Holla for Challah!

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I love challah.  Really, I love most breads, but there’s just something about the yeasty, slightly sweet, eggy deliciousness of challah that sets it apart.  Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to find at the grocery store.  And don’t even think about asking someone where the challah is; they look at you as if you have a tentacled space alien crawling out of your left nostril.

So I decided to make it myself.

I have opined before about the utter disaster that a lot of online recipes are, particularly ones that involve yeast.  (For the record, yeast should NEVER be placed in anything but lukewarm liquid, and you need to feed it some sugar for it to play nice!) But this time, my Google Machine found a recipe that seemed rather simple and had nothing but rave reviews, so I gave it a whirl.  I am planning on buying a treadmill soon, and that’s probably a good thing, because this challah is so easy and so amazingly good that I’d run the risk of becoming morbidly obese but for the treadmill.

The original recipe can be found here.  The bones of it are good, but I found the directions to be unnecessarily cumbersome, particularly calling for mise en place–which this recipe certainly doesn’t require.  Here’s how I did it:

Challah

Bread:

  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 packets yeast
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 7 cups flour, divided
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil

Glaze:

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Sea salt, if desired (or you could use poppy or sesame seeds, or simply leave plain)

Add the 1 tbsp of sugar and the yeast to the lukewarm water and gently mix.  Let the yeast dissolve for about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix the 1/2 cup of sugar, the salt, and 3 1/2 cups of the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer (you can do this by hand or use your paddle).  Add the dissolved yeast mixture to the dry ingredients and blend well (I did this with my paddle on low setting).  Then add the egg and oil and mix well (again, I used the paddle).  Slowly add the remaining 3 1/2 cups of flour, switching to the dough hook when the dough gets too thick for the paddle.  Knead the dough with the dough hook for 7-8 minutes, until the dough becomes elastic and bounces back when pressed in with your finger.

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead in a tiny bit more flour, just until the dough is not sticky.  Form the dough into a ball and place the ball in an large bowl sprayed with cooking spray.  Lightly spray the dough ball as well.  Cover the bowl with a tea towel and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise (I like to heat my oven to the lowest temperature while I’m prepping the dough, then turn the oven off and place the dough in the warmed oven to rise).  Let the dough rise for two hours, punching the dough down five or six times every 20 minutes.

Now it’s time to form the loaves.  Turn out the dough on a lightly floured surface and work in just a tiny bit more flour until the dough is not sticky.  Form the dough into a ball and cut the ball in half with a sharp knife.  Set one half aside.  Cut the other half into three equal pieces.  Form each piece into a rope.  Braid the three pieces together to form the loaf, pinching the ends under.  Repeat with the other half to form the second loaf.

Spray two cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray and place each loaf on its own cookie sheet.  Cover each loaf with a tea towel and place the loaves in a warm, draft free place to rise for a half hour.

Once the loaves are done rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, placing one rack at the bottom of the oven and one rack toward the top.  Glaze each loaf with the beaten egg.  I used a sea salt grinder to sprinkle each loaf with sea salt because I love sea salt, but you can use sesame seeds or poppy seeds or nothing at all, whatever your heart desires.  Place the loaves on their own racks and bake for 12 minutes.  Rotate the loaves top to bottom and front to back and bake for another 12 minutes.  And voila!  Challah!

Now, the best part of making your own challah is the other things you can make with challah.  Like french toast (zomg YUM).  Or, another pick from my favorite cookbook, bread pudding:

So go forth, and holla for challah!

The C-Word

My dad has cancer.

That’s been the reality for the past three weeks, whether I’ve wanted to admit it or not.  Those are the four words that have sprinted in a continuous loop through my brain every hour of the day, whether I’ve been able to say them out loud or not.  That malignant mass of cells gone awry has been the robber of my dad’s way of life, whether we’ve known it or not.

