Monday, January 31, 2011

Homemade Lemon Curd

Once you learn how to make things yourself, buying it in the store just seems silly.

Like this past summer when I dabbled in jam making... I loved the whole process of canning your own jams and jelly and now you should see our fridge. I had to start writing down flavor combinations because we ran out of space and I don't have enough friends to give the stuff away to. 

Same goes for this Lemon Curd.. who knew curd would be so easy? A few weeks ago I actually made Mango Curd (a post to come soon) and was so happy with the result that I had to try this Lemon Curd... I can only imagine what's coming next.

This lemon curd was an integral part of a birthday cake brainstorm and I used the left over in last month's Daring Bakers' Challenge.

The cake will be coming later this week...I hope you'll be able to survive the anticipation.

Lemon Curd
Recipe from Joy of Baking
Makes 2 jars

3 eggs
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 TBS lemon zest
3/4 cup sugar
4 TBS butter

Whisk eggs, sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan.
Over medium heat, cook until mixture thickens and reaches 160 degrees with candy thermometer (about 10 minutes)
Remove from heat and sieve for lumps.
Cut butter into small cubes and whisk into warm mixture.
Add zest and allow to completely cool before using.

Happy Baking! 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Biscuit Joconde Imprime & Mousse Entremet

You're probably thinking the same thing I did when I first saw this month's Daring Bakers' Challenge.. Biscuit saywhat?

The January 2011 Daring Bakers' Challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.

My French may be a little rusty, but try saying that 3 times fast!

Or just one time for that matter...

We'll do it phonetically, say it with me now Jo-cond Im-prim On-tre-me. Got it?

Joconde Imprime is a French baking term for a decorative design baked into a light sponge cake providing an elegant finish to an entremet formed in a ring mold.

Joconde actually refers to the almond sponge cake (or biscuit) used, named after the Mona Lisa herself, and entremet is simply an ornate dessert usually involving layers of cake, pastry creams or mousse.

So let's get to it, shall we?


Although we had to follow the recipe for the Joconde and use a dessert mold, we were given artistic freedom as far as the fillings and designs were concerned. My Joconde Imprime was filled with layers of cake, raspberry jam, lemon curd and white chocolate mousse.

There are a quite a few steps involved in this recipe, so kitchen management is very important. If using pastry creams or mousse to fill your dessert, I would suggest starting there. Since I used already prepared raspberry jam and lemon curd, I began by making the white chocolate mousse, knowing it would have to set. After my mousse was in the fridge I actually made my Joconde-Decor Paste (because it has to be frozen) and then made the Joconde Sponge.

Bicuit Joconde Imprime Recipes & Preparation

Patterned Joconde-Decor Paste*
14 TBS unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 TBS powdered sugar
7 large egg whites
1 3/4 cup cake flour
food coloring

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Gradually add egg whites, beating continuously.
Fold in sifted flour.
Tint batter with food coloring.
*I only made half of this batter and had more than enough for the dessert.

Place a silicone baking mat or parchment paper on a flat baking sheet.
Using a piping bag, pipe decor paste on baking mat or parchment paper in decorative designs.
Once done, slide baking sheet with paste into freezer. Freeze for about 15 minutes.
In the mean time, begin making your Joconde Sponge.

Joconde Sponge
3/4 cup almond flour/meal* I made my own by grinding almonds
1/2 cup plus 2 TBS powdered sugar
1/4 cup cake flour
3 large eggs
3 large egg whites
2 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
2 TBS unsalted butter

In a large bowl, whip egg whites and granulated sugar until stiff, glossy peaks are formed and set aside.
In another bowl, whisk almond flour, powdered sugar and cake flour.
On medium speed, add eggs, one at a time- mixing well after each addition. Mix until smooth and light.
Fold in whipped egg whites- do not overmix!

Preheat oven to 425.
Remove mat with decor paste from freezer.
Quickly pour Joconde batter over the design, spreading evenly and thinly, completely covering the pattern.
Transfer to oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, watching carefully, until cake bounces back and has lightly browned.
Cool for a few minutes before removing from mat.
Flip cooled cake onto lightly powdered parchment paper so design side is facing up.

Preparing the Mould & Mousse Entremet

Place springform pan, with base removed, on serving dish.
Line inside of pan with parchment paper.

