Thursday, December 24, 2009

Daring Bakers - December ~ Gingerbread House

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I used the Scandinavian recipe. The recipe worked really well. We made a huge batch because not only were we going to build a house but Sean wanted a gingerbread outhouse too!

I also added some melted sugar windows to the house. I put a strand of Christmas lights under the house so the windows light up and it looks like there is a fire inside! I am really proud of my windows! :)

Y's Recipe:
Scandinavian Gingerbread (pepparkakAstuga)
from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water
5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]

1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight.

2. Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard.

3. Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place.

4. [I rolled out the dough on a floured bench, roughly 1/8 inch thick (which allows for fact that the dough puffs a little when baked), cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet. Any scraps I saved and rerolled at the end.]

5. Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.

Royal Icing:

5 tablespoons meringue powder
1/3 cup water
1 pound confectioner's sugar (about 3 3/4 to 4 cups)

Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Use a paddle attachment and beat SLOWLY until stiff peaks form. When ready, the icing turns pure white, not fluffy and slaps against the bowl. Should NOT be shiny. Don't overbeat. If you do, it gets spongy. If it sits for awhile, it becomes spongy, so stir before using it every time. Don't rebeat because it will break icing down. If it dries and flakes, it's too dry. Add a few drops water. If you don't use the icing immediately, cover with a damp cloth over the bowl.

Here is how we put it all together ~

Miss Agnes helped cut out the pieces with the templates we made.


We definitely have a new holiday tradition! I can't wait to make another one next year!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Daring Bakers - October ~ French Macaroons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

I have found my baking nemesis. The French macaroon. It is a cruel torture. All I wanted to see were little feet and instead I had flat cookies. I will master these one day....OH YES I WILL!!

Here are a couple of links to what they should look like -
Famed purveyors of the French macaroon include the legendary Ladurée and Pierre Hermé.

French macaroons are notorious for being difficult to master. Type in “macaroon,” “French macaroon” or “macaron” in your search engine of choice, and you will be inundated not only with bakeries offering these tasty little cookies, but scores and even hundreds of blogs all attempting to find the perfect recipe, the perfect technique. Which one is right? Which captures the perfect essence of macaroons? The answer is all of them and none of them. Macaroons are highly subjective, the subject of passionate, almost Talmudic study and debate. Chewy? Crisp? Age your egg whites? Ground the nuts or use nut meal or nut flour? Cooked sugar syrup, or confectioners’ sugar? In the words of a therapist, what do you think is the ideal macaroon? The answer lies within you.

Macaroon making is somewhat labor intensive, yet simultaneously less difficult than you think it will be. One thing you must do is have your egg whites at room temperature. This ensures they beat up properly, as texture is an integral component to macaroons. You will be piping the batter onto parchment paper or nonstick liners, and some home bakers use stencils to make sure their macaroons are uniform in size. It’s your choice.

Be aware that you are beating your egg whites first to soft peaks. Soft peaks means that the peaks of the meringue curl over when you lift up the beaters. After you add the granulated sugar to the soft peak meringue, you will beat the mixture to stiff peaks, which, true to their name, stand straight up. Be careful not to overbeat your eggs.

You will also be folding the nut flour into the meringue. As with most recipes when you combine something with beaten egg whites, be gentle in your mixing to keep the egg whites light.

Some recipes call for drying the piped macaroons on the counter prior to baking for 30 minutes to an hour. This recipe stipulates that you bake the macaroons at a low temperature for 5 minutes, then take them out of the oven, raising the temperature, and baking them for an additional 7 to 8 minutes. Drying is necessary to get the trademark “feet” on your macaroons. Experiment to find the best technique for you.

If you plan on using parchment paper rather than nonstick pan liners, be careful when removing the macaroons from the paper, as they can stick and are very delicate. Some recipes suggest lifting up a corner of the paper and letting a drop of water fall onto the hot baking sheet, thus producing steam, which helps the macaroons release.