My first reaction was anger.  Why didn’t he listen to me and go to the doctor months ago, why hasn’t he taken better care of himself, why is this happening when I’m still in my twenties, why is this happening to my dad?  A day or two of that, and denial set in.  I’m an only child, gleefully content by myself on the best of days, in desperate need of solitude on the worst, so I simply . . . disappeared.  If I ignored the world, maybe it would ignore me, too.

Last Thursday, after what felt like a millennia of tests with no answers or plans, it was finally time to see the oncologist.  My parents live at a pesky distance from me, close enough that I should visit more often, but far enough that I don’t.  But this was one event I was not going to miss, so I battled through rush hour to get to their local hospital, a surprisingly modern affair somewhat adrift in otherwise undeveloped farmland on the outskirts of town.  The sun was annoyingly bright that day, making the lush, green fields glow; it would have been beautiful were I not driving down a road following signs that read “Cancer Center.”  Cancer Center.  The words made my stomach drop.

It’s safe to say that I am a daddy’s girl in every sense of the words.  It’s rare that a man actually wants a daughter rather than a son, but my dad wanted me, and always went the extra mile to be a part of my life.  When I hit high school, the other girls on my dance team had “Dance Team Moms” that came to every competition and helped out behind the scenes, but I had a “Dance Team Dad.”  My dad.  My Daddy Fix-It.  The one sitting at the cancer center, no longer the strongman I knew as a child, but rather a withered soul waiting to hear his verdict.  It was time to be strong, time to put the anger and the denial aside, time to ask the questions that needed to be asked, and time to get the ball rolling on improving the rest of his life.

Fortunately, the oncologist is one of those rare breed of amazing doctors who inexplicably decide to settle down in a tiny town, bringing a level of care to a rural community that otherwise wouldn’t be there.  I like her.  I trust her.  I think my dad is in good hands.  It was a long appointment, and it was hard on everyone, but his prognosis at this point is good.  The road ahead will be long and hard for everyone, most of all him, but as long as he’s willing to fight–and boy is my dad a fighter–I think he’ll be ok, eventually.

At times I’ve been rather irritated by what I perceive as a complete lack of interest or caring on the part of people who should be interested and should care about what is going on.  But that’s a selfish feeling I have to fight off.  This isn’t about me, it’s about my dad.  And focusing on the people who don’t care is at the peril of all the people who do.  I’m almost at a point where I can really start talking about this–other than in vague social media posts or on a blog–and stop ignoring the people who care and want to be there for me and my dad.  Almost.

In the meantime, pretty much the only thing that has made me feel sane is baking.  My dad can’t eat real food these days, but boy does he still have an appetite; whenever I talk to him I try not to be mean and talk about food, but I couldn’t resist telling him about the Daddy ‘n Me cupcake I was working on last night.  A devil’s food cupcake–the result of a flop of a dark chocolate cake recipe in one of my cookbooks that turned out to be anything but a dark chocolate cake, but it worked out since devil’s food is his favorite–filled with fudge which we both like, topped with marshmallow creme frosting which I love, and garnished with hand-died turbinado sugar and a maraschino cherry.  Maraschino cherries were a special treat my dad and I would share every so often as I was growing up.  I could practically hear him salivating as I told him about them.  He said he can’t wait to try one.  I can’t wait for him to try one either, because my dad eating real food means my dad’s treatment is working and my dad is kicking cancer’s ass.

I hope the day I have to make these cupcakes again comes sooner rather than later.

Failcakes

Happy Valentines Day!

Yesterday I had the overwhelming desire to make a miniature chocolate cupcake with pink buttercream frosting and sparkles.  I’ve also been looking for an excuse to shoot a baked good on my new desert plates (three other exciting designs to come in future pictures of future baked goods).  It was the perfect marriage–except for the fact that I overfilled 90% of the tins, the batter went everywhere, and only approximately six of them turned out like real cupcakes.  These are the best three.  Oh yeah, and I didn’t have sour cream, so I subbed it out in the batter for Greek yogurt, and that certainly didn’t work.  No non-lowfat cupcake should taste like a lowfat cupcake.

C’est la vie.  At least they’re pretty.  A follow up post at a future date when I actually get it right.

