LET’S GET SPOOKY!

I realize Halloween will not be the same this year, and that  makes me sad. But it is impossible to resist baking all kinds of spooky things, and with this post I share six options for your socially-distant Halloween celebration.

All macarons were filled with a chocolate ganache, but in the Devil and Mummy macs the ganache was made by steeping the cream with smoked tea. Bat Cookies are a hazelnut-almond dough, and the others are regular sugar cookies.

DEVIL MACARONS

I used my default recipe which you can find here (and also a video tutorial in case you’d like to bake along with me). The idea of the decoration came from a brand new cookbook (The Wicked Baker) by one of the most fascinating contestants of the Great British Bake Off, the one and only Helena Garcia. She used a similar decoration for donuts, but I adapted it for macarons. The ears were made with Royal Icing dyed black, and piped on parchment paper in the appropriate format. Make more ears than you’ll need, as they break easily.  The same Royal Icing was used to pipe the devilish tail. Once you assemble the shells with the filling, quickly add the ears, while the ganache is still soft.

Recipe for the smoked chocolate ganache:
150g heavy cream (you won’t use the full amount in the ganache)
1 bag smoked black tea (Lapsang Souchong)
2 tsp corn syrup
230g semi-sweet chocolate in pieces

Start by making the filling, as it must cool down before using. Bring the heavy cream to a gentle boil, add the tea bag. Turn the heat off, close the pan and leave the tea infusing for 30 minutes. Squeeze the tea bag and remove it. Bring the cream to a gentle boil again, then pour 115g of it over the chocolate. Leave it for 5 minutes, gently whisk until smooth, add the corn syrup. Cool it until it gets to a good consistency for piping on the shells.

MUMMY MACARONS

Also made with my default recipe, and filled with Smoked Chocolate Ganache. Once the shells are assembled, simply use white Candy Melts to make a random drizzle on the surface, and quickly add store-bought candy eyes (from Wilton).

Those were made in fact two years ago, and I totally forgot to blog about them. Back then, there was a thing called “Halloween Party” with guests and all (sigh). Bogey approved the macs, but was a bit spooked by a special version I made at the time.

Isn’t that pup the most adorable being in the universe? Noticed the paw?

 

SPIDER MACARONS

The shells were made with a new (to me) recipe. I used the Swiss meringue method, in a version that is super easy to memorize: 100g of every ingredient. All details in this recent post from Broma Bakery. I really like the way the shells baked with tall feet, and I did not even passed the almond flour + powdered sugar through the food processor, which made the whole process even simpler.

I loved making the spider decorations. I used marzipan dyed black, and then formed the head and the body of the little spiders, glueing them to the shells with candy melts. A little food-safe black pen to make the spider legs, and that was it! If you prefer less marzipan on the shells, roll the marzipan thin, and cut circles, one bigger for the body, one smaller for the head. It will have a similar look, but for those who are not wild about marzipan, even better to enjoy!

Chocolate Ganache Filling

100 g heavy cream
220g dark chocolate, chopped finely (I used Lindt 70%)
15 g butter
15 g honey
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Gently melt the chocolate with the butter in a double-boiler or microwave at 50% power. Set aside.

Pour the cream together with the honey and vanilla into a small saucepan and place over medium heat until it reaches almost boiling point. Pour slowly over the chocolate-butter mixture, mix until homogenized.  Keep at room temperature for about 3 hours before using to fill the shells. You can make also make it the day before.

BAT COOKIES

Another decoration idea from The Wicked Baker, Helena’s cookbook. She used sugar cookies, I went with a slightly different recipe for the cookie base.

HAZELNUT-ALMOND CUT-OUT COOKIES
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

188g butter at room temperature, cut in small cubes
78g powdered sugar
63g eggs
250g all-purpose flour
42g ground hazelnuts
42g ground almonds
1/4 tsp salt

In a Kitchen Aid type mixer with the paddle attachment cream the butter with powdered sugar until soft and smooth. Gradually add the eggs, and keep beating until fully emulsified.

Add the flour, hazelnuts, almonds and salt, mixing gently to a homogeneous mixture. Transfer the dough to a floured surface, pat as a disc and refrigerate for about 2 hours.

Roll out and cut in any shape you like. Freeze the cut cookies for 10 minutes before baking at 350F for about 12 minutes, until edges start to get a little color. Decorate with Royal Icing or serve plain, they are delicious even without decorations.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

A little Royal Icing, sprinkles, and food pen to finalize the bat-look…  Very simple to decorate, and the hazelnut-almond base really adds a lot to the cookie.

