Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012

Merry Christmas!  

A couple of weeks ago at church, my pastor spoke about three things that can rob us of joy at Christmas time.  One thing was selfishness. One thing was jealousy. One thing was expectations. As I reflected on the sermon, I have realized that I often set expectations too high of myself & all that I can accomplish (or at least try to accomplish), especially during the busyness of the Holiday Season.

My husband and I are currently in the midst of a holiday trip--we’re spending a white Christmas in ND with my family (especially bittersweet this year, because of Grandma), and we’ll fly to SC later this week to spend New Year’s with his family.  To top it all off, I’ve come down with some crazy sickness, which I’ve been battling a losing battle against since last week.

I had all these expectations of holiday posts & things to share during this special season & while we’re away.  But instead, I’m spending this time with my family & friends. And trying to get over this sickness.  I’ll be back in January with new posts & things to share.  If you want to keep up with the day-to-day goings on, feel free to follow me on Instagram.

I wish you all a blessed Christmas.  Hug your loved ones tight.  See you next year.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Waffle Weekend: Cranberry Waffles with Orange Sauce

In honor of my husband’s birthday (which was yesterday), I’d like to share this very special edition of “Waffle Weekend.”  It’s no secret that we love breakfast, so we threw a brunch birthday party for him this past weekend.

These fresh cranberry waffles with orange sauce were one of the items we served.  We also served them with an optional side of cranberry pecan jam that I developed for Small Batch.    

I created this waffle combination as a variation on another one of my favorite holiday items: my family’s cranberry cake with butter sauce.  My dad’s family always serves this cranberry cake on Christmas day, after we have finished our mid-day meal.  The cake has a lovely tartness from the fresh cranberries (which are always cut into quarters by hand...). But that tartness is offset by the ladle of ever-rich, tooth cavity inducing, butter sauce that is poured over the cake.  I may (or may not) admit to perhaps even licking my plate to  ensure I’ve consumed every last morsel of cake & drip of sauce....

These waffles take those same flavors & convert them to a breakfast food.  The waffles are crisper than the cake (as good waffles should be), and yet they still retain the same tartness that comes from fresh cranberries.  I added the orange component to the butter sauce to brighten the flavor a little bit & reduce the shock of the sweetness.

The brunch was a huge success!  By the end, the waffles were nearly gone, the creamy grits had completely disappeared, the bacon was almost entirely consumed, only one piece of quiche remained, and we all sported very happy bellies.

Cranberry Waffles
One of my biggest words of wisdom when throwing a brunch party is to make as many things ahead of time as possible.  Case in point, these waffles.  No one wants to be stuck in the kitchen cooking waffles during a party.  I cooked these ahead of time, refrigerated them, and reheated them in the oven right before guests arrived.  

1 c (heaping) fresh cranberries, cut into quarters
2 c AP Flour (I used Jeanne's GF AP flour Mix)
1 Tbl Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 c Granulated Sugar
Zest from half of an orange
4 ea Eggs, at room temp
1/4 c Butter, melted
1/4 c Vegetable Oil (plus additional for waffle iron)
2 c Buttermilk, at room temp (or 2 c milk with a splash of lemon juice)

1. Cut the fresh cranberries into quarters & set aside.  Preheat the waffle iron.
2.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, powder, soda, and salt.  Set aside
3.  In a large bowl, mix the orange zest and the sugar together until the zest is well dispersed throughout the sugar.  Whisk in the eggs, butter & vegetable oil.  Stir until well combined. Add the buttermilk & stir until combined.
4.  Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet mix & stir until just combined.  Fold in the cranberries.
5.  Cook the mixture on a well greased waffle iron.

