Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lesson #53: Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've been searching for an AWESOME chocolate chip recipe! The recipe off the back of the chocolate chip bag is disappointing. Sometimes my cookies are flatten out while they are baking and they taste less than spectacular.

This is one of my first attempts at improving my chocolate chips cookies. I thought that weighing the ingredients (like professional pastry chefs) may improve the cookies. In any case, the scientific side of my personality loves accuracy when measuring ingredients. I also mixed up the chocolate chips. I used a super high quality chocolate (Valrhona - for any chocolate fans!) and included both chopped milk & dark chocolate. I also used a different technique to shaping the balls (check it out on the recipe). I'm not sure this made a huge difference, but these cookies were better than my typical chocolate chip cookies.
LESSON LEARNED: Who knew that perfecting chocolate chip cookies would be so tricky?

Recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lesson #52: Strawberries & Champagne Cheesecake

Strawberries & champagne in a cheesecake? Yes, please! I made this cheesecake for Thanksgiving at my grandma's on Saturday and it went over very well :)

First, you reduce champagne in a saucepan until it becomes sweet and syrupy. While the champagne is reducing, you make a chocolate graham cracker crust. Then, sliced strawberries are layered on top of the crust. The reduced champagne is incorporated into the cheesecake batter and placed over the sliced strawberries. Finally, the cooled cheesecake is topped with sliced strawberries and drizzled with melted chocolate. This cheesecake is a SHOWSTOPPER!

LESSON LEARNED: Don't underestimate the flavor of champagne in a cheesecake!

Recipe for Strawberries & Champagne Cheesecake

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lesson #51: Triple-Chocolate Mousse Cake

I LOVE the holidays! I especially love cooking and baking for other people. It really gives me a good excuse to make desserts that can be shared among many people. For Thanksgiving day, I made a triple-chocolate mousse cake!

The bottom layer is a gooey flour-less chocolate cake. The middle layer is a dark chocolate mousse and the top layer is a white chocolate mousse. The dessert is rich & chocolate-y, but is super light from the layers of whipped cream and melted chocolate. Each layer has a different flavor and texture, which makes this a FABULOUS indulgence.

One important thing to note is serving temperature. I unmolded the dessert right out of the fridge and it was pretty firm. However, I left it out in a dessert table which we finished Thanksgiving dinner and by the time I ate dessert, it was pretty messy. Check out the pictures below :) In any case, this layered cake was EXCELLENT and can be made ahead of time.

LESSON LEARNED: This dessert is best served right out of the refrigerator!

Recipe for Triple-Chocolate Mousse Cake

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lesson #50: Homemade Peanut Butter Cups

I've never thought of making peanut butter cups before. The homemade version of this popular candy is surprisingly easy to make. Trust me, you will impress your friends if you whip up these easy chocolates! I definitely impressed myself and was pretty excited by the finished product.

I would suggest using the best quality chocolate you can. It does makes a difference since there are very few ingredients in the recipe. The peanut butter filling is AWESOME! The peanut butter is melted with a bit of butter, boiled for a few minutes with brown sugar, and sweetened with powdered sugar.

LESSON LEARNED: Making homemade candies is fun!

Recipe for Homemade Peanut Butter Cups

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lesson #49: Flaky Cream-Filled Cookies

I love collecting random cookie cutters.  As much as I love holiday cookie cutters, I really only use them once a year. So, I was SUPER excited to make Thanksgiving themed cookies. :)

The dough is a cream cheese baked pie crust which I cut out using small turkey cookie cutters. Inside the cookies are is a marshmallow fluff filling. The cookies bake up LIGHT & FLUFFY and the cream cheese adds just a touch of tangy flavor. Marshmallow fluff is whipped with butter and powdered sugar to create a sweet filling. Because I used a small cookie cutter, these took hardly any time to bake and were a perfect snack-sized cookie.

LESSON LEARNED: I only use turkey cookie cutters once a year!

