Friday, December 23, 2011

Tis the season

The holiday season is in full swing and I am in a constant state of bliss! I was feeling rather brave since my last post about the Swiss Pumpkin Roll, because making swiss buttercream was a huge deal to me. So I wanted to tackle something just as monumental and the first thing that I thought of was peppermint mocha cupcakes with a light and fluffily swiss meringue buttercream because it seemed too easy the last time. I searched and scoured cook books, baking notes, blogs, and endless recipes online but I just wasn't satisfied (or inspired) enough with what I was finding. The recipes all seemed very boring and too fussy so I gave up. Not more than an hour later I found myself elbow deep in my pantry just praying to the sugar fairies that I would find a muse somewhere tucked behind the shelves. 

Then it hit me! My need for that "Christmas" flavor came to me in the form of Homemade hot chocolate topped with Peppermint Marshmallows (which I've been dying to make for awhile). The simplicity of these marshmallows still blows my mind. I've already made three batches and each time I grow weaker and weaker and I give in because they are just 'that' good. Don't get me wrong, marshmallows are wonderful especially these marshmallows but they need a friend, a buddy to harmonize with, to highlight their awesomeness. And that my friends is why I decided to make my own homemade hot chocolate mix. There are two versions that I'll share with you because after three batches of marshmallows and tons of hot chocolate laying around Husband was bummed that he couldn't partake in the festivities (he doesn't do sugar remember?) so he politely asked if I could make him a sinless version and to be honest, I like the sinless version way more although I do end up destroying it's sinlessness by plopping three pieces of marshmallows right on top. I mean come on, they're HOMEMADE MARSHMALLOWS! I'm only human. 

Peppermint two toned marshmallows
3 packets of unflavored gelatin
1 cup of water, divided
2 cups of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of light corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp vanilla extract
2 tsp peppermint extract
4 drops red food coloring
2 egg whites

In a large bowl, empty gelatin and add 1/2 cup of water then set aside to bloom. Combine sugar, corn syrup, and remaining 1/2 cup of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a rolling boil on medium high heat. When the mixture reaches 240 degrees F (about 12 minutes) pour gently over the gelatin and stir to dissolve. Whisk on high until light and fluffy and the bowl is no longer hot. This should take about 10 minutes with a handheld mixer and probably half the time with a stand mixer. In a separate bowl (and clean beaters) whisk the egg whites, vanilla and salt until stiff peaks form. Add to marshmallow fluff and mix to combine. Pour half the mixture into a13x9" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper and dusted with powdered sugar. With the fluff that is left in the bowl, add peppermint extract and food coloring then mix again to combine. Pour the remaining fluff into the pan and use a greased spatula to spread evenly. With 1 tbsp of cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp of powdered sugar generously dust the top of the marshmallow using a sifter or a mini sieve. Leave in a cool dry place uncovered for 4 hours or overnight if possible. Cut into desired size squares/shapes and enjoy!

 Hot Chocolate Version 1:
2 cups of Non fat milk powder
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup Hershey's Dark cocoa powder
1/2 cup mini semi sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup powered non dairy creamer (I used french vanilla but don't be afraid to try other flavors, Coffemate has some awesome ones during the holidays!)
1/8 tsp salt

Sinless Hot Chocolate (For Husband):
1 cup non fat milk powder
3 tbsp Splenda Sugar blend (using only Splenda has such a powerful and unpleasant aftertaste so just keep that in mind)
1/4 cup Hershey's Dark cocoa powder
1/4 cup powered non dairy creamer
1/4 cup of Turbo charged Chocolate ON HydroWhey protein powder
pinch of salt

For both recipes you can add 3-4 tbsp of mix to 6 oz. of hot water or steamed milk for a delicious sweet treat and a great vessel to showcase those marshmallows! I packaged the mix in small treat bags for guests to take home at our Christmas party. The sinless mix is stored in an airtight container on our counter. The Sinless version is half the amount of the regular version because although it is sinless, it still doesn't contain anything that we can benefit from so it's still in our best interest to limit the availability of this treat to a minimum. 

