Stump de Noel

I’ve always been a person that is mostly “out of the box”. I tend to think a bit differently than your average Joe, so when I saw this recipe for a stump de noel vs. the traditional buche de noel, I was intrigued. It’s a very striking dessert that has that “wow factor” when you’re called to bring the dessert for the Christmas party or family gathering. It requires quite a bit of work, but you can scatter the work over a few days time so on the day of assembly you can just focus on pulling it together. It’s best to read through the recipe a few times so you understand all that is required. You can make the buttercreams 2-3 days ahead and keep chilled; when it comes time to assemble you’ll have to let the buttercream come to room temperature and rewhip with the stand mixer. The meringue mushrooms and the sugared decorations can be made a couple days before. The assembled cake requires chilling so plan to assemble it the day before service, and assemble on the platter that you’ll be serving it on-I used a large square platter that I found with room on the sides for the pretty garnishes.

Merry Christmas!

Stump de Nöel 

recipe: Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, pages 144-145

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 pound bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1/4 cup of hot water
  • 1 dozen large eggs, at room temperature, separated
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Malted Buttercream and Dark Chocolate Buttercream
  • Meringue mushrooms, candied cranberries and candied rosemary sprigs, for garnish (optional; see Note)

 

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter two 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheets and line them with parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang on all of the short sides. Butter the paper and dust with flour.

Step 2

In a small bowl, whisk the 1 cup of flour with the cocoa and salt. In another small bowl, combine the chocolate and espresso. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, combine the egg yolks with 2/3 cup of the sugar. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk and beat at high speed until the yolks are pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate mixture along with the vanilla. Transfer to a large bowl.

Step 3

Thoroughly wash and dry the mixer bowl and the whisk. Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar on moderately high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 2/3 cup of sugar and continue beating at high speed until the whites are glossy, about 2 minutes longer. Whisk one-fourth of the egg whites into the cake batter, then fold in the remaining whites until no streaks remain.

Step 4

In a small bowl, whisk the melted butter with 1/2 cup of the batter; fold this mixture into the batter. Working in 2 batches, sift the cocoa powder mixture over the batter and gently fold it in. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, spreading it out to fill the pans. Bake for about 18 minutes, until the cake feels springy and dry; shift the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Transfer the pans to racks to cool completely. Run the tip of a knife around the edges, cover with parchment paper and a baking sheet and invert; peel off the parchment on top.

Step 5

Spread the Malted Buttercream over the cakes. Using a ruler, cut each cake precisely in half lengthwise, cutting through the paper; you should have four 6-by-17-inch strips of cake. Roll one strip into a tight coil, leaving the paper behind. Roll the 3 remaining cake strips around the coil in the same way to form a very wide, short jelly roll. Set the cake on a large plate, spiraled end up. Frost the outside of the cake with the Dark Chocolate Buttercream. Refrigerate until set, at least 8 hours. Decorate the cake with meringue mushrooms, cranberries and rosemary sprigs and serve, cutting the cake into wedges or horizontal slices.

FOR THE DARK CHOCOLATE AND MALTED BUTTERCREAMS

5 large egg whites, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

4 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60-72%), melted and cooled

1/4 cup malt powder

12 malted milk balls candies, crushed

MAKE THE DARK CHOCOLATE AND MALTED BUTTERCREAMS

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, combine the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are just warm to the touch. Return the bowl to the mixer and fit it with the whisk attachment. Add the vanilla and beat the egg whites at high speed until firm and glossy, about 5 minutes. With the machine running, whisk in the butter a few tablespoons at a time. If the mixture begins to look curdled, continue to beat until smooth before adding more butter.

Transfer 1 1/2 cups of the buttercream to a bowl and whisk in the melted chocolate. Cover the chocolate buttercream and refrigerate.

Dissolve the malt powder in 2 tablespoons hot water, then beat it into the buttercream remaining in the mixer. Beat in the crushed milk balls. Cover the malt buttercream and refrigerate.

Meringue Mushrooms

Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, pages 194-195

3 large egg whites, at room temperature

¾ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 ounce good-quality white chocolate, melted and cooled (I actually used semisweet)

2 ounces dark unsweetened cocoa powder, (like Valrhona) for sifting over assembled mushrooms

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the heat proof bowl of a standing mixer. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (double boiler method). Cook, whisking constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture registers 140 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, 6 to 8 minutes.

Transfer the bowl to a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat it on high speed until stiff peaks form. Add the cream of tartar when the mixture begins to thicken, or after 3 minutes. Keep beating for another minute or so until stiff peaks hold.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip with the meringue. To make the caps, hold the pastry bag close to the parchment paper-lined pan and pipe out a small dome (about a tablespoon) of meringue, pulling up at the very end  of piping to give your cap some height.

