Mince Pies with Brandy Glaze

There are certain things in life that evoke memories from your childhood.  The smell of your mother's perfume as she tends to your scraped knee, the taste of holiday treats that were baked, unfailingly, each year until it turned into a tradition, and watching those old movies that you can remember from when they first came out.  For me, Christmas memories are filled with the smell of cinnamon and spice drifting through the house, and the sounds of "Oh Holy Night" and other Christmas hymns as the music softly strains through a winter evening.  I almost forgot.  It also, absolutely, without fail, includes the rich taste of Mince Pies.

These little pies are a Christmas & New Years staple in Wales, where I grew up amid rolling, patchwork hills dotted with woolly sheep, and winding roads lined with brick row houses and the occasional thatched roof cottage.  While my mother continued to cook mainly American cuisine at home, she threw in the occasional British treat that we had grown to love.  Every Christmas she would go to a little bakery that sold the best mince pies, and the box she brought home would be received by us all in a hushed silence.  As the lid to this box full of treasure was lifted, you could almost see the lights from heaven shining down on this glorious concoction:) And if you listened really close, you might even hear the "Hallelujah Chorus" being sung.  O.K...I may be exaggerating just a little, but they were really that good.   
These pies are a traditional British sweet pastry, that is usually eaten during Christmas and New Years. They can have a pastry top, or my favorite is a mince tart. The mincemeat filling is made from apple, raisins, sultanas, candied peel, spices and either suet or vegetable shortening. Mincemeat originally did contain meat in addition to the fruit, as the fruit, spices, and alcohol provided a means to preserve the meat. But nowadays the meat is usually left out. There are some that still make it with meat, but I prefer not to include it.

This year, I had a craving for these little pies that I couldn't get rid of.  So I determined I would make my own - because really, where was I going to find Mince Pies in my little Missouri town?  Well, my hopes of making some from scratch were dashed, since I couldn't find half of the ingredients I needed, so I settled for a jar of mincemeat filling that I found.  After tasting the filling from the jar, I realized it needed some doctoring.  So I added a little orange zest, orange juice, cinnamon and rum flavoring, and pronounced it decent enough.  The Brandy Glaze was an experiment of random ingredients, but the end result was very tasty.  The ingredients for the glaze are a rough estimate, but it should be fairly close.

Mince Pies with Brandy Glaze
1 jar mincemeat filling (or whatever homemade mincemeat filling you like)
1 orange, zested and juiced
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp rum flavoring

1 1/2 cups + scant 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
7 Tbsp unsalted butter
3-4 Tbsp ice water

Brandy Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1-2 Tbsp Brandy
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the shortcrust pastry:
Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the flour. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour, lifting the mixture up and dropping it back into the bowl – you want to keep the mixture light and airy. Keep mixing until the texture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Sprinkle the ice water into the bowl, a little at a time, and mix through with a fork. Use your fingers to bring the pastry together; it’s ready when and the sides of the bowl are clean and it’s formed a solid ball. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the pastry to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

For the mince pies
Heat oven to 400F. In a small saucepan over medium heat, mix your jar of mincemeat together with the orange zest, orange juice, cinnamon and rum flavoring. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes. Lightly grease your tart pans

Flour your work surface and roll out the pastry as thinly as possible (about 1/8 inch). Cut out approximately 12 rounds with a pastry cutter, and place them in the base of your mini tart pans. Prick all the pie bases with a fork to stop them rising. Fill each case with about 3 tablespoons of the mincemeat mix – don’t overfill your cases or the mixture will leak through the pastry when cooking.  Place the tart pans on a baking sheet, and bake for approx 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.

For the glaze:
In a small microwavable bowl, combine the powdered sugar, brandy, butter, vanilla, and enough milk to reach your desired consistency.  Microwave in 10 second intervals until the alcohol has cooked off, but the brandy flavor remains.  Drizzle the brandy glaze over the tart filling.  Store in the refrigerator and serve cold, with a dollop of whipped cream if desired.

If you want to make mini pies instead of tarts. Brush the edges of the bottom pastry with a little milk. Cut out another 12 rounds for the tops, and place over the filling. Pinch the pie edges together to seal. Brush over with egg wash and pierce the tops with a fork. Bake in the oven for approx 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 1 minute before placing on a wire rack to cool.  Sprinkle the pastry tops with powdered sugar and serve warm or cold.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas, and have a Happy New Years!