Orange Butter Sauce
1 c Sugar
1 orange, zested
1 c Heavy Cream
1/2 c Butter
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1.  Mix the sugar with the orange zest until the zest is well dispersed throughout.
2.  In a heavy sauce pan, combine all ingredients & heat over medium high heat.  Stir constantly & cook until the mixture comes to a boil.  Boil  1 minute & remove from heat.
3.  Stir in vanilla.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Candy Cane Dipped Marshmallows

When I taught the course Advanced Bakeshop, we had a petit fours & mini pastries-themed week.  During that week’s class, we made s’mores dipped marshmallows.  Those marshmallows remain one of my favorite items my classes made.  

Since then, I’ve schemed other varieties of dipped marshmallows. These candy-cane dipped marshmallows are just one example of my brainstorming.  

Ideas for other flavors of dipped marshmallows may make appearances in future months.  But, I figured that window for candy cane-flavored items is pretty slim :) 

Homemade marshmallows are so very delicious (though I don’t really discriminate against against commercial/store-bought marshmallows either).  And taking homemade marshmallows, like this candy cane flavored variety, and dipping them makes them even more amazing.  

I started by making my favorite recipe for vanilla marshmallows & I added two candy canes to the cooking sugar syrup.  The candy canes add a slight peppermint flavor & dye the marshmallows a pale pink color.  

Then, the marshmallows set & were cut into squares.  I dipped them diagonally in white coating chocolate & rolled them in extra candy cane pieces.  

After the chocolate sets, they’re great to eat all on their own.  But I have this suspicion they’d also be great addition to a holiday, sugar cookie s’more or added to your favorite hot cocoa.  In my next post, I’ll show these marshmallows in one of my favorite hot cocoa recipes.  

Candy Cane Marshmallow Base
1 oz Powdered Gelatin (approximately 4 envelopes)
2 oz Cold Water
8 oz Granulated Sugar
6 oz Corn Syrup, divided
3 oz Warm Water
2 candy canes, broken into pieces 
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Nonstick spray, as needed 

  1. Spray an 8x8 pan with non-stick spray.  Line the pan with plastic wrap, allowing for a slight overhang on two sides.  Smooth out as many wrinkles as possible and spray the top of the plastic wrap. 
  2. Place the cold water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the cold water & allow it to sit and bloom.  Set aside. 
  3. In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan fitted with a candy thermometer, add the granulated sugar, 3 oz of the corn syrup, the warm water and the candy cane pieces.  
  4. Heat the sauce pan over medium high heat, without stirring, until the candy cane pieces completely dissolves and the mixture reaches 238 F. 
  5. Place the remaining corn syrup in the bowl of a stand mixer. Set the whisk attachment near the bowl. 
  6. Once the syrup reaches 238 F, immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour into the stand mixer bowl.  Attach the bowl to the mixer & fit with the whisk attachment.  
  7. Turn the mixer on medium speed & carefully add the bloomed gelatin, one Tablespoon at a time.  
  8. Once all the gelatin has been added, increase the mixer speed to high & whip until the mixture is thick, opaque in color & has cooled down until the bowl is just warm to the touch.  Add the vanilla 
  9. Immediately (working as quickly as possible) spread the marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan. Use the overhanging plastic wrap to pull the mixture over until it is approximately 1 inch in height.  
  10. Allow the marshmallows to set for several hours. Then use a sharp chef knife, coated in additional non-stick spray, to cut the marshmallows into 1 inch pieces. 

Marshmallows, cut into 1 inch pieces
White coating chocolate (such as Wilton candy melts or Merkens super coating, NOT regular chocolate) 
Candy canes, crushed 

  1.  Melt the coating chocolate.  
  2.  Dip the marshmallows diagonally into the coating chocolate. 
  3. Immediately roll the coated portions in the crushed candy canes.  If there are any bare spots, sprinkle additional pieces onto those spots. 
  4. Place the dipped marshmallow onto a pieces of parchment paper to harden.  
  5. Once all the marshmallows are dipped & harden, store them in an airtight container.  

