Tuesday, December 30, 2008

French Yule Log (a.k.a. A Bûche de Noël)....YULE Love It! :)

It's that time again!!! The Daring Bakers tackled a traditional, French Yule Log this month. And whew....WHAT a recipe! I was really worried at first...I mean, an 18 page recipe?!? But once you break the elements down and tackle each one separately, it isn't that bad at all.
I always really, really look forward to the Daring Bakers challenge every month. After not participating last month, I was particularly excited about December. I knew that December would bring a fabulous challenge for the holidays. I was thrilled when I read the news. Chocolate...check! More chocolate...check, check! :)

I was extremely happy with my results this month. The taste was AMAZING! All of the flavors blended together so well. It's extra yummy with a hot cup of coffee, too!

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

The recipe is below...I've only included the flavors/recipes for the combinations that I chose to use, in order to keep the post from being 5 miles long..lol.

I broke this recipe out as follows:

Day 1: Dacquoise Biscuit + Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert
Day 2: Dark Chocolate Mousse + Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert + Cardamom Crème Brulée
Day 3: Dark Chocolate Icing

by Flore of Florilège Gourmand

Element #1 Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)
Preparation time: 10 mn + 15 mn for baking

Equipment: 2 mixing bowls, hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, spatula, baking pan such as a 10”x15” jelly-roll pan, parchment paper

Note: You can use the Dacquoise for the bottom of your Yule Log only, or as bottom and top layers, or if using a Yule log mold (half-pipe) to line your entire mold with the biscuit. Take care to spread the Dacquoise accordingly. Try to bake the Dacquoise the same day you assemble the log to keep it as moist as possible.

2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) almond meal
1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner’s sugar
2 Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar

1. Finely mix the almond meal and the confectioner's sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).
2. Sift the flour into the mix.
3. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.
4. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.
5. Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.
6. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm).
7. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden. 8. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Element #2 Dark Chocolate Mousse
Preparation time: 20mn

Equipment: stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment, thermometer, double boiler or equivalent, spatula

Note: You will see that a Pate a Bombe is mentioned in this recipe. A Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes mousses and buttercreams more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items such as the crème brulee insert. In the Vanilla Mousse variation, pastry cream is made to the same effect.In the Mango Mousse variation, Italian meringue is made to the same effect. Italian meringue is a simple syrup added to egg whites as they are beaten until stiff. It has the same consistency as Swiss meringue (thick and glossy) which we have used before in challenge recipes as a base for buttercream.The Whipped Cream option contains no gelatin, so beware of how fast it may melt.Gelatin is the gelifying agent in all of the following recipes, but if you would like to use agar-agar, here are the equivalencies: 8g powdered gelatin = 1 (0.25 oz) envelope powdered gelatin = 1 Tbsp powdered gelatin = 1 Tbsp Agar-Agar. 1 Tbsp. of agar-agar flakes is equal to 1 tsp. of agar-agar powder.

2.5 sheets gelatin or 5g / 1 + 1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1.5 oz (3 Tbsp / 40g) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp (10g) glucose or thick corn syrup
0.5 oz (15g) water
50g egg yolks (about 3 medium)
6.2 oz (175g) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1.5 cups (350g) heavy cream (35% fat content)

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water. (If using powdered gelatin, follow the directions on the package.) I used 1/4 cup cold water to soften the powdered gelatin. Heat the gelatin in the microwave for a few seconds to liquify it before mixing with the other ingredients.
2. Make a Pate a Bombe: Beat the egg yolks until very light in colour (approximately 5 minutes until almost white).
2a. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 244°F (118°C). If you do not have a candy thermometer, test the sugar temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water, if it forms a soft ball in the water then you have reached the correct temperature.
2b. Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. You can do this by hand but it’s easier to do this with an electric mixer.
2c. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.
3. In a double boiler or equivalent, heat 2 tablespoons (30g) of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.
4. Whip the remainder of the cream until stiff.
5. Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir in ½ cup (100g) of WHIPPED cream to temper. Add the Pate a Bombe.
6. Add in the rest of the WHIPPED cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.

Element #3 Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert
Preparation time: 10mn

Equipment: pan, whisk. If you have plunging mixer (a vertical hand mixer used to make soups and other liquids), it comes in handy.