To form mushrooms stems, hold the bag close to the parchment paper and pipe the meringue, pulling up as you go, into small cone shapes. Make the same number of stems as caps.

Place the pans in the oven and bake the meringue pieces for 90 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway thought the baking time. Turn off the oven, prop the door slightly open and leave the meringues in place for at least 2 hours longer, or overnight.

ASSEMBLE THE MERINGUE MUSHROOMS

Turn the caps over and use a toothpick to make a tiny hole large enough to fit the tip of the stem into. Fill the hole with a tiny bit of white chocolate (or semi sweet-which is what I used). Gently press the stem into place and allow the chocolate to set. Sift cocoa powder over the assembled mushrooms.

Sugared cranberries and sugared rosemary

¼ cup superfine sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cinnamon stick

¾ cup fresh cranberries

10 rosemary sprigs

Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper. Place the superfine sugar in a small bowl.

In a medium saucepan, stir together 1 cup of water with the sugar, then add the cinnamon stick. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and pour into a heatproof, wide-mouthed bowl. Let the liquid cool for a few minutes, then remove the cinnamon stick.

Drop the cranberries in the syrup and stir to coat the cranberries completely. Remove the cranberries, a few at a time, with a slotted spoon (tap the spoon to release excess syrup) and drop them in the superfine sugar. Toss the cranberries in the sugar to coat completely, and place on the parchment paper to dry. Repeat the above procedure with the rosemary. Decorate the stump as you wish.


Earl Grey Macarons and Troubleshooting tips for Macs

I love earl grey. Anything. I get a kick out of finding ways to incorporate tea into my baking. I also have an obsession (as you probably figured out by now) with making macarons. A simple way to add flavor to anything is to infuse the cream you use when making ganache, and this technique is used often by bakeries to flavor their macarons. Matter of fact, a lot of bakeries specializing in macarons use white ganache flavored different ways as part of their fillings exclusively. You can add flavor on the “back end” of the ganache as well using flavor compounds. The possibilities are endless when it comes to flavoring a ganache. Sometimes the trick is being able to incorporate ENOUGH flavor and this is why I love the double bergamot earl grey tea. You don’t have to use a ton of tea to get the flavor you want. I particularly love the Stash brand of double bergamot earl grey if you can find it.

Happy macaron-ing

 

Earl Grey Macarons

(This recipe is the Italian method)

200 g almond flour, sifted (I like Wellbee’s brand-see below under tips)

200 g confectioners sugar, sifted

2  teabags of loose earl grey (tear bags open and remove tea)*

*I like Stash brand of “double bergamot” earl grey

75 g egg whites

200 g granulated sugar

50 g water

75 g egg whites (room temp)

pinch of cream of tartar

2-4 drops gel food color of choice (such as lavender or violet) I used a combo of each

1. In a large bowl combine the almond flour, and confectioners sugar, and the loose tea. Add the 75 gms of egg whites, and stir to combine to form a paste. Set aside.

2. In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment combine 75 gms of egg whites and the cream of tartar and begin whipping them on medium-high speed.

At the same time combine the 200 gms of  granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan on high heat; bring to 240° without stirring while whipping the egg whites on your mixer simultaneously. You want the cooking sugar syrup to reach 240 degrees at the same time your whites reach stiff peaks. To time this; keep the stand mixer next to the stove so you can peek at the whites while still watching your cooking syrup. If you notice the whites starting to get too stiff before the sugar is done; slow down the mixer to low-speed.

3. Once the syrup is at 240 degrees, stop/take off the heat and start pouring the syrup down the side of the mixer bowl slowly with the mixer running on slow-medium at the same time; careful not to let the syrup hit the whisk to prevent hard syrup forming. Once all the syrup is in, crank up the mixer and whip the whites until very glossy and stiff. Add the gel color to the meringue when it is about 90 % done.

4. Take the whipped meringue and place on top of the almond mixture and start to  fold gently until all of the meringue is incorporated; careful not to deflate the mixture. You are looking for a thick consistency like lava but one that allows you to have the batter fall in ribbons when you hold the spatula above the bowl. A good measure of consistency is to let the batter fall off the spatula until you can make a figure 8 without the batter breaking. If the batter breaks while doing this, fold it a few more times. Fill a piping bag fitted with a 1/2 inch round tip and pipe the cookies on parchment lined sheet trays; leaving at least an inch space between cookies. Take the trays and rap them hard on the counter to release any air bubbles. Let the trays sit out anywhere from 30-60 minutes; as long as it takes until when you touch the top of the cookies they are dry and no longer tacky to the touch.

5. Bake the cookies  one tray at a time in a 325° F oven (300° F if convection oven) for about 15-18 minutes until the cookies are no longer wet on the bottom and appear dry. Please note: Every oven is different and you may need to play around with your temperature or time to achieve the perfect macaron. Sacrifice one if you have to test. Let the cookies cool on the tray. Sandwich with the filling. Store the cookies in the fridge to “mature” in an airtight container 8 hours or overnight; this helps the cookies become even more chewy as the moisture from the filling helps the texture of the cookie as well as enhancing the overall flavor.

