Monday, December 29, 2008

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Checking to see what happens when I post via email.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Baking - Part 4

To round out my holiday baking, I made another batch of truffles (using a recipe different from the one posted in Holiday Baking - Part 3), Spiced Pecans and Toffee Bars (photo of toffee bars and other treats). I usually make the Spiced Pecans and the Toffee Bars on the same day (both recipes were given to me by former co-workers) because the nuts call for an egg white and the Toffee Bars call for an egg yolk. Recipes for each follow and a photo of the entire assortment will be linked in by no later than Boxing Day.

Spiced Pecans
  • Preheat oven to 300° C,
  • Beat together 1 egg white and 2 Tbsp water until frothy.
  • Add 1/4 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp ground cloves and 1/2 tsp cinnamon to egg white mix and blend well.
  • Add 2-1/2 C pecan halves last and stir to coat thoroughly with the egg white, spice mixture.
  • Spread on non-stick baking sheet and and bake for 45 min. Stir to separate during cooking (at the 15 min and 30 min mark). Cool completely and store in airtight container.
  • NOTE that the recipe as given to me suggests spreading the nuts out on a foil lined baking sheet but I've found that the nuts stick to the foil and it's a REAL mess to stir them during the baking.
Toffee Bars
  • Preheat oven to 350° C.
  • 1 C butter at room temperature
  • 1 C brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 C sifted flour
  • 6 oz milk chocolate (I use Hershey's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips and use the other half of the 12 ounce bag for the truffle recipe that follows this one.)
  • 1 C chopped nuts (whatever kind you prefer)
Cream butter and sugar together until well blended. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and mix well. Add flour gradually, mixing well after each addition. Spread to uniform thickness in well buttered 10" X 15" X 1" (or 11" X 16" X 1") jelly roll pan and bake for 20 to 25 min (or more, if necessary). Dough will puff up in center and can be tamped down a bit and when finished cooking, won't be puffy anymore. Edges will be slightly brown. Remove from oven and spread chocolate on top immediately and spread around with spatula until melted. Add nuts. Cut bars into ~ 1" square pieces and remove from pan while still warm or they will be very hard to cut and will stick to the pan.

Delightful Chocolate Truffles (2nd option; adapted from Time-Life Family Favorites Made Easy)
  • 12 oz chocolate (I used 6 oz Hershey's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips and 6 oz Hershey's Unsweetened Baking Chocolate)
  • 2/3 C heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (or other flavoring)
  • Coatings: 2 Tbsp cocoa powder sifted together with 1/2 Tbsp powdered sugar; granulated sugar; finely chopped nuts; coconut flakes
Put chocolate in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Mix until quite finely ground but take care not to get to paste stage. Combine cream and vanilla (or other flavoring) and heat until just beginning to boil. Remove from heat and pour into work bowl of processor immediately. Process until chocolate has completely melted and is smooth. (NOTE: it never got smooth for me but that didn't seem to make much difference to the end product.) Pour into 7-1/2" x 11" x 2" glass dish, cover and chill until mixture is firm. Put desired coatings into small bowls and use melon baller to scoop mixture into roughly 1" balls and roll by hand to smooth them before coating as desired. Use candy cups to store and refrigerate until about 1/2 hour before serving.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Baking - Part 3