Cinnamon Bark Cookies

Cinnamon Bark Cookies
There are some ingredients that go hand in hand with the holiday season, and cinnamon is at the top of that list for me. Sprinkle it on a dollop of whipped cream that tops a cup of hot chocolate, mix it with sugar crystals that dust a snickerdoodle, or just use the cinnamon sticks as a holiday garnish.  When I came across a recipe for Cinnamon Bark Cookies in my local paper, they looked so festive I just had to make them.  While the ingredients seem simple enough, there is a bit of a learning curve when making these. 

Let's just say my first few attempts to assemble these cookies, resulted in a pathetic mess that you would definitely not want to leave out for Santa.  I quickly disposed of those, too embarrassed to capture my failure on camera, and set about making another batch.  After about the third or fourth batch, I finally got the hang of it, and was able to produce a few that weren't too shabby.  These little cookies are crispy and a little buttery, with a hint of cinnamon.  Yum!

Cinnamon Bark CookiesCinnamon Bark Cookies
Printable Recipe

8 large egg whites
2 cups sugar, plus 1/4 cup
2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon extract
10 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup heavy cream
brown gel food coloring
2 tsp cinnamon

Heat the oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with a nonstick silicon baking mat.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to whisk together the egg whites and 2 cups of sugar until foamy. Add the flour and salt and mix to incorporate. Add the cinnamon extract, butter and cream, then beat again until completely smooth. In small amounts, add the brown food coloring a drop at a time until desired color is reached, stirring thoroughly between additions. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the cinnamon.

Scoop a teaspoon of batter onto the prepared baking sheet. Using a small offset spatula spread the batter thinly and evenly into a rectangle about 2-by-5-inches. Depending on the size of your baking sheet, you should be able to fit 2 to 4 cookies on at a time.

Sprinkle each rectangle lightly with the cinnamon-sugar. Bake the cookies for about 5-8 minutes, or until the surface looks dry. The edges should not be browned.

Working quickly and as soon as the baking sheet comes out of the oven,  use an offset spatula to flip each rectangle over. Tightly roll both long sides of each rectangle toward the center, similar to forming a scroll. Set aside to cool and repeat in batches with remaining dough.

* These cookies must be shaped into the rolled cinnamon stick as soon as they come out of the oven.
* Only cook 2-4 cookies at a time, or the rest will cool too quickly before you can roll them.
* For best results use a silicone baking mat, but if you don't have one use a well greased baking sheet.
* To remove the cookies from the sheet, use an offset spatula.
* Spreading the batter thinly ensures even baking of this cookie. Working with the delicate cookie while still warm and pliable is essential.

Cinnamon Bark Cookies  (adapted from Springfield News-Leader, December 2010)

Basic Boule

Is there any better smell than a loaf of homemade bread baking in the oven?  The warm, fresh aroma drifts through the house making your nose twitch and your belly growl.  It makes your family come wandering into the kitchen, circling the oven like vultures, just waiting for the chance to pounce on that lovely little loaf the second it hits the counter.  Poor little loaf of bread.  You never stood a chance.

This recipe is from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, and is such a good recipe that is extremely simple to make.  What can be better than mixing up a pot of ingredients, and just letting it sit in the refrigerator to do all the work.  When you are ready for fresh bread, you just break off a hunk of the dough, leaving the rest covered in the fridge.  The method allows you to have fresh baked bread all week long, without having to go through the long process every day.  This bread goes wonderfully with a bowl of warm soup, or it can be used for tasty panini's.  If you're feeling extra naughty, you can just eat it by the handful, all day long.

Basic Boule
(from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day)
3 Cups lukewarm water (105F)
1 1/2 Tbsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 Tbsp Kosher salt (or 2 1/4 tsp table salt)
6 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
cornmeal to dust your resting surface

For the Dough: Put the water in a large container (big enough to hold all of the risen dough - I use a 4qt stock pot).  Sprinkle the yeast and salt into the water. Add all of the flour, mixing with a wooden spoon until everything is combined and no streaks of flour are left.

Loosely cover the container, not airtight, and let the dough rise and then deflate a little. About 3 hours.  You can now bake your bread, or store in the refrigerator.

