Archive for ‘Dessert’

December 11, 2013

My Daughter’s Delicious Hot Chocolate Recipe

IMG_4336I really don’t think an adult could come up with this concoction; I actually thought my daughter was crazy at first.  I thought that peppermint candy cane and cinnamon Red Hots belong in separate categories, and never the two shall meet.  But I was wrong.  Together they produce the taste of Christmas in your mouth, and I dare you to try it.

1 serving of your favorite mint cocoa, prepared*
1 t crushed peppermint candy cane
5-10 Red Hots
1 dollop whip cream
Mix and enjoy.

* We like Stephen’s Candycane Cocoa and in second place comes Stephen’s Chocolate Mint Truffle.

March 19, 2013

The Science Behind Making the Most Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies

When I was a teenager, I attempted to make cookies and misread the amount of baking soda.  I thought it said ‘1 cup’ instead of ‘1 teaspoon’.  When I came to the realization that the cookies were inedible, I decided I was no good at baking and didn’t really give it another chance for about a decade.  IMG_2966Now fast forward those 10 years to when I tried a bite of my friend Kelly’s chocolate chip cookies.  They were amazing, and she generously invited me over to make them with her.  That kind gesture gave me the confidence I needed to give baking another shot.

Fast forward another decade and I have made her recipe many times over the years.  Sometimes it is amazing and sometimes it is flat and the texture seems off.  I always wondered what I was doing wrong. My chance to determine just that came by way of my girl’s school extravaganza project looking at the science behind making chocolate chip cookies. I had so many “ah-ha” moments helping them with this project I thought it was worth sharing.

Let’s examine what the ingredients do first (these concepts can be applied to any recipe), then I’ll share the recipe my family loves.

The Ingredients

Butter gives a buttery taste, helps the flavor of the cookie linger in your mouth, helps the cookie rise to make it light and soft, and it helps bind the dough together. Make sure to soften the butter by taking it out of the fridge one hour before baking.  Do not skip this step because doing this makes a big difference. Melting the butter in the microwave will lead to flat cookies.  

Sugar makes cookies sweet, adds moisture, improves texture, and helps preserve the cookie. White sugar makes your cookie crisper; brown sugar has more moisture and makes your cookie chewier.  Many recipes call for half of each.

Creaming the Butter & Sugar is so important to the baking process. The sugar rubs against the butter making air bubbles that the baking soda will find to help the cookie rise.  If the air bubbles are not there the baking soda will not be able to make the cookie rise. Beat the butter and sugar together for up to three minutes.  The color will actually become lighter, and the creamed mixture will become fluffy.

Vanilla does not give your cookies a vanilla taste.  It is actually a flavor enhancer. Using imitation vanilla when making cookies is totally acceptable and sometimes even preferred by taste testers.  It is when you are making cold items like frostings that pure vanilla extract is best.

Flour provides structure and allows the cookies to stay together.  Mix your flour (and other dry ingredients) in with a wooden spoon rather than a mixer, and be sure not to overmix. If you use a mixer more of those air bubbles created in the creaming process will be flattened than by using a wooden spoon.

Baking Soda helps the cookie rise. It also helps the cookie brown and gives it a chewy texture. It plays a very important role so I would not deviate from your recipe.

Salt enhances the flavor of the cookie. Most recipes call for 1 teaspoon, but that is just a bit too much.  So I just eyeball about 2/3 teaspoon and I find that tastes perfect.

Chocolate Chips make the cookie delicious.  I like to add about 85% of the bag.  The entire bag seems to be a bit too much.  But I think this is a preference issue, so play around with it.

Baking the Cookies comes down to preference. Most think that the cookies should look cooked before you take them out of the oven, which is only true if you want crisp, hard cookies.  But if you like soft and chewy cookies, take them out after 8-9 minutes. (I usually do 9 minutes.) They will not look totally cooked, but they will taste amazing after they have fully cooled. Let them cool on the sheet for 3-5 minutes.  Transfer them to a cooling rack that has been covered with tin foil.  The cookies will be fragile, and the tin foil will keep them from falling through the cooling rack.

Recipe for the Most Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies

 Preheat oven 350 degrees.

Cream the following with a mixer until you see a color and texture change to creamy white (3 min):

2 sticks of butter, softened by taking them out of the fridge 1 hour before baking

2/3 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup white sugar

Once color and texture change has been achieved, add 1 teaspoon vanilla, mix

Add 1 egg (at room temperature, take out the same time as the butter), mix

Separately Mix:

2 cups of flour (can add up to ¼ cup more)

1 teaspoon baking soda

2/3 teaspoon salt

Add to butter mixture, stirring with spoon; do not use mixer. Try not to overmix.

Add 1 package or 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (or less), gently fold into the dough.

Bake 8-9 minutes. They will not look done, but take them out and let them cool for 3-5 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack (covered with tin foil). Delicious!

February 8, 2013

Rice Krispie Apples

Today is my daughter’s V.I.P day in kindergarten, and she gets to bring any treats she wants to class (without peanuts, of course). She has been looking forward to this day all year.  I was thinking we could make pink rice crispy treats since they had no peanuts, and they would celebrate uIMG_2760pcoming Valentine’s day.  We searched together online for recipes and I came across this very cute and creative recipe. First things first, I’m not going to tell you this was easy or even fun to make.  It can better be described as sticky, messy, and I think I need to say sticky one more time.  But I will tell you it was a total hit with my daughter.  And even though they really look nothing like the original picture, she thought they were pretty great.

