Merry Christmas! I Made These For You.

In theory, Christmas baking is one of my favorite things. In reality, it’s a huge pain in the ass. I wait until the last minute to do anything and never make as many things as I had planned. Everything always takes so much time. (Keep in mind that I’m a person who sat on the couch and watched like 15 movies this weekend.) This year, I had committed to baking for a holiday party, and also for my family’s annual Christmas shindig tomorrow, so I did end up baking quite a few things which I will share with you now.

 

thumbprint cookies

I made these thumbprint cookies topped with raspberry jam a few weeks ago for a holiday party. I would share the recipe, which my mom got from an old friend, here but I am too lazy.

christmas cupcakes

These chocolate cupcakes with buttercream frosting were for the same holiday party and I made them only because I couldn’t find ingredients in the grocery store for other cookies that I wanted to make. Also, you can’t tell here, but I used Christmas cupcake liners because I impulse bought some when I was at the Christmas Tree Shoppe with my grandma over Thanksgiving.

snickerdoodles

I made these snickerdoodles on Sunday using this Smitten Kitchen recipe. They turned out well, according to my brother, who said they’re the best snickerdoodles he’s ever had.

sugar cookie cut outs

I have been making these sugar cookies every year for the past few years. I use this Martha Stewart recipe.

We’re down to about 3 cookie cutters at my parents’ house. Every year I say that I’m going to buy a few more and, shockingly, I never do. (We threw the shamrock in for my brother Dayton, who is currently a student at Notre Dame, and my brother Johnny, who will be headed there next year.) Anyway, I was up until about midnight finishing baking these last night.

frosted sugar cookies

And today…we frosted! I usually just wing it when I make royal icing. Confectioners sugar, egg whites and a little water. This Joy of Baking recipe (the one with egg whites) is basically what I do.

Thank you to Tori and Johnny for helping frost and decorate these guys. Frosting – without eating the cookies – is really hard work.

And Merry Christmas to all!

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Recipe Test: Apple Strudel

Hello! It’s been a while since I shared a recipe. I’ve been trying to shake a lingering cold-thing for like, almost two weeks. I haven’t felt much like cooking.

But! Last Saturday I made an apple strudel. We were having an Oktoberfest get-together that day. Also, I’m recommencing my German studies next week. Apple strudel was on-theme for the party AND my life.

I wouldn’t say that making this was…hard? There was just a lot to it that I hadn’t really done before. I used James Peterson’s recipe from Baking, which I’m finding I like less and less as I try different things. (Well, that banana cream pie turned out to be amazing, but I just can’t get to seem the pie dough right anytime I try to do it James’s way.)

 

kneading dough in the living room

 

I started the apple strudel by making the dough. Once all of the dough ingredients (bread flour, water, vegetable oil, salt) are combined you have to knead it for fifteen minutes or until it is smooth. I don’t normally make things where kneading is part of the process, so this was new for me. I had to make a little work station in our living room because my roommates were busy making other things in the kitchen. Kneading dough for fifteen minutes on a coffee table ain’t easy.

 

strudel dough

strudel dough

 

After that, I prepared the filling (apples, rum-soaked raisins, walnuts and sugar) while the dough rested. Not gonna like, every time I smell rum I think of throwing up into a trash can in my freshman dorm, so I kind of immediately regretted soaking the raisins in rum. But hey, I was following a recipe and that’s what it told me to do. Actually, it told me that I could also soak the raisins in water, Cognac or grappa and I went for the rum because I like to punish myself in small ways all the time.

Then it was time to stretch out the dough! What I didn’t realize before I decided to make apple strudel was that you have to stretch the dough out until it’s very thin, into a 2×3 foot rectangle, place the filling on the dough and then, somehow, roll the whole thing up. It took me a really, really long time to get the dough stretched out to be long and wide enough to roll the filling up once. It tore in a few places, but that ended up not being a problem.

 

strudel3

 

I brushed the dough with melted butter and arranged the filling in a line at one end. Then, I placed the strudel ingredients (sour cream, melted butter and bread crumbs) on top. I was nervous to roll it all up in the dough because it was kind of heavy, but my friend Becky helped me keep everything together. It ended up being so large that we had to lay it diagonally on a cookie sheet. The recipe said to bake the apple strudel for 60 minutes at 350. I ended up baking it for a little under 60 minutes and I thought it was probably overdone.

I’d love to show you a picture of what this thing looked like, but I forgot to take one. It looked like a bizarro version of the one pictured in the cookbook. It also looked homey and German and good. But…I finished baking it right before our party started and then I started drinking and being a hostess and we didn’t serve it until after dinner, by which time I was really in the swing of drinking and being a hostess. So in the swing of it that I dusted the strudel we served with some mixture of powdered sugar and something else that was in our cupboard, instead of straight up powdered sugar. So, sorry to you dudes who had to eat that! Hope it wasn’t too terrible. I ate some of the untainted strudel and I can report that it was…fine. I wouldn’t rush to make this again but I think it’s a good thing to have in my back pocket, especially if I go to any German- or aumtumn-themed parties in the future. (Now I’m thinking about literally having apple strudel in my back pocket, which is obviously a weird thing to think about.)

