Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Marshmallows & Hot Cocoa Sticks : Homemade Gifting

Happy 12/12/12!
No matter how busy I get this time of year, I have a tradition of making homemade marshmallows and gifting them before Christmas.  I usually include some packets of powdered cocoa mix with the bags of ooey gooey 'mallows.  This year, it would be different.  Grown up spiced cocoa, meet my vanilla marshmallows with their delicate halo of orange!

Last year I saw a lot of folks posting about hot cocoa blocks - hot cocoa on a stick meant for swirling in hot milk.  This was so appealing to me because the packets, well, although they take you back to childhood, I really wanted something special.  I started with the King Arthur Cocoa Blocks recipe and tweaked it a bit.

Everyone has their own version of this, with different combinations of chocolates and spices, but this is mine.  I have a habit of including a pinch of ancho chile powder in my cocoa - undetectable heat but immense depth of cocoa flavor!  The last bit of advice on this: use the best chocolate you can.  The brands/types used here provided not only the depth of flavor, but also a hint of the familiar.  I wanted the receiver to feel like their childhood cocoa grew up right along with them : memories and all.  Chocolate snobs might not like that I combined Hershey's with Callebaut, but that's the girl I am.

Hot Cocoa Sticks

1/2 cup (113g) heavy cream
1 1/4 cup (one 14oz can) sweetened condensed milk
3 cups total semisweet chocolate:  (I used 330g Nestle Semisweet chips, 180g Callebaut dark) chopped
3/4 cup (113g) unsweetened baking chocolate (I used Baker's - 4 blocks chopped)
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ancho chile powder
1/4 tsp Starbucks Christmas Blend coffee beans, ground fine into powder
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used dark Mexican vanilla)
16-20 paper or wooden pop sticks, 7 inch length
cocoa powder for dusting

Line an 8x8 inch cake pan with parchment paper, coming up and over the sides.

Combine cream and sweetened condensed milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat.  Heat until steaming, but not boiling, stirring occasionally to keep from scorching.  Add all the chocolate and spices and remove from the heat.  Stir once and allow chocolate to melt, undisturbed for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, put back on medium-low heat and whisk until thick and shiny.  Add vanilla at the end of whisking.  Spread the mixture into the pan and rap the pan on the counter a few times to loosen air bubbles.  Allow to cool at room temperature 12 hours or overnight to firm.

To unmold, place a cutting board on top of the pan and flip it over, peeling off parchment once settled on the cutting board.  Cut into equal squares (I measured and got 25 squares) heating the knife it hot water and wiping dry with a lint-free cloth after each cut.

A Gooey Just-Cut Edge. It firms back up in a few minutes.

At this point you don't need to worry about a few surface bubbles.  We're going to double the cubes on the stick.  Just hide a bubbly cube by placing a smooth one on top!

Double the cubes and insert the pop stick into the center, pushing down nearly to the bottom.  Lay each stick on it's side and dust with cocoa powder along the sides.  Leave the tops "naked" to expose the dark chocolately goodness below!
These beauties just get swirled into 6-8 ounces of steaming milk.  Even fat-free skim milk tastes decadent due to these rich cocoa blocks!  Try soy milk if you want an extra nutty flavor.


Homemade Marshmallows
adapted from Alton Brown's
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure orange extract
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Nonstick spray
Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water. Have the whisk attachment standing by.
Fully Bloomed Gelatin
In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.
The Difference A Few Degrees Makes
Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping.

Work Quickly Once The Whipping Is Done!

While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.

Combine the confectioners' sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.  When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan.

Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into desired sizes and shapes using a pizza wheel or deep cookie cutter dusted with the confectioners' sugar mixture.  I've done rounds but like the hand crafted look of the big squares best.

Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.*  The smaller you cut them, the shorter their shelf life.  These are NOT the bagged marshmallows that last a year in the cupboard!

One Might Build Oneself A Marshmallow Igloo If Inclined
Heather's Note:  I once rolled my cut mallows in crushed peppermint candy canes.  They were beautiful for about 30 minutes, atter which time the moisture in the mallow combined with the sugar in the candy and became an impermeable coating, half melted and distorted.  No amount of additional cornstarch/confectioner's sugar could mend the wound.  I recommend sticking with powdery coatings like cocoa, chai tea powder, or cinnamon combined with the the cornstarch/confectioners.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sweet Holiday Traditions

Meet "Nogg", our Elf on the Shelf

I have a few sweet projects coming up next week to share, but until then, I thought it wouldn't be out of line to show you what we've been up to here. 

