Celebrate! · Food

‘Tis the season…

…for baking!

My kitchen is a disaster, and I spent forever washing dishes, but these Christmas treats are worth it! Today I made chocolate covered cherries, peppermint bark, and chocolate pretzels, and then I tried out a new sugar cookie recipe. I hope you enjoy these treats!

Recipe for Chocolate Covered Cherries

Ingredients:
16 oz powdered sugar
5 Tbsp soft butter
2 Tbsp half and half cream <–I used whole milk today but used a little less.
½ tsp vanilla
2 10-oz jars maraschino cherries, well drained
8 oz Guittard melting chocolate or other melting milk chocolate

Directions:
Drain cherries and lay on a paper towel to dry.

Knead the powdered sugar, butter, cream, and vanilla. Flatten a spoonful of dough in the palm of your hand and roll dough around a cherry. Place on a parchment lined sheet and repeat with the rest of the cherries. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Using a toothpick, dip each cherry and return to the sheet. Let them cool and continue to harden in the refrigerator. Store in a cool, dry place! Enjoy!

Peppermint Bark

Back home there is a cake decorating shop that I absolutely love. For quite a while my mom would bring me melting chocolate (milk, dark, and white!) when she visited, and my dad would joke, “They don’t have chocolate in Arizona!”. I recently found a shop that carries good chocolate, so my mom won’t be having to lug chocolate around in her suitcase anymore. However, the same shop back in Texas has the best peppermint pieces for bark. I haven’t found it here, but you could certainly crush candy canes and create a similar effect.

The peppermint bark uses a 2:1 ratio of white chocolate to peppermint pieces. I usually melt 1 lb of white chocolate in a double boiler and then stir in ½ lb of peppermint pieces. Once fully incorporated, spread it out on a wax paper covered baking sheet, and then refrigerate. I spread the chocolate fairly thin; it cools quicker and then breaks into pieces easier. I store my bark in a container in the refrigerator, so it lasts longer!

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Chocolate Pretzels

These are extremely easy and always a hit! All you need is a bag of square pretzels, Hershey hugs, and m&ms. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Unwrap as many hugs as you want and then place each one on a pretzel. Bake for 3 minutes, just enough to slightly melt the hugs. Take out of the oven and immediately place an m&m on each hug. Transfer the baking sheet to the refrigerator and let it continue to cool and harden. (Funny story: The grocery store was out of Christmas m&ms, so I had to sift through a regular bag and pick out the red and green ones! The things we do…ha!)

Christmas Cookies

I found this cookie recipe through Williams Sonoma – it’s a recipe courtesy of baker Patti Paige. These cookies are delicious and remind me of shortbread. I didn’t frost mine because they are great as is! The cooking time will vary. The recipe says 9-15 minutes, but mine were ready in 7-8. I think mine were thinner, thus the shorter baking time.

Ingredients:
2 ½ c + 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
12 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temp (I was 1 Tbsp short, so I replaced 1 with shortening)
1 c + 2 Tbsp sugar
1 egg
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract <– I used clear

Directions:
In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

Using a mixer, combine the butter and sugar on medium speed. Add the egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix it until a dough forms.

Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Tear off 6 sheets of parchment paper – place a dough ball on 3 of them, and then place a sheet on top of each ball. Roll each ball into a flat disc, about ¼ inch thick. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Take one disc out of the fridge and loosen the parchment paper until it comes away from the dough. Set it back on top of the dough (loosely) and then flip over and repeat with the other piece of parchment paper. This will keep the cookies from sticking!

Cut out shapes and place on a lined baking sheet. Cook for about 9 minutes, or until edges are slightly browned, and then let cool briefly on the sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

(These cookies don’t spread, so you can place cookies pretty close together when baking.)

Happy baking, friends!

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Celebrate! · Food

Macarons!

Tomorrow we’re doing a photoshoot for my little girl, complete with a cake smash! Despite her main birthday colors being pink, green, and gold, I decided to play with color and bring in a rainbow of sprinkles for her cake. I’m always drawn to cake pictures that have dimension, and I’ve seen several that include macarons on the top.

Fortunately for me, I took a macaron cooking class at Sur la table a couple of years ago and learned the techniques behind them. These delicate cookies take a little bit of practice, but they are fun to make, and I’m going to share some of my notes from class (that you don’t see when you look at a macaron recipe). Please note that weather can affect macarons. They are easier to make if it’s drier – I’m quite lucky living in the desert for this. If it’s been extremely rainy and humid, your macarons may not turn out.

