Posts Tagged 'Christmas Recipes'

Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Christmas Stollen

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book………and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

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I briefly contemplated skipping this challenge because of Christmas chaos, and I just barely managed to bake off my stollen loaves before my husband and I hopped on an airplane home, but I am so glad I participated this month.  My husband enjoys my day-to-day cooking and he definitely lets me know, but he has never heaped praise on me the way he did with this stollen.  He loves it.  I stashed the majority of the loaf I cut for the photos below in my carry-on bag and hauled it back to Nebraska; my family loved it as well.  I guess my dad tried to go to a European bakery to buy some Czech Christmas bread on the 23rd or 24th and they were completely cleaned out at 10 a.m.; this bread was similar and satisfying enough to save the day.

Here are my notes and variations from the challenge:

  • After reading Audax’s posts in the forums, I used bread flour instead of all-purpose flour.
  • I used orange extract when we had the choice between orange and lemon.
  • I made my own candied orange peel using the recipe provided.  (It will be my next blog post!)
  • I did not use any maraschino cherries because I didn’t want to risk turning my bread pink.
  • I used slivered almonds instead of sliced almonds because that’s what I had in my pantry.
  • From there, I followed the recipe exactly as written except that I formed my dough into two wreaths instead of one.  I saw how large the wreaths were in the forum posts and figured that my tiny 24-inch oven wouldn’t be able to handle one.  I baked each half-recipe wreath for 36 minutes, rotating the baking sheet from front to back halfway through.  The major upside of baking two wreaths?  We came home to one waiting for us in the refrigerator.

Baked Stollen

Sugared Stollen

Sliced Stollen

This bread was so tasty!  It wasn’t like fruitcake at all.  The bread texture reminded me a lot of cinnamon rolls; it was moist and chewy, though the crust was pleasantly crisp.  The powdered sugar and butter coating was heavenly.  My bread had a distinct orange flavor since I used orange extract and all candied orange peel (instead of candied mixed peel), and I would make it this way again next time.  I could have gone for a bit more fruit and nuts in the bread, but I appreciated that it wasn’t totally packed.

My family enjoyed this recipe so much that I’ll be adding it to our permanent Christmas collection.  Thanks for a new family tradition and a great challenge, Penny!

Recipe link: Christmas Stollen

Barrington Mints

Who says cream cheese mints are only for weddings?

I came across the recipe for Barrington Mints as I was paging through my copy of The Rocky Mountain Sweet Shoppe Cookbook a few weeks ago.  I’ve only ever sampled cream cheese mints on Midwestern wedding dessert tables, but they seemed easy and festive enough to fit the Christmas bill.  Despite a mild misadventure (I’ll tell you after the recipe!) and an extreme piping strength requirement, I was pretty pleased with the results.

Barrington Mints
Makes 150 mints

Ingredients:
8 ounces soft cream cheese (I used Philadelphia regular)
6 tablespoons soft butter (I used unsalted)
3/4 teaspoon pure peppermint extract (NOT mint extract)
2 pounds sifted powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 drops red food coloring (Mine is pretty strong, so I used only one)

Method:
Melt the cream cheese with the butter in a heavy 3-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  Turn off the heat, leaving the pan on the burner, and stir in about 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, food coloring, and vanilla. (My note: Add peppermint here as well.)  Stir in the rest of the sugar until well blended.

Line a large baking sheet with wax paper.  Push mint mixture into a pastry bag, icing syringe or squeeze bottle with a decorative tip.  Create desired shapes for mints.  Let set 1 hour.

Store between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month, or in the freezer up to 4 months.  Do not store at room temperature.

Barrington Mints

Aren’t they pretty?  They taste just like other cream cheese mints I’ve tried: sweet, minty, and melt-in-your-mouth creamy.  Despite Dr. O’s raging sweet tooth, we are never going to get through this many mints; thankfully, we have a few dinner guests coming later this month who might be willing to help.

