Monday, October 31, 2011

Lesson #35: Ghost Cookies

Happy Halloween! I've been working on my royal icing's my latest creation. Purple ghost cookies! I've found that rolling out the cookies a little thicker is the way to go. Sometimes when they are too thin, the cookies don't break apart as easy when you remove them from the cookie sheets (one of my ghosts only had one arm...oops!). I also think that thicker cookies hold up a little better to the icing - which you have to layer on pretty thick to get a matte finish on the cookies.

LESSON LEARNED: Holidays are a good excuse to use themed cookie cutters!

Recipe for My Favorite Cutout Sugar Cookies

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lesson #34: Homemade Oreos

I've never been a big fan of Oreos (surprising, isn't it?). I was pleasantly surprised that the homemade version taste WAY better than the store bought version. I've made these cookies 3 or 4 times now and they are go over very well. Last week, I donated them to the bake sale on our campus which benefited the United Way.

The chocolatey cookies have just the right amount of crunch and chewiness. The cream filling is ADDICTIVE! It tastes even better than regular Oreo cream. I could eat this by itself. :)  Since it was around Halloween, I tinted the cream filling orange and packaged them for the bake sale. Enjoy!

LESSON LEARNED: Sometimes the homemade version tastes better than the storebought one!

Recipe for Homemade Oreos

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lesson #33: Peanut Butter Cup Crunch Brownies

If you like peanut butter and chocolate, you'll LOVE these brownies! The bottom layer is a chocolate brownie which is topped with chopped peanuts, peanut butter cups, and a layer of chocolate-peanut Rice Krispies. The texture of the brownies is AMAZING - the brownies are soft & chewy while the peanuts and Rice Krispies add crunch!

LESSON LEARNED: Peanut butter and chocolate are a delicious combination!

Recipe for Peanut Butter Cup Crunch Brownies

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lesson #32: Marshmallow Filled Caramels

Let me start this post by telling you that this baking project involves a large time commitment. If you have a free afternoon and are up to the challenge of making two types of candy - this is a perfect project! Even with this caveat, these candies are AMAZING and are worth the effort!

The first step is to make homemade marshmallows. They are a lot easier to make than what you would think and taste SO much better than the store bought version. While the marshmallows are setting up, the second step is make a batch of homemade caramels. Both of these things take relatively less time than the next steps. Once the caramel is set, it should be rolled out as thin as you can make it. This might take a bit of elbow grease! Next, you cut the caramel into squares and roll out the caramel even thinner by flattening it with the palm of your hand. Then, place a small amount of marshmallow in the center of each caramel and roll the caramel around the marshmallow. This recipe makes a few dozen pieces of candy, so that's why this process takes so long!

These candies are definitely worth the effort! The caramel is CREAMY and the marshmallow is FLUFFY & SWEET.

LESSON LEARNED:  Lots of effort pays off in delicious results! 

Recipe for Marshmallow Filled Caramels

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lesson #31: Maple Acorn Squash Pie

As much as I love pumpkin desserts, I decided to switch up a typical pumpkin pie recipe and use acorn squash instead. I've never had an acorn squash pie, so I was excited to try it (I was also excited to use my new mini pie dish too!).

The first step is to make a fresh acorn squash puree since it's not accessible like a canned pumpkin puree. I simply pierced the squash a few times, placed it in the microwave for a few minutes until soft, cut it in half & scooped out the seeded, and returned it to the microwave until it was cooked though. You could roast it in the oven, but I was too impatient to wait the hour it would take to cook. :) After the squash is cooked, food process the flesh it until smooth and - viola - you have acorn squash puree!

The maple syrup and pumpkin pie spice in the pie provide a touch of both SWEET and SPICE. The acorn squash has the same texture as pumpkin, and tastes like, well, acorn squash. This makes a WONDERFUL substitution in the pie! To finish the pie, I decorated the crust with little acorn cookie cutters.

