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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sweet Treats Saturday: Scottish Shortbread

I love a good shortbread and it seems like such a classic holiday treat.  This shortbread is easy to make, and only requires three ingredients.  Package it up, and you have an easy holiday gift.

Scottish Shortbread
Recipe from allrecipes.com

2 cups (4 sticks) butter
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Cream butter and brown sugar.  Slowly add 3 to 3 3/4 cups flour.  Mix well.
3.  Sprinkle board of silpat with flour, and knead the mixture, adding enough flour to make a soft dough.  Roll to 1/2 inch thickness.  Cut into 3x1 strips.  Prick with a fork and place on ungreased baking sheets (mine worked best on parchment paper).
4. Bake for 17 to 25 minutes (check in on them, mine took just the 17 minutes, while the originally recipe recommended a minimum of 20 minutes).

I packed these up in a cheap, cute container that you can pick up at your local Target, Wal-mart, or dollar store.  I took a piece of tissue, but added a sheet of wax paper to separate it from the cookies (so it didn't get greasy).  Place into the container and fill with cookies.  Fold the paper over, making sure the wax paper still separates the cookies from the tissue, close and gift.

You can decorate with additional ribbon, paper, or anything else you choose based on your package.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I'm Thankful For...

I know Thanksgiving is only a US holiday, but I don't want to hesitate in being thankful for everyday! I was discharged from the hospital today after my surgery and am happy and thankful to be home and surrounded by friends, family, and my fur-babies.

My competition was fun and 'I did it!' which was my main goal. Disneyland was even better, and when I got back home, my surgery went without a hitch.  I'm on the road to recovery and am just grateful for everything as I move forward into the holiday season.

My crafting might be a little limited - sure I'll have a lot of free time, but limited mobility - so I will probably focus more on needlecraft projects.  I'll try to pop in from time to time as I plow my way through projects, and you can definitely look forward to the weekly Sweet Treats Saturday posts... I planned ahead.

I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving and have time to reflect on the many things around you to be thankful for.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sweet Treats Saturday: Toffee Bars

This week I bring you another delicious treat that can be easily dressed up as a yummy gift.  You can do this with virtually anything, but I like these bars because they hold their shape well, and they look great all  packaged up.

The recipe calls these toffee bars though there isn't actually any toffee inside.  The buttery, sugary, shortbread does have a nutty, toffee taste, without the actual use of toffee or having to caramelize anything.

Toffee Bars
Recipe from allrecipes.com

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
6 (1.55 ounce) milk chocolate bars
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

1. In a medium mixing bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar.  Beat in egg yolk and vanilla.  Gradually add flour and salt, beating until smooth.
2. Press into greased 9x13in baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 17-19 minutes, or until light golden brown.
3. Immediately place chocolate bars on top (it will not cover the top fully) and place pan back into the oven for 1 minute.  Remove from oven and with an offset spatula, spread the melted chocolate over the shortbread.  Sprinkle with pecans.  Cool, then cut into bars.

When the bars were completely cool, I layered them, separating with a piece of wax paper.

Wrap with cellophane or put into a decorative bag.

Tie with ribbon, add a tag, and you have a delicious gift!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gimme some sugar!

I'm guest blogging over at Cajun Sugar Pie today. I wrote up a tutorial on how to make the delicious brown sugar cake into a baked gift that's all wrapped up and ready to share!  Check it out!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Going Green

Remember the yarn giveaway that I held in September?  Check out what the winner, Jennifer, has been up to since then.  I think I need to bookmark that pattern for myself!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sweet Treats Saturday: Dobos Torte

Admist the craziness that's going on right now, one of my very good friends celebrated a birthday.  We threw her a little celebration and I assumed cake duties.

I wanted to do something special, and something chocolate, as she always gets me the best cakes for my birthday.  I had tucked away this recipe from Smitten Kitchen as it was love at first site.  I was just waiting for the right moment to make it.

I will admit, it was a bit time consuming to make, but only because you had to space about the prep and baking time.  Aside from that, it was easy peasy.  I highly recommend that you check out Smitten Kitchen's post as she provides some valuable tips, as well as multiple options for how to bake and assemble the cake (in various shapes and sizes).  I went with (what she mentioned was) a traditional approach: the rectangular, 7-layer cake.