Earl Grey White Chocolate Ganache

9 oz. white chocolate chopped fine (Do NOT use white chocolate chips!)

4.5 oz. heavy cream

2 earl grey tea bags

Make the ganache: heat the heavy cream in the microwave on high for 1 minute. Steep the tea bags in the heavy cream for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes; squeeze the tea bags into the cream until dry and discard. Place the white chocolate in a medium size heat proof bowl. Using the microwave, heat the heavy cream again on high until very hot and pour over the chocolate; let sit one minute then gently whisk until emulsified. If there are chocolate pieces remaining; reheat the mixture on high at 20 second intervals until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Set the ganache in the refrigerator until firm while you make the macarons. You can prepare the ganache the day before.

Tips/trouble shooting for successful macarons:

Know your oven. Buy an oven thermometer and keep it in your oven and calibrate your baking based on the oven temp. Rotate the pan if necessary. Even the most expensive ovens can have hot spots or uneven areas. If your oven has a convection function- use it! Convection is best for macarons (plan to drop the temperature 25 degrees less if using convection for baking). Quite a few of my earlier recipes I did not have a convection oven so that’s why those recipes did not post an oven temp for convection.

Try different recipes. I’m not claiming mine is perfect by any means. I have even tried different recipes/ techniques myself by adding in dried egg whites etc. The point is find one base recipe you like best and practice with that same recipe over and over- tweak the temperature, tweak the timing, tweak your mixing etc. This will help you find your rhythm and determine what is wrong by eliminating/changing each component. When I want a more shiny mac, I swear by the Italian method- but I use both French and Italian. I find the Italian method yields macs that are more shiny because the sugar is fully melted into the batter.

There is no ‘perfect’ recipe for a successful macaron. Early on I would scour the web trying to find the perfect recipe thinking it was the recipe. The truth is it’s about the technique and mastering the trouble shooting factors that yield the perfect macaron. Practice as much as possible. Try not to get mad- you will have bad macaron days. It happens. Don’t give up. #beenthere #Ifeelyou

Use only flat sheet pans. THIS IS KEY!! You cannot use a warped sheet pan- your batter will run and you will end up with weird shaped cookies. Side note: you can buy 1/4 sheet pans-they can be tricky to find but they resist warping more since they are smaller. I find mine in restaurant supply stores. You can even find 1/4 size silpat mats for them as well. Sometimes when I’m testing a new recipe I will pipe out a batch on this size pan so I don’t have to pipe as much.

Use a scale to measure ingredients. People have asked me why I don’t post the measurements in just cups etc. Macarons are very fussy- if you want to increase your chance of getting the perfect cookie plan to measure by using a scale. That’s what professional bakeries do. There are many inexpensive scales out there. To be a serious baker (no shade) you should have a scale- and buy one that does both grams, ounces. #sorrynotsorry

To get smooth bump free macarons you should always sift. I admit- sometimes I’m lazy and even I don’t always sift- case in point on my matcha tea macarons; when I made that batch I was being lazy and I did not sift (look at the pics of them and you will see bumpy macarons).

Don’t crowd the pan with as many macarons as you think can fit. If you pipe too many it can create excess moisture and lead to cracked shells. Also, they need room to spread after piping. FYI- there are silpat (copycat like mats) out there that have an excess of circles on them with little spacing- I shoot for the ones that have 20 circles per 1/2 sheet pan on them. I made the mistake of buying a mat that had the circles way too close- I won’t name the brand but it is a dark brown mat.

Parchment paper vs. Silpat. The choice is up to you. I personally do both. I tend to prefer parchment paper-I find that the foot of the cookie is better, but some people swear by a silicone mat.  If you do use paper- make sure it is flat and fits the size perfectly on the sheet pan. Any excess wrinkling or curled or wavy flaps will affect how the cookies rise and affect the ‘feet’ of the cookie. FYI- you can find boxes of parchment paper that fits 1/2 sheet pans at places like Smart and Final for cheap. The box will last you forever and its superior than the roll type you find in the grocery store because you don’t have to fight with the roll factor.

• Almond flour: consider drying out your almond flour (it may be too moist and contributing to your shells cracking). To dry out almond meal/flour place on a sheet pan in single layer and set in the oven at your lowest temperature (ideally 170-175 F) and bake for around 10 minutes. If you place a handful of almond flour in your hand and squeeze it and it sticks together than chances are it needs to be dried out first. BTW, I recently found this “very fine” almond flour online called Wellbee’s and it is NOW my favorite. It is very fine and light in color which I love!