Preparation time: Not taking into account the amount of time it takes for you to bring your egg whites to room temperature (I left my egg whites out overnight), the whole baking process, including making the batter, piping and baking will probably take you about an hour to an hour and a half. How long it takes to make your filling is dependent on what you choose to make.

Actual baking time: 12 minutes total, plus a few minutes to get your oven from 200°F to 375°F.

Equipment required:
• Electric mixer, preferably a stand mixer with a whisk attachment
• Rubber spatula
• Baking sheets
• Parchment paper or nonstick liners
• Pastry bag (can be disposable)
• Plain half-inch pastry bag tip
• Sifter or sieve
• If you don’t have a pastry bag and/or tips, you can use a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off
• Oven
• Cooling rack
• Thin-bladed spatula for removing the macaroons from the baking sheets
• Food processor or nut grinder, if grinding your own nuts (ouch!)

Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)


1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).

They looked so pretty. I was so hopeful...
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

My lumpy, flat, no-footed macaroons. I feel like a macaroon LOSER!! How many times will it take me to get this right? I don't know and I don't care...All I know is one day I will have smooth, lovely, macaroons with feet!!

P.S. I made two flavors. The blue are filled with Nutella and the orange (well, they are suppose to be orange) are filled with a pumpkin butter/mascarpone cheese blend. They may have been ugly but they sure did taste good!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Daring Bakers - September ~ Vols-au-Vent

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

I made three different fillings-

Grilled beet salad with goat cheese and walnuts in a honey balsamic vinaigrette

Curried chicken salad with fresh tarragon from our garden

Mascarpone cheese with freshly picked huckleberries* topped with brown sugar and cinnamon

Prep Times:
-about 4-5 hours to prepare the puff pastry dough (much of this time is inactive, while you wait for the dough to chill between turns…it can be stretched out over an even longer period of time if that better suits your schedule)
-about 1.5 hours to shape, chill and bake the vols-au-vent after your puff pastry dough is complete

Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent

Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vols-au-vent or 4 4” vols-au-vent

-well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe below)
-egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water)
-your filling of choice

Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divided your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled. (If you are looking to make more vols-au-vent than the yield stated above, you can roll and cut the remaining two pieces of dough as well…if not, then leave refrigerated for the time being or prepare it for longer-term freezer storage. See the “Tips” section below for more storage info.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.

(This assumes you will be using round cutters, but if you do not have them, it is possible to cut square vols-au-vents using a sharp chef’s knife.) For smaller, hors d'oeuvre sized vols-au-vent, use a 1.5” round cutter to cut out 8-10 circles. For larger sized vols-au-vent, fit for a main course or dessert, use a 4” cutter to cut out about 4 circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)

Using a ¾-inch cutter for small vols-au-vent, or a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter for large, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for you vols-au-vent, or put them in the scrap pile.

Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork (prick them lightly, making sure not to go all the way through the pastry) and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise). If you are using the little “caps,” dock and egg wash them as well.

Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). (You could also cover and refrigerate them for a few hours at this point.)

Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly. Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. If the centers have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (If you are baking the center “caps” they will likely be finished well ahead of the shells, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when browned.)

Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings.

Fill and serve.

*For additional rise on the larger-sized vols-au-vents, you can stack one or two additional ring layers on top of each other (using egg wash to "glue"). This will give higher sides to larger vols-au-vents, but is not advisable for the smaller ones, whose bases may not be large enough to support the extra weight.

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough

From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

Steph’s note: This recipe makes more than you will need for the quantity of vols-au-vent stated above. While I encourage you to make the full recipe of puff pastry, as extra dough freezes well, you can halve it successfully if you’d rather not have much leftover.

There is a wonderful on-line video from the PBS show “Baking with Julia” that accompanies the book. In it, Michel Richard and Julia Child demonstrate making puff pastry dough (although they go on to use it in other applications). They do seem to give slightly different ingredient measurements verbally than the ones in the book…I listed the recipe as it appears printed in the book.

