Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Daring Candy!

The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

I’m a few days tardy to post the candies I made for this challenge, but they’re done and I’m happy to share them here. This was a tough challenge in that I don’t make candy, not even for the holidays, so I took my time choosing recipes that would have easily accessible ingredients, yet use techniques somewhat new to me.

The first part of the challenge was to make something chocolate. I chose Chocolate Merlot Tarragon Truffles. I used tarragon from the garden and a cabernet/merlot blend wine, and decided to roll them in cocoa as a finish. The bitter cocoa balances the richness of the chocolate, and the tarragon adds just a hint of licorice sweet. In other words, they’re delicious! I read that these were made for Prince William and his new bride when they visited the U.S. in July.


I’ve made ganache before, but never truffles, and I always hesitate to have to use the double boiler. These were easy to make, yet they’re a rich and decadent treat.

The second part of the challenge could be anything and it took me a long time to decide on Spicy Cashew Brittle. I’ve never made any kind of brittle before, and frankly, avoid having to use a candy thermometer at all costs. This recipe intrigued me because it uses jalapeno peppers as the “spicy” component, and I have tons of them in my garden.


Now, I’m not a huge fan of hard, crunchy candy – I prefer soft, chewy, melty chocolate – but this brittle is so good! You can’t really taste the jalapeno, there’s just a “warmth” left on your palate when you finish a piece, and that takes the place of the sweetness that usually lingers. I cannot say there will be piles of truffles and brittle around here now, but having successfully completed this challenge was pretty sweet!

Chocolate Merlot Tarragon Truffles (recipe from Giada DeLaurentis)

  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 12-ounce bag semi-sweet chocolate chips, such as Ghirardelli 1/3 cup chopped fresh tarragon leaves
  • 3 tablespoons Merlot wine
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
Place the cream and chocolate in a medium bowl and place over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth, which takes about six minutes.
Stir in the tarragon, wine and salt until smooth.
Refrigerate for two hours until firm. Let the mixture stand at room temperature until moldable, which takes about 45 minutes.
Using a melon scoop, scoop level amounts of the truffle mixture on to the prepared baking sheet. Roll into 1/2-inch balls.
Place the cocoa powder in a small bowl. Roll the truffles in the cocoa powder until coated.
Arrange on a platter and serve or refrigerate in an airtight container.

Spicy Cashew Brittle (recipe from Today’s Nest) 

The ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup corn syrup
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3 cups cashews (halves and pieces will do)
  • 3 medium jalapeno peppers
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

The method:

    1. Butter a large baking sheet.
    2. Assemble all ingredients.
    3. Cut peppers in half lengthwise and remove pith and seeds.
    4. Place sugar, corn syrup, water, and pepper halves in a large pot over medium heat.
    5. Attach the thermometer to the side.
    6. When mixture comes to a boil (about 5 minutes), add in butter. Stir occasionally.
    7. When mixture reaches 230 (about 15 minutes) degrees remove peppers and begin stirring frequently.
    8. Turn heat down slightly to medium low.
    9. When mixture reaches 275 degrees (about 20 minutes) add cashews and stir constantly.
    10. Turn heat back up to medium.
    11. When mixture reaches 300 degrees (about 10 minutes) remove from heat and stir in baking soda.
    12. Pour onto baking sheet and spread out with two forks while candy is still hot.
    13. Place sheet on wire cooling rack and do not touch until it is cool.
    14. Invert baking sheet and snap brittle into pieces.
    15. Store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Do You Dare?

Try something new in the kitchen and join me – I am a Daring Baker!

This was my first Daring Baker challenge and I very much enjoyed making the chiffon cake and pastry cream as well as experimenting with infusing simple syrup with basil (yum!). I made the components of the recipe one day, then assembled and chilled it the next. I regret that I didn’t take photos during the process, but was really concentrating on each step of the recipe. There was lots of whipping and folding and heating and stirring. Ah, but the result was wonderful!

Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.

I used the lemon chiffon cake recipe, and infused the simple syrup with fresh basil. The pastry cream was smooth and not too sweet. This is a perfect summertime dessert, light, cool, and creamy.

Here’s the recipe:

Basic Chiffon Cake:

1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large egg yolks
⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon lemon zest, grated
5 large egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar


  1. Preheat the oven to moderate 325°F.
  2. Line the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Do not grease the sides of the pan.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder. Add in all but 3 tablespoons of sugar, and all of the salt. Stir to combine.
  4. In a small bowl combine the oil, egg yolks, water, vanilla and lemon zest. Whisk thoroughly.
  5. Combine with the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly for about one minute, or until very smooth.
  6. Put the egg whites into a stand mixer, and beat on medium speed using a whisk attachment on a medium speed, until frothy. Add cream of tartar and beat on a medium speed until the whites hold soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining sugar and beat on a medium-high speed until the whites hold firm and form shiny peaks.
  7. Using a grease free rubber spatula, scoop about ⅓ of the whites into the yolk mixture and fold in gently. Gently fold in the remaining whites just until combined.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  9. Removed the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack.
  10. To unmold, run a knife around the sides to loosen the cake from the pan and remove the spring form sides. Invert the cake and peel off the parchment paper. Refrigerate for up to four days.

