Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Blueberry Custard Tart

The tart slices beautifully and shows off the thick layer of blueberries over the creamy custard base.

For a recent last minute dinner party I devised this Blueberry Custard Tart and it was a huge hit. Good thing I took notes as I literally threw it together because I definitely want to make it again.

This tart comes together really quickly so you still have plenty of time to make it for tonight's New Year's Eve celebration. It has a custard base and a fruit topping made with a full two pounds of frozen blueberries. If you don't want to use blueberries you could substitute them with just about any other berry but you might have to add a bit more sugar. Blueberries are naturally the sweetest berry. A combination of berries would also be good.

Here's the recipe:

Blueberry Custard Tart

For the berry topping:
2 lbs. of frozen blueberries
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup heavy cream

Dissolve the cornstarch in the cream and set aside. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large saucepan and heat over medium high heat until simmering. Add the cornstarch mixture and bring it back to a simmer, stirring constantly. Keep cooking until the mixture thickens.
Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

For the crust:
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup vegetable shortening
pinch sea salt
1 cup cold water

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar and salt. Add the shortening and using your fingertips break in into the flour mixture until coarse crumbs form. Add the water, a bit at a time until the dough comes together into a ball. Roll the dough into a round large enough to fill a 10-inch pie pan. Crimp the edges. Bake for 15 minutes until the crust is set and par-baked. Set the crust aside and prepare the custard filling.

For the custard filling:
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs

Beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the vanilla, sugar and sour cream and beat again. Finally, add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the filling into the par-baked crust and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the custard is firm and set and the crust is fully cooked and golden brown.

To assemble:
Simply spread the cooled berry topping over the custard and place the tart in the refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours before serving.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Tim's Banana Birthday Cake

The picture my sister sent of the cake being sliced at the party.

My sister recently asked me to make a banana birthday cake for her boyfriend Tim's surprise party and I was happy to oblige. The whole family loves Tim.

I quickly got to researching banana cake recipes and found one that I liked from Bon App├ętit called Double Banana Cake that called for sour cream (always a good addition to a cake) and three cups of mashed bananas which I knew would add lots of flavor and moisture. 

I also liked that the recipe called for a layer of sliced bananas between the cake layers. 

The only changes I made to the recipe was the addition of one teaspoon of vanilla extract to the batter and making an entirely different frosting. 

The original recipe called for a buttercream made with what I consider a sickly sweet amount of powdered sugar - 4 whole cups! I knew my lightly sweetened Vanilla Cream Cheese Icing made with one cup of sugar and tinted with a drop of yellow food coloring would be a much better addition to the cake. 

And, I'm pretty sure I was right. I didn't get to taste the cake but my sister sent pictures of the cake being sliced at the party and the following text:

"It's delicious Heidi! Everyone loved the frosting."

Here's the recipe:

Tim's Banana Birthday Cake

Banana Cake:
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large eggs
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3 cups coarsely mashed very ripe bananas (about 6 large)
3/4 cup sour cream

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans with sides that are 2-inches high. Also, line the bottoms with greased parchment paper.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs one at a time, mixing well after each additon.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and soda.

Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl. 

Finally, add the mashed bananas and sour cream and mix until well-combined.  

Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
A cake ready for the oven.

Be sure to let the cakes cool in the pans for 20 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack.

Let the cakes cool in the pans for 20 minutes before inverting onto cooling racks. Let the cakes cool completely before assembling.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Icing:
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
a drop of yellow food coloring (optional)
2 ripe but not mush bananas, cut into 1/8 inch slices reserved for assembling the cake.

In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the milk and half of the sugar until simmering.
In the meantime, in a small bowl combine the cream, the other half of the sugar and cornstarch. Mix well with a whisk.

When the milk is simmering,  pour about half of it into the cream mixture and whisk well. Add it back to the milk in the saucepan and heat, stirring constantly until the mixture becomes very thick.

Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla. Put the mixture into a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the mixture cool completely.

When the buttercream base is cool, transfer it to a mixer and whip until smooth, add the butter and the cream cheese, a tablespoon at a time and whip until light and fluffy. Tint with yellow coloring if desired.

To Assemble:
Ice just the top of the bottom layer.

Add sliced bananas.

Top with the second layer.

Ice the entire cake. Chill the cake in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas And Homemade Buttermilk Cinnamon Rolls

Icing a batch of Buttermilk Cinnamon Rolls.

My husband Joe wore his Santa hat and helped me make cinnamon roll deliveries bright and early this morning to family and friends.
It wouldn't be Christmas at our house without homemade Buttermilk Cinnamon Rolls. I've made them every year for our family since as long as I can remember and they are so good.

The addition of buttermilk makes the dough very tender.

Making them isn't hard but the dough of course has to rise which means I have to rise early to make them. It's worth it though because it's a tradition and it makes my family happy.

So a little before 4 a.m. this morning I got myself up and going and by 8 a.m. I had two batches (48 giant rolls) out of the oven and glazed with a cream cheese icing.

Some of the cinnamon rolls stayed home and the rest my husband and I delivered to family and friends.

Here's the recipe:

Buttermilk Cinnamon Rolls
(makes 24 giant cinnamon rolls)
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/3 cups canola oil
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoons salt
4 cups buttermilk, scalded and cooled
12 to 14 cups flour

Dissolve the yeast in the water and set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the oil, sugar, eggs and salt. Add the buttermilk and yeast mixture. Finally, add the flour, a cup at a time until a soft dough forms. Knead the dough on a floured surface for 5 to 7 minutes or until the dough becomes smooth. Place the dough in a large clean bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise until is is double in bulk, about 1 hour.

My two batches of dough rising this morning.

Punch the dough down and divide it in half. Let the dough rest for a few minutes before rolling each half into a 12 x 17 inch rectangle.
Divide the dough in half.

Roll the dough into a 12 x 17-inch rectangle. I used a rolling pin but I also used my hands to pat it out and help shape it into a rectangle.

1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Optional: 1 1/2 cups raisins for the whole batch or 3/4 of a cup for half the batch

In a bowl, combine the sugars, cinnamon and raisins if desired.
Spread half of the butter evenly on each rectangle of dough and sprinkle with the sugar mixture covering the dough evenly and leaving a 1/2 inch line of uncovered dough at the top.

Spread half of the butter evenly on the dough top with half of the filling mixture.

I always make half of the rolls with raisins and half without.

Roll the rectangle up tightly into a cylinder starting at the bottom. Pinch the edge to seal the cylinder closed.
Pinch the edge of the cylinder to seal it closed.

Slice the cylinder into 12 rolls and place them evenly spaced on a greased or parchment lined baking sheet.
I use a serrated knife to cut the cylinder into 12 rolls. I do this by cutting the dough in half and then into quarters. Finally, I cut each quarter into thirds.

Space the 12 slices evenly apart on a lightly greased sheetpan. I also like to line the bottom with a sheet of lightly greased parchment paper.

Repeat with the other rectangle of dough.

Cover the rolls loosely with plastic wrap and let them rise until the spaces between the rolls begin to fill in, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Bake both sheetpans of rolls at the same time in a 375 degree oven for 16 to 20 minutes, switching the pans between the top and bottom racks midway through to ensure even baking.

Let the rolls cool slightly before icing.

1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whip the cream cheese until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and whip again. Finally add the milk and vanilla.

With a table knife or offset spatula, evenly ice the tops of the rolls before serving.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Coconut Cranberry Chews

The Coconut Cranberry Chews (top left) that we put into our Trinity Christmas Cookie Boxes are so good that customers are requesting the recipe.
My friend Cheryl was searching for and testing recipes for our Trinity Christmas Cookie Box sale way back in October.