To bake: Dust your hands and the surface of the dough with some flour, and grab a grapefruit sized handful of dough. Gently pull the sides of the dough toward the bottom, rotating the dough until you get a smooth, round boule shape.  Be gentle and try not to deflate any gas bubbles.  The bottom doesn't have to be smooth, you won't see it:)

Dust a pizza peel or the back of a baking sheet with cornmeal to prevent sticking, and lay the formed dough on it. Let it rest, uncovered, for a least 40 minutes, or longer if the dough was chilled. For best results, bake the bread when no longer chilled. About 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, put a pizza stone on the middle rack of your oven, and put a broiler pan on the bottom rack. You can use any oven safe dish if you don't have a broiler pan. Preheat your oven to 450F. Dust some flour on the top of your loaf, and made 1/4-inch deep slashes on the surface of the dough.

Once the oven has preheated, slide the loaf onto the pizza stone. Pour a cup of warm water into the bottom broiler pan and shut the oven door to keep the steam inside. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until you get a nice brown crust. Let cool completely on a wire rack. This bread is wonderful with a warm bowl of soup, or some comforting mac and cheese.

*Note: You can also bake this bread in a Dutch oven, which eliminates the need to use the broiler pan for steam. I prefer using my Dutch oven for this bread, since it makes the crust crunchier.  Just place your Dutch oven in the oven to preheat, instead of using a pizza stone. Check your manufacturer's instructions for the maximum safe oven temp for your Dutch oven lid.  My lid is only safe to 400F, since the handle is plastic.  I plan to replace the plastic handle with a metal one from the hardware store, but in the meantime I just cover my Dutch oven with a baking sheet when making this bread.

Creamy Broccoli Soup

creamy broccoli soup

Winter has arrived. Gone are the cool, crisp evenings of fall which have been replaced with frigid, toe numbing winter nights that have me snuggling beneath my comforter for warmth. Christmas is my favorite time of the year, but the weather is not. I can overlook this minor flaw, when I am distracted with adorned Christmas trees and twinkling holiday lights. In December, the weather is "festive", as we drink warm cups of hot chocolate speared with a candy cane, and tug on our mittens to go sledding. The snow is pristine white and the words to "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas", play incessantly over the radio.

In January and February however, winter is now an unwanted step-child that we can't wait to get rid of. The lilly white snow has become dirty, making you track muddy footprints through the house, the weather turns your nose an unbecoming shade of red, and instead of feeling like a Christmas elf, you now resemble Grumpy the dwarf. Well, that's what winter is like for me anyway:) So, I enjoy the season while it lasts and when cold weather hits, I invariably make a pot of warm, comforting soup. This broccoli soup is a recipe I've posted before, but it sounded good for lunch today and I thought it yummy enough to revisit.

creamy broccoli soup

Creamy Broccoli Soup
6 cups chopped fresh broccoli
7 cups cold water
1-2 tsp salt
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 red onion, peeled and diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
3/4 cup half & half (optional)
freshly ground black pepper

Save a handful of the broccoli, then in a large saucepan place the chopped broccoli, potatoes, onions, and garlic. Add 7 cups of cold water, then season with 1-2 teaspoons of salt. I ended up using the full 2 teaspoons. Bring to a boil and if necessary skim the surface of the potato starch.  Lower the heat slightly, and simmer uncovered for about 35 minutes. Add the reserved handful of broccoli and simmer for another 10 minutes. The broccoli should be easy to squash on the side of the pan. 

Now puree the soup until smooth. I used a stick blender, since this is one of my favorite kitchen appliances. It is much quicker and less messy than using a blender. The soup should now be nicely thick, but if you find it too thick you can add some hot water until you reach your desired consistency. If it is too thin, then continue cooking it uncovered until the liquid is reduced. At this point, taste the soup and add more salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Now the soup can be served as is, or if you want a richer, creamier soup, swirl in half of the cream (or half & half) and heat through. Serve immediately. You can add another swirl of cream for looks, with some freshly ground pepper. Or you can sprinkle some grated cheddar cheese, then eat with a yummy crusty bread.

*Recipe Tip: Store leftovers tightly sealed in the refrigerator.  This soup tastes even better the next day, after the flavors have had time to settle in overnight.  This recipe makes a large batch of soup, so leftovers can be frozen.

* Slow Cooker: You can easily make this in your slow-cooker. Just add all the ingredients into your slow-cooker pot. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. When ready to eat, use a stick blender to puree the soup until smooth. Add more water to reach your desired consistency if desired. and salt/pepper to taste.

Source: (adapted from Apples For Jam by Tessa Keiros)

creamy broccoli soup

creamy broccoli soup

Chunky Twix Cookies

Chunky Twix Cookies

A little known fact about me, is that I have the tendency to get bored with making chocolate chip cookies. I am forever thinking of different ways to add a new twist to the faithful chocolate chip cookie.  I had great success with my Malted Milk Ball Chewies, and liked the malt ball candy substitution so well that I began to wonder about other candy cookie possibilities.

