Archive for December, 2010


A Very Merry Bûche de Noël to All!

December 26, 2010

Now that I’ve survived the Christmas rush and a nasty bout of pneumonia, I am back and ready for action!  Nothing says Christmas baking to me like a beautiful Bûche de Noël, but first a little backstory…

In third grade, we were all assigned a project to interview our oldest living relative about their holiday traditions.  I chose to interview my mom’s mother (my Mémère), who was not the oldest, but perhaps the most interesting and (knowing me) most convenient.  Mémère was French, and what I remember from her interview about holiday traditions was this funny sounding thing called Bûche de Noël.  I didn’t know what it was, but I really couldn’t figure out why anyone would be excited about eating a log.  I imagined it being tough and woody.  Not good eats.  Ohhh, how naïve I was…

Now older and wiser, I understand that this coveted holiday treat is made of cake and deliciousness rather than bark and pine needles.  Part of the beauty of which is that it can be made in almost any flavor combination, as long as you’ve got the three basic components:  a spongy, rolled cake; a filling; and a frosting.  The possibilities are almost endless and can be tailored for your audience, but one thing’s certain:  everyone loves this elegant and easy holiday treat.


The hardest part of this recipe is to get the sponge cake to turn out right.  Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out the first time.  My first batch completely stuck to the waxed paper and had to be scrapped.

When I made it, I went for triple chocolate (chocolate cake with chocolate filling and frosting), but I think in retrospect that’s awfully over-chocolatey-whelmy.  A white sponge cake would make the cake look more woody and cut down on the chocolate.  Also, a more custardy, pastry cream filling would be delicious.

It doesn’t take any specialist equipment to decorate the cake.  I used a fork and a butter knife to make decorative ridges in the frosting to make it look like bark.  I also sprinkled with powdered sugar to make it look like freshly fallen snow on the Christmas log.

I found some chocolate mushroom cookies at World Market that I used to make the log look like it had been colonized by fungi on the forest floor, though if you can’t find the storebought ones, there are plenty of recipes and instructions out there for making meringue or marzipan mushrooms.  Anything works though, get creative!

Garnish with holly leaves or berries!

Chocolate Sponge Cake

  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 3 tbsp. cocoa
  • 1/2 c. sifted cake flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease jellyroll pan; line with greased waxed paper. Separate eggs and beat egg whites until stiff peaks form; set aside. Beat egg yolks until lemon colored. Add sugar and cocoa gradually to yolks; beat until thick. Blend in flour and salt. Fold egg yolk mixture into beaten egg whites, taking care not to deflate egg whites too much.

Pour batter into prepared pan; spread evenly. Bake 15 minutes or until done. Loosen cake edges immediately; turn out onto clean dish towel sprinkled with powdered sugar.

While still hot, roll up cake in dish towel. Cool rolled with seamside down. Unroll cake; spread with about 1/3 cup desired filling and reroll.  Frost with desired frosting and decorate.  Refrigerate overnight before serving. Let cake set at room temperature 30 minutes before slicing.

Whipped Chocolate Ganache

  • 1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream

Place the semisweet chocolate in a large heat-proof bowl. Bring cream to a boil in heavy-bottom pan over medium-high heat; pour over the chocolate. Let sit for 10 minutes; use rubber spatula to stir until smooth.  Let chocolate mixture cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Place mixture in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip on medium speed until ganache holds its shape and is slightly lightened in color.  I filled and frosted my cake with this ganache, but feel free to use a different filling.  Enjoy!

– Josie


But Why is All the Rum Gone?

December 22, 2010

Okay so here is a quick little post. Been busy prepping for the holidays and all.

The other night I got a request from someone at my dad’s office that they really wanted some rum balls. I’d maybe tried them a long time ago when I was little, and didn’t really think too much of them. However last night when I put these together, I became a big fan.