One of the first recipes Cheryl found and tested was one for Coconut Cranberry Chews. She baked a batch and brought them in for volunteers at the Wednesday Community Meal to taste test and there was no doubt that it had to be included in the boxes. Everyone loved them especially myself and Cheryl's husband Dave.

What I love about them is that they are dense, chewy and not too sweet. It's also downright hard to eat just one.

When I recently received this message from Christine —  "I'm waiting for the recipe for the EXTRAORDINARY cranberry sugar cookies that were in the cookie boxes. That has become my favorite cookie of all time," I had to comply.

Thanks to Cheryl, here is the recipe:

Coconut Cranberry Chews      
yields about 60 cookies

1½ cups butter at room temperature  (3 sticks)
2 cups  granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 egg
3 ¼  cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups dried cranberries
3 cups  sweetened flaked dried coconut         

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In large mixing bowl on medium speed, beat butter, sugar, orange zest and vanilla until smooth.  Beat in egg until well-blended.

Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in another bowl. Add to butter mixture, beating at low-speed until dough comes together. This sometimes takes as long as 5 minutes (*See note below).

Mix in cranberries and coconut. 

Shape dough into 1-inch balls ( I made mine a bit larger) and place 2-inches apart on parchment lined or greased cookie sheet.

Bake until cookies begin to brown on edges,  11 to 15 minutes.  The shorter time will yield a chewier cookie and the longer time, a crisper cookie.

Let cool 5 minutes on the pan and transfer to wire rack.

Note: The mixture may look dry until it comes together as a dough. If it's dry, it needs to be mixed longer.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Peppermint Mocha Almond Bark

I'm on a homemade bark kick after the success of making peppermint bark for the Trinity Christmas Cookie Boxes.

Homemade bark looks so pretty and makes a nice holiday gift. It's also quick to make and fun to experiment with different toppings.

So here's my latest creation — Peppermint Mocha Almond Bark. It's a dark chocolate base flecked with crushed candy canes and topped with more candy cane pieces, crushed espresso beans and slivered almonds.

Making it literally took less than 30 minutes and then you just need to wait for the bark to cool and set up before you can break it into pieces. 

Here's the recipe:

Peppermint Mocha Almond Bark

1 pound dark chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup crushed candy cane
1/4 cup espresso beans, crushed
1/3 cup slivered almonds

The easiest way to crush the candy canes and espresso beans is to put each of them into a zip lock bag and crush them by hitting them with a rolling pin or mallet. Don't break up the candy canes too much or you will end up with powder instead little pieces.

After you have crushed the candy canes, put 1/2 cup of it into a small bowl and reserve the remaining 1/4 cup for sprinkling on top of the bark.

Line a sheetpan with good quality parchment paper.

Put all of the chocolate except for two ounces into a double boiler and melt slowly over medium low heat, stirring until the chocolate is melted. Remove the chocolate from the heat and immediately stir in the remaining two ounces. Keep stirring until all the chocolate is melted.

Stir in the 1/2 cup of crushed candy cane.

Pour the chocolate candy cane mixture onto the prepared sheetpan and spread it to 1/4 inch thickness.

Evenly sprinkle on the crushed espresso beans, slivered almonds and remaining 1/4 cup of crushed candy cane.

The bark needs to cool completely before you can break it into pieces. Packaged, it makes a great homemade holiday gift for family and friends.

Let the bark cool until it is completely set up and can be broken into pieces. This takes about 2 hours.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Light Cookies

If you need a quick decorated cookie for a holiday party, these Christmas Light Cookies are perfect. Light cookie cutters are easy to find online and in baking supply stores.

The light cutter that I used. I got mine at Sur La Table.

I used gingerbread dough to make them but sugar cookie dough would work just as well.

To decorate them I used flood consistency red and green royal icing and a #2 tip, outlining and then immediately flooding the bulb as not to leave a distinguishable outline.