Yesterday wasn't really 'baking' on my part. My friend Mary came over to bake one of her holiday cookie batches and kept me company while I made my Chocolate Truffles (photo of completed truffles plus some of the other holiday treats). The recipe I used yesterday comes from the Time-Life "The Good Cook: Candy" cookbook. I've had the entire series since the early 1980's. I doubled the Vanilla Truffles recipe (on p 155 of the Candy cook book) recipe this year. Modifications to this recipe include:
  • doubling the recipe
  • using a mixture of 4 oz of Belgian chocolate and 12 oz of Hershey's Semi-Sweet chocolate chips
  • the method for refrigeration prior to forming the truffles
  • using three types of coating material:
    • finely chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, or other)
    • 4 Tbsp cocoa sifted together with 1 Tbsp powdered sugar
    • granulated sugar
  • using a melon baller and small spoon to form the truffles before hand rolling them
Ingredients for truffles:
  • 16 oz semisweet chocolate (recipe says use milk or semi-sweet but I've always used semi-sweet)
  • 9 Tbsp heavy or whipping cream (I use "heavy whipping" cream as labeled in some grocery stores)
  • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Preparation of truffles:
  1. Find a ceramic bowl deep enough to hold the chocolate AND fit tightly on a pan that you will use to boil water. Note that the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water.
  2. After bringing the water to a boil, turn the heat off and put the bowl on top of the pan.
  3. Stir the chocolate occasionally (spatula works best) until all of it has melted. Do not let water get into the chocolate.
  4. While the chocolate is melting, bring the cream to just below the boiling point in a small pan (small bubbles will form around the edges) and add the vanilla after removing the pan from the heat.
  5. Once all the chocolate is melted, gradually add the tepid cream/vanilla mixture to the chocolate while stirring with a spatula to blend the cream gradually into the chocolate.
  6. Let the blended chocolate, vanilla and cream mixture cool until slightly above room temperature and then whip until glossy with a wire whisk or spatula. The texture of the mixture will change and you will notice it starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Scrape the mixture out into a pan (I used a 7-1/2" x 11" x 2" corning dish) and chill until semi-hard. Note that chilling time will vary depending on the size of the pan and I'm not really sure how long it took to reach the correct consistency.
  7. Use a melon baller to scoop out rounded dollops of the chocolate mixture and drop onto the various coating mixtures. (Use a small spoon to scoop the mixture out of the melon baller.)
  8. Roll the chocolate around on the coating mixture and then roll into round balls. Other possibilities besides the three listed above include coconut, sprinkles, and whatever else you can think of.
  9. Place the rolled, coated truffles in candy papers (in the DC area, a good source is Little Bitts Shop in the Wheaton Triangle; phone 301.933.2733) and store in tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. Use wax paper between layers.
  10. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving to allow them to warm to room temperature.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holiday Baking - Part 2

Today's cooking chores included finishing the Cream Wafer cookies by baking the wafers and then icing them. There are many tricks one can use to make this chore less tedious and I took photos to illustrate them. (NOTE: There are four photos and comments for completing the Cream Wafers and one photo/comment for removing the Cherry Coconut Bars (recipe published yesterday) from the pan and cutting them up and a photo showing the completed cookies as part of a holiday party presentation.) Meantime, I made one of my annual nut mixtures today. (will make the other one within the next day or two and post that recipe and one (or two) more later on)

Mixed Herbed Nuts

  • 8 oz each of pecan halves, whole raw cashews and almonds
  • 1/4 C sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 egg white, whipped to frothy stage
Combine all dry ingredients and toss to roughly mix before adding to the whipped egg white. Mix dry ingredients with egg white until all are well coated with the herb mixture. Spread mixture on lightly oiled baking sheet and bake in pre-heated 325° oven for 40 minutes. Turn every 10 minutes. Cool completely when done and store in tightly sealed container. Nuts probably may be frozen although I've never done that because I give them all away or eat them in fairly short order. [NOTE: If intended recipients aren't on a no/low salt diet, you may want to add ~ 1/2 tsp salt when combining the dry ingredients.]

Friday, December 12, 2008

Holiday Baking - Part 1

Started my almost annual holiday baking extravaganza today and decided it was time to do something about sharing the recipes with those who've asked (or might ask) how to make whatever they like best. SO... in no particular order... here are the three holiday items I made today with recipes as modified by me after years of making each. (Click the "Holiday Baking - Part 1" text to link to my web album with four photos and comments about steps in making the Cream Wafers and one on making the Cherry Coconut Bars. The most recent photo in the holiday baking series shows four of the completed "cookies.")

Mock Boursin (can be made for a lot less than the real thing and tastes the same; this is my adaptation of a recipe published YEARS ago in the Washington Post)
  • 16 oz of reduced fat cream cheese at room temperature
  • 8 oz of whipped butter
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp each of salt, marjoram, basil and chives
  • 1/4 tsp each of freshly ground pepper and thyme
  • 1 tsp of dill weed (not dill seed)
Put garlic cloves in bowl of food processor fitted with blade and process briefly to mince garlic. Add all other ingredients and process until smooth, scraping down the side of the bowl to ensure ingredients are mixed well and the cheese is free of lumps. If you want to give this to friends, line muffin tins with holiday themed cupcake liners and fill each cup with part of the soft cheese. Cover and refrigerate until firm and then wrap as desired for gift giving. Makes about 10 muffin size portions.