The ingredients are super easy to procure (well the libations may be more difficult for some…). The effort really comes from having to hand roll each of these volatile little gems. I was kinda done after rolling 3 dozen-ish but just kept on rolling. I really could have used my friend Erika (we’ve decided one day we will work on a candy factory production line. Haha. <(>.>)> No but really).

Sweet, soft, crunchy, sugary, rum infused morsels.


-This recipe is so easy. I am definitely going to tweak it with some fun flavors

-I was running low on chocolate, so used 2 oz. of milk chocolate Ghirardelli chips and 4 oz. of unsweetened chocolate baking bars. I also increased sugar to ¾ c. to make up for this.

Rum Balls

  • 6 oz. semisweet chocolate
  • 3 Tbsp light corn syrup
  • ¼ c. Rum (I like dark for this)
  • ½ c. sugar
  • 1 ¼ c. crushed vanilla wafer cookies
  • 1 c. finely chopped toasted pecans
  • 1 c. or more of powdered sugar

Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water (or melt right quick in the microwave). Remove from heat and mix in corn syrup and rum. Next stir in sugar, crushed vanilla wafers, and pecans.

Measure out rounded teaspoons and roll mixture into balls. Then roll in powdered sugar. Place into a covered container and chill in the fridge. Makes upwards of 4 dozen balls.

Enjoy whenever you need a spirited lift.

~Erik <(^_^)>


Let it Snowcake!

December 14, 2010

Last week I was asked to make a cake by my friend Ashley for her mom’s birthday. Woot woot!

From a lot of baking and tweaking I’ve finally come up with what I think to be the best Pumpkin Spice cake. It was this cake that I had made for Ashley’s Birthday back in October and she requested for her mom’s cake as well. It has a warm spiciness of ginger and sweet cinnamon accompanied by a pleasant citrus zing.

For Ashley’s cake I had focused on making it very fall via warm colors and making some chocolate leaves. So when she asked me to winterize her cake, I ended up making some royal icing snowflakes and iced the cake in a pale blue. I also included some cupcakes in her order, as she was hinting she wanted some pre-party cake. Here are the results and the recipe for my pumpkin cake.


-I usually don’t do the whole product placement dance but I do love pampered chef cinnamon plus for a few reasons. 1.) I’m not the biggest fan of cinnamon as I feel it is overused a lot. 2.) This blend is pretty tasty as the cinnamony-ness has been cut with ginger, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and orange peel. 3.) I could only think of two reasons. You could replace it with pumpkin pie spice.

-A classic cream cheese icing would be just as well.

Yah Autumn!

Half of the royal icing many. snowflakes.

Extra mini-snowcakes (Ashley was fearful she would snack on the cake during her commute).

Pumpkin Spice Cake Laced with Citrus

For Cake:

  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon plus
  • ½ tsp fresh nutmeg (I’m kinda in love with fresh nutmeg)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • Zest of ½ orange
  • 1 ½ c granulated sugar
  • ¾ c vegetable oil (or canola)
  • ½ c unsweetened applesauce
  • 15 oz. can pumpkin
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs

For Frosting:

  • 1 ½ stick cream cheese
  • ½ stick butter
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon plus
  • ¼ tsp fresh nutmeg
  • Zest of ½ orange

To make cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F and grease and flour 2-8” or 9” pans. In a bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.

In another bowl mix together the oil, applesauce, and the sugar. Using an electric mixer on low beat in the pumpkin, orange zest, and vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Now gradually add the flour mixture on low speed, beating until just combined.

Spread the batter into the baking pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 min then flip onto a wire rack. Cool completely before frosting or else you’ll have a sad melty cake.

Cake prior to frosting.

Love that color contrast: orange cake + blue frosting = ❤

To make the icing:

In a mixing bowl put the room temperature cream cheese and butter. Beat together until creamy. When they are incorporated add the orange zest, cinnamon, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Blend together until it is a good spreading consistency. Add more powdered sugar if too thin; add some milk if too thick. Frost cake and decorate to your desires. Enjoy!