Don’t use liquid food coloring or add excess liquid flavorings. Only use gel food color or powdered food coloring. Too much liquid added to the batter can adversely affect the shells.

Consider aging the egg whites. I’ll be honest- I typically don’t do this-again, I’m inherently lazy. I’ve tried it, I even did my own study once over a weeks time when I aged whites and made several batches with and without and I’m not completely convinced. Some people swear by it and say it makes a difference. Eh, I’m not sold. I heard a rumor though that Laudure ages theirs like a week. But do try it. To age: separate your whites out the day or 2 before and place in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and then poke holes in the plastic and place back in the fridge. Remove from the fridge when ready to bake and let sit out until room temperature.

Speaking of egg whites; make sure they are separately cleanly. Wash your hands before you start. #Captainobvious. Not a tiny speck of egg yolk can invade your whites or your meringue will not come out right. Clean our your mixer bowl each and every time before starting your recipe. You can even wipe out the bowl with a paper towel that has been moistened with vinegar to remove any trace of dirt or grease. Also- when separating your whites use 3 separate bowls. Crack one egg at a time and then place that egg white into a separate CLEAN bowl so that if you get a speck of yolk you don’t destroy the whole batch. Even though I’m lazy I ALWAYS use this method.

Watch as many videos you can find about how to mix/fold correctly. Under mixing or over mixing is typically the main reason why macarons don’t come out right. Hint- err on the side of undermixing as you can always squeeze out the batter and redo. Youtube is great for this-type in the search area macaron and a plethora of videos will come up. To visually see how the batter is supposed to look will make a huge difference. I tried to make a video using my camera once but it was a disaster, otherwise I would post a video for you.

I hope this helps. Just know that we’ve all had times when our macs did not come out. I used to work in a commercial kitchen where we made thousands of macs in one day, and even the head pastry chef would have times where she would have to do over a recipe because she over mixed or whatever reason they did not come out right, so don’t beat yourself up if they don’t look perfect. They are very finicky.


Pink Pearl Apple Tart with Frangipane

 

I just love this time of year with all the various type of apples.  Is it just me, or are you also surprised each year on how many kind of apple varieties seem to pop up into the super market? I had heard about this particular variety last year so I went on a hunt this year. And by a hunt, I’m not kidding… Unfortunately I found out by some weird cruel joke that this little rouge gem has a short harvest life. Life can be so mean sometimes! None the less, my hauty tauty shi shi (high end super market) here in the Phoenix Valley (AJ’s) carried them. I finally got smart and called the produce department first to check. Yatzee! I snagged them and quickly wrapped them in a Debbie Meyer green bag to preserve their precious life!!!

Side note: If you don’t know about Debbie Meyer green bags– you need to buy them- they extend any produce for DAYsssssss. Anyway, I digress…back to the apples. The “pink pearl” is the apple that I swear has been kissed by God. It’s beauty is so unique. Some are light pink inside and some are down right fuchsia color. Are they not the coolest thing?! Can you tell I’m totally geeked out about them? They taste amazing too; they are kind of a cross between a Granny Smith and a Gala; tart but a little sweet at the same time.  They are crisp and hold their texture when used in baking.  The outside of the skin is thin and has a yellowy green color.

Pink Pearl Apple Tart with Frangipane

You will need a sheet a puff pastry. *Try to find the type that is all butter. I like Dufour brand.

Note: The typical brand you find in the grocer that is Pepperidg***** is NOT all butter. I sadly found this out when I was in pastry school years ago. I never knew. Just an FYI.

4-5 Sweet-tart apples, peeled, and sliced thin

 

Frangipane Filling

1/4 C unsalted butter (room temp)

1/4 C granulated sugar

pinch salt

1 egg (room temp)

1/2 Cup blanched almond flour

1/4 tsp. pure almond extract

 

*Egg wash for baking (one egg whisked with a fork)

*powdered sugar for serving

In a medium bowl: cream the butter, sugar, and salt together until smooth. Note: [A hand mixer is best]. Add the egg and beat until combined. Stir in the almond flour and extract and then beat just until combined. Note: If you over beat the mixture can separate. If you like your frangipane a little more smooth you can use the food processor just make sure to not over process or it can separate.

Thaw the puff pastry. Unfold and pinch any folds together with your fingers or gently roll with a rolling pin to smooth out creases. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place the puff pastry onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Score a 1 inch border around the perimeter of the puff, but don’t go all the way through the pastry. Spread the frangipane filling evenly onto the pastry but stay within the border. Shingle the apples tightly nestled on top of the filling and then sprinkle generously with granulated sugar. Brush the border with egg wash. Place the entire assembled tart on the sheet pan in the freezer for 10 minutes to chill prior to baking. (Puff pastry always needs to be very cold when it goes into the oven to ensure you get that great rise). Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until border is golden brown. Allow to cool slightly. Serve with a sprinkling of confectioners sugar. Note: the tart is best served the day it is made as the filling tends to soften the pastry.