Note: Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate piping it onto the log during assembly. Please be careful when caramelizing the sugar and then adding the cream. It may splatter and boil.

1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp/ 135g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
5 oz (135g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened
1. Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color (for most of you that means darker than last month’s challenge).
2. While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.
3. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.
4. Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast (if you have a plunging mixer use it). The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.

Element #4 Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert
Preparation time: 10 mn (+ optional 15mn if you make lace crepes)

Equipment: Small saucepan, baking sheet (if you make lace crepes).Double boiler (or one small saucepan in another), wax paper, rolling pin (or I use an empty bottle of olive oil).

Note: Feuillete means layered (as in with leaves) so a Praline Feuillete is a Praline version of a delicate crisp. There are non-praline variations below. The crunch in this crisp comes from an ingredient which is called gavottes in French. Gavottes are lace-thin crepes. To our knowledge they are not available outside of France, so you have the option of making your own using the recipe below or you can simply substitute rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K for them. Special note: If you use one of the substitutes for the gavottes, you should halve the quantity stated, as in use 1oz of any of these cereals instead of 2.1oz.

To make 2.1oz / 60g of gavottes (lace crepes - recipe by Ferich Mounia):
1/3 cup (80ml) whole milk
2/3 Tbsp (8g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup – 2tsp (35g) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp / 0.5 oz (15g) beaten egg
1 tsp (3.5g) granulated sugar
½ tsp vegetable oil

1. Heat the milk and butter together until butter is completely melted. Remove from the heat.
2. Sift flour into milk-butter mixture while beating, add egg and granulated sugar. Make sure there are no lumps.
3. Grease a baking sheet and spread batter thinly over it.
4. Bake at 430°F (220°C) for a few minutes until the crepe is golden and crispy. Let cool.

Ingredients for the Praline Feuillete:
3.5 oz (100g) milk chocolate
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) butter
2 Tbsp (1 oz / 30g) praline
2.1oz (60g) lace crepes(gavottes) or rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K (I used Rice Krispies)

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
2. Add the praline and the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
3. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

Element #5 Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert
Preparation time: 15mn + 1h infusing + 1h baking

Equipment: Small saucepan, mixing bowl, baking mold, wax paper

Note: The vanilla crème brulée can be flavored differently by simply replacing the vanilla with something else e.g. cardamom, lavender, etc...I flavored mine with Cardamom!

1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
½ cup (115g) whole milk
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean

1. Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour.
2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
3. Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.
4. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center. (Many DBers noticed that their creme brulee would not set at 210...including me. I raised the temperature to about 325 after an hour and kept baking. It finally set and became a nice golden brown on top.)

Tartelette says: You can bake it without a water bath since it is going to go inside the log (the aesthetics of it won't matter as much since it will be covered with other things)....BUT I would recommend a water bath for the following reasons:
- you will get a much nicer mouth feel when it is done
- you will be able to control its baking point and desired consistency much better
- it bakes for such a long time that I fear it will get overdone without a water bath

Now...since it is baked in a pan and it is sometimes difficult to find another large pan to set it in for a water bath, even a small amount of water in your water bath will help the heat be distributed evenly in the baking process. Even as little as 1 inch will help.

5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.
Here's the Yule Log before adding the icing...

Element #6 Dark Chocolate Icing
Preparation time: 25 minutes (10mn if you don’t count softening the gelatin)

Equipment: Small bowl, small saucepan

Note: Because the icing gelifies quickly, you should make it at the last minute.For other gelatin equivalencies or gelatin to agar-agar equivalencies, look at the notes for the mousse component.

4g / ½ Tbsp powdered gelatin or 2 sheets gelatin
¼ cup (60g) heavy cream (35 % fat content)
2.1 oz (5 Tbsp / 60g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50g) water
1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes. (Again, I used 1/4 cup water)
2. Boil the rest of the ingredients and cook an additional 3 minutes after boiling.
3. Add gelatin to the chocolate mixture. Mix well.
4. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.

How To Assemble your French Yule Log
Depending on whether your mold is going to hold the assembly upside down until you unmold it or right side up, this order will be different. THIS IS FOR UNMOLDING FROM UPSIDE DOWN TO RIGHT SIDE UP. You will want to tap your mold gently on the countertop after each time you pipe mousse in to get rid of any air bubbles.

