Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Daring Bakers: Croissants

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That's right. I am now an official Daring Baker!

In case you just think that means I'm amazing (thank you, thank you), The Daring Bakers is an online community that challenges you to show off your baking prowess by creating a specific something that's new and delicious each month. During the month of September, the challenge was...(drum roll, please)...croissants!

I'm gonna try and break it to you gently: Pillsbury is leading you on. Believe it or not, these buttery little babies are a lot more time consuming than you'd imagine. They aren't really that hard, they just take forever, waiting for the dough to rise, rolling it out about 8000 times (and may I suggest investing in an actual rolling pin instead of thinking your cheap old self will be just fine using the side of a drinking glass), waiting some more and rolling some more and then finally shaping them into crescents.

They did turn out quite tasty, though. It's worth trying at least once, if for nothing else, so you can fully appreciate the deliciousness of a fresh, flaky, 350 degree croissant melting on your tongue. Yummy.

Sarah, one of my co-Daring Bakers and host of the Croissant challenge, posted some great step-by-step instructions with photos. She did a great job explaining everything, so I'm sure you'll have success, too. Happy croissant-ing!

Monday, September 26, 2011

International Potlouck

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Let's be honest. Family is important. Way important. In my church, families set aside one night each week as Family Home Evening. Pretty much what this means is the family gathers to do something that brings them closer together...it can be spiritual, recreational, mental, whatever. I'm really not sure who wouldn't wanna spend time with my family, given the chance, we are quite amazing.

But between moving out of your parents' home and starting your own family, there's that period of singleness. Welcome to my life! Since many of us single people obviously can't hang out with our "real" families each week, a bunch of singles in the area get together to build friendships and to maintain/develop that pattern of FHE.

Tonight, we had an International Potluck.

Ghanaian Peanut Butter Soup with Rice
Arroz con Leche


Brazilian Cheese Rolls
Some kind of Latin America Layer Cake with Cream Cheese-ish Filling
Indian Cauliflower Curry
Kenyan Rice, Lentils and Something Else Good

Really I thought I had a lot more pictures than that, but I guess my hand got distracted by the fork that was constantly shoveling new and tasty things into my mouth. So much good food! If only I'd gotten my act together in time, I would have contributed a slightly sweet something with a deliciously high butter content. You know you wanna check back tomorrow for that!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Girl Scout Cookies: Thin Mints

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When I was little, I turned up my nose at anything containing even the slightest hint of mint. It burned my tongue and wasn't nearly sweet enough for my taste. I never understood why my dad loved spiced gumdrops and red hots or why my mom sucked on candy canes during the holidays. I thought that stuff was nasty. But now that I'm grown up and happily in my professional mid-to-late (weird!) 20s, my tastes have become refined. I like mint.

These days you'll find me brushing my teeth with aquafresh and swishing with some weird purpley Target brand peppermint/eucalyptus mouthwash, chewing winterfresh gum and munching on peppermint patties---they're a fat free food. But what's really satisfying is peeling back the crackly cellophane on a sleeve of Thin Mints straight from the freezer and biting into a piece of mint chocolate heaven. Yummers.

The only down side to devouring those cookies sleeve by sleeve is that rationing only gets you so far and those Girl Scouts don't come around nearly enough. Breathe easy, though. I got your back. With this version of homemade Thin Mints, you can have all that goodness anytime you want. Oh, yeah.

Girl Scout Cookies: Thin Mints   [click to print]
1 c. butter, softened
1 c. powdered sugar
1-1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
1 c. cocoa powder, unsweetened
3/4 tsp. salt
1-1/2 c. flour
2 T. potato starch (or cornstarch)

1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

Beat butter in mixer until light and fluffy; add powdered sugar and continue to cream until mixture is smooth. In a separate bowl, combine the cocoa, salt, flour and starch; whisk to combine. Add extract and cocoa mixture to butter mixture, continue to on low speed until ingredients are combined but still a little crumbly. (Don't overmix or your cookies will be tough, which would be sad.)

Turn dough onto piece of wax paper and knead two or three times to combine ingredients and form a smooth ball. Flatten dough to about 1/2" thick and cover with another piece of wax paper. Place in freezer for about 15 minutes to chill. 