I hope you give these recipes a try, they're both super easy and rather satisfying. Let me know what you think of these recipes by leaving a comment below.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Rock and Roll

It's mid December 
and I'm in a full on obsession with constant baking...
from scratch. 
I was asked to make simple rice crispy treats 
(which was clearly a joke, right?)
and I just couldn't bare the thought of doing that 
without making my own marshmallows 
and popping my own rice... er however you get puffed rice cereal.
So needless to say I did NOT end up doing that. 

Instead I decided to make something a little more "me" and
 something that I've never made before (at least not successfully or from scratch). 

Enter the pumpkin roll. =)

I love pumpkin, the taste, the smell, the endless culinary possibilities. 
This recipe was a definite go and I hope you enjoy it.

For the pumpkin cake:
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar (to sprinkle on towel)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup pumpkin puree (or canned pumpkin)
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped 
  • PREHEAT oven to 375° F. Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan; line with parchment paper. Sprinkle a thin, cotton kitchen towel with powdered sugar.

    COMBINE the next 6 ingredients (flour-salt)  in small bowl and set aside. Beat eggs and granulated sugar in large mixer bowl until thick. Beat in pumpkin. Stir in flour mixture. Spread evenly into prepared pan. Sprinkle with nuts.

    BAKE for 13 to 15 minutes or until top of cake springs back when touched. (If using a dark-colored pan, begin checking for doneness at 11 minutes.) Immediately loosen and turn cake onto prepared towel. Carefully peel off paper. Roll up cake and towel together, starting with narrow end. Cool on wire rack, 3-4 hours.
For the swiss meringue buttercream:
  • 4 oz. room temp egg whites (3 large eggs)
  • 8 oz. (1 cup) granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 12 oz (1 1/2 cup) room temp, unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • Instead of explaining the whole process to making this awesome buttercream, I've embedded a video for you to watch- she explains it very well and I didn't encounter any problems when I did it myself. 
When your cake is completely cool, slowly and carefully unroll and fill with the buttercream and roll up again without the towel =) The recipe makes about 2 cups of buttercream and you can use all two cups if that's what you're into but I would suggest using no more than 1 to 1 1/4 cups to get a nice even layer and a perfect cake to filling ratio. You can then sprinkle with powdered sugar and/or a dusting of cocoa powder. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Nothing cures the rainy day blues like soft and chewy cookies

Usually about day 3 of being trapped inside because of a rainstorm, I find myself itching to bake something. After hours of distractions (hanging pictures and wall art, playing piano, cutting my bangs, etc.) I finally caved and whipped up a double batch of sugar cookies for Husband to take to work tomorrow. The original recipe only made 24 cookies so I doubled it yet somehow I found myself with 68 jumbo cookies (the only way cookies should be according to Husband) so just be aware of that before you tackle this double batch recipe written below.  
Since it is only natural that I try to make these cookies as festive as possible while still keeping them classic- I added 1 tablespoon of colored sugar to the granulated sugar used to roll the dough in. It turned out exactly as I hoped and I like the added texture you get from the larger pieces of sugar in conjunction with the super fine sugar. 
This is such a simple recipe and I really hope that you give it a try. For the original recipe, please click here.
Yields: 68 cookies
Prep Time: 15 min. | Bake Time: 15 min.
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
2 cups granulated sugar, plus ½ cup for rolling dough (*optional to add 1 tablespoon colored sugar)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl; set aside.
2. Cream the butter, the 2 cups granulated sugar, and the brown sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla; beat at medium speed until combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl as needed.

3. Place the ½ cup sugar for rolling in a shallow bowl. Roll a heaping tablespoon of dough into a 1½-inch ball between moistened palms, roll the ball in the sugar, and then place it on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, moistening your hands as necessary and spacing the balls about 2 inches apart (you should be able to fit 9 cookies on each sheet). Flatten the dough balls with the bottom of a 1/3 round measuring cup until they are about ¾ inch thick.