I was excited (and nervous) when I showed up with the cake.  Excited because it looked fantastic and I could tell it would be yummy; but nervous because one of my friends saw it and exclaimed, 'you brought a Dobos Torte! That's my grandma's specialty!'  Oh great, now I had to compete with grandma?  She said that it's their family tradition to make this cake every holiday season.  So the big test now came when she bit into it... and she gave it her seal of approval!  The only difference that she could tell, was that her grandma uses a lighter chocolate for the frosting. She approved of the dark chocolate and said the cake was just as delicious as the one grandma makes. Success!

There were no leftovers to be had, but full tummy's and chocolate overdoses... in a good way, of course.  It's worth the effort, especially for a special occasion.  According to Smitten Kitchen, you can make the cake layers ahead of time and just frost and assemble when you're ready.

Dobos Tarte
Recipe from Smitten Kitchen

A 6-layer 4×8.5-inch cake (the more traditional rectangle, baked in a single 12×17-inch sheet pan)

Cake layers:
7 large eggs, separated
3 large egg yolks
1 pound (3 1/2 cups or 455 grams) confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for dusting racks
3/4 cup (94 grams or 3 1/3 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon table salt

Frosting and filling:
1/2 pound (8 ounces or 227 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound (2 sticks or 226 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Caramel layer (optional)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water
Handful of toasted, peeled hazelnuts

Prepare your cake pans: I used an 11x17 jelly roll pan and lined it parchment paper, and non-stick spray.  To make the rectangular shaped, 7 layer cake, I used the same pan twice, and just re-lined it with parchment.   If you are going to be doing a different shape, please refer to Smitten Kitchen's original post for suggestions.

Make the cake: Preheat oven to 450°F and place a rack in the center of your oven. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat 10 egg yolks for a few minutes at high speed, until pale and lemon-colored. Reduce speed and gradually add sugar, then increase the speed and beat the yolks and sugar until thick and glossy. Scrape bowl occasionally with rubber spatula. Reduce speed again and gradually add flour; increase speed mix for 5 minutes more, then mix in lemon juice. Scrape bowl again with a rubber spatula. In a separate bowl with cleaned beaters, or by transferring your cake batter to a new bowl and washing it out and drying it with a long sigh, beat the 7 egg whites with a whisk attachment until they hold stiff peaks. Because your yolk mixture is more or less the thickness of spackle at this point, stir a few heaping spoonfuls of the whites into it to loosen the mixture, before folding in the rest of the whites in three additions. When you’re done, your batter will have transformed from a dry paste to a spreadable, foamy batter.

Bake your cake layers: Spread your batter in prepared pans; try to push the batter rather than pull it with an offset spatula, it will help keep the parchment from rolling up. Spread the batter evenly to the edges with an offset spatula; be careful not to leave any holes. I divided the batter in half and baked one at a time.

Bake each layer for 5 minutes, or until golden with some dark brown spots. When layer is baked, remove it from the oven and flip it out onto a cooling rack that has been dusted with a small amount of confectioners’ sugar. Carefully, gently remove parchment paper then flip cake back onto another lightly dusted cooling rack to finish cooling. It’s best to cool the layers right side up; the tops are the stickiest part.

Repeat with remaining layers. Dunk your cake batter bowl in water right away; that egg yolk-enriched batter dries quickly and was surprisingly hard to scrub off later! Layers will cool very quickly. Trim edges of cake, if needed, to make even shapes or divide larger rectangular pans accordingly.

Make the filling and frosting: Melt chocolate until smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature, but of course not so cool that it hardens again. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter until soft and smooth, scraping frequently. Add vanilla and 3 egg yolks. Add sugar and cooled chocolate, beating until thoroughly mixed and scraping as needed.

Assemble the cake: Cut your cake to size.  If doing the rectangular shape, cut each jelly roll cake into 4 - 4.25" strips.  You will have one extra (for the 7 layer cake) that you can use to make the optional caramelized shapes.  Place four strips of parchment or waxed paper around the outer edges of your cake plate. Place first cake layer on plate and spread chocolate on top and to edges with an offset spatula. The filling must be spread fairly thinly to have enough for all layers and the outsides of the cake. You can scale the frosting recipe up, but I was able to have enough for all 7 layers by spreading it ultra thin.  Repeat with remaining layers (or all layers except one, if you’d like to do a decorative caramel layer), stacking cake as evenly as possible. Once fully stacked and filled, you can trim the edges again so that they’re even.

