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How To Make An Easy Princess Leia Cake

28 Jan Princess Leia Cake Princess Layer Cake

Princess Leia Cake Princess Layer Cake

I love puns! I love them almost as much as I love cake, so when it was suggested that I make a Princess Leia Cake to play on the phrase “layer cake,” I knew that I had to do it. It was just to punny to pass up!

This is a silly, fun little project that anyone can bake. It’s a great tribute for Star Wars fans, for a Star Wars themed birthday or a movie viewing party. Please share this video with the Star Wars enthusiasts in your life – we all have at least one, right?

Easy Princess Leia Cake

In full disclosure, I have gone 36-1/4 years without seeing any of the Star Wars movies! How is this possible? The Star Wars culture is so permeating that even without seeing them, I know what a Wookie is, I know that Darth is Luke’s father, and I know all about Leia’s amazing hairdos. But tell me Star Wars aficionados, which movie should I see first? Where should I start? What’s your fave Star Wars film?

Please share this video, subscribe to my YouTube channel, and may the force be with you!

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The Hottest Gingerbread Boy

21 Dec

D.J.’s favorite Christmas cookie is gingerbread, and I thought that we could have a little holiday fun with it. Can you guess who’s is who’s?

Beth and DJ as Gingerbread People

I baked out a couple of giant gingerbread cookies using Wilton’s Grandma’s Gingerbread Cookies recipe.

Nudie Gingerbread Peeps

The regular-sized gingerbread boy is there for size reference, and as a snack to bolster our energy and merriment during the decorating process. They were made from the same gingerbread dough, which rolls out like a dream and has a great blend of spicy flavor with a strong molasses background.

I pulled out my aresnal of icings, gels, and chocolate, and we got busy. Sprinkles were spilled. Tongues stained blue.  For a few minutes, we got to be kids, except for the bourbon that was mixed into my eggnog. We laughed a lot, and it was fun.

Check out that sparkly grill!

D.J. nailed it, don’t you think? The resemblance is uncanny, right down to the rainbow-starred shirt and unfortunate sixth toe. Ok, maybe the extra toes are not true-to-life, but they are good for a chuckle. Either way, that is the hottest gingerbread boy I’ve ever seen.

Twin Blondes!

Wishing you and yours a joyous Christmas with lots of opportunities to reconnect with your inner child!

 

Browned Butter and Smoked Cinnamon Snickerdoodle Cookies

13 Dec

I’ve been invited to a cookie exchange this weekend, and I’m fantastically excited because:

  1. It’s being held in a bar that doubles as an arcade. You’ll find me by the pinball machines,  cocktail in hand.
  2. There are hundreds of people invited, which means thousands of cookies. If the words “thousands of cookies” don’t get you excited, you might be reading the wrong blog.

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It takes me forever to decide what foods to bring to share at parties. As a professional baker and an overly-competitive person, I feel a weird, self-inflicted pressure to over-perform. Mediocre cookies will not be tolerated. My struggle is real.

This holiday cookie exchange is no different. I waffled for too long, sifting through tried-and-true recipes only to shun even the best ones. I racked my brain trying to invent brand new cookies with never-heard-before flavor combinations.

And then I realized that I was trying way too hard.

You’ve heard it a million times before, and it’s true: The best food is made from a few great ingredients and really simple techniques. Christmas cookies are no different. So why not take a classic cookie and up its “cool factor” with a couple of easy tweaks?

Helloooooooo, Browned Butter and Smoked Cinnamon Snickerdoodles. You are the current apple of my eye.

Who doesn’t love a snickerdoodle cookie with its crisped edges leading to  crackled, chewy centers, all encrusted in a fragrant coat of cinnamon and glimmering sugar? They are beloved and delicious just as they are. But browning the butter first gives a toasty complexity, and using smoked cinnamon enforces that.  The traditional vanilla is purposefully omitted to let the caramelized, nutty, and smokey notes shine on their own.  These changes are subtle but worthwhile, taking the humble snickerdoodles of your youth and classing them up a notch. Yup, these cookies are totally “exchangable.”

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Browned Butter and Smoked Cinnamon Snickerdoodle Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter
2-3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening*
1-3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
2 eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons smoked cinnamon**

Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and place a smaller bowl inside, resting on the ice. In a small saucepan, cook butter over medium heat until it is very brown and smells like roasted nuts. Expect the butter to bubble and spatter audibly for a while as it cooks. When it quiets down, start watching the pot so that it doesn’t burn, but the butter should get quiet dark, like really good caramel. Pour the butter into the small bowl over the ice, stirring every few minutes to cool it to room temperature. Don’t let the butter get so cold that it hardens completely. It needs to be soft, but not liquid, to make the cookies.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.

Measure out 3/4 cup of browned butter; reserve the rest for another use.***

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the browned butter and shortening until it is smooth and creamy. Add 1-1/2 cups of granulated sugar and beat on medium speed until it is light in color and very fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl very well after each egg to get everything well combined.