Recipe for Flaky Cream-Filled Cookies

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lesson #48: Fudge Cupcakes with Milk Chocolate Ganache

Yes, these cupcakes contain dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and cocoa powder and are GUARANTEED to satisfy your chocolate craving! I made them last week and shared them with my evening class :)

Most of the time, I could take or leave uncooked cake batter. I usually test a little bit to make sure it tastes OK, but this uncooked batter is AMAZING. I wouldn't recommend eating the whole thing (that is, if you are worried about raw eggs), but a good spoonful probably isn't going to hurt you. It has a mousse-like quality- very light and fluffy. After these cupcakes bake and cool, they have a very fudge dark chocolate taste. I topped them off with some milk chocolate ganache and they were PERFECT!

LESSON LEARNED: Adding 3 types of chocolate to cupcakes = AMAZING results!

Recipe for Fudge Cupcakes with Milk Chocolate Ganache

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lesson #47: Peanuty Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

This week I was hungry for a peanut butter oatmeal cookie that, well, tasted a little more interesting than a typical peanut butter oatmeal cookie. I saw a recipe in a food magazine that used toasted pecans in the cookie batter and I was sold!

The neat thing about this batter is that you combine the toasted pecans and peanut butter in a food processor to make a smooth paste. So, in essence, you taste the pecans, but there are no chunks of pecans. If you don't know that there are pecans in the cookies, it makes you wonder why they taste different (and a little better, in my opinion!) than typical peanut butter cookies. I was a little skeptical about how other people would like these cookies, so I took them to my 8am class this week. Only 10 students wanted cookies, but they finished 2 dozen cookies in 5 minutes! I would say these were a SUCCESS.

LESSON LEARNED: Pecans make a good addition to peanut butter oatmeal cookies!

Recipe for Peanuty Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lesson #46: Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon & Sugar Doughnuts

Last weekend, my mom bought me a doughnut pan (kinda like a cupcake pan, but it's in the shape of doughnuts). I'm a sucker for new baking gadgets, so I had to try it out right away. I didn't have any recipe bookmarked for doughnuts, so I decided to use the recipe off the back of the packaging for the pan. Plus, since these are baked doughnuts, not fried, I thought they are a touch healthier. It turns out that it's a pretty good recipe and a fun baking pan!

The doughnuts are light & fluffy - not at all like the super dense cake doughnuts you buy in the store. The key to the lightness is cake flour, which contains less gluten than regular all-purpose flour. Then, I added pumpkin spice to give these doughnuts a little extra "fall" flavor. They are also made with buttermilk which makes them a bit tangy.  Finally, I dipped the finished doughnuts in butter and rolled them in cinnamon/sugar. DELICIOUS! My afternoon class DEVOURED them in 5 minutes :)

LESSON LEARNED: Homemade doughnuts are amazing!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lesson #45: PIneapple Upside Down Cake Ice Cream

Justin, my husband, LOVES ice cream. He is always encouraging me to come up with new and exciting flavors because he loves to sample the results. After a little brainstorming, I decided to turn a classic dessert like pineapple upside down cake into an ice cream. YUMMY, right?

The base of the ice cream is my recipe for cake batter ice cream. It uses a boxed cake mix in the custard which makes it taste exactly like store bought ice cream. While the custard was chilling in the refrigerator, I sauteed some chopped pineapple in butter and brown sugar until it was golden and sticky - similar to what you would find in the bottom of the cake. To make this ice cream even better, I mixed in chopped cherries with the pineapples! Enjoy!

LESSON LEARNED: Classic desserts can be turned into ice cream!

Recipe for Pineapple Upside Down Cake Ice Cream

Monday, November 14, 2011

Lesson #44: Chocolate Banana Muffins

How do you jazz up banana muffins? Add melted chocolate into the batter! Yes, this is as DELICIOUS as it sounds :) I think that both banana and chocolate can be aggressive flavors, but when they are paired together, the sweetness from the banana and the bitterness of the chocolate complement each other perfectly. I used a high quality dark chocolate (i.e. Valrhona 70% cocoa) in this recipe, but you could use a milk chocolate too.