4. Bake until the cookies are golden brown around the edges and their center are just set and very lightly colored. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets about 3 minutes; transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Home(made) is where the Heart is

The cool thing about being a blogger is that I get to talk about anything I want and I have no deadline to follow. But that being said, I often find myself with writer's block. I go through my days and I think "Hey, that'll be funny to blog about" or "Dang, I can't wait to blog this!" But then when the time comes for me to sit down and type it out, I can't remember why something could possibly be funny to anyone other than myself and my dog (she's got an awesome sense of humor) and other times what I think is cool to blog about just turns out to be not very interesting once it's been set up with a back story that usually ends up to be 50 paragraphs long. So I end up with a giant blank screen and a whole list of chores that hasn't been crossed of my daily to do list. 

I started this blog to have a place to share my adventures and have informative one way discussions about makeup and clothes primarily. It then morphed into a place where I tease and tempt you with recipes of scrumptious baked goods and then drop kick the fat kid in you with super intense workout routines. This blog is all over the place! A true representation of who I am indeed. 

These past few months have been quite awesome and all though I go through phases when I miss my family dearly I can usually stuff the sadness away by taking a little stroll around town. Today is a particularly dreary day and the feelings are slowly starting to surface so in a panic to regain my composure I figure I could write about this until I come up with something more effective at shooing away the 'miss my family' blues. 

So I decide I'm going to bake something. Go figure. I have a Christmas party to attend this weekend so I have to bake something for that but I just haven't decided what it should be exactly. I've been eyeballing a recipe for Honey and apple challah that seems appropriate at the moment but I have a hard time dedicating HOURS to bread making. I mean I do it- I just always seem to regret it mid-way through the second (or third) rise. *Sigh*

In the mean time I guess I could share with you my success story with Homemade Oreos recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. I don't really have a sweet back story for wanting to give this a try. It's not like my brothers and I have fond memories of sitting by a fire place at Christmas time sharing a package of Oreos with a huge glass of milk. I don't even remember eating Oreos as a kid… but something about the idea of making something that is so commercial at home in my own kitchen reminded me of being around my family. I think it partly has something to do with the fact that I come from a serious line of awesome cooks and bakers. That's probably why I love sweets so much, it's just in my blood. =)

I made a double batch (because come I'm making OREOS at HOME… two dozen just isn't enough to share) and also tweaked the recipe a bit to get a more authentic cookie. For the original recipe please click here.

Makes 80 sandwich cookies
For the chocolate wafers:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hersey's Dark Cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cup (2 1/2 sticks) room-temperature, unsalted butter
2 large eggs
For the filling:
1/2 cup (1 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Set two racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 375°F.
  2. In a food processor, or bowl of an electric mixer, thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. While pulsing, or on low speed, add the butter, and then the egg. Continue processing or mixing until dough comes together in a mass.
  3. Take rounded half teaspoons of batter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately two inches apart. With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough. Bake for 10 minutes. Set baking sheets on a rack to cool.
  4. To make the cream, place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer on high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.
  5. To assemble the cookies, in a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch, round tip, pipe teaspoon-size blobs of cream into the center of one cookie. Place another cookie, equal in size to the first, on top of the cream. Lightly press, to work the filling evenly to the outsides of the cookie. Continue this process until all the cookies have been sandwiched with cream.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Obsessive Compulsive

Husband and I were having a discussion about addictions recently. As it turns out, I don't have any real "addictions" in its proper definition but rather I posses serious obsessions and compulsions. I'm obsessed with a good (and often times giant) cup of coffee, fast internet connection, and naturally wavy hair styles. I have a compulsion to sing Adele's Someone Like You at the top of my lungs (every time I hear it regardless of where I'm at), to fill up our Brita water filter pitcher each time someone pours a glass, and to buy toilet tissue EVERY SINGLE time I'm at the grocery store. Have you ever ran out of toilet tissue…while you're home alone??? If you have then you should completely sympathize with me on this one. As the days have gone by since our discussion on addictions/obsessions/compulsions, I've been taking mental notes of the things I'm obsessed with and I'd like to share that with you. 

