Thursday, December 23, 2010

What's Baking? December: Holiday Colors

For this month's What's Baking, the challenge was to bake something with holiday colors. I think it took me about 2 days to decide what to bake... I found a recipe for red velvet cookies and decided I needed to bake them.

To increase my use of holiday colors (in case the red velvet wasn't quite red enough), I tinted the frosting green. Note on food coloring: I've recently made the switch from the regular little bottles of liquid food coloring to gel food coloring. In the past I've enjoyed paste colors (from my Martha Stewart cake decorating kit), but even if you're careful and cap them tightly, they still dry out. The gel colorings seem to color food just as vividly as paste, but I find them easier to work with. My mom gave me a box of 8 colors of Americolor gel food coloring in my Christmas stocking last year, and I've used nothing else since. The green frosting took a single squirt of color, and I'm sure I'd have needed at least half the bottle of liquid color for that shade.

Red Velvet Sandwich Cookies
from The Family Kitchen

Note: for Christmas, I made a double batch, and got about 3 dozen sandwiches

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2T buttermilk (or 2T regular milk with a dash of white vinegar, and let that sit for a few minutes before using)
1t vanilla extract
Red food coloring: 1T liquid or a healthy squirt of gel- add until you like the color
1 1/3 cups flour (I used AP, but part WW might be good)
1/4 cupcocoa powder
1t baking powder
1/4t baking soda
1/2t salt

Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the eggs, milk, vanilla and red color and beat a few minutes, til fluffy. In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingedients (sifting is important, I did not sift and that's a mistake- my Hershey's cocoa stayed in chunks and I got Dune in my chocolately cookie (gold star if you get the reference).) and add to the wet ingredients (add in 2 parts, so you don't get flour and cocoa flying all over).

Here's where I differed from the recipe: drop 1T of dough on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. 2-3T makes an enormous cookie and you'll only get 12 cookies from the batch, which simply is not enough. Bake for 375F 12-15 minutes, until they're no longer gooey. Frost after they're completely cooled.

Frosting: I did not use the cream cheese frosting in the recipe, because I married Mr Red Velvet Connoisseur, who despises the use of cream cheese frosting on red velvet cake and declares it's just wrong. I used my own favorite childhood frosting, Suzie Q Filling, which is about the same as my husband's chosen frosting recipe (how interesting our favorite childhood frostings are the same...)

Suzie Q Filling
delicious on all sorts of chocolate cakes
recipe from my mom, who got it from someone at a Tupperware party in the 1980s

1 cup milk
5T flour
1/2 cup crisco
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2t salt
1t vanilla

In a small saucepan, whisk together the flour and milk. Cook over medium or medium-high heat for a few minutes, until it's very thick. Remove from heat and cool until it's just lukewarm. Mother says this is called "poor man's frosting".

In the bowl of your mixer, beat together the crisco and butter (you can use all crisco or all butter if you like). Add in the sugar and beat until it's fairly fluffy, then add in the salt, vanilla and milk/flour mixture. Mother's instruction: "beat like hell". This means turn your mixer on and go sort the mail, or vacuum, or check your email. I'm kind of kidding, but just let it beat for a few minutes (scrape down the sides if you need to, though). Add in food coloring if you like.

To make sandwich cookies:
unless you baked them perfectly and they're all exactly the same size, before you frost, match up pairs that are the same size before you start frosting. I find the easiest way to frost is to scoop the frosting into a plastic bag and cut off the corner to pipe onto the cookies, rather than spreading with a knife- that just gets messy. Pipe some frosting onto the cookie (not too much, these are more solid than whoopie pies, so when you bite in, all the frosting will squirt out the sides) and top with the paired cookie. And voila, sandwich cookies!

Note: I love the texture of these cookies- they're a cross between a whoopie pie and a cookie, cake-like, but nicely firm but not quite crisp on the edges. I could eat these all day long...

A note on Christmas cookies

I hear many people asking about frosting cookies. Oh it's so hard, how do you get the nice, even lines, etc. Here's a secret: I'm pretty lazy sometimes, and frosting cookies is one of those times. I'd love to do royal icing and make it fancy, but seriously, I have a lot to do, and no time to get out all my piping bags and tips and fancy sugars. (I wish I did, but I don't).

So here's how the lazy girl frosts cookies.