I Love You Like Burning

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Recently I’ve been long on desire to bake and take pretty pictures of my creations, but short on time, energy, inspiration, and the willpower to blog about it.  The result?  I made these delicious Red Hot Velvet Cupcakes a week ago, they’ve all been consumed, but I’m only now posting about it:

The recipe popped up on Food Network earlier this month, presumably because Valentine’s is on the way.  The skinny?  Chocolate cake with cayenne pepper, and cream cheese frosting with cinnamon spice and cinnamon liqueur (the recipe calls for cinnamon schnapps, but I used After Shock because it’s what I had).

Believe it or not, these are red velvet cupcakes; I just don’t own five gallons of red food dye so they didn’t come out particularly red.  But the cake was delicious–moist and airy—and the frosting was too.  Together, they were magic.

For the most part, I followed the recipe linked above, but with the following changes:

  • Again, I used After Shock, not cinnamon schnapps, in the frosting.  My guess is cinnamon schnapps would be a little closer in flavor profile to the cinnamon spice used in the frosting and may be a bit better, but that’s only a guess.
  • I cut back the sugar in the frosting to 4 or 5 cups instead of the 5,672 cups the recipe calls for.  I hate super sweet frosting–I find it so cloying that I can’t eat it–so I just stopped adding powdered sugar once the frosting was stiff enough and tasted like if I added any more sugar, I’d instantly get diabetes.
  • For the decoration (my own fancy cupcake twist), I simply melted some semisweet chocolate chips, added some cayenne pepper, and piped hearts on a piece of aluminum foil (you can do this with by putting the melted chocolate in a sandwich baggy with the tip of the corner cut off).  I added a couple drops of red gel food dye to some turbinado sugar to get the red sugar crystals, which I sprinkled on the chocolate hearts after piping.  Placing them in the freezer for ten minutes helps them firm up.

All in all, I’d probably make these again. I took most of them to work and they were a huge hit, though because they are so spicy, I think they turned some folks off.  To be safe, I’d recommend only using half of the cayenne called for in the cake if you want the cupcakes to be palatable to a wider audience.

Personally though, I like it hot. ;)

Strong on Plow.

So here’s the thing about me: I’m Portuguese.  Ok, I’m not 100% Portuguese.  Like lots of Americans, I’m an amalgam of all things European, most of which I don’t even know. But my dad is first generation American, which makes me a big ol’ hunk of Portuguese.  That means I’m a workaholic, stubborn as hell, and built for pulling plows.  Seriously.  These legs are ridiculous.

I think it’s because the rest of my heritage is such a grab bag that I’m so fiercely proud of being Portuguese.  It also makes me a bit of an oddity where I live; I think I’ve met a grand total of six Portuguese people here aside from my own family, and five of those were all related to each other.  I keep telling myself I’m going to learn to speak Portuguese and go to the Azores to cook food in the volcanos like my people, but the reality is that I have zero time for anything but daydreaming about it.

And then…I found a cookbook.  Remember those five Portuguese people I was talking about?  Well, they have an amazing Portuguese winery–Coelho–so amazing, in fact, that I’m a wine club member there.  During a visit to Coelho a number of months ago, I found  David Leite’s The New Portuguese Table.  A cookbook filled with Portuguese recipes??  I had to have it…especially when I discovered it had a recipe for one (just one, not five or seven) loaf of massa sovada, also known as Portuguese sweet bread. You may think that with the wonder of the internet, recipes for Portuguese sweet bread would be bountiful.  They are, but they invariably fail.  The last time I tried, I ended up with nine “loaves” (I use the term loosely) of dense, non-risen, disgustingly eggy disasters.

So naturally, I approached the act of baking massa sovada with great trepidation when I foolishly embarked on the endeavor around 7:00 last night.  I say “foolishly” because it turns out massa sovada needs approximately 100 years to rise.  But I can always sleep when I’m dead, and as it turns out, the end product was worth the sheer exhaustion:

I’ve heard the family lore about how my namesake–my great-grandmother, who never spoke a word of English in her life–used to make the best sweet bread.  I don’t know how mine lives up.  I can definitely see room for improvement, but then again, I’m pretty judgmental of my baking.  But at the end of the day, I’m ecstatic to have finally found a successful Portuguese sweet bread recipe.  I feel a little bit closer to my people.