To make Lemon Chiffon cake:

Reduce water to 1/4 cup, add 1/8 cup lemon juice
Increase lemon zest to 1½ teaspoon
Remove the vanilla from the recipe

Follow the directions, same as above, adding the lemon juice and zest to the oil, egg yolks and water in step 4

Pastry Cream Filling:

1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon gelatin
1/2 tablespoon water
1 cup heavy cream


  1. Pour the milk, vanilla, and salt into a heavy sauce pan. Place over medium-high heat and scald, bringing it to a near boiling point. Stir occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, in a stand mixer add the cornstarch and sugar. Whisk to combine
  3. Add the eggs to the sugar and cornstarch and whisk until smooth.
  4. When the milk is ready, gently and slowly while the stand mixer is whisking, pour the heated milk down the side of the bowl into the egg mixture.
  5. Pour the mixture back into the warm pot and continue to cook over a medium heat until the custard is thick, just about to boil and coats the back of a spoon.
  6. Remove from heat and pass through a fine mesh sieve into a large mixing bowl. Allow to cool for ten minutes stirring occasionally.
  7. Cut the butter into four pieces and whisk into the pastry cream a piece at a time until smooth.
  8. Cover the cream with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic wrap onto the top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the refrigerator for up to five days.
  9. In a small dish, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand for a few minutes to soften.
  10. Put two inches of water into a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat.
  11. Measure 1/4 cup of the chilled pastry cream into a small stainless steel bowl that will sit across the sauce pan with the simmering water, without touching the water.
  12. Heat the cream until it is 120° F. Add the gelatin and whisk until smooth. Remove from the water bath, and whisk the remaining cold pastry cream in to incorporate in two batches.
  13. In a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream until it holds medium-stiff peaks. Immediately fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream with a rubber spatula.

Simple Syrup:

1/3 cup of sugar, flavored or white
1/3 cup of water

(I added three fresh basil leaves after removing from the heat, and left the leaves in overnight, removing them when ready to use the syrup)


  1. Combine the water and sugar in a medium saucepan.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil and let the sugar dissolve. Stirring is not necessary, but will not harm the syrup.
  3. Remove the syrup from the heat and cool slightly.
  4. Transfer syrup to a lidded container or jar that can be stored in the refrigerator. Simple syrup can be stored for up to one month.

Fraisier Assembly:

1 baked 8 inch (20 cm) chiffon cake
1 recipe pastry cream filling
⅓ cup (80 ml) simple syrup or flavored syrup
2 lbs (900 g) strawberries
confectioners’ sugar for dusting
½ cup (120 ml) (5 oz/140 gm) almond paste


  1. Line the sides of a 8-inch (20 cm) spring form pan with plastic wrap. Do not line the bottom of the pan.
  2. Cut the cake in half horizontally to form two layers.
  3. Fit the bottom layer into the prepared spring form pan. Moisten the layer evenly with the simple syrup. When the cake has absorbed enough syrup to resemble a squishy sponge, you have enough.
  4. Hull and slice in half enough strawberries to arrange around the sides of the cake pan. Place the cut side of the strawberry against the sides of the pan, point side up forming a ring.
  5. Pipe cream in-between strawberries and a thin layer across the top of the cake.
  6. Hull and quarter your remaining strawberries and place them in the middle of the cake. Cover the strawberries and entirely with the all but 1 tbsp. (15 ml) of the pastry cream.
  7. Place the second cake layer on top and moisten with the simple syrup.
  8. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  9. To serve release the sides of the spring form pan and peel away the plastic wrap.
  10. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New Favorite Cake

Let’s talk cake today, shall we?

Hands down, chocolate is my favorite flavor in all the world, and chocolate cake with chocolate frosting is the best snack or dessert (or breakfast!)anytime, anyplace.

There is much to be said for lemon, though. I love a sweet, tangy lemon cake with lemon icing. Yum – my mouth is watering just because I typed that last sentence. Others that I like are Italian Cream Cake (smooth and creamy and vanilla-y), Carrot Cake (a little spicy, nutty, and cream cheese frosting – yum).

A few weeks ago I found myself planning a few birthday cakes. The first, Brad’s, was easy – it had to be chocolate for his first birthday. 10-02-10 155We had buttercream frosting and fondant balls for decorations. It was festive, cute, and tasty.

The second, to celebrate my BIL Randy’s 50th birthday was easy-peasy. He got apple pies. I confess that I did bake those pies, but Marie Callander actually made them. They, too, were delicious.

