Sunday, December 20, 2009

Operation Sugar For Soldiers

It's that time of year again to dust off our baking mitts and fire up the oven for some holiday giving! This is my third Christmas serving Operation Baking Gals and I am getting everyone involved in the sweet feeling of mixing, stirring, and heating-up at 350 to bake for our troops overseas. We cooked up and gathered 15 giving souls to bring their culinary best and bake as many cookies as they could to ship to the troops on December 16th. Knowing the calibre of people that I recruited for this job, I knew we would get a good selection of cookies cookin'...but I was brought to tears by the amount of sugar laden goodness that was brought forth by this effort. Weighing in at 80 pounds of cookies stuffed full into 5 boxes, we shipped more sugar than I could have ever imagined!! Wow.

The amazing soldier we sponsored this year is named Tyler Sutton. He is stationed in Afghanistan and while he is fighting for the marines day in and day out, it never ceases to amaze me that while we are lighting up our Christmas trees and unwrapping gifts from Santa, these soldiers are selflessly giving up their holidays at home to fight, stand up for and protect the land where we are building our snowmen. A cookie doesn't even begin to show our thanks, but we hope these homemade gifts of sweetness can bring a touch of home to all the soldiers on Tyler's base this holiday season. They are the true heros of Christmas, and we honor them with all our hearts.

Birthday Cake Cookies

1 box of vanilla cake mix (any kind with pudding in the mix)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2-1 cup rainbow sprinkles (add as much as you desire)
1-2 cups of powdered sugar
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Milk (add to achieve smooth consistency) 
Rainbow sprinkles

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2) In a large bowl, mix together cake mix and baking powder
3) Add eggs and oil - mix until blended
4) Stir in rainbow sprinkles (try not to over mix the batter)
5) Using a medium sized ice cream scoop, drop onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper
6) Bake for 9 minutes (they will look underdone, but take them out and let them cool on the pan for 5 minutes)
7) Remove from pan and let them finish setting on a cooling rack
8) While cookies are cooling, mixed powdered sugar with the juice of 1/2 a lemon
9) Add milk to mixture until frosting reaches a smooth consistency
10) Drizzle over cool cookies and top with remaining rainbow sprinkles

Sunday, September 27, 2009

La La Lemon Bars

Nothing is better for an end of summer shindig than the sweet and zesty taste of fresh baked lemon bars. They capture the refreshing zest of a hot summer day and the tart lip puckering goodness of a chilly fall to come.

Lemon bars are usually quite a long task...create the shortbread crust, hand squeeze lemons to create the curd and bake it with the hopes that the top doesn't spilt open like a poorly baked cheese can take hours, but the result is always the reward. However, when I wanted to bake up lemon bars recently for a party that was taking place only hours away, I knew that I had to speed up the process somehow. So, I put together a fast bake curd of sour lemons, zesty rind and a crust so buttery and yummy one would never know the difference between these quick bake bars and my usual treat that could take hours to tame. 

The result was a burst of tart lemon and a cake like shortbread that had everyone licking their fingers and thinking about seconds.

1 cup butter (softened)
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
pinch of salt

4 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar (less if you want the bars more tart)
1/3 cup flour
3/4 cup lemon juice (fresh squeezed - about 4 lemons)
Grated rind of 2 lemons

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. In a medium bowl, create the crust by combining softened butter, sugar, flour and salt.
3. Mix until combined (using your hands works great to really get the butter mixed in with the flour!) and press into the bottom of a 9x13 inch pan
4. Bake crust for apx. 20 minutes or until golden brown - when you remove crust from the oven, allow to cool before adding filling
5. To begin making the lemon filling, whisk together the 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 1/3 cup flour
6. When the flour and sugar are combined, whisk in eggs, lemon juice and rinds
7. Pour over cooled crust and place back in the oven for 25 minutes - bars will firm as the cool
8. Once cool, dust top of lemon bars with powdered sugar 
9. Devour the lemon goodness!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Independence Berry Cobbler

What comes in a close second to BBQ and fireworks on the 4th of July? Dessert of course! No Independence Day shindig is complete without bellies filled with the tastiest food and smiles on everyones faces. That is why there is no better way to end your meal than with the colorful burst of a berry cobbler. This dessert is filled with natures own red and blue berries and all you have to do is add the white with some vanilla ice cream plopped on top of the 'just out of the oven' hot cobbler. Nothing says independence better than American farm gown berries in the colors of our flag, straight from the ground and right into our mouths.

