Friday, December 31, 2010

Mint Chocolate Truffles - by Lisa

Happy New Year! So, nothing like waiting until the last moment, eh? I kept putting this one off even tho I was excited to sample these treats. It finally dawned on me this afternoon that today was the last day of the month, and I *had* to get them done tonight! Fortunately, I had all the ingredients already purchased. Unfortunately, I totally forgot that this recipe is a multi-step one in that there are chilling requirements at two separate stages. So here it is at 8:30pm, and I am waiting for one more hour to get my first taste!

For some reason, this recipe just didn't want to go smoothly for me. I should've recognized signs of impending doom when I had to go to 3 grocery stores just to find the peppermint extract. However, I just chalked that up to typical lame Seattle area ingredient availability. Then of  course there was the whole starting it late and realizing there was a lot of downtime in between steps. Then I forgot to transfer butter from the freezer to the fridge never mind letting it get to room temp, so I had to gently microwave the 6 tablespoons needed. THEN as I was going to snap a picture of the melted chocolate, my whisk flipped out of the pan and splattered chocolate all over the stove and floor. *sigh*

But on the upside, Hubby graciously helped me with the chopping of the chocolate. Yes, I admit it. I am a wimp about chopping chocolate. I just don't have good luck with it, and staring down a pound of the stuff was rather daunting. Once I got all the mishaps out of the way, the actual making of the truffles was fairly easy. I melted down the chocolate into the cream and added the butter, peppermint and salt and happily got to break in my new saucier pan. Then the chocolate was transferred to the fridge. After chilling for 4 hours, I pulled it back out to roll into balls. I was a little nervous about this part given Summer's experience, but found it wasn't as difficult as I'd feared. Most of the chocolate had firmed up pretty nicely, and it was just the middle that needed some extra chill time. So I made about half the batch and put the rest of the bowl back in the fridge to make tomorrow.

Melting the chocolate into the cream in my new saucier pan
Oo - it's 9:30 now! Time for a taste! Oh wow oh wow oh wow. These are goooood. The middle is cool and smooth with a delicious rich chocolate mint flavor. The crushed cookie coating adds a nice texture and crunch. There is no way we'll be able to eat them all, so Hubby's coworkers will be getting a treat on Monday morning!! :)

Like Summer said in her last entry, this has been a great year for learning and baking things I wouldn't have ever tried otherwise! I also love sharing this experience with Summer. We may be a couple thousand miles apart, but doing this project together helps narrow the gap a bit. I have also learned a lot of great new tips and tricks and grown ever more passionate about baking as my hobby. I am definitely looking forward to seeing what 2011 brings in the baking realm!

Cranberry Cornmeal Cookies - by Summer

I hope everyone had very happy holidays.  It's always a busy time of year.  I actually made these cookies a few days ago, but haven't had time (nearly forgot) to post until now. 

I was having some friends over for lunch this week and post-Christmas, I wanted to make things simple.  But of course I can't host without having some sort of dessert.  It was the perfect time to make this recipe.

I would never in a million years think to put cornmeal into a cookie recipe.  The rest of the ingredients are very common - flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, egg, dried cranberries, white chocolate chips and sliced almonds.  This cookie comes together very quickly and they baked for about 15 minutes.    The result is a very tasty cookie.  The cornmeal definitely adds a different texture and I liked the combination of the cranberries and almonds.

The cookie was also a big hit with my friends.  They commented that it was a "light" cookie and they couldn't stop eating them!  I can definitely see making them again.  They are a great change of pace from the traditional chocolate chip cookie.

It's hard to believe that Lisa and I are wrapping up our first year of baking together.  It's been a lot of fun and I have made a lot of things that I would never normally have made.  I feel as though I have grown a lot not only in with baking, but in the kitchen in general.  I look forward to continuing our baking journey in 2011! 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mom's Mexican Wedding Cookies - by Lisa

Merry Christmas! I have been excited about making these cookies all month as I knew who would be the perfect recipient for a surprise shipment of cookies! A couple of Christmases ago, I learned that these cookies are the absolute favorite of my father-in-law. I actually made these last weekend, but I wanted to make sure the cookies were received before I wrote about them for maximum surprise effect. :) Hope you like them Larry!

In my household, these cookies go by the name Russian Teacakes, and my sister Karla is the real expert when it comes to making them. I was quite surprised to see that when compared side by side, the recipes were rather different. Granulated sugar instead of powdered sugar. Different amounts of flour and vanilla. I was very curious to see just how these would compare to the version I am used to making.

Since I am already accustomed to making this style of cookie, putting it all together was pretty simple. I used my quick chop to crush up all the walnuts and my cookie scooper to make fast (and uniform) work of placing the cookies on the baking sheet. They baked for about 25 minutes and came out nice and golden. When I have made the teacakes in the past, I used a large plastic bag full of powered sugar and gently shook the cookies around in it. But I used the method suggested in the book this time which was rolling them in a bowl of powered sugar. I found this new way was much easier and faster!

