Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hanukkah Cake Truffles

Did you know Hanukkah starts on December 1st this year? So this weekend I was busy prepping Hanukkah gifts and goodies for my husband's family back in Illinois. I decided the "goodies" should be cake truffles, my newest fascination in sweet treats! (If anyone in my hubby's family is reading this prior to December 1st, act surprised when these goodies show up in the mail on Wednesday.) Though I have only posted about cake truffles once, I have now made them 4 times. Testing out cake flavor and frosting combinations to see what works best. I thought Hanukkah themed cake truffles would look best with white cake (with vanilla frosting). Granted I had never taste tested a white cake truffle, so I was really just winging it. I'm generally not a white cake girl (chocolate is my go to cake), but these turned out tasty...especially the ones dipped in dark chocolate.

Wondering what a cake truffle is? A bite size creamy, smooth, moist cake blended with frosting and covered in delicious candy coating (such as dark chocolate). It's a little bite of heaven really.

The coolest part about making cake truffles is decorating them! Sprinkles, sanding sugars, jimmies and colored candy melts are just a few things I used to decorate my Hanukkah cake truffles.

I'm planning to make more truffles for Christmas and I will share some step by step instructions and photos. If you want to know more about cake truffles now check out Bakerella's blog. They go by the name of cake balls or cake pops on her site. She has perfected (what I like to call) the cake truffle and has taken it to the next level with some pretty amazing decorative skills. If you haven't seen Bakerella's work before, your socks will be knocked off.

I found the perfect size treat boxes at Michaels. The box is made by Wilton and sold in a pack of 3 for $2.99. The box fits 9 cake truffles perfectly. Add pretty ribbon and a personalized label and you have a special and delicious gift.

Happy Hanukkah!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

French Fridays with Dorie: Roast Chicken for Les Paresseux

This is my first time roasting a whole a bird. The recipe was choosen as November pick for the online cooking group French Fridays with Dorie. This recipe is roast chicken for the lazy (or les paresseux). Seemed like a good way to roast my first chicken. I have mixed feelings about the process. It took forever...90 minutes. It made the bottom of my pan black and splattered all over my oven. And I'm pretty sure the high heat was the cause of my pan cracking the next day when I took it out of the water where it was soaking. I used a pampered chef stoneware 9x13 casserole dish which is now destined for the trash can...I'm a little sad about that. The flavor of the chicken was not anything to write home about. It's not all bad though. It was easy. The skin was brown and crispy. And the infamous piece of bread that cooked under the chicken was pretty tasty. But I could only eat a few bites because you know its soaked with chicken fat that has gotten crispy and delicious. My feelings aren't really mixed. I didn't think the chicken warranted the effort, mess and waiting time that went into it.

I'm not giving up on cooking whole chickens. But will be looking for a different technique and flavoring elements next time.

I made this chicken along with homemade green bean casserole. Somehow I forgot to take pictures of the casserole....which turned out fabulous! For a beautiful photo and the recipe check out Michelle's blog, The Brown Eyed Baker. This recipe beats the canned soup version. The creamy mushroom sauce has a wonderful garlic flavor and pairs perfectly with the green beans and cripsy onion and breadcrumb topping. It's so so good.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

World Peace Cookies

World Peace Cookies are evil. I ate way too many of them. And my belly hurts. They are sort of addictive. Like chips. The weird part is I don't think my most favorite cookie by a long shot, but they have some mysterious quality that isn't going to bode well for my tummy or my hips.

These are eggless, dark chocolate cookies with a hit of salt. The recipe calls for fleur de del....but I only had kosher salt. Next time I would spring for the fleur de sel. The other very slight change I made was to use semisweet (70%) and milk chocolate chunks instead of bittersweet. It worked out nicely to bring different sweetnesses of chocolate into the mix.

Roll the dough into logs, refrigerate for 3 hours and slice and bake. Easy. Good. And now....gone!

World Peace Cookies
Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Makes about 36 cookies.

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

GETTING READY TO BAKE: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

SERVING: The cookies can be eaten when they are warm or at room temperature — I prefer them at room temperature, when the textural difference between the crumbly cookie and the chocolate bits is greatest — and are best suited to cold milk or hot coffee.