And when the sparklers burn out...there's always leftovers!

3 pints of blueberries
1 pint blackberries
16 oz. package strawberries
3 peaches, peeled and sliced
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons corn starch
1 lemon (juiced)
1/8 teaspoon salt

4.5 ounces flour (apx. 1 cup)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled butter (cut into small pieces)
1/2 cup half and half
3 tablespoons raw sugar
1 tablespoon of egg white

1. Preheat over to 350 degrees
Prepare filling: 
2. In 13x9 baking dish coated with cooking spray, combine blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and peaches
3. In separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients for filling - 2/3 cup sugar, 2 1/2 tablespoons corn starch, 1/8 teaspoon salt - pour over fruit and toss with hands
4. Squeeze the juice of one lemon over filling mixture
Prepare topping: 
5. In a medium bowl, combine flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoon cornstarch, baking powder and salt - stir
6. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender or a knife and fork until it resembles corse meal
7. Add half and half and gently kneed dough until just moistened 
8. Drop dough by spoonfuls over the top of the fruit filling mixture, making sure to evenly space the dough
9. Combine raw sugar and egg white - sprinkle over the top
10. Bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes or until the topping is browned
11. Let stand 10 minutes and serve with vanilla ice cream 

*inspired by a recipe from Cooking Light Magazine

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Anzac Biscuits

This week I am bringing you a very special recipe, given to me by my future father-in-law, that is full of sugar, stories and sweetness. Being a fellow craftsman in the kitchen I knew his recipe would be a keeper, but what I didn't know was that the story behind these cookies would be a recipe of wisdom in itself.

The Anzac biscuit might be a mystery to us Americans, but it's history to those with roots in Australia and New Zealand. This treat dates back to 1915 when the wives of soldiers in World War I made these cookies for their husbands to take on the road with them for sustenance (to read more about the meaning of Anzac Day and the story behind these treats, click here). What once started out as simple biscuit whose only function was a long shelf life, has now crossed generations to remain a sweet staple that not only tastes good but also delivers a piece of the past with every crunchy bite.

This biscuit is chock full of everything we love in the average cookie - oatmeal, coconut, butter and sugar - so read up, bake up and eat up this special new treat.

1 cup rolled oats (not the instant variety)
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup coconut
1 tablespoon golden syrup (this ingredient is a bit hard to can check your local grocery, order it over the internet or substitute it with light corn syrup and molasses in a 2 to 1 ratio)
1/2 cup butter
2 tablespoons boiling water
1 teaspoon baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees
1. In a large bowl, mix oats, flour, sugar and coconut together - set aside
2. In a small sauce pan, melt butter and golden syrup together
3. While the butter mixture is melting, mix together boiling water and baking soda in a separate bowl
4. When butter mixture is melted, add the baking soda mixture and stir
5. Combine wet mixture with the dry ingredients by slowly pouring over the top of the dry mixture
6. Stir together with fork
7. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto greased or parchment lined cookie sheets about two inches apart (cookies will spread almost flat)
8. Bake in oven at 300 degrees for 15-20 minutes
9. Cool on tray for a few minutes, then remove to cooling racks until transferring to air tight containers

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Belated Bunny Easter Cupcakes!

When all the painted eggs have been found and eaten and the only thing left is half empty box of Peeps, all you need is a good batch of Easter themed cupcakes to keep the spirit stretched out just a few days longer.

This year, my family decided to have our big Easter celebration one day late...and who wouldn't want an extra day of celebration! I knew that we all secretly wanted to share in the sweets, festivities and bunny themed everything for just one more day. To be able to crack those plastic eggs, revealing the secrets inside and wearing our perfectly pink bunny ears just one more hour was so worth it. Celebrating Easter on a Monday to us, just meant we had a whole 24 hours of additional bunny time, and for my family, that is something to celebrate!