Just whatever you do, do NOT ask me if it’s my dream to go to Brazil (it’s not), or if I like chorizo (I don’t, I like linguica–you know, the real stuff).  PORTUGUESE PRIDE!

 

A Kiss with a Ginger Fist is Better than None

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There’s a place near my office called Cafe Yumm.  Somewhat ridiculous name aside, they have what must be the Most Perfect Lunches.  It’s not because Cafe Yumm is amazing fine dining, it’s rather because (I am fairly certain) they put crack in their “Yumm Sauce,” which goes in every bowl of perfectly proportioned space food they serve.  They also have gigantic ginger cookies dipped in Euphoria chocolate that are so packed full of ginger and molasses that you feel like you got punched right in the kisser every time you eat one.  I probably ate three or four of those cookies before I finally noticed on the menu that…they’re made with oat flour and hence are gluten-free. 

Shock shock horror horror shock shock horror! I had (not once, but multiple times) eaten something that was gluten-free, and liked it?!?!  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for gluten-free if you actually have an allergy to gluten, but I think people that stuff copious amounts of gluten-free food into their gullets because “it’s healthy!” (hey, news flash, it’s not healthy to eat a ton of anything) are absolutely ridiculous.  And, as my faithful followers know, I vowed from day one of this blog to never make anything gluten-free.

Regardless, it wasn’t long after I realized Cafe Yumm’s ginger cookies were made with oat flour that I found myself at the store purchasing a bag of Bob’s Red Mill oat flour with plans of recreating them at home, although perhaps smaller than head-sized.

And then I screwed up, forgot to use the oat flour, and made them with regular flour instead.

I was just about to add the flour mixture to the molasses mixture when I realized what I had done.  Rather than despair, I called on my scientist past to make a Baking Experiment: Make a batch with regular flour, and make a batch with oat flour and turbinado sugar.

Turbinado sugar, or “sugar in the raw,” is somewhere inbetween refined white sugar and brown sugar.  The grains are larger than white sugar, and it retains some of its natural molasses, so it carries a molasses-y flavor that most brown sugar available today (which has the molasses removed during processing) just doesn’t have.  For the ginger-forward, heavy molasses flavor I was looking for with these cookies, subbing out the white sugar for turbinado sugar just made sense–even if turbinado sugar is usually used to replace brown, not white, sugar.  The result:

This baking experiment taught me an important lesson: Never judge a cookie by its cover.  The white sugar/regular flour cookies are beautiful, and they are tasty…but the turbinado sugar/oat flour cookies have a certain complexity to their flavor profile and a texture that, in my humble opinion, makes them far superior.

Ultimately, the recipe you decide to go with depends in large part on your personal preferences.  I’ve included the ingredients for both the regular and the amped-up versions in the recipe below, with the ingredients for the turbinado sugar-based cookies in brackets.  Experiment, make it your own, and enjoy!

Soft Ginger Cookies

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour [2 1/4 cups oat flour]
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger [same]
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda [same]
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon [same]
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamom [same]
  • 15-25 whole cloves [same]
  • 3 crystals of crystallized ginger [same]
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt [same]
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened [same]
  • 1 cup white sugar [1 cup turbinado sugar]
  • 1 egg [same]
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice [same]
  • 1/4 cup molasses [same]
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar [same]

Cream together the butter and cup of sugar till light and fluffy.  I like to use my stand mixer so while the butter and sugar are creaming I can sift together the dry ingredients (next paragraph).  Add the egg and beat until fluffy, then add the molasses and orange juice and mix until well blended.

Meanwhile, sift together the flour, ground spices, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.  In a clean coffee grinder, grind together the whole cloves and the crystallized ginger until both are finely ground.  Add the clove and crystallized ginger mixture to the flour and spice mixture and mix well.