My brain train quickly came to a halt at the glorious Twix. Why not chop up Twix bars, throw them in, and see what happens?  Admittedly, it's sorta like putting cookies INTO cookies, but who says you can't do that?

The result was completely awesome, with the development of my husband's new FAVORITE cookie.  After picking up one of the freshly baked wonders, still warm from the oven, he took a tentative bite, not expecting anything too wondrous.  Then the next words from his mouth were, "These are freakin' AWESOME!"

Coming from my husband, who's usual response to a dish he likes is an abbreviated grunt and maybe a nod of his head, this was high praise indeed.  For the dough base I adapted my favorite chocolate chip recipe from Baking Illustrated. These cookies are great out of the oven and still taste good the next day. They can be baked immediately, or if you allow the dough to rest overnight in the refrigerator they develop an even deeper flavor. They are dense, thick and chewy, with a little crispness on the edges.  Yum!
Chunky Twix Cookies

Chunky Twix Cookies
Yield: 24 cookies    Printable Recipe

2 cups plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups coarsely chopped Twix bars

Preheat oven 325°. Coarsely chop the Twix bars (about 1/4-inch chunks).  I like to cut each bar in half lengthwise, and then make several cuts width ways to make even blocks.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly combined. Beat in egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add dry ingredients to the sugar mixture and beat at low-speed just until combined. Gently stir in the Twix chunks.

Roll 1/4 cup of dough into a ball, place formed dough onto cookie sheet, leaving ample room between each ball. Bake until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft and puffy (about 15-18 minutes). Do not overbake.

Allow the cookies to cool completely on the baking sheet. Since the caramel from the Twix can make the cookies stick a little, I use an offset spatula to slide under the cookies without breaking them apart.  Enjoy!

Chunky Twix Cookies

Chunky Twix Cookies

Chunky Twix Cookies

Orange Pomegranate Crostata November DB Challenge

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

I am late with my Daring Bakers Challenge post this month; throwing a birthday party and Thanksgiving cooking left me with little time to post on the 27th.  I finally had time to finish it though, and the challenge this month was another opportunity for to me to try something new and fun.  Crostata (tart) is an Italian dessert, with a base of pasta frolla (sweet short crust pastry) and can be filled with whatever you please.  Since Thanksgiving was just around the corner, I thought to do a pumpkin filled tart, but I had some pomegranates sitting in my refrigerator and decided to whip up this Orange Pomegranate Tart.  I love pomegranates and it's definitely a bonus that they are so good for you!
I have never made pastry cream before, so this was an opportunity for me to gain some experience in something new, and while the pastry cream was good, I think next time I would try an orange curd. I did not have a large tart pan, so I made little tartlets, then filled them with the orange pastry cream and sprinkled with pomegranate arils.  I always like to make mini sized desserts, it tricks my brain into thinking that I'm eating an acceptable amount of calories...never mind that I usually eat two of them:)
Orange Pomegranate Tart
Printable Recipes

Orange Pastry Cream
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
finely grated peel from one orange
1/8 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks together with 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and the flour until well incorporated. Set aside. In a small, heavy-bottomed pan, place the milk, orange zest, and the other 2 tablespoons of sugar, and heat until barely boiling. Remove from heat and pour half of the milk mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking until combined. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and put on medium-low heat, whisking constantly until mixture is thick (about 2-3 minutes). Remove from heat and add the butter, stirring until melted. If desired, press the pastry cream through a sieve over a bowl. Store in the refrigerator with plastic wrap pressed on the surface for up to 3 days.

Pasta Frolla (sweet short crust)
1/2 c. minus 1 tablespoon superfine sugar, or a scant 3/4 cup of powdered sugar
1 and 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
grated zest of half a lemon
1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, flour and salt. Rub or cut the butter into the flour until the mixture has the consistency of coarse crumbs. You can do this in the bowl or on your work surface, using your fingertips or a fork.
Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten eggs into it.  Add the lemon zest to your flour/butter/egg mixture. Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, and then use your fingertips. Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.
Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can also refrigerate the dough overnight.

Heat the oven to 350F. Take the pasta frolla out of the fridge, unwrap it, but keep the dough loosely covered.  Roll the crostata dough out between the plastic wrap, this prevents the dough from sticking to your surface without using flour, and makes it easier to transfer to your tart pan. 

