custom cakes/cookies

Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday Cheer: Part 4 (Candy Cane Gelato)

I happen to enjoy creamy frozen desserts the most in the winter time. I'm guessing most people would prefer huge scoops of ice cream during the hot summer months, but not me. I seem to find it more refreshing when the outside temp matches that of the inside of my freezer. Not wanting to let food go to waste, I started this after-Christmas tradition of making mint-flavored gelato a few years ago as a way to use up extra candy canes. This year, I also happened to have a lot of egg yolks left over from making royal icing for the gingerbread house. Perfect timing!

My favorite things about this recipe are that (1) all of the mint flavor is derived from the candy cane itself, and (2) the red candy cane stripes dissolve into a pretty pink-hued custard. This year I added a couple of spearmint candy canes, which appear as lovely green splotches amid the pink. Adding the crushed candy to the custard while still hot ensures that the candy will melt into the mixture, imparting both flavor and color. If you like a bit of crunch to your gelato, reserve a portion of the crushed candy canes to mix in during the last few churns of the ice cream machine.

Candy Cane Gelato

7 large egg yolks, at room temperature
⅔ cup sugar
2½ cups whole milk
⅔ cup heavy cream
¼ tsp sea salt
1 cup crushed candy canes, divided

1. Beat eggs yolks and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed, until thick and lemon colored (about 2 minutes). Set aside.
2. Heat milk and cream in a medium saucepan set over medium heat until small bubbles appear around the edges of the pan. Do not let this boil.
3. Whisk about ⅓ of the heated milk and cream into the egg yolk mixture, then whisk this combined mixture back into the pan with the remaining milk and cream. Reduce heat to low. Cook slowly stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens a bit and appears smooth, like a very wet custard, and can coat the back of a wooden spoon (about 5 minutes). Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a heat-proof, air-tight container. Stir in the salt and about ⅔ cup of the crushed candy canes. Allow to cool completely, then stir in the remaining candy cane pieces. Cover and refrigerate until very cold (~8 hours).
4. Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Holiday Cheer: Part 3 (gingerbread house)

This year, thanks to the Daring Kitchen, a new tradition may have been born. I was challenged to make a gingerbread house from scratch. Wanting to share the fun (and work load) with others, I invited friends over to help build my dream bakery...out of dough. We created not just a place that sold sugary baked treats. This is a shop where the artisan skills of my talented friends can be showcased in the form of breads and smoked charcuterie. Yep, cookies, candies, cakes, breads and BACON!

A few details, such as the shutters and front door were piped on using royal icing.

Once the icing details were dry, we could determine the lay of the "land". The walls and the roof were sealed together by piping royal icing along the seams.

The front window display has sweet treats ready to be eaten.

Shannon created these using royal icing and sprinkles.

Peering closely into the window display reveals their intricacy. Shannon wanted the treats to appear whimsical rather than realistic.

The Bakery-Smokery is outfitted with a stone-paved fireplace.

Garin did the mason work.

The stones are actually edible chocolate rocks. They taste very similar to M&Ms.

An extreme close-up reveals just how realistic these chocolate rocks appear.

While Garin finished laying the stones for the chimney. Matt and I shingled the roof with Cascadian Farms multi-grain squares. Yes, our roof is organic!

Here's a side view of the attached smoke house.

It's nestled among a small forest of snowy-boughed trees.

The separate entrance for the smoke house is a classic (two-part) dutch door. A sign prominently announces its purpose.

Shannon was responsible for landscaping. The trees were cut in half longitudinally (before baking) and painted (after baking) on both sides using a flooded icing technique.

Once the icing was dry, four tree halves were held together in 3D by piping a stiff royal icing along the inner seams.

The house is living underneath my Christmas tree. A light from the tree is fed in through the back window to illuminate it.

Gingerbread dough rolled flat. Ready to cut out patterns.

Once baked, the pattern pieces were matched up to the gingerbread counterparts again. This helped to ensure a good fit and to indicate placement.

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted 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 also consulted Gingerbread for All Seasons by Teresa Layman for patterns and ideas. Here are the recipes that I used.

Spicy Gingerbread Dough (from Good Housekeeping)
2½ cups (500g) packed dark brown sugar
1½ cups (360mL) heavy cream
1¼ cups (425g) molasses
9½ cups (1663g) all-purpose flour
2 TBS baking soda
1 TBS ground ginger

1. In very large bowl of an electric mixer, beat brown sugar, cream, and molasses until sugar lumps dissolve and mixture is smooth. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and ginger. With spoon, stir flour mixture into cream mixture in 3 additions until dough is too stiff to stir, then knead with hands until flour is incorporated and dough is smooth.

2. Divide dough into 4 equal portions; flatten each into a disk to speed chilling. Wrap each disk well with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until dough is firm enough to roll.

3. Grease and flour several large cookie sheets

4. Roll out dough, 1 disk at a time on each cookie sheet to about 3/16-inch thickness. (Placing 3/16-inch dowels or rulers on either side of dough to use as a guide will help roll dough to uniform thickness.)

