Monday, December 28, 2009

December Daring Baker 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 was excited and a bit intimidated by this month's challenge. I've never made a gingerbread house and wasn't too sure that I could build on that would actually stay together. Anna's step-by-step instructions made putting the house together a little less scary. I used Anna's recipe for the gingerbread and Royal icing to "glue" my house together. I couldn't believe but the walls actually stayed together AND held the roof up! Cool. Maybe I missed my calling and should go into architecture...okay maybe not...

Anna's Recipe:
Spicy Gingerbread Dough (from Good Housekeeping)
2 1/2 cups (500g) packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups (360mL) heavy cream or whipping cream
1 1/4 cups (425g) molasses
9 1/2 cups (1663g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon(s) baking soda
1 tablespoon(s) ground ginger

1. In very large bowl, with wire whisk (or with 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 large cookie sheets (17-inch by 14-inch/43x36cm)
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 degrees F (149C)
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 1 1/4 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.

Equipment Needed:
Stand or handheld electric mixer (not required but it will make mixing the dough a lot easier and faster)
Plastic wrap
Rolling pin
Parchment paper
Baking sheets
Cardboard cake board or sheet of thick cardboard
Foil, if desired
Small saucepan
Small pastry brush (optional)
Piping bag with small round tip, or paper cornets if you're comfortable with them

Royal Icing:
1 large egg white
3 cups (330g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon almond extract
Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe on pieces and allow to dry before assembling. If you aren't using it all at once you can keep it 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.

We were free to decorate our houses any way we chose. I added some sugar windows and a cute little snowman made from fondant.


Thanks Anna and Y for a great challenge!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Merry Decorating

The holiday season is a great excuse to make lots of cookies, which are my personal weakness. I'll turn down a piece of cake, say no thanks to a doughnut, but wave a homemade cookie in my face and I'm all over it! Sugar cookies are pretty high up on my list of favorite cookies. I've posted before about how much I like this sugar cookie recipe, but if your looking for a great tasting cookie that really holds its shape when cut-out, then try these cookies. I discovered this recipe a couple of years ago when I hosted my first Drop in and Decorate party. These cookies are perfect for making cut out cookies. They maintain their shape and size and don't puff up when baked, so you end up with a nice flat surface to decorate.

Makes 16-20 large cookies; see note below for making multiple batches.
 Printable recipe
3-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/4 cups best quality unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 Tbsp milk
2-1/2 tsp best quality pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a couple of baking sheets with a Silpat or parchment paper. In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. In another large bowl or the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar, until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla, and continue to beat until well blended and smooth. Beat flour mixture into the butter mixture until smooth. Divide dough in half. Place one half on a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper; cover with another sheet and roll to 1/4 inch. Repeat with second half of dough. Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes, or up to a couple of days (or, if making far in advance, you can freeze at this point. Wrap sheets tightly in plastic wrap). Remove one sheet from the refrigerator; peel off the top wax paper, then replace paper and invert dough. Peel off and discard what is now the top sheet of paper, and cut out the cookies. (cookies will spread, so do not place too close together on the baking sheet). Reroll scraps, refrigerating if necessary to firm the dough.
Bake for 6-9 minutes, or until just lightly colored on top and slightly darker at the edges. Rotate sheets halfway through for even browning. Remove pans from oven and let cookies cool 2-3 minutes. Then remove cookies to a rack and let cool completely. (At this point, the cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks, in layers separated by parchment or wax paper.) After the cookies are completely cooled, decorate with Royal Icing. 

*Note: to make multiple batches, do NOT double the recipe. It’s hard to control proportions. Instead, make multiples of the original recipe, one batch at a time, for guaranteed success!

*Another note: Rolled sheets of cookie dough can be made ahead and frozen (or, if you're going to use them within a day or two, you can stack the rolled sheets of dough on a cookie sheet in the refrigerator). Let defrost until dough is pliable enough to be cut without breaking cookies, but not necessarily completely defrosted.

I tried several different recipes for Royal Icing. Some work better than others. It's really all about getting the right balance of water. I've had the best success using this recipe, but still find that with each batch I have to adjust the amount of water slightly. For a step-by-step guide to decorating with Royal Icing, check out this tutorial over at Annie's Eats

Royal Icing
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tbsp. meringue powder
5 tbsp. water
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance (about 7-10 minutes).  Transfer the contents of the mixing bowl to an air-tight container. Add water in small amounts mixing well until desired consistency is reached. Gel icing colors work best for coloring your royal icing. You can use liquid food coloring, but it will change the constancy of your icing, so keep that in mind if you intend to use a liquid food coloring. Keep the royal icing in air tight containers. Do not refrigerate.