My current obsessions:

Youtube videos on hair and makeup tutorials. Emilynoel83, Lilithedarkmoon, and bebexo just to name a few are my absolute go to gurus for branching out and trying new things when it comes to hair and makeup. Each one of these women are unique with their creations and are very easy to recreate at home. Here are some samples of the cool things I've learned on Youtube.

Food blogs. OMG. I swear it's a border line addiction- I can hardly make it through the morning without scoping out at least three food blogs for inspiration or validation. Here are my favorites at the moment.

My current compulsions:

Painting my nails…right before bedtime. Husband loathes this compulsion simply because I turn into a huge needy geek which isn't the problem entirely (he doesn't mind turning the bed down, getting me a glass of water, or taking off my glasses, it's the fact that bedtime for me can range from 10pm to 1am and his bedtime is pretty much dead on at 9pm. But here's my reasoning- I'm actually busy during the day and I have zero patience to sit around for a couple hours until my nails dry. I can stay really still while sleeping so I figure I can kill to birds with one stone- sleep while nails dry. Bada bing. 

Sweeping. I've lived in a wall to wall carpeted house for 6 years before moving to Italy. We have 4 pets (one dog and three cats) and I had to vacuum every other day otherwise the carpets would look terrible. Now living in this house we have stone floors on the bottom floor and the two top floors are wood. We still have 4 pets… I never realized how much these animals shed until moving here. I literally feel like the walls are caving in around me if I don't sweep everyday. I think the people at my local grocery store find me particularly odd not because I buy so much toilet tissue but because I've purchased three brooms in two months. 

Shutting off the air/heat and radio before I turn off my car. I don't know why I do it but it has to be done and if Husband forgets to do it when he drives my car I'm actually mad about it. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Barcis, Italy

While our friends from England were in town we took a short drive north no more than 30 minutes away to a quaint little town named Barcis. 

I know I use the term "fairytale" rather frequently but I just can't help it- it's literally how I feel when I get to experience places like this. 

We were talking and laughing about what we would do if we got trapped in the semi- scary tunnel that we had to take in order to get to this town. I don't recall the the actual distance but it was quite possibly the longest tunnel I've been in. So we talked about zombies and screaming children and before I could even begin to freak out over the creepiness of screaming zombie children we were out of the tunnel, the temperature dropped 25 degrees and there were frosted trees and the ground was sprinkled with sparkling snow. Then the wave of complete and total calm took me over completely as the unbelievably still and mirror like lake showed itself. The color alone is magical. I've never seen such a gorgeous shade of sea foam green in my entire life- let alone a place like this. I guess this shouldn't really surprise me, most of the prettiest things I've seen have been away from the grips of humans. Nature just knows how to do it right.

Because I feel like it's my duty (when it comes to this blog) to provide you with useful information about whatever it is I'm ranting about (including gelato and it's fat content) I tried to gather as much information about this town as possible. It's not really much- almost close to nothing actually. I figured out that Barcis is derived from the term used to describe boats, which is kind of neat I guess. But then I came across something that totally caught me by surprise but I haven't been able to actually verify yet. I think Lake Barcis is man made. Gasp! I'm going to have to do a bit more research, talk to a few locals and get the dirty on this place. In the mean time take a moment to relish in the pictures below. Feel free to comment!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Little cake, HUGE flavor

I really enjoy baking
especially if it is for someone
who enjoys eating.

The first cake I ever sold was a 
Dark Chocolate cake iced with
White Chocolate Ganache 
and topped with crushed
Oreo cookies.

I decided to remake that cake 
for a dear friend of mine
as kind of a 'baby shower' cake 
while she and her husband
were in town for a quick visit.

This cake is not for the faint of heart
(or the diabetic).
It is rich, sweet, and completely decadent.
The six inch cake took four adults four days to eat
and at the end of their stay, one piece
still remained and we all had to admit defeat.

 If you're interested in the recipe
just leave a comment below.