SPOOKY SUGAR COOKIES

I love using these cookie cutters that make the design for you, because I’m not that good at piping fancy designs (I am working on it, but well, you know how it goes). For the houses, I wanted a “granite” look, and it was easy to do with food gel diluted with a bit of vodka (or lemon extract). You need to eye-ball the dilution factor, so that the color is a little faded and does not cover the surface of the cookie completely. I used purple and dark blue from Artisan Accents, and completed the decoration with Royal Icing dyed orange or black.

For the sugar cookie basic recipe, I followed Bakeat350 to a T. I love that you don’t need to refrigerate the dough before rolling it out. All recipes I’ve tried from that site worked wonderfully, and I’ve tried plenty, as every week I include a small batch of sugar cookies in my donations to Common Table.

FRIENDLY GHOST MACARONS

I used my default recipe for these, and the same chocolate ganache used for the Spider Macs, posted above.  All you need is a template to pipe your little ghosts, and to make sure the macaron batter is not too thin, stop shorter in the macaronage, so that when you pipe the design it stays as it is.  There are many templates available in the net, I used this one. The only issue I had with these macs is the slight browning in the oven. It is pretty tricky to keep the white color unchanged. In a batch I made earlier, I painted some pearl dust all over the surface, but it used up so much pearl dust, I am not sure it was worth it.

For more recipes to inspire you, click on this link from last year. Amazing how we had no idea how much our world would be changed 365 days later.

ONE YEAR AGO: Miso and Sesame Roast Chicken with Revelation Quinoa

TWO YEAR AGO: Incredibly Simple Times Four

THREE YEARS AGO: Parsnip, Coconut and Lemongrass Soup

FOUR YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, October 2016

FIVE YEARS AGO: Paleo Moussaka

SIX YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, October 2014

SEVEN YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, October 2013

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Bourbon and Molasses Glazed Pork Tenderloin

NINE YEARS AGO: Crimson and Cream Turkey Chili

TEN YEARS AGO: Taking a break from the nano-kitchen

ELEVEN YEARS AGO: Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

BROWN SUGAR COOKIES WITH BUTTERCREAM ICING

Since lockdown, Sugar Cookies became a weekly baking activity. I make a batch of dough, divide it in three portions, cut, bake and decorate one-third of it, save the leftover dough in the freezer to use on the following two weeks. By doing so, I can easily include some in every Friday Common Table spread, concentrating just on how to decorate them (although they are very tasty even plain). In this version, I used a crusting buttercream instead of the usual Royal Icing.

BROWN SUGAR COOKIES WITH BUTTERCREAM ICING
(adapted from many sources)

for the cookies:
360 g all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice (I used this one, see comment at the end of the post)
100 g granulated sugar
100g brown sugar
226 g butter, cut into chunks
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla paste

for the icing:
60 g butter
60 g vegetable shortening (I used Spectrum)
360 g powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla (clear, if available)
2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
pinch of salt
gel food color (pink and purple)
sprinkles
gold powder
lemon extract or vodka

Heat oven to 350. Whisk the flour, baking powder and mixed spice, set aside.

Add the butter (cold is fine) to the bowl of a KitchenAid type mixer and cream with both sugars.  Add the egg, vanilla and salt, and mix until everything is incorporated nicely.

Gradually add the flour mixture and beat just until combined. Make sure to scrape the bowl, so that no dried bits of flour stay unincorporated. If you want to divide the dough, do it now, freeze amounts for later and work with half or one third of it right away. Roll on a floured surface to about 1/4″ and cut into shapes. Place on parchment lined baking sheets, freeze for 5 to 10 minutes, and bake for about 12 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies. The edges should start to get golden, but do not allow the full cookie to get too much color.  Transfer to a cooling rack and decorate as you desire, or leave them plain.

Make the frosting. Combine butter and shortening (both at room temperature) in the bowl of a Kitchen Aid type mixer using the whisk attachment. When they are well incorporated, add the powdered sugar, vanilla and milk, whisking in low speed at first. Increase the speed to medium-high and whisk for a couple of minutes. Adjust consistency with heavy cream or more powdered sugar, if needed.

Divide in three portions. Dye one portion pink, one portion purple, and leave the third portion white. Place in piping bags fitted with 1M icing tip. I left the pink as a solid color, and mixed the purple and white together, adding more purple than white to the bag. Pipe rosettes on top of the fully cold cookies, decorate with sprinkles. Once the frosting is solid enough on the surface, decorate the pink rosettes with gold powder mixed with vodka or lemon extract.

