Happy Chinese New Year 2015: Chinese Almond Cookies

Happy Chinese New Year 2015. The year of the sheep or as some say; the goat. These cookies are simple and perfect any time of year with a little bit of tea, but very popular during Lunar New Year. May the year bring you prosperity, good health, and above all-happiness.

Chinese Almond Cookies

 almond cookies sliced

almond cookies unbaked

Chinese Almond Cookies for Chinese New Year

Chinese Almond Cookies

yield: about 4 1/2 dozen small cookies

1 Cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp

1 Cup sugar

1 large egg

1/2 tsp. pure almond extract

3/4 Cup almond meal (almond flour)

1 3/4 Cup all purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1 egg (for egg wash)

2 tsp. milk (for egg wash)

blanched almonds for tops of cookies*

* (If you don’t have blanched almonds-you can take whole almonds with the skin on-and soak them in water for 1 hour. After one hour drain the almonds and gently push the skins off by pressing with your first two fingers. Blot almonds with paper towels to absorb any excess water).

 

1. Cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy; about 2-3 minutes. Add the egg and almond extract. Whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt. Add to the butter mixture and combine on medium speed until almost combined. With clean hands mix together gently until rest of dough is combined. Divide dough into 2 equal portions and roll each into a 1.5 inch wide by 14 inch long log; wrap in parchment paper and chill for 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 325° F. In a small bowl; make the egg wash by whisking the egg and milk until combined. Cut logs into scant 1/2 inch slices and press an almond onto each cookie. Place cookies 2 inches apart. Brush with egg wash. Bake for 17-19 minutes until cookies are light golden brown. Let cool on sheets over a wire rack until cooled. Serve with tea.


Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes

There are certain things in life I cannot live without.

A bathtub.

A camera.

Strong coffee.

Real butter.

And salt-(preferably kosher salt).

Don’t even think about taking my salt away. It will not be pretty. You will see an ugly side of me you don’t want to encounter. Remember the scenes when Lou Ferrigno turned into The Hulk? Yeah, it’s something like that. I’m sure as I advance in age some day- some balding, stern Dr. will tell me I have to give up salt- and then I will wrestle him to the ground and feed him a salted caramel cupcake. He will take one bite and come over to the dark side. Immediately.

Please don’t lecture me. It will do NO good. This is right up there with convincing me to floss my teeth every day. Don’t bother wasting your words. Your attempt is futile. I love my salt. I especially love sweet and salty. I REALLY love salted caramel. You will have some salted caramel leftover after making these-You’re welcome.  Pour it over vanilla ice cream.

salted caramel cupcakes

 

chocolate and salted caramel cupcake

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

makes 24-28 cupcakes

2 Cups sugar

1 3/4 Cup all purpose flour

3/4 Cup extra dark brute cocoa (such as Hershey’s Special Dark)

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 large eggs, room temp

1 Cup whole milk, room temp

1/2 Cup vegetable oil

2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 Cup hot strong coffee

1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line two standard size muffin tins with cupcake liners.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the sugar and sift the next 5 ingredients over the sugar directly into the bowl. Combine with a fork to mix. In a glass measuring container mix the eggs, milk, vegetable oil and vanilla with a fork. Add  the egg mixture to the mixer bowl and with the paddle attachment beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes; stopping once or twice to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. Stir in the hot coffee and carefully mix by hand with a large spatula. The batter will be very thin. Pour batter into prepared lined tins; no more than 2/3 full. Three measured Tablespoons is about 2/3 full; it’s helpful to measure out one into a well and then you can eyeball the rest. A scant full standard size ice cream scoop is another good way to get 2/3 full. Resist the urge to over fill as you don’t want to get cupcakes that spill over the cupcake liner- but rather you want a more flat cupcake. Bake in 350° F preheated oven for about 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out with a few moist crumbs. Allow cupcakes tins to cool completely over a wire rack. Frost with caramel frosting and drizzle with salted caramel drizzle.

Salted Caramel Buttercream

4 sticks (2 Cups) unsalted butter, softened

8 Cups confectioners sugar, sifted

2 tsp. whole milk

1 Cup of (cooled) caramel (see recipe below)

2 tsp. kosher salt

In a stand mixer cream together the butter until soft. Add the sugar about one cup at a time and beat until smooth. Beat in the milk then add the cooled caramel and salt and beat until smooth.

