dropped icing takes until a count of ten to disappear back into the rest of the icing, then you’re ready. THIS TAKES ‘EFFIN’ FOREVER! I was getting so very impatient! But I was afraid to add more water at a time. The thing is, once it was FINALLY ready per the instructions, I still think that it could have been thinner! I’ll keep that in mind for next time. Also, the icing tastes much better once it’s dried (weird) than when it’s wet, so don’t freak if you taste it and go “ew” like I did!

I didn’t actually figure this out until I was almost done…PICK UP THE COOKIE to spread the icing out after you pipe it into the outlines. It’s MUCH easier than trying to spread it out on cookies that are on a tray. It was late. I was getting tired, so I think I get a pass on that!

The cookies looked pretty good! Not bad for my first try, and I think I would make them again! They tasted great too!! Next birthday party though; I’m doing a half batch!

Thirsty Thursday.

Now we’re getting busy! Its cake night, time to make the cakes and get them into the freezer overnight so I can assemble and decorate in the morning.

This is a three layered cake with three flavors. I’ve baked and blogged all of these recipes pretty recently so you’ll be able to find the recipes pretty easily if you’re so inclined to whip one up!

The bottom layer is a 12 inch Silver White Cake (doubled recipe), which I’ve tinted orange. The middle layer is Waldorf Astoria Red Velvet (doubled recipe), and the top layer (a.k.a. Elmo’s noggin’), is one batch of Confetti. All from scratch (YAY ME!).
Let's just say that my kitchen was a DISASTER AREA!! But a few hours later, I had them all baked, wrapped and in the freezer for the night!
Frantic Friday.

It's 4:00AM. I'm awake and can't get back to sleep. I've taken the day off of work to prep for the party. Maybe my mind is just racing too much with lists of everything I need to get done today. After tossing and turning for an hour, I just decide to get up and take a shower. I shower, eat breakfast, get Fox dressed for daycare and give him and Daddy a nice send off to work and school for the day. I am now left to my own, crazy, devices. It's cake time.

I start off by making buttercreams. One tripled recipe of my go-to vanilla and one batch of cream cheese. I, foolishly, thought that tripling the buttercream would be plenty....NEGATIVE! I wound up making it 3 times for a total of nine batches of buttercream. THAT's NUTS! But it worked! The sheer quantity of butter for just one (tripled) batch of buttercream was mind boggling!

On top of the butter was the powdered sugar! I used SO MUCH POWDERED SUGAR! There was a thin film of white powder all over my kitchen. It looked like I was running a cocaine cutting operation by the time I was done. It leads me to wonder how much powdered sugar one cans safely inhale before a dust mask starts to sound like a good idea.

To top things off, my sifter broke. I had to resort to sifting all of my powdered sugar with a colander, which worked better than I thought it would! I just kept sifting all of my powdered sugar into a big bowl and measured it out with my 1 cup, one cup at a time.

Now to assemble!

I learned the hard way this long October morning...frozen cakes are hard to torte! I think that I should have, at least, torted the large one before freezing it! It was a bit of a beast! But I managed to get all my layers filled and crumb coated before letting them set a while to rest.
While my cakes were resting I started in on my cake and cookie pops. I had managed to snag my cake pop maker at Kohls for cheap thanks to a sale, a 30% off coupon and some Kohls Cash! Yes, I used a mix for this...I know. Bad baker, Bad!!!! But I think I'd exhausted my scratch baking on the cake and buttercreams!
Much like that first batch of pancakes, the first batch was more of a practice round! I found that the sweet spot, as far as time, turned out to be about 2.5 minutes per batch. I melted some Wilton's Candy Coating, dipped the stick, inserted, and allowed to set up for a bit in the fridge before I commenced dipping and decorating.
I also threw together some lovely Oreo Pops. These were pretty easy to make. Separate the cookie, put the stick into the cream filling, reattach the cookie and hope it sticks! Dip and decorate. I found this giant bar of Ghiradelli White Chocolate coating at Sam's Club and it did the trick!

Now that I had a nice collection of pops, it was time to decorate the cake! I had really wanted to try out this Viva Paper Towel Method of smoothing icing I had found on the net, but it didn't work for me. I, instead, opted to do it the way I watched my mom do it for years, Really hot water, dip spatula into hot water and spin the cake on the turntable while smoothing. I probably used more buttercream than I really needed, as it was a little thick. But it turned out looking pretty good!

Not bad for my first, really big, cake huh? My biggest compliment was when Fox walked into the kitchen, saw the cake and gave a resounding "ELMO!!!!!!" He sang Happy Birthday all day long!
Now for the final reveal:

The birthday boy was pretty jazzed! He even shared with his cousin! Such a good boy!

Although...I think that he ate too many cake pops because he didn't want any cake once the candle was blown out. He was far more interested in his new bulldozer!

All in all. It turned out great! Fox was thrilled and everyone loved the food and decorations!

I'm looking forward to the next luck would have it, my husband is turning the big four oh next year....does anyone know how to make really good black icing?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Commence Operation Elmo

My son's second birthday party is less than 2 weeks away; let the Elmo madness begin!

The countdown has begun, and to top it off...I've been home sick from work for two days now. Since I was planning on blogging my party planning journey anyway, I guess there's no better time to sit and type than when you're laid up on the couch. And might I just state for the record, daytime television sucks! Whew, now that I've gotten that out; back to my son's upcoming party!

I will admit, I sometimes wish that my son's birthday fell in the summer months rather than the end of October, simply because I could invite more people if we could put up a nice tent out in the yard. Alas, that's not the case, so we're happy to celebrate with a more intimate guest list...but that doesn't mean we have to have a tame little sit down either!

So, with the big day coming soon, it's time to really get started on the cake! As for the rest of my party planning, I have a spreadsheet (naturally), complete with time lines, color coding and lists. Since I'm planning on doing a nice treat table complete with Oreo & Cake Pops, Iced sugar cookies and a yummy sweet chex mix; next week is going to be a nightly dough making, cookie decorating, cake batter mixing, baking and freezing extravaganza!

If you've read some of my more recent cake posts, you'll see that my love affair with fondant ended almost as soon as it began. I chose to nix covering the cake with all fondant and just do a nice, smooth, butter cream with fondant accents. I did my research and I discovered that it's best to make the fondant accents as far as 2 weeks in advance so to give them adequate drying time which will reduce the possibility of colors bleeding into the butter cream.

I've been slowly buying my supplies from my local craft store for the past few months, one 40% off one item coupon at a time! I've also rummaged through my mom's cake supplies. Between the two of us, I've got enough supplies to get this party started!

For my fondants, I went with Wilton's white, black and red. I'd heard that tinting fondant black was a messy and difficult task, so I went the easy route and just bought it that way. For Elmo's cute little orange nose, I opted to color it myself.
This weekend, I rolled out my fondant and got my cut outs done! Whew! One less thing to worry about as the party starts inching closer and closer!

The hardest part for me was getting Elmo's eyes the same size and shape! You would think rolling fondant into a ball would be easier! I wound up using my kitchen scale to ensure that they were both the same weight, so at least I know they'll be similar in size!

So, stay tuned and wish me luck, as I embark on Operation Elmo!