I varied the baking times in this recipe to achieve the perfect amount of gooey-ness. I prefer slightly underbaked banana muffins (especially right out of the oven!) because I think it keeps the muffins from drying out for a few days. So, in this case, I baked the muffins for 18 minutes. If you want the muffins to be completely cooked, bake them for 20 minutes or until they puff up. Either way, you'll be glad you made these muffins!

LESSON LEARNED: Vary baking times to get your desired level of gooey-ness!

Recipe for Chocolate Banana Muffins

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lesson #43: Grape-Apple Pie

I took a quick survey of people I know and nobody heard of a grape-apple pie before. Almost everybody eats apple pie, but I got some confused looks when I suggested adding grapes to the apples. I saw a recipe in the current issue of Bon Appetit magazine, so I was sufficiently intrigued to try this recipe.

Let me start off by saying that this pie requires some love (that's my code word for hands on time!). There are quite a few steps, but I think they are completely worth it. You first have to make a double pie crust, chill it in the fridge, cook the filling, chill the filling, pre-bake the bottom pie crust, add the filling, and bake the pie. If you have a free afternoon and don't mind baking, this recipe would be perfect to try.

The pie is WONDERFUL! It's sweeter than a traditional apple pie and turns a fun purple/pink color. The extra step of pre-baking the bottom pie crust is worth the effort - the next day the pie wasn't soggy at all. I took the pie to my parent's house and a few people had a piece for breakfast the next day! :)

LESSON LEARNED: Pre-bake the bottom pie crust - it's worth the extra time!

Recipe for Grape-Apple Pie

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lesson #42: Caramel Corn

I was super excited to try this new caramel corn recipe! I've been testing all the new recipes I want to make for Thanksgiving and this caramel corn is likely to make an appearance as a pre-Thanksgiving feast snack :)

The only part of the recipe that I was a little concerned about was popping the actual popcorn. Silly, right? Well, in our household, Justin is the master popcorn popper. We cook our popcorn using oil in a large pot over the stove (no microwave popcorn in our house!). He has perfected his method over the years and his popcorn turns out perfectly. I, on the other hand, always burn the popcorn. I wanted to make this recipe while he was at work, so I had to pop my own popcorn. Surprisingly, it didn't turn out too burnt - I only had to throw away a few handfuls of popcorn!

After making the popcorn, the rest of the recipe was easy. You make a quick caramel sauce (no candy thermometer needed!) and bake the popcorn at a low heat in the oven. The result is an AMAZINGLY crunchy, sweet popcorn. It was so good that I had to give most of it away so I didn't eat it all!

LESSON LEARNED: Making popcorn on the stove takes some finesse and practice!

Recipe for Caramel Corn

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lesson #41: Sweet & Salty Truffles

Here's my second attempt at making truffles (here's a link to my last post on truffle making)! I thought I would go with a sweet and salty combination. It's FABULOUS and satisfied my sweet & salty craving!

I think my truffle making skills have slightly improved. For my birthday, my mom bought me some dipping tools that made the chocolate dipping process go a little easier. At least I didn't have big globs of chocolate on the outside coating :)

However, in the spirit of always improving, I noticed that the truffles were not too round. They looked kinda bumpy and misshapen (or optimistically, they look very homemade). Sometimes I don't have enough patience to roll the chocolate ganache into perfect round ball (plus it's gets really sticky and melts if you handle it too much!). I bought a candy mold which you pour chocolate into to create perfect rounds, so that's what I'm going to try next.

No matter how they look, these truffles are YUMMY! Semi-sweet chocolate is paired with crushed pretzels to create a sweet & salty ganache. The outside layer is semi-sweet chocolate, but would be equally as good with milk chocolate.The finished truffles are sprinkled with a touch of course sugar and salt which provide a bit of crunch.

LESSON LEARNED: My truffle making has improved, but I could still use more work to fine-tune my technique.