1) Line your mold or pan, whatever its shape, with rhodoid (clear hard plastic, I usually use transparencies cut to the desired shape, it’s easier to find than cellulose acetate which is what rhodoid translates to in English) OR plastic film. Rhodoid will give you a smoother shape but you may have a hard time using it depending on the kind of mold you’re using.You have two choices for Step 2, you can either have Dacquoise on the top and bottom of your log as in version A or you can have Dacquoise simply on the bottom of your log as in version B:

I used Version A:
2A) Cut the Dacquoise into a shape fitting your mold and set it in there. If you are using an actual Yule mold which is in the shape of a half-pipe, you want the Dacquoise to cover the entire half-pipe portion of the mold.
3A) Pipe one third of the Mousse component on the Dacquoise.
4A) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.
5A) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
6A) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.
7A) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
8A) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
9A) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight eidge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
10A) Close with the last strip of Dacquoise.

Freeze until the next day.

If you are doing the assembly UPSIDE DOWN with TWO pieces of Dacquoise the order is:
1) Dacquoise
2) Mousse
3) Creme Brulee Insert
4) Mousse
5) Praline/Crisp Insert
6) Mousse
7) Ganache Insert
8) Dacquoise

THE NEXT DAY...Unmold the cake/log/whatever and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan. Cover the cake with the icing. Let set. Return to the freezer. You may decorate your cake however you wish. The decorations can be set in the icing after it sets but before you return the cake to the freezer or you may attach them on top using extra ganache or leftover mousse, etc...Transfer to the refrigerator no longer than ½ hour before serving as it may start to melt quickly depending on the elements you chose.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Absolutely Sinful Cinnamon Rolls

***Alrighty, here are the cinnamon rolls that I mentioned in my previous post. I put these together on Christmas Eve, and then baked them on Christmas morning. Let me just tell you...there's nothing quite like the smell of yummy cinnamon rolls wafting through the house on Christmas morning...ahhhhh...so wonderful! This is going to be a new tradition for us...fresh, homemade rolls on Christmas. I thought that I might try this recipe, and then maybe try a new one next year...until I found one that I really loved. However, I hit the jackpot on the first try! This is THE recipe that I'll always use.

UPDATE:  Since originally writing this post in 2008, I've  made these cinnamon rolls every year for Christmas!  They are a holiday tradition that my family looks forward to all year!  You can see my other posts here, with lots more photos of these sinful cinnamon rolls:

The great thing was that I could prepare them on Christmas Eve. Just put them together...all the way until the step where they're ready to go into the oven. Instead of popping them into the oven, just put them in the fridge and let them rise for the 2nd time in the fridge overnight (they'll rise VERY slowly in the fridge). Then, in the morning let them sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes, and then pop them in the oven as directed.

I looked and looked online and in my numerous cookbooks for the perfect recipe. I think the thing that got me about this particular recipe was the coffee glaze drizzled over the rolls...omg. You had me at coffee! I didn't look much further after that.

I found this recipe over on Pioneer Woman's blog. She's got a great story that goes along with them, so be sure to check out her post.

I will say that I decreased the ginormous amount of butter that she called for in this recipe. I also halved the recipe to suit my needs. I didn't need 7 pans of rolls...neither do my hips! :)

Try these today...you won't be sorry! I promise!!!***

Adapted from: The Pioneer Woman
Note:   The original recipe makes about seven 8" round aluminum tins of cinnamon rolls.  After cutting the original recipe in half, you'll end up with 3 - 4 tins full of rolls, with 7 - 8 rolls per tin...depending on how large you cut them.

Ingredients: (This is 1/2 the original recipe)

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 pkg active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tablespoon salt

1 cup melted butter, plus more as needed
1/8 cup ground cinnamon for sprinkling
1 cup sugar, plus more as needed

Mix milk, vegetable oil, and 1/2 cup of sugar in a pan. Scald the mixture (heat until just before the boiling point.) Remove from heat and let it cool 45 minutes to 1 hour.

When the mixture is lukewarm to warm, but NOT hot, sprinkle in package Active Dry Yeast. Let this sit for a minute and then add 4 cups of flour. Stir mixture together. Cover and let rise for at least an hour.