 


Pumpkin Spice Whoopie Pies

I must admit- I’ve never really been into whoopie pies until last year when I made my first batch. I suddenly occurred to me that you know that trick everybody does where they take their cupcake and tear off the bottom and place it on top of the frosting to create a sandwich? well…it’s kind of like creating your own whoopie. Besides, whoopies are a whole lot cuter-especially when you make them mini size they are perfect party fair.

Come on, you know you want an excuse to call up your neighbor and ask “Do you want to come over for some whoopie?” Ha Ha Ha. Sorry, I had to slip that in there. But kidding aside, it’s fun to have the girls over to catch up on the neighborhood gossip (not kidding- kinda, sorta) while you scoot the boys outside to the deck  while they drink their beer so you can nibble on a few of these cuties drinking your seasonal drink of choice.

I made two mini sizes. I was playing around with the recipe during my recipe development phase; including even how to scoop them. At first I tried using the ice cream scoop method using a mini scoop, and they just did not come out uniform or smooth enough on top, (esp. since the batter is a bit sticky), so I switched to using the tried and true piping bag method. Not only was the piping bag method the winner but each and every cookie came out uniform in size (but full disclosure I used a template*See note below). I piped two different sizes (1.5 inch and 2 1/4 inch size). I know this is rather small, so you can obviously go bigger since we are talking really small here. I would not go bigger than 3 inch size though since they are a rich in flavor. I actually think the 2 1/4 inch size is perfect to be quite honest which is about 3 bites worth.

Pumpkin Spice Whoopie Pies

yield: 2-3 dozen depending on the # of size you make

3 Cups all purpose flour

1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. kosher salt

3 Cups canned pumpkin puree

1 C vegetable oil

2 eggs

2 Cups firmly packed light brown sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

 

In a large bowl place the pumpkin puree, vegetable oil, and egg and whisk to combine. Then add in the brown sugar and vanilla and whisk again to combine until smooth. Using a metal type strainer, hold it over the bowl and sift through the dry ingredients, then whisk until combined.  (Alternatively you can whisk the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add to the wet). Regardless, mix gently until the mixture is comes together but do not over mix. Fit a piping bag with a large round tip (I like to use an 806). Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350° F with rack in center position. Pipe batter spaced about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake one tray at a time 10-12 minutes until just set and when touched they spring back. Let cool on tray for a few minutes then remove to cool completely on wire rack. When cool sandwich with cream cheese frosting recipe. Note: for the 2 1/4 inch cookie size I felt that 1 tablespoon scoop frosting worked perfectly, and the smaller size, just use a little less.

* A long winded word about templates….I have a heavy paper type macaron template I use for my piping that I slide under the parchment paper and right before the cookies are ready to bake simply remove the template and reuse for the next tray when piping. I have various sizes that I’ve made over the years by copying circles with a sharpie around biscuit cutters. For a useful tip- Fold down the two opposite corners of your parchment sheets and then fold them back up so the corners are standing back up to use as a “Tab” so you can to grab the piping template a bit easier. If you don’t have the patience to make a template here are two recourses of two different sizes. For the 1.5 size the Southern Fatty blog has a template here. For a 2 1/4 inch size, here is a link for a 2 inch template here, and you can quickly trace with a 2 1/4 biscuit cutter using a pen to mark the outline so you have the right size and print out another sheet tape the two sides together so you can slide it under to fill a half sheet pan under your parchment. If this seems like a lot of work, you’re right, but you will be amazed that you will not waste any unmatched sized cookies when it comes to assembling your whoopies. Also, if you like to make macarons like I do- save your templates and you can use them over and over again multiple times. So, it’s up to you how OCD you want to be. Me, I’m a perfectionist when it comes to stuff like this, so hey, I can’t help myself.

Cream Cheese Filling

1 stick (1/2 C) unsalted butter (cold), cut into 1/4 inch size cubed pieces

8 oz. cream cheese (cold) and cut into 12 equal pieces

3 Cups confectioners sugar, sifted

1 tsp. vanilla

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the cold cubed butter and beat until pliable and the butter is sitting along the sides of the bowl. Scrape down the bowl, and beat a few more times on low. Add in the cold cream cheese and beat on low speed for a few minutes, stopping to scrape down, and in between  the beater to loosen the cream cheese so that it falls to the bottom of the work bowl. Continue to beat on low to medium speed for a few minutes until the two come together. Add in about half the confectioners sugar and stir speed slowly at first so that the sugar does not cause a mess, then increase speed and beat on slow to medium speed, increase speed in bursts, but do not beat at high speed-you want the mixture to remain cold so it does not turn runny. Add in the other half of the sugar and continue to stop and start and scrape down sides a needed and beat on low speed just it has come together. When it looks like it has come together, increase on high speed just for a few seconds to get rid of any lumps, but no longer than a few seconds. Cream cheese frosting is funny-if you beat it to death-it looses its structure and turns too runny. I have been making my cream cheese frosting this way rather than starting from room temperature and it always maintains it’s structure. It helps to have the cream cheese cut into small pieces when you start. You might have to practice a few times, so don’t be too disappointed if you don’t get it perfect the first time.  I hope you like this way!! I always start from cold now and it’s not failed me.

