Old Fashioned Cherry Pie Filling

I wrote a very thoughtful, well-written piece of prose about my love of bourbon, the merits of sharing pie with friends, and the marvelous weather NYC has been experiencing. And then the internet decided to bend me over the butcher block.  Thanks interwebs. I love you too. I just wish you didn’t love me back so much. I could complain about it some more, but I would much rather tell you what pulled me back into the kitchen and prompted me to turn my oven to 350 on a 90 degree day.

soaking cherries

It was cherries. But more than just cherries, it was bourbon my longing for what I consider to be a winter cocktail. While I favor bourbon above all other liquors, like so many wool sweaters, it gets cast aside in the warmer months in favor of lighter, more sparkling fare. I have since discovered that there are, indeed ways to enjoy bourbon in the summer time that won’t have me wiping sweat glistening rose-scented dew from my brow.

painstakingly latticed crust

So when my place of business had cherries sale for the tune of 2.99/lb and I came home with way more than enough for…Well, I didn’t know – but I would figure something out. And damn, did I ever figure something out. See, this pie isn’t name after some mythical good ol’ days of yore. No. It is so much more than that. It is named after a much loved cocktail. One with a muddled cherry and orange slice at the bottom. One that warms you up after a chilly walk – and Old Fashioned.

slice of delicious heaven

I soaked my cherries in bourbon for a shamefully long time. You don’t necessarily have to wait that long. And let’s just get this out of the way. Yes. I pitted over 2 lbs of cherries. Yes it’s a pain. But no, you don’t have to shell out for a unitasker. Therefore, you should partake of this pie. It was a big hit with roommates and co-workers alike. Especially those of the bourbon loving ilk…tha’t ilk, not elk. But I would love to see a bourbon-loving elk. Also, you will have leftover cherries. Set them aside for less bountiful seasons or if you’re anxious, put them in sangria.

Old Fashioned Cherry Pie Filling

  • 2 lbs cherries, pitted and stemmed
  • 3/4 c sugar, divided
  • Bourbon
  • Angostura bitters
  • 1/4 c orange juice
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch

Place the pitted cherries and 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl. Pour bourbon of your choice over the cherries until they are covered. Yes, it will be a lot of bourbon. Buy something on the cheap side. Cover and place in refrigerator for a shamefully long time. Full disclosure, mine soaked for 6 days. 6 days! It’s shameful. One or two days will do the same trick, though.

Remove cherries from the fridge (duh). In a medium sauce pan, using a scale, measure out 22 oz. of both cherries and liquid. Liquid should measure roughly 1/2-3/4 of a cup, the rest should be cherries. Add the orange juice, cornstarch, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and 5 or 6 healthy dashed of bitters. If pressed, I would say maybe 1 tsp of bitters.

Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Let boil about 5 minutes or until thickened.

Pour into your favorite pie crust, and follow baking instructions. Or pour it over ice cream. Or eat it by the spoonful.

There is no pie crust recipe included because I don’t consider myself knowlegdable in the least about that art form.  Here’s some tips from someone who is.

A Spirited Return – On Doldrums, Infusing, and Revivals

Friends and family, humblest apologies for lack of posts.  I have been in the doldrums, which here means a time in my life with calms, sudden storms, and unpredictable winds.  But that could be said about anyone’s life at any given moment.  I suppose that’s just life.  During this time I kept thinking about this project of mine, and baking in general and desperately wanted to bake but simply couldn’t find the time, funds, or energy to do so.  Now I have time, energy, and mini funds, but have embarked on a healthy-eating challenge for my day job.  Alas….c’est la vie.  But then it occurred to me, as I was finishing up a birthday gift for a relative, that it doesn’t necessarily have to be baking that I post about.  It is, after all, my blog.  No boss lady here except me.

So I’m going to start a mini-series on making your own infusions.  Sounds science-y, right?  Well it’s not, although it may make your kitchen look a bit like a laboratory for a month or so.  I’m not sure why people are so impressed with infusing – it makes bars seem fancier and you look like a liquored up genius – but it is so easy.  So don’t be afraid.  I’ll hold your hand.

science lab

Here it is, broken down: Alcohol + Ingredients + Time + Simple Syrup (or not, but this turns your infusion into a bottle of insta-cocktail)

SUPPLIES

  • Large jar – if you’re using a liter of alcohol, get a jar that will fit 1.75.
  • Swing-top Bottle – again, size appropriate please, though you probably won’t find one over 1.75.  If it’s for personal use, go ahead and re-use the liquor bottle, assuming you used all of the contents.  In some gift-giving this is appropriate too, but remove the labels and make sure it’s an attractive bottle.
  • Sieve

Start out by picking a flavor.  Please don’t pick something you would not want to drink.  I have made cranberry + lemon verbena, chile + carrot (you haven’t lived until you’ve had this in a bloody mary), chocolate, grapefruit, apple pie, green tea + lemon (like a spiked Arnold Palmer, amazing), chocolate + orange, and maybe one or two I’m forgetting.  Mostly I have used vodka, but have also used 151 (yikes!) and spiced rum to great results.  Once you have your flavor in mind you will be able to make a booze selection.

