valentine’s share a heart cookies; a two-for-one, cookies and kindness, tuesdays with dorie post

img_7389It is so nice to be back to baking with the Tuesdays with Dorie gang!  Especially when it means baking cookies, lots of cookies!  If you recall my post from earlier this month, Dorie Greenspan recently began a revolution to make the world a sweeter place with Cookies & Kindness.  Each month, she posts a recipe on her website and encourages us to bake and share the cookies.   For February, she chose these easy to make Valentine’s Day Share-A-Heart cookies and this is also the recipe chosen by the Tuesday with Dorie Bakers; a two-for-one recipe!

The recipe calls for making two large hearts that can be decorated and given as gifts.  As soon as I saw the recipe, I knew I would be making them for my daughters but having to ship them to Georgia and California, I chose a smaller size cutter so that the cookies would survive the trip.

img_7391Do not be intimidated by the call for rolling out the cookies with parchment paper.  Over the years, I have rolled out thousands and thousands of cookies and one issue I have always encountered, the added flour from rolling out the cookies can change the consistency of the dough.  If you have read any of my posts on rolling cookies, I have always instructed that you brush off as much of the flour as possible to prevent the dough from changing.  Dorie has a brilliant suggestion in her recipe; place the dough between two sheets of parchment paper and skip the flour!  For small quantities, this is absolutely the way to go and it is definitely a technique I will use again.  The parchment paper takes the place of the flour and the consistency of the dough remains the same from start to finish.  Keep in mind, repeatedly rolling out the dough will toughen it as the gluten becomes developed but for small quantities like this, you won’t have to worry about that happening.

img_7395If you enjoyed this post, think about baking along with us.  Pick up a copy of Dorie’s Cookies and bake cookies to share!  Sweeten the world one cookie recipe at a time!  To see what the rest of the gang did with their cookies, check the website!

macarons; another one for the baking bucket list

IMG_0836It seems that to call yourself a pastry chef, one must know how to make macarons.  Well, maybe not but that is the impression I have been given.  A baker’s version of the Holy Grail, your cookies must be perfect little circles with slightly glossy, smooth tops sans cracks, and those famous “feet” and they are also the thing anxiety attacks are made of.  They are fussy, subject to all kinds of results (and not many that you want) and quite capable of intimidating even the most experienced bakers.  Of course I am speaking with experience.  My own efforts landed with mixed results and I was beginning to hate the little things.  This was only aggravated by the plethora of blogposts and pinterest posts from bakers and their dogs bragging about how easy they were to make…It was time to take action and by action, I mean that it was time to get over my fear of failure (again) and to actually try making them.  First I needed to find a better recipe and I did; Joanne Chang has a video tutorial and an article in Fine Cooking that explains making macarons in a way that simplifies the recipe and shows intimidation to the door!

When made properly and that includes the filling, they are wonderful.  Sadly though, most that I have tasted fall squarely into the “meh” category.  Luckily, the recipe for the macarons also comes with recipes for fillings.  To make mine, I added a little pink paste food color, after all, I was making these as Valentine’s Day gifts and then I filled them with raspberry paste and ganache.  To make the cookies, follow the link for the recipe.

Some hints to help!  Do follow the cookie recipe, bring your laptop or tablet to the kitchen with you and watch it as you go; stop and rewind if you have to-I did!  If I can only give you one hint, use a scale to measure.  No arguments, go to the store and buy one if you do not have one.  Seriously, they can be purchased for less than $20 and I know this because I spent about $15 on mine!!!  The filling recipes make more than you need so you can make multiple batches of macarons now, use the fillings in another recipe or freeze them for another day.

Raspberry paste:  Place 6 ounces of raspberries (thawed with the juices if using frozen) into a small sauce pot with 1/3 cup sugar.  Over medium-low heat, bring to a simmer.  Mash the berries and continue to simmer until it thickens up a bit, about 15 minutes-reduce the heat to low if it looks like it is sticking before it thickens.  Pour the mixture into a mesh strainer and press it through to remove the seeds.  Do your best to extract as much of the fruit as possible.  Discard the seeds and chill the paste.  Once chilled, it will be a loose paste, nearly a jam in consistency.