5. Trim excess dough from cookie sheet; wrap and reserve in refrigerator. Chill rolled dough on cookie sheet in refrigerator or freezer at least 10 minutes or until firm enough to cut easily.

6. Preheat oven to 300° F.

7. Use chilled rolled dough, floured poster board patterns, and sharp paring knife to cut all house pieces on cookie sheet, making sure to leave at least 1¼ inches between pieces because dough will expand slightly during baking. Wrap and reserve trimmings in refrigerator. Combine and use trimmings as necessary to complete house and other decorative pieces. Cut and bake large pieces and small pieces separately.

8. Chill for 10 minutes before baking if the dough seems really soft after you cut it. This will discourage too much spreading/warping of the shapes you cut.

9. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until pieces are firm to the touch. Do not overbake; pieces will be too crisp to trim to proper size.

10. Remove cookie sheet from oven. While house pieces are still warm, place poster-board patterns on top and use them as guides to trim shapes to match if necessary. Cool pieces completely before attempting to assemble the house.

Royal Icing
3 large egg whites
1 lb powdered sugar
tsp cream of tartar

Beat all ingredients with electric mixer until smooth and glossy white (5-7 minutes). Portion icing into smaller bowls and tint with food coloring. I used AmeriColor. For flooding technique on trees and shudders, add water to tinted icing until you achieve a runny yogurt-like consistency. Pipe on pieces and allow to dry before assembling. If you aren't using it all at once you can keep the icing in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. Piped on the house, this will set up hard over time.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Holiday Cheer: Part 2 (favorite recipes: smoked caramels and chai tea scones)

This year I've been adapting and developing recipes to incorporate organic loose leaf tea sold by my friends at Arbor Teas. If you didn't already catch the postings in the Cooking with Tea segment of Arbor Teas' blog, I thought I might share two of my favorite (and often requested) recipes here. With families gathering and gift giving upon us, I'm hoping you might find a way to incorporate these elegant treats into your holiday celebrations. Sending a little holiday cheer from my kitchen to yours...

Smoked Caramels
Adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich
- makes 40 (1-inch) caramels

2 TBS lapsang souchong black tea
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup Lyle’s golden syrup
1 cup sugar
rounded ¼ tsp fine sea salt
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1½ TBS unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened
Smoked sea salt to garnish

Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch loaf pan with parchment and butter the parchment.

Combine the cream and organic lapsang souchong black tea in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot. Allow the tea to steep while proceeding to the next step.

Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Place a fine mesh sieve over the pan (to catch tea leaves) and gradually pour in the hot cream, stirring slowly; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°F for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F, for firmer, chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm. After an hour or so of cooling, sprinkle with garnish of sea salt and press crystals lightly into the caramel.

When completely set, lift the pan liner from the pan and peel off the parchment. Cut the caramels with a sharp knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper.

Masala Chai Tea Scones
Makes about 16 scones

1¼ cups heavy cream, divided
6 TBS Masala Chai Black Tea
4 cups cake flour (sifted if clumpy)
½ cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top
1 TBS baking powder
1 tsp salt
1½ sticks unsalted butter, cut into ½ -inch pieces and chilled
1 cup dried currants
1 large egg

Combine heavy cream and masala chai tea in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.

When ready to make scones, preheat oven to 375°F.

Strain the cream to remove the tea, pressing with a wooden spoon to recover as much as possible.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Toss butter pieces into flour, blending with your fingertips until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. (A few pulses in a large capacity food processor will make short work of this.) Stir in dried currents.

In a separate bowl, mix together egg and 1 cup masala chai-infused cream, then gently fold this into flour mixture until the dough just comes together. (It will be quite delicate.) Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface, and with floured hands shape into a 1-inch thick rectangle. Use a knife to cut out small triangles of dough and arrange 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush tops of scones with remaining cream and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake scones until tops are golden, 25-30 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday Cheer: Part 1 (iced sugar cookies)

I’ve been in an extra festive mood this holiday season, and I know exactly the reasons why. Reflecting back on my life a year ago, things are quite different today. Most notably, beautiful new friendships have formed, and I’m beginning to find more creative outlets for my talents and passions. Happiness and contentment seem to place me in a satiable Christmas spirit, so I’ve been finding ways to celebrate as much as possible. One Christmas tradition long held in my family is to make and decorate sugar cookies. Each year they get a little prettier as our icing techniques improve. This year, the bar on aesthetics was not only raised, it was literally blown away. I happen to have become friends with a talented local cake artist. Heather let me help her with a fun cake project for the Shadow Art Fair. Now it was her turn to play in my kitchen. Armed with a Kitchen Notebook page that I clipped from the 2006 edition of Gourmet Magazine (RIP), Heather and I played with a fun royal icing, flooding technique. It was new to both of us and really very easy to do. Please believe me on how simple this is to do. All you need is a few piping bags of colored royal icing, a wooden skewer (or equivalent), and bit of imagination.