STORING: Packed airtight, cookies will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days; they can be frozen for up to 2 months.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chicken Diable

We eat a lot of chicken in our house but only prepare it a handful of different ways. Marinated in Italian dressing and grilled, BBQ'd with a little sauce, breaded with Italian or panko breadcrumbs and pan fried or hubby's personal favorite, Shake n Bake (yuck). As I was flipping through Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table and honed in on a new chicken preparation. Chicken Diable. Shallots, garlic, wine and dijon mustard lured me in.

Chicken Diable is thinly pounded out chicken breasts lightly salted and peppered and pan fried in a bit of butter and olive oil. The chicken goes into a 200 degree to keep warm while you whip up a quick sauce. The sauce is really easy and most importantly it's delicious! For the sauce saute 1 medium finely chopped shallot and 1 finely chopped clove of garlic in the remaining olive oil and butter in the pan you cooked the chicken in. Season lightly with salt and pepper and cook for about 2 minutes. Pour in 1/3 cup white wine and bring to a simmer for about a minute. Add 1/2 cup heavy cream and return to a simmer. Then stir in 3 tablespoons of dijon mustard (I only used 2) and 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce until heated through. Add additional salt and pepper if needed. Remove from heat and spoon sauce over chicken. The sauce is rich and velvety with a hint of dijon mustard and garlic and shallots in the background. It's definitely on my repeat recipe list. Though Hubby didn't love it...but I guess he can just eat chicken sans sauce.

I can't emphasize how easy this mustardy gravy is. Easy and tasty. Sounds like a winner to me.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Orange Blueberry Muffins with Pecan Crumble

This is my third go round at making Melissa Murphy's muffin recipe. And....the third time's a charm! A little tweak here. A little tweak there...and I made a tender subtly sweet muffin with a perfectly crusty top. It's all about the muffin top. And these were extra tasty tops because of the super delicious pecan crumble. Seriously. The crumble rocks. I only wish I had put on more crumble. You can never have too much crumble. I'm just sayin. You should make this based on the crumble alone.

Spread on some butter. Oh my.

This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays pick was chosen by Shandy at Pastry Heaven. She actually selected Strawberry muffins with fresh lemon and rosemary and you can find the recipe over on her site. The strawberry variation was my first attempt at Melissa Murphy's muffins earlier this year and it was a flop. But I guess it is our failures that help us learn. At least that's what I hear. But I thought I'd do something different this week and I had the ingredients on hand for the blueberry muffins. Honestly, I think any of Melissa's sweet muffin variations could use a little pecan crumble love!

Check out the muffins from other Sweet Melissa Sundays bakers here. And then go make these muffins!

Orange Blueberry Muffins with Pecan Crumble
by Melissa Murphy

Muffin Ingredients:
2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (I used between 2 1/4 and 2 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I also added 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream, at room temperature (I used sour cream--this is key!)1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature (I used skim)
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
1 cup blueberries

Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with muffin papers (or butter and flour the cups or spray with nonstick vegetable cooking spray).
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, granulated sugar, and salt. Set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, brown sugar, and eggs until smooth--no lumps. Whisk in the heavy cream and milk until combined.
3. Add the zest and rub into the flour mixture with your hands, releasing the oils and breaking up the bits. Add the blueberries and gently toss with your fingers to combine. Make a well in the center of the bowl. Pour the butter mixture into the center of the well and, using a rubber spatula, gently pull the flour mixture into
the center of the well until just combined.
4. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups and sprinkle on one half recipe of the Pecan Crumble (see below). Be generous with the crumble. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes (mine were just right at 30 minutes), or until golden and a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack and let cool.

Pecan Crumble (NOTE - You only need half this recipe to top the muffins):
3/4 cup of pecan pieces
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

In a large blow, stir together the pecans, flour, brown sugar, salt, nutmeg and allspice. Stir in melted butter.