Remove dough from freezer. Leaving wax paper in place, roll dough to about 1/4" thickness; thinner is better here! Use cookie cutters, about 1-1/2", to cut your shapes. I used the letter "O" for my circles. Line baking sheet with parchment paper; cookies can be placed about 1/4" apart since they don't spread much. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Allow to cool.

Melt the chocolate chips in a small microwave-safe bowl or a double boiler until smooth. Using a fork, dip cookies in the chocolate. Remember, you want just a thin coating of chocolate, so tap the fork/cookie on the side of the bowl to knock off any excess chocolate drips. Place coated cookies on wax or parchment paper to harden.

Source: Adapted from Handle the Heat

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Brown Butter Cupcakes with Pumpkin Pie Frosting

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After forgetting my fries under the broiler, making extra toasty enchiladas and burning my soup...in a crockpot...I realized something. I'm pretty good at burning things. Normally, this would not be good news, but when I came across Cupcake Project's Browned Butter Cupcakes, I knew I had to give them a try.

I tested this recipe using margarine and then again with real butter. Believe me, browned margarine tastes absolutely nothing like browned butter. Definitely worth the extra $2 for real butter to get that delicious caramely flavor. 

When you're browning the butter, use a pan with a light colored finish so you can keep track of how dark your butter is getting. It can happen pretty quickly. And if you don't have cake flour on hand, substitute the cake flour with 1-1/2 c. all-purpose flour plus 2 T. potato (or corn) starch.

And to top it all off, these cupcakes deserved more than just a boring old spiced buttercream. These babies were covered with pumpkin pie. Yes, I said it. Actual pumpkin pie. You just prepare and bake pumpkin pie filling/custard stuff as normal, without the crust. Once it's done baking and has cooled, stir it up until smooth and pipe it onto your cupcakes. Thanks for that idea, too, Cupcake Project! These were delicious and perfect for the start of fall!

Monday, September 19, 2011

I'm Engaged!

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I was hanging out in the hall at work, just talking with this guy who I've had a crush on since I first laid eyes on him. He's tallish, handsome, lighter hair (I always thought I was more into the brown hair boys) and is the friendliest person you'll ever meet. He's always smiling and telling jokes and constantly on the move. "No grass growing under his feet!" as my friend Judy would say. He's always looking for ways to help people and get things organized. He's quite the find, really.

So go ahead, congratulate me! It isn't everyday that such a charming military man asks for your hand! Okay, fine. Maybe he's not currently in the military...and maybe he's retired...and been retired...and maybe he's married already...and has dementia. But he sure has good taste!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ultimate Chocolate Oreo Brownie Doomsday

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I don't know how else to make you understand that you may die if you eat these. They are so deadly delicious and rich that the first time I saw a picture of them on Kevin and Amanda's blog, my eyes bugged out of my head and my jaw dropped to the floor. I used to not really like eating chocolate much at all. But oh how things have changed. Obviously.

Feast your eyes on this baby. Aren't these the most ooey gooey, decadently rich brownies you've ever seen? If you decide to whip up a batch, just make sure you have friends to share them with, or a lot of self control. Your arteries will thank you.

In addition to the cookie and brownie batter recipes below, you'll need a package of Double Stuf Oreos. Sounds good already, huh?

Chocolate Chip Bar Cookies   [click to print recipe]
Okay fine, this is actually a recipe for Blonde Brownies, it just seemed like overkill having another kind of brownie as the base for these. I like this recipe especially since it's designed to spread easily in a baking dish. If you ever want to make them as just bar cookies and not deadly brownies, simply double the recipe below for a 15x10 jelly roll pan and bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.

1/2 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1-1/4 c. flour
1-1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
6 oz. chocolate chips (about 1/2 bag or 3/4 c.)

Melt butter in saucepan; add brown sugar and blend well. Remove from heat and cool about 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients and whisk. Pour butter/sugar mixture and vanilla in mixing bowl. On low speed, add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in flour mixture in 2-3 additions. Mix well. Add chocolate chips and mix well.

Source: my mom

Rich Chocolate Brownies
These brownies are really thick and fudgy and rich. To make these as just brownies, bake in a 7x11 pan at 325 for 25 minutes. My sister-in-law likes to double the recipe below for a 9x13 pan and use two 12 oz. bags of chocolate chips, one semisweet and one dark chocolate.

3/4 c. butter
11 oz. chocolate chips
3 eggs
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. flour

In a double boiler (bowl set over a pot of simmering water) or microwave safe bowl, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring until well combined. Allow to cool. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla until frothy. Slowly add the chocolate/butter mixture until completely combined. Fold in flour but don't overmix.