Allow the cookies to sit at room temperature for 24 hours before wrapping or placing in a box.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  Buttercream icing might seem like a lot of extra work, but I find it more forgiving because it is easier to get the consistency right. Royal Icing requires a lot more precision, and I’ve had situations in which I had to empty the piping bag, adjust the consistency, fill it again… and REPEAT the process… Not fun. The buttercream will start to crust within one hour, and after 2 hours you can paint the edges with gold if you like.  Leave the cookies at room temperature for 24 hours before packing them, so that the frosting is nice and firm. It will be soft as you bite into it.

For the rosettes, I think that mixing white buttercream with the dyed gives a more subtle and elegant effect. I did that for the purple decoration. The pink was piped as a solid color, but then the gold detail did the job of softening the overall look, or at least that’s what I was trying to go for.

Another third of the dough was decorated with Royal Icing the following week. I used the small-batch that I blogged about in the past, you can see it here. Some got a painted icing decoration as described by Helen in this post.

The addition of brown sugar and spices changes quite a bit the flavor of the cookie itself. I liked it so much that it made me think if I could go back in time I would use this recipe instead of the one I had planned to use in a certain tent: a plain sugar cookie perfumed with Fiori di Sicilia and cardamon. But, since I never made it to the cookie episode, going back in time would be a moot point.

About Mixed Spice, here is the composition: ground cinnamon (40%)  + ground coriander (40%), complete the other 20% amount with ground caraway, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves adjusting them to taste

ONE YEAR AGO: Mandioca Frita 101 

TWO YEARS AGO: Raspberry Puffs

THREE YEARS AGO: Vietnamese-ish Chicken

FOUR YEARS AGO: Rutabagas Anna

FIVE YEARS AGO: The Ultimate Raspberry Sorbet

SIX YEARS AGO: Crispy Cornmeal Sweet Potato Fries

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Pan-grilled Tilapia with Smoked Paprika & Avocado Cream

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Golden Saffron and Fennel Loaf

NINE YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, July 2011

TEN YEARS AGO: Heavenly Homemade Fromage Blanc

ELEVEN YEARS AGOA Perfect Sunday Dinner

 

4TH OF JULY INSPIRED BAKING

HAPPY 4th OF JULY!

Just a couple of days ago I celebrated 11 years of my naturalization! It always gives me a smile the fact that it fell so close to such an important holiday. Today I share four bakes that celebrate the occasion: macarons, sugar cookies, red velvet brownies, and baked donuts. The common denominator? Sprinkles. I bet you are not surprised.

4th OF JULY MACARONS WITH CHOCOLATE COCONUT FILLING
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

For the shells:
200g  powdered sugar
115 g almond flour
115 g egg whites at room temperature (approx. 4 eggs)
1/8 tsp of cream of tartar
100 g granulated sugar
¼ tsp vanilla paste or extract
red, blue, purple and black food gel dye

for the chocolate-coconut ganache:  
180g cream of coconut
1/8 tsp salt
200g chocolate, cut in small pieces (II used 70% Lindt)

to decorate:
white non-pareils

Make the shells:
Line 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment/baking paper or Silpat mats. Layer the powdered sugar, and ground almonds in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal, about 12 pulses. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a small bowl or to a sheet of parchment/baking paper. Set aside.

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Make sure that the bowl and the whisk are impeccably clean. Starting on medium speed, whip the whites with the cream of tartar until they look like light foam. The whites should not appear liquid. The foam will be light and should not have any structure.

Slowly rain in the granulated sugar in five additions, trying to aim the stream between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to high. Continue to whip the meringue until it is soft and shiny. It should look like marshmallow creme (marshmallow fluff). Add the vanilla. Whip the egg whites until the mixture begins to dull and the lines of the whisk are visible on the surface of the meringue. Check the peak. It should be firm. Transfer the whites to a medium bowl.

Fold in the ground almond/almond meal mixture in two increments. Paint the mixture halfway up the side of the bowl, using the flat side of a spatula. Scrape the mixture down to the center of the bowl. Repeat two or three times, then check to see if the mixture slides slowly down the side of the bowl.   Divide the batter in three parts, dye 1/3 red, dye 1/3 blue (using a mixture of blue, purple and black to get the tone of blue you like). Leave the final third white. Pour the three batters side by side over plastic wrap, enclose them wrapping the plastic around like a sausage. Drop the bag with the three colors inside a piping bag fitted with a round piping tip.  If you want to make a set of solid color, divide the batter to get a bigger amount of that color and place some of it in a separate piping bag.