Slowly add the flour mixture and spice mixture to the molasses mixture, mixing well.  When the dough is finished, place in the fridge for at least an hour.  [I recommend a few hours if you’re making the oat flour/turbinado sugar cookies because for some reason that dough takes significantly longer to set.]  After the dough has chilled, roll the dough into walnut-sized balls and roll the balls in the two tablespoons of white sugar.  Place the balls on a cookie sheet two inches apart and lightly flatten.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes (I had to bake for the full 10, as they were underbaked at 9 minutes, but this will depend on your oven).

This recipe makes delicious large, soft ginger cookies, no matter which recipe you go with.  Enjoy!

-Adapted from “Big Soft Ginger Cookies.”

My First Foray into Fancy Cupcakes

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Much to The Boy’s chagrin, I have been watching A LOT of “Cupcake Wars” lately.  Like, A LOT.  To the point where when I’m in the produce section at the grocery store, all I can think about is how “I could zest that, I could puree that, I CAN MAKE EVERYTHING INTO A CUPCAKE.”

Well, matters were made worse when last weekend, The Boy, having stayed out longer playing with his friends than he was supposed to, brought home apology cupcakes from The Sweetest Thing.  Yes, most men would bring home flowers, but nothing does a better job of saying “I’m sorry” to a former fatty than bringing home cupcakes from her favorite cup cakery.  It was smart on his part, because my inner fat girl will make the rest of me forgive and forget much quicker when presented with fat and sugar.

But I digress.  Two of the cupcakes he brought home were gingerbread cupcakes with buttercream frosting and little gingerbread cookies on top.  And ZOMG THEY WERE THE BEST CUPCAKES EVVVVAAAAARRRRR.  Within minutes of having shoved my cupcake down my gullet I was hunting for gingerbread cake recipes with which to recreate the delicious little baked miracles.

I eventually ended up settling on a gingerbread cake recipe and a buttercream frosting recipe out of The Joy of Cooking.  The finished products, gingerbread cupcakes with espresso cardamom buttercream frosting:

Now, this was a fun project.  However, it was also a giant pain in my backside, and taught me a number of valuable lessons:

  • The Joy of Cooking is not infallible.  The gingerbread cake was good, but not nearly dark or dense enough.  I think I need a recipe that involves more spice, more molasses, and stout.
  • Making buttercream frosting is a gigantic nightmare, at least using the recipe out of The Joy of Cooking.  I mean, what recipe calls for the use of a candy thermometer and an instant-on thermometer??  And for some inexplicable reason, despite my love of all things baking and kitchens, I do not own a candy thermometer, only a meat thermometer.  The hell.  Oh, and p.s., buttercream frosting should not take two hours to make.  Just sayin’.
  • My pathetic little starter decorating tip set does not cut it for making cupcakes.  I mean, just look at that picture.  Even though it was taken with my new Canon snazzy-pants SLR (baked goods AND fancy cameras?  I shall never leave the house again!), it can’t hide the fact that the frosting looks like a snake.  Or poop.  Or snake poop.  Clearly, cupcakes call for large decorating tips.  But, thanks to the power of  Amazon, these bad boys are on their way to me.  You know what that means…more cupcakes!

All in all, it wasn’t a bad first attempt at fancy cupcakes.  I took half of them to work and they disappeared, but everything disappears when you put it in the conference room at work.  It’s like, a physical law or something.  Would I recommend the recipes I used?  Sure, if you like fluffier, lighter gingerbread.  But as for me, the hunt for The Perfect Fancy Cupcake Recipe continues.

Man, being a perfectionist sucks.

On the Seventh Day After Christmas, I Finally Updated My Blog!

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Every year I like to set an impossible Christmas goal for myself to finish some project or another.  They usually involve great unexpected expense, copious amounts of frustration, random outbursts of tears, and sometimes even completion.  Past years have seen me attempting to make gingerbread mansions (failure), gingerbread houses (half failures, half successes), scrapbooks (success, but only after a rather large fight with my mother), and stockings (in general a success, but only because I took time off of work to finish them and didn’t sleep).

