Holiday 2017

As I walked into our student store the other day (I work on a college campus), I was  blasted simultaneously by air conditioning (yes!) and Christmas music (whaaat?). Turns out they were having a Christmas in July sale.

If you can believe it, I’ve already begun the pre-planning (otherwise known as daydreaming) phase of my holiday baking.

Which has reminded me that I have a blog.

That hasn’t been updated since December of last year.

I don’t really have an explanation.

But I do have a nice little back log of posts at the ready.

For this post, I present an array of marginally mediocre snaps from our 2017 holidays.

Amazing effort on your first post of 2018 you say.  I don’t disagree.  But anyhow.  Holidays 2017:

There was baking.

And candy making.

And packaging.

And boxing.

About the time all that was done, my family arrived.

So there was more baking.

And some holiday decorations.

And butter trees.

Then there’s this. That’s TD.  In our as-yet-to-be-landscaped side yard. In a cougar ski mask, holiday appropriate t-shirt and thermo BBQing gloves.

Rest assured, he was the only one of us wearing a costume.

 

 

It’s all just icing on the cookie

“We elves like to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.” Buddy, in Elf (2003).

Generally, my belief when decorating cookies is that the more you mess with them, the worse they taste.  While I appreciate the look real royal icing creates, I’ve always shied away from it because of this.

Using lemon juice in confectioner’s sugar, while pretty delicious does have its limitations.  Most specifically, I found no matter what I did, the colors bled.

So, this year I decided to go for it with the royal icing figuring that even if they tasted awful, they at least had a chance of looking good.

I did quite a bit of research in preparation and found the royal icing recipe and technique instructions from The Adventures of Sweet Sugar Bell made a lot  of sense.  Especially the part about the spray bottle.

I’m telling you, the spray bottle was key.

Not to get all metaphysical on ya’ll, but I can’t help but think of T.S. Elliott and his Wasteland (1922) now that all is said and done:

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place from the first time.”

Scenes from Holiday Baking #1

I’ve decided to interrupt my regularly scheduled TJ Tuesdays for the next month-and-a-half or so to bring you a weekly dose of what holiday baking looks like in our house.  I’ll give you a hint, you will not find Betty Crocker in any of these pictures.  In the Misanthropic Household, holiday baking is not a frilly-apron and hot cocoa sipping type of a affair (though, there is listening to holiday music…but only after Thanksgiving).  Nay, it is a full-throttle high-precision assault that leaves no stick of butter unused and no Kitchen God un-decorated.  Planning begins in August with delivery and shipping complete no later than the second week of December.

In this spirit, I thought I’d show some pictures of what happens along the way.  We’ll start with naked paper towel rolls.

Into which went 12 batches of 2 different kinds of sable cookie dough.  Wrapped-up tightly, they’ll reside in the freezer until I’m ready to bake them off later this month.

For the first time this year, I’ve also decided to quantify the process. I know that not tracking sounds completely antithetical to my color-coded and task-listed process.  However, until now, I’ve purposely stayed away from the accounting of every pound of nuts and every trip to the grocery because I feared knowing my consumption would interrupt the creative process.  This year though, we’re keeping track because I think it would be fun to know just how many eggs are cracked in the name of holiday treats.

The tally to posting (can’t say to-date because even as I write this, I’ve already moved on in a way that includes nearly 75 ounces of heavy cream.  Moo.):

  • 3.5 lbs unsalted butter
  • 12 eggs
  • 1 lb chocolate
  • 1 lb pecans
  • 1 ish lb dried sour cherries

Want to play along at home?

Want to win a prize?

In the comments below, take a guess at the final butter poundage.  Technically I could calculate this out now but that wouldn’t be any fun.  Instead, I’ll update the number of pounds used on a weekly basis so that we’re all surprised in the end.  Operationally, final butter poundage is defined as the total pounds of butter utilized in the making of the nine holiday treats I have planned.  I will not reveal either the specifics of the treats or the total number of batches at this time.  However, you already know the total of the first two. I’ll give you another hint: only one of the nine different goodies does not include butter as an ingredient.  Informed risk takers can extrapolate as desired.   Anything else I make along the way will not be included (so take out like 20 lbs for Thanksgiving).  To make things fair, you can only cast your speculation between now and next Monday, November 19 at 11:59 PST.  The person with the closest guess gets a box of said goodies. If you already happen to be on the goodie-recipient list, I’ll throw in a dozen or so extra of whatever you would like.  Winner will be announced on Tuesday, December 4th.  Vaya con sprinkles!