The third cake was more of a challenge. I wanted something a little sophisticated for my FIL’s  birthday, yet it needed to be easy and simple. I asked for ideas and was told “just not chocolate”. That was covered by Brad’s cake, so not a problem. What to make for a man from the South celebrating his 75th?  There were a few more suggestions, but nothing that sounded “right”. On my way home from work just a few days before the party, it came to me – Maple Walnut! It would be autumnal and Southern and grown-up. Just what I was looking for.

As soon as I got home, I Googled for recipes, and when I found this blog with a recipe for cake with maple-flavored icing and walnuts decorating the sides, I knew the quest was over.

I made a 10” double layer plain white cake (yes, from a mix). The maple frosting mixed up easily. Oh, it was sweet and maple-y and so good!

small maple cake

Pressing the walnuts to the sides wasn’t quite so simple,but a little star border around the bottom took care of the “messies” I made. Next time I will chop the nuts a little finer and coat the top, instead.

There was none of this cake left after the birthday party and I got lots of compliments.

I’m including the frosting recipe as it was printed on that blog, but if you want the entire recipe for the cake and all, go visit The Well-Seasoned Cook.

American Buttercream Frosting (Maple)
[This is a standard recipe, using all butter and no trans-fat shortening. If you are not fond of the metallic gritty sweetness of confectioners sugar, you can use glazing sugar, a powdered sugar without cornstarch. King Arthur carries it.]
½ pound butter, softened to room temperature
1 pound confectioners sugar (or more)
¼ cup milk (or more)
1 Tablespoon natural maple extract (much more highly concentrated than maple syrup)
In a large bowl, beat butter until creamy and fluffy. Add sugar one cup at a
time, beating well between additions. Keep beating until all the sugar is absorbed. Add extract and milk, and resume beating until frosting is smooth
and light. Frosting consistency is a matter of taste. You can easily add more sugar to thicken. You can also stretch your ingredients by adding more sugar and milk incrementally until you have doubled the volume. This is especially useful if you have a large cake to frost and don't want to increase an already high fat content. Keep frosting tightly covered until ready to use to prevent sugar crust. Buttercream does not have to be refrigerated, but should be kept in a cool place so it doesn't melt.
After filling and decorating the assembled layers, gently press approximately 1 1/2 cups of chopped walnuts into the sides of cake. Cake
will develop a natural sugar crust while standing; this is perfectly harmless and adds to its character. Cover with a large inverted plastic bowl to keep it fresh.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Bring the Heat

As usual, the jalapeno plants have produced a plethora of peppers again this summer, and they’re not done yet. We’ve pickled them, stuffed them, frozen them, and last week I tried a new-to-me recipe for jalapeno hot sauce. The recipe was shared on a Yahoo email list I belong to and I cooked some up within the hour of reading about it.

jalapeno hot sauce

(Click on recipe title to see original.)

Jalapeno Hot Sauce

Prep Time: 20 Minutes

Cook Time: 25 Minutes

Ready In: 45 Minutes

Servings: 16

"Jalapenos, garlic and onion sautéed and pureed into fresh homemade hot sauce."


1 teaspoon vegetable oil

20 fresh jalapeno peppers, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup minced onion

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups water

1 cup distilled white vinegar (I followed a suggestion of using just 2/3 cup)


1. In a medium glass or enamel lined sauce pan over high heat, combine oil, peppers, garlic, onion and salt; sauté for 4 minutes. Add the water and cook for 20 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool to room temperature.

2. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and puree until smooth. With the processor running, slowly add the vinegar.

3. Pour into a sterilized jar with a tight lid. This sauce will keep for 6 months when stored in the refrigerator.

I got five 4 oz. jars and one half-pint jar from this recipe. There was a little bit leftover after filling the jars, and Jess scooped it up with some tortilla chips. She said it was “a bowl of deliciousness”.

So far we’ve just dipped chips into the jar and eaten it that way. I plan to make some enchiladas this week and will use this as a condiment.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A New Homemade Pizza

We have very limited choices for carry-out pizza around here, and while we usually enjoy not having to cook, we really, really like homemade pizza. This is a recipe I found a few weeks ago on a blog, and I thought it sounded  pretty delicious, and it was. Oh, it was…

Of course, I made a couple of changes, which I’ll note at the end of the recipe. Try this one. I mean it.