Friday, November 12, 2010

French Fridays with Dorie: Potato Gratin

I have a pretty nice food processor. I've gotten quite a bit of use out of it over the past year...soup, pie and cookie dough, hummus, ground nuts and some other things I can't think of. My food processor has some fancy attachments to grate cheese and slice and dice stuff but I've never used them. Today was my big chance to finally use the slicing get nice uniform slices for my Potato Gratin. After a lot of fiddling around, reading through the instruction manual that I dug out of the depths of our catch all drawer and some more fiddling, I am sad to report I could not figure out the attachment set up. So if anyone knows how to set up the attachments for a Cuisinart 11 cup food processor please leave me a comment!

I broke down and sliced my potatoes in 1/8 inch thick rounds by hand. At least I tried my damnedest. Some were thicker, some were thinner. What can you do? Oh, I know! Buy a mandoline or figure out how to use your food processor. Hmmmm. Maybe Santa will bring me a mandoline...but if I am so lucky, I will have to hide it from my husband. He has an unnatural fear of a bad accident involving fingers and a very sharp blade. But that's not what we're here to discuss.

Let's get back to the potatoes. Potatoes are the ultimate blank canvas in cooking. So many options. Cheesy potatoes, fried potatoes, buttery baked potatoes, creamy mashed potatoes, potato salad, crispy potatoes, potato skins, hashbrowns, latkes, potato soup, potato tacos (yes, there is such a thing--and they are tasty), roasted potatoes....all delicious, including Potato Gratin, this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe pick.

This recipe has just a few ingredients....heavy cream, garlic, salt, pepper, gruyere cheese and of course potatoes. You start by warming heavy cream with minced garlic and letting the garlic infuse into the cream. Meanwhile start peeling and slicing. Potatoes are layered in the pan, topped with salt and pepper and a few spoonfuls of garlicky cream....and repeat. I am guessing I had about 7 or 8 layers. Top it off with fresh grated gruyere cheese and bake at 350 for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

This was good. The potatoes drank in all that creamy garlic goodness and the browned gruyere cheese on top was a delicious accompaniment. Though it was good, solidly good, I was looking for another layer of flavor. Maybe a little bacon? Maybe a little cheese between the layers?

Along with the potatoes I made another recipe from Dorie Greenspan's cookbook, Around My French Table, Chicken Breasts Diable. Chicken in a dijon shallot wine sauce. Mmmmmm. Here's a preview. Will be posting more details about this dee-lish dish in the next day or two.

You can see what other French Fridays with Dorie cooks made this week. November is a mix it up month and you can make 1 of 4 different recipes which ever week you choose.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cake Pops

I'm a little behind the times apparently. Cake balls, cake truffles, cake pops or whatever you want to call them have gained quite a bit of popularity over the last few years. Somehow I missed the boat on this DELICIOUS treat. Actually I had enjoyed something similar to a cake truffle or a brownie truffle from a cupcake bakery a couple of years ago and it was fabulous. I made an attempt to find a recipe online back then, but didn't have much luck. I probably didn't try too hard. Well right under my nose bakers across the land have been making these awesome little bites of heaven...including the famed Bakerella.

Better late then never right? I made my first batch of cake truffles (that's the name I'll be going with) this past weekend with my sister, neice and nephew. And they turned out pretty stinkin fabulous. The texture is moist and creamy like a truffle with a chocolate candy coating.

For the 2 or 3 remaining people on the planet that don't know what a cake truffle is I am going to share the very secret recipe.

1 box of any flavor cake mix baked according to the box instructions.
1 container of store bought frosting...such as cream cheese or chocolate.
Candy melts (you can buy these at Michael's)
Decorative toppings (optional)

Bake. Cool. Crumble into fine crumbs. Mix in 3/4 of frosting container until thoroughly combined. Form into 1 - 1 1/2 inch balls. Freeze for an hour. Melt candy melts according to package directions. Dip frozen balls in melted chocolate. Decorate. Done.

We used devil's food cake box mix and cream cheese frosting from a can and coated our truffles in dark chocolate candy melts. We made an attempt to also use red candy melts, but the red seized up so it went into the trash. But I'm happy to say that the dark chocolate melts worked perfectly.

The dipping process was not as easy as I anticipated. But I have some ideas on how to make things go a little more smoothly next time. We decorated our truffles with sprinkles, jimmies, crushed oreos, coffee grounds and left over halloween candy.