I used the ingredients for a basic macaron from my Macaroons cookbook by Love Food. In my cooking class, we used the same ingredients, but we weighed everything. I thought it would be easier to list the ingredients in cups on here, rather than in ounces. Please note that the following recipe does not make very many macarons. You will want to double the recipe if you are taking them to a party. However, for practicing the technique, the smaller ingredients are perfect!

I began by measuring out almond flour and powdered sugar (confectioners’ sugar). I used Bob’s Red Mill finely ground almond meal/flour. Since it was very fine, I did not put it in the food processor. I placed it and the powdered sugar in my drum sieve and sifted it over parchment paper. Then I transferred the mixture to a bowl, used a fork to make sure it was mixed well, and set it aside.

Next, I separated the eggs, one at a time, and placed the egg whites in my KitchenAid mixer. I added a pinch of cream of tartar and then whipped them on a medium-low speed. You want it to get foamy (like beer foam) before adding the granulated sugar. Once the sugar is added, scrape down the sides of the bowl, add in a couple drops of food coloring, and then increase the speed to high. Let it whip until stiff peaks form and it gets glossy in appearance. To check if it’s done, you can stop the mixer, pull the whisk attachment out, and dip it in the whipped egg whites. Pull it straight up, and if there is a peak coming off the whisk (and it holds strong), then it’s ready. I really wish I had taken a picture of this step; I will try to get one and add it in later!

Now it’s time to add in the almond flour/powdered sugar mixture. You want to add in a third of it at a time. Don’t pour it all in at once! You’re going to fold it in, using a clock-wise motion. Go around the bowl once (“clean the bowl”), cut through the middle, and then around again. Keep doing this pattern until it’s all incorporated. Around – cut through – around; around – cut through – around…

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Then I transferred the mixture into a pastry bag with a plain round tip. My class recommended a #12 tip, but I used a #10. It’s just one size smaller. (If you double the recipe, don’t overfill the bag! You can always add in more.) Get out a baking sheet and some parchment paper. Sur la table also sells silicone mats that have circles printed on them for macarons! (I traced circles on the back of my parchment paper but then decided not to use them.) To keep the parchment paper in place, “glue” the corners down with some of the filling.

Hold the bag straight up and down on the parchment paper and gently squeeze to let the filling come out. Use one hand to squeeze the bag and the other hand near the tip, as a guide. Don’t try to pipe circles. Just keep it in one place and count to 6. 1-2-3-4-5-6-stop. Keep doing this, leaving a space of 2 fingers between each circle. If you have a little swoosh in the middle, you can gently smooth it out with your finger (and a tiny bit of water).

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I made one extra (on the bottom) to taste test later.

Once the circles were completed, I hit the bottom of the pan on my table to release any trapped air. Then I walked away and let them sit for 30 minutes.

During this time, I made a unicorn shirt for a friend… random request! 🙂

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After 30 minutes, I preheat the oven to 325 degrees and checked on the macarons. I let them sit another 10 and then they were ready to go in the oven. There should be a slight crust on them, and they should not stick to your finger when touched. They should almost seem hardened on the outside. I baked mine for 12 minutes, but I did check them after 10. Then I let them cool for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

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Later in the day, I made my buttercream filling. I beat the butter and vanilla extract, and then added in powdered sugar. Once it was smooth, I folded in some dehydrated strawberry pieces.

To assemble the macarons, you can pipe the filling on the cookie or just use a knife. I went the simple route and spread it on with a knife and then sandwiched the pairs together. (Kind of twist them together instead of smooshing them.) I tried to get a little extra filling in mine so I could roll the sides in sprinkles. Once you learn how to make the cookie part of the macaron, you can do all kinds of fillings. One of my favorites is a lemon macaron with a white chocolate ganache! Stay tuned and I’ll make that one soon!

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Recipe for Macarons
(Ingredients from Macaroons by Love Food; Directions from Sur la table cooking school)

Ingredients (for the cookie):
¾ c ground almonds
1 c confectioners’ sugar
2 extra large egg whites
Pinch of cream of tartar (not in the book’s recipe; added in from my cooking class)
¼ c granulated sugar
Optional: gel food coloring

Ingredients (for buttercream filling):
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 c confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Optional: 4 strawberries, finely chopped ( I used a few pieces of dehydrated strawberries instead, chopped fine.)

(^This is a pretty standard buttercream frosting, just minus the milk. You want it to be thick for filling the cookie, instead of thinned out.)

Directions (for the cookie):
In a food processor, blend about a third of the confectioners’ sugar with the almond flour into a fine powder. Transfer to a mixing bowl with the remaining confectioners’ sugar. Using a drum sieve, sift mixture onto a sheet of parchment paper. Set aside.