Icing recipe
powdered sugar, 2-3 cups, a little more, a little less
some milk, 2-3T
1/2t vanilla or other flavor (rosewater is good, if you want to surprise people)

Mix all that together with a fork or whisk. You want it to be thick, but soupy and spreadable. Add more milk or sugar, as needed. Add some coloring.

The method:
Pour your icing on a large dinner plate with a little lip on the edge (so it doesn't flow off the plate)

Take your cookie.
Hold it face down, perpendicular to the plate.

Drop it.
Pick it up,
let it drip and if necessary, scrape off the excess icing with a knife or fork.

Spread on a foil-lined cookie sheet, and let dry for a few hours.

I used to spread the icing on each cookie with a knife, but you can't imagine how messy that is. Your hands are covered in icing by the 3rd cookie, it's pretty annoying.

What I like best about this icing method (aside from being easy) is that if you slightly overbake your cookies so they're as crunchy as biscotti, the icing will soften them a bit so they're a little more chewy, and in a sealed container, they'll stay like that for several days.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Did you know...

Did you know that Christmas is coming?

No, seriously. I know we're all surrounded by lights and decorations and music and have been tripping over random Christmas junk at Target since October 3rd. And of course everyone has their tree, their lists, their schedules, their menus, their stamps, their dread of waiting in line at the post office (incidentally, when I went in this morning, there was NO ONE in line. I walked right up to the counter. When I left, the line was out the door. Thank you, karma!). I know you know it's coming. You know I know it's coming.

But don't you ever kind of half forget? And then you have a huge "oh crap!!" moment when you remember?

This happened to me today.

Now, when I wrote to you on Monday all about my hats and cheesecake, I didn't mention that I was sick. Oh boy, was I sick. I took 2 days off from work to sit around and feel rather like the time I had something nasty that turned into pneumonia (pneumonia was interesting- my lungs made noise when I breathed. I found it funny. My mother found it terrifying. That's how we are.) (oh and don't worry, my lungs aren't making weird noises this time). But I used my sick days wisely: I crafted. I finished the Christmas cards, I finished my lovely advent calendar, I finished decorating the tree, I wrote presents lists. What I did not do was make up the baking schedule.

And so, 2 days later, I'm just checking up on things, making the mistake of reading tastespotting and seeing cookie after cookie, candy after candy, that I want to add to my list, but I have to be reasonable and remember that I'm not giving dozens of cookies away like I once did, and suddenly it hit me: I have 5 baking days left til Christmas!

Shopping days don't matter, it's the baking time that's important.

And so I have Thursday, Friday, Monday, Wednesday and I'm hoping to squeeze out some time on Sunday, to bake. (If I stay up super late on Tuesday, I can stick a batch in then...) Here's the list.

pumpkin molasses cookies
chocolate covered cherry cookies
pistachio almond cookies
gingerbread biscotti
brown sugar spice cutout cookies
gingerbread men
red velvet cookies
coconut macaroons (or possibly coconut almond macaroons, or these, or these.)
cranberry noels (thanks to watching Martha Stewart all day on Tuesday- here's a link to the recipe, which isn't where I originally found it)
cranberry turkish delight (based on this)
peppermint marshmallows
mulled cider jelly candy
and the new addition I just can't resist: caramel marshmallows

So that's what has to get done between now and next Wednesday (since we're traveling next Thursday).

Tentative schedule:
Thursday: biscotti (2 batches), turkish delight, cider jellies, wash bottles for elderberry schnapps and start aliquoting into bottles. Make cranberry noel dough and freeze, bake later.
Friday: coconut macaroons, peppermint marshmallows
Sunday: ideally caramel marshmallows, pumpkin molasses cookies, bake cranberry noel dough.
Monday: sugar and gingerbread cutter cookies, chocolate cherry cookies, pistachio cookies
Wednesday: frost the cutter cookies (royal icing for sugar cookies, milk/sugar icing for gingerbread). Bake red velvet cookies, possibly frost at my parents' house on Friday. Coconut cookies.

Not to mention the other big thing: wrap the presents. That's scheduled for Monday, when my husband will be out of the house and I can wrap out in the open, in the living room.

It's a lot. Wish me luck, I'll need it! I have no idea how people with kids manage (fewer cookies, I suppose).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Oh, hi... have some cheesecake

You thought I forgot about you, right? I didn't... I've just had other things going on. Most of them are definitely not as enjoyable as blogging, but the rest of the things have been crafting, so of course they're super fun and I can't wait to get home from work each day so I can craft. Wanna see?