In our home we have joined in the Elf on the Shelf tradition.  There are mixed feelings about this little guy, and I've seen some rather, well, crude interpretations of the Elf getting into lots of trouble at others homes.  Our elf, however, follows the original intention of Scouting for Santa.  He's creative and fun, but he doesn't get into trouble.  Since that's what we're trying to avoid!

Today, our elf named "Nogg" surprised our little one with a Candy Farmer's Market!  Apparently the North Pole Candy Farmer's Association had a great harvest this year, and allowed Nogg to share the bounty when he returned last night.

Having fun with sweets at this holiday time of year doesn't always mean getting your hands covered in can also be simple and whimsical!

Quiz question for those readers out there who are shy about comments:  From the movie, Elf  with Will Farrell, what were Buddy's four major food groups?

If you need a hint, they are all shown in Nogg's market stand today in the photo above.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Tis The Season!

This is "it" - the decorating of the house officially starts my holiday baking dreams.  I know I can't possible make everything I imagine, but oh the JOY of imagining!

This little vintage Santa usually winds up on the basement bar each year, but I swiped him for the kitchen to stand guard over my KitchenAid & Recipe Box.  Somehow his warm glow is inspiring visions of goodies the likes of which I could not possibly pull off even if I stayed up day and night. 

I think I'll be starting off with my traditionals and see what I can do from there.  Speaking of traditionals...what about YOU?  Are there holiday sweets that you enjoy every year?  The ones that just top off your season?  I REALLY want to know - what kind of goodies are traditional in your family?

Please share!  Tis the Season!  Comment on this post with your favorites and spread the Sweet Joy!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving: Marzipan Marathon

When you gain a new skill, you are either thankful you mastered it (and hope you never have to do it again) or you find your eyes wide, thankful for the inspiration and totally addicted.

My name is Heather.  I have a blog called Sweet Teeth.  And, I am addicted to Marzipan.

After this post  in July, my sister and I agreed to go in halfsies on a seven pound can of almond paste and at least fifty bucks in tools, petal dusts, and brushes.  We intended to freeze the paste and envisioned endless available hours to practice and hone our newly acquired skills.  We received our first "commission" and spent a day modeling and shaping, shading and cooing.  But we still had six and a half POUNDS of almond paste in the freezer.

I've neglected this blog too long.  Although this is not a new recipe, I hope that you will be cheered to see what my beautiful sister and I came up with when we planned a two-day marzipan marathon for Thanksgiving.

Roughly the size of a golf ball!  Cutie Patootie!
This is the sort of event that tells you what you're made of.  Endurance.  Stamina.  Attention to detail.  Restraint.  (Have you ever tasted these little treats filled with figs, nuts, chocolate, and bourbon?)

I'm going to let the photos do the talking.
I'm thankful for my sister.  She's thankful for her food processor.
We were both thankful for a light filled studio and homemade pumpkin spice lattes*.
W.I.P.  (Works In Progress.)
 We listened to music, taking turns playing D.J. and chatting about nothing important.  We giggled quite a bit.  There is something giddy about making things in miniature ~ something that makes you say everything is Itteh bitteh.  Our fingers cramped up a bit, our backs were sore, but there was a nice 2006 Cloudline pinot noir waiting for us at the end of night one, and a night's rest to recharge. 

Thankful, thankful, thankful!

The creativity and enjoyment of making these dandies make me wonder how to get a job doing this - because I cannot think of a more giddy way to get paid.  I know after about 200 pieces the shine might be off the apple, but still...

I could have done this alone, but I'm so thankful I didn't.  I am thankful I have parents who would take my threenager for two days and one night, giving me the opportunity to focus on anything.  I'm thankful for my hubby who cooked us the BEST burgers on night one to replenish our energies.  I'm eternally thankful for my sister, who not only took the class with me in the first place, but continues to be dragged (er, well, rather willingly) into Marzipan Marathons.  I fear that if we had more time, there would have been Marzipan Mischief, as well. 

But, we still have four and a half POUNDS of almond paste in the freezer, guys...

Without further ado, here is a sample of our Thanksgiving Bounty.  And a recipe for the homemade pumpkin spice lattes that kept us going!