Anyway, I will probably make something with pumpkin next because…fall. Suggestions? Please send some. Been thinking about Ina Garten’s Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart but I could be persuaded to do something else.

 

bonus: here is a photo of my roommate's beer-cheese fondue in a pumpkin, because that is something that happened last weekend

bonus: here is a photo of my roommate’s beer-cheese fondue in a pumpkin, because that is something that happened last weekend

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

I think I mentioned this last week when I wrote about making that banana cream pie, but I am ALL ABOUT baking with brown butter. Luckily, Joy the Baker had a great brown butter recipes roundup recently and I’m determined to bake my way through all of them. This week I tried her Brown Butter Banana Bread with Rum and Coconut. I changed the recipe up only a little, replacing coconut with chocolate chips. Not because I don’t like coconut – I actually love coconut – but because I forgot to buy some and I like chocolate chips in my banana bread almost always.

 

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

 

I thought it turned out pretty great, though I might have overcooked it a little. (The bottom was a smidge burnt.) There was a nice crust on the bread and the addition of chocolate made it a perfect dessert and afternoon snack.

 

Banana Cream Pie

I wasn’t planning on making a pie this weekend. I really didn’t think I’d feel like it. But I surprised myself by waking up at 11:30 AM on Saturday and having enough energy to get out of bed, go to the coffee shop, procure coffee, look through cookbooks at home until I found something I wanted to make, and then go back out to the grocery store to buy ingredients. Advil was instrumental in making all of this happen.

I decided to pick a recipe from James Peterson’s Baking. I’ve had this cookbook for a few years now and I will say that I’ve learned a lot from it, though I’ve found many of the recipes to be slightly imperfect. (I usually end up modifying the recipes I make the second time around.)  You just can’t beat a cookbook that has a recipe for anything you could possibly bake.

I only had a few hours to make a dessert because we were going to a farewell party that started in the early evening, so I settled on banana cream pie because 1) it’s delicious and 2) it doesn’t require TOO much work, I thought. As usual, it was a little more work than I’d bargained for, but the outcome made it all worth it.

Banana Cream Pie

I started with the crust, which needed to be pre-baked. I’m not a pie crust expert (yet) but I’ve gained a lot of confidence in this area recently, so I didn’t think it would be a problem. That assumption was incorrect. I used Peterson’s recipe for Basic Pie and Tart Pastry Dough. I followed the directions for making it in a stand mixture, which was supposed to be better for keeping the butter cold and kind of clumpy (as opposed to a food processor), but that did not work out so well. The dough came together very, very quickly and when I added the liquid, it was way too wet. I could tell it wasn’t going to roll out easily or turn out the way I wanted it to. Also, I got some nail polish flakes in it, so into the trash it went!

So, I started over – after taking my nail polish off – and this batch turned out A LOT better. I used less liquid this time and the dough rolled out very nicely. But my kitchen was very hot and even though I had put down a lot of flour on the butcher block, the dough stuck and I had to roll it back into a ball to roll out again. At that point, I realized I didn’t have a lot of time because I hadn’t even started on the filling, so I just pressed the dough into my pie dish. Not gonna lie, it didn’t look great. I used the end of a fork to crimp the edges and that made it look slightly less ugly. Before I threw it in the oven, I put a sheet of parchment paper over it and put some dry rice on top of that to weigh it down.

Once the shell was cooking, I started on the custard for the filling. First, I made the brown butter, which was to be added to the vanilla custard to give it a butterscotch flavor. I actually had never made brown butter until a few months ago. (I had to look up how to do it and found the directions on Simply Recipes to be much easier to follow than those in Baking.) It’s…not hard to make, like, at all. I feel like I thought it was going to be hard because people are always talking about burning brown butter (right?), but I haven’t burned any yet so…Anyway, After it was was finished, I let it cool on the counter while I got started on the custard.

I actually have never cooked custard perfectly. But I did it this time! I didn’t scald the milk and there were no burnt bits on the bottom of the saucepan. I literally felt like a genius after I realized this. (Very cool, I know.) I added the brown butter to the vanilla custard and put it in the freezer to cool down, because I am all about short cuts.

While I was doing all of the filling stuff, I didn’t realize the pie shell was sort of burning. Oh, well! No one was going to see it anyway and I don’t mind a well-done crust, so I got over it pretty quickly. I left that to cool as well and went to get ready for the evening. I assembled most of the pie right before I left, except for the top layer of bananas. A layer of custard went on the bottom, followed by a layer of bananas (I used 3), followed by another, thicker layer of custard. Because my shell shrank in the oven, I didn’t end up using all of the custard, so I put it in the freezer so that I could eat frozen custard later!