Next, add 1/2 cup flour, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir mixture together. From here, you could cover the dough and put it in the fridge until you need it—overnight or even a day or two, if necessary. Just keep your eye on it and if it starts to rise out of the pan, just punch it down. Or, of course, you can just go ahead and make the rolls.

Sprinkle surface generously with flour and roll the dough into a thin rectangular shape, about 1/4" thick. Brush melted butter on top, then sprinkle sugar over the butter, and finish with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon.

Starting with the wide end, roll the dough tightly towards you in a neat line. Next, pinch the seam to the roll to seal it. Spread 1 tbsp of melted butter in each pan/dish. With a sharp knife, begin cutting the dough into 1 inch slices, and laying them in the pans. Let rest for 20-30 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees for 13 - 17 minutes, or until golden.

IF MAKING AHEAD FOR CHRISTMAS MORNING:   Instead of popping them into the oven, just put them straight  into the fridge and let them rise for the 2nd time in the fridge overnight (they'll rise VERY slowly in the fridge). Then, in the morning let them sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes, and then pop them in the oven as directed.

1 lb. powdered sugar
1 tsp. maple flavoring
1/4 cup milk
1/8 cup melted butter
1/8 cup brewed coffee
Pinch of salt

Mix together all ingredients, and stir well until smooth. It should be thick but pourable. Taste and adjust as needed. Generously drizzle over the warm rolls. Go crazy and don't skimp on the frosting!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Fabulous Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

***Well, how was your Christmas??? I hope that you had a wonderful, wonderful day and got to spend it with your loved ones. I made some absolutely SINFUL cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Don't worry...I'll be posting about those within the next few days. I'm starting a new Christmas tradition this year...I plan to make these cinnamon rolls every year now....they were THAT good!

I'm sharing one of my secrets with you today...these cookies are quite possibly one of the best, and EASIEST cookies that there is. I can't tell you how many times I've made these cookies over the past couple of years. The secret is a box of cake mix...other than that, you're only 4 ingredients away from a delicious batch of homemade cookies.

You might remember THIS post where I originally shared this recipe with you a little over a year ago. All I did was add some cocoa powder to the cookie batter and the result was chocolately goodness! You'll notice that I also used a different kind of cake mix. Honestly, this particular brand/kind was on sale at the grocery store, so that's how I ended up with this kind in my cart. I'm not sure if it makes a HUGE difference, so feel free to use your favorite brand. I always use either the "Butter Recipe Golden" or "Classic Yellow Cake" mixes. I will say that these cookies puffed up beautifully...I've made them again already!

1 Box Pillsbury Moist Supreme "Classic Yellow" Cake Mix
1/3 c. vegetable oil
2 eggs
4 heaping tbsp. cocoa powder
1 cup or more chocolate chips

Empty cake mix into bowl of stand mixer. Add eggs and oil. Mix until well blended, using paddle attachment. Add cocoa powder and continue to mix until cocoa is completely incorporated into cookie batter. You may need to add a tiny bit more oil if mixture seems too dry.

Use an ice cream scoop to scoop batter onto a greased cookie sheet. Using an ice cream scoop will ensure that all cookies are the same shape/size. Bake for approximately 12-13 minutes at 365 degrees. Keep an eye on the cookies and remove them from the oven a little bit before you usually would...this will make them nice and chewy. If you let them get too brown, they will not be as soft.

Cool cookies on the pan for 10 minutes, then cool on a wire rack another 10 - 15 minutes.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chewy Chunky Blondies - Dorie Greenspan

***These blondies are seriously the.best.dessert that I've had in a long, long time. They were fabulous ...scrumptious ....delicious ....amazing ... yumolicious ...there just simply aren't enough adjectives to describe them! Everyone wanted seconds. In fact, I gave one to my Mom-in-law as she was walking out of the door, and she told me the next day that she almost turned around and came all the way back to our house for another one...haha. They are THAT good! Really, the ONLY thing that could have improved these blondies would have been a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. And really it's no surprise, because any Dorie Greenspan recipe is always wonderful. If you love to bake and you don't own her cookbook, Baking: From My Home to Yours I highly recommend putting it on your Christmas list. It's a large cookbook with 513 pages of yummy goodness and pretty photos.