2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that's about 1" thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10" square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don't just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8" square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24" (don't worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24", everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24" and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:

If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you've completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

This challenge was awesome!! I don't know if I will ever buy pastry puff again. It was so much fun to make and the possibilities of fillings are endless!!

Grilled beet salad with goat cheese and walnuts in a honey balsamic vinaigrette

Curried chicken salad with fresh tarragon from our garden

Mascarpone cheese with freshly picked huckleberries topped with brown sugar and cinnamon

I had a few of the little puff "lids" left over so I made Sean some wee little sammies with the leftover filling. So cute and so delish!

*I just have to mention that huckleberries are the most amazing berry on the face of the planet. I wish I could eat them everyday. They are my new addiction.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daring Bakers - August ~ Dobos Torte

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

The Dobos Torta is a five-layer sponge cake, filled with a rich chocolate buttercream and topped with thin wedges of caramel. (You may come across recipes which have anywhere between six and 12 layers of cake; there are numerous family variations!) It was invented in 1885 by József C. Dobos, a Hungarian baker, and it rapidly became famous throughout Europe for both its extraordinary taste and its keeping properties. The recipe was a secret until Dobos retired in 1906 and gave the recipe to the Budapest Confectioners' and Gingerbread Makers' Chamber of Industry, providing that every member of the chamber can use it freely.


2 baking sheets
9” (23cm) springform tin and 8” cake tin, for templates
mixing bowls (1 medium, 1 large)
a sieve
a double boiler (a large saucepan plus a large heat-proof mixing bowl which fits snugly over the top of the pan)
a small saucepan
a whisk (you could use a balloon whisk for the entire cake, but an electric hand whisk or stand mixer will make life much easier)
metal offset spatula
sharp knife
a 7 1/2” cardboard cake round, or just build cake on the base of a sprinfrom tin.
piping bag and tip, optional
Prep times

Sponge layers 20 mins prep, 40 mins cooking total if baking each layer individually.
Buttercream: 20 mins cooking. Cooling time for buttercream: about 1 hour plus 10 minutes after this to beat and divide.
Caramel layer: 10-15 minutes.
Assembly of whole cake: 20 minutes
Sponge cake layers

6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner's (icing) sugar, divided
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)
pinch of salt
Chocolate Buttercream

4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (200g) caster (ultrafine or superfine white) sugar
4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favourite dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.
Caramel topping

1 cup (200g) caster (superfine or ultrafine white) sugar
12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)
Finishing touches

a 7” cardboard round
12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts
Directions for the sponge layers:

NB. The sponge layers can be prepared in advance and stored interleaved with parchment and well-wrapped in the fridge overnight.

1.Position the racks in the top and centre thirds of the oven and heat to 400F (200C).
2.Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9" (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn't touch the cake batter.)
3.Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner's (icing) sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes. (You can do this step with a balloon whisk if you don't have a mixer.)
4.In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner's (icing)sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.
5.Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the centre and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8" springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)

A cake before baking

Cakes cooling

Directions for the chocolate buttercream:

NB. This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled until required.

1.Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.
2.Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer for this.
3.Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.
4.Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.
5.When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

Chocolate buttercream chilling

Lorraine's note: If you're in Winter just now your butter might not soften enough at room temperature, which leads to lumps forming in the buttercream. Male sure the butter is of a very soft texture I.e. running a knife through it will provide little resistance, before you try to beat it into the chocolate mixture. Also, if you beat the butter in while the chocolate mixture is hot you'll end up with more of a ganache than a buttercream!

Directions for the caramel topping:

1.Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
2.Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.
3.The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn't just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.

The caramel wedges. YUM!