 

 

 


Classic Chewy Sugar Cookies

The classic bakery style chewy sugar cookie can be hard to replicate. Quite often they come out too hard and crispy and not chewy. The folks at Cooks Illustrated once again have figured this out and have a stellar recipe for a soft chewy cookie with a crispy edge that is really tasty. At first glance the recipe may sound a little daunting and complicated, but it’s really quite simple and easy. Just follow the steps and it comes together really easy. You don’t even need a stand mixer. Just a nice big bowl, plus a couple extra-one for sugar rolling, and another for mixing your dry ingredients.

This cookie was part of a care package for a young man who used to live in our neighborhood who is in basic training in the Army who sent us a letter, (he admitted he was a little lonely) and so my husband wrote him a letter back and I whipped up some goodies which also included some fudgy brownies which I will post at a later date as I’m tweaking that recipe slightly. The brownies were amazing, but I felt they could have used just a couple more tablespoons of sugar.

There’s nothing like being surprised getting a package when you’re not expecting it (I remember that feeling when I was at camp once while everyone around me was getting care packages except me and it was not a good feeling-but I digress…). The key to shipping cookies is to pack them snugly.  To retain moisture its best to place them into cellophane bags in small quantities of 3-4 with a twisty tie so they don’t jostle around in the box. I put 4 sugar cookies each in cellophane bags.  I wrapped the brownies individually in plastic wrap to keep their moisture as well. I then packed the cookies and brownies in an airtight plastic container separately that went inside the cardboard box. Any free space in the box, I used paper and scrunched it up and rolled it into the space so the cookies could not budge. You don’t want to go to all that trouble baking knowing that someone could be tossing your precious box all around to have your cookies reduced to crumbs.

Chewy Sugar Cookies

recipe: Cooks Illustrated via Food.com

yield: 24-30 cookies

2  1/4 C all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1  1/2 C sugar, plus more for rolling

2 oz. cream cheese (kept cold), cut into 8 pieces

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter melted, still warm

1/3 C vegetable oil

1 large egg

1 Tbsp. milk

2 tsp. vanilla

 

• Preheat oven to 350° F. Have oven rack set to middle position. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper. Note original recipe states the yield is 24 cookies but I got 30.

• Whisk first four ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.

• In a large bowl place the 1 1/2 Cups sugar and the cold cream cheese and pour over the melted butter and whisk to combine; some small pieces of the cream cheese will remain, but will smooth out later.

• Whisk in oil to combine. Add in egg, milk and vanilla and continue to use the whisk until batter is smooth.

• Switch over to a rubber spatula and fold in the flour mixture until homogenous mixture is achieved.

• Place about 1/2 Cup sugar in a shallow pie plate for rolling cookie dough.

• Use a 2 Tbsp. size cookie scoop to portion out even size scoops, then roll between your palms to form balls and roll balls in sugar to completely coat. Place balls on prepared lined parchment pans; no more than 12 cookies per each sheet pan; 3 across in 4 rows, as they will spread. Press down on balls with bottom of a drinking glass or (I like to use a 1/3 C metal measuring cup) until 2 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the top of each unbaked cookie with a pinch more little sugar. Bake one cookie sheet at a time. Bake in 350° F preheated oven for 11-13 minutes until edges are set. Don’t over-bake as you still want them to be chewy, and keep in mind they will firm up a bit as they cool.  I found that for my oven the right time was 12 minutes, but each oven is different.

• Place cookie sheet over a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove cookies to continue to cool onto the rack itself until cookies are completely cool.


THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON… A Homecoming for Oscar Boo

They say, THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON.

I always believed this, but the past year and a half, and almost two-this popular saying has been a bit hard to believe sometimes, as it has been a hard and painful road. I’ve had 2 back surgeries and as I type this I still have not been able to walk without pain, much less- been able to walk very far at all. My spinal surgeon said my nerve root was so compressed that it was “dented”. He tells me it could take a year to fully recover. Every day is a challenge as I heal, in more ways than one.  I lost my Mother in October of 2016. She had Alzheimers Disease and we watched her lively spirit slowly slip away.  Then 6 months later my Stepfather passed. My Faith has been severely tested, but never extinguished I’m happy to report. I’m not telling you this to feel sorry for me, but rather to paint the picture of my state of mind, as this story gets better, so stay with me…