Caramel and (Salted Caramel Drizzle)

2 C sugar

1/2 C water

1 1/2 C heavy cream; nuke until slightly warm

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1/2 tsp. kosher salt (save for salted caramel drizzle)

In a medium saucepan place the sugar and add the water and mix gently until the mixture resembles wet sand. Cook over medium high heat and let it come to a boil without stirring; until the caramel reaches a deep amber. Turn off the heat and remove the pan from the heat. Carefully pour in the cream, it will bubble and spout a bit; whisk carefully until combined. Whisk in the butter and then divide caramel by half into two heat proof containers. Add the salt to half the quantity of caramel (for the salted caramel drizzle). Let cool.

Enjoy

 


Strawberry-Lavender Valentine Hearts

In honor of upcoming Valentines Day- I decided to post a few (or many) thoughts about love- with a side of cookie.

Love is complicated. Love is necessary.

Love is food. Love is a kiss.

Love is making the time. Love is communication.

Love is admitting you screwed up. Love is taking care of someone.

Love is not making it ABOUT you. Love is making it about YOU.

Love is forgiveness. Love is an exhilarating rush.

Love is a warm hug. Love is loving yourself- ALWAYS.

Love is walking 10 blocks in the rain on Halloween with tired feet-when you really want to be on the couch eating a snickers in your jammies.

Love is a commitment. Love is not supposed to be perfect.

Love is not talking during Real Housewives; unless there is an apocalypse of course.

Love is camping-even if you’re not really a happy camper.

Love is understanding, even when perhaps you don’t understand.

Love is folding the laundry. Love is DOING the laundry.

Love is seeing and holding your child for the first time.

Love is everything.

Happy Valentines Day~

Strawberry Valentine Hearts 2015

Linzer Heart Cutouts

heart cutter

Strawberry-Lavender Hearts

yield: about 2 dozen

1 Cup unsalted butter, softened

5 Tbsp. confectioners sugar

1/3 Cup honey

3/4 tsp. vanilla bean paste

1 1/2  tsp. dried lavender

2 1/2 Cups all purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

Seedless strawberry preserves

sanding sugar or coarse sugar

rainbow edible glitter (optional)

1. In a stand mixer with paddle attachment cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the honey in a slow stream and mix until combined. Add the vanilla bean paste and dried lavender and mix. Combine the flour and salt in a separate bowl with a fork. Reduce the mixer to low and add the flour in two additions and mix until combined. Remove the dough from the bowl and press into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill the dough for at least 2 hours. Roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface into 1/8 inch thick. Cut into heart shapes with a 2 1/4  inch cutter. Reroll scrapes until all the dough is used. Remove half of the cutouts with a smaller heart shape for the tops. Sprinkle the tops with sanding sugar or coarse sugar. Bake cookies in a preheated 350° F oven one tray at a time for 14-15 minutes or until edges are slightly browned. Allow cookies to cool completely. Sandwich cookies with seedless strawberry preserves. Sprinkle with rainbow edible glitter (optional) to top half of cookies before sandwiching.


Cherry Streusel Coffee Cake

I’ve got a bad case of the winter blah blah blahsss. I’m dreaming of sunny skies, cool night breezes-the kind that beckon sleeping with the windows open, tart red cherries, and sipping cold lemonade on a hot summer day… I thought this coffee cake would lighten the mood with it’s tart burst of cherries and crunchy sugary top it’s just the thing to remind me of summer. I used frozen (thawed) sour cherries. Growing up my Mother used to squirrel away frozen fruit in a huge freezer so we would have any kind of berry or fruit all Winter long for such a baking occasion. I like to squirrel away fruit too- I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…

 

cherry streusel cake

 cherry streusel coffee cake

cherry almond coffee cake

Cherry Streusel Coffee Cake

Cake:

1/2 Cup milk

1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. lemon zest

3/4 Cup unsalted butter, softened

3/4 granulated sugar

1 lg. egg

1 3/4 Cup all purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. almond extract

1/2 Cup (generous) cherry preserves, divided (I like Smuckers)

2/3 Cup frozen tart cherries, thawed (If you can’t find frozen tart cherries- you can substitute 1 Cup of dried tart cherries)

1. Make the streusel as per below and set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Prepare an 8 inch pan by lining with a parchment sling so that all sides have an overhang of about 1 1/2 inches. Spray the parchment with baking spray or lightly butter.

3. In a small bowl combine the milk and lemon juice and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add in the egg and lemon zest and combine well. Add the vanilla and almond extract. In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients and whisk with a fork.

4. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients alternating with the milk mixture in two additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Take 1/2 of the batter (it will be thick) and spread it evenly in the pan. Take 1/4 C of the jam and heat it slightly in the microwave for about 10 seconds. Spread the jam evenly over the batter, then sprinkle 1/3 Cup of the cherries over the preserves. Note: I blot the cherries dry first with a paper towel to prevent too much liquid in the batter. Take the remaining batter and dot spoonfuls of the batter over the first layer, then carefully spread batter, repeat by spreading the other half of the (warmed) cherry preserves, and sprinkle with remaining cherries.