P.S. Not that it matters to anyone but me, but I’ve also thrown the gauntlet at myself.  This year I’ve challenged myself to not eat any of what I make.  Not in the baking, not in the leftovers.  Let’s see if I can make it happen.

 

 

Sweet and salty

You didn’t think I’d do a month of Halloween treats and forget the caramel did you?  And, this isn’t just any caramel, this is Ina Garten’s fleur de sel caramel.  These little treats are very rich, just slightly chewy and have enough salt that they border on savory (think kettle corn).

While the sugar and water get to boiling, prepare the pan.  Cut the parchment so that it sits neatly along two sides and overhangs on the other two (enough to use the extra parchment to lift the finished caramel out of the pan).

This is a two-pan caramel recipe.  Sugar and water come together in one while heavy cream and butter are warmed in another.

Once the sugar and water reach a pale sunny blond…

In goes the dairy (be prepared for a little angry caramel for a few minutes).

Bring the whole mess up to 248 degrees.

And then into the prepared pan and into the fridge until completely cooled.

Now it’s time to really get to work.  This is a soft caramel and as such, imprints easily.  Like fingerprint easy.  To avoid mucking up the beautiful shiny caramel with my grubby fingers, I put on plastic gloves for this next part.

Tightly roll the caramel to halfway.

Cut into eight pieces.

Srinkle with fleur de sel.

Then repeat with the other half.  I wrapped each little piece in parchment (I cut a couple of 10X14 inch pieces into eight equal-sized parchment rectangles giving me 16 pieces total).  You could also use waxed paper or cellophane.  A few years ago I used this really cute waxed paper from The Container Store.

Over the years I’ve made these on-and-off for the holidays.  Something tells me they’ll making a comeback this year.

If you like this, you might like these

Salted Caramel Squares

Scratch Twix

Soundtrack

MJ in the house.

Fleur de Sel Caramels

Ina Garten

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan (or loaf pan) with parchment paper, then brush the paper lightly with oil, allowing the paper to drape over 2 sides.
  2.  In a deep saucepan (6 inches diameter by 4 1/2 inches deep) combine the sugar, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil until the caramel is a warm golden brown color. Don’t stir – just swirl the pan to mix. Watch carefully, as it will burn quickly at the end!
  3. In the meantime, bring the cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon fleur de sel to a simmer in a small pan over medium heat. Remove from the heat, set aside and keep warm.
  4. When the caramelized sugar is the right color, slowly add the cream mixture to the caramel – it will boil up violently. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248 degrees F (firm ball) on a candy thermometer. Very carefully (it’s hot!) pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate until firm.
  5. When the caramels are cool, use the parchment paper to pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board. Starting at 1 end, roll the caramel up tightly until you’ve rolled up half of the sheet. Cut the sheet across and then roll the second half tightly. You will have 2 (1 by 8-inch) logs. Sprinkle both logs lightly with fleur de sel, cut each log in 8 pieces. Cut parchment papers in 6 by 4 1/2-inch squares and wrap each caramel in a paper, twisting the ends. Store in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

Christmas Stollen: my first Daring Bakers’ challenge

December was my Daring Bakers’ maiden voyage.  Yes, there was champagne and confetti (though this is the way it always is around my house, so, the part about it being my first challenge was just a coincidence).

The Daring Kitchen is an online community of bloggers who “get together” each month and make a challenging baked good.  It’s very cloak and dagger.  Even though we get the recipe at the beginning of the month, it’s all hush hush until the reveal day when everyone presents the challenge via their blog.

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking.  She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen.  She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

My first thought when the challenge was unveiled was, “kowabunga dude!”  My second: wait…stollen?  What is stollen?  And now I’v revealed that I don’t have a German bone in my body.

Stollen is sort of a fruity desserty holiday bread.  Yes, it’s a bread.

Okay fine. It’s fruit cake.  But not the nasty kind.

The yeast-based dough is slightly sweet, filled with fruit, candied citrus peel, slivered almonds and often, marzipan. And, as soon as I got to the citrus zest on the ingredients list, I was a convert.

Citrus zest and spices are added to a basic egg-based yeast dough recipe.

Then the real fun begins.  What goes in to one’s stollen is quite personal.  A quick peek into my pantry revealed that I happened to have dried cranberries and cherries on hand.  I re-hydrated these in some orange juice.  They were then joined by some candied orange peel I’d made the day before and slivered almonds.

Some time with the dough hook and my little bun was ready to proof over night in the fridge.

A day of grading BUAD-495 final papers and a visit to the dentist later, my dough and I were ready to get boogying.  Out of the fridge and another two hours of proofing yielded an impressive and insanely good-smelling bowl of dough.

