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I'm sure I have to be the thousand and eleventy-ninth person to blog about Julia Child since the movie came out.  I don't care. She was special, and I want to say that here. I think it was her authenticity, both in her recipes and in her daily life that has endeared her to so many.

Today I'm making her Chocolate Mousse, and speaking of authenticity, this is the real deal.  This recipe uses no heavy whipping cream.  Instead, raw eggs.  I would be lying if I said I had no hesitations, but after reading information that  David Lebovitz provided, I can say I feel much better. For complete egg education, read this.  You may feel better too.




This is probably going to be one of the longest posts in the history of blogdom, but I hope to pass along some very helpful tips on creating a beautiful Bûche de Noël.  I love this cake because it is so woodsy and heartwarming.  I decided to start this project on December 21st, the shortest day and longest night of the year, Winter Solstice. 

I think we've already established that I'm not very good at keeping secrets.



Silly me. My rule to never tell which recipe I use for sugar cookies was doomed from the beginning. One reason I kept it hush-hush, is because I have a small Etsy-based business from which I sell artfully decorated sugar cookies. I have recently come to the realization, that people are not paying me for the cookie portion, but for the aforementioned decoration. I recently shared this recipe with a reader, and it made me very happy to do so.





The recipe itself is not a secret. Some of you may be using it already. If so, then you already know how this dough bakes up to be so very buttery and delicious. There are other recipes that are considered better for professional decorating, (ie. flatter surface) but the taste is unsurpassed. I don't mind working around a minor imperfection for such delicious results.


My Favorite Sugar Cookie Dough

This was once my “secret recipe” for Sugar Cookies. I’m not very good at secrets, and it’s much more fun to share anyway.

Ingredients

3 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

Dough:
In a mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly combined. Add vanilla. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl. On low speed, gradually add dry mixture to wet mixture. Dough will be very stiff. Wrap or cover dough and refrigerate overnight.

Baking:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a floured surface, knead dough a few times. This will help cut-outs keep their shape while baking. Roll out dough to ¼” to ½” thickness while it is still cold. Use cookie cutters for desired shapes. Bake for 7-9 minutes, depending on thickness of dough. Cool completely



This dough should be kneaded a little after chilling. Incorporating just a bit more flour into the dough helps the cookies hold their cut shape. You still want your snowflake to look like a snowflake, and not bake into a blob. This will help.Tips and Tricks:
  • Cut the dough in two after chilling. Work with one portion and leave the other portion in the refrigerator to stay cold. This will also help with the shape issue.
  • The softened butter should still be just a little cool to the touch, and not completely room temperature. Warm, or room temperature butter will make your dough extremely sticky. It's a bit harder to work with.
  • Bake on parchment paper. It makes life so much easier in the long-run. No sticking, easier clean up... it's something that I can't live without.
Christmas is just around the corner, and if you'd like to treat Santa to something extra special, then you may want to give this very simple, but very delicious recipe a try. (This recipe yields about 4 to 5 dozen if using 3" or 4" cookie cutters.) Note: Photography by Morgan Trinker. And, cookies by me... (of course)


When I saw these being unpacked at the Cookie Exchange, they looked like saucers. If you can imagine a teacup being placed in the middle of one of these, you'll get an idea of the proportion. The size intrigued everyone, and that's not the best part about them. It's the chewy middle (courtesy of the Sorghum) that makes you doubly glad of their size.

A friend recently asked me what the difference is between Sorghum and Molasses. I had to shamefully admit that I did not know the answer. Shameful, because I'm a Southerner, and shameful because I claim to be a baker. Shouldn't all Southern bakers have a preternatural knowledge of these things from birth? I think so.

Thanks to a visit to the Muddy Pond Mennonite Community's website I found the answer. They make Sorghum syrup right here in Tennessee, and the recipe I'm featuring is from one of their cookbooks.




King-Sized Sorghum Cookies

This recipe is from the Muddy Pond Mennonite Community.

See King-Sized Sorghum Cookies on Key Ingredient.




Sorghum versus Molasses:

Just like sugar cane, there exists a sorghum cane. Sorghum syrup (often called sorghum molasses) is made from the juice extracted from sorghum cane. It is boiled until the final product is thick and syrupy. It is mild tasting and light in color. Molasses is the by-product of sugar cane after it has been boiled down to make sugar. It is usually very dark (hence the name black-strap molasses) and very strong tasting.



For this recipe, you'll want to use sorghum molasses or light molasses. You'll also want to bake no more than 3 on a baking sheet at a time. These spread quite a bit during the baking process.

A special thanks to Mama, for a great recipe.