 Merry decorating!!

This is also my submission to Food Blogga's 3rd annual Eat Christmas Cookies round up. If you'd like to send in a cookie to be added to the round-up go here. To check out all the cookies sent in so far, go here. 
There are some really mouthwatering looking cookies so be sure to check them out!!


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Season's Eatings... from across the pond

There are definitely more food blogs than ever out there these days. Which delights a food lover such as myself. I love it when I stumble onto a food blog I've never visited before. It's really neat to get a glimpse into someone else's kitchen.  Thyme for Cooking is one of my more recent discoveries. It's owner Kate is an expat living in France and her blog is packed with amazing food and funny stories. She is also the host of Season's Eating's, a blogging event that has bloggers from all over the swapping ingredients from their part of the world. Each person sends a small gift of a local herb, spice, or other food that is unique to or characteristic of where they live, along with a recipe using it, to another blogger. Sounds fun doesn't it?? So I decided to join in the fun. I had no idea who would be sending me a package or what it would contain.

Then about two weeks later I got a package from Rosie of Bakes and Books. My package came from clear across the pond and was filled with all sorts of wonderful goodies from her part of the world. There was a packet of Bonfire Toffee, very tasty candies that are eaten during the Bonfire Night celebrations. She also sent a box of Jaffa cakes, sort of cross between a cake and a cookie, and a box of Yorkshire Tea. Along with the tea was a recipe for a tea bread called Bara Brith. I'd never eaten or even heard of Bara Brith but Rosie described it as "a scrummy fruit cake choc-full of gorgeous spices and tea". With an introduction like that, of course I couldn't wait to make a loaf. 

 It's fantastic and I can't believe I've gone my whole life without eating this before! It the perfect companion to a cup of hot tea. Thank you Rosie!!! I loved it all especially your hand written descriptions of all the items! Hubs and I are addicted to the Yorkshire tea and I'll be making another loaf of the tea bread very soon.

Bara Brith (Tea Bread)    
300g assorted dried fruit (1 1/2 cups mostly raisins/golden raisins) I used golden raisins, currants, and dried apricots.
2 teabags
250ml boiling water
225g self-raising flour (2 cups)
2 tsp mixed spice (ie. cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger) I used mostly cinnamon and about a 1/4 tsp each ginger/nutmeg.
150g brown sugar (I used about a half a cup)
1 egg, beaten 
3 TB milk

Make up 250ml of tea. Put the dried fruit in the tea and let soak overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 F or 180 C and grease a 1 lb loaf pan.
In a mixing bowl, sift together, the flour, spices, and sugar.
Mix in the soaked fruit along with the excess tea, the egg, and the milk.
Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour.
Rosie recommends making a double batch and baking "one humongous" loaf. I think I'll do that next time!!

Thanks Kate for putting this event together. I can't wait to see all the other Season's Eating's participants entries.
There will be a round-up of all the participants posted on Thyme for Cooking on Dec. 28. So be sure to check it out!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas Gifts from the Kitchen

Sorry for the lack of posting but alas, I'm STILL without a computer!! I didn't realize how dependent I was on my computer until it died. The computer guru that has my computer said I had a program failure and my hard drive has to be wiped clean. Hopefully he's going to save some of my pictures. Take a word of advice from me; be sure to back-up pictures and documents you want to keep. I learned that lesson the hard way!
Anyway hubs and I have been sharing his laptop for the time being which means we both have limited access to a computer. haha I don't have any of my programs for my camera on this computer so I thought I'd surf the web and share some links to some Christmas gifting ideas.
Nothing says Merry Christmas like a handmade gift from your kitchen. Here are some ideas that I inspired me:

Look at Martha Stewart's recipe for Cranberry Noels. These gorgeous little shortbread cookies will definitely put you in the Christmas mood.

If something savory is more to your taste, check out these Spiced Nuts from Fine Living. Just put these in a cello bag and tie with a decorative ribbon and they're ready to be given away.

This luscious Hazelnut-Mocha Sauce is the perfect topping for an ice cream lover.

I love this Spiced Tea Mix. Get a cute mug and you've got a great gift.

When you're making your homemade gifts, don't forget the dog! Check out this idea for for Doggie Bark
For the pet lover in your life, I came across these Cork Pets. Okay so they're not homemade but how cute are these:

I hope this gives you some gift ideas for someone on your Christmas list. Hopefully I'll get my computer back soon and I can get back to regular blogging.... maybe Santa will bring me a new computer for Christmas!