As for the misadventure, I had piped 20 or 30 mints when I realized that I hadn’t added the peppermint extract.  I just realized (as I was typing this post), that what seemed like a spacey mistake was probably actually the result of the fact that they don’t specifically mention adding the peppermint in the recipe instructions. Whoops.  Anyway, I just tossed my mixture back in the pot, turned the heat on medium-low, added the peppermint extract, and then stirred the mixture for a minute or two until I was confident that it was pretty evenly incorporated.  Problem solved.

It’s also worth noting that I had to let these set in the refrigerator (not on the counter) so they would firm up enough to hold their shape when I pulled them off of the wax paper.  Since they get softer the longer they sit at room temperature, I would probably put a plate of these out when I serve dessert rather than have them sit on a buffet for hours.

Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake

Does anyone else still have cranberries left over from Thanksgiving?  Since they keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks and also freeze beautifully, I’ve been steadily working my way through the half-full jumbo bag my mom sent home with us last month.  Today’s recipe – Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake from the December 2010 issue of Cooking Light – was a special request from my darling husband.  The dessert looked so good on the cover of the magazine that we just had to try it.

Since the process was a bit long, I’ll spare you the play-by-play today.  I did have several issues and modifications, though.

  • When I bake cheesecakes in a water bath, I always use the 18-inch-wide heavy-duty Reynolds foil because it allows me to wrap the entire 9-inch springform pan with one piece.  When I would overlap two pieces of the 12-inch foil in the past, I would consistently get leakage and a soggy crust.  I bring the foil all the way up the sides and then roll any excess at the top into a “lip” so the foil doesn’t extend down into the pan.  Works like a charm!
  • The only chocolate graham crackers my grocery store had were chocolate Teddy Grahams, so that’s what I bought.  Once they’re ground up, they’re pretty much all the same, right?
  • There was no way I was going to put oil in my cheesecake crust, so I substituted 3 tablespoons of melted butter for the 3 tablespoons of canola oil.
  • I didn’t have any Chambord and I didn’t want to buy a whole bottle for the recipe, so I bought two mini bottles at the liquor store for $5.  (I have half of one bottle left.)
  • I don’t know if it was the saucepan I used (a hard anodized Calphalon) or the fact that water evaporates more quickly at high altitude, but my cranberry topping was initially more like candied cranberries than sauce (and that was even after I shaved a minute off of the cooking time).  I ended up adding 5 tablespoons of water to the sauce in the food processor step to thin it out.
  • I don’t ever use fat-free cream cheese (it’s like plastic!), so I used all reduced-fat cream cheese instead of using both types.
  • I used Fage 0% for the Greek yogurt.
  • My whole eggs were room temperature; my egg whites were pretty cold. (Eggs separate best when they’re fresh from the refrigerator.)
  • Many of the recipe reviewers complained that a 9-inch springform pan won’t fit inside a 9 x 13-inch metal pan for the water bath, and it’s true.  Luckily, I have a large lasagna pan (11 x 16) that worked well.
  • I boiled my water in a tea kettle before pouring it around the foil-wrapped cheesecake.
  • The recipe indicated that the cheesecake should barely move in the center after 50 minutes of baking time at 325°F.  Several reviewers said they had to add baking time, whether it was 5 minutes, 20 minutes, or more.  I ended up giving my cheesecake 65 minutes at 325°F before turning off the oven and giving it 30 minutes of in-oven cooling time.

Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake

This recipe isn’t going to knock my all-time favorite cheesecake (Margarita Cheesecake!) off its throne, but it was pretty fantastic (and far more seasonally appropriate).  This recipe produced a light, fluffy, creamy texture and I loved the play between the slightly tart cranberry topping and the sweetness of the cheesecake.  One of the recipe reviewers on the Cooking Light site said that she didn’t like the chocolate crust because it created “too many flavors” in the final result; I think chocolate and cranberry go together beautifully, though, so I loved it. It was a bit challenging to get the crust out when I cut the first piece (the first piece is always the hardest!), but subsequent pieces came out easily.