Pipe rounds over Silpat or parchment paper in a half-sheet pan and then slam each sheet hard four to six times on the counter. Add sprinkles, if like.  Let the unbaked macarons dry until they look dull but not overly dry. Drying time depends on humidity. In a dry climate, the macarons can dry in 15 to 20 minutes; in a humid climate, it can take 35 to 40 minutes.

While the macarons are drying, heat the oven to 300 F (150 C/130C Fan oven/Gas Mark 2). Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack. Check in 11 minutes. If the tops slide or move (independently of the ‘feet’ when you gently twist the top), then bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. Check one or two. If they move when gently touched, put them back in the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes until they don’t move when touched.   Let the macaroons cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.  The macarons should release without sticking.

Make the ganache. Bring the coconut puree and salt to the boil in a small pan. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate in a bowl. Stir well with a whisk until combined. Cover the ganache with plastic wrap touching the surface and leave at room temperature for at least 1 hour. Do not place in the fridge. Whip with a handheld blender for a minute or so to get a slightly thicker consistency for piping.

Match shells and add the filling (I used a piping bag cut open, no piping tip). Decorations for the small macarons were made with Candy Melts (white) and star-shaped sprinkles. Place the macarons in the fridge overnight to mature before enjoying or freezing them for later.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: For the tie-dye color effect, add the three batters to the same bag. The easiest way to do that is to open a large piece of plastic film on your countertop, lay the different colors in three large stripes, side by side. Roll the plastic wrap as a sausage and drop it inside a piping bag fitted with your favorite tip. That will make sure the colors get a random mixing as you pipe the shells. I reserved some blue batter to make smaller macarons, all blue. If you want the colors to be more separated, with clear margins (also a very cool effect), simply place them in three separate piping bags and drop them inside a larger one, after cutting their tips (easy to forget, don’t ask me how I know).

4th OF JULY CARDAMON-ORANGE COOKIES
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

360 g all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
215 g sugar
¼ tsp salt
227 g cup butter, cold and cut in pieces
1 egg
3/4 tsp Fiori di Sicilia extract
zest of 1 large orange
1/2 tsp cardamom

for the Royal Icing:
80 g egg whites
420 g powdered sugar
blue gel food dye

MAKE THE COOKIE DOUGH. Heat oven to 350 F. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. Add the orange zest to the sugar and rub it all with your hands to release the fragrant oils. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg, Fiori di Sicilia and cardamom, mix well. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture and beat just until combined.

Dough can be rolled right away in between sheets of parchment paper. Roll to about 1/4″ thick, and cut into shapes. I used large stars, small stars, and rectangles. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets, freeze for 5 to 10 minutes. Bake for about 12 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and cool to room temperature before icing.

MAKE THE ROYAL ICING: whisk the egg whites and powdered sugar using a KitchenAid type mixer until fully smooth. Adjust if needed with sugar or a little milk. Color half of it blue, keep the other half white. Make the small stars first, flooding them with white icing. Add the sprinkles before the icing sets. As they sit on a rack, flood the large stars with blue icing. Keep the very center empty, all you need is a little icing to glue the small star on top. Since it is going to be a bit heavy, if you flood the whole extension of the cookie, it will risk pressing is too much and running down the edges. Place the small star on top and allow them to dry overnight.

For the painted cookie effect, see this post.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This basic recipe for sugar cookies is the one I had planned to use in the Great American Baking Show. I’ve made it so many times now, that I don’t even need to look at the recipe anymore. It always works. My only advice for you is to use regular American butter, like the simple, humble Land-O-Lakes. That butter seems to be the best in terms of less spreading and less fat leaking during baking. And the cookies taste as good as those made with higher fancier brands. Come to think of it, if I had made it in the tent, who knows how they would turn out? I shiver to think.  😉

RED VELVET BROWNIE CAKE
(slightly modified from Mary Berry’s Fast Cakes)

300g semi-sweet chocolate, broken into pieces
200g  butter
200g sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla paste
150g all-purpose flour
1 + 1/2  tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
8 g red gel color (I used Americolor Super Red)

for icing:
300g powdered sugar
3 tbsp very hot water
squeeze of lemon juice
sprinkles

Heat the oven to 325 F.  Grease a  12 x 9 in pan tin and line with parchment paper. Sift the flour with the baking powder and the salt. Reserve. Gently melt the chocolate and the butter together.  Let it cool slightly and add the sugar, eggs, vanilla and red gel dye. Mix well until smooth and shiny.  Add the flour mixture, stir until no dry bits remain.

