Saturday, August 27, 2011

Daring Bakers' - Candy Making!

The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

I'm back to the Daring Bakers! I missed last month's challenge due to getting settled in the new house, and I almost didn't think I would make this one on time, but here it is!

For my chocolate candy, I opted to go with a simple Irish Cream Truffle. What better way to sneak some Irish Cream in to my coworkers than with a delightful chunk of chocolate and sugar, er truffle, first thing in the morning. It seemed to go over well since the empty plate was returned to my cube by about 10. I modified the recipe slightly based on the chocolate that I had in the house. Next time I might try using all white chocolate for the top layer to get a little more contrast between the layers and in flavor.

For my second recipe, I went with the Strawberry Pate de Fruit. After reading comments from other bakers about how long it took to get to the required temperatures, I decided to get comfortable and call the parents while continuously stirring.

After getting to the 140 degrees in the first step, I called my dad to chat while I got up to 200 degrees. He answered by asking, "What did you break now?". To be expected since my dad has been fielding calls of "How do I fix X?" for the past couple of months. Home ownership has taught me that I'm pretty much useless at being handy.

Anyways, we chatted while I stirred, and stirred, and stirred some more. While the recipe itself was straightforward and simple, I drove myself crazy watching the temperature slowly crawl up. And then drop by 5 degrees. And then go up a few degrees. And then drop 3 degrees. My dad is a talker and has no chatting endlessly. But I even lost him before I could get up to 200 degrees.
An hour and a half later, I finally got up to the 225 degrees and was able to pour it and call it a night.

For all that effort, I actually really liked the final product. I cut the pieces and rolled them in sugar and couldn't stop eating them. I feel like it's pretty darn healthy though, and would even go so far as to call it a serving of fruit. I mean it's just pureed strawberries and a little(ish) amount of sugar. Clearly healthy.

So candy making was fun, but not necessarily something I would keep making. I'm more of a butter and sugar girl, and there wasn't much butter going on in any of these.

Until next month's challenge, I've got plenty to do around the house. I've discovered that my parents are way better at home ownership than I am. But I'm learning, one mistake at a time!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Daring Bakers' - Baklava

Erica of Erica's Edibles was our host for the Daring Bakers' June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

And so, I made baklava. I have to confess that I was less than excited about this challenge, partially because it seemed like a lot of work and partially because half my kitchen is in boxes.

Most of you know already, but I bought a house!! The Cooking the Books headquarters will be moving into our new official kitchen within the next week or so. In the meantime, I've been crazy busy with paperwork, loans, wire transfers, packing, organizing, and lots of boxes. I think I've found a cat in every box I pick up, so I feel like the boys are excited about the move.

That said, I've put minimal effort into this challenge. I made the baklava, swearing at the Greeks the entire time for coming up with such a difficult dough. I have to say that the dough rolling and stretching was not my forte. I had planned to use my 8 inch square pan, but after attempting a couple sheets I broke down and dug my 6 inch pan out of a box.

For my filling, I used pistachios and hazelnuts with cinnamon, cloves, and sugar. The nut filling was absolutely amazing. I had a lot of filling leftover after switching to the smaller pan and I've been slowly using it up on yogurt, oatmeal, quinoa, and anything else that needs some tasty nutty goodness.

I was disappointed in how tough some of the dough layers were, but I'm sure that was mostly user error on my part. My best guess is that I overworked the dough, but it still a tasty treat.

I would like to try my hand at baklava again sometime. Not anytime soon. But sometime in the future. I want to try the frozen pre-made sheets to compare to the dough I made. I also plan on hitting up the Greek Festival here in Reno over summer to perform a quality control check on the authentic stuff.

In the meantime, I have plenty of packing, cleaning, and sprinkler repair to get busy on. I'm hoping to post more on the house in the near future, but I make no promises!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Guest Post - Cookie Dough Truffles

Today's post is my first of hopefully many guest posts - brought to you by my Quantity Control Expert, Lea! Enjoy!