I’ve made quite a few cheesecakes and have a pretty sensitive palate, so I could tell this was a lower-fat cheesecake.  I don’t think your average dinner guest would have an inkling, though.  Since this cheesecake is gorgeous, delicious, and able to be made ahead, I’m definitely putting it in my holiday recipe arsenal.

Recipe link: Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake

Daring Bakers’ Challenge: 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’ve never made a gingerbread house from scratch, and my only memory of even decorating one is from Thanksgiving of last year.  (Surely, my memory must betray me…  Every child has decorated a gingerbread house at some point, haven’t they?)  I was pretty excited about this challenge because I had to design the gingerbread house from template to finished product, so I knew I would end up with something that was very “me.”

Of the two recipes available, I chose Anna’s Good Housekeeping recipe.  It seems like lots of folks in the Daring Bakers community had trouble with the dough being dry, but mine was plenty moist once I kneaded in the last bit of flour according to the recipe.  The recipe made a TON of dough…  The sides and roof of my house are only about 5 inches by 3 inches, so I definitely could have gotten away with a half recipe of dough (maybe even a quarter recipe!).

The dough was pretty sticky, so I devised a rolling and cutting technique that let me transfer the dough to a baking sheet without stretching it.  I floured a large cutting board, placed two 3/16-inch dowels on each side (vertically), and placed the dough between the dowels.  I floured my silicone rolling pin and the top of the dough (lightly), rolled the dough out a bit, then flipped the dough over.  I added a bit more flour to the cutting board beneath the dough to prevent sticking, and then rolled the dough out completely to the height of the dowels.  I had initially tried rolling the dough out on my counter and between two sheets of wax paper, but I had a major problem with sticking.  The cutting board technique worked great, plus I didn’t have to worry about scratching any surfaces when I used a paring knife to cut my gingerbread pieces.

We had to create our own templates, so here’s a shot of mine (cut with an X-Acto knife from a cardboard cake board):

Gingerbread House Templates

Once I had my gingerbread pieces cut, I transferred them to parchment-lined baking sheets.  I chilled each sheet before baking for about 10 minutes to help prevent shrinkage.  I baked my end pieces together (20 minutes at 300F) and my side and roof pieces together (15 minutes at 300) and then cooled them completely on wire racks before decorating.

To make my life and assembly of the house much, much easier, I decorated the pieces before I put them together.  Since I had cut hearts out of the side pieces and one of the end pieces, I started by making sugar windows to cover the spaces.  I melted 1 cup of sugar (way too much – I could have used less) in a small saucepan over high heat, pushing it around occasionally with a metal spoon, and then added a bit of red food coloring once it had cooled slightly.  I put spoonfuls of the melted sugar on a piece of parchment paper and smoothed them out a bit with the bottom of the spoon.  Once they had cooled, I glued them to the inside of the side pieces using royal icing.  (I just used the recipe that comes with Wilton meringue powder.)  For the rest of the house, I used royal icing to attach spearmint leaves, gumdrops, Jolly Ranchers, Life Savers Gummies, and coconut.

When I was ready to assemble the house, I melted another cup of sugar (again, too much) but left out the food coloring.  To attach each piece to my cake board, I used the spoon to put a “strip” of hot sugar on the board and then placed the bottom edge of the gingerbread piece on the sugar.  The sugar sets up fast and strong, so the pieces held very well.  I had to be really careful to put things just where I wanted them, though, because there wasn’t much time to adjust a piece’s position once it was in contact with the sugar.  I wasn’t sure how I would drizzle the sugar on the tops of the base pieces without making a mess, so I just used royal icing to attach the roof pieces.

Once the house was assembled and set, I finished decorating with candy canes, Jolly Ranchers, gumdrops, coconut, and pretzels.  Here’s the finished product:

Gingerbread House

Front detail:

Gingerbread House Front Detail

Window detail:

Gingerbread House Window Detail

While this challenge was certainly messy and time-consuming, it was also a lot of fun.  I’ll definitely use this dough recipe for any future gingerbread houses; it was relatively easy to work with and it baked up nice and strong.  Thanks to Anna and Y for a great challenge!