This is a once or twice a year kind of treat (because I think I am going to use this recipe to make pumpkins with orange Jell-O for my other daughter’s birthday in October).  And I’ve got to say, they are pretty darn tasty.  Adding Jell-O to Rice Krispie treats is nothing short of a revelation.

Here is the recipe with the changes I made:

– ½ stick of butter (4 Tablespoons)

– 1 bag of large marshmallows

Put the above in a large microwave-safe bowl and warm for 2 minutes.  Stir, and if it still needs more melting time, put it in a little longer (mine only needed 2 minutes).

– Stir in one small package of Jell-O (I used Cherry )

– Add a few drops of food coloring if you want to make a specific color, like a darker red

– Once you have the desired color, pour in approximately ¾ of a bag of Rice Krispie cereal.  Add a bit at a time and stir until it is the consistency you want.  The less sticky the mixture is, the easier it will be to make the balls.

– Roll out some parchment paper.

– Spray your hands with Pam or oil spray.

– Roll the mixture into balls a bit larger than golf balls.  This is the incredibly sticky part.  You may have to wash your hands a few times in between and put on some more spray.  I was able to make about 32 balls.

– Squash the balls down a bit and use your thumb to create space for the stem.

–  Use unwrapped Tootsie Rolls for the stem. I cut green licorice to look like a leaf, but you could use frosting, green air heads, green fruit roll-ups, or whatever you want. I kind of put them together in the hole and pushed the Krispie mix around them.

– Let the apples sit for a few minutes to harden.

I know we like to trick our kids with real fruit and call it “dessert,” but this time they will actully believe you!

July 3, 2012

Cinnamon Candy Popcorn – A Fourth of July Tradition

When I was a teenager, we lived in Lincoln, Nebraska.  There was this great popcorn store there called Colby Ridge Popcorn.  After all, Nebraska is known for its rolling fields of corn, so a popcorn store makes a lot of sense.  We would often spend our Fourth of July eating a mix of their red, white, and blue popcorn as we watched the fireworks.  I never forgot how the red popcorn was cinnamon flavored and absolutely delicious.

Years later, I ran into a recipe on Recipezaar.com by Pumpkie (that I can no longer find on the site).  I was excited at the idea of replicating one of my favorite Fourth of July memories.  My husband is actually the one who requests this nowadays.  He literally came home with a bag of Red Hots the other day and asked me to make this popcorn.  So here is the recipe for you and yours; hopefully it will be an enjoyable treat.

8 quarts of plain popcorn (I use an air popper)
1 cup of butter
1/2 cup light (not dark) corn syrup
1 (9 ounce) package of Red Hots candies (if the bag contains more, you can add up to 16 ounces and just have a stronger taste, which I like)

1) Place the popcorn in a large bowl

2) Combine all the ingredients except the popcorn in a non-stick saucepan

3) Boil for 5 minutes at a medium temperature. (I find you need to stir it often to break down all of the layers of the candies).

4) While it is boiling, set your oven to 250 degrees.  Also, grease two cookie sheets.

5) Pour over popcorn and mix thoroughly.  Be careful because it is very hot.

6) Bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

7) Allow to cool, break apart and store in an airtight container for up to a week.

December 22, 2011

Dip Just About Anything in Chocolate

My family lives thousands of miles apart, so when we get together we really like to live it up.  Whenever we manage to see each other for Thanksgiving, we carry on through the weekend celebrating Christmas as well.  My sister thought up a fun activity for all the grandkids this year–making their own stocking candy.  They did this by dipping all sorts of things (pretzels, cookies, dried fruit, etc.) in chocolate.  Okay, when I say chocolate, I really mean almond bark (white and milk chocolate) and Wilton Candy Melts (the peppermint flavor).  You use these instead of real chocolate because it melts more easily and at a lower temperature, so there is little chance of burning little fingers. It was fun for the kids, they really can’t mess it up, and they loved adding toppings to their dipped treats.

I made some holiday treats this past week for teachers and friends.  My favorite thing we dipped over Thanksgiving was Oreos in peppermint candy melts so I had to retry that.  You can find the almond bark in the baking aisle of most grocery stores (it looks like small bricks of chocolate).  However, to find the more unique dipping flavors, you go to craft stores.  I found the Wilton Candy Melts at Jo-Anns Fabrics, but you can also look at Michaels in either the cake decorating or wedding aisle.  You melt them in the microwave as stated in the directions.  If you can’t figure out how to put your microwave at 50% power, just melt for less time and stir and continue this until melted and smooth.  I found that my favorite way to dip the Oreo was completely on the bottom and only half way on the top.  I then sprinkled it with crushed peppermint candy cane.  It was heaven!

You will want some parchment or wax paper to place the dipped goods on so they can be easily peeled off after drying.  Oh, and another tip I learned is when you’re finished, wash the bowl immediately or the chocolate will re-harden.  I had to put my bowl back in the microwave to re-melt it so I could wash out the bowl.

This is my first experience with dipping things in chocolate, but I know I’ll continue doing it.   It is economical, fun, you can be creative, and you can include the kids.  Next year, in addition to the Oreos (because let’s be honest, I think I’m already craving them again), I am going to dip long thick pretzels in milk and dark chocolate and also sprinkle them with crushed peppermint candy cane.  I think I see a pattern in what I like, what about you?