Monday, December 31, 2012

Gingerbread Cookies

Last post about Christmas cookies (for a bit, anyway...), I promise!  Since I didn't go all out with cookies this year, I asked the husband to choose one that he really wanted.  He loves gingerbread, so that was his request.  While it's not a favorite of mine, I am a baker who loves to make people happy, so gingerbread it is!

I remembered that 2 years ago he got me some "Ninjabread" (te-he) cookie cutters.  Although they are not Christmas-y (I don't believe ninjas are involved in the Nativity story), they are fun.

See this ninja is taking down his Christmas tree too.  :-)

I did not grow up with gingerbread, and now I think I understand why my mom didn't make them.  They're so sticky!  I knew this, and thought I was prepared.  However, after my first attempt at cutting them out was followed by some very non-Christmas-y words, I loaded up on the flour.  And, of course, it worked out just fine.

These cookies have a lovely flavor that even won me over.  They aren't punch-you-in-the-face gingery.  Still spicy, but wonderfully balanced, and tender.

My icing attempt won't win any prizes for their aesthetic appeal, but they sure tasted great!  This recipe has secured a place in my Christmas cookie rotation.

Gingerbread Cookies
(from Taste of Home)
Makes 2-3 dozen, depending on size of cookie cutter

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1 egg
2 tablespoons water
2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice

In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the molasses, egg and water. Combine the flour, ginger, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice; add to creamed mixture and mix well. Divide dough in half. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until easy to handle.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out each portion of dough to 1/8-in. thickness. Cut with a floured 4-in. cookie cutter. Place 2 in. apart on greased baking sheets. Reroll scraps.
Bake at 350° for 8-10 minutes or until edges are firm. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 Tbsp milk (to desired consistency)

Beat sugar, butter, and vanilla extract until well combined.  Mix in milk one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.  Scoop into Ziploc bag (or pastry bag) to pipe onto cookies.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Sometimes you just want to bake a solid crowd-pleasing cookie without much hassle (okay, most of the time...)  I thought I should make good on my promise to bake Snickerdoodles in my Snickerdoodle Cupcake post.

Not having a go-to recipe of my own, I consulted Smitten Kitchen (big shock!), and she had just the Snickerdoodle recipe I needed.

When you make these, you not only get tasty cookies, but your kitchen will smell amazing for at least a day.  Seriously, waking up the next morning to the remaining scent of fresh-baked cookies IS the way to start your day.

So, the last day before the holiday, I brought these in to work, and they were gone within an hour.  It surprised me because half of the office had already left for vacation!  I had a fair number of folks come up to me later in the day and say guiltily, "I had...two..."  Great!  That's the sign of a tasty recipe.

(From Smitten Kitchen)

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 stick or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, plus more if needed
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 400°, with one rack in top third and one rack in bottom third of oven. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs, and beat to combine. Add dry ingredients, and beat to combine. If the dough is too sticky to work with, just chill it in the fridge for an hour or so.

In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the ground cinnamon.  Scoop out a rounded tablespoon of dough, roll into a ball, and coat in cinnamon sugar. Place about two inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.  Put one sheet in the upper rack and the second on the lower rack in the oven.  Bake until the cookies are set in center and begin to crack (they will not brown), about 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets after five minutes. Transfer the sheets to a wire rack to cool about five minutes before transferring the cookies to the rack.


Peppermint Marshmallows

Chilly weather always makes me think of sitting in front of a crackling fire, with a cozy blanket and a hot mug of something.  Well, we haven't got a fireplace, but I do have a blanket, two cozy kitties, and mugs waiting to be filled with that something.


The husband's favorite wintery combination is peppermint and chocolate.  Classic!  Making peppermint marshmallows to go with hot chocolate seemed like a fantastic idea.  You have to be careful, however, to not add too much extract to the 'mallow because if you do, it tastes like toothpaste.  Not an ideal flavor.  I started with a tiny amount (that turned out to be perfect), because you can always add more!  It's a bit tougher to take it away.

My friend, Chut, of previous marshmallow fame, suggested cutting them into circles to fit in a mug.  Adorable.  So instead of spreading it all out and then using a biscuit cutter to make circles, (and have funny-shaped leftovers), I thought I'd try my hand at piping circles. 

I lightly traced some circles on my parchment paper and used them as a stencil.  The actual piping worked... okay.  I had forgotten a key difference between frosting and marshmallow and that is... the stickiness factor.  The marshmallow didn't, however, stick to the prepared parchment paper (which is good), but then it would stick to the bag which made for some wonky circles (and lots of cursing).  At the end I just started piping individual 'dollops' which actually looked kind of cute.  Or like snowman poop.  Anyway.