Add the dry flour mixture in 2 parts, beating on low speed and scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl often. Beat just until a dough is formed.

In a bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar with the smoked cinnamon Roll cookie dough into 1-1/2 inch balls and roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture to coat completely on all sides. Place on parchment-lined cookies sheets 2 inches apart.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until until centers of cookies are set. Remove from the hot pan to the cooling grid immediately.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
*Oh, you’re opposed to vegetable shortening, huh? Well, good for you. Feel free to substitute for all browned butter, but you need to know that your cookies will be much crunchier as a result. The shortening keep the cookies moist and soft, especially at days 2 and 3, if they last that long.

**Looking for smoked cinnamon, or any other delicious spices in the Chicago area? Check out Epic Spices at 1725 W. Chicago Ave. You’ll never meet a more friendly, knowledgable, or accomodating spice guy than Stephen, the shop owner.

***Awesome on pasta, fish, chicken, bread…Actually, I can’t think of a single thing that wouldn’t be better with a little bit of browned butter. Make it your new refrigerator staple.

Rainbow Cone Ice Cream Cake

29 Jun

Rainbow Cone Ice Cream Cake

Rainbow Cone, an iconic scoop shop on Chicago’s south side, has been serving up  tall cones since 1926. The Rainbow Cone booth is a staple at Taste of Chicago festival, giving their namesake ice cream treat fame well beyond the south side of the city.

There are 5 frozen flavors in a Rainbow Cone. Each one is scraped onto the next in a downward pulling motion with a utensil that most closely resembles a wide spackle knife. A finished cone showcases each sloping color of ice cream, proudly rising up to meet its name. So what comprises a rainbow cone? The combination of flavors is quite unique, and might surprise you:

Rainbow Cone

Photo courtesy of Original Rainbow Cone

It starts with a base of chocolate ice cream, followed by pretty pink strawberry, with signature Palmer House vanilla (vanilla with toasted walnuts and cherries) at the center, creamy green pistachio, and vibrant orange sherbet topping it all off. Does that sound weird to you? Does it seem gross? If you break it down a little bit, you’ll see that each flavor compliments another. Chocolate goes well with strawberry. It goes well with pistachio, and also with orange. Same thing with strawberry. It’s refreshing with orange, great will pistachio, and a natural with Palmer House vanilla. When you put them all together and take a big lick from bottom to top, getting a little taste of each flavor all at once, it works. It just works. I suspect that it goes back to each flavor being great with the other flavors in a one-on-one basis, but let’s not over think it. Maybe it just tastes great because it is so fun to eat an ice cream cone that looks like a rainbow. I took liberties and topped mine with whipped cream and rainbow sprinkles (what else?).

Whipped Cream and Rainbow Sprinkles

And what the heck is Palmer House vanilla, anyway? Well, the Palmer House is a stately and well-preserved old hotel in Chicago, and Rainbow Cone pays homage by mixing toasty walnuts and maraschino cherries into vanilla ice cream.

If your ice cream consumption spikes dramatically during the summer months, while your inclination to turn on the oven plummets, then this no-bake ice cream cake should be at the top of your to-do list. It’s perfect for summer birthdays, pool parties, outdoor meals, and even random Wednesday nights when it is hotter than you-know-what.

Slice of Rainbow Ice Cream Cake

It is not coincidental that I’ve posted this entry on National Pride Day. Love, respect, and ice cream! I’m off to the parade!

Rainbow Cone Ice Cream Cake 

This recipe is sized perfectly for an 8 inch round springform pan. If you use a larger pan, consider using a little more than 1 pint of each flavor, as the layers will be very thin. Also note that most inexpensive ice creams are largely air. Thawing them and then spreading them into the pans will cause the ice cream to lose a lot of volume, as the air is knocked out. Splurge for the good stuff for this ice cream cake – you won’t regret it!

12 Oreo cookies, finely crushed
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 pint chocolate ice cream
1 pint strawberry ice cream
1 pint vanilla ice cream
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted
1/3 cup (about 1/2 of a 10 oz. jar) maraschino cherries, stems removed and roughly chopped
1 pint pistachio ice cream
1 pint orange sherbet
1/2 cup whipped cream
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
Rainbow Sprinkles

Secure the base and the sides of a springform pan by closing the hinge. Pour crushed cookies and melted butter into pan and stir until crumbs are evenly moistened. Press firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan using the flat bottom of a pint glass. Freeze for 30 minutes.

While the crust is chilling, place chocolate ice cream on the counter top to soften. When ice cream is partially thawed, and somewhat pliable (about 30 minutes), gently spread it into an even layer over the cookie crust. Return to the freezer to firm up, at least 30 minutes.

Place strawberry ice cream in the counter top to soften. When ice cream is partially thawed and somewhat pliable (about 30 minutes), gently spread it into an even layer over the cookie crust. Return to the freezer to firm up, at least 30 minutes

Thaw the vanilla cream until it is somewhat pliable and then mash in the walnuts and chopped cherries with a spoon. Spread into an even layer over the strawberry ice cream. Return to the freezer to firm up, at least 30 minutes.