If the dough is very firm, start by pressing the dough with the rolling pin from the middle to each end, moving the rolling pin by a pin's width each time; turn the dough 180 degrees and repeat; when it softens, start rolling.  Roll the dough into a circle about 1/8th inch thick. Now flip the dough over the pan, centering it, and delicately press it all around so the corners are well covered. Peel away the plastic wrap. Trim the excess dough hanging over the edges of the pan. Press the remaining dough around the border into the sides of the pan making sure the border is an even thickness all the way around.

Cut a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil large enough to cover the bottom of the crust and extend out a bit over the edges of the pan. You can use pie weights or dry beans to blind bake. Place whatever weight you’re using directly on the parchment paper or aluminum foil in an even layer. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the beans and foil and continue baking the crostata shell until the border is light golden, about 5 minutes (watch carefully to avoid over-baking, which results in a hard shell). If you don't use a baking weight, the crust may rise in the middle: if that occurs, gently push it back down with the back of a spoon. Remove from the oven and let the crostata shell cool completely before proceeding.

Remove the crostata shell from the tart pan, and place on a serving plate.  Fill the cooled shell with the prepared pastry cream, then sprinkle the pomegranate arils over the top.  Enjoy!


Superhero Birthday Party

I have a superhero obsessed son - this is his latest phase.  Before that it was race car mania, which had an impressive run of at least two years, before the superpowers of certain caped crusaders caught the attention of his sponge-like mind.  Don't get me wrong, he still loves his cars, and has more hot wheels than any kid you will ever meet.  Seriously, he has over 1000 (a lucky hand me down, not bought by us!) 

Realizing that another birthday was fast approaching, I used my own mommy super powers (mothers intuition, eyes in the back of my head, and go-go-gadget arms, ) to plan a superhero themed birthday party for him.  We had already been informed from our super hero in training, that he wanted his party at Chuck E. Cheese, so I worked with that and planned around what that kid-crazy-party infested place didn't provide.  That left invitations, the cake, and goody bags.  I scoured the internet for inspiration and put together a frankenstein hodge podge of party ideas.  Several free printables later, along with some scrapbook paper, a little glue, and some imagination, I had the beginnings of a really cute theme. 

The Superhero Invitations
These were made by cutting out the images I wanted, then typing up an invitation and gluing the images where I wanted them.  This gave me my "prototype". I took this copy to Kinko's and made high quality color copies for the finished product.  Fold the invitations up letter style, put them in an envelope marked TOP SECRET, and you have yourself a cute superhero party invitation.

The Superhero Cupcake Stand
I ordered a superhero themed scrapbook set that was on clearance at Oriental Trading, along with the clearanced superhero ribbon.  I then covered my homemade cupcake stand with the superhero paper and ribbon.

The Cupcake Wrappers
I bought some scrapbook paper from Hobby Lobby that would work with the theme, and made these superhero cupcake wrappers.  I used this printable cupcake wrapper template from Skip To My Lou.

The Superhero Cupcakes
I made these Blue Velvet cupcakes from Sprinkle Bakes, which are just red velvet cupcakes colored blue instead of red, and iced with yummy cream cheese frosting.  Then I made superhero themed sugar paste cake toppers to place on top.  Find the Blue Velvet recipe below.

Blue Velvet Cupcakes
Printable Recipe

2 cups sugar
2 sticks butter, softened
2 eggs
1 Tbs. cocoa powder
1 Tbs. Wilton food coloring gel in Royal Blue
Wilton food coloring gel in Violet – stick a toothpick in the bottle and use that amount
a teaspoon or two of water
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbs. vinegar

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put cupcake liners in the cupcake pans.

In a mixer bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well. In a small bowl, mix the cocoa, food coloring gel and water together to form a paste. Add to the ingredients in the mixer bowl and blend well. Stir the flour and salt together and add to the wet ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk. Mix well. Blend in the vanilla. In a small bowl, combine the baking soda and vinegar and then add that to the other ingredients in the mixer.

Fill the cupcake liners with batter, about 2/3 of the way full. The batter will be thick. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting. Makes 24 cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 pound cream cheese, softened
4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 cup unsalted butter softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract (optional)

Mix cream cheese with butter until smooth. Add extracts. Slowly add sugar and blend until light and fluffy! Use a piping bag with a round #8 tip to create fluffy cupcake tops!

The Birthday Boy's Cake
I used the same Blue Velvet recipe as the cupcakes, and iced with cream cheese frosting and royal icing.  The cake topper is made from sugar paste.

