Friday, December 31, 2010

Chocolate Cupcakes.

I don't have much to say about 2010, just lots to reflect on and think about.  It was an amazing and emotional year and if 2011 is as good as 2010 was, I think I'm going to explode.

I seem to talk about my love of cupcakes more than I actually make cupcakes or eat them.  I suppose this is mostly because I can't control myself when I'm around a little individual-sized cake with its own portion of frosting and adorable sprinkles.  But you know what?  Just hours from now is a new year and this actually does call for some indulgence, even from me, little miss self-control.  (I lost 90lbs. this year so I'm going to have my cupcake and eat it too.)

I hope everyone is able to indulge a little tonight and have an amazing start to 2011.  Next Saturday I'm flying back to North Carolina for 8 days and I can't wait.  If these cupcakes and a trip to see some of my favorite people aren't a great start to a new year, I truly don't know what is :)

Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from Eating Well
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup strong coffee, still warm (instant or otherwise, doesn't matter)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. F and line your cupcake tins with papers. (I got 36 mini cupcakes out of this batter, you should be able to get 12 regular sized cupcakes or 1 9-inch layer.)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, white sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and soda and salt and whisk to make sure everything is well mixed.  In a smaller bowl, combine the buttermilk, brown sugar, egg, oil and vanilla extract.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and beat for 2 minutes.  (I did this by hand with a spatula, just make sure everything is very well combined.)  Stir in the coffee until you have a fairly liquid batter.  Divide the batter among the cupcake papers and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, checking after about 8 minutes.

Dust with powdered sugar or frost and decorate as desired.  Devour without guilt because you deserve cupcakes after this year :)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Tree Coffee Cake.

 I have never known a Christmas morning without this coffee cake.  In one way or another, made by my mother, myself, or a combination of the both of us, it's probably the only Christmas tradition we've stuck by year after year and I love it.  The tradition AND the coffee cake :)  They're sweet yeasted rolls in the shape of a Christmas tree with a delicious nutmeg-spiced cream cheese and pineapple filling, drizzled with a confectioner's sugar glaze and sprinkled with red and green sugar and finally topped with maraschino or candied cherries to look like ornaments.

This recipe makes enough for two tree-shaped coffee cakes, but we usually put the second batch in a 9-inch cake pan and freeze it, then pull it out in warmer months, let it defrost and rise when we want the comforting taste of Christmas.

Christmas Tree Coffee Cake
Adapted from Ladies' Home Journal, December 1982

4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 packages (I just used 5 teaspoons, although 1 packet contains 2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 large egg

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cans (8 ounces each) crushed pineapple, drained

11 glace or maraschino cherries, halved
2 cups confectioner's sugar
3 tablespoons milk
Red and green decorating sugar or sprinkles

To make the dough, combine 2 cups of flour, the sugar, salt, nutmeg, and yeast in a large mixing bowl.

In a small saucepan, combine the milk, water and butter and heat until the mixture registers about 110 to 120 degrees F.  Gradually add the warm milk mixture to the dry ingredients and beat for 2 minutes at medium speed.  Add egg and another cup of flour, and beat for another 2 minutes.  Stir in enough additional flour to make a stiff but still sticky dough, about 1 more cup.  Transfer this dough to a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.

When you're ready to shape the trees, combine the ingredients for the filling except the pineapple in a mixing bowl until everything is very well mixed.  Stir in the pineapple.

Grease 2 large baking sheets or line them with parchment paper.  Divide the dough in half and roll one half out to an 11x10-inch rectangle.  Spread with half of the filling and roll up, starting from the 11-inch side, pinching the seam to seal the roll.  Cut into 1-inch pieces and place each piece cut side down on the baking sheet - a picture of this helps - 1 roll is the tree stump, 1 is the top of the tree, then from the bottom make a row of 4, 3, and then 2.  Don't let the rolls touch each other or they'll be too squished after baking.

You can put this in the refrigerator overnight and then let it rise or just keep it out at room temperature and let rise until doubled, the rolls should be almost touching each other and fluffy.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes, then cover the edges with foil to prevent burning and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the center is nice and lightly browned.

For the topping, whisk together the sugar and milk until you have a drizzling consistency.  Drizzle over the coffee cakes and then sprinkle with the sugars.  Dot each roll with half of a cherry and dig in :)

Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas Eve and Christmas filled with family and friends!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Mocha and Toasted Almond Biscotti.