Pour the mixture into the pan and level the top. Bake for 35–40 minutes, or until risen and a crust has formed on the surface. The middle should feel just firm when pressed with your fingertips. Leave to cool in the pan, then remove it.

Make the icing: Mix the powdered sugar, water and lemon juice together in a bowl to make a smooth paste, adjust consistency as needed. Spread over the cold cake and top with sprinkles. Cut in pieces to serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Pretty much everything I bake these days go for Common Table meals, and they need to be wrapped individually. I am always tweaking the recipes so that they bake as flat and uniformly as possible, and if they have some type of icing, it is not too soft. Crusting buttercream and powdered sugar-based icings are the best.  I tend to use less baking powder than the recipes call for, so feel free to up a little the amount (up to 2 + 1/2 tsp)  if you don’t mind a certain dome effect in the center of your cake. For this recipe a 13 x 9 will give a cake a bit too thin, if that’s the only size you have, perhaps a 10 inch square pan will work better.

4th OF JULY BAKED ORANGE DONUTS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

100g granulated sugar
Zest of 1 large orange
160 g cake flour, sifted
1 + ¼ tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
½ cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 tbsp butter, melted
½ teaspoon vanilla paste

Spray your donut pans with a very light coating of baking spray. I used one mini donut pan and one regular size.  Heat oven to 400 F.

In a small bowl combine sugar and orange zest until the sugar is moistened and fragrant. In a large mixing bowl, sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in sugar mixture.

Add buttermilk, egg, butter, and vanilla and stir until just combined. Add batter to a piping bag and fill each donut cup approximately one-half full.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until the top of the donuts spring back when touched.
Let cool in pan for 4–5 minutes before removing. Finish the donuts with melted Candy Melts and add sprinkles before it sets.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here


Comments: I’ve made these donuts about a month ago using orange blossom water instead of vanilla paste, and to me they tasted a bit artificial. So this time I kept the orange theme exclusively in the zest. Maybe it depends on the brand of orange water you have. At any rate, they are very simple to prepare and have a nice texture. Fiori di Sicilia would probably be quite nice also, but I did not want to have two exact same flavors in the weekly bake. All these goodies were included in the same Common Table meal of July 3rd.

I hope you enjoyed this small collection of 4th of July bakes, and that you are having a nice weekend. Please stay vigilant, observe social distance, and wear a mask when outside. It is not a political issue, it is a matter of your health and that of those around you.

A mask is a sign that you care.

For a recent review on staying safe during this pandemic, visit this post.

ONE YEAR AGO: In My Kitchen, July 2019

TWO YEARS AGO: Brigadeiros for the 4th of July

THREE YEARS AGO: Kaleidoscopic Macarons

FOUR YEARS AGO: Zucchini Noodles with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

FIVE YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, July 2015

SIX YEARS AGO: Sous-vide Pork Chops with Roasted Poblano Butter

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Roasted Strawberry-Buttermilk Sherbet

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Amazing Ribs for the 4th of July!

NINE YEARS AGO: Baby Back Ribs on the 4th of July

TEN YEARS AGO: Blueberry Muffins

ELEVEN YEARS AGO: A Pie for your 4th of July

 

SCARY GOOD RECIPES FOR YOUR NEXT HALLOWEEN

Halloween will be back in only 361 days, so I am here to help you get into proper mood for it. Truth is, I had so much fun making these recipes, I cannot stand the idea of waiting for months and months to share. Let me introduce you then to some Friendly Ghost Cookies, Witches’ Fingers, and a Gingerbread Coffin with a chocolate cake inside so delicious that a dead body will rest forever happy.

FRIENDLY GHOST SUGAR COOKIES
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

360 g all-purpose flour (about 3 cups)
2 teaspoons baking powder
215 g granulated sugar
2 tsp orange zest
¼ tsp salt
227 g cup butter, cold and cut in pieces
1 egg
3/4 tsp Fiori di Sicilia extract
1/2 tsp cardamom

for icing:
4 Tablespoons meringue powder
½ cup water
1 pound powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
1 tsp light corn syrup (such as Karo)
a few drops of almond extract

Heat oven to 360F.  Make the cookie dough. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg, Fiori di Sicilia, orange zest and cardamom, mix well. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture and beat just until combined.

Dough can be rolled right away in between sheets of parchment paper. Roll to about 1/4″ thick, and cut into shapes. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets, freeze for 5 minutes. Bake for about 12 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and cool to room temperature before icing.

Make the Royal icing. In the bowl of a KitchenAid type mixer, with paddle attachment the water and meringue powder for a couple of minutes. Add the powdered sugar (sift over the bowl), corn syrup and almond extract. Beat on high speed for about 5 minutes.