I recommend cutting, rather than scoring, the cake layer into wedges before covering in caramel (reform them into a round). If you have an 8” silicon round form, then I highly recommend placing the wedges in that for easy removal later and it also ensures that the caramel stays on the cake layer. Once set, use a very sharp knife to separate the wedges.

Assembling the Dobos

1.Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.
2.Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.
3.Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.
4.Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.

I LOVED this cake. I ended up making 8 layers (including the caramel cake on top). It was so easy to make and the flavors are fantastic!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Check out This Mama Cooks! She is having a contest!

Worried about high fructose corn syrup? I freaking hate the stuff with a passion. I don't have one item in my fridge, freezer, or pantry that contains it. I truly think it is the downfall of the American diet. I am willing to pay a few pennies more for items that don't have it. It is in everything. You need to check label carefully. Next time you buy something like bread crumbs check out the label...HFCS is in there!

The good thing is companies are starting to listen to consumer concerns and Pepsi is one of those companies. They have come up with Pepsi Natural. A soda with all natural ingredients. Sounds good to me!

If you would like to try for free and get a yoga mat head over to This Mama Cooks! for her contest. She will pick one lucky winner to receive a 4 pack of the soda, a yoga mat tote, and a yoga mat!!


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Daring Bakers - July ~ Milan Cookies

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

Since we aren't big marshmallow fans I only made the Milan cookies. I have included the marshmallow cookie recipe at the end of this entry in case you want to try them .

The Milan cookies are amazing! OMG! They were so good. I will be making these again. I need to tweak the batter a bit so I can get them crispier. I made two kinds. I made milk chocolate and butterscotch. The butterscotch ones were to die for! I LOVE butterscotch so very, very much!!

Milan Cookies
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website

Prep Time: 20 min
Inactive Prep Time: 0 min
Cook Time: 1 hr 0 min
Serves: about 3 dozen cookies

• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
• 2 1/2 cups (312.5 grams/ 11.02 oz) powdered sugar
• 7/8 cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
• 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
• 2 tablespoons lemon extract
• 1 1/2 cups (187.5grams/ 6.61 oz) all purpose flour
• Cookie filling, recipe follows

Cookie filling:
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
• 1 orange, zested

1. In a mixer with paddle attachment cream the butter and the sugar.
2. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
3. Add the flour and mix until just well mixed.
4. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe 1-inch sections of batter onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread.

5. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.

6. While waiting for the cookies to cool, in a small saucepan over medium flame, scald cream.
7. Pour hot cream over chocolate in a bowl, whisk to melt chocolate, add zest and blend well.
8. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools).
9. Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top.
10. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.

Miss Agnes and I enjoyed them with tea. That is her little tea set in the background.

Mallows(Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies)
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website

Prep Time: 10 min
Inactive Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 10 min
Serves: about 2 dozen cookies

• 3 cups (375grams/13.23oz) all purpose flour
• 1/2 cup (112.5grams/3.97oz) white sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 3/8 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter
• 3 eggs, whisked together
• Homemade marshmallows, recipe follows
• Chocolate glaze, recipe follows

1. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the dry ingredients.
2. On low speed, add the butter and mix until sandy.
3. Add the eggs and mix until combine.
4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap with clingfilm or parchment and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
5. When ready to bake, grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
7. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness, on a lightly floured surface. Use a 1 to 1 1/2 inches cookie cutter to cut out small rounds of dough.
8. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.
9. Pipe a “kiss” of marshmallow onto each cookie. Let set at room temperature for 2 hours.
10. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicon mat.
11. One at a time, gently drop the marshmallow-topped cookies into the hot chocolate glaze.
12. Lift out with a fork and let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl.
13. Place on the prepared pan and let set at room temperature until the coating is firm, about 1 to 2 hours.

Note: if you don’t want to make your own marshmallows, you can cut a large marshmallow in half and place on the cookie base. Heat in a preheated 350-degree oven to slump the marshmallow slightly, it will expand and brown a little. Let cool, then proceed with the chocolate dipping.