Recipe for Sweet & Salty Truffles

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lesson #40: Peanut Butter Cup Rice Krispies Treats

We have an ongoing discussion in my house about how to improve Rice Krispies Treats. They are so DELICIOUS, and for a while, were one of my go-to desserts. This recipe is a hybrid of two ideas: Justin wanted me to stir in extra mini marshmallows and I wanted to use up our extra Halloween candy.

First, I followed the standard recipe by melting marshmallows and butter together in a pan. I mixed in the cereal and then added the extra mini marshmallows. I then melted some peanut butter, mixed in chopped peanut butter cups, and layered it on top of the cereal treats. For an extra layer of chocolate-y goodness, I melted milk chocolate kisses and layered this on top of the peanut butter. After they cooled, I cut them into squares to share with my afternoon class!

Seriously, these cereal treats ROCK! This picture makes me want to have another one right now :)

LESSON LEARNED: Leftover Halloween candy can be turned into a delicious dessert!

Recipe for Peanut Butter Cup Rice Krispies Treats

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lesson #38: Crunchy Chocolate Snickerdoodle Cookies

If you are in the mood for a crunchy cookie, this will satisfy your craving! I saw this recipe in Food & Wine Magazine this month and immediately put it on my list of recipes for the week.

The cookies are too overwhelmingly chocolate-y and are rolled in a cinnamon/sugar mixture before baking. As the cookies bake, they puff up and form cracks around the edges. They look picture PERFECT! Another GREAT thing about these cookies is that the dough is stiff enough that it doesn't need to be refrigerated before baking. You could mix up these cookies and eat them within half an hour!

LESSON LEARNED: These cookies are fast and easy to make!

Recipe for Crunchy Chocolate Snickerdoodle Cookies

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lesson #37: Chocolate-Filled Sweet Potato Cupcakes

Last weekend while we were in Atlanta, my mother-in-law Laurie gave me this recipe. We both agreed it sounded good and different than typical cupcakes, so I was excited to try it!

There are two special things about these cupcakes: mashed sweet potatoes are incorporated into the batter, and part way through baking, a chocolate kiss is placed in the partially baked cupcake. The cupcakes are simple to put together and are DELICIOUS!

The cupcakes have a wonderful sweet and starchy flavor from the sweet potatoes. Pumpkin pie spice is also added to the batter which gives them a warm & spicy flavor. The chocolate frosting combines both milk and bittersweet chocolate - which perfectly compliments the chocolate kiss in the center of the cupcake. These are a PERFECT addition to your favorite fall desserts!

LESSON LEARNED: Placing a chocolate kiss partway through the baking time, prevents the chocolate from sinking to the bottom of the cupcake.

Recipe for Chocolate-Filled Sweet Potato Cupcakes

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lesson #36: Pumpkin Roll Cake

Have you ever walked by the roll cakes in the grocery store and wondered if you could make one? I have, so I decided to try! This post documents my first attempt. The cake wasn't as pretty as it could be, but it tasted FANTASTIC! Taste trumps presentation (for me at least) any day. Here's what I learned so far:

1) Making the cake was easy. The cake is very light in texture (it contains no butter!) because of whipped eggs whites which are folded into the batter.

2) When you flip the cake after you bake it, place a kitchen towel on a sheet pan, lay the towel & pan on top of the cake, and then flip it. You sprinkle powdered sugar on the hot cake before you flip, so I tried to flip it without an extra pan and powdered sugar went everywhere!

3) Be patient! The cake has to cool completely before you try to unroll the cake (you first roll the cake while it's warm). If you don't wait until the cake is cool, it will crack. That's what happened to me :(

Even though the cake was messy looking, this was an AWESOME cake! The cake was light, fluffy, and delightfully pumpkin-y. The cream filling is slightly sweet, has a hint of rum flavor, and contains toffee pieces which provide a bit of crunch.

LESSON LEARNED: Rolled cakes are a little tricky!

Recipe for Pumpkin Roll Cake
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