The Superhero Masks
These masks are so simple to make, with some felt and an elastic string. I used this printable as a template and embellished the masks with felt stars. Sorry I forgot to take a picture of my own, but you can see what they look like here.

The Superhero Goody Bags
A quick trip to the dollar store gave me most of what I needed to customize these bags. I got some Marvel Superhero matching cards for a dollar a piece, and a container of small play dough pots for a dollar.  I used the same printable superhero images that I used for the invitations, some scrapbook paper, and superhero ribbon to make these themed favors.

I had a lot of fun with this birthday theme, but am glad all of the work is over! The party was a success, and my little super hero loved his cake.  Now I only have about 350 days of rest before the next one:)  Thanks for stopping by!


Baked Brie with Brown Sugar & Cranberries

This month has turned out to be a hectic month, leaving me little time to post recipes. Between Halloween parties, trick-or-treating, planning my sons birthday party next week, and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I haven't had much time for my poor little blog. To make up for my shameful inattention, I am posting this yummy recipe I found in one of my favorite magazines, Phyllis Hoffman Celebrate Fall. Baked Brie with Brown Sugar & Cranberries.

I actually had made up the pie crust over a week ago, and put it in the freezer for when I needed it. This is my favorite pie crust recipe, it is super flaky, tender, and you can make several at once, then just pop them in the freezer for whenever you need them. I think the freezing part gives it the extra flakiness. My mom always used ice-water to make her pie crust, and I think the freezing technique of this recipe produces similar results.

If you have never made your own pie crust, I really encourage you to try this one. You can find a great step by step tutorial for this recipe here, done by The Pioneer Woman. It is so easy to make, and with just a little practice you can be a pie-crust-making-queen:) Crust making can be intimidating, but it really isn't hard; as long as you don't over work your dough, you'll have great results. Try it!

Baked Brie with Brown Sugar & Cranberries

Crust: (Makes 3 single layer pie crusts)
1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening (Crisco, or I use Spectrum non-hydrogenated shortening)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 whole egg
5 Tbsp ice-cold water
1 Tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp salt

Baked Brie
1 (13.2 oz) Brie round
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/8 cup dried cranberries
1 egg, lightly beaten

In a large bowl, with a pastry cutter or a fork, gradually work the shortening into the flour until it resembles a coarse meal. In a small bowl, beat an egg with a fork and then pour it into the flour/shortening mixture. Add 5 tablespoons of ice water, 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir together gently until all of the ingredients are incorporated.

Separate the dough into 3 evenly sized balls of dough, then place each ball into a large Ziploc bag. Use a rolling pin to slightly flatten each ball of dough (about ½ inch thick). This makes it easier to roll later. Seal the bags and place them in the freezer until you need them. If you are using the dough right away, it still needs to chill for about 20 minutes in the freezer.

When ready to use the frozen dough, remove from the freezer and allow to thaw for 15 minutes. Lightly flour your surface and roll the dough. Start at the center and work your way out, in long even strokes. If the dough is too moist, sprinkle some flour over the top. If the dough sticks to the counter, use a metal spatula to carefully scrape it up, flip it over and continue rolling into a 14 inch circle. Cut off a 2 1/2 inch strip of dough, and using a small leaf shaped cookie cutter, cut out a few leaves from the strip.

Lift the dough carefully from the surface of the counter onto a baking sheet. Slice the rind off the top of the brie, and place the cheese in the center of the dough. Sprinkle the cheese with brown sugar and top with cranberries. Fold the edges of the dough up and over the cheese.  Top with the leaf cutouts. Brush the beaten egg over the piecrust. Place in a 400F oven, and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Serve with fruit. Enjoy!

Ritzy Halloween Spiders

It's October 31st, with another Halloween upon us, and spooky treats are abounding galore.  From ghost inspired donuts to creepy spider crackers, you can be sure to find a ghoulish sweet treat to suit everyone.  Holiday baking is a great way to showcase your creativity, and I have seen so many creative Halloween dishes from my fellow bloggers.  Joining in the fun, I made these creepy crawly spiders.

In the spirit of the holiday, I took my son to his first Halloween party last night, and brought the creepy spiders along. They turned out to be a success, so much so that my son decided they were too special to eat and befriended them, calling them his "fuzzy buddies".  This new friendship was followed by a solemn oath, extracted by him from me, that I would NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, eat them.  How quickly he turned on his new buddies however, when the growl of a tiny tummy got the better of him, and ended with each spider loosing a few legs, and a big chomp taking out one poor fellow's head.  These little Halloween snacks are easy to make with just a few ingredients, and probably ones you already have in your cabinet.