Trim cake of any dark or crispy edges- leaving you with a nice rectangle.
Measure the height of your pan, and cut cake into strips in equal heights and lengths (I used a pizza cutter to ensure smoothness).
Press cake strips into your mold, decorative side facing out, overlapping the pieces if necessary. Gently push and press edges together to make a seamless cake.
Now the mold is ready for filling.

My filling: I used the extra cake to line the bottom of the mould. Then covered the cake with a layer or raspberry jam and lemon curd, followed by a layer of mousse. This got me about half way up the mould, so I repeated the process one more time.

White Chocolate Mousse
7 oz. white chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 TBS sugar
2 egg yolks
1 cup heavy whipping cream

In a small bowl, whisk sugar and egg whites until pale yellow.
In a small saucepan, heat 1/4 cup whipping cream to just a simmer.
Once warm, slowly add to egg/sugar mixture to temper, whisking constantly.
Return mixture back to saucepan and continue to heat until warm or until mixture coats back of a wooden spoon.
Pour mixture over white chocolate and mix until chocolate is melted and smooth. If you're having trouble with your chocolate melting, create a double boiler and continue to heat while mixing.
Beat 1 cup whipping cream until stiff peaks are formed.
Slowly fold whipped cream into white chocolate mixture.
Place in fridge for at least 1 hour to set.
*For the challenge, I made two batches of this mousse

Happy Baking!

Oh and thanks for all the well wishes, I'm feeling much better :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Apple & Cranberry Muffins with Granola Topping

What's worse than being sick all weekend? Being sick on your birthday weekend.

That's right.. as soon as we got done with a lovely Italian birthday dinner Friday night, I could feel my body starting to shut down and was in bed by 9... lame.

So while I should have been out celebrating all weekend, I was instead curled up on the couch surrounded by tissues, cups of hot tea and way too much medicine.

Come Sunday morning I was ready to do something; still not feeling particularly keen, I was determined to get in the kitchen and bake something anyways.

Not being able to sleep the past few nights turned out to be a great time to brainstorm some new recipe ideas.

Mountain Man said he could taste the healthy in these muffins (but in a good way he insisted) and I need all the health I can get right now, so I was by no means offended.

So if you're needing a little healthy in your life or just looking for something delicious for breakfast, these are the muffins for you.

Apple & Cranberry Muffins
swEEts original
Oven: 375 Bake time: 20 minutes
Makes 12 muffins

1 cup AP flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flax seed meal
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup fat free vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup pear sauce* or apple sauce
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Granola Topping *optional
1/2 cup quick oats
1/4 cup bran flakes, crushed
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup flax seeds
1 TBS brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4-1/2 cup honey
To make granola topping, mix all ingredients in a small bowl- adding just enough honey to coat ingredients.

Preheat oven to 375. Spray muffin pan with cooking spray and set aside.
In a large bowl, add flours, sugar, flax seed meal, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
In a small bowl, mix egg, yogurt and pear(or apple) sauce.
Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix well with wooden spoon.
Fold in diced apples and cranberries.
Using an ice cream scoop, fill muffins 2/3 way full.
Generously sprinkle granola topping on top of each muffin.
Transfer to oven and bake for 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Because I was out of apple sauce I got a little creative and made my own pear sauce.. it was very easy to make and turned out to be quite delicious- easily substituted for apple sauce.

Pear Sauce (Just enough for the muffin batter)
2 pears, peeled, cored and cut into cubes
1/4 cup water
2 TBS sugar

In a small sauce pan, cook water and pears over medium heat.
Bring to boil and allow pears to soften- about 5 minutes.
Transfer pears to food processor, add sugar and pulse to puree.

What do you do when you're sick?
Happy Baking!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Homemade Marshmallows

Nothing speaks to cold weather better than a steaming cup of hot chocolate overflowing with marshmallows.

I don't know what it is about those little fluffy pieces of heaven, but I absolutely love them.

After an afternoon of playing in the snow, I was the kid that tried to stuff as many marshmallows as I could in my mug of hot chocolate so that the cocoa didn't even stand a chance of cooling until the sugary clouds melted.

During the holidays I was seeing homemade versions of the chubby bunny stars pop up all over the blogsphere and bookmarked countless posts, determined to have some made by the end of the year.

Alas, time slipped away and I entered the New Year mallow-less.

This wouldn't mean that I would continue the year mallow-less though. Oh no, they had to be made.

Now that I've taken the opportunity to make them, I can't believe I waited this long.

They're perfect.. possibly even better than the packaged kind. I wonder how they would hold up in s'mores?