I can't wait to make these again tomorrow...I'm taking them to our Christmas party at work. I bet they won't last long! :)

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or 1 cup store-bought chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips or Heath Toffee Bits (I left this out!)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (I used pecans)
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking pan and put it on a baking sheet.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add both sugars and beat for another 3 minutes, or until well incorporated. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition, then beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing just until they disappear into the batter. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the chips, nuts and coconut. Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and use the spatula to even the top as best you can.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the blondies comes out clean. The blondies should pull away from the sides of the pan a little and the top should be a nice honey brown. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for about 15 minutes before turning the blondies out onto another rack. Invert onto a rack and cool the blondies to room temperature right side up.

Cut into 32 bars, each roughly 2-1/4 x 1-1/2 inches.

Source: Dorie Greenspan's "Baking: From My Home to Yours"

Sunday, December 14, 2008

All I Want for Christmas...

***That's our tree! Isn't it pretty? I love, love, love this time of year!
So, as you may have guessed, cookbooks are one thing that I love to collect. When Christmas rolls around each year, there are usually several that I've had my eyes on. This year is no exception...Especially with our trip to France, Germany, and Italy coming up in just 2 months. I've found myself obsessed with French cuisine. I love it. So naturally, some of these cookbooks are by French chefs or about Paris in general...and there's even one by a Birmingham, AL chef about Italian cuisine! Honestly, I'm probably just as excited about sampling all of the gourmet food as I am about seeing the sights! Haha. Our 2 week-long adventure in Europe, will be here before we know it. We've got *almost* everything we need before we go...cameras, passports, new coat...check! There are only a few more things we'll need, like some comfy walking shoes. The good news is, I plan to blog about our entire trip right here on Sugar & Spice. I want to write about everything from the food we eat to all of the amazing things that we see and do. I hope you'll come along with us in February. :)

The following cookbooks are at the top of my Christmas list this year. I've included links to each cookbook on Amazon.com. What's on your wish list???***

I recently bought Dorie's "Baking: From My Home to Yours", and I absolutely love it. Dorie Greenspan never fails to deliver a delectably perfect recipe. So, the first two cookbooks on my list are no-brainers. I've read nothing but rave reviews for "Paris Sweets". I can't wait to try out some of the recipes.

2. "Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme" - By Dorie Greenspan
I first heard about this cookbook during one of my favorite Daring Bakers challenges - The Chocolate Eclair. Not to mention, Pierre Herme is considered the top pastry chef in France...and even in the WORLD! Being the chocolate lover that I am, I must have this cookbook! :)

3. "The Complete Rubuchon" - By Joel Rubuchon
The New York Times recently declared this book the "Joy of Cooking" for French cuisine. After flipping through the pages, I certainly believe it! The only drawback to this great cookbook is the fact that there are no photos...which is usually something that I love. However, Joel Rubuchon is the man, and I cannot wait to try some of his recipes. He includes precise techniques and teaches you the correct preparations for classic French dishes. This is a book you can rely on for any occasion! The recipes are also less fussy than you would expect, which is something else that I love about this book.

4. "Bottega Favorita" - By Frank Stitt
Frank Stitt is a local chef here in the Birmingham, AL area, and he has received accolades from Gourmet magazine, the Discovery Channel, The New York Times, the James Beard Foundation, and he was recently named one of the culinary "Legends of the Decade" by Bon Appetit magazine...pretty darn impressive, huh?? I have an autographed copy of his first cookbook, "Frank Stitt's Southern Table", which is equally as fabulous as this companion book.
Here's a great review from Amazon.com:
"There are some places worth traveling to just for the food: Rome, Venice . . . and now, Birmingham, Italy.

In this companion to his first, best-selling cookbook, the beloved Southern chef Frank Stitt travels to Italy and brings the best of Mediterranean cuisine back home. To Stitt's mind, the two regions—Italy and the American South—share commonalities. Both native cuisines have a tradition of turning humble ingredients—ground corn, bitter greens, cured pork, the daily catch—into poetry on the plate. And as the chef points out in his lively introduction to the book, this is elemental cooking based on the purity and simplicity of the freshest and finest ingredients."