Ritzy Halloween Spiders
(makes 15 spiders)

30 Ritz crackers
1 cup chocolate chips or candy coating chocolate (like Candiquik)
1 tsp shortening (I used non-hydrogenated coconut oil shortening)
45 pretzel sticks
1 cup peanut butter
30 mini Reece's Pieces

Place chocolate chips and shortening in a small microwavable bowl.  Omit the shortening if using candy coating chocolate.  Microwave on high in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until chocolate is melted and smooth.  Dip one side of 15 of the crackers in the chocolate.  Place the cracker, chocolate side up, on wax paper to dry.  Break the pretzel sticks in half, and dip the unbroken end of each one in the chocolate.  Place on wax paper to dry.  Take the 30 mini Reece's Pieces, and using a toothpick place a dot of melted chocolate in the center to make the eyes.  Allow to dry.  If desired, you can put your dipped item in the freezer to dry more quickly.

When the dipped crackers and pretzels are dry, take one of the 15 remaining undipped crackers, and spread with a generous amount of peanut butter.  Take 6 of the dipped pretzel sticks, and place 3 on each side of the cracker, to make the legs.  Take one of the dipped crackers, and smear a little more peanut butter on the undipped side, place peanut butter side down on the other cracker to make the spider.  Take two of the mini Reece's Pieces eyes, and put a small dot of melted chocolate on the back. Now place the eyes on the chocolate cracker to complete the spider.  You may need to adjust the pretzel legs to look right.  Return the completed pretzel spiders to the refrigerator or freezer to set.

When ready to eat, remove from refrigerator, serve and enjoy!


(adapted from candiquik.com)

October Daring Bakers Challenge: Donuts!

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

This month's Daring Bakers challenge had some sentimental value to me , and ties into how I came up with the name for my blog.  My grandfather was a baker, and according to my mom he made the best donuts in his bakery.  I grew up with stories of how, as a little girl, she would go to the bakery with her parents, and took naps on the big bags of flour they kept in the back. This story always conjured up images of a little girl with smudges of flour on her nose, and a sprinkling of flour dusting her clothes - hence the name Sprinkled With Flour.

My grandfather was a wonderful  baker, and that gene was passed onto my mom - who makes the best pies by the way - and it seems the baking itch was passed onto me too.  My grandpa died when I was very young, and I never had the chance to get to know him or learn from his talent, so I started this blog to develop my baking talent and hopefully be able to do him proud one day.

I recently came into possession of his famous donut recipe, and attempted to make a batch. There is definitely an art to making donuts, and that art does not include flour flung across the kitchen, and dough hanging from places it shouldn't be hanging from. Do I need to spell out that this foray into the donut making world was a little bit of a baking disaster?  Needless to say, I was embarrassed to call myself a bakers granddaughter that day.  So, when I saw the Daring Baker's Challenge this month was to make donuts, I determined that I would get it right this time around - hopefully.  The challenge was to make either yeast or cake donuts, and since I had already tried yeast donuts, I decided to go with "the cake". (Sorry guys, this is not my grandpa's recipe.  That recipe has to stay locked in the family vault :)

I used my Halloween cookie cutters to make my donuts festive, and made bat eyes with Reece's Pieces with a dot of chocolate glaze.  The glaze also works to make the ghost faces.

Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Cake Doughnuts: by Nancy Silverton

(Yield: About 15 doughnuts & 15 doughnut holes, depending on size)

1/4 cup Sour Cream
3 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (16oz + extra for dusting surface)
3/4 cup (6oz) granulated Sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt or 1/2 tsp table salt
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 1/8 tsp active dry yeast
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp buttermilk
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar (optional: for decorating)

Chocolate Glaze (adapted from Alton Brown)
1/4 cup butter, unsalted
1/8 cup whole milk
1 1/2 tsp light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

For the Donuts: In a small stainless-steel bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water, heat the sour cream until just warm.  Heat the oil to 375°F/190°C.

Over a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, nutmeg; make a large well in the center. Place the yeast in the well; pour the sour cream over it. Allow it to soften (if using packed fresh yeast), about 1 minute.

Pour the buttermilk, whole egg, egg yolks, and vanilla extract into the well. Using one hand, gradually draw in the dry ingredients. The mixture should be fairly smooth before you draw in more flour. Mix until it is completely incorporated. The dough will be very sticky. Wash and dry your hands and dust them with flour.