TIPS:  Be incredibly careful with hot sugar!  Sugar burns are painful and dangerous, so it’s important to stay focused and take precautions (tie hair back, no dangling jewelry, etc.) when working with it.

Recipe link: Spicy Gingerbread Dough and Royal Icing

Broccoli and Gruyère Gratin

I most certainly love my green veggies, but doesn’t a healthy helping of cheese (almost) always sweeten the deal?

I made today’s recipe – Broccoli and Gruyère Gratin from the November 2009 issue of Real Simple – for the first time over Thanksgiving.  Since it serves a crowd, can be made up to a day ahead, and is absolutely delicious, though, it’s perfect for entertaining in any situation.

To make a full recipe, I started by roughly chopping 12 cups of broccoli.  (The recipe suggests this is two large bunches, but I ended up getting just over 2 cups from each smallish bunch I was able to buy at my grocery store.  I chose to use just the tops since I didn’t feel like peeling the stems, but feel free to use the stems if you like.)  I have a pasta pot with a steamer basket, so I put an inch of water in the pot, brought it to a simmer, put the steamer basket of broccoli in the pot, and then covered the pot with its lid.  (A regular steamer basket that sits inside a pot will do just fine, too; if you use this method, go with 1/2 inch of water instead of a full inch.)  I steamed the broccoli until it was just tender (4 minutes) and then transferred it to a large bowl.

Next, I made the cheese sauce.  In a medium saucepan, I melted 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) of butter over medium heat.  I added 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour and cooked it, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.  Switching from a spoon to a whisk, I whisked in 2 cups of whole milk and simmered the mixture until it was slightly thickened (4 minutes for a full recipe; about 2 minutes and 30 seconds for a half recipe).  Although the recipe didn’t specifically say to do this, I whisked my sauce constantly to prevent the bottom from burning and a skin from forming on the top.  Once the sauce had thickened, I removed it from the heat and stirred in 1 cup of grated Gruyère cheese, 1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of ground pepper.

I tossed the cheese sauce with the broccoli and transferred the mixture to a shallow 3-quart baking dish.  I sprinkled the broccoli with another cup of grated Gruyère and baked it at 375F until it was bubbling and golden brown (40 minutes).  I let the dish stand 10 minutes before serving.

Broccoli and Gruyere Gratin

As a child who loved broccoli drizzled with Cheez Whiz (the things my parents would do to get us to eat vegetables!), I’m seriously digging this grown-up, sophisticated version of broccoli with cheese.  The broccoli becomes tender but not the least bit mushy, and I love the cheesy crust on top.  The dish is fairly saucy if you eat it after the 10 minutes of standing time; I think it sat for almost 30 minutes before we ate it on Thanksgiving and the sauce thickened considerably.  I liked it both ways.

This time, I served the gratin with panko-crusted chicken cutlets and Chardonnay (perfect winter meal!) for just the two of us, but I’ll definitely use this recipe for Christmas entertaining or fall/winter dinner parties.  Anything that can be made ahead with results this delicious gets filed as a “keeper.”

TIPS:  I would strongly suggest having all the cheese sauce ingredients measured and ready to go before you start cooking.  That way, you can just toss and pour them in without having to stop stirring or whisking.

Also, if you haven’t worked with Gruyère yet, you may be interested to know (1) it’s a bit pricey, and (2) it’s pungent.  In other words, you’ll pay a bit more than you’re used to in order to bring home a pretty stinky cheese.  It mellows considerably when baked, though, and it really is delicious.  If you don’t like Gruyère, try substituting Swiss or cheddar cheese.

Recipe link: Broccoli and Gruyère Gratin

Coconut-Apricot Macaroons

Coconut lovers, this one’s for you.

I’ve had Coconut-Apricot Macaroons from the April 2008 issue of Everyday Food on my holiday cookie radar for a few weeks now, but I had extra motivation to try them last night.  The dinner party I had to cancel a few weeks ago due to The Sickness is finally happening, and while we’re still having the Almond Torte as planned, I thought it would be fun to have a plate of macaroons on the side.  (They keep for a week in an airtight container, so yay for make-ahead recipes.)  Also, I have a dear friend who needed some dairy-free cookie exchange recipe ideas, but I felt kind of silly recommending a recipe I hadn’t tried.  Thankfully, the macaroons were super easy and they turned out beautifully.