Note: If you can’t find frozen cherries; you can fold in 1 Cup or more of dried cherries into the batter before spreading batter into the pan. (Still spread the cherry preserves onto the batter as called for in the recipe).

5. Sprinkle the streusel on top and bake in a preheated 350° F oven for 50-55 minutes until the streusel is set (doesn’t look too wet or loose) and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. If the top of the cake gets too brown you can cover with tinfoil for the last 5-10 minutes as needed. Let the cake cool in the pan set over a wire rack.

 

Almond Streusel

1/4 Cup sugar

1/4 Cup light brown sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

5 Tbsp. butter, softened

1/3 Cup sliced almonds

1. In a stand mixer with paddle attachment (or in a bowl with a fork) combine all the ingredients except the almonds until appears crumbly. Stir in the almonds.

 


Blackberry Berliner Donuts

I don’t know why but for the last 2 weeks I’ve been craving a donut.  I pushed it back into the corners of my mind and tried to wage war on it by eating yogurt every day. Then I added granola with berries to my yogurt.  That SO did NOT work. On about the 8th day I woke up again and craved a donut. On the 9th day I started fantasizing about what kind of donut exactly it was that I needed. Not just any donut would do. However, I like my donuts simple. Nothing too crazy usually. That does not mean that for time to time I won’t experiment and come up with something outrageous; it’s just that when it comes to a donut craving it’s usually a simple sugar rolled donut or an “old fashioned” donut that calls me. I like my donuts pillowy soft and somewhat plush.  I knew that a cake donut would not do. It had to be yeast, soft, and FRESH. The kind of donut you sink your teeth into.

This is that donut-a pillowy soft, fluffy interior kind of donut. When you bite into it, the sides envelope you like a feather bed kind of hug, then the sweet and tangy blackberry filling oozes just enough in contrast to the grainy sugar crystals that dance across your lips. Uh huh. You reach for your slightly bitter coffee to wash it down. Yep, I know. Some things are worth waiting for….

Happiness is a blackberry filled donut; pillowy soft on the inside and rolled in sugar

blackbery berliners

Make them large or small; below are donut hole sizeblackberry filled donut holes

Blackberry Berliners

yield: about 1 dozen

recipe: adapted from “Glazed Filled Sugared & Dipped” by Stephen Collucci

 

3 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast

1 1/2 Cups (room temp-slightly warm) whole milk

3 Cups bread flour

3/4 Cup all purpose flour

1/4 Cup sugar + more for rolling donuts in

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1/ tsp. nutmeg

1 large egg

1 tsp. vanilla

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

Vegetable oil for frying

Blackberry seedless preserves for filling (I like Dickensons)

 

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment combine the milk and yeast on low speed for 2-3 minutes. You should see bubbling on the surface.

2. In a medium bowl combine the flours, sugar, salt, and nutmeg with a fork. Add the mixture to the stand mixer bowl and mix to combine. Switch to the dough hook, add the egg and vanilla and mix to combine. Add in the butter and mix on medium speed until well combined. Mix the dough for about 5-8 minutes until the dough gathers on the hook and pulls away from the bowl. The dough should feel mostly smooth but a little sticky. Form the dough into a smooth ball by gently working it with your hands or with a little floured work surface.

3. Grease a large bowl and place the dough in the bowl and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Place bowl in a warm, draft-free place and let dough rise until tripled in size. Line a sheet pan with wax paper- you will use this to place the cut donuts onto. Line another sheet pan with paper towels and place a wire rack over the towels.

4. Turn the risen dough onto a floured work surface and lightly flour the top of dough and roll gently into about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 3 inch circular shapes or smaller if desired, place on prepared sheet pan lined with wax paper.

5. Fry donuts 1-3 at a time in a 350° F oil for about 1-2 mins per side until donuts are golden brown. Resist the urge to over fry donuts too dark as that will take away from the dough staying pillowy soft. Allow donuts to cool slightly over a sheet pan lined with paper towels over a wire rack. While donuts are still warm poke a hole in the side of each donut. Roll donuts in sugar and allow donuts to cool completely. When cooled then fill donuts with blackberry (seedless) preserves.

6. To fill donuts use a pastry bag fitted with a start tip (I used Ateco 822 size) and gently fill the donuts by squeezing the filling inside the holes of each donut.


New Years Eve Champagne Cocktails

I’m not one to go out on New Years Eve. This does not mean I don’t drink champagne; that is a MUST.  I’ve just never been one to go out and party on New Year’s Eve; for some reason I enjoy staying at home and making a special meal and celebrating with the ones I love.