Things to consider in selecting your booze – will it fit your flavor profile?  For example, cranberry alone might work well with a spiced rum, but cranberry and lemon verbena probably won’t.  Use common sense.  Do you want something clean and crisp?  Go with vodka or everclear.  Warm and nuanced? Spiced rum is probably the way to go.  Will you be using it in a margarita?  Use tequila, for god’s sake!  Because it is almost margarita season and I’m a big fan of spicy cocktails, for this series I will be doing a pineapple + chile infused tequila.  Try not to drool on your keyboard.

Another thing – there are camps that say go high-end, and camps that say spend as little as possible because the alcohol flavor will be masked.  I say, don’t infuse any liquor you wouldn’t normally drink.  Because guess what?  If you infuse an alcohol you don’t like with ingredients you do, that yucky alcohol is still the main ingredient and you won’t drink your infusion.

I usually get a big handle, but I like to keep a well-stocked liquor cabinet.  Consider how much of your infusion you want – if it’s for personal use and you’re playing around, go small, about 2 cups of liquor should do it.  For a gift, definitely get the liter and a cute, swing-top re-usable bottle.

Full disclosure purposes only – I don’t usually like giving brand names, but people have asked.  For vodka infusions I like Tito’s.  It’s cheap and clean, and definitely the most bang for your buck, but if you’re a Smirnoff kinda drinker, get Smirnoff.  If Skyy is your poison, use Skyy.  If it’s Popov….you probably should expand your horizons.  For rum I like Sailor Jerry.  For tequila I like Espolon – it’s 100% agave and not aged, so the tequila flavor is very smooth and clean.

Round up these things and join me next time when I will be talking about selecting and using ingredients!  Don’t be scared!

Fall Treats – Graham Crackers, Hot Cocoa, and Maple-Cinnamon Marshmallows

I’ve got big news.  I turned my oven on for the first time since May.  And it has been amazing.  While there are still some warm days, fall is almost in full-swing.  Ovens are being turned on around the country and houses are starting to positively reek of baked goods and root vegetables.

The only cookie-cutter shapes I have are hearts and circles I hope you're better equipped.

While I am not ready to gain all that holiday weight just yet, I have been craving a fall-type snack, and I came up with just the right barely-fall snack – cinnamon graham crackers and hot cocoa with maple cinnamon marshmallows.  Light enough to not concern yourself with holiday weight, but full of warm fall flavors.

Are you fantasizing yet?

If you’re looking for Honey-Maid, Jet Puffed, and Swiss Miss, save yourself the trouble and just stop here and go read another blog.  These recipes taste nothing like those flavored sugar store brands.  This group of recipes provide all the nostalgia of childhood fall treats, but with a much more adult flavor.

The graham crackers have a coarse texture, suitable for dunking, and a hint of bold molasses flavor.

The cocoa actually tastes like cocoa – not sugar.

And the marshmallows….Oh. My. God.  The Marshmallows.  If you don’t at least make the marshmallows you will be doing yourself a huge disservice.  They are fantastic on their own, but when added to cocoa lends a warm maple-cinnamon flavor that really revs up the cocoa.  Happy fall everybody!

Cinnamon Graham Crackers
makes about 3 dozen 3 square inch crackers

Ingredients

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour

1 cup AP flour

1 tsp coarse salt

2 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

¼ cup honey

¼ cup robust or blackstrap molasses

1/3 cup plus 4 tbsp sugar, divided

¼ cup milk

½ tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp cinnamon

Method

  • In a bowl, whisk together the whole wheat flour, AP flour, salt, and baking powder.  Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers, until the mixture looks like coarse wet sand.
  • Add the honey, molasses, and 1/3 cup sugar and combine.  Add the milk and vanilla, using your hands to mix it together until it forms a stiff dough.
  • Lightly oil 2 baking sheets.  Split the dough in half.  Lay a sheet of parchment paper on a work surface and shape half the dough into a rectangle.  Cover the dough with another sheet of parchment and roll it out until it’s about ¼ inch thick, and roughly 12 x 15 inches.
  • Combine 4 tbsp sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon.  Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over the rolled dough.
  • Cut the dough into whatever shape you wish.  If you have cute cookie cutters, now is the time to break them out – pumpkins, leaves, ghosts, whatever you want.  If you’re like me and don’t have any cool fall cookie cutters, break out your pizza cutter and cut into rectangles.  Or get out your Valentine cookie cutters.
  • Once your shapes are cut, prick each shape with a fork all the way down the middle.  Then, since you’re the only one in the kitchen and you’re super curious, eat one of the dough scraps.  Very carefully transfer the shapes to one of your prepared pans and place in freezer to chill for 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350˚F.
  • Repeat with second half of dough, and bake for 18-22 minutes, until browned at the edges.
  • While I am a BIG fan of fresh-from-the-oven goodies, you will want to let these cool completely before digging in.