The finished cake yah!

~Erik <(^_^)>


Oh, Mon Dieu! Madeleines!

December 10, 2010

Erik and I spent practically all summer trying to find a Madeleine pan.  For weeks, we looked for them in every store we went into.  Why we didn’t just buy one Amazon for around $10 with free shipping is beyond me, but that’s beside the point.  By the time we both finally procured pans (I found mine at the Shenandoah Heritage Market on S. Main, and Erik’s is from Williams-Sonoma), I was more than ready to begin experimenting with these treats.  I had several limes left over from an impulse bulk-buy when they were on sale at the grocery store, so I wanted to find a way to incorporate lime into the recipe.  I decided on Chocolate Lime for the first go round, using a basic recipe I found online.

I’m not sure why, but I’d imagined Madeleines would be difficult to get right.  If you’ve ever made them you know that’s simply not true.  Halfway between a cake and a cookie, they are whipped up quickly with a surprisingly thin batter (I was worried it wouldn’t be thick enough to bake up, but it was no problem).  The hardest part is figuring out how much batter to put in each well, because most of the batters I’ve tried tend to really puff up and if you overfill you lose the signature shell-like shape.  You’ve really just got to experiment with it, as it varies from recipe to recipe.

When they came out of the oven, warm and delicious, I decided to drive them over to share with my friend, Kelly, who promptly devoured several.  And I can hardly say that I blame her—I may or may not have done the same thing on my way to her house.


Most recipes make only one pan of Madeleines (generally 12), so if you need/want more, double or triple the recipe!

These can be done in virtually any different flavor combination by tweaking a basic recipe.  I would, however, steer clear of putting whole fruits (like blueberries or raspberries) in the batter, because they make it really sticky and it becomes difficult to get them out of the pan—in any case, make sure it’s sprayed liberally with a non-stick cooking spray.

Whatever recipe you decide to use should be a Madeleine recipe.  Regular cake batter won’t work for this, as we learned the hard way (a puffy, sticky, cakey mess!).

Like almost all baked treats, they are most delicious served warm; but can be made ahead, stored in an airtight container until needed, then reheated just before serving.

They are very pretty dusted with powdered sugar, although I imagine would be quite delicious when drizzled with a simple glaze.

Chocolate Lime Madeleines

  • 6 tbsp. butter
  • 3 oz. bittersweet chocolate (3 squares), chopped
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Zest of one lime
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Cooking spray, for pan

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray pan with cooking spray.

2. Melt butter and chocolate in double boiler, stirring to incorporate.  Add lime zest.

3. Whisk together sugar, vanilla, and eggs.

4. Beat in the flour and salt.

5. Fold in the chocolate mixture.

6. Spoon or pipe batter into wells of pan. Bake 12-14 minutes. Remove from the tray (may need to pry out with the tip of a knife).  Cool on a wire rack.  Dust with powdered sugar, and enjoy!


~ Josie


Sweet or Savory Pie: An Age Old Dilemma

December 7, 2010

Mmmm Pie. Just the word itself can bring delicious memories swirling to the surface (or fun math equations). Now I love sweets, but sometimes I have a hankering for something savory. This past weekend was a sometime. <(>.>)>

I had been seeing pies everywhere (i.e. magazines, stores, tv, my inbox, blogs…) and I absolutely had to have some. I really needed more buttery, flakey, crusty, goodness in my life. Also, I wanted to try making handpies for the first time. This way I could have hot pocket-esque meals in the freezer, ready to go the next time a craving struck. In my head I was imagining pies with an Asian flair. Something with a filling that was slightly creamy, spicy, and cilantro-y. I found the perfect jump-off recipe in my Best-ever Curry Cookbook.


-I added turmeric & ground coriander for color and flavor to the pie dough. You can add any spice/color combo your heart desires.