LESSON LEARNED: Making acorn squash puree is super easy!

Recipe for Maple Acorn Squash Pie

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lesson #30: Honey-Wheat Dinner Rolls

I've been making my own bread and rolls with various levels of success for the past 2 years. Sometimes the bread is very dense and dry, other times it's very doughy and undercooked. However, it's very rewarding to take to take a few simple ingredients and turn them into a wonderful loaf of bread, so I keep trying to improve my technique. Besides - fresh baked bread is an amazing smell to have in your house!

If you never ventured into bread making, this recipe is a good place to start. It uses instant yeast (sometimes called bread machine yeast) which you don't have to proof (or let "bloom" which is where the yeast is activated by a warm liquid and a bit of sugar). If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, it's even easier because you don't have to knead it by hand. Of course, you can knead it by hand - some people find this therapeutic :)

This bread has a WONDERFUL nutty flavor from the whole wheat flour and a touch of sweetness from the honey. It has an AMAZING fluffy texture which resembles the store bought version. Happy bread making!

LESSON LEARNED: Using instant yeast and a stand mixer to knead is an easy way to get started making your own bread!

Recipe for Honey-Wheat Dinner Rolls

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lesson #29: Chocolate Marshmallow Moon Pies

I learned two new techniques for this recipe: making homemade graham crackers and homemade marshmallows. I was pretty exciting to learn both! I saw this recipe on another food blog and it looked very good (really, how could chocolate, marshmallow, and graham crackers sound bad?).

Making graham crackers wasn't any more difficult than making any other rolled out sugar cookie. I thought that they tasted SO much better than the store bought variety. I was more nervous to make the marshmallows. You have to soften some gelatin, cook sugar and a few other things to the correct temperature, and then let a stand mixer do the rest of the work. It was really very simple and the result was an amazingly fluffy marshmallow that set up perfectly. This recipe makes a ton of marshmallow, so I re-purposed the leftovers into another recipe (which I'll share in a few days!).

Overall, these moon pies ROCKED! The graham crackers were crunchy and had an INCREDIBLE nutty flavor from the wheat flour. The marshmallow filling was fluffy, light, and provided sweetness to offset the chocolate covering. Enjoy!

LESSON LEARNED: Don't be scared to try new techniques!

Recipe for Chocolate Marshmallow Moon Pies

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lesson #28: Cinnamon Crunch Ice Cream

I've been slowly perfecting my homemade ice cream. If you add too much water (either through non-fat milk or fruit), the ice cream becomes icy and less flavorful. If you add too much cream, the ice cream tastes like frozen whipped cream.

I saw a recipe in Bobby Flay's cookbook that used an equal proportion of whole milk and cream while adding additional egg yolks. The result is a very custard-like base that gets better after it sits a few days. I mixed in a cinnamon granola and -viola - you have cinnamon crunch ice cream!

This ice cream is very rich and creamy. The cinnamon granola adds a nice amount of crunch and a touch of sweetness. This is definitely an INDULGENT ice cream!

LESSON LEARNED: Adding extra egg yolks makes a custard-like ice cream.

Recipe for Cinnamon Crunch Ice Cream

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Lesson #27: Homemade Applesauce with Cinnamon Crunch Granola

After our apple picking adventure last weekend, I had a ton of extra apples sitting around. I remembered how homemade applesauce is vastly superior to store bought applesauce, so I decided this was my next baking project.

I decided to step-up a normal applesauce recipe by making a cinnamon crunch granola to top the warm applesauce. This was inspired by a cinnamon crunch ice cream I recently made (which I'll post in a few days!). The results were WONDERFUL!

Imagine warm applesauce with a hint of cinnamon topped with a crunchy brown sugar and oatmeal granola. The texture of the applesauce is velvety & smooth and the granola adds just a bit of crunch. This became of my top fall fruit desserts and was a cinch to make in under an hour!