Sift an even layer of flour onto a work surface. Don’t be afraid to use a lot of flour. You don’t want the donuts sticking to your counter. Scrape dough out of bowl onto the surface; sift another layer of flour over dough. Working quickly, pat dough into an even 1/2-inch thickness. Dip cutter in flour and, cutting as closely together as possible, cut out the donuts and holes. Place holes and donuts on a floured surface. Working quickly, gather scraps of dough together, pat into 1/2-inch thickness, and cut out remaining donuts and holes.

Drop three to four donuts at a time into the hot oil. Once they turn golden brown, turn them and cook the other side. Cooking times may vary, but with your oil at 375 °F,  they should take about 20 to 30 seconds per side. Tip: Try to keep your oil temperature even, if the oil is too hot the outside of your donuts will cook, but the inside will be raw.  If the oil is not hot enough, the donuts will absorb too much oil, making them greasy.

Once cooked, place on a baking sheet covered with paper towels to drain. Sift powdered sugar over donuts or dip in glaze.  If dipping your donuts in glaze, put the candy pieces on while the glaze is still wet.

For the Glaze: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, milk, corn syrup and vanilla. Heat until butter is melted. Decrease heat to low, add the chocolate and whisk until melted. Remove from heat and stir in the powdered sugar, whisk until smooth. Immediately dip the donuts in the glaze. Allow the glaze to set for 30 minutes before serving.

Mom's Apple Squares with Maple Glaze

Does it look like fall yet in your neck of the woods?  It does here.  The leaves have finally started to turn, some of them having tumbled to the ground already, just waiting to be raked into big piles of kid romping fun.  The only thing that doesn't feel like fall is the temperature.  My son is still running around in short sleeves and shorts, and I'm still waiting for the chance to pull out his fall clothes.  Long sleeved thermal shirts, hooded sweatshirts, jeans and jackets, these are a few of my favorite things....la la la.  Before I break into song and scare you away forever, I will get to the matter at hand.  Food.  Namely, apples.

I know everyone is pulling out their apple recipes, pushing up their sleeves and whipping up hoards of apple sauce, apple butter, apple cake, apple everything.  Apple, apple, apple.  Have you ever said a word enough times, that it begins to sound weird?  Sorta like spoon.  Spoon.  Spoon.  OK, I'll stop now:)  I'm afraid I'll be joining the ranks of the apple-dish-making-fiends, and since I've already gotten a start with my Harvest Apple Cookies, I'll proceed to my next recipe.  Mom's Apple Squares with Maple Glaze.  These little apple squares are the perfect combination of apples and spice, and have the perfect texture.  A little crunchy on the outside, yet soft and moist on the inside.  I added a little pure maple syrup to the glaze to give it that little something extra.  These were good enough to get my son's vote, and I will be making them again.

Mom's Apple Squares with Maple Glaze
Printable Recipe

3 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (you can substitute any oil, like coconut)
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (whole wheat pastry flour would substitute well)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3 cups chopped unpeeled apples (Braeburn, Gala, or similar)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla extract

Maple Glaze
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tbsp butter, softened
2-3 tablespoons whole milk
1 tbsp pure maple syrup (can use maple extract also)

For the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350F.  Coat a 15x10-inch jelly-roll pan with nonstick baking spray with flour; set aside.  Leave the apples unpeeled, but remove core and chop the apples into small pieces.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine eggs and salt.  Beat at medium speed until frothy, about 1 minute.  Add the sugar and oil, and beat until blended.  In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, and beat just until combined. 

Fold in the apples, nuts and vanilla.  Pour into the prepared pan, spreading evenly.  Bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned and set.  Set the pan on a wire rack, let cool. 

For the Glaze:
In a medium bowl combine the powdered sugar, butter and enough milk to make a spreadable consitency.  This was about 2 tablespoons for me. Mix until smooth. Add the tablespoon of maple syrup/maple extract, and stir.  Spread over the mostly cooled cake.  Let the frosting set, then cut into bars.

Tip: You can also bake this cake in ramekins, just fill with batter about 1/2 - 2/3 full.  If you fill too high it will spill over the sides.  Bake until cake is golden and set, about 30-35 minutes.  I set a small amount of my batter aside to make one ramekin, and my son loved having his own individual sized cake.

(adapted from Phyllis Hoffman Celebrate Fall 2010)

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