To make them, I started by separating three large eggs.  (You’ll only need the whites, but you can reserve the yolks for later use if you want.)  I prefer to bake with room-temperature ingredients, so I let the whites sit (covered) in a small container on the counter for 30 minutes.

When the time was up, I whisked together the egg whites, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract (optional, and I reduced it from 3/4 teaspoon), and 1/4 teaspoon of table salt in a large bowl until it was frothy (about 1 minute).  I added 1 package (14 ounces) of sweetened flaked coconut and 1/2 cup of finely chopped soft dried apricots, stirring until everything was well combined.

After I lined a baking sheet with parchment paper, I used my clean hands to form the mixture into mounds equal to about 2 level tablespoons.  (I have a 1/8-cup measuring cup, so that helped.)  I placed the mounds on the baking sheet about 1/2-inch apart (they won’t spread) and baked them at 325F until they were lightly golden, rotating the baking sheet from front to back halfway through the baking time.  My baking time was 32 minutes at 5900 feet; the recipe suggested 35 – 40 minutes.  (I did use an oven thermometer to verify that my oven temperature was indeed 325F.)  Just keep an eye on them near the end of the baking time to ensure they don’t burn.  Once they came out of the oven, I used a spatula to carefully transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

Coconut-Apricot Macaroons

Oh, coconut heaven.   The result was a tasty cookie with a perfectly light, crisp exterior and a moist, chewy interior.  I’m used to macaroons without dried fruit, so the apricot bits added a hint of unexpected sweetness here and there.  What’s funny is that these reminded me quite a bit of the Coconut Macaroon Pancakes I despised so much.  The difference is that here, I was expecting a chewy cookie; I’m not sure I’ll ever warm up to chewy pancakes. 😉  Anyway, if you’re looking for a macaroon recipe, I’d say these are a safe bet.  They’re super easy, very elegant, and definitely delicious.

NOTE:  Here’s a summary of my recipe deviations: 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract instead of 3/4 teaspoon, finely chopped apricots instead of coarsely chopped, and 32 minutes of baking time instead of 35 – 40.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, they keep for a week in an airtight container.  They weren’t as crisp on the outside after a night in Tupperware, but they still had great taste and texture.

Recipe link: Coconut-Apricot Macaroons

Holiday Oreo Balls

Normally, I’m not a fan of foods made entirely from other processed foods.  However, for Oreo Balls, I make an exception.  I first tasted them last year when my friend Christopher made them.  Since Oreo cookies are one of my vices, I deemed them nothing short of heavenly.

I wanted to make my own this year, but I decided to use the classic recipe with only three ingredients: Oreos, cream cheese, and bark coating.  (Christopher’s recipe had butter in it as well, which made a firmer candy.)  To put a holiday twist on my Oreo Balls, I decided to use Oreos with mint creme filling and to sprinkle the candies with peppermint powder.  Here’s how I made them.

First, I piled an entire package of mint creme Oreos (17 ounces) and an 8-ounce package of softened cream cheese into the largest bowl of my food processor.  I pulsed the cookies and the cream cheese until they were completely blended.  (The mixture resembled a thick brownie batter.)  On a baking sheet lined with wax paper, I spooned out 1/2-tablespoon scoops of the mixture, repeating the process with an additional baking sheet to accommodate all of the candies.  I transferred the baking sheets to the refrigerator and chilled the candies for 1 hour.

While the candies chilled, I put Dr. O to work on the peppermint powder.  He put four candy canes inside a freezer bag and then put that bag inside another freezer bag.  He placed the bag of candy canes on a cutting board (to absorb the impact) and then pounded them with the flat side of our meat mallet.  When he had them pretty well pulverized, he placed a fine-mesh sieve over a small bowl, dumped the crushed candies into the sieve, and then sifted out the powder.