5. "Chocolate & Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen" - By Clotilde Dusoulier
I first happened upon Clotilde's food blog, Chocolate & Zucchini about a year ago. I loved the name and I love the blog even more. She's authored several awesome books, and I would love to have a copy of this one. Be sure to visit her blog...you'll be impressed!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Yummy Blueberry Muffins

***Brad and I had a craving for something yummy last Sunday morning. I had some fresh blueberries hanging out in the fridge, so these blueberry muffins sounded perfect. If you don't have any fresh blueberries on-hand, frozen blueberries work just fine. The lemon zest in these muffins were the secret ingredient...they add the perfect little zing to each bite. And just look at that blueberry goodness! ;)

I used a trick that I learned from Giada De Laurentiis when making these muffins:
- Place blueberries in a fine mesh strainer over your mixer bowl. Add flour to blueberries and shake until all flour makes it into the mixer bowl below. A thin layer of flour should remain on all blueberries (see photo below). This will prevent the blueberries from sinking to the bottom of the muffins during the baking process! This will also result in nice, sifted flour in the mixing bowl...you can then proceed with the recipe, adding the sugar, baking powder and salt to the flour.

One more thing...I sprinkled a little sugar over each muffin before baking. This just makes them extra yummy.
1 3/4 cups flour (180 g)
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg beaten
3/4 cup milk (180 ml)
1/4 cup cooking oil
3/4 cup blueberries (120 g)
1 tsp lemon peel (5 ml) (optional)

Preheat oven to 400°F.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center. (See note above regarding the flour trick!)

In a separate bowl, combine the egg, milk, and oil. Add egg mixture, all at once, to the flour mixture. Stir just until moistened. Yes, the batter should be lumpy. (If you try to stir all the lumps out, your muffins will be very tough.)

Carefully fold in blueberries and optional lemon peel.

Grease muffin cups, or line with paper bake cups; fill each 2/3 full. Bake at 400°F for 19 - 21 minutes, or until golden brown.
Remove from pans; serve warm with butter.

Source: Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Traditional Pot Roast

***This is one of my favorite comfort foods! Not only does it make the house smell down-right delicious, but it tastes amazing too! The best way to prepare this is with a slow cooker...it makes the meat so tender that it just falls apart and melts in your mouth.

This is how my Mom always prepared this classic dish, so it's still the recipe that I use (with a few additions). This doesn't come from any cookbook...just from memory. Sometimes, those recipes are the best! ;)

Feel free to play around with the ingredients. You can add garlic, or even substitute some of the beef stock with red wine!

Oh, and this is also great the next day...once all the flavors have really come together. If you like pot roast, you may also like this ITALIAN POT ROAST that I posted a few months ago. It's also fantastic!***

One 3-4 lb. boneless chuck roast
1 cup water
Beef Stock
2-3 Tbsp. Amazing Taste Beef Seasoning (or your favorite seasoning will do!)
1 Onion, diced
1 package baby carrots
8 - 10 small, new potatoes or 2 large russet potatoes, cut into wedges
1 can (10-3/4 oz.) Cream of Mushroom soup
Garlic Salt, to taste

Place roast in slow cooker and add water. Layer the chopped onion, potatoes, baby carrots and Cream of Mushroom soup around roast. Sprinkle Amazing Taste seasoning over all ingredients. Add enough beef stock to cover all ingredients, and stir to combine...making sure that the roast remains on the bottom. Season with garlic salt.

Cook on high for approximately 5 - 7 hours, or until meat is very tender...stirring occasionally. Serve hot!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Savory Low-Calorie Chicken & Amazing Taste Samples!

***A company named Amazing Taste recently sent me some wonderful samples of their seasoning product offerings. I had not used their seasonings before, so I was curious about them. I replied to their e-mail, and just a few days later I received 9 different samples! Pretty cool, huh? They even sent along some recipes to try. I happened to have almost everything for this recipe on-hand, so I thought I'd give it a try. I simply adjusted the recipe to serve 2 people. It was really good! You can see their product offerings and learn more about the company at the following site - Amazing Taste. Be sure to check them out! I used their Beef seasoning in a pot roast that I made last night...it was fabulous. I'll be sure to blog about that as well.

Amazing Taste - Thanks again for sending these great samples!