Filled with a mixture of figs, dates, walnuts, pecans, citron, chocolate, cinnamon, and bourbon.

D'Anjou?  We do!

My (er) Lemons and Her Darlin' Clementines

Jamie and the Bartletts.  A new band?
The T-Birds got NOTHIN on these Pink Ladies.

Wee lil' mushrooms.  The only kind we'll eat.

Apricots: also filled with the fruit/nut mixture.  Sassy!
Not even Queen Anne was as pretty as these cherries.

Itteh. Bitteh.  Cherreh.  Pahhhh.  I couldn't help but try this.
I hope everyone has a blessed Thanksgiving.  I'm thankful for every person who reads my little blog posts! 

Crock Pot Pumpkin Spice Lattes
from Good Morning America

*I doubled this for the size of my crock pot.  It made four HUGE (2 cup) mugs when doubled.

1/2 cup brewed espresso or 3/4 cup strong coffee
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons canned pumpkin (plain, not pie filling)
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice OR (1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/8 tsp. ground cloves, 1/8 tsp nutmeg and a pinch of ginger.)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
Whipped cream for topping.

In a slow cooker, add coffee and milk.  Whisk in pumpkin, spices, sugar, and vanilla. Cover, cook on high two hours.  Whisk again (or use an immersion blender like I did to give you some great froth) and ladle into mugs.  Top with whipped cream and a dash of cinnamon.  These do not replicate the drink of the same name from a place that gets Fivebucks for them, but I think these were delish in their own way!

Sis, I think we should have tried to make the Indian corn...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Turkey Cookies

The past few months have been frightfully hectic and a bit strained, and I've been woefully missing my kitchen and butter and sugar and flour...

But this time of year is about being thankful and I was reminded how blessed we are when I received a sweet package in the mail, perfectly timed and brimming with cheer.  Autumn Sprinkles, a heartfelt note, and an awesome children's book.  I truly found my eyes brimming and was overwhelmed with gratitude.

Thank You, Friend!  XO
My wheels were turning now, because when I receive a gift of this sprinkletude, I feel compelled to really show my thanks to the giver, and prove that her kindness was appreciated to the utmost.

About the same time, my daughter's preschool class asked me to bring in cookies for her class Thanksgiving Party.  (They don't know about me and my hobby yet.  Tee hee.)   I knew right away.  The expression of thanks represented by a young person, age three?

You Know Where We're Going, Don't You?
My Little One and I got to work right away.  We traced her hand to make a template, and I mixed up some sturdy sugar cookie dough.  I baked off 10 kid-sized hand cookies using only half the dough, leaving another disc in the fridge to repeat a little closer to Turkey Day, when our family gathers. 

Thanks to my dear sprinkly friend, we had some embellishing to do.  And embellish we did!  Melting a few handfuls of semi-sweet chocolate chips in the microwave and coating the cookie fingers for "feathers", it became the perfect palate to receive the gifted autumn sprinkles.

Intense, Sprinkly Concentration.

Candycorn Beaks.  What Turkey Wouldn't Want a Candycorn Beak?
The project was a tremendous success, with Little One repeating quite often that she "looooves chocolate" and she "knows just what to do with the sprinkles that fall under the rack."

Satisfaction Meter?  5,000!
"Can I Eat One Now PLEEEAAASE?"
We have so much to be thankful for here, I'm sometimes overwhelmed.  The random acts of kindness that find us are deeply felt and are another reminder that GIVING is a big part of THANKS.  It feels so nice to receive, and even better when you pass the kindness and give forward.

Gobble Gobble!
I know there will be some thankful three year olds in preschool tomorrow with chocolaty mouths and sprinkly cheeks.  Thank you, Sugar Sister!  You got us back into the kitchen and we hope we made you proud!

Basic Sugar Cookies
From The Dessert Bible by Christopher Kimball

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg *(I probably used 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated)
20 tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still firm
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg.  In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar for 2 minutes at medium speed.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined, about 30 seconds.  Add the dry ingredients and beat until combined, about 30 seconds more, or until the dough just starts to come together.  Press dough together with your hands to form a ball and then divide in half, shaping each piece into a 6-inch disk.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.  (Can be made up to 2 days ahead of time or frozen!  If frozen, let thaw in the fridge and sit on the counter 10 minutes.)  The dough should be firm but not hard for the best results.