Also, for fun, I finely chopped some bittersweet chocolate and sprinkled it on top of the marshmallow immediately following piping.  Because extra chocolate is never a bad thing.

I packaged these up with my favorite sipping chocolate as my holiday gift for my coworkers.  What a shock that I always prefer to give something edible!

So go ahead and whip these up to have with your family on some wintery night!

Peppermint Marshmallows
(Chut's recipe)

Cold mixture:
1/4 cup water
1 packet of gelatin
Pour water in stand mixer bowl, and sprinkle the packet of gelatin on top and let sit while you work on the syrup.

1/8 tsp. peppermint extract (it seems small, but it really is enough!)
1 oz. finely chopped chocolate for garnish

3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup hot water

Combine into saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until it reaches 240 degrees (soft-ball stage). It took roughly 10 minutes on medium-high heat. Remove from heat and pour slowly into stand mixer, with whisk attachment, and whip at high speed until it's opaque, no longer runny, and at least doubled in volume, and is much stiffer, about 10-15 minutes. In the beginning of the whipping of this, add the peppermint extract.

While it's whipping, put parchment paper on a cookie sheet, and lightly spray with cooking spray, and lightly sprinkle cornstarch on it. After marshmallow is done whipping, scoop into large Ziploc bag and cut off corner. Pipe circles, dollops, or straight rows, and sprinkle chopped chocolate immediately on top. Then sprinkle cornstarch over it and let sit for at least and hour or two to completely set.

If you piped rows, use pizza cutter to cut marshmallow when set.

Pair with your favorite sipping chocolate and enjoy!

Friday, December 21, 2012

White Russian Cupcakes

I'd had a request from the husband and a friend, to make another boozy cupcake - White Russian Cupcakes.  Okay, done!

 I was surprised to find that there weren't a ton of recipes out there for them, but this one is very good.  If I had to change one thing with this recipe, it would be tweaking the frosting.  It's good, don't get me wrong, but it's a tad sweet for me.  In light of that, I didn't 'pile high' the frosting as I might with other cupcakes I've made in the past.  However, no one complained!

Those who know me know that I'm not a huge coffee fan, so this flavor profile isn't exactly up my alley.  However, I'm always happy to expand my boozy recipe repertoire!

Those who read this blog with any frequency (thank you, seriously, all 3 of you!) know that I utilize Ziploc bags for piping all the time.  Seriously, I should get a sponsorship.  Anyway, the husband saw how I fill the bags and suggested that I share it, in case any of you struggled with a droopy, messy bag-filling experience.  Simply put the bag on the inside of a standard Pyrex measuring cup (or something similar) and it's super easy to fill.  It's also helpful for avoiding annoying air bubbles that create frosting flatulence, although humorous, disrupt the perfect piping experience.

I know chocolate isn't part of the White Russian flavor profile, but are you complaining about authenticity if chocolate is present?  I thought not.

The simple flavors of White Russians (vodka, Kahlua, and cream) transform into cupcake form really well. This recipe incorporates all three staple ingredients to give it an authentic flavoring. While I'm not a fan of the movie that made White Russians popular, The Dude would approve.

White Russian Cupcakes
(from Baked Perfection)

makes 12 cupcakes

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 large egg and 1 egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1/8 cup Vodka
1/8 cup Kahlua, with 1 additional tablespoon, set aside
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl or in a stand mixer, beat together the sugar and butter until combined. Add egg and egg white, one at a time. Then add the vanilla, Vodka, and 1/8 cup of Kahlua. Gradually add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk in two additions, ending with the flour mixture.

Bake 17 -20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a cupcakes comes out clean. While the cupcakes are still warm, brush the tops with the remaining Kahlua. Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting. 
Kahlua Buttercream

1 stick of butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons Kahlua
1 tablespoon milk (or more, for your preferred texture)
1 oz. chocolate, minced, for topping

Beat butter until creamy. Add salt. Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, beating until combined. Add Kahlua 1 tablespoon at a time and milk until you reach desired consistency.
Use bag to pipe on cupcakes, and top with minced chocolate.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sweet Potato Marshmallows

This time of year means lots of holiday parties, which gives me many opportunities to bake and cook to my heart's content.  Last year, at our neighbor's party I brought Oatmeal Stout Marshmallows, which were quite a hit.  This year, a different spin - sweet potato marshmallows.

Now, I can't take the credit for coming up with the flavor.  That would be my friend, Chut, who incidentally, taught me how to make marshmallows in the first place.  However, it's definitely a favorite of mine.

A holiday flavor, reminiscent of sweet potato casserole, of course.  But this is a delicate, velvety treat without any of the trouble of a goopy casserole.  If you're not necessarily a fan of eating the marshmallows straight, it works well in hot chocolate (it actually was really good, despite what you might think of the flavor).