-The original recipe called for a fresh Indian cheese, paneer (which is absolutely delicious) but I substituted tofu because I had it and needed to use it up.

-Garam masala is a spice blend that has become more readily available in larger chain stores and international stores. If unable to find you can easily make your own.

So delicious with sour cream.

Cilantro-y Tofu Mushroom Handpies

Crusty-crust (lol <(^_^)>)

  • 3 ¾c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 ¼ cups cold salted butter (2 ½ sticks), cubed
  • 4 tbsp vegetable shortening
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 4-6 tbsp cold water

Filling (Adapted from Best-ever Curry Cookbook by Mridula Baljekar)

  • 6 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 8 oz. firm tofu, in small ½ inch cubes
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
  • 1 fresh spicy green chili of choice, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 inch piece ginger, sliced
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 3 c. button mushrooms (an 8oz. pkg)
  • 2 c. frozen peas, thawed (again 8oz. bag)
  • 1 c. chopped radishes
  • ¾ c plain yogurt mixed with 1 tsp cornstarch

To make crust:

Stir together the flour, coriander, and sugar with whisk or fork to “sift” it. Using a nifty pastry blender or two knives cut in the cold butter and shortening into the flour mixture. You want the consistency to be crumbly with the fats all nicely encased in the flour. Once all the flour has been blended in, stir in the egg, vinegar and a few tablespoons of water to the mixture. I like using my hands at this part to make sure everything comes together into a nice dough. Add more water if dough is dry, but you may not need it all. Don’t overwork the dough as your warm hands can make the dough melty. Form a disc and wrap in plastic. Let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes or longer to set up.

To make the filling:

Heat oil in a wok or large pan. Fry the tofu cubes until they are golden brown on all sides. Remove and drain on paper towel.

In a food processor grind onion, cilantro, chili pepper, garlic, and ginger until it is a fairly smooth paste. Remove and mix in turmeric and garam masala. Remove the excess oil from the pan, leaving behind about a tablespoon. Heat and fry the paste over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, or until the raw onion smell disappears and the oil separates.

Add in the mushrooms, peas, and fried tofu. Mix well and cook for 3-4 minutes allowing the mushrooms to cook. Bring heat down to low and gradually fold in the yogurt. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool, the cooler the filling the easier the pies will be to make. Fold in the radishes right before filling the pies.

To roll out dough:

Flour your workstation and rolling pin. Roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch thickness. Using a large bowl (7-8” diameter) cut out your dough circles. Re-roll and cut as necessary. You should be able to get around 12-14 circles depending on size.

Finally, making the handpies:

Preheat your oven to 400°. Take a crust and fill with a heaping spoonful or two (well 3-4 tablespoons if you need an exact-ish measurement) a little off-center. Then using a wet brush dipped in water, or just your finger, moisten the edge of the pastry and fold over the dough to make a half-moon (think tacos). To seal, take a fork and using the tines press the dough together. Cut two slits on the top for steam to escape.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until crust is golden browned and filling is bubbling. Serve with sour cream and nom away!

~Erik <(^_^)>


Summer Nom Leftovers Pt. 2

December 5, 2010

Heyyooo for blog-posting-splosion. I don’t anticipate this being normal. Just have had a lot of free pondering-time lately and thought I should post some more.

Okay so here is another amazing recipe Josie and I worked on this summer. Peaches are an amazing fruit and I have many memories of them in the summertime as my grandfather used to have a tree in his backyard. Nothing really compares to food that you have hand picked, so once peaches were in season we went to a local source in Charlottesville. However, before that we had hit up the Harrisonburg Farmer’s Market. There we got an excellent deal on these rosy-golden sweet treats. $5 for a bag I believe. (Honestly, it seemed a little shady-shady to me that the vendor had like 5 bags on table. I had theorized that he may have been picking fruit off of other people’s trees…but I think that was just my overactive imagination). Regardless, these were a great deal.