After they were cooled and rolled, I packed up half of them for shipping and indulged on the other half. I thought they were quite tasty and noticed they were a little bit crispier than the version I have made before. It was a pleasant change, and I liked seeing how these turned out. I can easily see myself using this recipe again for a nice change of pace from the teacake variety.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mint Chocolate Truffles - by Summer

This recipe I had originally picked as one of the ones that Lisa and I were going to bake together when I visited in October.  But then she had commented that she wanted to do this one in December because that is the perfect time to make truffles - with the holidays and all.  And I agree, so we moved it to this month.

I was very excited to try making these.  I have heard that truffles are pretty easy to make.  The only ones that I have ever made are the Oreo Truffles which are so easy, it seems like you are cheating when you are making them!

I chose to make them this week because friends of ours are baby-sitting for us on Thursday night while my husband and I have a rare date night (so excited - going to see the musical Billy Elliot!)  My friends love the Oreo Truffles, so I thought I would make this for them to snack on while they hang out.

I had some problems assembling the ingredients for this recipe.  Even though I read through it a million times, I kept forgetting something (first peppermint extract, then the chocolate, and then I didn't have enough cream!)  But fortunately I was trying to plan ahead, so I was still able to get everything together in advance.  This recipe calls for a pound a semi-sweet chocolate.  I really wish they had pre-chopped baking chocolate.  I was seriously tempted to just use chocolate chips, but in the end I sucked it up and chopped up a pound of chocolate.

After warming the cream and melting the chocolate, it needed to chill in the fridge.  That evening I set about actually making them into balls.  Here is where things got a little messy.  My hands were an absolute mess making these!  They didn't shape into balls very nicely either.  I think maybe they shouldn't have chilled for as long, so I could just use my scooper instead of rolling them into balls.  I was sort of frustrated by it.  They did rolls in the cookie crumbs and cocoa easily.  But I really hated shaping them into the balls.  Anyone else made truffles and knows some tips. 

My friends loved the truffles and they do make a great gift this time of year.  The taste was pretty amazing and with the exception of rolling into balls, they were really easy to make.  I would like to try them without the mint next time.  And I also ended up with a lot of cookie crumbs leftover.  Next time I would only chopped up half the cookies, so I could eat the rest of the them whole :-)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mom's Mexican Wedding Cookies - by Summer

This is truly one of my favorite times of the year.  And as a baker, I love baking cookies for the holidays.  I have fond memories of baking cookies with my mom and we still try every year to get together and bake cookies.  The past couple of years have been tough, but we managed to fit some in this year.  In past we have made up to 7 or 8 kinds of cookies in one weekend!

I picked this recipe because I think every family has some variation of this one.  In my family the recipe is called Pecan Crescents.  The funny thing about that is over the years walnuts replaced the pecans and it was discovered that rolling the cookies into balls was easier than shaping them into crescents!  So we started calling them Walnut Balls.  I was excited to try this recipe.  I am definitely a pecan-gal, so substitutions for me!

This was a great cookie to make.  It's super easy, makes about 40 cookies, which fit onto 2 cookie sheets and that way I could bake them at the same time!  When cooled, you roll in powdered sugar.  They taste similar to the cookies I grew up with, but we didn't roll them in sugar, we would just sprinkle over the tops.  I like rolling them better!  Of course, you'll notice in the picture below that I did leave the sugar off of a few for my hubby who likes them best plain.  I liked this recipe a lot and can definitely see making them again!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cranberry Cornmeal Cookies - by Lisa

Every year I host a cookie baking party for the holidays, so of course this presented the perfect opportunity to showcase one of the cookie recipes we selected for this month! :) I chose the Cranberry Cornmeal Cookies as I thought they looked  festive with the white chocolate chips and dried cranberries. The unusual thing about this recipe is right there in the name of the cookie - cornmeal. I was excited to see how this would come out in the cookie!

Putting this recipe together was pretty straight forward. I didn't have to pay too much attention which was good because I was pretty distracted (in a good way!) with everything that was going on already in the kitchen! Once I had everything ready to go and the cookies lined up on the sheet, I just had to wait my turn for the oven. :)

These baked up nice and even at the low end of the recommended time. When they first came out they were soft in the center and had a little bit of crunch on the outside. Everyone who tasted them liked them pretty well, but each person commented on the cornmeal part which I found amusing. I had a couple more after they cooled and found I liked them just as well as fresh out of the oven. I like the texture that the cornmeal adds to them, and I  also like how the cranberries add a nice extra bit of chewiness to the cookie. Even though I do like the taste of these cookies, I'm not sure they quite grabbed me enough to add them to my favorites list. I will say they make a nice alternative to more traditional chocolate based cookies tho!