Once the candies had chilled for an hour, I took them out of the refrigerator, used my clean hands to roll them into balls, and then tucked them back into the refrigerator.  Next, I melted a package of white bark coating (24 ounces) in the microwave according to package instructions.  I took the candies back out of the refrigerator, dipped one in the melted bark, spooned the bark over the top, and then lifted the coated candy out with a fork.  I let the excess bark run through the fork tines for a few seconds and then transferred the candy to a sheet of wax paper.  I immediately sprinkled the candy with a bit of the peppermint dust and then repeated the process for the remaining candies.  Once the bark had set (about 15 minutes), I trimmed any excess bark from the base of the candies with a paring knife.  (Feel free to skip this step – I’m a lunatic!)  I should have counted them before we started eating them, but the recipe yields around 5 dozen with 1/2-tablespoon scoops.

Holiday Oreo Balls

If you like Oreos, you’ll find these irresistible.  The chocolate center is soft like a truffle (even when chilled) and it most definitely tastes like Oreos.  One thing it doesn’t taste like is cream cheese…  I was surprised, but you can hardly taste the cream cheese at all.  I think it functions more as a textural element to create the creamy center than it does to flavor the candy.  Besides the creamy center, you get a bit of a crisp snap from the bark, and the peppermint dust on top is crunchy like sanding sugar.  So. So. Yummy.

TIPS:  I chose to use peppermint powder instead of peppermint candy bits because the Oreo Balls need to be stored in the refrigerator.  When you put hard candy in the refrigerator, the moisture from the refrigerator causes it to soften, ruining its texture.  (It’s fine to leave the Oreo Balls out for a few hours, of course, but I think the cream cheese necessitates refrigerator storage for longer periods.  You can freeze them as well.)

Also, and this is kind of a biggie, I would strongly recommend putting the uncoated candy in the freezer for 15 minutes or so after you roll them into balls.  That way, it’s less likely that you’ll have many cookie crumbs end up in your bark and the candy will be less likely to stick to your dipping fork.  These problems weren’t major, but I’ll definitely incorporate freezer time for best results the next time I make this candy.

Recipe link: Oreo Balls

No-Knead Dinner Rolls

I’m a bit disappointed that I missed posting yesterday in accordance with my anniversary commitment, but I’ve been completely consumed by The Sickness.  I felt like I got hit by a truck yesterday, and I think I spent approximately 30 minutes of the entire day upright with my eyes open.  Yuck.

I was actually supposed to have a dinner party tonight, but I had to cancel it because of my illness.  (I know I wouldn’t want someone with flu-like symptoms preparing my food, never mind that I couldn’t work up the energy to go to the grocery store.  I’m also not talking at this point because my throat hurts so bad.  Wah, wah.)  I did spend the earlier part of my week experimenting with a few recipes I intended to use for the dinner party, though, including Martha Stewart’s No-Knead Dinner Rolls.

Back in 2006, there was all this hullabaloo about “no-knead bread.”  (Mark Bittman then created some residual hullabaloo in 2008 with his Faster No-Knead Bread recipe.)  Apparently, some people hate kneading bread so much that it’s the one thing stopping them from making it.  I actually love kneading bread; I think it’s therapeutic (and a good mini workout).  When I was looking for dinner roll recipes (kneading allowed) earlier this week, though, most had a yield much greater than what I needed and they weren’t easily halved.  (While it is possible to reduce recipes that call for only one egg, I can’t say that I enjoy weighing and dividing one; I never feel like I get a good white-to-yolk ratio.)  The No-Knead Dinner Roll recipe, though, had quantities that were easily reduced.  The half-yield was still a bit too much (9 rolls), but I couldn’t deal with the waste that making two or three dozen rolls would create.  Plus, they’re super easy, which is always a plus.

Note: The ingredient quantities mentioned below are for a half recipe; click on the recipe link at the end of the post for the original amounts.