Swimming in my head all summer had been memories of a butterscotch peach pie my mom used to make when we lived in California. That was pretty much the only route I could foresee these peaches taking. I did take a slight detour from the memory though and thought mini tarts would be great (and a way to use my tartlet pans). Here was the resulting recipe.


-This pastry dough…there are no words….let me try: buttery, flakey, crisp, delicious, perfect. I think it is my favorite tart crust!

-Nectarines would be a great replacement for peaches (obvi).

So tasty! <(^_^)>

Butterscotch-Peach Tartlets

For Crust: (recipe from William-Sonoma Essentials of Baking)

  • 3 oz. cream cheese
  • ½ c unsalted butter
  • 1 cup all purpose flour

For Filling:

  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 ½ cups brown sugar
  • ¾ c boiling water
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 ½ c. soymilk
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 lbs peaches, peeled and sliced into wedges
  • ½ cup sugar

To prep peaches, put the slices in a bowl with sugar. Give a good stir and set somewhere to let macerate and sweeten.

To make crust:

In a large bowl, using a large wooden spoon, stir together the butter and cream cheese until smooth and blended, about 2 minutes. Add the flour and continue stirring until a smooth dough forms.

Transfer the dough to a work surface and shape into a thick disk. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 6 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball and place into tartlet pans. Freeze for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400° and line frozen tart crusts with large piece of aluminum foil. Fill the foil lined crust with dried beans, uncooked rice, or fancy weights (if you have). Bake until it dries out, about 15 minutes. Remove weights and decrease temperature to 350° and bake for about 10 more minutes or until nicely golden brown. Set aside to cool.

To make filling:

Melt butter in saucepan over medium high heat. Add brown sugar and allow it to mix together with butter. Let the mixture brown, it will get rather aromatic. Gradually add in water.

In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks and add in a small amount of the soymilk and flour. Stir until the mixture comes together. Add the rest of the soymilk and salt. Slowly pour the lava sugar mixture into the egg mixture, beating well to avoid scrambling the eggs. With the lava sugar successfully integrated into the eggs, return it to the saucepan and cook until thick. Store in the fridge with some cling-wrap touching the filling to prevent a skin from forming.

Putting it all together:

Take cooled crust and put about 1/3 cup cooled butterscotch filling inside. Take the peach and place in an aesthetically pleasing pattern atop the pudding. Serve immediately and nom!

~Erik <(^_^)>


Though the Weather Outside is Frightful…

December 3, 2010

Much to my dismay, the temperatures have begun their yearly downward spiral.  Somehow it became December, and I’m still trying to figure out where October and November went.  After dragging myself to class today, I came home and promptly parked myself in my comfy armchair.

Then, like a conditioned Pavlovian response, all I could think about was a large mug of hot chocolate.  Not just any hot chocolate, but my Gramma’s homemade hot chocolate mix.  And, while this recipe is no great work of culinary genius, I do love it for its simplicity.  It always reminds me of when I was little, coming in from hours of playing in the snow—clothes completely soaked, lips blue, fingers numb—and my Gramma would make everyone a round of hot chocolate.  Nothing warms you up quite like it.

And since there is snow in the forecast today, I decided I wanted to share the recipe here.  Be warned, it makes A TON…but, it does make for a nice gift when given in a cute Christmasy tin.  Enjoy!

The Best Hot Chocolate Mix

  • 1 – 22 oz. container Chocolate Nesquik Powder
  • 2 cups Confectioner’s Sugar
  • 1 – 16 oz. container Powdered Coffee Creamer
  • 1-8 quart box of Dry Milk
  • 1 box of Jell-O Instant Chocolate Pudding

Mix all ingredients together in a large container.  Prepare by filling cup 1/3 full with dry mix, and the rest with not-quite-boiling water.  Enjoy as-is, or with marshmallows, whipped cream, or a peppermint stick!

~ Josie