Store in an airtight container, for up to 2 weeks.

Maple Cinnamon Marshmallows
makes about 36 medium-sized mallows

Ingredients

2/3 cup water, divided

3 packets (¼ oz. each) unflavored gelatin

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

pinch of kosher salt

1 tsp maple flavoring

1 cup powdered sugar

3 tsp ground cinnamon

Method

  • Lightly oil an 8×8 inch pan and coat generously with powdered sugar.  Set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, pour 1/3 cup the water and 3 packets of gelatin.  Let stand for ten minutes or until gelatin has softened.
  • In a saucepan, off the heat, combine sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1/3 cup of water.  Place the mixture over medium-high heat and clip your candy thermometer to the side of the pan, making sure it doesn’t touch the bottom.
  • Cook the mixture without stirring until it reaches 240˚F, or soft ball stage.
  • Turn your mixture on low speed and very carefull add the molten lava hot syrup to the softened gelatin.
  • Add the maple flavoring and turn the mixer to medium-high speed.  Beat for 8-13 minutes.  Set a timer – you do not want to underbeat these puppies.
  • When the mixture is white, stiff, and sticky, turn the mixer off and spread the mixture into your prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula.  Set aside for at least one hour.
  • Sift together the cinnamon and powdered sugar into a bowl or shallow dish.  Run a wet knife around the edge of the marshmallow to loosen it.  Turn the pan out onto a work surface.
  • Cut the marshmallow into squares, wetting the knife between cuts.  Toss each marshmallow in the cinnamon sugar to coat.

Store in a single layer, or in layers separated by wax or parchment paper.  They will keep for 1 month when stored airtight at room temperature.

Hot Cocoa Mix
makes approx. 36 cups of cocoa, or 4 ½ cups dry mix

Ingredients

2 cups powdered sugar

1 cup unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa powder – splurge on this one, otherwise it won’t be worth it.

2 ½ cups malted milk powder – if you can’t find malted milk powder, just use nonfat dry milk powder

1 tsp salt

2 tsp cornstarch

1 pinch cayenne pepper – you won’t be able to taste this; it just amps up the chocolate flavor.  If you want to be able to taste it, use about a tsp of cayenne.

Method

  • In a large, airtight container combine all ingredients.  Secure the lid and shake to combine.
  • For hot cocoa, use 2 heaping tablespoons of dry mix per (regular size) cup.

Green Tea Infused Vodka with Honey-Lemon Cordial

I have not been a fan of green tea for all that long. I remember the first time I drank it. I was in fourth grade (I think, maybe third or fifth), at a friend‘s house whose mother is Japanese. This was before Arizona Green Tea, which is basically green tea flavored sugar water. They had the real deal, and I was not impressed. I thought it tasted like seaweed and I didn’t touch the stuff again until I was a junior in high school, and it was Arizona Green Tea.

These days, however, I’m a class A tea snob.  I bring my own when I travel.  Even when I go to my parent’s house – I bring my own tea because they buy Celestial Seasonings.  And I don’t sweeten it very much, even when it’s iced tea.  A sugared rim is necessary, though.  This vodka is light, crisp, and only a hint sweet.  For a perfect summer cocktail, shake it with ice and add just a splash of tonic water.

If you’re a plan ahead-type of gift giver, this makes for a great surprise, especially when paired with some nice stemware.  If you’re a last-minute gifter, you could also gather up all the non-perishable ingredients and throw them in a bag with the recipe.  They both go over equally well.

Green Tea Infused Vodka with Honey Lemon Cordial

Ingredients

1 L of vodka of your choice*
5 green tea bags, or 5 tbsp loose leaf tea, preferably in a bag, if not strain it out
1 Lemon, sliced
½ c honey
½ c water

You will need a jar big enough to hold the entire liter of vodka, plus one cup.

Method

  • Empty vodka into a clean jar and place tea bags inside and cover the jar. If your tea bags have strings, make sure you cut them off. Allow to steep for no more than 12 hours, shaking periodically. Any longer and you will end up with a bitter infusion.
  • Remove tea bags and place sliced lemon in the vodka, capping the jar. Place in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks, shaking perdiodically.
  • At the end of the 2 weeks, remove the lemons with a slotted spoon.
  • In a saucepan, combine the honey and water and heat gently over medium heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  • Once the honey mixture is cool, pour into the vodka, recap and shake vigorously.
  • Uncap and strain infusion into a swing-top bottle. At this point, it can be imbibed immediately, or allowed to infuse longer. The longer it sits, the sweeter it will be.