I was so positively sure that I could not make these cookies, that I waited an entire year before giving them a try. I had bookmarked the recipe at epicurious.com, but after reading the instructions and almost every review contributed, I became hesitant. Nearly everyone who spoke of these cookies had varying experiences and suggestions. My head was spinning, and I didn't know whose 2 cents would be truly valuable.



With the impending cookie exchange, I wanted an impressive contribution and these came to mind once again. It was time, I thought, to waste an afternoon and possibly a can of almond paste.




I wasn't totally committed until I found this recipe on Taste of Home's website. The instructions seemed to be condensed, or simplified, if you will. It is missing the chocolate layer on the bottom, but I could live without that. Everything else is consistent with the aforementioned recipe from Epicurious.




Italian Layer Cookies

These are also called Venetians, Rainbow Cookies, and 7 Layer ...

See Italian Layer Cookies on Key Ingredient.



I have a couple of suggestions for those who have these on the Christmas cookie roster:

  • Use more food coloring than specified in the recipe. I used about 1/3 of my bottles of red and green. This makes them so very vibrant and festive, and it is a traditional Italian Christmas Cookie, after all. Why use less?
  • I used SK's suggestion to freeze the layers after the chocolate had been applied and allowed to set. This will make cutting them into pieces much, MUCH easier, and the chocolate will not smear across the beautiful layers.



They turned out picture perfect and delicious in every way. I was also thrilled to find that they were not difficult to make. Time consuming maybe, but so worth the effort.



Several people have commented that these have the flavor of a chocolate covered cherry. The almond paste's unique flavor has way of tricking the taste buds. If this sounds appealing to you, try it out for yourself! It's not as daunting a task as it appears to be.




P.S. These cookies go by many names: Venetians, Rainbow Cookies, 7 Layer Cookies and Tri-Color Layer Cookies.



It's Cookie Exchange time!!

Well, almost. Our festivities are scheduled for this Saturday, and I've gathered so many recipes in preparation over the past few weeks. I've had a really hard time narrowing down what I really and truly want to contribute. I kept coming back to this recipe from Betty Crocker.



Gingerbread Birdhouse Ornament Cookies

Recipe from Betty Crocker. Recipe with annotations can be viewed ...

See Gingerbread Birdhouse Ornament Cookies on Key Ingredient.




I was completely sold on the edible ornament idea, and I think they turned out great! Let me give you a few tips that are not mentioned anywhere in the Betty Crocker instructions. Don't get me wrong, this a great recipe that will point you in the right direction. I just think they could have elaborated a bit more to save us hardworkin' home bakers a bit of frustration.



  • First of all, bake these on parchment. I lightly greased my baking sheet, and they stuck. Must be the molasses, methinks.
  • The string (top) hole I punched with a straw, the other slightly larger hole should be made with a bottle cap, or even the large end of a piping tip.
  • Said holes will want to close up as the cookies bake. After about 10 minutes of baking time, take them out and re-punch holes. I know, it's a pain - but look how they turned out! Put them back in 5-10 more minutes until done.
  • A standard pretzel stick broken in half makes the perfect size perch.




Wouldn't these be cute (sans bird perch and hole) decorated as Black-Forest inspired Cuckoo clocks? I think I may try that next, now that I know what I'm doing!

This gingerbread cookie has a strong spicy flavor, and the molasses gives it durability. It is a hard cookie, but delicious and very edible. Use only for one season, as ornaments. They are meant to be eaten, but are strong enough to endure a December on the tree.


Many, many more cookie recipes to come!




When I ran across this recipe in the delightful "Giver's Log", I knew immediately that I would be making this. If ever there were a day to try it, it is definitely today. I woke up to a Winter Wonderland, and I can't suppress the squeak of excitement every time I peer out the window.



It's perfect hot chocolate weather.




You'll need a good quality chocolate with a high fat content. I've found that fondue chocolate (label must say REAL CHOCOLATE) is ideal for this endeavor. I used a bit of espresso powder to bring out the chocolate flavor. If you are making this for children, you may want to leave this out.
  • Chocolate + kids = hyperactivity
  • Chocolate + kids + espresso powder = child screaming like an injured monkey
Or so I would suspect.



I love these charming biodegradable birch wood spoons. They are a little nicer in place of the "stick". You can find them here at Amazon. If you are curious about the mold I'm using, it's the Wilton Brownie Bites silicone pan.




I fancied these up a bit more with a sheet of chocolate transfer from Fancy Flours. How apropos, right? To do this I melted some white chocolate (flavored with LorAnn raspberry oil, mmmm...) and dipped the hardened squares.



