Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Cheer

Merry Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/New Year/Winter Solstice/religious or secular holiday of your choice! I'm feeling like a scrooge this year. I don't have a single decoration up in my house. Finals week comes too close to Christmas and the end of semester things have taken up most of my time. But there's always time for baking! My favorite Christmas baking project is cookies. I love sugar cookies. Boring I know, but they taste so darn good. And I make perfect sugar cookies, if I do say so myself. I went out and got new cookie sheets this year. Four of 'em with just a raised handle on two sides. And of course I had to get cookie cutters too. My cookie recipe is super easy. The key to this is to make sure the dough stays cold or it gets too soft to work with. So once you've cut out your cookies, put the scraps into the fridge to get cold again, you may have to wait a while though. Once the cookies are baked, the fun begins. I love Toba Garrett's glace icing. This stuff is super easy to make, dries hard and shiney, and it tastes INCREDIBLE! You can add whatever flavor you want. My favorite is almond extract and I use that almost exclusively. I've made it before with lemon juice and it turned out great and I have aspirations of trying it with peppermint extract for the hubbin. Pick your favorite flavor, but I would suggest going for a clear flavoring otherwise it will mess with your colors. The only drawback to this recipe is that you can't get very detailed. I know a lot of people use this to cover the cookie since it tastes so yummy, and do the detail work with royal icing since it can be piped. I bought me a big ol' jar of sugar pearls to go with the other sprinkles and sugars to decorate the cookies, but lots of candies would be cute too. This isn't exactly a quick project. Day #1-mix up dough and stick in fridge. Day #2-bake cookies. Day#3+- Decorate. Day #4-box up. It's important to give these things a good 12 hours for the icing to set up completely. And now the picutures! My very favorite of all of them-the snow man. The eyes are black sprinkles from the jar I use when I make Rice Krispie treats. The nose is an orange ice cream sprinkle. So yes, this project totally included using tweezers and I LOVED IT! The lazy man's tree- Star shaped sprinkle and the round ones that match the snowman's eyes.
Other trees with sugar pearls-
Ornaments and trying to be artistic-
The rejects- These are cookies with icing that ended up running over the side. I handed them out to my students during their finals, so the cookies still went to a goood cause.I'm planning on making more cookies in my time off work, so I should add some more photos.

Have a wonderful Holiday season!

"The best muffins I've ever eaten"

I love praise, I'm just that narcissistic. I'm not afraid to admit it. So I bake and share with others in hopes of having praise showered upon me. That was the point of the blog in the first place! But I have to say, I got the best reaction from this recipe.
I have a few recipes I absolutely love. My red velvet is probably number one. The vanilla cake ranks pretty high too. But I make my pumpkin loaves every single year without fail and I get heaps of complements on them. The recipe comes out of a Taste of Home book and I've never tried anything else. This isn't exactly health food when you see the ingredient list, but it makes your tummy feel good and that's important too.
1-1/3 c AP flour
3 c sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg (I was out so I just doubled the cinnamon, but I really prefer less nutmeg than the recipe calls for anyway.)
1 can (15 oz) solid-pack pumpkin (I just measured out 15 oz of my pumpkin goo)
1 c vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 c water
1/2 c chopped pecans (Texan ones preferred)
1/4 c butter
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c packed brown sugar
1/4 c whipping cream
2/3 c confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a bowl, combine the first six ingredients. Combine the pumpkin, oil, eggs and water; mix well. Stir into dry ingredients just until combined' fold in the pecans. Spoon int two greased 9x5x3" loaf pans. Bake at 350 for 60-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. For glaze, combine butter, sugars and cream in a saucepan. Cook until sugar is dissolved. Cool for 20 minutes. Stir in the confectioners' sugar and vanilla until smooth. Drizzle over cooled loaves.
I have to say, the star of this recipe really is the glaze. I'll eat that stuff with a spoon if you don't take it away from me. And of course I sprinkle some pecans on the top after I've added the the glaze to the loaves.
My favorite way to make this is in mini loaf pans. They make a great gift size that way. Enough for one person to polish off in a couple of sittings. I made the mini loaves for my mom to give as Christmas gifts one year. I wrapped each loaf and then we put them into some Christmas pottery loaf pans from Michael's. Pretty cute, really yummy.
Since I'm on a cupcake kick here lately, I decided to stick these into cupcake liners and dub them muffins. Those I took to work and passed out to any coworkers I ran into. I caught my boss in her office and gave her one. Less than 15 minutes later, she found me and declared they were the "best muffins I've ever eaten" and then ate another one. :) That's what I like to hear.

A box full of Texas

The greatest gift came in the mail. Oddly enough, it wasn't a rock. But hint, hint, it IS Christmas time and I LOVE rocks...
Why am I so excited about a busted up FedEx box? It's not the box but what I found inside....
Oh yes! PECANS!!! Now why am I so excited about a box of pecans? These aren't just any pecans but honest-to-goodness Texas pecans. Being a misplaced Texan, I love any little piece of home and I got a whole box full. And just for the record, it's pronounced Puh-con.
My in laws have a pecan orchard. That's why the hubbin sported a farmer's tan through high school, riding the tractor. Right about this time of year, we start begging. Last year was a bad year and no box of pecans came. (Funny, the pecan trees must be in cahoots with the pumpkins since I didn't get that last year either. How in the world did I do any baking at all?). But this year's crop was better and low-and-behold this box showed up!
Which means I got to spend some special time with this:
Of course I put them all to good use!

Giving Thanks

Seeing as how I had a whole mess of pumpkin goo in the freezer, I had the perfect opportunity to finally get some baking done with it: Thanksgiving! Now I know that this is a time to be with family and all sit around the table and eat turkey and watch football, but we aren't exactly traditional. My Thanksgiving dinner? Steak and Shiner at Saltgrass Steakhouse in Laughlin, Nevada. And it was awesome. Of course that was just a stop on the way to Vegas. The breakfast at the Vegas Hilton is pretty dang awesome, if you want my two cents.
The point of the trip was to head to Death Valley. I'd never been there but I had a great time and got to see some freakin' awesome alluvial fans.

What about baking you say? Oh yes, there was baking when we made it home. We rushed back in time to have Thanksgiving at my favorite astronomer's house. The same annual Thanksgiving dinner that I was forced to bring canned pumpkin pie to last year. BUT!!! Since I had those awesome pumpkins in my freezer, all was well this year. That lovely spot on the top of the pie is due to condensation since I baked the pies that morning and carried them, still warm, to Melissa's.

If you have never had real pumpkin pie, you don't know what you're missing. Seriously, try it next year. Of course, Thanksgiving is really about the food, but the people sharing with you are important too. So thanks for having us out again Melissa! And here's a picture of Kristen and her Thanksgiving herpes (Don't ask, but it's really just hives).