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 packet Amazing Taste Malibu Seasoning
1 cup carrots, sliced
1 cup zucchini, sliced (I didn't have this on-hand, so I substituted celery)
1/2 cup water, light beer or white wine
1 cup mushrooms, sliced (I left these out...we're not mushroom fans).
1 small onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place vegetables in 2-quart baking dish and sprinkle with 1 Tbsp. of Amazing Taste Malibu Seasoning.

Coat chicken on all sides with remaining seasoning and place over vegetables.

Add liquid and bake chicken covered for 45 minutes or until chicken is done.

Serve with rice pilaf or brown rice. (I served this dish with white rice.)

Friday, December 5, 2008

20 Days Until Christmas!!!

Without a doubt, this is my very favorite time of the year! As I type this, I'm sitting by the Christmas tree...all lit up and pretty! I love it. We've got most of our decorations up now...including my new favorite decoration. When I was little, my Grandmother had some beautiful Annalee dolls. When I found the Annalee Christmas Countdown Calendar above, I HAD to have it! It reminds me so much of my Grandmother...baking Christmas goodies with her, listening to the reindeer on the roof (she'd always pretend like she could hear them on Christmas Eve...pointing out any knocking noises she heard outside), and seeing Rudolph's red nose on the way to visit family. See, she'd always find one of those towers with the single red light at the top and tell me it was Rudolph. Oh, those were the days. She made this time of year so magical. So, everytime I see my new calendar, all those fun memories come rushing back.
Oh, and don't you just love my new "Cook" ornament? My Nestie friend, Jenny, bought that for me as part of our Ornament Exchange....along with several little photo frame ornaments. I can't wait to pick out some photos for them. Thanks again, Jenny! I LOVE them!!!

Have you gotten your Christmas shopping done yet? I haven't bought the first thing! Is that bad? I've got several gifts picked out...I just haven't bought them yet. We plan on getting started next week sometime.
Well, now that the official countdown has begun, I can't wait to get in the kitchen and do some more holiday baking. What will you be baking this year?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Homemade French-Style Macarons - "Cook's Illustrated"

***Finally...I'm making progress with the ever-hard-to-make French Macaron. I found this recipe in the recent "Holiday Baking" special issue of Cooks Illustrated. Their recipes have never failed me...they test, re-test, and test again every single recipe...until they are almost fool-proof. I noticed that this recipe for macarons was a little different from the ones I've been using. One big difference was the addition of Cream of Tartar to the egg whites. It acts as a stabilizer and helps to stiffen the egg whites. Also I recently purchased a silicon baking mat....what a great investment! I only have one right now, so I had to make the other batches of macarons on regular parchment paper. The macarons baked on the silicon mat looked much better, seemed to bake more evenly, and even rose higher. It looks like I'll be buying a few more of those mats soon. Hmm...maybe Santa can leave a few of those in my stocking? ;)

So, here's a list of some things I did differently this time around:
1. Added a pinch of Cream of Tartar to the egg whites
2. Aged the egg whites at room temperature for 24 hours (covered)
3. I processed my own almond flour by processing 11 ounces of slivered almonds to a fine flour in a food processor.
4. Used a silicon baking mat on one batch.

3 3/4 cups (15 ounces) almond flour (see my note above)
3 1/3 cups (13 1/3 ounces) confectioner's sugar
1/8 tsp. table salt
5 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch cream of tartar
5 tsp. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit large pastry bag with 1/2 inch plain tip; set aside. Process half of almond flour, half of confectioner's sugar, and salt together in food processor until mixture is very finely ground, about 20 seconds. Transfer to bowl and repeat with remaining almond flour and confectioner's sugar; stir together and set aside.

2. In stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites at medium-low speed until opaque and frothy, about 30 seconds. Add cream of tartar, increase speed to medium-high, and continue to beat until white, thick, and voluminous, with consistency of shaving cream, about 90 seconds. Slowly sprinkle in granulated sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form and sugar is incorporated, about 60 seconds.

3. Gently fold one-quarter of almond flour mixture into whites, followed by vanilla. Gradually fold in remaining almond mixture until thick batter forms.