Adjust the rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment.  Working on a lightly floured surface, roll half the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness.  (Keep the other half cool during this period.)  Cut to desired shapes and move to the cookie sheet with a spatula, leaving about 1 inch between cookies.  Bake until golden on the edges and very lightly browned on top, about 8 minutes.  Turn the sheet halfway through baking time.  When cookies are done, cool on the sheet for about 5 minutes, then move to a cooling rack using a spatula. 

Gather scraps and re-roll, cut and bake as directed above.  Store cookies in an airtight container.

For Chocolate Turkey "Feathers"

Melt 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels in a microwave safe bowl for 1 minute.  Stir well, as the chips will soften with stirring.  Continue microwaving at 10 second intervals until smooth. 

Using a spoon or small offset spatula, smooth chocolate onto the four fingers of the hand cookie, spreading and smoothing between the fingers and over the tips to coat.  While still warm, sprinkle and embellish with glee.   Place a dot of warm chocolate on the thumb of the cookie hand, and place a candycorn into the dot, pressing gently to adhere. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On The Mend

I have been away for a while, recovering from one of those preschool viruses that has lingered too long with me.  I miss my kitchen terribly and can't wait to get back into the sugar, flour and butter. 

I have seen so many cute Halloween ideas for sweet treats, and my  heart is sad that I haven't had the ability to do something creative at this time of year! 

I'd love to hear about what you are all making out there! 

Leave me a comment on this post - I'd love to get inspired by what you stirred up for this Halloween!

See you soon!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sweet Reading: Book Review

Softcover Title
Somehow I have just now discovered a great site called GoodReads that has been around for a while, just waiting for someone like myself to join.  I'm an avid reader, but in the past few years I've fallen into the "quick pick the book for its cover, your child is running rampant at the library" category.  I was lucky enough to be gifted a Kindle reader this past holiday, also, which has helped expand my reading.  I was still stuck in the same genres of reading, though.  On recommendation from a hairdresser and a family member, I decided to unstick and let the Internet provide me with some fresh material. 

I only spent about 20 minutes plugging in what I typically read or have already read, easily broken down by genre as well as if you liked this, how about this? type of sorting.  Quickly and efficiently with this information, the site set neat little boxes before me of titles I would probably enjoy.  Some of these were already in the back of my mind as "to read" and others I had never heard of.  What I loved is that this site organized my brain for me, and is cataloging everything.  In one place.  Without paper or pen.  To boot, I can hook up with my like-minded reading friends and compare notes, titles, and opinions!  It's like my own little book club for busy people...and I'm hooked!

Since I told the site that I have a sweets blog, it began to feed me foodie titles aplenty.  One that stood out was Confections of a Closet Master Baker  by Gesine Bullock-Prado.  Honestly, the authors name didn't even ring any bells, I was so entranced with the title and subject.  I checked my local library and shortly had the book in hand under its softcover title My Life From Scratch.  I was happy try another autobiography/memoir after reading that the author changed her life with a decision to leave her Hollywood life behind, follow her heart, and start a confectionary in quirky Vermont.  Now, I dabble with that sort of dream every now and again, but I know better.  Firstly, I'm not qualified, and secondly, I can read about it and be reminded that most home bakers are right where they belong - AT HOME.

There are a lot of pastry chefs and food bloggers that work in the baking/confection/pastry business and I hear a lot about how it's not the romantic dreamy life that we all imagine.  Hard work, early hours, the never-pleased customer, the near impossibility of making any sort of profit...blah blah blah.  I get it.  I've had the fortune to sit face to face with some forefront Sweets Folk and hear about it first hand.  But this book?  It told me everything I've heard about but was giddily entertaining.  And very very real.  What if this home baker lived half her life in Germany, raised by her German opera diva Mom and mostly deprived of sweets?  What if her sister happened to have grown up and become a famous actress?  What if she really doesn't like most people?  What if she gave you recipes along the way? 


Gesine Bullock-Prado's life story seems too much like a movie to be real, but to my delight, it's all true.  And it's not just funny and silly and sarcastic, it's heart wrenching and adrenaline pumping.  Let me throw you a few examples to tickle you into getting this book on your own shelf.

In "Chapter Seven, Ode to the Oreo" the author shamelessly confesses that as a sugar-deprived child, she heisted a full package of Oreos from a friends home, stuck it in her shirt and bolted for an abandoned neighborhood tree house.  Grabbing another neighbors mail right from the box for additional entertainment, she holed herself in the tree house and ate every last Oreo.  I will let you get the book to find out what that kind of sugar rush instigated, but rest assured, she can be quoted with "to be alive and coated in chocolate!"