Ok, so Rachel has been encouraging me to write a blog for quite some time. This Memorial Day weekend I found myself venturing into a culinary endeavor that I was excited to share.

When it comes to the production and consumption of baked goods, I excel at the latter of the two. (Hence my designation as Quantity Control Expert). While my cooking has improved, my confectionary skills leave much to be desired.

My dog loved this recipe. Whether it was due to faulty equipment or my general lack of baking competence, he stood by ready to assist with clean up as the chunks of cookie dough mix exploded all over the kitchen.

I stole this recipe from “The Yummy Life” which appeared on my favorite food porn website (as recommended by Rachel) “”. I was looking for a dessert to serve at my Memorial Day BBQ and I had been craving sweets… It must be fate.

The other attractive factor of this recipe was the opportunity to use some of my lifetime supply of flax seed, acquired the last time I attempted to bake. Despite its addition to my oatmeal, yogurt, and smoothies, its volume has remained seemingly undisturbed.

So, I started by “creaming butter and brown sugar in a large bowl.” My impatience did not allow for the butter to be very soft, which was further aggravated by the fact that my hand mixer has three speeds: too fast, out of control, and stuck.

You’re then supposed to add vanilla, which I forgot. This probably would have helped minimize the flour splash that occurred as I slowly added the flour and ground flax seed. The mixture should by dry and crumbly, but mine just appeared to be dry.

Then, I slowly added a 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk with the mixer running, followed by the folding in of mini chocolate chips (couldn’t be found, so I used regular size).

At the sight of what appeared to be a cookie dough type substance, I quickly began rolling the dough into balls until it stopped cooperating and the dough started to fall apart and refuse to maintain shape. I then had the brilliant idea of sticking it in the fridge for a while, only to check back at the recipe to realize I should have chilled it for 2 hours prior to forming it into balls. Whatever.

Now the fun part (besides licking the dough off the mixer attachments and my arm). Microwave melting chocolate or chocolate chips and 1 table spoon of canola oil in 20-30 second intervals until it looks like you can dip your balls in it. Roll those suckers around and let chill. Voila. Cookie Dough Balls.

Reviews were mixed, and it generally depended on whether they liked cookie dough in general. Anyone who did, loved them; anyone who was not as big of a fan was hoping for strawberries inside. Overall, a delicious treat but I’ll probably move on to bigger and better things.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Breakfast Pie

I love breakfast. And I love pie. And I also love that it's socially acceptable to eat breakfast or pie for any meal of the day.

So this breakfast pie is basically awesomeness in pie form. Really. There's just no other way to describe it.

The original recipe called for bacon and an onion. As much as I love bacon, I really wasn't up to cooking bacon. So I bought Italian sausage and browned and crumbled that instead. I also bought the onion fully intending to use it, but completely forget it when I was cooking.

When I make this breakfast pie again, I'd like to try rolling the pie dough a little thinner. It was just a little too thick for my taste (that's what she said), and I felt like it still had somewhat of a raw flour taste. The Resident Taste Tester disagreed and seemed to like it as is.

I also think that some cheese would take this breakfast pie from awesomeness to orgasmic, but I leave that choice entirely up to you.

Also important to note, the cookbook that I used for this recipe is some wanky pastry cookbook with all the measurements and ingredients in British. Since none of us speak British, I have helpfully translated everything into English. You're welcome.

Breakfast Pie
adapted from Greatest-Ever Pastry Cookbook

For the Filling
2 tbsp oil
1 lb Italian sausage (mild or regular - your preference)
1 small onion, finely chopped (but no worries if you forget it)
5 eggs
salt and ground black pepper
a little milk, to glaze

For the Pastry
3 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
3/4 cup butter, diced
5-6 tbsp chilled water

  1. For the pastry, combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Rub the butter into the mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs. Sprinkle over most of the water and mix to a pliable dough. Maybe it was me, but mine was super dry and I ended up adding extra water. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

  2. Butter an 8-inch pie pan. Roll out two-thirds of the pastry and use to line the pan. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.