In 2012 we moved to Taiwan (my Husband’s birthplace) from San Francisco to keep a closer eye on my Mother in Law who was not in good health at the time. We left our cuddle bug Jack Russell dog “Oscar” behind with one of our neighbors. Our neighbor was an elderly man named Bob who lived 2 houses down from us and adored our Oscar as much as we did.  I affectionately called Oscar my “Oscar Boo”.  Oscar was quite the character. We adopted him from a sweet gal named Sheerein, who operated her own dog shelter. I knew from the moment we met him that he was our dog. I bonded with him instantly. My Husband used to say Oscar was a reincarnated old man trapped inside the body of a dog. From the moment we got him we noticed he RARELY barked-but rather, he would just glare at you as if he was pissed at you for some reason. It was hysterical. A month in, and I had only heard him bark literally a few times, and I noticed it was when there was a suspicious noise outside, so we knew he would be a good guard dog. That dog had more personality than you could imagine. If he was left in the car (relaxSan Francisco is like 60 degrees year round, and we’re talking like 5 minutes left in the car) he would press on the horn, AND the hazard lights to get your attention. At first we thought it was a fluke, but then it happened again, over and over, time after time, so clearly he knew what he was doing. It was a riot. When you opened the passenger car door for him to get in, he would insist on scooting over to the driver’s seat as soon as you opened the car door to go somewhere instead of going to the backseat. He would give you this look like, “I’m the Captain, and I’m driving”. Eventually he would cave and go to the back. We had a convertible then and he loved to ride with the top down. It definitely fit his personality. He always acted like he was King. Oscar was not only smart, but agile and cunning like a human, I swear. If left in one of the rooms with a closed-door, he would rise up, take both his front paws and twist the door knobs to open either the door of the kitchen to get into the living room, as well as the door of the bedroom. We actually witnessed  him doing this. Like I said, just like a human.

He was the sweetest dog, but I remember the one time I was walking in the park in late afternoon near almost dark after barely having Oscar for a month, and I got a creepy feeling from this man who was walking behind me, so I slowed way down so that the man would pass me. The man tried to strike up a conversation with me and I kept getting a stranger danger vibe- and so did Oscar apparently because my sweet 19 pound Oscar all of a sudden stopped dead in his tracks, went full on CUJO, opened his mouth, snarled, and showed his teeth like I had never ever seen before. The man went running off scared like a 3 yr. old, and my sweet Oscar just looked over at me and kept trotting along as if nothing ever happened. From that day on, I knew he was more than just a lap dog.

When we moved to Taiwan, we decided to leave our dog with Bob, as we just could not bring ourselves to put our beloved dog through such a long quarantine of 6 months- which was required in Taiwan. (Oscar could barely handle being left for 6 minutes because he was originally abandoned at a doggy day care we learned when we adopted him), so anytime we left the house he went crazy. Besides, living in a high rise, concrete jungle was no place for a dog. Believe me, IT KILLED ME leaving him with Bob. In my mind I kind of knew it was a mistake-something JUST told me in the pit of my stomach, but I resolved that coming home to San Francisco from time to time to visit we could also visit Oscar and we knew he was in good hands.

Our friend Bob ended up hospitalized and passing while on a trip to Los Angeles and Oscar was sent to a shelter; we heard from Sheerein. Oscar was found running along a street in LA, a long way from his home in San Francisco.  My heart sank when I heard this. She tried to intervene on our behalf to try to get him for us, as at this point we were back living in the States, but she was not able to figure out where he ended up, as the shelter said he went to a “family member”, and they did not know where, or to whom. The funny thing is that, when we gave him to Bob we were never able to transfer his documentation status online to Bob for the microchip. I tried several times, and he tried several times and the computer just never accepted it, so we just let it go. Matter of fact- we were never able to transfer the chip to OUR name when we adopted him from Sheerein, so we left it as is, and I let Sheerein know as well.

THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON.

When we originally adopted Oscar and could not transfer his micro chip status in 2011 Sheerein always said it was fine as if anything happened to Oscar, she knew that the local shelters all knew her well, and they would contact her if he popped up on any scan. So we went about our life. We never knew where Oscar ended up after Bob passed as she tried desperately to locate any family members of Bob through the shelter where Oscar was found, to no avail. We knew Bob had family in Arkansas, so we assumed that’s where Oscar ended up, and I tried to just let it go. My heart sank thinking of all the sweet memories of Oscar and wishing he was back with us. She kept our information and said that if she ever heard of anything she would contact me. I figured it was a lost cause.

Fast forward- 2  1/2 years. Just when you’re feeling like nothing is going right in your life, and you’re starting to have one of those pitty party’s of one. Like seriously- Lord, throw me a bone here….the date is August 2nd, and I’m feeling rather blue. A typical day. I open my email. Wait, what????

