Oh my goodness, Christmas is here!

Oh how the month has flown. Christmas is upon us and I finally sat down to chronicle my food adventures.

Cookies for Santa

Do-It-Yourself Vanilla

I saw directions for homemade vanilla extract all over Pintrest.com this season for DIY gifts. But it was the post from, the host of The Splendid Table, that made the most sense to me. In my opinion, Lynne Rossetto Kasper is the voice of reason out there in the blogging and media world of food and cooking. Follow the web connection of The Splendid Table- Vanilla Extract to see the recipe and directions.

Vanilla Beans

vodka and bottles

split the vanilla beans

fermenting vanilla beans

24th Annual Hoyt Street Cookie Exchange

2013 Cookie Exchange group picture

quilted cookie plate

“Quilted” Sugar Cookies (aren’t they darling?)

Chocolate Pistachio Sables'

Chocolate-Pistachio Sablés from Bon Appétit  magazine December 2013

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Chocolate Almond Shortbread

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Sesame Street Cookies

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I don’t know what the name of these cookies but they were really tasty.

Patty’s Points:

1. The homemake vanilla extract takes at least 4 weeks to ferment. I started making mine before Thanksgiving. I have yet to try it out to see how it tastes. I gave it to true bakers who really were excited to receive it as gifts.

2. Vanilla beans and vodka are best to buy in bulk to keep the cost down. Costco was my main stop. I made 10 bottles of extract = 40 beans and 2 large (1500 ml) bottles of American vodka=$15.00 each. Each bean averaged about $1.20 which is a good deal. Think of it like a sourdough bread starter; you can replenish the vodka, add more beans and even use the beans for another recipe.

3. The cookie exchange was fabulous. Many people said the cookies were the best efforts in years. Of course, the talk of the party were Pat’s sugar cookies with the edible quilt square pattern atop. She ordered them online. I’ll have to corner her to find out where she got them.

4. I made Chocolate-Pistachio Sablés- from Bon Appétit  and Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Bars. I had a theme of cookies with sea salt.

The Chocolate-Pistchio Sablés were great for a working person as myself. I made them a month ago and prepped them for the freezer. I thawed, sliced and baked them a day before the party. The sea salt is placed atop each cookie before baking. Next time I’ll make the rolled dough a little thicker for a bigger diameter cookie.

 I saw several Salted Caramel Bar cookie recipes online and quickly deduced how easy they were. Make your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and place half of the dough in a lightly buttered 8 x 11 baking pan. Melt 6 oz of caramel squares with 1-3 TBSP of milk or cream or purchase a 6 oz jar of caramel sauce. Melt the squares in the microwave 30 seconds at a time, stirring until smooth. Place the slightly cooled caramel atop the cookie dough and sprinkle with sea salt. Place the other half of the cookie dough atop the caramel and smooth with an oiled spatula. Sprinkle the top of the dough again with sea salt. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 40-45 minutes, turning the pan halfway through for even baking. Let the dough rest because it will be very soft with the dough and caramel. Cut into two inch squares.

Happy Christmas and New Year to all my readers and fellow bloggers. Enjoy your time with family, friends, neighbors and colleagues.

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Baklava: No Fear

In Alton Brown’s  Good Eats: Baklava episode he shows a food gallery of most feared foods to make:  Baked Alaska, Tarte Tatin and Baklava. I laughed when I saw this episode since Baklava was the recipe to tackle this month.

When I talk about the Fearless Cooking Club and the premise of tackling our cooking fears, I will hear someone say, “Oh that’s easy to make, why would you say that is hard?” It’s all about perspective, that’s why we have our cooking club. It’s easier to accomplish difficult tasks in a group, fear loves company. We have members of our club who call me the gourmet cook and I laugh. I am just stubborn and determined. All of our members have varying skills and we get along because we are all learn from each other.