For the threads of the bulb, I used piping consistency icing, tinted grey.  Piping the threads of the bulb with a stiffer icing using a #2 tip adds interest to the cookie and is so easy to do.
Cookie closeup.

Adding texture by piping the threads on top of the bulb makes a big impact on these simple cookies.

A nice way to display the finished cookies is to lay them across a piece of colored twine so that they actually look like a string of festive lights.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Last Community Meal Of 2013

Santa was in the house. We are very fortunate to have volunteer Dan's help serving coffee and a bonus is that he can pass for Santa all year long.

With both Christmas and New Year's Day arriving on a Wednesday this year, today was our last community meal of 2013.

We made the most of our last meal together by celebrating with mini-Christmas trees on the tables, live holiday music courtesy of Sandy our volunteer piano player and Santa Claus in the dining room thanks to Dan our longtime coffee server who is perfect for the part - he sports a real white beard all year long.
We had a full dining room during most of our two hour service. In the end we served 354 meals.

There were a variety of entrees served today from barbecue ribs and fried chicken to sweet and sour shrimp and baked salmon. Every entree came with soup, salad and dessert. The latter was glazed marble cake made by our dessert expert Cheryl.
Chery cutting the glazed marble cakes that she made for dessert.

The guests were very appreciative and said that they are looking forward to joining us again on Wednesdays at Trinity Episcopal in the New Year.

We served 354 meals today and offered our guests a to-go gift as they left, a dry-cured salami courtesy of Olympic Provisions. Needless to say, the gourmet treat was a welcome surprise and a delicious way to finish off the year.

What a treat! As guests were leaving, we gave them a dry-cured salami from Olympic Provisions.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Peppermint Bark

The Peppermint Bark that we made for our Trinity Christmas Cookie Boxes was actually the easiest treat that we made. It contains only two ingredients - white chocolate and crushed candy canes.

I also like that it looks festive, tastes great and comes together quickly which makes it a perfect homemade holiday gift.

Here's the recipe:
Peppermint Bark

2 pounds white chocolate
1 cup crushed candy canes, plus an extra 1/4 cup for sprinkling on top of the bark

The easiest way to crush the candy canes is to unwrap them and put them into a sealed plastic bag. Use a rolling pin or mallet to crush them. The goal is to get candy cane shards, not candy cane powder, so don't go too crazy.

Line a sheet pan with good quality parchment paper.

Melt the white chocolate slowly over medium heat in a double boiler, watching it carefully and stirring.

When the chocolate is melted, remove it from the heat and stir in the 1 cup of crushed candy canes.

Pour the mixture onto the parchment lined sheet pan, being careful not to let it run to the edges of the pan. Use an offset spatula or knife to spread it out until it is even and about 1/4 inch thick.

Immediately sprinkle on top the remaining 1/4 cup of crushed candy canes.
The bark needs about 2 hours to firm up so that it can be broken into pieces.

Let the peppermint bark set until very firm, about 2 hours. You can also place it in the refrigerator to speed up the setting time.

Break the bark into pieces and it's ready to eat or package for friends and family.

Self-sealing cellophane bags, red and white butcher's twine and tags make a nice presentation.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Baked, Packed, Delivered, I'm Tired

After weeks of preparation and a busy day baking more than 5,000 cookies, the 2013 Trinity Christmas Cookie Box sale is officially over. In the end we made 116 boxes each containing just under four dozen cookies and raised more than $3,000 for Food Ministries at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

Today we delivered the boxes and can now take a breather until next year. Pulling off such a large project required help from a crew of dedicated volunteers who I can't say enough about - I am so blessed to have their help and support.

Special recognition must be given to my friend Cheryl who organized the sale in addition to making and packaging cookies. By herself she made 48 rolls of shortbread dough!

Here are some pictures from the busy baking and packaging sessions that started last Friday at 9 a.m.
The baking team at the beginning of the day with more than 5,000 cookies in our future: Teri, Rieko, Leah, Martha, Mary, myself and Cheryl.