My only excuse for making these is that I had no chocolate cookies to put on cookie plates for Christmas this year ;) Not that anyone really needs an excuse to make chocolate anything.  This wasn't my favorite chocolate biscotti recipe ever, the dough crumbled when I tried to slice it thinly (I prefer thinner over thicker biscotti), but the taste is great so I suppose that makes up for it.

Mocha and Toasted Almond Biscotti
Adapted from Nestle
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons butter, softened
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line one large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour through cinnamon) until well combined.  Cream the butter and sugar until lightened in color, about 2 minutes on medium speed.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract and mix for another minute.  Add the dry ingredients and almonds, making sure everything is well incorporated.

Divide the dough in half and form each half into a 12-inch roll.  Place the logs onto the baking sheet and flatten slightly.  Bake until firm, about 20-25 minutes.  Take out of the oven, reduce the heat to 325, and let the cookie logs cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing the logs into 1/2-inch strips and placing the slices back on the sheet.  Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes.

I drizzled these with some white chocolate and sprinkled with Christmas nonpareils, feel free to do the same or not, however I do think the sweetness of the white chocolate works very well against the espresso powder and toasted almonds :)

Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Peanut Butter Delights.

Or PBD's, as my boyfriend likes to refer to them.  I've been hearing about these for years now, a candy my boyfriend's mother makes especially around the holidays.  I knew about the general idea of them and a few of the ingredients, but I wasn't able to come up with a recipe that looked accurate at all on the internet.  So luckily we got her to write it down for me :)  And sure enough, it's nothing like the ones I've seen floating around the web.  Apparently these are a very localized thing down there, they even sell them at gas stations!

These are a great little peanut butter and chocolate flavored candy, flecked with oatmeal for a lovely and addictive texture.  I highly suggest making a batch to add to your gift-giving this holiday season, or any time of year.  I plan on putting a bunch on my cookie plates as well! 

Peanut Butter Delights
Adapted from James' Mom
1 stick of butter (she wrote down margarine, I always have butter in the house, but feel free to use either one)
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup milk (I used skim, works great!)
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups quick-cooking oatmeal

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the sugar and bring to a boil, and let it bubble away for 1 minute.  Add the other ingredients and stir until everything is well combined.  Drop teaspoonfuls onto wax paper and let cool.

Sidenote:  as you can see, I attempted to put sprinkles on these because you can't get enough sprinkles, especially around Christmas, (although no one ever puts sprinkles on PBD, according to James, he called this a "very Beth touch.")  This proved a bit difficult, maybe because it's so cold here, but I did have to sprinkle as soon as I dropped the spoonful onto the wax paper, otherwise the sprinkles didn't stick. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Spiced Orange Sugar Cookies.

I'm not sure what it is, but I've always loved piping.  Holding a pastry bag gives me instant comfort (even when I was working at bakeries and nothing was going right that day.)  Maybe it's because I know what I'm doing, I feel comfortable with it - yet every year I debate whether or not to do decorated sugar cookies for Christmas.

Food should first and most importantly taste good.  I stick with that in everything I bake and cook.  The problem with sugar cookies is that they often look oh so lovely, but taste pretty bad - too sweet, no flavor, dry, the icing is plasticky or flakes off like chalk.  (Believe me, I tasted enough scraps when I worked in bakeries to know...)  So when I do decide to make decorated sugar cookies, the cookie base itself MUST be delicious and flavorful because I prefer royal icing for decorating which doesn't allow for much creativity when it comes to flavors (unless you add extracts, of course.)  You can also feel free to use a simple powdered sugar glaze to decorate (powdered sugar with milk or water and food coloring, if you wish - my problem with this method is that it's always too liquidy to pipe into enough detail), or just sprinkle the cookies with sanding sugar or sprinkles before baking as well.

I love this recipe for cutouts because you can re-roll the scraps 3 or 4 times and the baked cookies taste just as tender as the ones rolled out the first 2 times.  I do have to say for my snowflake shapes it helped to freeze the sheets of dough that had been stamped with the cutter and then carefully remove the shape when frozen, but it shouldn't be necessary with shapes that aren't as fragile or intricate.

To use this dough as a basic sugar cookie cut-out recipe, just omit the orange zest and spices.

Spiced Orange Sugar Cookies
Adapted from Big Fat Cookies by Elinor Klivans
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
Zest of 1 orange
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour through spices) until well combined.  In a large mixing bowl, cream the orange zest, butter, shortening and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat well.  Add the dry ingredients slowly, mixing until everything is incorporated.