To make the meringue: Using a mixer (fitted with a whisk attachment), whip egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until foamy. Gradually add granulated sugar. Once sugar is incorporated and mixture is thick, scrape down sides of bowl (add food coloring if desired) and increase speed to high. Whip until stiff, firm, glossy peaks form.

To complete the macaronnage step: Add 1/3 of the sifted almond flour mixture to the meringue and fold using a large spatula. Fold in the rest of the flour in two more additions, then check for correct consistency. The batter should be firm, have a glossy shine, and drip slowly from the spatula.

Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a ½ inch plain round tip. Pipe 1 1/3 inch rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Rap the bottom of each sheet on your table to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 30-40 minutes. Check for a slight crust to form on the macaron. The macarons should not stick to your finger when lightly touched.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake macarons until crisp and firm, about 10-12 minutes. (If they are still soft inside, lower oven to 300, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for a few more minutes. If the top looks crinkled, your oven might be too hot!) Allow macarons to cool on baking sheets for 2-3 minutes and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before filling.

Directions (for the filling):
Beat the butter and vanilla extract until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth and creamy. Fold in the strawberries if desired. Pair up macarons and use the filling to sandwich them together. (Spread onto the bottom of one and sandwich flat sides together.)

 

Celebrate! · Crafting

DIY Picture Frame

Lately I’ve been doing more projects, and the theme seems to be wood! Wood reminds me of Autumn, and I can’t wait for the cooler weather and pumpkin everything. I’m especially looking forward to sweater weather and boots! My little girl will turn one this Fall (where did the time go??), and I must do my crafting while she sleeps, as she is into everything now! I’m currently working on various birthday party décor.

I wanted to buy a frame to hang pictures from, but they can be very expensive, and I couldn’t find one big enough for what I had in mind. I have been taking photos of little one every month and want to hang one from each month of her first year. Twelve photos are going to take up a lot of room! I told my friend Taylor about my vision, and she encouraged me to make it myself. (Taylor and I are always doing house projects together and sometimes have quite lofty goals. But we always manage to accomplish our tasks, even if they take more work than we imagined!) I thought, “Why not?” so she went to Home Depot with me to gather supplies.

I bought four pieces of hobby wood and asked one of the employees to saw them down to be 28 inches long. They each measured 2.5 x 28 x .5 (width, length, depth). I also bought some brackets with screws. (At home, I already had my other supplies, including wood glue, a drill and bits, and a screwdriver.)

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I began by sanding my wood and then laying it down into a rectangle configuration. I laid the brackets down and then used a sharpie to mark where the screws would go. Then I got out my drill and (using the smallest drill bit) made small holes on each mark. You have to be careful not to go all the way through the wood, but the drill helps make the screws go in easier later. (As a side note, I got to use a heavy duty electric screwdriver recently – if you own one of these then you don’t need to use a drill – but I was putting in my screws by hand and didn’t want to strip them, hence the drill!)

Once all the holes were made, I began loosely screwing the brackets on. I left a little space to squeeze in some wood glue, and then tightened all the screws. The brackets aren’t the prettiest, and I doubled up on them, but they’re on the back and doing their job!

Next, I decided to attach my wire that the pictures will hang from. I measured and made marks on both sides (on the inside of the frame) and then hammered three nails on each side. I cut wire (32 inches long) and twisted it up (2 inches on each nail).

Then came the fun part – painting and decorating! I used several coats of white paint and then affixed fabric flowers and glitter stars. I used removable mounting squares that I had left over from teaching. I plan to reuse the frame to hang Christmas cards and want to be able to change out my decorations! I cut out paper stars using my Cricut and glued them on to clothespins and then added glitter numbers. I still need to attach my picture hanging hardware to the back of the frame and then hang up photos, but I’m really pleased with how this project is turning out! It was a lot easier than I imagined it would be and cheaper than buying a frame. Another diy win!

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Celebrate!

Minecraft Themed Party

This did not get posted yesterday, so pretend it is still the fourth! 🙂

Happy Independence Day!

I LOVE themed parties and making decorations for them, so I decided to make another blog category, called “Celebrate!”. My nephew shares his birthday with today’s holiday, and he is obsessed with Minecraft. I decided to make him a few Minecraft things for his party, and I can’t wait to see his face when he sees everything in a little while!

My husband and I made a trip to Target for Minecraft birthday presents and we found sheets, some legos, and a Creeper shirt! (I’ve never played the game, but I am becoming very familiar with the characters and objects, as I have been perusing Pinterest and Google images!) We also ordered some “pixelated” sunglasses for everyone to wear by the pool.

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I decided to wrap the presents in Minecraft packaging, so I got out my Cricut and got to work designing images from the game. TNT, a creeper, and a diamond sword were designed and then cut and glued together.