4. Fill prepared pastry bag with batter. Twisting top of bag to apply pressure, push batter down toward tip and pipe twenty 2-inch mounds about 1 inch apart. Use back of teaspoon or finger dipped in bowl of cold water to even out shape and smooth surface of piped mounds. Repeat with remaining batter and baking sheet. Let cookies sit at room temperature until tops are dry and smooth skin has formed, 1 to 2 hours.

5. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until lightly browned, about 20 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Carefully slide parchment paper with cookies onto wire rack and cool completely. Bake second batch of cookies while first batch cools.
***Note: If your macarons stick to the parchment paper and won't easily come off, put about 2 tbsp. of water between the parchment paper and baking sheet. Let sit for about 15-30 seconds and try again. Don't wait too long...the water will make the macarons soggy!***
Chocolate Ganache Filling
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream

Combine the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream just to a boil. Remove from the heat and immediately pour over the chocolate and butter. Stir with a wire whisk until the chocolate and butter melt and are smooth. Let cool until spreadable. (I chilled the ganache in the fridge until it was the consistency that I wanted.)

To Assemble:
Spread about 1 tbsp. chocolate ganache over flat sides of half of cooled cookies and gently cover with flat sides of remaining cookies to form sandwich cookies.

Source: Cooks Illustrated - Holiday Baking special issue, Holiday

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

The Spread...all made from scratch! :)
Roast Turkey with Bacon-Herb Butter
Sauteed Spinach with Pecans & Feta
Mashed Potatoes
Cider Gravy
Broccoli & Cheese Casserole
Cornbread Dressing
Double Cranberry-Apple Sauce
Honey Yeast Rolls
Sweet Potato Souffle
Carrot Cake
French Macarons with Chocolate Ganache
Walnut Brownies
Cheese Ball with Pecans

Cornbread Dressing with Sausage:

Double Cranberry-Apple Sauce:

Walnut Brownies:

French Macarons with Chocolate Ganache:

Cranberry Sauce & Cheese Ball:

Carrot Cake:


Whew...my first time hosting Thanksgiving dinner was a huge success! Everything from the amazingly delicious turkey to the yummy carrot cake turned out great. I posted my entire menu in the post below (along with links to the recipes!), but I wanted to share some photos from the big day here.
This was only my second time roasting a turkey, so I was a little nervous about how it would turn out. I found THIS recipe at Bon Appetit, and let me just say...I've never had better turkey! The bacon-herb butter that's put under the turkey skin is absolutely delicious. It has the perfect taste...with just the right amount of flavor. And the cider gravy...YUM! I basted the turkey every 30 - 45 minutes while it was roasting.

Another favorite was the homemade cranberry sauce. I've always eaten the cranberry sauce right out of the can....you know, the jellied kind. I don't think I'll ever go back now...LOL.

There's no way that I would have been able to coordinate all of these dishes and get them all on the table at the same time without being VERY organized. Microsoft Word was my best friend during this process. I started by putting all of my recipes in one document, along with a photo of each dish. I then created a shopping list and organized it by sections in the grocery store (baking aisle, fresh produce, dairy, etc.)....also including the quantity of each ingredient that I needed. The last thing that I did was create an itinerary for Turkey Day. I knew exactly what time to put the turkey in the oven, peel the potatoes, and start the yeast rolls...haha. It may sound like a lot of preparation, but hey...everything was done at the same time! I was also able to make several things ahead of time. I started on Monday with the Cranberry Sauce, made the gravy base and bacon-herb butter on Tuesday, and then I made the desserts & cheeseball on Wednesday. I also prepped the turkey and broccoli & cheese casserole on Wednesday, so I only had to pop them in the oven on Thursday! All of this preparation certainly made Thanksgiving Day even more enjoyable and easy.

On top of all this, I got the opportunity to bake a friend's Thanksgiving desserts...she placed an order for a Carrot Cake, Double Chocolate Cake, Walnut Brownies, and another batch of regular brownies. I was so excited to have my first big "order." My wonderful husband, Brad, designed a cute logo and made some decals for the bakery boxes. Take a look...I was so happy with the way everything turned out...I hope that Mrs. Watson was just as thrilled...

At the end of the day, I loved preparing Thanksgiving dinner! It was a BIG job, but I had so much fun with the preparations.

I hope that your Thanksgiving celebrations were just as wonderful!!!