Well, this year was no different.  I decided to make a representative array of cookies to send to a few friends and family.  The plan came to fruition over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and I had grand notions of sending amazing platters of cookies to everyone in the first or second week of December.

Enter work.

As it turns out, compiling a smorgasboard of baked delights for a half dozen people is nearly impossible when you’re working 60 hours a week.  (Who would have thought?)  Add in the additional complexity of the constant battle to clean the house and prepare it for rounds of friends and family coming through during the month, and it almost looked like cookies weren’t going to happen.

Then work disappeared.  Like, practically entirely.  Yes, I still have my job, I just don’t have to live chained to my desk anymore.  Did you know regular people are home before 9:00 or 10:00 pm at night and do more than eat a quick bite of food and pass out on their sofas in front of “Chopped” marathons?  No, I didn’t either.

So, thanks to the sudden lull in work, I was able to take the week before Christmas off.  The entire week!  Surely I could crank out the cookies in a day, get them in the mail, and voila!

No.  Emphatically no.

I set my goals high, deciding to make some of my favorite showstoppers, as well as try some new recipes.  And I did it:

Back Row, L-R: Homemade Oreo-Style Cookies; Spritz; Chocolate Shortbread; Chocolate Chip Oatmeal. Front Row, L-R: Four Spice Crackles; Triple Chocolate Chubbies; Peanut Butter Cookies.

However, it simply wouldn’t be one of my Christmas projects if it weren’t rife with difficulties and cursing.  A quick summary:

  • My new spritz cookie gun is a total piece of crap.  Or maybe I just don’t know how to make spritz.  Whatever the reason, there was an excessive amount of cursing, and the heart ones ended up looking like a rather inappropriate part of the male anatomy, as was so kindly pointed out to me on Christmas Eve by The Boy’s drunken brother.
  • The Chocolate Shortbread (another new recipe) is delightful, but doesn’t go particularly far.  So people got a bit stiffed on those guys.
  • Something went caddy-whompus with the Four Spice Crackles.  Don’t get me wrong, they were still delicious, but not what I was hoping for, and not as amazing as last Christmas.
  • The Triple Chocolate Chubbies are just a pain in the backside generally.  Do you know how long it takes to chop up two bars of baking chocolate?  Yeah, a long time.  And I am constantly reminded when making these guys how desperately I need a double boiler.  Note to Self: Stalk Amazon for good deals on double boilers.
  • The Peanut Butter Cookies were delicious, but my oven was busy being the finicky piece of garbage that it is, and they came out looking burned.  I was able to ferret out the best looking ones to send off, but it was still incredibly frustrating.
  • The Homemade Oreo-Style Cookies were delicious as always, but I was so freakin’ exhausted from the multi-day endeavor of making all the other cookies that I almost couldn’t work up the energy to make them.  By the time I got to them, I must have rolled 200 or more little cookie balls, to the point of having repetitive stress disorder symptoms in my hands.  But my favorite Denverite was looking forward to them, so they had to get made.

In the end, the whole ordeal ended up taking three days?  Four days?  I don’t know, I’ve tried to blank it out.  The sea of cookies turned into this:

And then this:

And then they were the hell out of my house.  Great success!

Thanks to the miracle that is flat-rate priority shipping, they all made it to their destinations across the country in time for Christmas, despite not getting out of my kitchen until December 22nd.  And all for only a slightly princely sum.  (Like I said, there is always unanticipated expense involved in these ridiculous projects I conjure up.)

I know what you’re thinking: Ok, ok, I get it, it was a pain in the butt, now stfu and give us the recipes already!  I’ve previously blogged about the Oreo-Style Cookies here, the Triple Chocolate Chubbies here, and the Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies here.  The recipes for the Triple Chocolate Chubbies and the Chocolate Shortbread Cookies can be found in the Mother’s Best Cookbook, a favorite of mine I’ve talked up before.  And the recipe for the Spritz cookies can be found in a cookbook every baker should have, the Joy of Cooking.  If you make the Spritz cookies, sub out the vanilla for almond extract…trust me.  Even though those little beasts made me want to go into a stabbing fit, they were delicious.