To serve, rub the rim of a glass with a lemon slice. Gently place the rim of the glass in a dish of sugar. I used matcha sugar, made using 1 tsp of matcha powder & 1 tbsp of sugar. Shake infusion with ice and strain into glass.

*A note about the quality of vodka you should use. Some insist that cheap vodka is appropriate because the sugar in the cordial negates the bad taste. I respectfully disagree. I have used everything from $55 bottles to $10 bottles, and I have landed smack in the middle with Tito’s, priced about $25 per liter bottle, though it is most likely cheaper in places that are not in NYC. It tastes better than most $55 bottles, and is only slightly more than Smirnoff, which tastes terrible.

To be enjoyed outdoors, in the shade, on a day that (hopefully) is not too hot.

Also, I’m on tumblr now.  Bakingforneighbors.tumblr.com will be a shorter microblog – more photos, less text.  Recipes will be linked here, but you will also get to see things I make that I don’t post.

Goat Cheese, Crossroads, and Big Decisions

I did not post last weekend, and in fact, it’s been so long since I’ve posted that my computer had logged me out of WordPress!

Life has been hectic and stressful, and while I have been baking up a storm (it’s just what I do when I’m stressed), I have not taken notes on recipes, photographed, etc.

I take life in stride, and usually just let the chocolate chips fall where they may, but every now and then life plops me between ten different paths and time stands still for no baker.

It might feel like it’s standing still when you eat this cheese though.  There are no words to describe homemade goat cheese.  It’s pretty quick, modifiable, and oh. my. god. creamy.  Not to mention shockingly inexpensive, and aside from goat’s milk, you probably already have the ingredients in your pantry or fridge.

I spread mine on some homemade rosemary olive knots that I was going to photograph and post with this, but, well… you know.  Life.  It’s also delicious spread on some red bell pepper slices, like an adult version of ants on a log (you know, peanut butter + raisins on celery), or spread on some decent bread + toasted + topped with roasted red peppers & caramelized onions.  You will never buy goat cheese again, once you seek out a goat milk source.  It’s expensive and bland compared to this stuff.

Goat Cheese

Adapted from Kiss My Spatula

Ingredients

1 quart pasteurized goat’s milk ( the original recipe says to avoid ultra-pasteurized, but the first time I made this that’s what I had grabbed.  It was certainly milder upon first taste, more like a tangy cream cheese, but after a few days in the fridge it develops a stronger ‘goat cheese’ flavor.)

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 clove freshly grated garlic

A few pinches coarse salt

Herbs (up to you) but recommended: Rosemary, chives, parsley, herbs de Provence, fennel fronds, dill, and other non-herbs like dried apricots.  I used a combination of fresh rosemary, thyme and coarsely ground black pepper.  The whole mixture (of garlic, salt, pepper, and herbs) probably amounted to a tablespoon.

Method

  • Line a colander with several layers of cheesecloth—really, several. Otherwise you’ll lose precious goat cheese through the soggy cloth. Place over a large bowl to catch the whey drips.curd draining rig - I'm sure most of you have one of these pots with the colander that fits inside
  • Fill a medium saucepan with goat’s milk. Heat gradually until it reaches 180°F. Watch closely. You can run in and out of the kitchen, but don’t get too distracted. It shouldn’t take more than about 15 minutes.
  • Once it hits the magical temperature, remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Let stand until milk starts to curdle**, about 20 seconds.

    the curds are really tiny - don't expect any cottage cheese effect

  • Ladle milk into colander. Pull up and tie the four corners of the cheesecloth together and hang on the handle of a wooden spoon. (This was my favorite part, second to eating it of course.) Set over a very deep bowl.
  • Allow whey to drain (drip, drip, drip) until a soft, ricotta-like consistency is reached inside the cloth, about 1 to 1.5 hours.

    drip drip drip

  • Transfer to a bowl and fold in salt, garlic, and flavors of your choice. Serve on fresh bread, salads, with fruit, or just straight-up. Can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge, but after a few days, the consistency isn’t as lusciously smooth and spreadable.

    herbs, garlic, salt, pepper

    probably about 6 oz of cheese, which is slightly larger than the tubes of goat cheese at the grocery store

    And then there was none.  When life hands you lemons, slow down and make your own cheese.  Then eat all of it.  It will be well worth it.

Lemon Ginger Lozenges, and an Anti-Valentine to Alton Brown

Folks, the equation is simple.