I spot an email. It jumps off the screen. Subject line reads: “I have located Oscar”  its from Sheerein.

I can’t open it fast enough. I can’t believe what I’m reading. She’s telling me, Oscar was located near Sacramento. He was abandoned and brought into a shelter. Because his microchip is still in her name, they contacted her.

THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON.

I haven’t seen him in 5 years.

Long story short, my Husband drove 17 hours to California to pick him up, and then turned right around for another 17 to Arizona to bring him home.

But wait there’s more!….

When Oscar was brought into the shelter he came in with another dog, a female Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix named Bella. They said that Oscar bonded with her and “She was his girlfriend”. The shelter said the two were inseparable. When my Husband heard this from Sheerein he told  her to ask the shelter if they would let us adopt her. They reported most likely Bella would be put down if not adopted right away since the shelter was a “High kill shelter”.  Sheerein intervened on our behalf and they agreed.

I’ve been holding onto this story for a bit as today is “Clear the Shelters Day” Adopt a dog. Don’t shop. Rescue an abandoned soul. Oscar is what you’d call more of a “Sparkling Wine” kind of dog, and Bella is definitely more “Pabst Blue Ribbon” if you catch my drift. Love doesn’t always make sense on the surface.  What does make sense is Love is comfort. Oscar gives me comfort. Bella gives Oscar comfort, and certainly Oscar gives Bella comfort. Today give someone you love some comfort, whether that be a hug, a kiss, or a sweet passing sentiment. One thing I know is for sure.

THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON.

Here is a picture of Bella giving Oscar a kiss. Notice the smile on his face…

 “DON’T LOSE FAITH”

THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON….

 

 

 


Chocolate Peanut Butter Snickers Pie

I picked up the latest special issue from Bake From Scratch dedicated to “Artisan pies and tarts”. I love this magazine-it has become one of my all time favorites. Their peanut butter pie on page 56, is a virtual no bake pie- only a quick trip in the oven for the crust and the rest is no bake. Perfect for summer in this August sweltering heat.  I adapted the recipe slightly by adding in some mini snickers bites. I was not able to find the preferred Famous brand chocolate wafer cookie so often used in chocolate crust recipes so I ended up swapping in chocolate graham cracker crumbs and bumped up the melted butter a titch as well as adding in a bit of cocoa powder. If you can find the Famous brand chocolate wafer cookies they lend a deeper chocolate flavor for the crust. This pie is rich and super creamy so a little slice with a cup of hot coffee will do you just fine! Allow it to sit for a few minutes out of the fridge before diving in to allow the chocolate ganache on the bottom to soften. Peanut butter lovers will adore this pie!

 

Pour half of the filling over the ganache, then push the Snickers bites into the filling, then top with the other half of the filling. If you can’t find them, you can just chop up regular Snickers.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Snickers Pie

recipe adapted slightly from special issue “Artisan pies and tarts”  Peanut Butter Pie (Bake From Scratch)

Chocolate Crumb Crust

1  1/2 Cups chocolate cookie crumbs (either Famous chocolate wafers or chocolate graham cracker crumbs*)

7 Tbsp. melted butter

1/4 C sugar

pinch of salt

2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder* (add only if using choc. graham cracker crumbs)

 

In a food processor blitz the cookies/crackers along with the sugar and salt, and (cocoa powder if using) until the mixture is fine. Add in the melted butter and pulse until incorporated. Pour the crust into a standard size 9 inch pie plate and press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides. Bake in a 350° F preheated oven for 10 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack until cooled completely.

Chocolate Ganache

4 oz. 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine (I used Ghirardelli brand)

1/4 C heavy whipping cream

Microwave the chocolate and cream in a microwave safe bowl on high in 20 second intervals, stirring in between until mixture is smooth and melted.

Peanut Butter Snickers Filling

8 oz. cream cheese, room temp

1 C creamy peanut butter

1/2 C roasted salted peanuts, chopped

1/4 C sugar

1/4 honey

1 C heavy whipping cream

~ 27-28 Snickers baking bites (I found them in the baking aisle)

• In the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, beat one cup of the heavy cream on high speed until stiff peaks form. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

• Using the same bowl (no need to wash) switch to the paddle attachment and beat the cream cheese and peanut butter until smooth; stopping to scrape the bottom and sides as needed. Add in the peanuts, sugar, and honey and contine to beat until combined. Fold in one-third of the reserved whipped cream from step one, and continue to fold in the rest of the whipped cream.

• Assembly: Pour the ganache in the bottom of the crust and smooth out with the back of a spoon. Pour in half of the peanut butter filling, and smooth til flat, then top with about 28 of the Snickers bites. Pour on the rest of the filling and smooth with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Chill the pie for at least 3 hours. Top with whipped cream if desired and top with chopped Snickers- (I used the same snickers baking bites and cut them in half for the garnish).