Place them melty side down on the chocolate transfer sheet. Allow to dry completely and peel from paper.



And there you have it - raspberry hot chocolate on a stick. All we need now is a cup of hot milk and we're ready to go!


And now, some fun in the snow with my little clown...



If I can catch him!




Note: You'll find the recipe HERE, at Giver's Log as referenced earlier.
Povitica bread (for those not familiar) is an Eastern European nut roll that is traditionally gifted as a symbol of honor and respect. It's also called Potica (Po-TEE-tza) bread or Yugoslavian Christmas bread.




Last Thanksgiving I made perfect Povitica bread. I was so excited to bring it to our table, and to the people I love most. And heck, I was proud of myself. I had accomplished something that was considered challenging, and better left to experienced hands. i.e. Croatian/Slavic matriarchy

This year I have not fared as well. After two failed attempts I felt like throwing in the towel, but I didn't. Irked that a nut roll could make me feel so defeated, I decided then and there that I would specialize in the making of Povitica bread. I would make it my life's pursuit, if I had to make 20 loaves or 200, I would do it! As luck would have it, my next effort was genuinely acceptable. And to my relief, this will free up the rest of my life.



Things get dramatic in my kitchen, especially when bread is involved.


Here's an example of my first failed attempt. I wanted to make the snail shape because it was different from the loaf I made last year. I didn't knead the dough enough, so the gluten did not develop and the dough began breaking apart at the sides.


I baked it anyway.



What a mess.
Move along Babushka, there's nothing to see here.

I made a second attempt at the snail shape, and it failed again in the same way. After much frustration I went back to the loaf pan. And I kneaded the heck out of the dough after the first rise.






Success!


Povitica (Potica) Bread

Povitica bread is an Eastern European nut roll that is ...

See Povitica (Potica) Bread on Key Ingredient.




The bread machine takes out much of the work in creating the dough. This also cuts down on babysitting the rising of this bread. Just remember to knead well after removing from the machine. Your dough should be elastic, and if you don't break a sweat trying to get it to the 1/8" thickness then you're not doing it right.


Dobar tek!















It's that time again! Another cookie challenge, and another cookie entry.

The cranberry ingredient had me stumped! It seems easy enough to incorporate into a cookie, right? I had a case of bona fide baker's block. It has much to do with two failed Croatian (Potica) bread recipes that recently threw me off my game. But I'll go into that later.

Maybe.


Today, these came to me in a daydream about cheesecake. Somehow a stray synapse fired in my brain, and I came up with these little bite-sized blossoms.



Cranberry Orange Blossoms

Flower cookies with a cranberry center.

See Cranberry Orange Blossoms on Key Ingredient.




The addition of orange zest is very important in this recipe. It gives these buttery morsels a fresh flavor that cannot be achieved with orange extract alone.



This Friday is National Cookie Day, (!) a sweet precursor to Cookie Exchange Week December 7-13. Check back for cookie recipes galore!



P.S. K-town folks, if you're not into baking stop by Ham n' Goodys for a famous lemon cookie. They are outstanding and it's a great way to celebrate National Cookie Day!








I first spotted these about a year ago in Bon Appetit magazine as an advertisement from the "Real Butter" campaign. The picture was so beautiful, and I was intrigued by the use of lemongrass in a cookie. I was doubly intrigued that it was suggested as a Christmas cookie. I have always associated lemongrass with warm, sunny, tropical flavors.




Dried lemongrass is very inexpensive, and you won't need much. The small packet I had on hand cost .29 cents at the Asian market. The recipe also calls for white chocolate chips. They'll need to be chopped a little finer before going into the batter.


You'll also need coconut! How cute are these kitschy reindeer picks? I found them at Fancy Flours. I could spend all my time and money while browsing the online shop. I try to stay away. I TRY.


Lemongrass Snowballs

A recipe from the REALBUTTER campaign.

See Lemongrass Snowballs on Key Ingredient.





I liked these, in the end. They are definitely bright and lemony, with a slightly perfumed flavor. I suspect a step was missing from the original recipe, as the "snowballs" did not remain as round as I expected in the baking process. I would suggest after rolling these, chill them for an hour before baking.




I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! Mark and I drove to our little mountain-home town about 45 minutes away from where we live now. Of course B-dog was thrilled to ride along.

These mountains have bid me "welcome home" countless times, and it never gets old.


I made a new dish for Thanksgiving this year. Roasted carrots and parsnips with fresh herbs. I know this is a blog for all sweet things, but I could not resist posting such a vibrant dish.

Roasted Carrots and Parsnips with Fresh Herbs

An easy and delicious side dish.