Spread chocolate on outside of cake in a thin coat, just to cover and adhere the crumbs to the cake. Place cake in fridge for 30 minutes (or freezer for 5 minutes) to set the chocolate. Spread chocolate more thickly and smoothly to make a final exterior coat of frosting. Remove paper strips.

Assembled layers - ready to trim the edges to even them out

Caramel topping, if using: Lightly grease a sheet of parchment paper. Place last cake layer on this sheet. Lightly oil a large chef’s knife (if cutting layer into 16 traditional wedges) or sharp cookie cutter of your choice and set aside. Combine the sugar and water in a small, heavy saucepan and swirl it until the sugar melts and begins to turn a pale amber color. Quickly and carefully, pour this (you’ll have a bit of extra) over the prepared cake layer and spread it evenly with an offset spatula, right over the outer edges. Using prepared knife or cutter, quickly cut layer as you wish. Leave in place, then cool completely. Once fully cooled, cut edges of shapes again, to ensure that you can remove them cleanly. Arrange caramel pieces or wedges over cake, propping them up decoratively with hazelnuts.

Chill cake until needed.

I added the caramelized pieces right before serving

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pressed for Time

So many things have been going on lately that I haven't had time to spend any time in my craft room.  Work has been crazy-busy, but aside from that two major things have been taking up my time:
1. I'm dancing in a big Irish dance competition. The regional championships, to be exact.  When I'm not at work, or soaking in epsom salts, I'm dancing.
2. I'm going to be having surgery in a couple of weeks that's going to have me down for the count for a bit.  I'm looking forward to the crafting time, but not looking forward to a recovery where I can't do my normal activities (dance), and possibly sewing for the first couple of weeks.

You would think this would mean that I would want to get as much sewing in as possible in the meantime, but due to the limited free time I have had, I don't want to start a project that I won't be able to finish for a while.

So I've worked on some portable needlecraft projects... my mother-in-law wanted a cowl for her trip to Canada and I had a wrap that I've been taking my sweet time on.  I finished both, but unfortunately only managed to get a photo of the latter.

I also started work on a crochet blanket.  I hope to make a lot of progress on it while I'm recovering, but I wanted to get started to make sure that I knew how to do it.  Working crochet in the round is still fairly new to me, so I had my doubts... well one thing led to another and I finished the entire first row.  Sometimes I just can't stop!

I folded the row in half, just to fit it into the picture
I've been working on a list of things I want to make while I'm recovering, and the good news is, I may be able to get some crafty holiday gifts done this year!  That bad news, sometimes I bite off a bit more than I can chew, so I'm just hoping I'm not planning too much.  I would like to get a pair of mittens for myself, and a new scarf as I keep giving away the other things I've made.

Anyways, those are my excuses.  In the meantime, I'll be doing a bit of baking in the next two weeks as I want to get my holiday gifts out early, so there should be some fun upcoming Sweet Treats posts.  I'll be back soon!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Sweet Treats Saturday: Chocolate Ricotta Muffins

When we went camping a few weeks ago, I wanted to bring a dessert that could be easily packed away and would keep without refrigeration while we paraded around in the wilderness.  For some reason, the idea of combining chocolate and ricotta sounded perfect, so I did some hunting until I came across this recipe.

The bursts of chocolate chunks within the muffins was awesome!  The cupcakes can get dense, so make sure not to over-mix them.  These muffins would be perfect for brunches or to pack as a treat in a lunch box.  I didn't try it, but you could probably freeze them as well and let them defrost the night before for a delicious, make-ahead treat.

Chocolate Ricotta Muffins
Recipe from Joy of Baking

1 cup ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cup milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 16 muffin pans with liners or coat with non-stick spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk the ricotta cheese and then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the milk, vanilla extract, and cooled and melted butter, mixing well.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder.  Add the ricotta mixture to the flour mixture.  Stir until just combined, then fold in the chocolate chips.  Do not over-mix the batter or the muffins will be tough when baked.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling about 2/3 full.

Place in the oven and bake for approx. 20 minutes, or until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Place on a wire rack to cool.

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