So that leaves the Four Spice Crackles and the Peanut Butter Cookies.

Four Spice Crackles

The Four Spice Crackles are a recipe I found online a number of years ago that have become a Christmas crowd favorite.

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsps ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening (yes, you really do want to use shortening in addition to the butter!)
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar (coarse is nice but regular will do; this is for rolling the cookie balls in before baking)

Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon.  [Helpful Hint: Grind up whole cloves in a clean coffee grinder instead of using pre-ground cloves.  They are far more pungent and add to the complexity and flavor of the cookie.]  In a separate, medium bowl, cream together the brown sugar, butter, and shortening.  (I like to use my KitchenAid stand mixer.)  Stir in the molasses and egg and mix till well blended.  Gradually stir in the dry ingredients until everything is mixed together.  Cover and chill the dough at least 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Roll chilled dough into 1″ balls, and roll each ball in the 2/3 cup sugar.  Place the balls 2″ apart on a cookie sheet, and flatten each slightly.  Bake 9-12 minutes, till cracked but still soft in the center.  Cool on wire racks.  Store in an airtight container up to two weeks.

Peanut Butter Cookies

The Peanut Butter Cookies take me back to summers traveling with my beloved Grandma and Bopaw.  My grandma had a wooden recipe card box filled to the brim with delicious culinary treats, including these guys.  One summer, Grandma bought me a package of index cards and a plastic recipe card box, and I very studiously copied all the recipes I wanted, including these bad boys.  They’ll always have a special place in my heart. If you make these, buy the cheap, store-brand peanut butter…you really don’t need fancy peanut butter just to make cookies, and peanut butter is spendy these days. I prefer to use crunchy, but creamy works just as well.  It’s all a matter of preference.

Measure carefully and add each of the following ingredients to the bowl one at a time, in the following order, mixing well after adding each ingredient:

  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter [Helpful Hint: Microwave the peanut butter in a glass measuring cup, stirring every 20-30 seconds, until it’s melty enough to tell how much you have.  Doing so makes mixing, and measuring accurately, easier.]
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg

Measure and mix together in a separate bowl the following ingredients, then add to the liquid mixture above and blend:

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Cover and chill dough for at least an hour.  (I generally chill my dough overnight.)  Once the dough is chilled, preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll the dough into balls and place them 3″ apart on a cookie sheet.  Flatten each ball in a criss-cross pattern with the tines of a fork dipped in a small bowl of flour to prevent sticking.  Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with sugar.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are set but not hard.  [Helpful Hint: If your oven is a tricky beast like mine is, check them at 8-9 minutes; they should be slightly golden but NOT dark brown!]

“Emergency” Comfort Food.

Declare this an emergency
Come on and spread a sense of urgency

Things have been tough lately. I can’t even fully explain why.  There’s certainly enough life stresses, or maybe it’s the four hours a day of anemic sunlight we get this time of year. (Seriously, sometimes there’s not enough vitamin D in the world to combat this place.)  Whatever it is, I’ve been more emo than the hipster kids on Hawthorne that I want to punch in the face.

To pull us through
And pull us through

One of the things that likely isn’t helping is having to be The Boy’s rock.  I’m no good at being The Rock.  And it makes me feel like crap that I’m so bad at it (and whiny about it), considering his position as The Rock for me for the three year hell of law school.  I should be able to just man up and handle it, but if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s knowing how I should be feeling, but feeling an entirely different way.

This is the end
This is the end
Walk away

My default mode when trying to take care of others is to feed them until they explode.  The Boy really likes breakfast, but I’m generally no good at making breakfast.  However, I can bake, and I can make rockin’ buttermilk biscuits from the Mother’s Best cookbook.  They may not photograph well, but they are the moistest, richest, most delicious biscuits on the planet, and deceptively easy.  If you haven’t done so already, get this cookbook.  It’s worth it for the biscuit recipe alone.