Divide the Royal icing in three portions, one large will be left white. Two small portions will be dyed black and orange.  Flood the cookies with white icing and decorate with black and orange details as shown in the pictures.  Allow to fully dry before serving them.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe click here

Comments: The recipe makes quite a bit of cookies, feel free to halve them if you prefer. Rolling the dough and baking is not a big deal, but of course the decoration demands a bit of time. I made them one evening after work and had this little voice talking to myself “why didn’t you make just half?”

The composite picture below shows you how easy it is to make the decoration for the little ghosts. Three lines, wet on wet, and a needle to pull the lines through, first in one direction, then in the opposite direction.  I cannot take credit for it, I saw a similar design somewhere in Pinterest world.


The combination of orange zest, fiori di Sicilia and cardamon is really wonderful. I need to think about those flavors for macaron filling.

Moving on……


WITCHES’ FINGERS

Recipe from my friend Karen over at Karen’s Kitchen Stories. Click here to get all the details.

RECIPE STEPS IN PICTURES

Comments: At first I was a bit insecure about how much green dye to use (secret is to use less than you think you need), and how to exactly shape the fingers. Well, don’t worry too much about it, no matter how you do it, the result will be gruesome and horrific. Which is pretty much the goal of the bake, right?  They taste delicious, and the nails  almonds add a nice flavor to them. As to the jam, I used raspberry jam with a tiny drop of red food color to intensify the effect. The jam by itself was not as red as I wanted.

Moving on to the final bake…


GINGERBREAD COFFIN WITH CHOCOLATE CAKE
(from Bewitching Kitchen, inspired by many sources)

for the gingerbread dough:
660 g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 sticks (227 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
200 g granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup honey
3/4 cup unsulfured molasses

for icing:
4 Tablespoons meringue powder
½ cup water
1 pound powdered sugar
1 tsp light corn syrup
a few drops of almond extract

for the caramel glue:
200 g sugar
60 mL water
1 tsp corn syrup
1/2 tsp lemon juice

for the chocolate cake:
463 g sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
70 g Dutch process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (237 g) water
3/4 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla paste
220 g all-purpose flour
4 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk

for the chocolate icing:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used Lindt 70%)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup

for the Royal icing decoration:
(same recipe as sugar cookies)

Make the gingerbread dough. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, and spices. In another large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium-high, cream butter and sugar for about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then honey and molasses.

Slowly add the flour mixture until well combined. Divide the dough into 3 pieces, wrap each in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about one hour.

Heat oven to 350°F. Working with a third of dough at a time, roll out to ¼-inch thickness on parchment paper well dusted with flour. Cut the pieces you need for the coffin, and transfer the cut pieces to the freezer for about 10 minutes. Bake cookies for 12 to 15 minutes. They must be crisp and dry but not getting dark.

Cool them completely before icing and once the icing is dry, assemble the coffin using caramel.

Make the caramel. Put the sugar and water in a large, low-sided frying pan over a medium-high heat. Without stirring, bring to 320 F.  If you don’t have a thermometer, the syrup is ready when the sugar has dissolved and it turns a golden color, not too dark.  Swirl the syrup gently in the pan to even out the color. Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool for a few moments to thicken slightly to the consistency of honey. Dip the edges of the pieces you intend to glue and assemble them. Drizzle additional caramel if needed using a small spoon. 

If the syrup begins to harden in the pan, put it back over a gentle heat until it has returned to the required consistency.

Make the chocolate cake. Heat oven to 350F.  Spray a 13 x 9 pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the pan with parchment paper, extending the paper out of the pan to facilitate removal of the cake after baking.

In a saucepan, stir together the sugar, salt, cocoa, and baking soda. Add to it 1 cup of boiling water, stir well and let it sit for 15 minutes.

Pour the hot cocoa mixture into a mixing bowl, add the oil and vanilla and beat on low speed until combined. On low speed, mix the flour into the batter and then add the eggs, egg yolks and buttermilk. Do not over-mix. Pour the very thin batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for about 35 minutes, rotating the pan after 15 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean when tested in the center of the cake.  Allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes on a rack. Run a thin knife around the edge and jar the edge of the pan to loosen. Invert onto the serving platter. Cool completely, then cut in pieces to fit inside the gingerbread coffin. You will have to do some assembling to fit some of the cut pieces in the bottom of the coffin.