The juxtaposition of Hollywood vs Vermont can well be imagined, but the author's ability to strip down the stereotypes and let the reader peek into both worlds lets them understand that no matter where you go, people are going to be weird.  The cold, carbohydrate-phobic and fame-hungry Hollywoodites who used and abused Gesine were, in fact, replaced by rural, persnickety, and sometimes unpredictable Vermonters who sometimes use and abuse Gesine.  The beauty of this memoir?  Because she was doing what she really loved, it wasn't really abuse.  It was hard work and see-saw balancing of finances and energy.  Her veins running with butter, sugar, and flour, her visceral connection to the act of confection-as-expression...down deep into the memories of her mother fueling her to persevere - 226 pages of proof that when you put yourself where you belong (with sweat, money, and tears) you'll feel the satisfaction.  Germany, Hollywood, Vermont, her journey of each step was truthfully in her heart.

My last comment in this review is about something I swear I didn't want to discuss at all.  I read a few other reviewers with their own opinions (to which they are entitled to) who bashed this book.  For one reason. It made me mad.  So, forgive me, I'm going to say it.  My family is probably saying, "Oh boy here she goes.  Stand back."


No, this book is not enjoyed by so many people because Sandy's name is there.  Gesine did not find her life's work solely due to a famous sibling.  To the nay-sayers, let's remember, you cannot chose your family, you cannot omit them from your life whilst writing your memoir.  They are a part of your life.  Gesine Bullock-Prado did her own work.  Her own life searching.  Her own discovery, loss, and joy.  Like a lot of successful people, she was supported by loving family.  It just so happened that one of hers is famous.  The author as a unique and interesting life story to tell, folks!  Sandy was a part of it - but Gesine's hands kneaded that dough.  Gesine understood her customer's comfort with sweets.  Gesine's feet ran her mother's jogging route to honor her life as she lay dying from cancer. This book is from and about HER. 

If you don't believe me, I sweetly implore you to read it yourself. 

I tell you, I enjoyed it so much that I follow a couple of her blogs now, including Living in Freegrace where she shares that life from scratch is about more than baking.  Funny, honest stories full of raising feathered fowl (did you know that ducks are quite attached to their partners?) and being a "gentlewoman farmer-in-training".

If you have read or eventually read this book, come on back here and comment about your thoughts.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Sneak Peek: Autumn Baking & Book Review

The BEST Sous-Chef EVA!
We're humming at a steady pace at Casa De SweetTeeth!  There is an annual family clambake tomorrow and we're bringing along a recipe we're testing.  All the flavors of fall are going into that bundt pan, rest assured.  My little pastry-chef-in-training is quite the little helper and thrilled to pieces that she can help me with some simple chopping along with her usual measuring and mixing. 
There are some recipes I'd rather do solo with perfect quiet in the house, but this one is for
Here's a hint on what's baking:
I also managed to tear through a book in one day while said Sous-Chef was at preschool.  I liked it so much that I thought you might too, so I'm going to review it here at Sweet Teeth soon.  If you love baking, and you fantasize about having your own quaint coffee & cake business, you would do yourself right by reading this one.  It's funny, it's touching, and real.  AND it reminds me that most at-home bakers are right where they belong, AT HOME.
Stay tuned for today's mystery baking project revealed!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Triple Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing & Bell Granola

This weekend was my Hubby's birthday.  As mentioned subtlety before, he's not a huge sweets fan.  That's not to say  he has a few very special desserts in his repertoire.  They are few but specific and I couldn't resist indulging him on his special day. 

On most endeavors of the sweet kind I would go 100% homemade.  You know me to approve of an occasional shortcut, because, well, I sincerely believe that like most people, I have times in my schedule where I cannot feasibly make everything from scratch.  What I do think is important is to have some element of the dish homemade, and often it's enough to elevate something from nearly store-bought to from the heart.

Two of Hubby's faves: French Silk Pie and anything combining peanut butter and chocolate.

I started with a ready-made crust and opted to make the filling and whipped cream from scratch.  All I can say about it is that it looked great, but the shortcut on the crust was honestly an epic fail.  I thought that I could trust a basic frozen pie crust and I was wrong.  It crumbled, did not hold together and tasted stale.  Lesson learned.  Luckily, I had decided on a partner for the pie ahead of time.