Sugar + Equal Amount of Water + Heat = Candy

Yup.  With no flavoring though, you might as well suck on a sugar cube.

The first time I made this recipe, I gave it as a gift, which was brave considering I had no idea what they would taste like, if they would ship well, or hell, even if they would pack and store well.  They didn’t, by the way.  Because the majority of sugar in AB’s recipe was honey, it still didn’t quite set at hard crack stage, and actually ended up chipping the tooth of a friend who tried to chew on it (whoops!  Her dad’s a dentist though, so it turned out to be OK).

Then, shortly after my mom requested the recipe, I came across this Instructable…And I was so angry with Mr. Brown.

You see, his instructions at the end said to spoon teaspoons of the liquid candy onto parchment paper.  They looked fine in his pictures; in my kitchen, not so much.  And on top of that it was counter to EVERYTHING I had ever learned from him – there might be a process, but if there’s an easy way with the same resulting taste go that route.

Oh, AB.  How could you let me down like this?

Needless to say, this new method not only is much easier in terms of portioning out the candy, but also in storing it.  I love simple solutions, but this one has made me call my favorite TV chef into question.

Lemon Ginger Lozenges

Ingredients

2 c. water

4 tea bags (doesn’t have to be Lemon Ginger, just pick a good flavor of good tea)

2 c. sugar – I used 1 c. turbinado and 1 c. honey

Zest of 1 lemon

Powdered sugar

Method

  • Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a high sided sauce pan and steep the tea bags for about 15-20 minutes.
  • Add sugar and turn the stove back on medium low heat.  Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and bring the mixture to a boil, occasionally washing the insides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water.

    process shot! see I told you I was working on it

  • The mixture needs to read the hard crack stage without the sugar burning, which is between 300 & 310 degrees.  Grab a book, this is going to take forever, but keep a watchful eye on your stove.
  • Before the mixture reaches 310, prepare your candy mold!  Oh my, you don’t have one?  Me neither.  Here’s the handy trick I was talking about.  Get out a pie pan, or a cake pan, or a casserole pan…any shallow-ish pan with sides.  Put some powdered sugar in it, enough to make indentations in, about a half inch to an inch oughta do it.  Then, get out some sort of roundish bottomed thing (like a food coloring bottle, or a glass tube that your vanilla beans came in)…are you seeing where I’m going with this?instant candy mold
  • Go around the pan, making indentations in the sugar, making sure they’re about 1/4 inch apart.  I needed 2 pie pans for the amount of candy I made.
  • When the mixture reaches hard crack stage, remove from heat and add the lemon zest, stirring just to combine.
  • Pour mixture over the mold slowly and watch the magic happen.

    pour slowly to make sure this doesn't happen, but if it does just leave it and break it apart later

  • Allow mixture to cool and harden, about one hour.  Toss the candies with the powdered sugar in the pans, making sure each one is coated thoroughly.  Sift the excess sugar off the candies (or not), and store in a container of your choosing.

HOW EASY WAS THAT?  No parchment paper, no sticky teaspoon…  Alton Brown, why, oh why, did I have to see this on Instructables and not in your book with your recipe?  As I type this I’m finding it very hard not to use caps and unnecessary punctuation.  I am that upset about it.

That being said, I think this would also be good with lemon extract , cinnamon, or any number of flavor combinations.  Just be sure to add them at the end right before pouring into your nifty molds.  Here are some suggestions:

Lemon + Ginger – I would actually add some grated ginger to these next time, as the tea didn’t really carry the ginger flavor through all that well.

Cinnamon + Chai

Ginger + Peach

Black Tea + Lemon

Green Tea + Lemon

Green Tea + Orange

Black Tea + Orange

Mint + Raspberry (think fresh mint and raspberry extract…mmm)

The possibilities really are endless.

Oh and here’s a tip for the dish-doers in the bunch:  To clean, fill the pot with water and bring to boil.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hot Chocolate Bombs with Cinnamon Marshmallows

At Christmas I made hot chocolate on a stick posted at The Giver’s Log.  It was just about the easiest and most appreciated kitchen related gift I’ve  ever done.  I had ambitions to make marshmallows to go along with them but it just got too hectic.

But not this time, baby.  For Christmas I did peppermint hot chocolate on a stick.  I’m not going to lie to you.  I had to try it a couple of times to get it to look like how I wanted – ask my neighbors and co-workers.  They all got what looked like a gift from Spunky – cat s#!t on a stick.

who, me?

This time around I decided to forgo the sticks entirely, and read up on how to temper chocolate so that they wouldn’t look all dried out.  Turns out it’s pretty easy.  So I got some really cute Valentine themed mini cupcake papers and got crackin.