I also tried something new for the 'shapes' of the marshmallows.  Typically I'd spread them in a prepared, shallow pan and then cut them with a pizza cutter.  It works fine, and is definitely a 'rustic' look.  This time, I put the marshmallow in a Ziploc bag, cut off a corner, and piped a few rows of it so I'd just have to 'slice' them instead of cutting out squares.  It made for more uniform marshmallows and was quite a bit easier and an easy cleanup.  The perfection of technique continues!

The recipe below is actually a halved recipe of the original.  But unless you have an army to feed, I'd stick with the smaller amount, as a little goes a long way with these treats.

Sweet Potato Marshmallows
(Chut's recipe)

Cold mixture:
1/4 cup water
1 packet of gelatin
Pour water in stand mixer bowl, and sprinkle the packet of gelatin on top and let sit while you work on the syrup.

1/4 cup, rounded, of sweet potato puree (I used canned, unsweetened puree, but if you were ambitious, I'm sure you could make your own)
1/4 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
Pinch nutmeg

3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup hot water
Combine into saucepan over medium-high heat.  Cook until it reaches 240 degrees (soft-ball stage).  It took roughly 10 minutes on medium-high heat.  Remove from heat and pour slowly into stand mixer, with whisk attachment, and whip at high speed until it's opaque,  no longer runny, and at least doubled in volume, and is much stiffer, about 10-15 minutes.  In the beginning of the whipping of this, add the sweet potato puree and spices.

While it's whipping, put parchment paper on a cookie sheet, and lightly spray with cooking spray, and lightly sprinkle cornstarch on it.  After marshmallow is done whipping, scoop into large Ziploc bag and cut off corner.  Pipe straight rows (it was about 4 of them for me), and sprinkle cornstarch over it and let sit for at least and hour or two to completely set.

A pizza cutter works GREAT to cut the mallows, and coat all sides of mallows with cornstarch to keep from sticking all over everything.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mom's Lasagna

Ah, December in the Pacific Northwest.  The sky is dreary, gray, and leaking precipitation... and will be for the next seven months.  Ugh.  Enter the desire for some comfort food - lasagna.  It was a favorite of mine growing up (I requested it frequently when I came home to visit from college), and still is a favorite.  Discussing lasagna recipes with folks can get a bit heated as everyone I know always has the same line, "my mom's is the best."

And, of course, I think MY mom's is the best.  I certainly haven't had one at a restaurant I liked as much.  Perhaps it's just one of those things that is just better homemade.  It takes a bit of time, and it's great fun to assemble.  Anticipation grows at is bakes. And then you have to wait for it to cool a bit so you don't burn off the roof of your mouth.  Delayed gratification at its best.

Also, plenty of time for you (and any sous chefs present) to polish off your favorite bottle of red wine, and enjoy hanging out.  That's happened...on more than one occasion for me, could you have guessed?  0:-)

I finally got the recipe from my mom a few years ago, but prior to that I would request it for dinner anytime I was home.  I distinctly remember one time that she was in the middle of making it when she realized she had no noodles.  So my dad dutifully went off to the store to get some.  Upon his return, she started to assemble and realized that she had forgotten the ricotta cheese.  So it was my turn to go off to the store.  Thankfully she didn't forget anything else, but it was pretty funny that she forgot some very key ingredients.  (She's going to kill me for telling that story...)

While I was making it this time, the husband was commenting on the order of layering, and for that I gave him a look.  Then he said, "Really, this is just a vehicle for cheese, so you can layer it however you want."  We really are true, cheese-loving Sconnies.  :-)

If you're looking for a down home, tasty, lasagna, I recommend my mom's recipe.  Grab a bottle (or two) of your favorite red and some friends, and get cooking!

Mom's Lasagna
(my mom's recipe!)
Makes 10-12 large servings

2 lb. lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp. garlic powder (or fresh minced garlic equivalent)
1 tsp. ground oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
3 cups tomato juice
2 12-oz. cans tomato paste
1/4 cup brown sugar
Salt & pepper to taste

1 lb. lasagna noodles (I'm lazy and buy the oven-ready kind)
1 15 oz. carton ricotta cheese
8 - 12 oz. mozzarella cheese, to your cheesiness preference!
Parmesan cheese, to top off

To make the sauce:
Brown ground beef and onion. Drain if necessary.  Add remaining sauce ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes (to meld flavors).

To assemble:
In a 9x13 pan (or larger), first put in some sauce in the bottom.  Then layer noodles, sauce, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses.  Continue layering at your discretion.  With last layer of noodles, top off with remaining sauce and mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes or until golden and bubbly.