A Looker.  A Deception.  Moral?
I wasn't sure one pie would be enough for our birthday celebration guests, so I decided to have a pie sidekick, as it were.  I elected some quick box-mix triple chocolate cupcakes but went for the gusto with peanut butter icing, a favorite go-to recipe from the goddess herself, Ina Garten.  I have never gone wrong with this one, folks.

Because I had done it before, I wanted one new element on these cupcakes to really say "special."  Sprinkling homemade sweet-salty granola on these cakes gave them a birthday lift, and seriously, made them look and taste like they came from a gourmet cupcakery.  The granola recipe was a gift passed along through family members, originating from family friend Joy Bell.  I was so thankful that Joy would be okay with me posting her recipe for your enjoyment - because - it's so. very. good.  Thank you, Bell Family!

Sometimes it's okay to take a shortcut, and sometimes it will fail.  But often times the homemade part of the dish more than makes up for the loss.  That's why I'm sharing the wins from Hubby's birthday.  I hope they become the dog-eared recipes in your box, too!

Kathleen's Peanut Butter Icing:
from Ina Garten  Barefoot Contessa at Home
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter (note: we are a Jif family)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
Place the confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.
Bell Family Granola:
courtesy of Joy Bell
Lovely eaten out of hand, atop ice cream, yogurt, or cupcakes!  Mix into hot oatmeal or atop pancakes for a special treat!  I love that my 3 year-old was able to help me split the pecans with her little butterknife, too!
  • 3 cups rolled oats  (not quick)
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 cup pecans (cut in half lengthwise)
  • 3/4 cup shredded sweet coconut
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil *plus a bit more on your hands for mixing
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine oats, nuts, coconut, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  In a separate bowl, combine the maple syrup, oil, and salt.  Whisk until thick.  Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture and toss together until well combined (*oiled hands help here).  Spread out on a baking sheet.  Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Start checking at about 45-50 minutes.  Once it is a light golden brown, lift with a spatula and break into bite sized pieces.  Continue to bake the remainder of the time, turn off oven, and leave the granola in the oven to completely dry.  Store in an airtight container.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Port Poached Pear Chocolate Tart

Intensely Chocolate.  Intensely Elegant.

I may have lost all of my readers in this nearly month long absence from blogging, but for anyone who stuck by me, thank you.  It's been hectic and trying lately, but rest assured I've been missing Sweet Teeth more than anyone!  I'm thankful for each and every reader who chose to read this post instead of reading their Facebook feed or turning to the television.  I LOVE YA!

Just when I felt like I was losing my nerve, I remembered a recipe I had seen in my Cooks Country issue about chocolate desserts.  When you're stressed, chocolate just sounds So. Very. Right.  And, for me, when I'm stressed, I am inspired to find the most complicated sweet dessert and try to make it immediately.  Something about immersion in a difficult task just helps me shut out anything else on my mind and get the energy flowing.

You know that a recipe is going to be difficult when the folks from America's Test Kitchen/Cooks Country tells you that it's prone to pitfalls.  When most people flee, my eyebrow is raised and I hear the trumpets call me to the challenge.

Plus using port wine sounded really, er, relaxing.

May I introduce the players?

Three Lovely Bartlett Pears
Everyone's Friend, Bittersweet Chocolate
Port, Spices, Orange Peel

Into the Hot Tub, My Pretties!
I have to stop and mention that in process of making this tart, the weather went from hot and humid to cool and autumnal.  One of the things that made this recipe approachable to me was that each element (crust, filling, pears) could be done at some stage ahead of time and combined for the finished dessert.  Having a few days of prep time during a hectic week combined with the change of seasons was like a well choreographed ballet.  It also builds tremendous suspense and pressure for success!
What eases suspense and pressure?
The Delightful, Comforting Fragrance of Pears Poaching in Port, Peppercorn, Cinnamon, Clove and Orange Peel.