Source: Adapted from "Baking" by James Peterson

Assembly of the Ultimate Chocolate Brownie Doomsday
Line 9x9 baking pan (or a bit larger if you prefer thinner brownies) with parchment or wax paper; you really want to do this, it will save you a huge headache when you're ready to cut and eat. Spread the cookie dough in the bottom of the pan. Cover with a single layer of Double Stuf Oreos. Pour brownie batter over Oreos and cookie dough. Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes or until done. When cool, lift brownies from pan by parchment paper and slice into squares. These are great served with ice cream or whipped cream and topped with Vanilla Caramel Sauce!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blueberry Filling and Lemon Zested Buttercream

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I love comments and requests! So this one's for you, my dear "Anonymous" (Mom, is that you?).

By Christmas last year, I'd already been bit by the baking bug. Okay, fine. I was bit, stung and severely infected by that baking bug long before then, I guess I was just finally admitting it to myself. In any case, I got this great book that has some tricky recipes and techniques with several pages of easier, more basic baking staples at the end. And in case you forgot how much everyone loves the basic-fresh-blueberry filling-lemon-zested-buttercream-lemony-cake, just look at these guys, they're so happy!

You know you need these.

Fresh Blueberry Filling   [click to print]
1/4 c. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. water
2 T. cornstarch
3 c. fresh or frozen blueberries (the original recipe says to chop the berries, but I left mine whole since they were just little guys)

Combine sugar, salt and water in a pot over low heat; stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add cornstarch and blueberries, stirring continuously, and cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. The mixture will get a little thicker as it cools.

Lemon Zested Buttercream   [click to print]
4 c. powdered sugar
1/2 c. butter, unsalted and softened
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
2-3 T. milk
1/4 c. lemon zest

Cream the sugar, butter, juice and extract. Slowly add milk, a tsp at a time, until you reach the desired consistency. (If you get it too thin, add a little extra powdered sugar.) Add lemon zest and mix until well combined.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Summer Bliss

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I can't believe that summer has come and gone already! A week past Labor Day and the pools are all closed, it's getting dark earlier and the beach is no longer calling my name (quite as loudly).

But on the bright side, we still have the humidity! Okay, maybe I'm not so excited about humidity and the favors it does for my wavy/frizzy hair, but there are still a few summer flavors that we can enjoy!

Blueberry Lemonade   [click to print]

1 c. butter, unsalted and room temp
2 c. sugar
1/4 c. lemon zest
5 eggs

3 c. flour
2 T. potato starch*
1 T. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. whole milk
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla

Combine butter, sugar and zest in mixing bowl and cream until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until combined between each addition. Whisk dry ingredients together in separate bowl; set aside. Whisk liquid ingredients together in separate bowl.

Alternately add the dry and wet ingredients to the butter mixture in five additions, beginning and ending with dry. Continue mixing for about 15 seconds after ingredients are combined.

Bake in single 9" round cake pan (2-1/2" deep) at 350 for 45 min. or until done.

Allow cake to cool completely and slice into two layers. Fill cake with Fresh Blueberry Filling and frost with Lemon Zested Buttercream. Garnish with extra blueberry filling and eat up!

*If you don't have potato starch, just omit it and use 3 c. cake flour instead; or you can probably get away with regular flour but your cake won't be as tender.

Source: Adapted from Annie's Eats

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tattle Tale

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I'm not sure who the culprit is yet, but someone tattled on me. My beloved mixer normally has a severe attitude problem. Every time I think things are going good, it's starts freaking out and clacking metal and puffing powdered sugar all over the place. Plus its left beater no longer locks into place so I have to kind of hold it in there while it spins around, desperately trying to keep my fingers from being creamed along with the sugar. Rude thing.

Then suddenly, for some unknown reason, the beaters locked into place today and only fell out once or twice the whole time I was using it! For real, somebody let it leak that I was searching for a new mixer this weekend. Don't get me wrong, this little guy's had a good run and rescued me from several near-death-sugar-cravings, but despite its best behavior, I'm afraid this Sunbeam stand mixer just isn't meant to test recipe after recipe without any breather in between. Just hang in there a little longer! It's only a few more weeks until my half marathon and then a brand spankin new Kitchenaid!
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