Ganache:  Place 6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate into a heat proof bowl and set it over a pot of nearly simmering water to melt.  In a small pot, heat(don’t boil, just heat it to help melt the chocolate) 3 tablespoons of half and half with 2 tablespoons of booze (I used Pennington’s Strawberry Rye but you can use what you like-or just use more half and half).  Add the heated half and half and whisk until smooth.  Let it sit until it has the consistency of mayonnaise.

To assemble the cookies, on one half of the cookies, spread a thin layer of the raspberry paste on the bottoms.  Set each one, paste side up on a clean tray.  On the other half of the cookies, spread about a teaspoon to a teaspoon and a half of the ganache over the bottom of the cookies.  Pair the cookies together so that each has a raspberry and a chocolate cookie and gently press them together.  Allow them to sit long enough for the ganache to completely set and then you can package them to give as gifts.  Mine are rolled into clear cello with the ends tied shut.


cinnamon heart candied popcorn

IMG_5206Popcorn is one of those snacks that I cannot give up.  My idea of perfect is a big bowl of corn popped in coconut oil and liberally sprinkled with salt.  Caramel corn comes close and so does real state fair kettle corn but I can live without the sweet and 99% of the time, it is just a sprinkle of salt on top for me.

With Valentine’s day approaching, I was thinking of my girls and how much I wish I could spend more time with them but since we are scattered now, mailing a box of goodies to each of them would have to suffice.  That’s where the corn comes in; it is light weight and easy to ship.  But honestly, who wants to get a box of plain old popcorn?

While searching for a recipe, this one caught my eye-blame it on the red color  of the corn.  When I saw the recipe used cinnamon hearts, I knew this sweet and spicy combination was just what I wanted.

IMG_5212Have you ever really looked at popcorn?  The stuff you get in bags and at the fair always seems so much larger when it pops than the kernels you get from the supermarket and there is a good reason for that.  Believe it or not, there is a special type of corn out there that will pop into large round puffs and it is called mushroom corn.  Take a good look at the puff above.  Notice how it is a larger, rounder puff with a texture on the outside that looks a little like a mushroom cap?  You will have to seek this one out, search for it online and if you are lucky to live near a store that carries it, buy some and try it out.

When we moved from TN to VA, I had to get rid of a bunch of things and the old avocado green corn popper that I had since my days at the CIA got the old heave ho.  These days, I make my popcorn on the stove top and when I pop mushroom corn, I love how nearly all of the kernels pop.

IMG_5216All bagged up and ready to ship.  If you make this, let me share a few hints with you.  Make your popcorn first!  If you can get the mushroom corn, use it because the little nooks and crannies on the outside will catch the candy nicely.  The original recipe for this called for 8 cups of popped corn from 1/3 cup of kernels, I doubled up on the recipe and 2/3 cup of mushroom corn made about 12 cups of popcorn so I made a second 12 cups.  However, when I doubled the syrup, it made a huge amount and I personally would suggest you make double the popcorn called for-to me it was way too much candy for the amount of popcorn.  Instead, dump the extra hearts into a bag with the candied corn as a garnish.

Cinnamon Heart Popcorn

Recipe from Debbie at One little Project

8-24 cups of previously popped corn, in a large bowl or pot

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1 cup cinnamon hearts

Preheat the oven to 250F.  Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or silpats and set aside.  Place the butter into a heavy bottom saucepan and over low heat, melt completely.  Add the corn syrup and the cinnamon hearts to the melted butter, turn the heat to medium and gently stir it continuously to melt the candies.  It should come to a steady boil for several minutes and the temperature will be somewhere around 230F.  Carefully pour the syrup over the top of the corn and using a metal spoon, stir it to coat the corn evenly-you can pour it in portions, stirring in between to make sure it is all coated evenly.  This mixture is very hot and can burn, pour it away from yourself and don’t even think of using your hands to mix it!!!

Dump the corn out onto the two sheet pans and bake for 15 minutes, rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back and bake for 15 minutes more.  Allow it to completely cool before bagging or placing into an airtight container.

Clean up is best done by placing all the tools into the pot and filling it with hot water, set over low heat and the candy mixture will melt.