See Roasted Carrots and Parsnips with Fresh Herbs on Key Ingredient.





Parsnips are in season NOW! So, get 'em while they're best!



Have you heard about the Great Canned Pumpkin Shortage of 2009? If you are a baker, perhaps you have. I noticed this in October. I explained to loved ones "No pumpkin - it just wasn't there!" and was met with a suspect "...maybe you were in the wrong aisle?" Indeed something was up. 1/3 of Nestle's crops were ruined by heavy rains, causing an apology by the company for shortages in grocery stores nationwide.

Living in the Southern US, I could probably throw a rock and hit someone with a pumpkin patch. So, as long as I know how to roast a pumpkin, the natives in our Thanksgiving clan will not be restless.


Pumpkin Roasting Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut one small pumpkin into quarters and lay on a large foil-lined cookie sheet. (you may need 2 pans depending on the size of your pumpkin) Bake for 45 minutes. Pumpkin should be soft when pierced with a fork. If it is still a little firm, bake for 10 - 15 minutes longer. Allow to cool completely. Scrape pumpkin flesh from rind and mash in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.


Here's my very favorite Thanksgiving dessert to make with pumpkin.

My Favorite Pumpkin Roll

An adapted recipe,(although not by much) from the makers ...

See My Favorite Pumpkin Roll on Key Ingredient.





Cake ingredients:
¼             cup powdered sugar (to sprinkle on towel)
¾             cup all-purpose flour
½             teaspoon baking powder
½             teaspoon baking soda
2              teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼             teaspoon salt
3              large eggs
1              cup granulated sugar
⅔            cup canned pumpkin

Filling ingredients:
1              pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, at room temperature
1              cup powdered sugar, sifted
6              tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
1              teaspoon vanilla extract


Cake portion:
Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease 15 × 10-inch jelly-roll pan; line with wax paper. Grease and flour paper. Sprinkle a thin, cotton kitchen towel with powdered sugar.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in small bowl. Beat eggs and granulated sugar in large mixer bowl until thick. Beat in pumpkin. Stir in flour mixture. Spread evenly into prepared pan.
Bake for 13 to 15 minutes or until top of cake springs back when touched. (If using a dark-colored pan, begin checking for doneness at 11 minutes.) Immediately loosen and turn cake onto prepared towel. Carefully peel off paper. Roll up cake and towel together, starting with narrow end. Cool on wire rack.
Filling portion:
Beat cream cheese, 1 cup powdered sugar, butter and vanilla extract in small mixer bowl until smooth. Carefully unroll cake. Spread cream cheese mixture over cake. Re-roll cake. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving, if desired.




I've recently noticed store-brand pumpkin has been fully stocked on the grocer's shelves where I shop. I would imagine the same is true for most grocery stores across the country. However, I would encourage you to explore the fresh option. Although not as convenient, the end result is much more rewarding.

I think we pumpkin-lovers just might survive this.

About a week ago I received a Woman's Day magazine in the mail. I'm not a subscriber, and was puzzled at first. Then I remembered my beloved Gourmet magazine is ending and this, perhaps, is supposed to be my consolation. (?)

I don't know yet, so maybe not.

I thumbed through and was delighted to see these Nutmeg Yule Log Cookies that meet all my holiday baking criteria:
  • festive -check!
  • unique -check!
  • easy (seemingly) - check!
  • seasonal flavor - check!
Woman's Day, you had me at Nutmeg.


Recipe is HERE, as well as Woman's Day.com.

First you'll divide the dough into 8 equal portions, and shape into a fat log. These go in the fridge to chill for an hour.



After these chill out, you'll take each portion of dough and roll out into a "snake" about 18" long. I could only get my dough to roll out to 15". Any smaller and the dough just broke apart.



You'll then cut at 3" increments, strait across. Then, you'll bias cut the three inch segments at both ends. Be sure to save the pieces, these will be the "knots" on your logs.



Brush with egg-wash and then place the leftover dough pieces (2 per) on each log.


I made a round indention at the end of each log, as well as each knot. I'm not sure why Woman's Day left this out of the directions. Clearly, there are indentions in the example pictures, but no mention of it in text.




I'd suggest icing them with white chocolate or vanilla frosting. I opted for the sprinkling of powdered sugar, and they were not sweet enough for my taste. I piped a little royal icing for the holly leaves and used jumbo nonpareils for the berries, which helped a little with the sweetness issue.


These are a bit time consuming, so be prepared to spend a couple hours sitting - would it be too corny to say "like a knot on a log"?

Yeah, I thought so.


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