Iced Sugar Cookies
Makes about 6 dozen cookies

3 cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 sticks plus 3 TBS unsalted butter, softened
1 scant cup of sugar
1 egg
1 TBS milk
2 ½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp lemon zest

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together butter and sugar until fluffy and well blended. Add egg and mix until combined. Mix in milk, vanilla, and lemon zest. Gradually stir in flour mixture until well blended. Refrigerate dough until cold (at least one hour or up to several days).

Preheat oven to 375° F.
Roll out dough on floured surface to ⅛-in thickness . Cut out desired shapes and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill cut cookies for ~10 minutes in the refrigerator and then transfer baking sheet to the oven. Bake 8 minutes or until edges are golden. Allow cookies to cool completely before icing.

For recipes, tips, and more ideas on using royal icing visit Sweetopia, a truly talented and creative cookie decorator.

Flooding Technique
Trace the border of cookie with icing and then “flood” the entire area with icing, staying within the marked edges. Using a contrasting color, pipe vertical lines, dots, or concentric circles over the flooded surface. Form design by lightly pulling a skewer through the contrasting icing at various intervals. Wipe skewer clean between each pull.

technique image from Gourmet, December 2006

Monday, December 14, 2009

Comfort en Croute

The December 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online.

For this challenge, I decided to go the vegetable route partly because of my lack of enthusiasm for cooking salmon (or beef for that matter) and partly because I had recently acquired a host of harvest vegetables through Tantre Farms CSA Thanksgiving share. This is the time of year when one looks to tuck into savory warmth and hearty fare. And thus, I envisioned individual puffed pastry pockets filled with a vegetable stew, kale and a bit of leftover roasted turkey from the Thanksgiving feast. For the stew, I adapted Deborah Madison’s recipe for Winter Vegetable Pot Pie from her cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone to suit the ingredients I had on hand. For the puff pastry, I used a recipe from a previous post, but swapped out a cup of all-purpose flour for whole-wheat pastry flour. Perhaps this makes it a tinge more healthful? Although hopeful, I realize with the amount of butter involved this is doubtful. Once baked, the veggie pockets ended up looking a bit like flying saucers, but no matter, the comfort provided with each bite surely satisfied.

Harvest Vegetable and Turkey Hand Pies
Makes about 2 dozen 3-in diameter pies
After filling the pies, there will be plenty of leftover stew to freeze and enjoy later!

2 TBS olive oil
2 TBS butter
1 ½ lbs butternut squash (peeled and diced into 1-in cubes)
2 onions, diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 kohlrabi, peeled and diced
½ head of romanesco chopped
2 handfuls of brussel sprouts quartered
3 kale leaves, torn to small shreds
1 cup cooked turkey breast, chopped
2 TBS fresh sage, chopped
mushroom stock (see below)
1 recipe puff pastry
1 egg, beaten and mixed with a bit of warm water to create an egg wash

Quick Mushroom Stock
Makes about 1 ½ cups

¼ cup dried shitake mushrooms
2 tsp olive oil
1 red onion quartered
1 turnip roughly chopped
1 carrot cut into 3 pieces
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
one handful oyster mushrooms, chopped2 tsp tomato paste
1 TBS sage, chopped
½ cup champagne (it’s what was open, red or white wine works too)
1 TBS flour
salt and pepper to taste

Pour 2 cups hot water over dried mushrooms, cover and set aside. Heat oil in saucepan over high heat. Add onion, turnip, carrot, garlic and oyster mushrooms. Sauté stirring occasionally, until well browned (about 10 minutes). Reduce heat to medium. Stir in tomato paste, sage, and champagne. Deglaze pan by scraping up any browned bits. Sprinkle flour in pan, cover, and cook until the champagne is reduced to a syrup consistency (about 3 minutes). Add the shitake and their soaking liquid, ½ tsp salt, dash of pepper and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain.

Preheat oven to 425° F. In a dutch oven heat oil and butter, add onions and butternut squash and sauté over medium heat until crisp tender (about 15 minutes). Add remaining vegetables to the dish and mix in with the mushroom stock, adding water if more liquid is necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with lid and transfer to oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes until vegetables are slightly tender.

Meanwhile roll out pastry dough to ⅛-in thick and cut out round shapes using a large cookie cutter or a small bowl. Place circles on parchment-lined baking tray and refrigerate (at least 15 minutes) while assembling fillings. See tips for working with puff pastry from previous post.

Preheat oven to 400° F. Remove pastry circles from refrigerator and carefully stack a dollop of vegetable stew, shredded kale, and turkey on top of half of the circles. Be sure to leave a border around the edges to create a good seal. Brush border with egg wash and place another circle over the top of the filling. Crimp edges with a fork to seal and, if needed, trim excess with a knife. Brush outside of pastry with egg wash. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly before serving.