It’s time we saw a miracle
Come on it’s time for something biblical

I don’t know why it popped into my head while making biscuits, but Muse’s “Emergency” took over my brain and I found myself humming it aloud while forming the dough.  It made me think about how much I used to love Muse before they decided to suck.  And it made me think of The Bestie and all the concerts we went to together…skipping first week Con Law I so I could go to the show in Portland with her…flying down to LA during finals third year to go to another show with her (nothing like studying Antitrust flash cards on a plane)…cherished memories with a special friend.

To pull us through
And pull us through

Thinking about her while baking made me think of the Bake-a-Thons we used to have.  We share a love of baking, and we share a love of cooking from scratch.  And she’s great at both of those things, too.  Between our respective schedules and the upcoming holidays, I don’t see another baking party happening any time soon, but I certainly hope we can change that in the new year.

This is the end
This is the end
Walk away

In the meantime, I’ll keep baking on my own, taking my vitamin D, and going for long runs (Lief Ericson in fall?  Amazing!).  The end of the ho-hums is on my horizon, because I am going to make it so.

And in the mean time, there’s always biscuits and gravy…

ZOMG Chocolate.

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I don’t know if it’s just because kids are lazy these days, or if it’s our highly-sought-after placement near a busy road and a number of super-classy strip joints, but we never seem to get more than a couple of trick-or-treaters at our house.  This year was no exception, and as a result we ended up with enough candy to put an entire elementary school into a sugar-fueled frenzy for at least a year.

And then we ate it all.

I don’t know which is worse, the shame from having gorged myself on cheap chocolate for the past two weeks straight, or the fact that I now am absolutely crazed for chocolate but have none to speak of in the house.

Enter the homemade Oreo-style cookie recipe.

If you’re prone to completely ruining your self-esteem with delicious food, then I recommend you stop reading right now, because these things are A-MA-ZING.  Also, they’re entirely too easy, especially if you have a stand mixer.

Ingredients
For the cookies:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 heaping cup unsweetened cocoa (the darker, the better)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar (I used 1 cup sugar, and about 1/4 cup Splenda)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) room-temperature butter (can carefully microwave for 20-30 seconds if need be)
1 large egg

For the filling:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature butter (can carefully microwave for 20-30 seconds if need be)
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
One tiny drop red gel food dye (optional…but c’mon, who doesn’t love a hint of pink??)

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Mix together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar by hand or with a stand mixer at the lowest setting.  Add the butter; with paddle of stand mixer, mix till dough is a consistent, crumbly consistency.  Add the egg and continue mixing until the dough comes together in a mass.

Form small, rounded teaspoons of dough into balls by hand.  (They really need to be small unless you want giant cookies!)  Place rounded balls on cookie sheet approximately two inches apart.  Flatten each ball ever-so-slightly with your finger tips after placing them on the cookie sheet.  Make two sheets of cookies.  Bake for 9 minutes, rotating the sheets top to bottom and front to back after 4 minutes.  Immediately remove cookies from sheets and allow to cool on a rack.

Meanwhile, to make the filling, put the butter and shortening in the mixing bowl of the stand mixer.  At low speed, blend together, then gradually beat in the sugar (approximately 1/2 cup at a time, sifted) and vanilla, as well as the food dye, if desired.  Beat on high speed for 2 to 3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.

Once the cookies have cooled and the filling is finished, place teaspoon-size balls of filling into the center of one cookie.  (You can use a large, round tip and pastry bag if you want, but it’s just as easy to shape the filling blob by hand.)  Place a cookie of matching size on the first cookie on top of the filing.  Lightly press the two cookies together to evenly spread the filling to the outside edge of the cookies.  Repeat with remaining cookies.  Then stuff a cookie in your mouth and prepare to never buy another bag of store-bought creme-filled cookies again!

"Om nom!"

Slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen by way of My Baking Addiction.