The kids had a blast.

With sprinkles!

"One bite, one bite!"




Double yum!

These will be made again. And again. And again. There's so many cake and frosting flavors to experiment with....

P.S. Cake truffles taste just as good on third day as they do on the 1st day. I would like to say I could tell you at what point they lose their lustre. But, I ate them all! Oh yeah!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Ginger Custard Pumpkin Pie

Are you sick of pumpkin recipes yet? I'm not! I've made 3 other pumpkin treats this fall and I have a few more planned. I was excited to see that Debbie selected Ginger Custard Pumpkin Pie for this week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe.

I have never actually made a pumpkin pie so I'm not sure how to compare this to making a standard pumpkin pie. But luckily I am very experienced at eating pumpkin pie. I am a huge fan. I love my pie with with cool whip on whip. Melissa Murphy's Ginger Custard Pumpkin Pie has a distinct ginger flavor which I found to be a bit overpowering. And I like ginger, but there can be too much of a good thing.

The custard is very light, airy and creamy whereas most pumpkin pies have a more dense custard. This pie is tasty but I would cut down the ginger next time. I used my 6 inch pie pan for the first time and halved the recipe. I made half of the all butter pie dough recipe and had enough dough for two 6 inch pans. And luckily I have 2 pans! So I froze one of the pie pans for future use.

Hop over to the Sweet Melissa Sundays site to see other bakers fall pies.

Monday, November 1, 2010

PUMPKIN LOVE ~ Pumpkin Pots de Creme with Candied Spicy Pecans

Carmen of Baking is My Zen has organized a wonderful pumpkin posting effort called "PUMPKIN LOVE" from 6 different bloggers, me included! I was so thrilled to be a part of this. Pumpkin is one of my favorite flavors and really makes me feel like fall is here (which can be challenging in Southern California). I adore all things pumpkin and always look forward to the pumpkin season so I can try out new recipes featuring this delicious and versatile gourd. In short, pumpkin rocks! I think my fellow bloggers would agree and below is a snapshot of the delicious creations these talented bloggers made to honor the humble pumpkin!

Pumpkin Pie Tamales

Bonnie of Sweet Life made Pumpkin Pie Tamales. A cool take on a classic, Bonnie says, "Why should tamales be limited to only dinner...why not dessert?"

Creamy Pumpkin Custard with Rum-Raisin Compote

Jen of NJ Epicurean made Creamy Pumpkin Custard with Rum-Raisin Compote. Jen said she chose this recipe because, "I was sold at the description of this pumpkin dessert - the texture is somewhere between a creme brulee and a light and airy cheese cake.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Rebecca of Beurrista baked up Pumpkin Whoopie Pies. She shared that these are "remembrances of a fun weekend getaway with college girlfriends." I would have liked to be a part of that weekend to get my hands on these whoopie pies!

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cakes

Carmen, a very talented baker and the hostess of this Pumpkin Love post made Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cakes. She said, "After making fat free desserts one Thanksgiving, everyone in my family missed the Pumpkin Gooey Cake. It is now a must that I bake this cake for Thanksgiving." You can find the recipe on her blog, Baking is My Zen. Thank you again Carmen for bringing all these pumpkin treats together! I am definitely feeling the "Love" and I look forward to adding all these to my list of pumpkin goodies to bake.

Pumpkin Pots de Creme with Candied Spicy Pecans

And lastly, I made Pumpkin Pots de Creme with Spicy Pecans. When Carmen asked me to be a part of the Pumpkin Love blog post, I was completely flattered and super excited! I wanted to try a new recipe and immediately went in search of pumpkin treats online. I toyed between several recipes, including pumpkin cinnamon rolls, pumpkin souffle, pumpkin pots de cream and pumpkin cream pie with gingersnap crust. Ultimately I went with pumpkin pots de cream because I adore chocolate pots de creme and I thought a pot de creme would be delicious with pumpkin. A recipe from Vera of Baking Obsession caught my eye. To see gorgeous photos her pumpkin pots de creme click here. By the way, I plan to make all the other pumpkin recipes I listed above, with the pumpkin cinnamon rolls on the short list!