Cindy was our hostess for April’s cooking and dining meeting and the theme was Greek cuisine. Cindy has made Pastitio which is a wonderful Greek comfort dish. So when I arrived I assumed that she had experience in making baklava. She announced that she was going to learn right along with us.

Phyllo dough, butter, sugar and nuts are the basis of baklava. The phyllo is the trickiest part of baklava. It is thin and tears easily, taking patience and technique and it dries out quickly.

1) Butter a 9×13 inch pan. Pull up the phyllo sheets and place two sheets into the pan like making a bed.

2) With a pastry brush “paint” the top sheet with melted butter.

3) Sprinkle 2-3 TBSP of chopped walnuts across the sheet. Then repeat the steps: 2 sheets of phyllo, melted butter and chopped nuts.

4) As you near the end of the layers keep 6 sheets to put on the very top of the pan. Cut the sheets in the serving sizes prior to baking.

5) Bake at 350 degree F oven for 45-50 minutes until golden brown. After you pull it out of the oven have a pre-mixed combination of 1C granulated sugar, 1C water, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and 1/2 C honey that was heated over a stove-top until it becomes a golden syrup.

Patty’s Points

1) Phyllo dough is found in the freezer section of the store. Put it in the refrigerator overnight for it to thaw. Alton Brown suggests you pick the box in the back of the freezer section as it is the freshest.

2) Phyllo dough can dry out quickly so when you are ready to use it, focus on the task of completing the assembly of the baklava. A damp towel or a water spray bottle can be use to keep is moist if necessary. We tried a towel but it was too damp and the first phyllo dough adhered to the towel so we skipped that and just worked quickly.

3) Have all the ingredients ready before assembly. Have a really sharp knife for cutting the phyllo dough shapes. We actually pulled out a ruler to measure the size of our cuts and triangles.

4) The phyllo sheets sucked up every bit of that syrup mixture and made the baklava very moist. Cindy bought some baklava from a local Greek restaurant and we thought ours was better 🙂 Just think, two triangles of baklava cost $4.00 so our entire pan was worth $72.00!

The rest of our Greek menu was Pastitio, Moussaka, Spanakopita, Sliced lamb, Pita bread, Greek salad, Loukoumathes (honey puffs) and of course Baklava. We received copies of the recipes to all the dishes which were delicious and delectable.

After some ouzo and wine we learned of Cindy’s first trip to Greece and traveling adventures as a young new college graduate. She decided to go to Europe because she got several driving ticket violations and couldn’t drive for three months. She was a free spirit and much bolder than I at that age.

OPA! Greek for party down which we did!

The Gift Cake

I was given this book several years ago by a dear friend, Esther’s Gift. This holiday book is part of the Mitford book series by Jan Karon, set in England. This short story is about Esther who makes Orange Marmalade Cake for her friends as gifts for Christmas. Our music group, is having a party today to celebrate the Epiphany, when the Three Wise Men brought gifts to the baby Jesus. My gift to my friends is to make this awesome cake and celebrate the end of the Christmas season.

Esther’s Orange Marmalade Layer Cake

serves 10-12 people

For the Cake:

3 C cake flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 C softened, unsalted butter

2 C granulated sugar

3 eggs, room temperature, slightly beaten

1 TBSP grated orange zest

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extracted

1 C buttermilk

For the Orange Syrup:

1 C freshly squeezed orange juice

1/2 C sugar

For the Filling:

1- 12 ounce jar of orange marmalade

For the Frosting:

3/4 C well-chilled heavy cream

3 TBSP sugar

3/4 well-chilled sour cream

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper and butter and flour the paper, shaking out the excess.

2. In a bowel, sift the flour, soda and salt.

3. In another bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until smooth, Add the sugar, a little at a time, beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, orange zest, and vanilla. Beat the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk until well combined.

4. Evenly divide the batter between the pans, smooth, rap each pan on the counter to expel any air pockets or bubbles then place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, or use a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to racks and cool in the pans for 20 minutes.