Friday, December 7, 2012

Cheers to the Holidays with Christmas Punch

{UPDATE} I am also thrilled to announce that I will once again be working with Helene Dujardin & Clare Barboza as the Kitchen Manager/Chef for their April 2013 Food & Lifestyle Photography Workshop in Gulf Shores, Alabama!  Tickets go on sale Tuesday December 11th, so make sure you get one before they're gone!  

Our decorations are hung. Our tiny christmas tree is trimmed.  Some of the shopping is done. Christmas sugar cookies have been cut out & decorated. And I have made and consumed Christmas punch.  The season is off to a great start!  

Every holiday season, my family makes this Christmas punch.  Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without this particular punch.

Traditionally, on the evening of Thanksgiving, not so very long after Thanksgiving Dinner, all the leftovers are pulled out. Sandwiches are assembled.  And this punch is served, most likely in disposable cups (often of the red solo variety) with everyone’s name in sharpie on their own cup.

To my palate, the flavors help signal the official start of the holiday season.  Traditionally, this punch is made with cranberry cocktail juice, lemon/lime soda & lemonade concentrate.  However, when I make it, I often like to tweak the recipe, ever so slightly and add limeade concentrate instead.

And depending on who my serving audience is, I sometimes like to make it a bit more “grown up” by slightly spiking the punch with a little gin (or vodka works too, if your prefer).  I’ve also contemplated substituting sparkling wine for part of the soda, but that’s a variation I haven’t had a chance to try yet.

What’s great about this punch is the relative simplicity of the ingredients and how easily it can be made for small groups or large groups.  This time, I made only a small pitcher. But for our Thanksgiving gathering with friends, I made a whole punch bowl full.

Cheers to the holidays!

Christmas Punch
16 oz (2 cups) Cranberry Cocktail Juice
16 oz (2 cups) Lemon Lime soda
3 oz (approx generous 1/3 cup) Limeade concentrate, thawed 
Limes & Cranberries for garnish
Gin or Vodka (optional) 

1.  Stir together the juice, soda & concentrate.
2.  Add ice & limes & cranberries for garnish.
3.  Serve immediately.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Meringue Mushrooms & Buche de Noel

With the holiday season upon us, I've been working on some special items for Small Batch.  One item is this Buche de Noel (also known as a yule log) with meringue mushrooms.

Buche de Noel, along with many other Christmas treats, are not difficult to make, but they are time consuming.... And many people this time of year simply are too busy to make one themselves.  So, Small Batch will be making Buche de Noel, as well as other holiday specials decorated gingerbread or sugar cookies and cookie platters.

Since this Buche de Noel is a Small Batch item, I can't share the full recipe with you.  But I can share the recipe for the meringue mushrooms.  Aren't the mushrooms just so adorable?  French meringue, melted chocolate chips, cocoa powder & patience are the only ingredients necessary to make your own meringue mushrooms.  One word of caution, I wouldn't make these mushrooms on a rainy or especially humid day.... Meringue and humidity do not mix, and soggy, sticky mushrooms are usually the result :(

Of all the meringues, french meringue is the easiest to make.  Egg whites (absolutely NO yolk present), granulated sugar & a little cream of tartar are beaten together until stiff peaks are formed.  Cream of tartar helps to keep the meringue white, in case you were wondering.  No heating involved, like is needed for swiss or italian meringues.

The thick, white, glossy meringue is placed into a piping bag fitted with a large round tip.  Don't worry about your piping skills (or lack-thereof)  .  Remember that mushrooms are rustic.  They grow in nature.  No two are exactly the same.  Plus, once they're decorated and placed on a dessert, everyone will be so busy gushing over their adorableness that no one will notice any irregularities.

Mushroom caps are piped onto one parchment-lined baking sheet.  Mushroom stems are piped onto another.  Why separate pans? Just in case they bake at different rates.  If they're on separate pans, they can be removed from the oven at different times, if it is necessary.  The meringues are baked at a low temperature to make them hard and crispy, but not to brown them at all.  The mushrooms should be white before they're baked AND after they're baked.