Homemade Marshmallows
Recipe by Alton Brown
Makes one 9x13 baking pan

3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup corn syrup
dash of salt
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch

Spray baking dish with cooking spray.
Mix powdered sugar and cornstarch together in a small bowl.
Sprinkle one spoonful of mixture into pan and move around, making sure to cover everything as if you're flouring a cake pan- set aside.
In your stand mixer bowl, add gelatin powder and 1/2 cup water.
In a small sauce pan, add 1/2 cup water, sugar, salt and corn syrup. Place over medium heat and cover for 3-4 minutes, until boiling.
Uncover and clip candy thermometer on pan. Continue to boil until sugar mixture reaches 240 degrees, about 7-8 minutes.
Once temperature is reached immediately remove from heat.
Turn mixer on low and slowly add sugar mixture to gelatin.
Once all sugar mixture has been added, turn speed to high and continue to whip for about 10-12 minutes or until mixture thickens, becomes luke warm and looks like a glossy meringue.
Add vanilla during last minute of whipping.

When ready, pour mixture into prepped baking dish and with a lightly oiled spatula smooth out evenly. This can be a little tricky and I ended up oiling my hands and smoothing it that way.
Dust top with sugar/cornstarch mixture, covering lightly but completely.
Let mallows sit out, uncovered for at least 4 hours up to overnight.
After resting, turn marshmallows out on a cutting board and cut into small squares or use cookie cutters to make shapes.
Once cut, lightly toss in remaining sugar/cornstarch mixture to coat freshly cut sides.

Now prepare yourself a good warm mug of hot cocoa, get cozy, add a handful of marshmallows and enjoy a good book...well at least that's what I did :)

Happy Baking!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monster Cookies

Normally when the word monster comes up in conversation negative things are to follow, but that is not the case with these cookies.

It's quite the contrary actually. When you hear monster cookies in conversation only positive things are to follow.

I think monsters get bad raps really...they're just misunderstood if you ask me.

Take Cookie Monster for instance- does his passion and love for all things cookie make him a monster?

If that's the case then I'm a Baking Monster and more recently a Wedding Monster (not to be confused with Bridezilla- she is nasty).

When I say wedding monster I mean to say that I now find myself consumed by everything and anything wedding. The Knot, Wedding Channel and WeddingWire have become my new best friends... I find myself browsing Martha Stewart Weddings for ideas, stalking facebook wedding albums for inspiration and scouring the internet for the perfect dress at all times of the day.

I've also thought long and hard and finally decided that I am going to make my own wedding cake- it just seems right. Am I crazy for doing this? Maybe, but let's hope not...

But enough about the wedding monster...I'm sure she'll be making an appearance or two in the coming months.

Lets make some cookies!

Monster Cookies
A Paula Deen recipe
Oven: 350 Bake time: 8-10 minutes
Yields 2-3 dozen cookies (depending on size)

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla
12 oz peanut butter
4 1/2 cups Quick Oats
1/2 cup m&ms
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup raisins* optional

Preheat oven to 350 and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars.
Add eggs, salt, vanilla and peanut butter.
Stir in quick oats, baking soda, m&ms, chocolate chips and raisins*- mix well.
For Monster-sized cookies, use an ice cream scoop to get a heaping spoonful of dough or just use a small scoop for regular sized cookies.
Place on parchment paper a few inches a part from each other.
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until just browned.
Transfer to cooling rack and let cool completely before eating.

What kind of monster are you??

Happy Baking!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dark Chocolate Cake with Pomegranate Cream Cheese Frosting

In addition to my normal responsibilities at work, I’m also the office birthday cake baker. 

When your name and birthday appears on the office calendar you can best bet that you’ll be getting a cake courtesy of swEEts by e. I usually get some information from the birthday girl or boy and then go on my way to make up something tasty for the big day.

I was so excited when Katie came to me with her ideas for her birthday cake… I think she gets just as excited about my creations as I do. Every time I bring something into work she likes to pretend she’s on Top Chef or Chopped and gives me a complete foodie critique. We both get a huge kick out of it (self proclaimed dork, right here).

The week before her birthday she rushed into my office and quickly shared the news with me: she wanted chocolate and pomegranates...let the internet inspiration begin.

I knew her cake had to be super chocolate-y and when I fell upon this Dark Chocolate Cake I knew it was a winner.
The pomegranates on the other hand were going to be a bit of a challenge..can you believe I've never made anything with pomegranates?? I did some searching though and found what sounded like an amazing cream cheese frosting using POM juice.