With champagne.

I know that sounds incredibly boring. I love champagne. I know a lot of people do not really care for the taste of it, so I have made it my mission to come up with a few ideas for you. Yes, there was some serious tasting and research involved. Someone has got to do it. You see the lengths I go to for you?! . The first champagne cocktail is a turquoise sip. I just made that up.  Perhaps it is a rif on a blue angel-so I’ll just call it the New Years Eve Champagne Cocktail, or maybe I’ll call it the turquoise sip. That sounds kinda cool; or maybe it’s because it’s a Sunday morning and I just have had waaayyy too much champagne taking photos and making cocktails…yep, that’s it for sure.

The second cocktail is really a process and less of a recipe and that is filling a champagne flute with different flavors of sorbet or sherbet and then filling with champagne. You could totally use 7-up or a lemon line soda in place of in both these drinks so your young-ins can partake.  For the Turquoise sip; just remove the blue curacao and use blue Hawaiian punch instead.  I totally dorked out and forgot to rim the glass with sugar for the turquoise sip, but definitely do that with silver, blue or regular sugar if you have some.

turquoise sip champagne cocktail

New Year's Eve Champagne Cocktail

New Years Eve Champagne Cocktails

“Turquoise Sip”

yield: one drink

1 oz. pineapple juice (cold)

1/2 oz. blue curacao (1 Tbsp.)

sparkling wine or champagne

sparkling sugar for rim (optional)

In a champagne glass pour the juice and blue curacao, add the champagne and serve cold.

For kids Non Alcohol version:

1 oz. pineapple juice

1-2 oz. blue Hawaiian punch

7-up  or Sprite

 

Sherbet/Sorbet Cocktail

mixed sorbet cocktail

mixed sorbet cocktail prep

lime, mango, raspberry sorbet and champagne cocktail

sorbet champagne cocktail

Sherbet/Sorbet Cocktail

Per cocktail/mocktail

1 small scoop lime sherbet

1 small scoop raspberry sorbet

1 small scoop mango sorbet

Champagne, Asti Spumante, or sparkling wine (7-up or Sprite for non Alcohol version)


Salted Caramel-Chocolate Truffles

 

I know a lot of people do not consider themselves a baker, or they get intimidated with complicated multi step recipes. Holiday time is a time to have fun and TRY to decrease your stress by just having fun in the kitchen and making tasty treats that you enjoy but are comfortable with. If you are not one to knock out a Buche de Noel then- by all means this easy truffle recipe is something you can certainly do. I love anything caramel and especially SALTED caramel. I HATE tempering chocolate so these truffles are covered in cocoa, but you could certainly dip them in tempered chocolate if you like a more formal looking truffle.

 

salted caramel_chocolate truffles 1

salted caramel chocolate truffles

Salted Caramel-Chocolate Truffles

yield: about 72-80 truffles

2 Cups sugar

1/2 Cup water

16 oz. (1 pound) semi-sweet chocolate chips (about 2 1/2 Cups)

1 1/2 Cups heavy cream

2 tsp. kosher salt

Cocoa powder (natural-unsweetened) for coating (such as Hershey’s)

1. In a heat proof medium bowl place the chocolate chips and set aside.

2. Place a small glass of water and insert a pastry brush inside the glass (I prefer a silicon brush for this) and set next to the stove. Measure the salt and have next to the stove as well.

3.  In a 3 quart (medium) saucepan place the sugar and carefully pour the water over the sugar to combine. Heat the sugar and water over medium high heat and bring to a boil until sugar turns amber in color. DO NOT stir the caramel- but rather swirl the pan from time to time to ensure color stays even. If sugar crystals form around the edges of the pan- take the wet pastry/silicon brush and let water drip down the sides of pan to dissolve any crystals. Once sugar is almost amber microwave the heavy cream for about 30-40 seconds until warm. Once sugar is amber color, remove from heat and pour in the warm cream and kosher salt and whisk to combine. Caution- with the adding of the cream it will bubble up and spit so be careful not to get burned. Combine well and then pour the caramel over the chocolate chips until combined and the chips are melted. Pour the mixture into a shallow cake pan or heat proof container. Chill the mixture (uncovered) in the refrigerator until it becomes set; about 50-60 minutes.

4. Remove chilled and set truffle mixture and scoop out small amounts (about 1 inch) and roll in your hands until smooth. If you have a small scoop this works well. Roll the balls in cocoa powder and place in a wax paper or parchment lined container. Once the truffles are all rolled, chill again to help the cocoa meld a bit to the chocolate. Serve at room temperature.


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