Traditional stollen is made in loaf form (it is supposed to look like a swaddled baby Jesus).  However, those Daring Bakers’ are a little on the fancy side, so this recipe had the dough going the distance in the form of a wreath.  After a good-natured punching down, the dough was rolled thin.

And I added a rope of homemade marzipan.  I’m not including a link for the marzipan yet because I’m not entirely confident that I’ve mastered the recipe. More to come on my meanderings with marzipan.

Next, my dough and marzipan got tolled up into a big, fat, heavy log.

To get the log into wreath shape, I lined a baking sheet with parchment and placed a heat-proof bowl in the center. Then, I wrapped the dough log around the bowl, pinching the ends together.  This was followed by some snips to further articulate the wreath-shape.

Some more proofing commenced and then, into the oven until the dough was dark-golden.

But, we’re not done yet.  While still hot, I slathered the bread with alternating layers of melted butter and powdered sugar to form a sort of icing/preserver.  Speaking of preservers, the wreath was easily large enough to be utilized as a life preserver.

.

I wrapped-up the cooled wreath and let it cure for a couple of days (this was very, very difficult to do).  After the 48-hour waiting period, we had arrived at the moment of truth.

If loving fruitcake is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

TD said it tasted like raisin bread.  However, most raisin bread isn’t  blanketed in a layer of crunchy yet tender icing.  This is not a light bread.  It is an eat a couple of pieces and then climb the Matterhorn sort of bread.  But with some patience, it was really fun to make.  A perfect first challenge for this virgin Daring Baker!

Stollen

Daring Bakers’ Challenge

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup (60ml) lukewarm water (110º F / 43º C)
  • 2 packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) (22 ml) (14 grams) (1/2 oz) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup (240 ml) milk
  • 10 tablespoons (150 ml) (140 grams) unsalted butter (can use salted butter)
  • 5½ cups (1320 ml) (27 ozs) (770 grams) all-purpose (plain) flour (Measure flour first – then sift- plus extra for dusting)
  • ½ cup (120 ml) (115 gms) sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon (3 ¾ ml) (4 ½ grams) salt (if using salted butter there is no need to alter this salt measurement)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 grams) cinnamon
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) (very good) vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) lemon extract or orange extract
  • ¾ cup (180 ml) (4 ¾ ozs) (135 grams) mixed peel (link below to make your own)
  • 1 cup (240 ml) (6 ozs) (170 gms) firmly packed raisins
  • 3 tablespoons (45ml) rum
  • 12 red glacé cherries (roughly chopped) for the color and the taste. (optional)
  • 1 cup (240 ml) (3 ½ ozs) (100 grams) flaked almonds
  • Melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath
  • Confectioners’ (icing) (powdered) sugar for dusting wreath

Directions:

Soak the raisins
In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the rum (or in the orange juice from the zested orange) and set aside. See Note under raisins.

To make the dough

Pour ¼ cup (60 ml) warm water into a small bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast completely.

In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup (240 ml) milk and 10 tablespoons (150 ml) butter over medium – low heat until butter is melted. Let stand until lukewarm, about 5 minutes.

Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add lemon and vanilla extracts.

In a large mixing bowl (4 qt) (4 liters) (or in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment), stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests.

Then stir in (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) the yeast/water mixture, eggs and the lukewarm milk/butter mixture. This should take about 2 minutes. It should be a soft, but not sticky ball. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl with either plastic or a tea cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.

Add in the mixed peel, soaked fruit and almonds and mix with your hands or on low speed to incorporate. Here is where you can add the cherries if you would like. Be delicate with the cherries or all your dough will turn red!

Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing with the dough hook) to distribute the fruit evenly, adding additional flour if needed. The dough should be soft and satiny, tacky but not sticky. Knead for approximately 8 minutes (6 minutes by machine). The full six minutes of kneading is needed to distribute the dried fruit and other ingredients and to make the dough have a reasonable bread-dough consistency. You can tell when the dough is kneaded enough – a few raisins will start to fall off the dough onto the counter because at the beginning of the kneading process the dough is very sticky and the raisins will be held into the dough but when the dough is done it is tacky which isn’t enough to bind the outside raisins onto the dough ball.

Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Put it in the fridge overnight. The dough becomes very firm in the fridge (since the butter goes firm) but it does rise slowly… the raw dough can be kept in the refrigerator up to a week and then baked on the day you want.

