Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gingerbread Church

I love baking and decorating gingerbread houses!   This year I learned about a huge gingerbread house and train display and competition down in Pittsburgh, so I thought I'd join in.   The display is an annual event at PPG Place's Wintergarden, and it is a fundraiser for Children's Hospital Free Care Fund.   What a worthy cause, and I'm happy to participate!

My gingerbread church is 20 inches tall, and is decorate with all kinds of fun goodies:   chex cereal (the roof), almond slices (the steeple top), dried cranberries (the steeple base), grape nuts cereal (the path), fruit roll ups (the stained glass windows), ice cream cones (the trees), snowflake sprinkles (on the trees), and a whole lot of royal icing!

I look forward to visiting the display with my family.....and finding out if I've placed in the competition!   

TWD: Double Chocolate Cookies

Oh my, what a fudgy chocolate cookie!   Straight from the oven, they melt in your mouth, resembling a brownie in texture.   As they cool, they crisp up, but are still a delightful chocolaty treat.   With the addition of instant coffee powder to the batter, the cookies have a coffee hint as well, yet it's not so strong that even my pickiest of children disliked them.  In other words, this cookie is a winner all around.  With a full pound of chocolate, how can you go wrong?!

Double Chocolate Cookies
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into larger-than-chip-size chunks
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside until needed.  Divide the bittersweet chocolate in half and set half aside. 
Place the butter, the remaining bittersweet chocolate, and the unsweetened chocolate in the top of a double boiler over, but not touching, simmering water.  (Alternatively, you can use a heatproof bowl positioned over a saucepan of simmering water.)  Heat the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the butter and chocolates are melted and smooth.  Remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, put the eggs, sugar, coffee, and vanilla in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at high speed for about 10 minutes until the mixture is very thick and forms a slowly dissolving ribbon when the whisk is lifted and the mixture is allowed to drizzle back into the bowl.
With the mixer on low speed, very gradually add the warm butter-chocolate mixture.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and work your rubber spatula around the bottom of the bowl, then continue to mix just until the chocolate is thoroughly incorporated.  Add the dry ingredients and the remaining bittersweet chocolate chunks and mix thoroughly.  (You may find it more efficient o finish the mixing by gently folding the ingredients in with the rubber spatula.)  The mixture will look like a thick, marshmallowy cake batter.
Cover the bowl and chill for several hours, or overnight.  The dough can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
When you are ready to bake, position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a heaping tablespoon of dough for each cookie, drop the dough onto the lined sheets, leaving at least 2 inches of space between each mound of dough---these are spreaders.  Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pans front to bake and top to bottom halfway through the baking period.  The cookies will puff, then sink and crinkle and wrinkle around the edges.  These cookies are better underdone than over baked, so if you have any doubts, pull them out of the oven early rather than later.  These shouldn't appear dry and they won't be crisp.  Use a wide metal spatula to transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.  Repeat with the remaining dough.

The cookies can be wrapped in plastic and kept at room temperature for 2 days or frozen for up to a month.  Thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.
This recipe is from contributor Rick Katz, and can be found on pages 329-330 in Baking With Julia.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

TWD: Pumpernickel Bread

You know what I love most about being a part of the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group?   I am challenged to bake recipes that I never would have baked otherwise.

I am not a fan of pumpernickel bread, or any other rye bread for that matter.   However, my husband enjoys a Reuben sandwich now and then, and I learned that two of my kids now like pumpernickel!  Go figure!   I'm glad to expose them to new flavors and textures of bread.

You know how smells can evoke memories, both pleasant and unpleasant?    When I opened the little jar of caraway seed and took a sniff, I was instantly back in my mom's kitchen.  She had a big pot of Sur Kål on the stove.   Sur Kål is Norwegian sweet and sour cabbage, and the pungent smell of vinegar, cabbage, and caraway seed is one not soon forgotten!!   The caraway seed brought this back to mind, and I was filled with a strong memory of my mom.  I sure miss her.   I called my kids over to take a sniff and after their "Ewwww" responses, I told them the story of their Norwegian Grandma's cabbage.  Precious, precious memories!

This was a fun recipe to make!   There was the standard first and second risings, then the shaping of the dough.   But then the dough took a nap (rested) in a sling, dangling from a hook, in order to facilitate the dome-shaped loaf.  How cute is this?

That tea towel, by the way, is from my Uncle Karsten in Norway.  :)   More memories!
After a 40 minute nap, the loaf is washed with an egg wash and sprinkled with more caraway seed.    Then it's baked until deep brown and hollow-sounding when thumped on the bottom.

My loaves are definitely rustic.  And my photos are definitely blurry.  (Rainy day equals poor indoor natural light!)

My husband enjoyed a sloppy Reuben sandwich for supper that night, while the kids and I tried a small slice with butter.   My favorite?  No.  But the memories that I enjoyed make it all worth while.

The recipe, found in the Baking With Julia cookbook, is contributed by Lauren Groveman, and can be found on her website here.   Thank you Lauren!