(Click on the recipe title to see the blog.)

pizza 004

Thin-Crust Chicken Bacon Artichoke Pizza

Thin crispy crust with a light garlic sauce, topped with grilled chicken, turkey bacon, mozzarella, baby spinach, marinated artichokes, and feta cheese


8 large slices


Crust Ingredients:

1/2 cup warm water (115 degrees)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 teaspoon dry yeast

Garlic Sauce Ingredients:

1/4 cup light or fat free Italian salad dressing
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash black pepper


1/2 cup cubed or thinly sliced grilled or rotisserie chicken breast meat
1 cup (loosely measured) baby spinach leaves
1/3 to 1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts, blotted dry and cut into bite-size (small) pieces
8 ounces (2 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese
2-3 slices turkey bacon ("fully cooked"), chopped into small pieces
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
Green onion slices, optional
Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)


1. To make crust, place warm water and salt into a medium mixing bowl. Add a cup of the flour and the yeast, and stir. Add remaining flour (1/3 cup) and stir or knead into a sticky dough, adding additional water if needed. Allow dough to rest, covered with a clean towel, for at least 10 minutes but up to 30-45 minutes.

If you have a bread machine, this first step can be done by putting all crust ingredients into the machine and using the dough cycle to knead for 10-15 minutes, until a soft, sticky dough is formed. Stop the machine and allow dough to rest for at least 10 minutes, or up to 30-45 minutes.

2. Liberally butter a 16-inch round pizza pan, and then with your clean buttery hands, spread dough thinly over the pan. Be gentle and have patience, as this does make a perfectly thin crust!

3. Combine the garlic sauce ingredients and spread the sauce over the dough/crust and allow to rest for 15 minutes or longer (up to 45 minutes).

4. Sprinkle toppings evenly over sauce in order listed.

5. Bake pizza in a pre-heated 450-degree oven for 10 minutes or until top is browned and bubbly, and crust is slightly browned on the bottom. Watch carefully to avoid burning! :)

Cut pizza into 8 slices and serve hot, with parmesan cheese if desired. Enjoy!*My Notes: our crust was not crispy, and I know why. I did not ‘liberally butter’ the pizza pan and use my buttery hands to spread the crust. Next time I’ll use the stone and see if I can stay away from the butter, yet get that crispy crust.

I added sautéed mushrooms. Everything is better with mushrooms. Yes it is!

Only half the pizza got spinach. Some things I just cannot get him to like…

Surprisingly, I had no feta cheese in the house. We didn’t miss it, but it would add a little touch of tang.

I used sliced fresh mozzarella instead of shredded.

No green onions, but next time I think I’ll add thinly sliced red onion.

After she took one bite, Jessica told me, “I keep telling you, we could cater!”  Hmmm… we?


Monday, August 23, 2010

Muffin Tin Monday

Muffin Tin Mom

I discovered Muffin Tin Monday (MTM) a long time ago, and think this is such a fun way for kids to have a special meal or snack. A couple of years ago I put one together for Taylor when she was staying here, but am just coming back to it again now with Bradley. Take a peek at Muffin Tin Mom’s blog and see what the other participants are putting together for fun meals with their kids. I’m so excited to find fun picks and things for when Bradley gets a bit older.

Speaking of Bradley, he is eating most all table food now (except for things he cannot have until he’s one or two for allergy reasons), so the other day I put together this fun plate for his lunch.

The theme for this week’s meals was “ABC” so instead of a muffin tin, I used this sweet compartmentalized ABC plate. (I picked it up at Target at the beginning of summer when it was on clearance for 75 cents.)

08-22-10 004

I used white cupcake papers to hold the food: avocadoes for “A”, blueberries for “B”, and cheese toast for “C”.

08-22-10 010

He’d been sick and wasn’t eating great quantities, so this looks pretty chintzy on food, but it was fine for him that day. In fact, he didn’t eat the blueberries until later. Of course, at 10 1/2 months old, there is no way he was leaving this plate and cupcake papers on his high chair tray and eating from it. To pre-empt the mess that would have been him tossing the plate, I showed it to him, then we dumped the avocado and the cheese toast on his tray so he could feed himself.

08-22-10 017

I hope this becomes a fun tradition he and I have together, and as he gets older he can help plan and prepare the MTM. I’d have loved to have done this on home visits when I was a family educator for Head Start. What a great way to get kids and parents together in the kitchen to create nutritious meals, and possibly try new foods!


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Here Fishy, Fishy, Fishy!

Randy went fishing in South Dakota last month and brought home some walleye. This is a very flavorful and firm white fish and I was quite happy when he gave me a package of fillets to take home.

I did some recipe searching so we could make the most of our walleye, but pretty much it was just breading and frying, so that’s what we did. I first dredged the fillets in flour, then dipped in beaten egg, then covered them with panko crumbs. Greg fried them in some canola oil in a cast iron skillet and they came out golden brown and crispy on the outside, juicy and flavorful on the inside.

walleye (1) copy

To go along with our delicious fish, we had zucchini fritters and sweet corn. I made two simple sauces, just mayonnaise and ketchup mixed together for one, and mayo with sweet pickle relish for the second.

I did email Randy after we finished eating and told him that if he should have any extra walleye hanging around, to please think of us!