Make the Orange Syrup:

5. In a bowl, stir together the orange juice and sugar until sugar is dissolved

6. With a toothpick poke holes 1/2 inch intervals in the cake layers. Spoon the syrup over each layer, allowing th syrup to be completely absorbed. Let the layers cool completely.

Make the filling:

7. In a small saucepan, set over moderate heat the marmalade until just melted. Let cool 5 minutes.

Make the Frosting:

8. In a bowl, whisk the heavy cream with the sugar until foam firm peaks. Add the sour cream, a little at a time and whisk until mixture is spreading consistency.

Assemble the Cake:

9. Arrange, one of the layers on a cake plate and peel off the parchment paper. Spread the 2/3 of the marmalade over the top spreading it evenly. Invert the remaining the layer onto the top of the first layer, peel of the paper and spoon the remaining marmalade into the center of it, leavening a 1 and 1/2 inch border around the edge. Frost the sides and the top border with the frosting, leaving the marmalade on the top of the cake exposed. Chill at least 2 hours before serving.

Patty’s Points:

1. Putting the cake together was the most challenging part of the recipe. The whipped cream was fabulous, but I needed to be doubled. After I made the second batch, I realized that the whipped cream wasn’t as cold as it could be and it didn’t whip as stiffly.

2. The marmalade was applied after the whipped cream and worked out better.

3. What a fun cake to make and the batter was divine! I can hardly wait to taste the final product in a few hours.

Happy end of Christmas!

The Cookie Exchange Party

The 23rd annual Hoyt Street Cookie Exchange took place last week. I was an invited guest to this neighborhood party and was honored to be among these women of all different interests and backgrounds.

To participate in the Cookie Exchange, there are a few rules to follow:

1) To take cookies you must bring cookies, 5 dozen to be exact. One woman came to the party to socialize, only because she burned her cookies. She took a lot of pictures.

2) Bring copies of your recipe to share.

3) Display your cookies on a plate, basket, plastic container.

4) Bring a container to take your cookies home in.

5) The number of people who brought cookies divided by 60 determines the number of cookies per batch you can take.

6) Ready. Set. Go. Round the table you go.

7) Socialize and talk.

So are you curious as to which cookie I brought to the exchange? Well, it was the Coconut Pyramids. Surprised? They were wonderful and so easy to transport to the party.

Do you wonder what happened to my other cookies? The Whoopie Pies went to the Christmas Potluck at work. People raved over the marshmallow creme filling and decorative squiggles.

The Sarah Bernhardt cookies were placed individually in candy wrappers and into gift bags for co-workers. These cookies are gluten free and several of my friends with gluten allergies were thrilled.

It was a long month of baking, but now I have a variety of cookies to share for any holiday celebration. Merry Christmas and happy baking!

Cookie Exchange Countdown: Sarah Bernhardt Cookies

The term “Diva” was most likely first attributed to Sarah Bernhardt, a dramatic and tragic French actress who was famous in the early part of the 20th century.

Andre bakes his way through Martha Stewart’s Cookie book  has an excellent history of the Sarah Bernhardt cookie. Apparently while Sarah was touring in Amsterdam, she tasted this cookie and the bakeshop owner named it after her. It was also a secret code during WWII as the cookies looked like radio dials. If someone asked for the cookie in a bake shop they identified themselves with the resistance.

The cookie exchange is five days away!! I have two more cookies to try before deciding which one to take. Like Sarah herself these cookies are divine but take some some finesse to perfect. The flavor combination of almond paste with chocolate makes me swoon. I had to try it at least once.

I stayed with the Martha Stewart Holiday cookie recipe theme. There are three parts: the cookie, the filling and the coating.

The cookie: I used a piping bag to form the cookies on the cookie sheet to bake. After they cooled I popped them into a plastic bag and put them in the freezer.