Mountain Man had one bite of the cake and looked at me, completely straight faced and proclaimed, “This is the best cake you’ve ever made.”

This chocolate cake is definitely a keeper; the addition of the boiling water at the end leads to a deep, dark, very moist cake. Because Katie is a chocoholic, I covered the cake with a thin layer of chocolate ganache, used the POM frosting for the filling and top of the cake and covered the sides of the cake in chocolate cake crumbs.

Dark Chocolate Cake
Recipe from Hershey's
Oven: 350 Bake time: 35 minutes
Makes 2 8-inch cakes

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cup AP flour
3/4 cup Special Dark Hershey's Cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour cake pans, line bottom with parchment paper and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Beat until combined.
Stir in boiling water (the batter will be very thin)
Pour batter evenly into cake pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

POMegranate Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe adapted POM Wonderful
Reduce 1 1/2 cup POM juice to about 3 oz. or half the size
8 oz (1 pkg) cream cheese
4 oz butter
12 oz (about 4 cups) powdered sugar

In a small sauce pan, over medium heat, reduce POM juice to about half. This will take a while, so I would suggest starting this while preparing the cake.
Beat cream cheese and butter until creamy.
Slowly add powdered sugar and reduced POM juice *allow juice to cool before using.
Beat until smooth.

Happy Baking!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Orange Cranberry Scones

I couldn't believe how long it had been since I made scones.

It's not that they haven't been on my mind, because... well, quite frankly I love these little British gems.

I actually had all intentions of making these while we were skiing until it hit me about 5 hours into the drive that I had forgotten the flour, sugar and baking powder...all I had were the cranberries and 

Then, once we got to Colorado I realized it would have been high altitude baking and that just flat out scares me.
Every time I go away and come back, I love my kitchen even more than I did before.  A week away from the kitchen is hard when you're constantly gawking at good food all over the computer and dreaming about sweets, just wishing you could get your hands on a whisk.

These scones turned out to be the perfect way to get back in there and start the weekend off right.

Orange Cranberry Scones
Oven: 425 Bake time: 15 minutes
Makes 6 scones
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 cups AP flour
1 TBS baking powder
4 TBS sugar
1/2 tsp salt
5 TBS butter, cold and cubed
1 TBS orange zest
1 cup orange-cranberries* recipe below
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
Add flour, baking powder, sugar, orange zest and salt to a food processor. Pulse two times to mix.
Add butter and continue to pulse until butter is incorporated and grainy/sand consistency is reached.
Pour ingredients into a large bowl and add fruit- fold lightly to combine.
Slowly stir in heavy cream until dough is thick then transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead by hand until a soft dough ball is formed.
Form into about a 1-inch thick disk.
Cut the disk into 6 equal wedges.
Transfer to baking sheet and place in oven for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Orange Cranberries
1 cup orange juice
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups cranberries

In a large sauce pan, place orange juice, water and sugar over medium heat.
Bring to a simmer and add cranberries.
Heat for about 5 minutes, just until the cranberries skins are soft* Make sure you watch your cranberries! I looked away for what seemed like seconds and all my cranberries exploded.. I still used them, but that's why my scones have a red hue.
Drain cranberries and pat dry before adding to scone mixture.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you for the well wishes and congratulations :) Ya'll are too sweet! I'll be sure to keep you updated as the wedding adventures continue.. I'm still trying to get used to the sparkle on my left hand and calling Mountain Man my fiance...but I'm also loving every second of it! :)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Classic Shortbread

I don’t know what it is about shortbread, but I can’t get enough of it. 

There’s something about the rich, buttery, cookie that makes my heart skip a beat every time it's placed in front of me.

Not to mention the ease of preparing and the basic ingredients make it even more appealing to skip the box at the grocery store and make it yourself.

During the holidays I was seeing shortbread pop up all over the place and knew it was a sign- I had to make some. I even got some delicious chocolate covered shortbread from Sara over at Caffe Ina and boy was it amazing. 

When Mountain Man came home from work the other evening and knew I had something in the oven his eyes lit up when I let him know what was slowly baking its way into our tummies.

Like I said, this cookie couldn’t be more simple and I think that’s part of its charm.

So go ahead and bake yourself a little piece of buttery heaven..