Hot Chocolate Love Bombs

yields about 16 one ounce bombs

Ingredients

16 oz. chocolate – bittersweet, milk, semi-sweet, and (gag) white chocolate all work.  I used what I had lyin around, which was semi-sweet.  16 oz is about a bag and a bit more.

3 packets of your favorite hot cocoa mix

cupcake wrappers

Ziploc bag (for piping)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/8 tsp (or pinch) chipotle or cayenne powder, I used chipotle

Method

  • Set your separated cupcake papers on a baking sheet.
  • Bring a bit of water to a simmer in a sauce pan, and place a glass or non-reactive metal bowl over it, making sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water.
  • Put most of your chocolate (the bag, saving the other bit) in the bowl and let it melt, stirring occasionally.
  • Once the chocolate is melted, turn off the heat and remove the bowl from the sauce pan, making sure not to drip any condensation.
  • Put your hot cocoa packets, spices, and remaining chocolate in the bowl and return to the bowl to the saucepan, stirring to mix.
  • Once it looks all mixed up, open your plastic bag and scoop the chocolate into one corner (like you would with frosting).
  • Cut a smallish hole in the corner of the bag, and pipe chocolate into your awaiting papers.  Once all papers are filled, top with adorable tiny heart sprinkles.

You might want to tap the baking pan against a flat surface to even out the tops of the bombs, but I thought they were cute with a little piped swirl on the top.  If giving as a gift, make sure to include instructions, which are:

  • Drop one chocolate bomb into 6-8 oz (one regular sized mug) of hot milk.  Water does not work, the chocolate will not melt properly.

Cinnamon Marshmallows

Ingredients

3 packets unflavored gelatin

2/3 c. water, divided

1 c. light corn syrup

1 c. granulated sugar

1 tsp cinnamon extract (or vanilla, or banana, or whatever)

1/4 tsp gel food coloring (if desired)

powdered sugar for dusting

Method

  • Lightly oil an 8×8 pan with Canola oil and generously coat with powdered sugar.
  • Pour 1/3 c. of the water into a bowl, sprinkling the gelatin over it, and set aside.
  • In a saucepan, off the heat, combine the remaining 1/3 c. water, corn syrup, and granulated sugar.
  • Place the pan over medium-high heat.  Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, and cook the mixture until it reaches 240*, avoiding the temptation to stir.
  • Every now and then, brush the sides of the pan (on the inside) with a pastry brush dipped in water to wash away residual sugar crystals.
  • With the mixer on low speed, very carefully add the lava hot syrup to the gelatin.  Add the cinnamon (and food coloring, if desired) and increase the speed to medium high.  Beat for 8-13 minutes, until the mixture becomes opaque and stiff.
  • Spread the mixture into the prepared pan, and spread around using a lightly oiled spatula.  Let sit for one hour, or until firm and cool.

pink gloop

  • Once the mallows are set, sift powdered sugar into a shallow bowl.  Run a wet knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the mallow sheet and remove it from the pan.  Cut into squares and toss each square in powdered sugar until completely coated.

    fluffier than any you'll find at the store

    Happy sipping folks!

Oh Fudge (Two Ways)

A word about Valentine’s day: I have always loved it, even when I have been single (it’s happened once or twice).  Here’s the big secret behind my enjoyment – I have a lot more love in my life to share with more than just a boyfriend, and I bet you do too.  I know we shouldn’t need an excuse to show loved ones how much we really love them, but let’s face it – sometimes we just do.  We can always do little things here and there (and I hope you do), but Valentine’s Day is really about extravagantly displaying exactly how much we love one another.  It’s an excuse to splurge, whether it’s on calories, or gifts, or time spent doing something.

That being said, each of the recipes I will be posting this week is a labor of love.  They are somewhat time consuming and some require lots of attention.  But while I was waiting for sugar to boil this weekend, I sat by my stove (closer than is probably safe) with a book, and glanced up every sentence or so to check the temperature.  And you know what?  I finished a 400 page book.  True story.  So get in the kitchen, make some fudge, and read that book that’s been sitting on your nightstand since Christmas.

just for you

Fudge Two Ways – Candied Ginger and Candied Bacon

I don’t want to go and reinforce gender stereotyping but one of these ways is decidedly more masculine than the other, I’ll let you decide which.