I made some hats
I knit the purple one first, for a swap, and I loved it so much (despite having a hell of a time getting started) that I knit the white one for myself. It fits well and is cute, but is kind of worthless on a windy evening.

I made a pair of gumdrop wreaths for the Wadsworth Tree Festival in Hartford, CT, shown ehere on either side of the large wreath.
That was fun, I made them exactly like last years, but sprayed them with 5-6 coats of acrylic sealant spray (stinky, stinky) and after the final coat, sprinkled them in white Martha Stewart glitter. I'm now making more and more- we'll hang last year's (which didn't last all that well without being sprayed, but are good enough for another month) and I have given and will give more as Christmas gifts.

I made a cheesecake. Little known fact- I hate cheesecake. Like, gag, it's nasty. This is kind of unfortunate, because I used to love it, and it's because of a sad association with an illness. However, I used to spend many, many calories on cheesecake, which I no longer do, so I'm viewing this as a positive diet change. So why did I make a cheesecake?

I have no idea. Plus, it was for a party.

Now, since it was for a party, and at this party I had no camera (this party was the post-concert reception of my choir's Boar's Head Festival, which was rather awesome), so I can't show you how pretty it was. Fortunately, the blogger I got it from has a lovely picture, so just go see hers.

Savory Cheesecake with Onion Pear Compote
taken from Josie at Pink Parsley

3 8oz packages of cream cheese, softened (I used neufchatel cheese)
8oz blue cheese, crumbled
6oz parmesean cheese, grated
4 eggs
1/4 cup cream (I used fat free 1/2&1/2)
1/4t black pepper

Beat the cheeses together until creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the cream and pepper. Pour mixture into a greased 9inch springform pan wrapped in foil so that the water from the water bath doesn't seep in to the pan, and bake in a water bath for 45-50 minutes at 350F, until the middle is not quite set and the edges are slightly brown.

Chill overnight, then remove the sides of the springform pan and serve on the bottom of the sprinform pan, topping with the compote.

I know there are tricks to get it to not crack, but.... I wouldn't worry too much. You're going to cover it with the following compote, which will cover up any imperfections.

Onion Pear Compote
4 cups onions, chopped
2t olive oil
2 cups pears, peeled and chopped (about 2 pears)
2T vinegar (recipe says pear or raspberry vinegar, but I just used balsamic, which was good)
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 t salt
pinch cayenne (I omitted, not knowing the preferences of the guests at the party)

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onions and cook over medium until softened, then reduce heat and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the pears, vinegar, sugar, salt and cayenne and cook until pears are soft (about 20 min more). Note: here the recipe says to then remove the onions and pears and reduce the liquid in the pan til it's thick, but I didn't actually have any liquid in the pan, so I skipped this.)

I tried some of this, and even though it's savory and lovely and blue cheesey, it's still cheesecake. The compote was good enough to disguise that on my second bite, but... I can't do cheesecake. Everyone else loved it, though!

I know, I know, why did I bring a dish I hate? It caught my eye, that's all I can say.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

November What's Baking?

I hosted our What's Baking bake-along this month, and since I knew everyone would be busy baking goodies for Thanksgiving, I chose Thanksgiving as our theme. I love the variety in what everyone chose!

Amanda from Our Italian Kitchen made an Edible Cornucopia. What a cute idea, it's both a centerpiece and simple snack for later!
Dunne' from With a Cherry on Top made apple pecan cheesecake, a nice change from the traditional apple pie!

Cara from The Boys Made Me Do it made a rustic apple crostata, an easy twist on apple pie.

Jen, the Beantown Baker, made pumpkin cranberry pecan upside down cake- I can't wait to try this one!Ange from the Tiny Tyrant's Kitchen made The Pie That Won't Die (aka pumpkin cream pie). Who can resist trying a recipe with a name like that?

Heather Lynne from Hezzi-D's Books and Cooks made cranberry apple mini pies. So cute!

Carrie from Carrie's Sweet Life takes a break from pies and cakes with a sweet potato trifle.

Jey of The Jey of Cooking really mixed things up with a bacon and cheddar apple pie.
Lindsey from Our Share of the Harvest made a beautiful pumpkin roll with cream cheese filling.

And I made Pilgrim Bread.
I love the variety we got this month, and I can't wait to try all of these delicious looking recipes!

Stephanie will host next, and she has chosen that December's What's Baking? theme will be Holiday Colors! (such as red and green for Christmas, etc). Happy baking!