Monday, December 28, 2009

my first gingerbread house

Up until this Christmas, I had never in my 26 years made a gingerbread house. I really wanted to make one this year, so we got a Wilton kit. Next year we're definitely making our own gingerbread and designing it from scratch. But this year, we did way too many projects and had way too many events and things going on to take on that project. Next year we're going to have bay windows and a chimney. :)

First things first. Walls.

And then a roof.

Mark worked on the roof, covering it in royal icing and then adding piping and decorations. I was SO impressed.

I worked on the door and windows, adding awnings with candy. I also added the decorations where the walls join.

We built a Christmas tree on the back and marked it with a 2009 so that we can remember it was our first.

The finished product!

Check back for my bay windows and chimney next year. :)

18 Christmas packages in 3 days: Santa's workshop explodes

Mark and I decided to make packages of baked goods for friends and family this year, in our first holiday project together. Baking gifts for people instead of buying them directly seemed to be fitting this year, and we jumped in with what you might call calculated abandon.

In about three days (not counting Mark spending hours making the fruitcakes and gingerbread dough), we made the following:

(no pics)
Fruitcake (Mark's family recipe - it's delicious! And he decorated the tops with slivered almonds and cherries. I wish we had a picture!)

Key lime fudge

Homemade thin mints

Chocolate peanut butter bars (my beloved gramma's beloved recipe)

Nut tassies (another of my beloved gramma's beloved recipes)

Chocolate chip cookie cupcakes


Cake truffles (chocolate cake with white chocolate peppermint cream cheese frosting and peppermint candy cane sprinkles)

Toll house cookies with dark chocolate and mint

Oatmeal cookies with white chocolate and cranberries

Triple chocolate espresso cookies
(which I consider my special cookie, since Mark brought me a batch on our third date)

Gingerbread cookies with royal icing

I made a gift tag cookie for everyone who received a package, as well as other shapes. I was really proud of how festive they looked.

I packaged each type of cookie separately and then worked some kind of Christmas magic to get them all in their boxes. 16 boxes and 2 trays total.

I made tags with the contents of each box to attach with ribbon. And tada! Hours and hours and pounds of flour, sugar, and butter later, Christmas gifts made with love and sugar. :) What could be better?

holiday baking extravaganza 2009 - chocolate caramel macadamia nut tart

As the title would suggest, I did a rather large amount of baking this holiday season. And most of it within 3 days. I'm going to break it up into three different posts so that it's easier for me to reference later on.

I made the entire meal for our urban family Christmas dinner this year, which included dessert. I chose a chocolate caramel macadamia nut tart I found in the holiday issue of Bon Appetit. It included making your own caramel from sugar and water, so I was a bit nervous seeing that I broke my candy thermometer the last time I tried this. By dropping it on the floor, actually. Didn't even get to use it. :( I digress.

Sir Sous Chef has on his festive holiday hat, stolen from a snowman my dad gave me out of our family's holiday decorations.

The crust starts out in the food processor. This is a weird shot (as if most of my horrible food photography doesn't fall into that category).

Gasp! Is that natural light shining on the butter pieces?

Add some really cold water. Ice cold. Both of my grandmas and my mom have told me this is one of the secrets to good crust.

Gung it all together. Shove it in your tart pan with removable bottom. I LOVE that pan.

Get some foil and some pie weights down.

Bake it. And while it's in the oven, make the ganache. You need some chocolate...

And some warm cream...

Pull the tart out of the oven.

And apply ganache. Liberally.

Add a layer of macadamia nuts. Cover that sucker because you want pieces to stick up through the caramel.

Now it's time for the caramel. Get the sugar and water boiling.

Once it turns a golden amber color, you add the butter and cream. Couldn't take a picture. It turns too fast. Whisk.

Pour the entire caramel mixture onto the tart. Let it soak in and cover all of the space between the nuts.

After it sits and solidifies for awhile (and you get the rest of dinner prep underway), add a drizzle of the ganache.

And without the pan, on a pedestal, with a snowman filled with honey butter in the background...the delicious tart.

It was incredibly good. This tart is salty and sweet and buttery and nutty all at once. We had one small sliver leftover which we gave to the attendee who received the worst white elephant gift. Thus, Theresa walked away with two pieces of tart.

Wow. Looking at these pictures makes me want another piece, and I made this three weeks ago.

Up next... Mark and Joanna bake 80 bajillion treats for Christmas gifts. And try to maintain their sanity in the process.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Chocolate, whiskey, and beer cupcakes (a.k.a. work-appropriate cocktail cupcakes)

One of the awesome things about baking with alcohol is that you lose the potency of the alcohol in the process, and just retain the essence of the flavor. And THAT means you can take Irish Car Bomb (chocolate, whiskey, and beer, named after the drink) cupcakes to work and not get in trouble. Because they won't effect your performance. Except for the moment you roll your eyes up into your head with an emphatic " that is SO good..."

We start with Sir Sous Chef, who is getting festive by stealing my snowman's winter hat.

And then we pour the Guinness. And wait for it to stop foaming. And wait.

Melt some butter in it. And some chocolate. It already smells rich and delightful. I think it's the butter. Or maybe the chocolate.

Pile up the dry ingredients.

Take a break and mix some sour cream and eggs.

Add your chocolate/guinness/butter mixture and then start on the dry ingredients.

Put the batter in pretty cupcake wrappers. I was seduced in Michaels by a coupon and some Martha Stewart cupcake wrappers.....

Get them in the oven and get started on the Jameson chocolate ganache.

Chop and melt some chocolate. I really like this Swiss dark chocolate from Trader Joes. Especially the price.

Cupcakes are done! Pull them out!

Back to the ganache. Whisk in some butter...

Add some whiskey.

Set aside. :) Start the Bailey's buttercream. Beat butter and confectioners' sugar.

Bad blurry photo, but I'm adding Bailey's to a whole lot of butter and confectioners' sugar. It needed a lot of milk too. And a lot of Bailey's. :)

Skip ahead because I failed to take pictures...(cut me some slack, I'm not a photographer or even a professional in anything, really.)

Pipe ganache into holes you cut in the cupcakes in the shape of a cone.

Pipe on the buttercream. Try not to make them swirling vortexes of spirals like I did. Add some dark chocolate chunks. Take some dark pictures in my poorly lit dining room. (Flash on, it's too bright. Flash off, too dark. Meh.)

At least in this one you can see my festive wrapper, even if the cupcake looks radioactive.

Yum. I might get yelled at later, but I'm posting this anyway. :)