Martha and Mary counted and sorted cookies. In the background is Cheryl checking a batch in the oven. Cheryl and Rieko did an amazing job of watching the ovens and baking every single cookie perfectly.

Anne cutting Ruglach.

The Ruglach assembly station: From left to right, Tiffany, Linda and Teri.

A baker's rack filled with cookies ready for packaging.

Linzer cookies.

Bill and Dave unwrapping candy canes for peppermint bark. Dave is also the resident chocolate expert and prepared the melted dark chocolate for dipping and white chocolate for peppermint bark.

Teri, Cheryl and myself drizzling white chocolate and sprinkling crushed candy canes over chocolate shortbread.
The team returned early Saturday morning to fill the boxes. The first step was to open all the boxes and set them out on tables.

The first layer: (clockwise from top left) Cranberry Coconut Cookies, Maple Shortbread, Cranberry Ruglach, Chocolate Shortbread with Peppermint and White Chocolate, Ginger Molasses Cookies, Linzer Cookies, Vanilla Shortbread and more Ginger Molasses Cookies.

The second layer: (clockwise from top left) Linzer Cookies, Russian Teacakes, Chocolate Shortbread with Peppermint and White Chocolate, Ginger Molasses Cookies, Walnut Logs, Cranberry Coconut Cookies, Marbled Shortbread and more Walnut Logs.

The final addition was a package of Peppermint Bark.

Filled Boxes ready to be closed and finished off with a Gingerbread Snowflake and red satin bow.

Boxes ready for delivery.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Russian Teacakes And How To Chop Walnuts

For the batches and batches of Russian Teacakes I made yesterday, I had to chop more than three pounds of walnuts.

Good thing I know this simple trick to chop them fast using a rolling pin and a plastic bag.

Chopping nuts the easy way.

Just put the walnuts, a cup or so at a time into a sealed plastic bag and hit them with a rolling pin to break them apart. It's fast and easy and that's exactly what I needed to make all of these cookies which will help fill the Trinity Christmas Cookie Boxes.

Twelve recipes of Russian Teacakes ready for the cookie boxes.
And, here's the recipe for Russian Teacakes which are one of my family's favorite cookies. They are also known by other names like Snowballs, Mexican Wedding Cakes and Swedish Teacakes.

Russian Teacakes
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 teaspoon salt
Extra powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whip the butter until smooth and creamy, add the vanilla, salt and powdered sugar and whip again. Stir in the flour and the nuts until mixed thoroughly and the dough holds together.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. I like to use a cookie scoop to get even sizes and then roll it with my hands to form a nice ball. Place the cookies 1-inch apart on a greased or parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until set but not brown. Let the cookies cool until they are still slightly warm and roll in powdered sugar. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Super Side Dishes

Carmelized yams hot out of the oven and tossed with fresh parsley.

The crispy garlic fries — It's hard to believe that they were made from scratch last minute and baked, not fried.

Crispy oven-baked chicken was the main entree today at the Wednesday Community Meal but it was the side dishes that really stood out - caramelized oven-roasted yams and garlic fries.

The latter was a last minute thing we threw together when we realized we were running out of yams. Volunteers Davis and Joe worked fast peeling potatoes and Kate cut them into fries.

We then soaked the fries in salted water to remove excess starch and then transferred them to a towel and patted them dry. Then it was into a bowl where we tossed them with oil, garlic powder and kosher salt.

Before we put them onto sheet pans for baking, we preheated the pans in a hot 425-degree oven and then coated them with nonstick cooking spray and a bit of oil. This technique keeps the potatoes from sticking to the pan as they bake.

If you remember the saying "hot pan, cold oil," you won't have to worry about food sticking as it cooks.

After about 20 minutes in the oven, the garlic fries looked so good- golden brown and crispy.

Thanks should be given to The Oregon Food Bank and Food Front Cooperative Grocery in Hillsdale who donated the yams and potatoes. We served 296 meals today.