ALTON BROWN’S FUDGE RECIPE

Ingredients

2 3/4 cups sugar

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

3 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing pan

1 cup half-and-half

1 tablespoon corn syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 cup chopped, candied ginger or bacon

Directions

  • Grease an 8 by 8-inch pan with butter.
  • In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, chocolate, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter, half-and-half, and corn syrup.
  • Over medium heat, stir with a wooden spoon until sugar is dissolved and chocolate is melted. Increase heat and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and boil for 3 minutes. Remove the cover and attach a candy thermometer to the pot.
  • Cook until the thermometer reads 234 degrees F. Remove from the heat and add the remaining butter. Do not stir.
  • Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes or until it drops to 130 degrees F. Add vanilla and one cup of other ingredient of your choosing, if desired, and mix until well-blended – AB says mix until the shiny texture becomes matte.  I did this and ended up crystallizing the fudge in the pan and having to melt it back down with a little more half and half.
  • Pour into the prepared pan.
  • Let sit in cool dry area until firm. Cut into 1-inch pieces and store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Candied Ginger

Ingredients

Nonstick spray

1 pound fresh ginger root

5 cups water

Approximately 1 pound granulated sugar

Method

  • Spray a cooling rack with nonstick spray and set it in a half sheet pan lined with parchment.
  • Peel the ginger root and slice into 1/8-inch thick slices using a mandoline. Place into a 4-quart saucepan with the water and set over medium-high heat. Cover and cook for 35 minutes or until the ginger is tender.
  • Transfer the ginger to a colander to drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.
  • Weigh the ginger and measure out an equal amount of sugar.
  • Return the ginger and 1/4 cup water to the pan and add the sugar. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar syrup looks dry, has almost evaporated and begins to recrystallize, approximately 20 minutes.
  • Transfer the ginger immediately to the cooling rack and spread to separate the individual pieces.
  • Once completely cool, store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Save the sugar that drops beneath the cooling rack and use to top ginger snaps, sprinkled over ice cream or to sweeten coffee.

spicy, sweet, chewy

The Ginger Fudge

Crystallized ginger is very strong flavor-wise, especially when it’s homemade and super fresh.  The spiciness and flavor of the ginger didn’t come through as strongly as I would have liked and if I make this again, I will probably increase the candied ginger to 1 1/2 cups.  So if you’re borderline on ginger, this might be a good starting point.

Candied Salted Bacon – via TheKitchn

Yields:8-12 pieces (depending on package size)

1 package center cut bacon

3/4 cup light brown sugar
Kosher

salt to taste

Method

  • Line a cookie sheet (with sides) with parchment paper or silpat in preparation.
  • Place bacon on cookie sheet, making sure not to overlap any edges.
  • Lightly sprinkle each piece of bacon with brown sugar (1-1 1/2 tablespoons/each) and place cookie sheet in cold oven.
  • Set temperature to 350* and bake 20-25 minutes, keeping an extra careful eye on them starting at the 18 minute mark.
  • Remove from oven and place cookie sheet on wire rack. Sprinkle salt over bacon pieces. Enjoy!

salty, smoky, sweet

See the carmel colored pools around the bacon?  Well, it’s carmel.  And I’m not saying it’s delicious and you should eat all of it…but if you stuck your finger in there after it had cooled a bit and licked it up a few times, I would be in no position to judge you.  Just sayin.

The Bacon Fudge

If you’ve ever been eating a nice pancake breakfast, only to get syrup on your bacon and then not be totally ecstatic about not having to put extra syrup on your plate specifically for this reason – this fudge probably isn’t for you, but I strongly suggest branching out.  Try some syrup on your bacon or sausage and then decide whether or not you want to make the bacon fudge.  I have been putting syrup on my bacon and sausage links since before I can remember.

recipients will have to guess which is which

My Hands-Down Favorite Cookie of All Time

Yesterday I got a very nice package from my mom.  And I thought sharing it with you would be a good kickoff (get it?  Because it’s Super Bowl weekend – I’m not totally clueless, I just don’t care) to my Valentine’s baking extravaganza.  Plus, there’s plenty of football related recipes to satisfy that need.

So here’s what was in the package: a box of cookies, a bottle of champagne, and this:

To:  The Best Daughter in the World

IF I HAD A BAKING BLOG

THIS WOULD BE MY VALENTINE’S DAY BLOG

I used to love to bake…especially for the kids – a wildly appreciative audience.  Several of my baking friends and I would share our baked goods via cookie exchanges.  However, a few of us were baking snobs, thoroughly believing the standard chocolate chip cookie trade we would invariably receive was not worthy of our delectable, beautiful and sometimes intricate cookies.

So, we eventually began having a private, exclusive cookie exchange with those we deemed worthy of our high class stuff.  The best recipe, in my opinion, to come out of those high class exchanges was a linzer heart cookie recipe made by Penny Lake, which comes from a cook book entitled “Silver Palate.“   Many a baking session with my friend, Lynne Moore, has included these cookies and they have come to be my daughter’s favorite.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I am baking a batch to send, along with the recipe and ingredients for her to make her own.  Since the end product is so fragile and might arrive as a pile of crumbs, she may need to make her own right away.  (Although my friend Lynne reminds me that I wrapped them individually and sent them to my husband who was flying Desert Storm missions with the Navy.  Supposedly they made it in good condition.)