  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat oil in a pan and add the sausage. Cook and crumble with a spoon until browned and cooked through. Add the onion and cook 2-3 minutes.

  4. Cover the pie crust bottom with the cooked sausage and onion mixture. Break the eggs on top, spreading them evenly apart. Tilt the tin so the egg whites flow together. Season with salt and pepper.

  5. Roll out remaining pastry, dampen the edges and place over the pie. Roll over the top with a rolling pin to seal the edges and remove excess pastry. Carefully cut curved lines from the pie's center to within an inch of the edge. Glaze with milk (be liberal on this or else it won't brown as nicely).

  6. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce to 350 degrees and bake for 20 minutes more.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Daring Bakers - Chocolate Marquise on Meringue

The May 2011 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Emma of CookCraftGrow and Jenny of Purple House Dirt. They chose to challenge everyone to make a Chocolate Marquise. The inspiration for this recipe comes from a dessert they prepared at a restaurant in Seattle.

So holy crap! When they call these Daring Bakers things "challenges", they do in fact mean to challenge you.

Because I had no idea what a marquise is, and I'm still slightly hazy on the whole concept, I clung desperately to the original recipe with no real variation. Ok, so really no variations except to half it. The end result was delightfully delicious, but getting there made me thankful for the leftover tequila that didn't go into the dessert.

What you see in the picture is a chocolate marquise under a torched meringue with a tequila caramel sauce and spiced almonds.

More in depth, the marquise is an intensely rich pillow of soft chocolate with hints of cayenne and tequila. It is then softened in the fridge after freezing. It's not as hard as ice cream, but can't quite be called a mousse. Really, it's soft, sexy, and chocolate-y.

I can't take credit for coming up with the complimenting garnishes since they were the suggestions. But I enjoyed that the flavors in the garnishes, tequila in the caramel sauce and cayenne in the almonds, matched the flavors in the marquise itself.

I appreciated that this challenge really took me outside my baking comfort zone.

I played with hot boiling sugar not once, but twice, and lived to tell about it! I learned that I should probably invest in a candy thermometer instead of using, er, trying to hold a 4-inch meat thermometer in a pot of hot boiling splattering sugar as it reaches 235 degrees...

I borrowed a torch from a friend, which taught me that playing with fire in the kitchen is beyond fun and that I also need to invest in my own torch. Expect to see more fire coming out of my kitchen, preferably in the form of skillfully torched culinary masterpieces and not the kind that requires a fire department visit. Although that could be fun too...

And most importantly, this challenge emphasized the idea of fully reading through the entire recipe at least once before starting. I think I read this one at least 10 before starting. It took at least 3 tries to begin to understand what I needed to do, and another 5 times before I felt like I had a plan in place.

And to those of you Daring Bakers who casually mentioned that you did all your mixing by hand because you don't own a mixer, God bless you. The thought of whisking until soft peaks form makes my heart hurt. My little Kitchenaid earned its keep a million times over for this one challenge alone. So I salute you, hand mixing champions.

It would be a lie to tell you I fully enjoyed making this dessert. I used many swear words and was glad to finally serve it and be done. But I give massive props to any recipe this challenging that can withstand my blundering through it and still turn out so well. Thanks for the challenge ladies! Next month's challenge certainly has some big shoes to fill...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Daring Bakers' - Maple Mousse and Edible Containers

The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at!

Time for another Daring Bakers challenge! This is my second challenge and I promised myself that I would get it baked and blogged well ahead of time.

Well... It's now Sunday night and my blog is due Tuesday, so technically it's not quite last minute yet. But not quite as early as I wanted it to be done. Oh well. Third time's the charm!!

So this month we had to follow Evelyne's maple mousse recipe and use it in an edible container. Her suggestions for containers were either a bacon cup or a nut cup, both of which looked great. While I'm not one to turn down bacon in any form, I really wanted to see what I could come up with on my own.

The maple mousse on it's own is delicious. This was my first time making mousse and it went much easier than I thought it would. I have to confess, I've been eating the leftover mousse with a spoon all day. It's just that good!