Homemade marshmallows:
• 1/4 cup water
• 1/4 cup light corn syrup
• 3/4 cup (168.76 grams/5.95oz) sugar
• 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
• 2 tablespoons cold water
• 2 egg whites , room temperature
• 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. In a saucepan, combine the water, corn syrup, and sugar, bring to a boil until “soft-ball” stage, or 235 degrees on a candy thermometer.
2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let dissolve.
3. Remove the syrup from the heat, add the gelatin, and mix.
4. Whip the whites until soft peaks form and pour the syrup into the whites.
5. Add the vanilla and continue whipping until stiff.
6. Transfer to a pastry bag.

Chocolate glaze:
• 12 ounces semisweet chocolate
• 2 ounces cocoa butter or vegetable oil

1. Melt the 2 ingredients together in the top of a double boiler or a bowl set over barely simmering water.

* You can either do both recipes or just choose one.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Woo-hoo...Look at me guest blogging!!

I was asked by the fabulous girls of Where's My Damn Answer to write a guest blog entry. I love their blog so I was totally blown away they would want me!!!

Anyhoo, stop by their blog sometime. They absolutely ROCK!!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Holy Cow!!

It has been almost a month since I last posted. Life has a strange way of keeping me busy! The classes I am teaching having really been picking up, I go swimming almost everyday, we went to Colorado for a few days, I have been busy making 350 gumpaste daisies, and I just got done making a baby shower cake. I am suppose to be working on a guest blog entry for the gals over at Where's My Damn Answer but I think it can wait until tomorrow. I think for now I am going to kick my feet up, watch Mythbusters, and lounge.

Here are some pictures of the baby shower cake. I am absolutely thrilled with how it turned out. I love the surprise under the bow!!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Do you ever...

Do you ever wonder where time goes? I have been so busy the past couple of months that I haven't been able to keep up with my blog. It makes me sad. I have made some great friends through the many blogs I read, contribute to, and lurk. Hopefully in July I will be able to play more. I really miss participating in My Kitchen, My World. I can't wait to start cooking with them again!

Do you ever just feel left out? A few things have happened that I wasn't included in and a few things are going to happen, which I won't be included. You would think by the time you hit 38 things like this wouldn't bother me anymore...but they do. These things have a way of making me feel depressed and blue. Sometimes it is just easier to ignore these disappointments than have to deal with them but I guess life doesn't let you just run away.

Do you ever...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Daring Bakers - May ~ Apple Strudel

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

I took pictures through the entire process of making it but...when I went to take the memory card out of my camera guess what...NO MEMORY CARD!! I feel like a fool!

Apple strudel
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)

1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

Strudel dough
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

It was good but I am not sure I would make strudel again. For me it is one of those pastries that should be left to the professionals! LOL

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Agnes' 4th birthday cake and cupcakes.

This is the cake I made for Agne's 4th birthday. She wanted a Backyardigans- The Tale of a Mighty Knight cake. She had to have a red dragon on it too. Her imaginary friend is a red dragon named Dough Dragon. :) I have more photos of all the figures. If anyone wants to see them let me know and I can post them too. :)

She took the cupcakes to school to share with all her friends. I airbrushed them with purple and sprinkled them with edible glitter.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Four Years Ago Today

The most perfect little girl was born. I can't believe it has been four years since Agnes arrived in my life. It has been the best four years of my entire life. She is the most amazing, smart, funny, sympathetic, beautiful, loving, and wonderful little girl in the world. I am honored to be her mommy.

Every year I repost my birth story. I have a friend who doesn't understand birth stories but she will in October when she has her first baby. She will love her story and it will bring her so much joy when she thinks of it. I love my birth story. It is my story. It is Sean's story. And, most importantly it is Agnes' story.

This was first posted on April 28, 2005 at 9:38 p.m. She was 4 days old.


Hi everyone,

Wow, I never knew how in love I could be with someone. Miss Agnes is the most wonderful gorgeous little girl I have ever been around.