The evening began at my aunts house where we gathered for champagne, hugs, food, and most of all, dessert. Easter is one of those special holidays centered almost entirely around sweets and I knew I had to make a holiday themed cupcake that would knock the whiskers right off the Easter bunny! So, I set to work in my kitchen whipping up a magical blend of vanilla, coconut and leftover Peeps.

These cupcakes may look like a decorators dream, but they are so easy to make. Simply whip up a batch of your favorite vanilla cupcakes and buttercream frosting. While the cupcakes are baking, toss shredded coconut and green food coloring into a Ziploc bag and shake away! Once you frost the cooled cupcakes with the fresh batch of buttercream, simply press the green colored coconut onto the surface and top with your favorite themed Peep. 

So easy a bunny could do it!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Truth About Nutmeg...

If there is one thing I have learned along my journey of baking, it is that freshly ground nutmeg is king and anything less is just a waste of culinary goodness. It will give your cakes, breads, and puddings a taste that leaves your guests wondering "what is that?!".  So go ahead, soak up the compliments of your secret ingredient and read on to find out why a little extra elbow grease will lead you to some beautiful baking.

As with most herbs and spices, fresh always reigns supreme. However, I am a realist here too and know that a) fresh ingredients are more expensive and b) you never actually end up using them all, thus wasting most of what you bought in the first place. Also, fresh herbs and spices always mean a little more work than just dipping into that small glass jar. That is why, in reality, I am with you on the dried, jarred ingredients...that is except nutmeg!

The joy of nutmeg is that when you buy it whole, the "seeds" actually come in a jar (similar to very large nuts). This means that there is no expiration date and no worries about not using up all that you paid for. The whole nutmeg can be pulled out as needed and gently grated on a microplane zester to add the greatest depth to all your dishes and any remaining seed that goes unused can simply be placed back in the jar! 

The flavor compared to jarred nutmeg is worlds away. This is because the essential oils contained in the whole seeds dry out in pre-ground nutmeg and little real flavor is left, leaving much to be desired in your dessert. I can promise you that once you begin to grate the seeds and start to smell these flavorful oils coming out of the freshly ground nutmeg, you will be converted.
So go ahead, kick your spices up a notch. Once you grind, you'll never go back!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Operation Chocolate Chip Cookies

This month of Operation Baking Gals fell right around the heartfelt day of Valentines and Team KelseyKakes took full advantage of sending all our love to the troops overseas. I had such a wonderful group this month stretching all the way from Alaska to New York City...that's a lot of baking mileage! These chefs went above and beyond for our sponsored troop of the month, Bryan Tull. 

SGT Tull is a broadcast journalist in the Army Reserves. His unit's primary mission is to work directly with members of the international media who visit Iraq to get the real story for audiences around the world. His unit also has a daily blog - Blogs Over Baghdad - that I encourage everyone to read, it will truly touch your heart. His job of maintaining the integrity of journalism is such an important one, as we all know that the information we have access to is a priceless tool for understanding what is really happening in our world. He is protecting our freedom of press and freedom of speech...and for that, we bake!

I was so inspired by SGT Tull and caught up in the moment of Valentines, that I decided what better a treat than to bake up the largest, most yummy batch of my famous chocolate chip cookies...with a lovely twist of red and white M&M's to replace the chocolate chips of course! These cookies are perfect for shipping to a troop or a crush because they contain a secret ingredient of instant vanilla pudding. Why pudding mix you ask? Well, adding instant pudding mix to your cookie dough prevents the delicious bites from getting stale and hard during shipping. These cookies will stay soft for weeks on end and remain perfect with every nibble to come.

Chocolate Chip Pudding Cookies

2 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup butter (at room temperature)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 package (3.4 oz.) instant pudding (I like vanilla)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used valentines M&M's for this recipe)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour and baking soda - set aside
3. Using a stand mixer (or similar) cream together the butter, brown sugar and white sugar for about 2-3 minutes
4. Beat instant pudding mix 
5. Gradually stir in eggs and vanilla 
6. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and blend until just combined
7. Using a spatula, hand stir in chocolate chips and nuts
8. Drop cookies by rounded spoonful on baking sheet lined with parchment (or an ungreased cookie sheet)
9. Bake for 10-12 minutes...they will look undone, but set up once removed from the oven

*TIP: You can really make these cookies you own by changing the pudding mix flavor or your add-in ingredients. Have fun with it!