I served the pie after dinner that evening and it seemed that everyone who tried it liked it just fine/maybe a lot! (Somehow, I managed to bring a banana cream pie to a party where only half of the people liked bananas.) I certainly thought it was very good and would definitely, definitely try this again.

Banana Cream Pie

BANANA CREAM PIE
by James Peterson

Basic Pie and Tart Pastry Dough

 

Ingredients:
1 cup cake flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold butter, cut into 1/3-inch cubes
7 tablespoons water or heavy cream, or 2 eggs, lightly beaten (Note: I used slightly less because I actually found the dough too wet.)
2 tablespoons additional liquid, or 1 egg white, if dough is too dry
Directions for the easiest method – making the dough in a food processor – can be found here.

 

Filling

 

Ingredients:

3 cups milk (Note: I used whole milk.)
1 vanilla bean split lengthwise, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (Note: I definitely didn’t bother with the vanilla bean and just used extract.)
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons melted butter, lightly browned and strained (Note: I didn’t strain the brown butter, because who cares?)
3 ripe bananas (Note: I ended up using 5 1/2 bananas, I think because I made this in a slightly larger dish, and my bananas were small, I guess.)

Use a 9- to 10-inch pie pan. Roll the dough into a round about 2 inches larger than the pie pan. Line the pie pan with the dough, fold under the edge to make it a double thickness, and make a fluted edge. Place a square of parchment paper or aluminum foil over the dough, making sure it is large enough that it’s easy to pick up by the ends when you remove it. Cover the parchment paper with about a pound of dried beans to keep it from puffing up in the oven. Bake the shell for about 15 minutes, until the edge of the tart turns pale brown. Remove the paper or foil and beans and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the bottom of the shell is golden brown.

In a saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer with the vanilla bean or extract. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch until smooth. Pour half of the milk into the egg mixture, stir to combine thoroughly, and pour the mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk. Stir the mixture over medium-high heat with a whisk for about 5 minutes, or until it bubbles and thickens. Remove the vanilla bean, if using. Transfer the custard mixture to a bowl, whisk in the brown butter, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to cool to room temperature.

Cover the bottom of the pie shell with one-third of the pudding. Slice 2 of the bananas between 1/8- and 1/4-inch thick and place one half of them over the pudding in a single layer. Spread half of the remaining pudding over the banana slices. Place the remaining sliced bananas on top of the pudding, then cover the bananas with the remaining pudding.

Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving, but serve at room temperature. Shortly before serving, slice the remaining banana and arrange on top of the pie.

Recipe Test: Zucchini Brownies

Another thing I’m trying out. Weekly recipe tests! I’m not such an accomplished cook that I can make up my own recipes quite yet. (Though I think I’m getting there.) But I do try new recipes all the time so I thought it’d be worth sharing them here.

This week’s test: these Zucchini-Almond Butter-Dark Chocolate Brownies. They’re really good! And they were super easy to make.

 

zucchini brownies

 

After we saw The World’s End yesterday, a bunch of my friends came over to hang out until Breaking Bad. Vincent and I went to the grocery store and bought a bunch of appetizers (Bagel Bites, sweet potato fries, cheese and crackers) as well as the necessary ingredients for these brownies. Believe it or not, I don’t keep almond butter or dark chocolate chips in my cupboard.

While some of our apps were cooking in the oven, Vincent and I mixed up the brownies. Well, Vincent did most of the mixing and I did the zucchini shredding/grating. Pretty much you just throw all of the ingredients in a bowl (leave out the zucchini and the chocolate chips), mix them up, and then fold in the zucchini and the chocolate chips. The product tastes a lot like a chocolatey, gooey zucchini bread than a traditional brownie but I promise it’s just as delicious.

Rating (1 star = garbage, 5 stars = this is the only thing I want to eat for the rest of my life): 4 stars

Here’s the recipe (via The Hairpin):

Ingredients

1 cups almond butter (or whatever nut butter you prefer)

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/3 cup agave or honey

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1 ½ -2 cups shredded zucchini (Note: I used 2 cups.)

1 cup dark chocolate chips

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9×9” brownie pan with parchment paper and lightly spray the paper with olive oil.

2. Shred the zucchini using a shredding attachment on your food processor, or by hand using a grater. Or just chop it up. (Note: I grated by hand. It didn’t take too long.)

3. Mix together everything else! Fold in the zucchini pieces and dark chocolate chips, mixing just until combined, and pour it all into your prepared pan.

4. Bake for ~40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean. I like these warm and still-gooey, preferably eaten on the porch, listening to the cicadas after the kids have gone to bed. (Note: I have no idea how long I baked these for. I never really time anything. I generally like to check on things until they look done and then stick a knife or a toothpick or a piece of uncooked spaghetti in the middle to see if it comes out clean.)