Make the chocolate icing. Place the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler. Add corn syrup and set over a pan of simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted and smooth. use immediately, pouring it gently over the cake, once it’s inside the gingerbread coffin.  Allow it to set for a few hours at room temperature.  Use Royal Icing to draw a skeleton inside, if you so desire, or use powdered sugar and a stencil.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Your cake will be baked in a 13 x 9 rectangular pan. You should draw a design for the coffin that makes the lid no bigger than 12.5 inches in length. The sides should be 2.5 inches in height.  It is a pretty easy design, I made the pieces in cardboard and used those to cut the gingerbread dough. The recipe has a reasonably small amount of baking powder, so that the dough does not change much during baking, but you can always use a Microplane grater to bring the edges into better shape.

Most gingerbread sculptures are assembled with very thick Royal icing. It has its problems – I will discuss those a bit more in a future post. Caramel sounds dangerous because it’s so hot and if you burn yourself it’s not fun at all, but the advantage is that it glues quickly and you don’t have the white stuff joining every piece. That is nice for a house or other structures, but I prefer the coffin to be more austere.  Apart from having to clean the pan after making the caramel, I liked the method better than Royal icing for assembling.  Live and learn.

The cake was absolutely wonderful even next day, moist, intense, it gave a bit of moisture to the gingerbread base, which I did not roll as thin as I should have. I need a lot more practice with this type of dough, and find that particularly to roll large pieces, I have issues keeping it thin and uniform. At any rate, Karl Lagerfeld did not seem to mind cutting pieces for Spider Woman. And she was delighted for catching him in her dangerous web. They do make a nice match, even if I say so myself. Biased, who moi?

I hope you enjoyed this little roundup of Halloween recipes. It is a scary job, but someone has to do it.

ONE YEAR AGO: Devil Wears Chocolate

TWO YEARS AGO: Slow-Cooker Pot Roast with Potatoes, Carrots, and Fennel

THREE YEARS AGO: The Best, the Very Best Hummus

FOUR YEARS AGO: Cheddar Cheese Crackers

FIVE YEARS AGO: A New Take on Cauliflower Puree

SIX YEARS AGO:
 In My (NEW!) Kitchen

SEVEN YEARS AGO:
 
The Lab Move and New Beginnings

EIGHT YEARS AGO:
 Honey-Oat Pain de Mie

NINE YEARS AGO:
 Carrot and Leek Soup

TEN YEARS AGO:
 Chicken Parmigiana 101

 

VALENTINE’S DAY SWEETHEART COOKIES

Back in December, I made a batch of cookies and “decorated” them. After that experience it became clear that the road to hell is paved with Royal icing. Since it was a real roller coaster, I decided I was done with it for the rest of my existence. Having said that, I don’t know exactly why I woke up one day thinking that the combination of sugar cookies with Royal icing would be the best way to start Valentine’s week. A real sucker for punishment I am. Was it that bad? Sort of. Let’s say it had some ups and some dark and scary downs.

SWEETHEART SUGAR COOKIES WITH ROYAL ICING
(adapted from Alton Brown and Sweet Sugarbelle)

what you’ll need:
heart-shaped cookie cutter
scribe tool
piping bags
icing tips size 2 or 3
rubber bands for piping bags (2 per bag)
paper towels and water for constant clean-up
a Zen attitude
a very understanding partner in case you run out of previous item

for the cookie dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour (360 g)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened (225 g)
1 cup sugar (225 g)
zest of 1 lemon
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
1 tablespoon milk

for the icing:
2 pounds confectioner’s sugar {907 grams}
5 tablespoons meringue powder {approximately 53 grams}
2 teaspoons vanilla bean extract (I used clear vanilla extract)
1/2-3/4 cups warm water

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat until light in color. Add egg, lemon zest, milk and vanilla, beat to combine. Put mixer on low-speed, add flour, and mix just until the mixture starts to form a dough. Do not over mix or your cookies might be tough. Remove the dough from the mixer and finish mixing it by hand, gently.  Divide the dough in half, flatten each portion as a square or rectangle and wrap in plastic foil. Refrigerate for 1 hour minimum.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove one wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling-pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 3/8-inch thick. Cut into heart shapes, place on baking sheet over parchment paper, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time. Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to cool on a rack. Ice the cookies when completely cool, or on the following day.

Make the icing (you can make the day before and store well covered at room temperature). Stir the vanilla into half of the water and reserve. Keep the other half of the water measured and ready to go.