Divide the dough into 2 discs, wrap well with plastic, and refrigerate for an hour or until it becomes much less sticky to roll.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Roll out the dough to about 1/4-1/2'' thick and cut shapes out, placing them on parchment-lined baking sheets.  Re-roll as much as you need (or want) to, and when you're ready to bake, pop them in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, depending on how thin or thick you cut the cookies.  They should be a nice golden around the edges and on the bottom of the cookie.  Let them cool completely on the sheets, then keep them in airtight containers either at room temperature until you're ready to decorate, or in the freezer for longer storage.

Gluten Free Italian Herb Cheese Bread.

Among all the sweets I've been making this holiday season, there came a need for something savory to go with the pot roast we were having for Sunday dinner.  "Salad?" my mom asked.  I said "Nah, how about biscuits, bread?"  It was too late in the day to be pulling out the yeast, but I knew a quick bread would be perfect.  This is along the same lines as a beer bread, the savory version of zucchini or banana bread and it is gooood.  I rarely make savory quick breads, but it might be time to start making more.

Gluten Free Italian Herb Cheese Bread
Adapted from The Gluten-Free Vegetarian Kitchen by Donna Klein

2 cups tapioca flour
1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup gluten free shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese
1/3 cup skim milk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. F and lightly spray a 9x5'' loaf pan with cooking spray or oil.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and soda, herbs, salt and cheese until everything is well-combined.  In a smaller bowl, whisk the milk, eggs, water and olive oil together.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring very well.  (No need to worry about overmixing here!) 

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean and the top and edges are golden brown.  Let cool slightly, then slice and serve.  Any leftover bread can be wrapped well and frozen.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gingerbread Cookies.

I came across this recipe while looking through my many cookie books a few weeks ago and decided to use it against other recipes I'd found for a few reasons:  It only called for 1 stick of butter and the dough could be rolled out immediately after being made.  That's not to say you can't refrigerate or freeze it - I did this with the half I didn't roll out straight after making it and everything turned out great.  But I think one of the reasons people hesitate to make cut-out cookies in general is because even though refrigerating the dough takes no effort from you whatsoever, it means waiting or preparing ahead of time - and time is something people don't have a lot of, especially around the holidays.

I found this recipe in Good Housekeeping Favorite Recipes Cookie book, but the link to the recipe I used is listed here.  I increased the spices as usual in my adaptation but kept everything else the same and they taste wonderful.  You can bake them for a shorter amount of time if you want a softer cookie, or until they get slightly brown around the edges for a crispy cookie.

Gingerbread Cutouts
Adapted from Good Housekeeping
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light molasses
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 large egg
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

In a medium saucepan, heat the sugar, molasses, spices and salt and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Remove the pan from the heat when it boils and stir in the baking soda - it will bubble up and lighten in color, then stir in the butter and the egg.  Add the flour and mix until a dough forms.

At this point you can go ahead and roll out your cookies right away and bake in a 325 degree oven or you can wrap the dough in plastic or wax paper and refrigerate or freeze it.  I do suggest taking the dough out at least an hour before you want to cut out cookies if you chill the dough, it is quite crumbly when cold.

You can sprinkle these with sugar or nonpareils before baking or use royal icing or a glaze afterward.  Have fun! :)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ohhh the holidays...

This isn't so much a recipe post as it is a question - (related to this post by Confessions of a Cookbook Queen, I never get invited to Christmas parties either!) during the holidays, do people really "drop by unexpectedly" ?  I have always wondered this because it's not something that happens to me or my family at all, even around this time of the year.  It's so nice to read cookbooks and recipes and blogs for cookies, candies and treats and think about "friends and family dropping by" and having lots of goodies to offer them, with fresh pots of aromatic coffee, but how often does this actually happen to people?  In my experience it's difficult enough to find time to get my immediate family all together this time of year just for a few hours.

In any case, this year I've scaled back on the amount of Christmas cookies and desserts I'm making.  It always seems like cookies are the big thing for Christmas but every year I make them and I feel like I have to shove them on people in order for them to be out of my house by New Year's.  Maybe it's because my family is so used to having goodies around since the ones I sent to my boyfriend in North Carolina were promptly consumed within 4 days (a tin with 6 varieties no less!)

As Christmas approaches though, I'd like to be taking pictures and jotting down notes and recipes of the things I do end up making this year, what worked and what didn't.  I've already been perfecting a sugar cookie recipe that works best for me, and I'm looking forward to making notes of them here.

To conclude this post, happy holidays to everyone out there who comes across this blog, I hope you're finding time to enjoy it a little bit every day :)