With my Cricut I also cut out a larger diamond sword for the birthday cake. It involved a lot of squares! I glued the squares on cardstock, cut it out, and then glued squares on the back to make my sword double-sided. Then I laminated it so the frosting wouldn’t ruin it.

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I ordered a piñata from iPinata, a site I found through Etsy, and they did a great job! It’s a TNT cube from the game, and this object seems fitting for a piñata! Instead of an explosion of destruction, treats will rain down around the birthday boy! We didn’t want to fill it with just candy, so we picked up little toys – bouncy balls, decks of cards, Minecraft figurines, silly string… but I also bought candy that resembled objects from the game. Hershey nuggets symbolized iron bars, licorice bites became TNT, and Swedish fish represented fish from the game. I printed out the images from the game and stapled them onto mini treat bags.

Last, I made an individual cake for my nephew. His parents have an ice-cream cake ordered for everyone else to eat, but we thought it would be fun for the birthday boy to have his own cake. I went the easy route and used Funfetti cake mix and mixed the batter according to the box directions. I used a 4-inch round, filled it 2/3 full, and then poured the remaining batter into a 9×13-inch pan. The small cake went in first and baked at 350 degrees for about 27 minutes. It took a lot longer than I expected for such a small cake. (The larger cake was made and then turned into patriotic cake balls! I just didn’t use a whole can of frosting with it.) Once my mini cake was cool, I made up a delicious buttercream and tinted it green for grass. I covered the entirety in green and then put square candy melts along the sides of the cake to be dirt. (Note: I made the squares ahead of time and stored them in the fridge until time to use. I used milk, dark, and white (with green coloring) chocolates.) The Cricut-made sword will go into the cake once it’s ready to serve. A 4-cupcake box was the perfect size to store the cake overnight, and it should travel well.

In case anyone is interested in an easy, yummy buttercream frosting, here is the recipe my mom and I use:

Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:
½ c Crisco (vegetable shortening)
½ c butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 c powdered sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp milk

Directions:
In a large bowl, cream the shortening and butter and then add in the vanilla. Gradually add the sugar, one cup at a time, beating on medium speed. Add the milk and beat until light and fluffy. When not in use, keep frosting in the fridge in an airtight container. It can be stored up to two weeks! Just stir before using.

(If you want it to be white, use clear vanilla extract. If you are tinting it a darker color, the brown coloring of the vanilla does not matter.)

I hope everyone has a happy 4th!

Celebrate! · Food

Death by Chocolate

My husband’s relatives are visiting from Brazil, and it’s his cousin’s birthday tomorrow! I love a good opportunity to bake, and a birthday is the perfect occasion! I decided on a chocolate cake and went with a recipe that is loved in our family. It uses boxed cake mix, so it’s simple, but the added in sour cream, pudding mix, and chocolate chips make it more moist, rich, and extremely delicious!

I baked two 9-inch round cakes and decided to put chocolate frosting and heath bar in between them. I pulsed heath bars in my food processor to make a fine powder for this. I wanted the flavor but not too much crunch in the middle of my cake. Then I frosted the entire cake in more chocolate and added heath bar to the top as well. I piped on a few dollops of frosting and then covered it up to sit overnight.

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I also made chocolate bark with heath and almonds and plan on putting some on the top of the cake tomorrow! I want to add some more texture to the cake with varying heights of bark.

To keep the chocolate theme going, I decided to try my hand at making a candy bouquet. I see them in stores all the time, and it didn’t seem too difficult. I bought some of the birthday boy’s favorite chocolate bars and taped them onto wooden dowels. Then I wrapped them in tissue paper and stuck them in a mason jar. I added some ribbon, glitter stars, and a birthday card and then it was done! Very quick to assemble, and I’m happy with how it turned out.

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Here’s to a fun birthday celebration tomorrow and most likely a chocolate induced coma!

 

Recipe for Rich Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:
1 pkg (approx. 18.25 oz) dark chocolate cake mix
1 pkg (3.4 oz) instant chocolate pudding mix
1 (8 oz) container sour cream
½ c warm water
1/3 c vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 ½ c mini chocolate chips

Directions:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 10 or 12 c Bundt pan.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except the chocolate chips. Mix for 2 minutes on medium speed. Increase speed to medium-high; mix 3 more minutes. Stir in chocolate chips by hand and then spoon into prepared pan.

Bake at 325 for 55-60 minutes. Let it cool for 10 minutes and then remove from pan. Cool completely. If desired, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

(Note: I usually use a Bundt pan, but for this cake, I used two 9-inch rounds. They took about 30 minutes to cook. Just test with a toothpick before removing.)