Using a paddle attachment gently mix the sugar and meringue powder. With the mixer on the lowest setting slowly add the water/flavoring mix to the dry ingredients. As the water is added, the icing will become thick and lumpy. Continue to add the remaining water {this may or may not be the entire amount} until the mixture reaches a thick consistency. At this point, turn the mixer to medium speed and whip 2-4 minutes until the mixture is thick and fluffy. When it forms a soft peak, it has been beaten enough. Avoid mixing further, as you don’t want to incorporate too much air in the icing. Too much air might result in bubbles forming after icing.

Adjust the consistency that you need for flooding the cookies, separate the icing in portions, add dye according to your planned decoration. Store in air-tight containers at room temperature. If needed, re-adjust the consistency before piping.

Add the different colors of icing to piping bags fitted with the appropriate icing tips. I like number 3 for the basic color used for flooding, and a number two for the details. Flood each cookie, make the edges as neat as possible with the scribe tool. Decorate with the design you like, one cookie at a time, as the base color needs do still be wet, unless you prefer to do a wet-on-dry method. In this case, the base needs to dry for several hours before proceeding with the decoration.

Dry the cookies for at least 6 hours before handling them.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I had no issues with the cookie component, I prefer the taste of a sablé type cookie, but as far as sugar cookies go, these are very nice. They retain a little chewiness upon baking (especially if you don’t let them get too dark), and the lemon zest brightens them up considerably. Now let’s talk Royal icing. I watched online classes and youtube videos. I read cook books.

Here is my advice for those who are as inexperienced as myself and for some irrational motive decide that a naked cookie must be dressed for party.

  1. Make the icing and the cookies the day before decorating them. Not only it is better to ice cookies that are not freshly baked (I am echoing some experts here), but it will save you a lot of trouble and make decorating day easier.
  2. Keep things simple. White icing plus two or at most three colors. Trust me on this. You will need bags and icing tips for each color you want to work with. Some people can make those cute piping bags from parchment paper. I am not one of those people. Sometimes I get them right, more often than not there is drama.
  3. Prepare all materials you will need and have them ready on a neat and clean counter top. Paper towels and a bowl with water are two best friends of the rookie-decorator.
  4. Tie your hair up if you have long hair. Wear gloves if you prefer to avoid stained fingers.
  5. Get rubber ties for your piping bags like these. They are indispensable and work better than improvised methods. Tie the bag close to the icing tip before you fill it. Tie the top after you fill it (see my composite image, middle photo in the bottom row). Remove the band closest to the tip when you are ready to ice your cookies. This simple measure prevents quite a bit of mess from happening.
  6. Have a rack ready to spread the freshly iced cookies with enough surface to accommodate them all. They take hours to fully set and should not touch each other. Be very careful not to grab them touching the icing. Often the surface looks dry but it’s still soft and fragile (don’t ask me how I know).
  7. Let your inner Rembrandt fly. Or Monet. If all fails, go Pollock. Not that there’s anything wrong with him. Obviously not.

But, the most important thing is obviously the most elusive for beginners: the consistency of the icing. Nothing is more frustrating than filling the piping bag and realizing the icing is a tad too thick. Or worse yet, too thin, which will cause the icing to roll off the cookie and tears to roll down the baker’s face. There are tricks to judge the perfect consistency. For instance you can run a spatula or small knife into the icing bowl, and in about 15 seconds it should go back to a smooth, leveled surface. I was probably off by 20 seconds on my first attempt, which led me to say a few choice words, empty the bag, thin the icing, and start all over. Sadly, it was still a bit thick, but I could not bring myself to empty the bag again. So the white icing used to flood most of the cookies was not top-notch. Getting the consistency perfect is probably something that comes with practice. Perhaps I’ll get there before 2019 is over.

I developed a huge respect for those who do this type of stuff for a living. It is really time-consuming, and I imagine the profit margin is very low. Especially if a baker uses the best ingredients and does intricate decorations, he or she will have to charge a lot more than the stuff you can by at the grocery store in those big plastic boxes. But I guess that is a problem professional bakers are forced to deal with.

Several of my cookies had small boo-boos, but some made me very happy. So happy that I created a little composite photo with them.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

ONE YEAR AGO: Fesenjan, Fast-Food Style

TWO YEARS AGO: Lavender Macarons with White Chocolate Ganache

THREE YEARS AGO: Raspberry Chocolate Truffles

FOUR YEARS AGO: Red Velvet Cupcakes

FIVE YEARS AGO: Happy Valentine’s Day!

SIX YEARS AGO:  A Few Blogging Issues

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Dan Dan Noodles

EIGHT YEARS AGO:  Sophie Grigson’s Parmesan Cake

NINE YEARS AGO: Antibiotics and Food