Cherry, Coconut Bars (this recipe has been part of the Porter family Christmas celebration since I was in junior high school; Mom found the recipe in a Gold Medal flour sack and I've been making these cookies ever since; my adaptation doubles the recipe and slightly alters the results from the original)
  • 2 C flour
  • 6 Tbsp confectioner's sugar
  • 1 C (two sticks) well chilled butter; cut into roughly 1 Tbsp size pieces and drop on top of dry ingredients
Process the above ingredients in the bowl of a food processor until mixture is uniformly granular (it will not clump). Pour into parchment lined 9" x 13" baking pan and spread evenly, tamping down to make crust firm. Bake in preheated 350° oven for 25 to 30 minutes. (outside edges of crust will be slightly brown when crust is done) While crust is cooking, assemble filling. (why it is called filling is beyond me, it is a topping IMHO)

Filling: To 4 eggs, beaten (by hand with whisk is fine, no need to use mixer), add all of the following and mix well:
  • 2 C sugar
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1-1/2 C chopped nuts
  • 1 C shredded (or flaked) coconut
  • 1 C Maraschino cherries, chopped briefly using food processor (original recipe called for quartered cherries which we did by hand in the days before food processors existed)
The above filling can be poured on top of the crust as soon as it is done. Cook for an additional 40 to 50 min at 350°. The outside edges of the topping will be a bit overcooked (well browned) when done. Cool completely before cutting for serving. Note that I cut these in ~ 1" square portions (bite size) because the cookies tend to fall apart while biting into them. Also, I put them into holiday themed candy cups for serving or giving to friends.

Cream Wafers (another recipe Mom found in the Gold Medal flour sack years ago; we made them for years before food processors came along and simplified the preparation)

  • 2 C sifted flour
  • 1 C (two sticks) well chilled butter; cut into roughly 1 Tbsp size pieces and drop on top of flour
  • 1/3 C heavy cream

Put flour and butter into bowl of food processor and process briefly to coarsely mix the butter and flour. Add cream while continuing to process until the ingredients form a ball. Have three pieces of saran wrap or waxed paper ready to use to wrap the dough for chilling. Form dough into a cylinder, then cut the cylinder into three portions and flatten into circular dough masses. Chill for at least two hours ( overnight is best) before rolling out dough and making the cookies.

Preheat oven to 375°. Use a floured rolling pin and a floured board to roll out the dough until it is roughly 1/8" thick. Use a fork to prick the dough before cutting with a 1-1/2" cutter into individual cookie wafers. As you cut the wafers, drop them into granulated sugar to coat both sides lightly with sugar. Place "forked" side up on ungreased cookie sheets. These wafers don't expand during baking so you can place them quite close together. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes (watch carefully to avoid burning them) and cool on wire racks when done. Once cooled completely, wafers need to be iced (recipe follows) to make sandwich cookies. You should have about 5 dozen cookies when done. They keep well for about three weeks if refrigerated but should not be frozen because freezing destroys the delicate texture of the cookies which will melt in your mouth!

Cream Wafer Icing (Combine the following ingredients and divide into two portions, tinting one portion pink and the other green.)
  • 1/4 C butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 C sifted powdered (confectioners) sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Miscellaneous thoughts...

The main idea for this space is a place to post notes on vacations... upcoming in January 2009 is a two-week trip to Costa Rica traveling to several different areas with side trips to view jungles, mountains, volcanoes and Costa Rican wildlife under the leadership of an experienced Audubon guide. Included in the itinerary are the following locations/hotels...
November marked the passage of another year for both myself (Nov 30 birthday) and my significant other (Nov 16 birthday). So far, we are not suffering TOO much from the effects of aging, although both of us admit to having a few more achy joints than we did in our younger days.

Blogs are funny things (IMHO)... this one may develop a personality after awhile... but for now it will probably be totally random!!!