The filling: The filling has to be refrigerated for several hours or overnight. I used a piping bag to put the filling atop the cookies. Then they are popped back into the freezer to stay firm before applying the coating.

The coating: I balanced the cookie with filling atop a serving fork and poured the coating atop using a ladle. I then put them on a rack where the coating could drip off the cookie to a wax paper sheet below.

Patty’s Points:

1) Lots of steps that takes time and planning and a freezer to accommodate.

2)  Oh my gosh!! Messy!!! The coating was disastrous. I think it would have been better to place the cookies on a rack with wax paper below so that  I wouldn’t have to handle the cookies at all during the pouring of the coating.

3) Yummy! As I anticipated, the combination of almond and chocolate is melt-in-your-mouth wonderful.

4) I wrapped the cookies individually and placed back in the freezer to keep formed. I am afraid that once they come out of the freezer, they will melt easily.

As Sarah herself said, “He who is incapable of feeling strong passions, of being shaken by anger, of living in every sense of the word, will never be a good actor . . .”

Oh Sarah, you are Divine!

One more cookie to go!

Cookie Exchange Countdown: Whoopie Pies

It all started at the hair dressers…….I’m sure that’s how all baking stories begin right?

I was getting my hair done and reading through the Martha Stewart Living. Mmmmm…time to start thinking about baking, gifts, and COOKIE EXCHANGE. I’m excited about it this year. Too many years have passed where I was too stressed out to think about making five dozen cookies!

The Fearless Cooking Club is meeting at a neighborhood Cookie Exchange where 30+ people will gather. What kind of cookie should I make??? So many Christmas and Holiday sweets, treats, and bars to pick from. I am overwhelmed.

I pulled out several cooking magazines and found this Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies magazine from, oh my gosh really? 2001? My how time flies. So many cookies have passed by in the past decade.

I have decided to try out two or three cookie recipes and then choose which one to bring. I saw this recipe for Whoopie Pies. Oh they looked so cute! I have never made them before and they are pretty popular right now in baking circles.

It was a perfect night to bake: seven inches of snow had just fallen, the temperature dropped below zero and the kitchen was warm and toasty.

Whoopie Pie is really a cake sandwich and that tastes like a Hostess Suzy Q. Here’s the cake recipe:

  • 3 1/2 C flour
  • 1 1/2 C cocoa powder
  • 1TBSP baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 lb unsalted butter, room temp
  • 2 C sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 C buttermilk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sift the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar in mixer. Add the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla until combined. Then add the dry ingredients a little at a time until completely mixed together.

I scooped the mixture into a piping bag to make similar sized cookies onto parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Bake the batter 4 minutes, turn the cookie sheet around, then bake another 4 minutes.

Cool the cookies on wire rack until ready to make the sandwiches.

The filling is Momma Reiner’s Homemade Marshmallow Creme  from Martha Stewart’s website. It consists of soft ball sugar syrup added to whipped egg whites.

Patty’s Points

1) The wet mixture of the cookie batter was pretty sloppy when the buttermilk and eggs were added. Mix slowly.

2) I spooned the batter onto the cookie sheet for the first batch. I then realized that if I was making a sandwich, both sides had to be the same size. That is when I pulled out the piping bag so I could control the size of the batter on the cookie sheet. It made a big difference in uniformity.

3) The cookies can be frozen in advance and should be separated by wax or parchment paper because they easily stuck together.

4) The marshmallow creme would need to be made right before making the sandwiches for presentation. In a pinch, you could buy marshmallow creme in a jar to save that step.

Yummy treat, but oh so messy. I would probably wrap them or place them in a secured plastic bag for the cookie exchange because of the messy factor. Since I work full time, I really want a cookie that will be ready to go in advance and easily transported to a party. Something to think about when choosing which cookie to take.

Martha’s cookie book has 100 cookies to choose from. What next? I’m thinking I’ll stay with something chocolaty. See you next time on the road to the Cookie Exchange!