Rather than re-type the recipe, I have copied the copy from the cookbook.  I think it’s cute because it has the sketch of the cookies and the little Alice In Wonderland quote.

Comments on the ingredients:

  • “Shelled walnuts finely grated” – is it really necessary to stipulate shelled?  Also, I don’t grate walnuts.  Maybe a food processor would do the job, but I don’t have one so I just chopped as finely as I could;
  • “Sweet butter” doesn’t specify salted or unsalted, so I used what I have which is pretty much always salted;
  • ½ cup raspberry preserves – I find that to be not nearly enough.  I like more raspberry goo than the recipe calls for, and regardless, the cookies are so fragile, that to not break them and still spread a thin layer of raspberry preserves would be an exercise in finesse that I don’t possess….or perhaps just don’t have the patience required, so I put on whatever amount does not require too much pressure from spreading.  I used about a jar and a half – the jars being 12 oz jars.

Comments on the process:

  • If the walnuts are not fine enough, it will interfere with the dough holding together.  Walnuts need to be super fine – grated or chopped.
  • It is imperative that the dough be well chilled or it is way too fragile.  I chilled it overnight, cut off a chunk to work with and put the rest back in the fridge as I worked with the first chunk.

Rolled and Cut, Ready for Baking

  • I don’t know how important it is to chill the dough after rolling it out and cutting it, but I followed the directions to chill for 45 minutes, just to be safe.
  • Sifting or shaking the powdered sugar on the cookies is much prettier than pressing the cookies into powdered sugar…plus you’re less likely to break the cookie.  You can tell in the photo which cookies were pressed into the sugar and which had sugar sprinkled on…it does make a difference

Completed Cookies

  • When “pressing” the top cookie on…don’t really press or you will break it.  I can’t stress enough how fragile the cookies are.  Just lay the cookie on top and let the sticky raspberry preserves do its thing.
  • Many people will not think it worth the effort to make these cookies…they are definitely a bit of a pain. However, nothing is too good for the best daughter in the world, so I find the process a pleasure.

Ready for Shipping

As a final note, tradition has it that you eat these with very well chilled champagne.  Penny Lake’s aunt owns a winery in California that makes Schramsburg champagne….highly encouraged.  Happy Valentines Day!

And now for my comments:

These cookies shipped fantastically.  Every single one was in tact, which is more than I can say for the bottle of champagne.

  • For those of you who don’t like jam or preserves – don’t leave that ingredient out.  The texture doesn’t translate into the cookie, which is crumbly and melt in your mouth tender.
  • For those of you who don’t like walnuts – this is the first I’m hearing about it being a key ingredient.  The dough does not taste like walnuts at all, or if it does my palate is not sensitive enough to detect it.
  • For those of you who don’t like rolling, cutting, being careful – do it.  It’s well worth the process.
  • For those of you who don’t like sweets – why are you reading this?  Leave me alone.  Just kidding.  This is not a super sweet cookie.  It is the perfect balance of sweet, savory, and tart.

Every time I see linzer hearts in the bakery section of any store I always buy one and I am always disappointed because they just don’t measure up to these ones.  I would have made them myself, but I never had the recipe and didn’t want to bother with trying one out because I had built this particular one up in my head.  And it’s not just hype.  They really are that good.

This weekend I’m making little care packages of my own, and I will post every recipe…AFTER I ship the packages.

Granola

So I have a new kitchen obsession, and it’s granola.  I have never been able to find a granola in the store that I found was worth the money, not to mention the calories.  Oh yes, don’t be fooled.  That stuff in the fancy packaging has some serious sugar and packs a lot of calories into quite a small amount.

clumpy

Admittedly, this recipe is not as healthy as the last one I made.  But it is so much better.  I enjoyed the last one.  It was crunchy, nutty, not too sweet, and delicious by itself or with yogurt.  But this takes that and cranks the volume to 11.  Full disclosure, I had a really hard time sharing this with my neighbors.  I did, but it was an inner battle for me.  Also, while I was home I got a lot of compliments on the photography on here, but my neighbor Tim takes the photos you guys are oohing and aweing and drooling over.  His granola was much deserved.

Olive Oil Granola

Makes about 9 cups.

adapted from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/15/dining/151arex.html

Ingredients

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 C roughly chopped pecans

1 C pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)

½ C slivered almonds

3/4 C pure maple syrup

1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 tspish kosher salt

1/2 tspish ground cinnamon

1/2 tspish ground ginger

3/4 C chopped dried apricots

1 C dried cranberries

Method

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, combine oats, nuts, pepitas, maple syrup, olive oil, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and ginger. Spread mixture on a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

2. Allow to cool a bit and then break up the clumps to whatever consistency you like, then toss in the apricots and cranberries.

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