My Husband Said To Make Sure I Tell You Our House Smelled Like Autumn In Heaven.
Did I Mention He is Not A Lover of Sweets?
I realized at the end of the poaching process that the ripeness of the pear is critical to the perfection of this tart.  It's the difference between "it's good" and "Oh. My. God."
I feel that the overall result of this tart was great, but could have been on a restaurant menu had I just given my pears their bath a day sooner in their ripeness.  In order for them to truly absorb the poaching liquid enough to bring a jeweled red hue able to withstand the final bake in the oven, they needed just a bit more firmness.  In order to maximize flavor and compensate, I allowed them to cool and stay safely in the poaching liquid, refrigerated, for two days.  Best possible move, and a bonus when you are trying to spread out the steps of this tart over a bit of time.  Forgiving!
An Elegant Poached Pear and Bittersweet Chocolate Had A Baby!
Served with a side of home made vanilla whipped cream, a fork, and a cool early autumn evening, this is poetry.  Even I totally underestimated the perfect balance that the spices and port would have against the bittersweet chocolate.  This lovely blooming fruit supported by a duo of soft and firm cocoa textures is utterly unforgettable.  
I have spent an entire day making a recipe and felt my satisfaction meter pulse, but Never, Ever, be afraid to invest energy over time in a dessert.  Even before it baked it was clear a lot of love went into bringing three distinct steps together and into my oven.
Would A Rose By Any Other Name Taste As Sweet?
Cooks Country Chocolate Pear Tart
(Serves 8-10 People with Restraint, 4-6 Intense Chocolate Fans)
Tart Shell
1 cup (5 oz) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (2 2/3 oz) confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup (3/4 oz) Dutch-processed cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chocolate Filling
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet)
4 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup (2 2/3 oz) granulated sugar
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Poached Pears
3 cups ruby port
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
4 strips orange zest
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
3 ripe but firm pears (I used Bartlett) peeled, halved lengthwise, and cored
2 tablespoons apple jelly, melted
For the Tart Shell pulse flour, sugar, cocoa, and salt together in food processor until combined, about 3 pulses.  Scatter butter pieces over top and pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, about 15 pulses.  Add egg yolk, cream, and vanilla and process until dough just comes together* about 15 seconds.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour (or up to 2 days). 
*I thought this dough would never come together.  Seemed crumbly even after refrigeration and I feared it would never roll out enough to put into the tart pan.  It does work.  Stay with it!
For the Chocolate Filling microwave chocolate and butter in medium bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 1 minute.  Set aside to cool slightly.  Using stand mixer fitted with a whisk, whip eggs, sugar, and salt together on medium-high speed until pale yellow and thick, about 3 minutes.  Fold one-third of egg mixture into chocolate mixture until combined, then fold in remaining egg mixture.   Sift flour over chocolate mixture and gently fold until combined.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour (or up to 2 days.)
For the Poached Pears bring port, sugar, zest, cinnamon, peppercorns, and cloves to a boil in medium saucepan, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves.  Reduce heat to low, add pears, and simmer, covered, until pears are nearly tender, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool, about 1 hour.  (Pears can be refrigerated in poaching liquid for up to 3 days).**
**Aside from making your house smell great AND making a pear tart, this poaching liquid can be reduced by half at a later time, strained, and spooned over ice cream.  Guess how I know that? Mmmmmm.
To Assemble and Bake the Tart on a floured counter, roll chilled dough out to 11-inch circle.  Fit dough into a 9 inch tart pan with removable bottom, trim dough to be flush with pan edge, and freeze for 30 minutes.  Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees.  Press 12 inch piece of aluminum foil into shell, covering edges, and fill shell with pie weights.***  Set tart pan on rimmed baking sheet and bake until set, about 30 minutes.   Gently remove foil and weights and set baking sheet on wire rack; let shell cool completely, about 1 hour. 
*** I didn't have pie weights, but I had a bag of dried navy beans that I used instead of pie weights.  It worked perfectly, and after removing them from the blind baking process and cooling them, I saved them for my next blind baked crust!  Yay!
Reduce oven time temperature to 325 degrees.  Using slotted spoon, remove pears from liquid, pat dry, and cut each into quarters.  (Reserve that liquid for another use!  It's GOLD, I say!)  Spread chilled filling over cooled crust.  Arrange pear slices in concentric circles, overlapping slightly.  Bake tart until filling has puffed up and center feels firm to touch, about 45 to 55 minutes.  Let cool on wire rack at least 1 hour.  Brush pears with melted jelly and serve warm or at room temperature**** with whipped cream.
**** I received no complaints from those who got this as a leftover, cold from the fridge.  Bring this to a party and you won't have leftovers to test this theory! 
Satisfaction meter?  Unequivocally FIVE.  Thank you, Cook's Country!