Repeat the thawing, spreading, and freezing process with the pistachio ice cream, and finally the orange sherbet. Freeze until completely solid, at least 3 hours, before cutting.

Just before serving, whip cream with confectioners’ sugar to soft peaks. Pipe onto top of cake and garnish with Rainbow Sprinkles and serve immediately. For clean slices, dip knife in hot water between each cut to warm blade, dry with towel, and cut ice cream cake.

Perks of Working in a Test Kitchen – Part 1

14 Feb

Sometimes the homemade pates de fruits you make for your boyfriend turn out more like dark, amorphous sugar-coated blobs than the gem-toned, sparkling squares of gummy perfection they were meant to be. Shit. Valentine’s Day is ruined!

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Slouchy. Super slouchy.

It’s times like these (and lots of other times, really) that I am thankful for my job. In the Wilton Test Kitchen, there’s always extra cake batter or cookie dough. In just a few minutes, I can go from candy failure to cookie savior and still bring something sweet to my sweetie on Valentine’s Day.

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Never too old for sprinkles. Ever.

I love, love, love Wilton’s Roll Out Cookie recipe, and I’m not just saying that because I work there. It doesn’t have to be chilled before rolling, which is a huge time saver, but if they are rolled, cut, and chilled for just a few minutes, the cookies hold on to their shape really well. It’s flavored with vanilla and almond extracts and a healthy pinch of salt. The cookies are crisp at the edges, and as a crunchy cookie person, I can appreciate that.

Thank you Test Kitchen job, for saving Valentine’s Day!

I’ll be back for those pathetic pates de fruits soon.

Homemade Caramel Corn for Christmas

23 Dec

I don't know what the deal is, but I am really, really, inexplicably into the holidays this year.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been working on holiday stuff at work for months.

Perhaps it’s because I’m in love.

Perhaps it’s because this is the first time in my life that I live in a place large enough to host my entire family for Christmas dinner, 17 large, including Grandma.

It’s probably a combination of all of these things, but at this point, I’m so damn Christmas-y that I’m beginning to annoy the people around me. I’m even annoying myself. Since when do I think it’s a good idea to listen to the Glee Holiday Station on Pandora, anyway? I’ve never even seen an episode of Glee! And I made a wreath for my front door out of twigs that I gathered from the park across the street, and then SPRAY PAINTED WHITE. I freaking crafted!?

Since this is my first time hosting Christmas for my family, I want to make it special. I’ve borrowed the appropriate amount of folding tables and chairs. I’ve purchased 21 pounds of short ribs and all of the trimmings for the big meal.  I’ve wrapped the gifts.  And this afternoon, I did what I can only hope will be my final cutesy activity of the season. I cooked up a delicious batch of homemade caramel corn with peanuts.

Homemade Caramel Corn with Peanuts

Nothing cutesy about that, right? Just delicious, buttery, sweet, crunchy goodness.

And then I maybe I blacked out, because somehow the caramel corn ended up packaged in theselittle bags that look like Santa’s fat stomach. 

What is happening to me???

Seriously, somebody take my temperature. Maybe I have a fever that’s making me hallucinate or something. I’ve been surrounded by this kind of thing for the past 4+ years at my job in the Wilton Test Kitchen, but somehow managed to remain uncrafty, until this holiday season. And now, I just can’t seem to help myself. I just want to make stuff!

So now, please excuse me. I have to go build some teeny-tiny gingerbread houses for my nieces. Probably gonna jam to the smooth vocal stylings of Michael Buble while I’m at it. Ugh.

Caramel Corn with Peanuts

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
3/4 cup salted peanuts
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat your oven to 250°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large pot with a lid, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Drop one popcorn kernel into the oil. When the kernel pops, the oil is hot and ready. Add the rest of the popcorn kernels. Cover the pot and give it a gentle shake to coat the kernels in oil. You’ll hear kernels beginning to pop shortly. When the popping sounds slow down, remove the pot from the heat and transfer to the popcorn to a large bowl. Dump in the peanuts.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, sugars, honey, and salt together, stirring occassionally until the sugars are dissolved. Cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. The color will deepen slightly, and the mixture will bubble up. If you like your caramel flavor lighter, take the pan off of the heat at 3 minutes. If you prefer a stronger, more burnt flavor, continue cooking the caramel to a darker color, but removing it from the heat before it begins to smoke. Off the heat, carefully add the vanilla extract and baking soda. The caramel will bubble up angrily when these ingredients hit. Let the mixture settle a few seconds, and stir to combine well.

Pour the hot caramel over the popcorn and toss it together to coat. Divide the popcorn evenly between the two baking sheets, and spread it into a single layer. Bake the popcorn to dry out the caramel for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring the popcorn to break up the pieces every 5 to 6 minutes.

Cool the popcorn completely before storing.

Makes about 4 quarts.

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