Shaping the Dough and Baking the Wreath

1. Let the dough rest for 2 hours after taking out of the fridge in order to warm slightly.
2. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
3. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 with the oven rack on the middle shelf.
4. Punch dough down, roll into a rectangle about 16 x 24 inches (40 x 61 cms) and ¼ inch (6 mm) thick.

Starting with a long side, roll up tightly, forming a long, thin cylinder.  Transfer the cylinder roll to the sheet pan. Join the ends together, trying to overlap the layers to make the seam stronger and pinch with your fingers to make it stick, forming a large circle. You can form it around a bowl to keep the shape.  Using kitchen scissors, make cuts along outside of circle, in 2-inch (5 cm) intervals, cutting 2/3 of the way through the dough. Twist each segment outward, forming a wreath shape. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Proof for approximately 2 hours at room temperature, or until about 1½ times its original size.
Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The bread will bake to a dark mahogany color, should register 190°F/88°C in the center of the loaf, and should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

Transfer to a cooling rack and brush the top with melted butter while still hot.
Immediately tap a layer of powdered sugar over the top through a sieve or sifter.
Wait for 1 minute, then tap another layer over the first.
The bread should be coated generously with the powdered sugar.
Let cool at least an hour before serving. Coat the stollen in butter and icing sugar three times, since this many coatings helps keeps the stollen fresh – especially if you intend on sending it in the mail as Christmas presents!

When completely cool, store in a plastic bag. Or leave it out uncovered overnight to dry out slightly, German style.

Storage
The more rum and the more coatings of butter and sugar you use the longer it will store.
The following is for the recipe as written and uses the 45 mls of rum and two coatings of butter and icing sugar
1. Stollen freezes beautifully about 4 months
2. The baked stollen stores well for 2 weeks covered in foil and plastic wrap on the counter at room temperature and
3. One month in the refrigerator well covered with foil and plastic wrap.

Freezer snob(less) orange cranberry shortbread

In my holiday baking each year, I try to include a little something for everyone.  There is always the sweet.  And the nutty.  And the chocolatey.  And the simple.  These profiles are easy.  It’s the fruity I struggle with a little.  In years’ past, the jam thumbprint has served me well.  But, as solid as that recipe is, I feel it’s a little played-out.  This year my search for fruity brought me to a simple cranberry-orange shortbread.  Well actually, I decided I wanted to do something with cranberries and orange and then found a recipe to match.

And, it’s a good one.

Here’s why.  You can make the dough, roll it into a log and freeze it for a couple of weeks.  Then when you are ready, all you do is defrost, slice and bake.  Okay, okay, I realize this is not a novel concept.  Yes, I know, there is an entire category of treats called, “Icebox Cookies.”  But, I have to admit, until this year, I was a bit of a freezer snob when it came to baked goods.  I always thought freezing dough—either before or after baking would compromise the taste.  And, for some recipes it does.  So, this was my Betty Crocker modern housewife experiment.  You know what?  It worked.

I made a double batch, rolled out the logs, wrapped each in parchment, wrapped the whole lot in plastic, then freezer bagged everything and into the freezer the dough went.  For a month.

Last weekend, at the very end of my baking, I pulled out the dough and let it defrost while the oven was pre-heating.  Never one to pass up the opportunity to add glitter to a project, I rolled the dough in white sanding sugar first.

Because really, do you know anyone who doesn’t like sparkles?

Then, I sliced them up and into the over they went.

Ten minutes later, I had a light, crumbly, fruity addition to my holiday cookie menagerie.

Their uniform shape and depth would make the orange shortbread cookies an excellent candidate for clear cellophane bags.  You could also make a variation or two and line them up neatly in a cute box.

This recipe is straight out of Southern Living.  The only thing I added was the sanding sugar.  I think those Southern Belles would approve.

Cranberry-Orange Shortbread Cookies

Southern Living, December 2009

Yield: Makes 4 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1  cup  butter, softened
  • 3/4  cup  powdered sugar
  • 1/2  cup  chopped dried cranberries
  • 1  tablespoon  orange zest
  • 2  teaspoons  vanilla extract
  • 1/2  teaspoon  almond extract
  • 2  cups  all-purpose flour
  • 1/4  teaspoon  baking powder
  • 1/8  teaspoon  salt
  • Wax paper

Preparation

1. Beat 1 cup softened butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add 3/4 cup powdered sugar, beating until smooth. Stir in chopped cranberries, orange zest, vanilla extract, and almond extract until blended.

2. Stir together 2 cups flour, 1/4 tsp. baking powder, and 1/8 tsp. salt.

3. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating at low speed until blended.