First, I put 1 cup of warm (105F to 115F) water in a large bowl.  I sprinkled it with 1 packet (1/4 ounce) of active dry yeast and let the mixture stand until it was foamy (about 5 minutes).

Next, I added 2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 tablespoons of melted butter, 1 large egg (lightly beaten), and 3/4 teaspoon of table salt to the yeast-water mixture, whisking to combine.  I added 3 cups of all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), stirring with a wooden spoon until everything was incorporated and a sticky dough had formed.  Using a pastry brush, I brushed the top of the dough with more melted butter, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and set it aside until the dough had doubled in bulk (about 1 hour).

After the hour had passed, I turned the dough out onto my well-floured kitchen counter.  With floured hands, I rolled the dough into a thick log and cut it into 9 equal pieces.  (I cut the log into thirds, and then cut each third into thirds.)

To prepare for baking, I brushed an 8 x 8-inch pan with melted butter.  I used my hands to flatten each piece of dough individually, then folded the edges towards the center, pressing to secure, until a smooth ball formed.  I put the dough balls in the prepared baking pan (smooth side up), covered the pan loosely with plastic wrap, and let them rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 30 minutes).

Unbaked No-Knead Dinner Rolls

After the rolls had risen adequately, I removed the plastic wrap from the pan and baked them at 400F for 35 minutes.  The recipe said to tent the rolls if they were browning too quickly.  I tented them when I checked them at the 20-minute mark, but I probably would have tented them at the 15-minute mark if I had checked them sooner.  (The ended up a bit more brown that I would have liked.)  I pulled the rolls apart and served them warm.

No-Knead Dinner Rolls

Considering that this was just about the easiest bread recipe ever, the rolls were pretty good.  The “shell” was a bit firmer than I like and I already mentioned that they were a bit too brown, but the bread really was delicious.  Plus, I could take the credit for making them from scratch (with hardly any work, seriously) and the house smelled heavenly.  I think this recipe would be absolutely perfect for “beginner” bread makers; it’s pretty straightforward and hard to screw up, but the results are worthwhile.

TIP:  The recipe says you can skip the second rise and refrigerate the rolls for 4 hours or up to 1 day instead.  That way, you could make the dough and form the rolls the night before or the morning of, and then just move them directly from the refrigerator to the oven when you’re ready to bake them.

Recipe link: No-Knead Dinner Rolls

Bourbon Balls

Last year, Dr. O’s grandmother gave me a folder full of holiday meal suggestions and recipes from various magazines from the late ’60s and early ’70s.  (How fun, right?)  The folder has a little bit of everything – drinks, appetizers, mains, sides, and desserts (along with some great holiday hairstyle ideas, hehe!) – so I thought I’d see if I could find something to add to my dinner party menu for next weekend.  One dish that really jumped out at me was a 1969 Good Housekeeping recipe for Bourbon Balls…  It was short, sweet, and good for making ahead, so I decided to give it a try.

There are several ingredients that need to be finely chopped, so I used my mini food processor quite a bit.  If you don’t have a food processor or chopper, the recipe is definitely still “doable.”  It just might not be quite as fun or easy.

First, I ground handfuls of vanilla wafers in my food processor to yield 2 1/2 cups of ground wafers.  (The recipe says they should be finely crushed, so banging them in a Ziploc with a rolling pin could be a decent alternative.)  I transferred the ground wafers to a large bowl.  Next, I used the food processor to finely chop 1 cup of walnuts.  I transferred those to the bowl as well.

To the mixture in the bowl, I added 1 cup of powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons of baking cocoa, 1/3 cup of bourbon, and 3 tablespoons of corn syrup.  I stirred the mixture until everything was well incorporated and then hand-rolled the mixture into 1-inch balls.  (Each ball was about 1 tablespoon of the mixture and the recipe makes about 36.)  To finish them off, I rolled the balls in granulated sugar.

Bourbon Balls

My friend Christopher absolutely loved these, but I have to say…  These Good Housekeeping people must have really loved boozy candy back in 1969.  Holy smokes!  The bourbon flavor is pretty strong, and you get shot-like warmth as they head down the hatch.  (If you’ve already had a fair share of “holiday cheer,” you might not feel it as much, but wow.)