Once the meringues are cooled, the assembly process begins.  Using a toothpick or sharp paring knife, a small hole is made in the bottom of each cap so that the caps & stems can be joined.  The tops of the caps are dusted with a little bit of sifted cocoa powder.  Melted chocolate chips are used to paint the bottom of the cap to look like the mushroom gills.  The chocolate is also piped into the hole to join the caps & stems.  Once they are joined, the chocolate just needs to harden before they are ready for use.

After the chocolate hardens, immediately use the mushrooms on something like a yule log, or store them in an airtight container.  They should (fingers crossed) last for a couple weeks before becoming soggy.

Meringue Mushrooms
adapted from Joy of Baking
yields approximately 24 mushrooms

2 large egg whites, completely free from yolk
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
100 g Granulated Sugar
1 oz Chocolate Chips, melted
Cocoa Powder, for dusting

1.  Wash the bowl to a stand mixer to ensure it is completely free of any fat particles that may cause the meringue not to increase in volume.

2.  While the eggs are still cold, separate them into whites and yolks.  Place the whites into the clean mixer bowl.  Cover and allow to sit at room temperature to warm up.

3.  Preheat the oven to 200 F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Fit pastry bags with  large round tips (I used an Ateco size 808 for the caps and size 804 for the stems).

4.  Combine the granulated sugar with the cream of tartar.

5.  Once the egg whites have come to room temperature, whip them, using the whisk attachment, until foamy.  Add the sugar/cream of tartar mixture.  Increase the mixer speed to high & whip until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture holds stiff peaks.  During mixing, scrape down the bowl a couple of times to ensure the sugar has not collected on the sides of the bowl.  To test if the meringue is at stiff peaks, remove the bowl from the mixer, swirl the whip attachment around the bowl a couple of times, then raise lift the whip attachment out of the bowl and turn it over.  If the peak on the top of the whip stands straight up, it has reached stiff peaks.  If it falls over, beat the meringue a little longer.

6.  Once the meringue reaches stiff peaks & has become very thick and glossy, portion approximately 2/3 to 3/4 of the meringue into the pastry bag fitted with the larger tip and the remaining meringue into the bag fitted with the smaller tip.

7.  On the parchment lined sheet pans, pipe caps onto one pan and stems onto another.  For the caps, pipe even rounds of meringue.  Try to make as even as possible.  Once the volume & size you desire is reached, immediately stop pressure on the piping bag & swirl clockwise to end.  If you end up with a little bit of a peak, dip your finger in a little water and smooth out the top.  But don't stress too much... after all, the mushrooms should look natural and rustic.  I like to pipe different sizes of caps, some small and some larger.

8.  For the stems, use the smaller tip to pipe a cone shape.  Make sure to pipe the base wide enough to hold up the mushroom caps.  As you pipe, lift the bag upwards, release pressure on the bag & swirl off.   Sometimes the bases fall over during the piping or baking process, so give them some additional room between & pipe a few extras.

9.  Once the shapes are piped, place them into the preheated oven.  Bake for 45 minutes, leaving the oven door shut throughout.  At the 45 minute mark, rotate the pans and continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the meringues are hard, but have not developed any color.

10.  Once baked, allow the meringues to cool completely.

11.  To assemble, use a tooth pick or sharp paring knife to carefully make a small hole in the bottom of each mushroom cap--the hole should be just large enough to fit the tips of the mushroom stems.  Use a fine sifter to sift a little cocoa powder "dirt" over each mushroom cap.  A dry brush may be used to smudge the cocoa, if desired.

12.  Paint the bottom of the caps with chocolate to make the mushroom gils & pipe a little chocolate into each hole.  Fit the tip of the seem into the cap.  Set back on the pan and allow the chocolate to set completely.

13.  Once the chocolate has completely hardened, use the meringues immediately or store them in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to use.  Caution, do not refrigerate the meringues or they will become soggy!