LESSON LEARNED: Adding a simple granola makes applesauce something special!

Recipe for Homemade Applesauce with Cinnamon Crunch Granola

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lesson #26: Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

This recipe has been in my baking "queue" for 2 years, so I was super excited that I was finally able to try it. I liked this recipe because it required just a few ingredients that I had in my pantry.

Here's a useful tip: I tried to use a round cookie cutter to portion small pieces for one of my classes. If you decide to try this, it's best to freeze the cheesecake for a little bit so it's not too sticky. I ended up cutting half the cake with cookie cutters and slicing a few pieces for me and my husband. Regardless of how you serve it - this recipe is a keeper!

The cheesecake is not too sweet and has an INCREDIBLY creamy texture. Plain cheesecake is swirled with pumpkin flavored cheesecake to create this perfectly balanced dessert. It looks pretty enough to serve to guests!

LESSON LEARNED: The key to easily cutting cheesecakes is to freeze them first.

Recipe for Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lesson #25: Fresh Picked Apple Pie

As part of my birthday celebration last weekend, my family and I went to an apple orchard. My friends and I started this tradition when we lived in Tucson and I wanted to continue it when I moved back to Ohio.

We had a blast picking apples and the next logical step, of course, was to make apple pies! It was tons of fun to bake with my family and the pies turned out FANTASTIC! Really, you can't go wrong when you pick the apples and two hours later they are baking in the oven.

We used a mixture of sweet and tart apples (Golden Delicious and Jonathan). There isn't a ton of sugar in this pie recipe and the apple flavor really shines. The crust was tender & flaky and we cut out some shapes using cute pie cutters I bought from Williams-Sonoma.We topped the pies with some vanilla ice cream and homemade caramel sauce!

LESSON LEARNED: Fresh picked apples taste the best!

Recipe for Double Crust Apple Pie

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lesson #24: Spider Sugar Cookies

I've been practicing with cutout sugar cookies and royal icing. I wanted to make a Halloween themed cookie- but I didn't want to color the icing with black food coloring. I've tried this before it it turns your mouth and teeth black! Instead, I thought I would tint my royal icing with melted semi-sweet chocolate. I tinted half a batch of royal icing with 1 oz of melted chocolate. It was super easy and very DELICIOUS! My husband said that these cookies reminded him of a chocolate glazed doughnut and I have to agree!

LESSON LEARNED: Flavoring royal icing with melted chocolate yields delicious results!

Recipe for my Favorite Cutout Sugar Cookies

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lesson #23: Pumpkin Caramels

I've been making a ton of pumpkin desserts lately. Caramel and pumpkin seem like a perfect match, so I've decided to combine these two flavors into a DELICIOUS candy.

When you make caramel, you have to be really careful to watch the pot so the sugar doesn't burn. To be honest, the first time I tried this recipe, I got distracted and the sugar started to burn. There's really no way to salvage this (until you like a burnt flavor - yuck!), so I had to start over. After I started paying more attention, the end result was really FANTASTIC!

These candies are soft, chewy, and creamy. They taste exactly like combining a regular caramel candy with pumpkin pie. I individually wrapped each candy and they look like I bought them at a candy store. 

LESSON LEARNED: Watch carefully when making caramel so it doesn't burn!

Recipe for Pumpkin Caramels

Friday, October 7, 2011

Lesson #22: Sticky Toffee Banana Cake

This cake sounded perfect to make the other day when it was cold and rainy. Now that it's sunny and warm for a few days, this cake still sounds good! You could easily substitute any flavor of cake and jazz it up with this quick toffee sauce.

This cake has TONS of banana flavor and reminds me of a lighter and fluffier version of banana bread. While the cake is baking, you make a quick toffee sauce (no candy thermometer needed) and pour some of the sauce on the cake during the last few minutes of baking. Then, when you are ready to serve the cake, it's topped off with even more toffee sauce. Enjoy!