4. Shape shortbread dough into 2 (7-inch) logs. Wrap each log in wax paper, and chill 4 hours, or freeze logs in zip-top plastic freezer bags up to 1 month.

5. Preheat oven to 350°.

6. If frozen, let logs stand at room temperature 10 minutes. Cut each log into 24 slices. Place shortbread slices 1 inch apart on lightly greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheets.

7. Bake shortbread slices at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges of slices are golden.

8. Remove shortbread from baking sheets, and place on wire racks; let cool completely (about 20 minutes). Store in airtight containers.

Baklava makes the world a better place

I love baklava. Though really, it’s much more fun it you pronounce it ‘baaaaklaaavaaaa.’ Go ahead, try it. Feels good doesn’t it? For me it is one of those foods that while available all year, speaks inexorably of the holiday season.

This year I finally got up the courage to make it from scratch. And, now that I’ve done it, I have to tell you, making baklava some scratch needs no courage at all. If you buy the phyllo dough it is very easy and very fun.

Before we get to the baking, let’s talk a little bit about baklava’s origins. A brief review of its history reveals that this sweet sticky treat may very well be one of history’s first party foods. After all, much of the evidence points toward the confection as Greek in origin. Though, Mesopotamia was inevitably involved as well. While the word baklava is Turkish in derivation, many culturally specific varieties exist from Greek to Turkish to Middle Eastern. In this sense, baklava truly is a celebratory food of the world.

While I prefer it made with pistachios, I actually used walnuts because I was hoping to limit my own consumption. Sadly, or happily, it didn’t work and I managed to consume more than my fair share of the pans I made.

Phyllo dough can be found in freezer section of any grocery store. The kind I bought fit perfectly into a 9X13” pan. So, I adapted the original recipe to fit.

I went ahead and defrosted the dough in the fridge over night. This yielded perfect results as the dough did not stick and was very easy to work with.

The spice base is a combination of cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Remember the Strawberry Shortcake dolls that smelled like fruits and spices? If I were one, I’d be Carly Cardamom.

IMG_8958

For the first batch, I chopped the nuts myself. For the second, I busted out Bertha, my trusty food processor. There is no shame in technological progress. The chopped nuts, sugar and spices all get mixed together in a sort of exotic orgy of awesome smells and textures.

IMG_8937

Each layer of phyllo dough is separated by a brushed-on layer of melted butter.

IMG_8941

The sugar and nut mixture gets added in at regular intervals.

IMG_8940

This goes on for about 20 or so layers until all the butter, nuts and dough have been utilized. Then, you cut the pieces into your desired shape and into the over goes the whole lot until everything is a nice golden brown.

IMG_8942

While things are already looking really tasty, the best is yet to come. Right out of the oven, you pour a fantastic syrup of honey and spices right into the pan. By the time everything cools down, the syrup gets absorbed and the result is nothing short of a pastry worthy of whatever deity you happen to worship.

IMG_8949

IMG_8951

Baklava

Adapted from Epicurious, epicurious.com

Makes one pan 9X13″ pan

3 1/2 C chopped walnuts

1/2 C sugar

1 TSP ground cinnamon

1/2 TSP ground cardamom

1/4 TSP ground cloves

1/2 LB phyllo dough sheets

1.5 C melted butter

Syrup*

1 C sugar

1 C water

1/3 C honey

1/4 lemon, peel only

1 clove

* I substituted 1/4 C orange blossom water for 1/4 C of the water and did not use the lemon peel and clove.

To Make

1. Mix the walnuts, sugar and spices.

2. Remove phyllo dough from packaging, lay out flat and cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel (keep covered as dough will dry out quickly).

3. Melt the butter.

4. Starting with a single layer of phyllo, lay-out in pan and lightly brush butter over entire surface. Repeat this step until you have 8 layers in the pan.

5. Spread 1/3 of the nut mixture evenly across the 8th buttered layer of dough.

6. Add 4 more layers of phyllo, brushing each layer with butter.

7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until all of the nut mixture has been layered.

8. Top the last layer of the nut mixture with the remaining phyllo dough (should be about 8 layers).

9. Cut the pan into desired number and shape of pieces–but try not to cut through the bottom layer of phyllo.

10. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is a deep golden brown.

11. While pastry is baking, make syrup. Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

12. Once the pastry is done, immediately pour hot syrup over the entire pan.

13. Allow to stand at room temp. until completely cooled and the syrup has been absorbed into the pastry.

14. Re-run knife through dough, this time cutting through to the bottom of the pan.

15. Serve, enjoy and try not to eat the entire pan!