I actually made them again the next day, cut down on the bourbon, and incorporated a bit of coffee and vanilla as “replacement liquid.”  I think my adaptation will be more of a crowd pleaser.  I really love the idea of this recipe, though, and the candies are just so pretty and festive with the sparkly sugar coating.

TIPS:  The first time I made the recipe, my mixture was a bit dry and I had a hard time rolling it into balls.  If this happens, just add more liquid (corn syrup, bourbon, or whatever, really), mix until it’s well incorporated, and try again.

UPDATE (12/10/09):  I’ve been discussing this recipe with a friend lately and I thought it would be good give you my exact recommended breakdown for the liquid.  Instead of 1/3 cup of bourbon, I recommend using 3 tablespoons of bourbon, 2 tablespoons of coffee, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.  That way, you’ll still get the bourbon flavor without the burn.  If you still think the flavor is too strong, go with 3 tablespoons of coffee, 2 tablespoons of bourbon and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

Sweet Sundays: Black-Bottom Coconut Bars

I was attacked by a killer headache last night, so “Sweet Sunday” is actually coming on Monday this week. It’s worth the wait, I promise!

I discovered an absolutely delicious dessert this weekend – Black-Bottom Coconut Bars from the December 2005 issue of Everyday Food. This is yet another recipe I’ve been eyeballing for months and months. One of the ladies at Dr. O’s office requested a treat with coconut – it’s a change from all those yummies made with oatmeal! – and I had plenty on hand, so the time was finally right.

First, I had to prep my pan. I lined a 9-inch square baking pan with foil (I left a slight overhang on 2 sides) and then buttered the bottom and sides of the foil (not the overhang).

To make the bottom chocolate layer, I started by melting 1 stick of unsalted butter in a large microwave-safe bowl. I added 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and whisked to combine the ingredients. I whisked in 1 large egg and then added 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder and 1/4 cup of flour. I whisked the mixture until it was smooth and then spread it in the foil-lined baking pan.

I baked the chocolate layer at 375F just until the sides began to pull away from the pan (10 minutes). I let it cool slightly while I made the coconut topping.

To make the coconut topping, I whisked 2 large eggs, 3/4 cup of sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract together in a medium bowl. I gently mixed in 1 cup of flour and 1 package (7 ounces) of sweetened shredded coconut (minus 1/2 cup set aside for sprinkling). This formed a very thick coconut batter. I dropped mounds of the batter over the baked chocolate layer and used moistened fingers to distribute it evenly. Finally, I sprinkled the coconut layer with the reserved 1/2 cup of coconut.

I baked the cake (still at 375F) until it was golden and a toothpick inserted in the center came out with moist crumbs attached (25 minutes). I did decide to tent my pan with foil at the 20-minute mark to prevent the top layer of coconut from browning too much. After the cake had cooled completely in the pan, I peeled off the foil and cut it into 24 bars.

Aren’t they just adorable? I love the layered look of these bars, and it’s like getting two desserts in one bite. The bottom is basically a thin brownie, and the top is like a chewy coconut macaroon. Both layers were terrifically moist, and I loved the slight crunch of the browned coconut on the top layer. These were a big hit at Dr. O’s office, and I look forward to making them again and again.

TIPS: I actually made these bars twice in the past few days. The first time around, I didn’t wait patiently for the bars to cool completely before I removed them from the pan and peeled off the foil. They were still a bit hot in the bottom center, so that part of the brownie layer ended up coming off with the foil. Not good! The second time, I let them sit for about 2 hours before I removed the foil and cut them, which worked out perfectly.

Also, always use room temperature eggs when baking for the best results possible. Ingredients come together easier to form a batter when they are at the same temperature. You can let eggs come to room temperature on the counter (no longer than 30 minutes) or you could put them in a bowl of warm (not hot!) tap water for about 2 minutes.

Recipe link: Black-Bottom Coconut Bars




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