Back to my pots de creme...these were very easy to make. No mixer required. Just a bowl and a whisk. The only special tool, which really isn't all that special, is a fine mesh strainer. It moves into the special category for me because I don't own one. So I ended up improvising by using my sifter and I sifted my mixture. It worked ok, but I think I should just break down and invest in a proper mesh strainer. Just when I think I have all the basics! If you compare my photos to Vera's you will see her pots de creme look a little silkier than mine. I bet she has a fine mesh strainer!

The ingredients are simple...most of these I already had in my kitchen.

Simply whisk all the ingredients together and then pour into 6 ramekins. The ramekins go in a dish or pan large enough to accommodate them and then you transfer the the dish to the oven and fill it with hot water until the water reaches about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for about 35 minutes until the pots de creme are set but still jiggle a little. Once cooled, remove the ramekins from their water bath and transfer them to the refrigerator to continue setting, at least 2 hours.

While your pots are cooling you can move on to making the candied pecans. This too is super easy! Just a few ingredients make up the candy coating and you toss the pecans in the mixture.

Into the oven for 5 minutes to "melt" the candied coating and then you give them a stir to spread out the pecans. 10 more minutes in the oven and your nuts are candied. The nuts will brown and the mixture will start to bubble and you know it's done. Then you dump the nuts onto a piece of foil to separate the nuts before the candy hardens. It hardens quickly, so you have to work fast. Note that these are sweet and spicy pecans. The spiciness comes from black pepper and cayenne pepper. I have baked with cayenne before and knew it was too spicy for me so I left it out. The pepper still provides a spicy kick. Or you can leave out the spicy elements altogether!

If you are patient enough to wait for the 2 hour refrigeration period the result is a silky, creamy pumpkin custard. Unfortunately I am not that patient and could only wait an hour. The pot de creme is delicious with a scoop of Haagen Daas Dulce de Leche (caramel) ice cream on top. The ice cream starting melting faster than I could photograph it! I really must try harder to exercise patience.

It's also yummy with fresh whipped cream. I tried that too, but didn't snap a photo. This custard is very similar in taste and texture to pumpkin pie filling, but much more smooth and silky. The candied pecans add a nice crunch and pair perfectly with this tasty custard.


Pumpkin Pots de Cremefrom Vera of Baking Obsession

For pots de crème
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup light cream
2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 tbsp molasses
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt

For candied pecans
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp (generous) freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups pecan pieces

Make pots de crème:
Preheat the oven to 325 F and position a rack at the center. Lightly oil six-4-oz ramekins. Have ready a roasting pan that is at least 2 inches deep and large enough to hold the ramekins. Line the pan with a clean kitchen towel and arrange the ramekins evenly in the pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients. Strain the mixture into a 4-cup glass measure or a bowl with a pouring spout. Pour the custard into the prepared ramekins.

Place the roasting pan with the ramekins on the oven rack and pour hot water into the outer pan until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and bake until the custards are set but still jiggle when you shake them, 30-35 minutes.

Transfer the roasting pan to a cooling rack and remove the foil, leaving the ramekins in the water until the custard reaches room temperature. Removed the cooled ramekins from the water bath and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours. Wait until they are completely cold before covering tightly with plastic wrap.

Make candied pecans:

Leave the oven at 325 F. Spray a baking sheet with a nonstick spray or line it with a silicone mat. Combine all ingredients except the pecans in a bowl. Stir to blend. Add the pecans, stir gently to coat. Transfer to the baking sheet.

Place a large piece of foil on a work surface. Bake the pecans for 5 minutes. Using a fork, stir the pecans to coat them with melted spice mixture. Continue baking until the nuts are golden and the coating bubbles, about 10 minutes. Transfer the pecans to the foil. Working quickly, separate the nuts with the fork. Cool. Can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Serve the chilled pots de crème topped with candied pecans. Offer additional pecans in a bowl on the side.

If you've managed to make through this whole post....look at these gorgeous pumpkins! I had to squeeze this photo in somewhere given this post is paying homage to pumpkin. Happy fall!