Okay, on with the birth story. It is a long one. Friday we went for our OB appt. and they did an ultrasound. My amniotic fluid was low so the OB said “You are going to be induced today!” We headed over to Labor & Delivery and we were EXCITED! We got into our room and they gave me something called Mizo (?) to get my cervix softened. By Saturday morning I was still at 2 cm. I was a bit bummed, so they gave me Pitocin and said I would have the baby that afternoon. I called Laura (my birth assistant) and she came down to the hospital to help Sean with the hypnobirthing affirmations and massage. Well, about 3 hours later they had the Pitocin so high, the nurses and doctors were a little freaked out that my surges weren’t killing me. So, I was having loads of contractions but I just wouldn’t dilate. That night they gave me Progesteglandin (SP, excuse my spelling of this stuff my mind is mush LOL) to get my cervix going. They checked Sunday morning I was still only 2 cm. At this point I was so tired I was convinced I was never even pregnant. The doctor on call gave me 3 options at this point. 1. Go home (don’t think so), 2. Have a C-section, or 3. Break my waters. I opted for number 2 because I was extremely exhausted and just wanted my baby out, but then the doctor said they don’t really like to perform them unless they are absolutely necessary. Fine, but why did they offer it? The broke my water and hooked me up to Pitocin and away we went. In 3 hours I was 6 1/2 cm dilated and we were excited! It was at about this time I decided to have an epidural. The hypnobirthing completely worked, I was not in any pain. The reason I took one is because my body was tired and not really responding what I was telling it, I don’t know if that makes any sense at all. Got the epidural and 3 hours later I was at 9 1/2 cm!! Woo-hoo!! Our families came flying down to the hospital, nurses and family members were taking bets on when she would come out, and all was good. It was around this time the epidural ran out Sean and Laura worked with me and we continued with massage, music, and hypnobirthing affirmations. It was absolutely amazing how well it worked. I was completely relaxed and ready to accept whatever turn my birthing took. However, I was not expecting what happened. I was stuck at 9 1/2 cm for 3-4 hours. The doctors told me I had to have a c-section (hmmm, wouldn’t this had been easier 9 hours earlier??). Anyhoo, they wheel me into the OR and my only request was everyone be laughing when we brought into the world. I have always thought it would be the best way to be born. At 8:30 p.m. they pulled her out, we were all laughing, and she was just PERFECT! Then all hell started. My anesthesia wore off. I could feel the doctors moving my insides, pulling things, and I could tell them how many hands were in my stomach. At one point I just lost it and started screaming bloody murder. It took them 10 minutes to call the anesthesiology back into the OR so he could help me. He finally got back and knocked me out completely. It was the scariest thing that has ever happened to me or Sean. Surgery without anesthesia! Can you even believe it? There is much more to the story like hospital admin. people trying to find out what Sean and I are going to do about it. We haven’t really made up our minds but we think they should have to pay for therapy to get over the trauma and of course a million dollars wouldn’t hurt either. We are so pissed off about the whole thing. Although, it was horrifying, scary, at least two things happened on my birth plan; Agnes came into the world with laughter and she came into to the world to me and Sean.

We love her so very much. I can’t even imagine life without her. Our life before her has faded and she is everything to us.

The last line explains how we still feel about her. Happy Birthday Bug. May the next year bring you much joy and happiness.

I love you,

Friday, April 17, 2009

Super yummy, Super, easy, Super soup

I made this for dinner last night and we ate it for leftovers tonight. It is really, really good. Sean is not a big fan of soup and he had two big bowls last night. This is a definite keeper.