Classic Shortbread
Oven: 300 Bake time: 30-40 minutes

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 cup flour
dash of salt
Sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350. Line baking dish with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Slowly sift in flour and salt and mix until well combined.
Press cookie dough into baking dish and flatten with spatula.
With a fork, prick dough into small squares, pushing all the way down.
Sprinkle generously with sugar.
Bake at 300 for 30-40 minutes or until light brown.

Happy Baking!!

ps. In other news, we set a date! Come Oct.1, 2011 I'll be Mrs. Mountain man!!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mountain Man proposes on a Mountain!

Well, he's finally making an honest woman out of me.

That's right everyone.. we're engaged!!

Little did I know that shortly after I posted my breakfast casserole, I would be skiing my way to married life.

still no clue it was a bout to happen..

Sunday was the first nice day on the mountain so we decided to take the longest lift to the top and ski all the way down.

As we got off the lift and prepared to head down, Mountain Man told us about a nice spot we should stop a little ways down to take some pictures. Unbeknownst to me this would be the spot and there were 2 other couples with us who already knew what was going to happen- sneaky sneaky.

When we got to the spot we took off our skis and took turns taking pictures with the most stunning view in the background. There also happened to be a mountain photographer there who came in handy a little later.

And then it happened...while looking out over the mountains, in true Mountain Man fashion, he got down on one knee and pulled out a ring. Holy Cow!

Our friends got it all on video and the photographer rushed over once she realized what was going on.. it was absolutely perfect! After I got feeling back in my hands and my shaking under control, we headed down to an Ice Bar about half way down the mountain for a celebratory drink and lots of phone calls.

So now the fun begins... planning a wedding from Texas that is going to be in Virginia next Fall is going to be quite the adventure, but I'm always game for a good adventure!

I promise I'll get you all some good posts in the coming week.. for now I'm still trying to let it sink in that I'm engaged!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Overnight Breakfast Casserole in the Mountains


I knew it was going to be cold when I agreed to a ski trip in Colorado in December, but not this cold!

After 17 short hours in the car, we made it to Crested Butte in one piece.  And after a good nights sleep (a few of us might have been in bed at 630pm), we all woke up early Friday morning to get a full day of skiing in... only to realize that the high was going to be a whopping 6 degrees with a windchill of -20 on the slopes!

There are 5 couples staying at our snug little mountain condo just a stones throw away from the lifts, a short drive to town and complete with absolutely beautiful balcony views..

Yes, these are camera phone pics..I'm sorry. I had placed my camera cord strategically on my computer, but someone didn't put it in the bag when he packed everything...ahem :cough: Mountain Man.

While planning our trip, we all decided that each couple would be responsible for dinner one night of the week, but since Friday night was New Years Eve, Mountain Man and I opted to be in charge of breakfast.

This breakfast casserole is actually an integral part of our traditional Christmas brunch, but it is also ideal for feeding a crowd. With the ease of being able to prepare the night before, it is perfect for popping in the oven the next morning for a quick and filling meal before spending the afternoon on the slopes.

Overnight Breakfast Casserole
Bake time: 40 minutes Oven: 350
Serves 10

6 slices white bread (I suggest Texas toast style)
6 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk
1 lb pork sausage
1 dash pepper
1 dash salt
1 tsp dry mustard* optional
1 cup cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9x13 casserole dish.
Cook and drain sausage. Once cooled, crumble and set aside.
Cut bread into small cubes and place into casserole dish so it is equally distributed.
Sprinkle sausage over bread.
In a large bowl, beat eggs, milk, pepper, salt and dry mustard.
Pour egg mixture over bread and sausage.
Cover with aluminum foil or saran wrap and place in the fridge overnight.
The next morning, before placing in the oven, uncover the casserole and finish by sprinkling cheese over top.
Place in oven and bake for 40 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Happy Baking!

I hope you all had an absolutely wonderful New Years! Even though we were all exhausted from a full day of skiing we managed to make our way down town to enjoy some delicious food and ring in the New Year not once, but 3 times- a countdown for each time zone of course.

Last year was pretty awesome and I expect 2011 to only bring more of the same...It was only about a year ago that I started this blog and I still can't believe what it has become.. I wouldn't be anywhere I am though without all of you, so thank you for all of your support. I've got lots more goodies for you this year so I hope you're ready :)

We've got two more days of skiing left... I never thought I'd say it, but I'm so thankful the high today is 20 degrees- the last thing I need is frost bitten fingers!

Now it's back to the slopes for this little lady!