LESSON LEARNED: A quick sauce can really transform a cake!

Recipe for Sticky Toffee Banana Cake

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Lesson #21: Chocolate Cupcakes with White Chocolate Ganache

Yesterday was my birthday! I had to teach ALL day (three classes- 8am, 3:30pm, 6:55pm!) so I decided to make some cupcakes to share all day long. I think that I love giving all my baked goods away just as much as I like the actual baking :)

I decided on a chocolate cupcake with a white chocolate ganache frosting. The chocolate cake was YUMMY and had just the right amount of chocolate so it wasn't too rich. The frosting, however, was AMAZING! It was like eating a cloud made of white chocolate. In terms of ganache, it wasn't a firm ganache (like you see in truffles), but instead fell on a medium to soft range. The proportion of chocolate to heavy cream was 1 to 2 - so it had twice as much cream as chocolate. After the ganache chilled in the refrigerator a while, you whip it up to it's magical lightness. I, of course, garnished them with a little candy sprinkles since it was my birthday!

LESSON LEARNED: This recipe for white chocolate ganache is amazing!

Recipe for Chocolate Cupcakes with White Chocolate Ganache

Monday, October 3, 2011

Lesson #20: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Fudge

After making truffles last week, I decided I would try a few other types of candy. First up was this YUMMY fudge (well, technically it's a penuche type of fudge because it's made with brown sugar).

While I was making this recipe, I thought I messed up. After you boil the brown sugar with cream, milk, and other yummy ingredients, the next step is to add some flour. As I was adding the flour, it clumped up and there were dots of flour in my fudge. It's possible that this happened because I didn't sift the flour (this is a step I frequently skip!). After the flour step, the next step is to cool the fudge and, finally, mix until the fudge becomes thick and lighter in color. I thought I would see what would happen and the flour clumps disappeared! I'm glad that I continued making this recipe instead of giving up :)

This fudge really tastes like chocolate chip cookie dough! It's a super sweet fudge and the brown sugar gives it a little bit of course texture - similar to a dough. On top, there are semi-sweet chocolate chips which adds bitterness to slightly off set the sweetness.

LESSON LEARNED: Don't give up on recipes - even if it looks like you messed up!

Recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Fudge

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lesson #19: Pumpkin Ice Cream

After making Pumpkin Cookies, I had leftover half a can of pumpkin puree. I quickly decided that my next project should be creating a pumpkin ice cream!

I modified my tried-and-true creamy ice cream base by adding pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice to the cooked custard before blending in cream and whole milk. The result is WONDERFUL! The ice cream is perfectly creamy and tastes exactly like pumpkin pie (except lighter and with no crust!). You could easily transform this into the base for a pumpkin pie milkshake. Imagine blending pumpkin ice cream, cooked pie crust, and milk until smooth. Then top it with a little fresh whipped cream and drizzle with caramel. Hmmm.....maybe I'll try this soon! :)

LESSON LEARNED: Leftover pumpkin has many yummy possibilities!

Recipe for Pumpkin Ice Cream

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Lesson #18: Mini Spiced Pumpkins

These little cakes are absolutely ADORABLE! They look just like little pumpkins, right? I happened to have a mini Bundt pan from a few years ago...from a few failed attempts at making a homemade angel food cake...the texture never seemed the same as the box or store bought versions :(. I've decided this pan is re-purposed for these little cakes.

The cake itself is a moist spice cake, and when you bite into it, you taste cinnamon and nutmeg which reminds you of all the WONDERFUL Fall flavors. The cakes are frosted with a simple powdered sugar glaze (tinted orange, of course!) which forms a nice sugary layer on the outside. Finally, they are decorated with a piece of black licorice for a "pumpkin stem".

I shared them with my morning class this week and the students seemed to enjoy them!

LESSON LEARNED: It's fun to think creatively about how to re-purpose baking dishes!

Recipe for Mini Spiced Pumpkins
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