Meatball Minestrone ~

1 cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (15 oz) can cannellini beans**, undrained
1 (32 oz) container of chicken or vegetable broth (I used chicken)
1 (1.4 oz) package of dry vegetable soup mix (Knorr makes a good one)**
1 (16 oz) package of frozen meatballs (I used Trader Joes mini-meatballs)
2 (14.5 oz) cans of Italian diced tomatoes**, undrained
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper - optional
1 cup ditalini pasta**, uncooked
1 (10 oz) package of fresh baby spinach

1. In a large pot over medium heat, cook onion and garlic in olive oil until they are tender. About 5 minutes
2. Stir in the beans and chicken broth, bring to a boil.
3. Stir in vegetable soup mix until dissolved. Add meatballs, tomatoes, and red pepper (if using), and return to a boil.
4. Add ditalini and cook, stirring often for 15 minutes until ditalini are tender. If the soup seems too thick add water until it is to the consistency you like.
5. Add the spinach and stir until it is wilted, about minute.

If there are any leftovers, you may wish to enjoy the thickened results as a stew, or reconstitute the soup with addition broth or water (that is what I used) to your desired consistency. We even had leftovers from tonight so I put it in a ziplock and put it in the freezer.

**Cannelli beans are white kidney beans.
**I am fortunate to have a grocery store that sells a lot of bulk food. I used their dry veggie soup mix but the Knorr one would work just as well.
**Ditalini pasta are little short tubes. If you google the image to see a pic. You could also use elbow macaroni.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool's!

Agnes wanted to fool her daddy today so we made meaty cupcakes. We had so much fun piping the mashed potatoes on like icing. Little did Sean know that when he bit into them they were meat-loaf iced with mashed potatoes! Agnes could barely stop laughing to ask him "How are your cupcakes? They aren't cupcakes! They're meat!!" She is just so awesome!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Petition for Better Food Regulations

Hi everyone!

My friend Alex just launched an online petition to defeat House Bill HR875. I want all my friends to sign it! Go to to learn more and sign the petition. House Bill HR875 will change our food laws to hinder the local farmer and make it harder to produce and buy organic foods and buy fresh, local produce at farmers markets.

Here is a link to his blog for more information -

Please let your friends know about this House Bill and pass this petition on!! This is such an important issue so please post the petition in your blogs.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wow. Just wow!

I was reading Cooking with Rosie when I came across a recipe that made me drool. It is a recipe for Capellini con Prosciutto e Mascarpone. I knew I had to make it for dinner this week. Well, I couldn't wait until later this week...I made it tonight. Oh. My. God. It was a bowl of perfection. Sean gave it a 4 out of 4 stars. Miss Agnes ate a HUGE bowl full.

The recipe includes on a few simple ingredients but the outcome is perfection. I added a couple of things to the recipe. I threw in about 1/2 clove minced garlic and a couple handfuls of fresh spring peas. YUM!!

Capellini con Prosciutto e Mascarpone
160 g capellini or angel hair pasta (about 4 bunches)
3.5 tbsp butter
1 small or medium onion, finely chopped
100 g prosciutto cotto or cooked ham, finely chopped
250 g (2 3/4 cup) mascarpone

salt to taste

1. Bring to boil a medium pot of salted water but don't add the capellini yet (they cook quickly).
2. In another medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat and add the chopped prosciutto and onion. Let gently simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Place a medium heat-proof bowl over the cooking prosciutto-onion mixture and add the mascarpone. Using a spoon, gently stir the cheese until it is melted. (I put my bowl over a separate small pot of simmering water).

4. The mascarpone will take a few minutes to melt, but it will still be cool to touch. Don't be tempted to heat in the microwave because it will be heated through once the hot, drained pasta is added.
5. Once the mascarpone has melted, cook the capellini pasta for a few minutes and then drain well. I threw the peas in with the pasta.
Miss Agnes stirring the peas. She loves to help me cook!
6. Add the pasta and prosciutto-onion mixture to the mascarpone and stir until well blended.
7. SERVE IMMEDIATELY before it starts to cool down. Garnish with parmesan (if desired) and fresh chopped herbs.

Thanks Rosie!