My original idea for the edible cup was a spicy polenta cup. I wanted the sweetness of the mousse to balance the spiciness of the cup. I ended up really liking the flavor combination and getting a subtle kick from the cayenne pepper.

I tried two different ways to bake the polenta into cups, and neither way was very user friendly for me. For my first batch, I filled a mini muffin pan with polenta and tried to mold it to the sides of the pan. They looked pretty good going in, but expanded in the oven. I ended up having to push them back down a couple of times.

The second batch I spread on a baking sheet to about a half inch thickness on a cookie sheet and chilling it in the oven. I used a circle cookie cutter to cut out circles and indent them with the round end of a spoon. Like the first batch, they expanded in the oven and didn't quite cup like I saw it going in my head.

Sadly, I wasn't so much a fan of the polenta cup itself. I didn't really like the texture of the polenta, but I feel like it was more user error on my part. Having never cooked or eaten polenta before, I was sure what I was aiming for. Good learning lesson though.

Because my polenta didn't make as many cups as I thought I would need for a dinner party, I started searching my kitchen for what else I could turn into an edible cup. I had some graham crackers in my pantry, so I crushed them in with butter and cinnamon and tried to make crusts in a mini muffin pan. They baked and they baked and they baked, but they just wouldn't turn into a cup that would hold together.

So I turned to my freezer and found two sheets of leftover puff pastry and decided to make some puff pastry cups. I cut about 20 2-inch circles and then cut a smaller circle out of half of them. I stacked them and added my failed "toasted" graham cracker cups to the inside to make a graham cracker filling. After they baked, they turned out to be nice little cups and perfect for my filling!

I plated both types of edible cups with a cinnamon maple glaze garnish on the plates. I was really happy with how they looked when plated, and my guests seemed to really like them too!

I personally ended up liking my last-minute puff pastry cups much better than my spicy polenta cups. The graham cracker filling below the maple mousse gave it a nice crunchy texture and buttery flavor that went well with the maple.

Overall, I was really happy with how it turned out, especially the maple mousse! I'm looking forward to next month's challenge!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Banana Muffins and An Apology

Dear Butter,

I know, I'm sorry. I turned my back on you and walked away. I betrayed you. All I can do is ask your forgiveness for what might have been the biggest mistake of my life.

I know it's not an excuse, but all I could think of was my recent Beer Fest comfort eating. I just wanted to eat healthier. Which was why I turned to a banana muffin recipe that called for flax seed and no butter.

But before you dismiss me forever, dear Butter, will you remember the years we've spent together? You haven't been just some Buttery booty call I make at 2 in the morning. Oh no, you've been so much more to me. We had a commitment.

Do you remember how many chocolate chip recipes we went through before finding The One? Do you remember the cakes we've created together? Think of the pies!

I know I betrayed you and I know it was wrong. I knew from the minute I tasted the "healthy" muffin that I would be begging you to take me back. I mean, did you see the crumb on those muffins?! Flax seed can't even compete with your sweet crumb.

Oh Butter, all I can say, from the bottom of my heart, is if lovin Butter is wrong, I don't wanna be right.

Eternally yours,


I'm not one to judge you if you try this recipe. We all make mistakes, and sometimes you have to be away from something before you realize just how much you need it. Just know that you'll be begging for your butter back.

The original recipe called for dried dates, but who really keeps those in their pantry? I had dried cherries, which were probably the only saving grace of these muffins.

"Healthy" Homewrecking Banana Muffins

from Allrecipes

Ingredients 1/2 cup flax seed 3 bananas, mashed 1/4 cup vegetable oil 1/2 cup white sugar 2 eggs 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup flax seed 1/2 cup cherries


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a standard 12-muffin pan. Use an electric coffee grinder or food processor to grind 1/2 cup flax seed; set aside.

  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat together banana, oil, sugar and eggs. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ground flax seed and 1/4 cup whole flax seed. Gradually stir flour mixture into banana mixture. Fold in cherries. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins.

  3. Bake in preheated oven for 20-30ish minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into muffin comes out clean.