Vacation Photo Time!

I am back from my trip up to the Napa Valley. Below you will find a small sampling of the photos that Mikal took. I’ll also be posting a couple of videos just for giggles.

Vacation Time!

Vacation. You read that correctly – I am on vacation. Unfortunately, that does mean that my posting for this week will either be delayed or altogether absent. I haven’t really decided. I am planning on making some cupcakes for work for V-day, and taking them in Tuesday/Wednesday. I leave Wednesday to go for the actual vacation part of the vacation – I have a couple of nights at a nice little place up in the Napa area, and I have to say I’m quite looking forward to it. One of the drawbacks of living where you work is that you don’t really get to not work: I went out this evening and noticed various details that need to be addressed. I can’t escape it. On the plus side, it means that I almost always know what’s going on, and that helps when you’re in a management position.

Anyway, I will either post tomorrow or next week, but know that there will likely be some irrelephant items coming up soon.

Pfeffernüsse

There are days when I don’t feel like baking. It usually comes from a place of being tired – not enough sleep, feeling icky-sicky-gross, having too many things on my plate. This week it’s been just being dog tired. The kittens are actually letting me get some sleep, which is very much appreciated, but my mind seems to have not quite caught up. Silly mind – tricks are for kids.

I just wasn’t going to bring anything in to work on Thursday as far as baked goods went – didn’t have time, and really didn’t have ingredients. I was down to my last egg. So why not get some more rest and wake up slowly and in a leisurely fashion?

Well, it comes down to this: If I am really interested in running a bakery, having my own business, I can’t just say, “Eh, I don’t feel like making anything today…” and expect to stay in business. It just doesn’t work that way. I need to know that I can be consistent in my baking, and follow through with a commitment – even if that commitment is all in my head. It’s not like I’m being paid to bring things to work, and while people enjoy the presence of baked goods, I don’t have anyone who comes to the office specifically for the baked goods. But I have made a commitment to myself that I will follow through with bringing baked goods to the office twice a week in a consistent manner to help myself explore different recipes and presentation style as well as help me grow personally in achieving a consistency in this portion of my work and personal life. This is a commitment to myself to follow through and see what I can do when I put my mind to it.

The long and short of it, then, was that I resolved to make something. But what can you make with just one egg? A bit of a conundrum, you see, since most cookie recipes require more than one egg, and I did need to make a minimum number of offerings so that they would last throughout the weekend. All cakes were out, pretty much, as well as brownies; same with most cookies. Even biscotti require 2-3 eggs depending on the recipe.

So I turned to my trusty BonAppetit Desserts book, which I just happened to have on-hand, and challenged myself to find a recipe that I could do that would fit my requirements. I almost went with shortbread, which doesn’t require eggs – but the ones that sounded the best were things like Italian Hazelnut-Espresso Shortbread and Almond Shortbread. Those are the two nuts I -don’t- have – I have walnuts and pecans and more walnuts and 1/4 cup slivered almonds. I have more nuts than I usually have, just not the ones I want!

The recipe for pfeffernüsse caught my eye. I had attempted to make it a few years ago to rather disastrous results, so I wanted to take a second chance at it. I’m very glad to say that I have figured out how to make that hard powdered sugar coating on the outside of cookies. I just couldn’t figure it out before ><

Pfeffernüsse

from Bon Appetit Desserts

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp crushed aniseed (this was the one spice I lacked – but it didn’t feel lacking without it. Of course, I’m not a fan of the flavor)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup light molasses
1 large egg
2 cups (approx.) powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Whisk flour, spices, and baking soda in medium bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat butter, brown sugar, and molasses in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, then stir in flour mixture.

Roll dough into 1tbsp balls (or using a cookie dough scoop) and place balls on baking sheet about 1.5-2 inches apart. Bake until golden brown on the bottom and just firm to the touch, about 14 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to rack and cool cookies on sheet for 5 minutes.

Place powdered sugar in brown paper bag or lidded plastic container. While still warm, drop 2-3 cookies into bag or container; close and shake gently to coat cookies with sugar. Transfer sugar-coated cookies to racks. Repeat with remaining cookies. Serve warm or at room temperature.


p.s. – The photo is most unfortunately not mine – that would belong to The Gourmand Mom.

Banana Oatmeal Bars with Chocolate Chunks

Most of my cookbooks have come from the clearance section of book stores. Sure, I have a few that I paid a pretty penny for, but the reality is that I will likely only attempt a small portion of the recipes – why pay $40 for that?

One a recent jaunt over to Barnes & Nobles, we bought a couple more books: Bon Appetit Desserts, 631 pages of luscious desserts, and The New Way to Cook Light. Mikal loves Cooking Light magazine, and has been encouraging me to take a look at what they have for years. The first thing I did when we got the books home was flag all of the recipes I plan on trying; both books have dozens of flags sticking out of them.

In Bon Appetit Desserts, I came across a whole section of bar cookies. For some reason I can’t quite identify, I seem to be really interested in  trying to make bar cookies. Prior to this, I really hadn’t made bar cookies. It just hasn’t been something I wanted to do – probably because I love my cookie scooper. Ever since I discovered that thing and got one that held up, my scoop and I have been the best of buds when it comes to cookies. (Prior to scoop, I rolled cookies by hand from a spoon – but they’d always be too small because larger rolled dough balls always felt too big. As you can guess, I also had major consistency issues, and that’s not something you want from a pseudo-bakery, right?)

But back to bar cookies. Suddenly I have this funky burning passion to  attempt bar cookies. Add to that a brunch of the most amazing banana bread french toast (you must try it, you must you must~!), and you get this week’s recipe. Really I was looking for banana bread muffin cookies to see if I could somehow replicate the french toast experience in bite size, but I found this first and it seemed to work well enough for my banana craving.

Personally, the next time I make this I would nix the chocolate, or perhaps just do a light drizzle over the top; the breading around the chocolate had a wonderful flavor, a little delicate, but the chocolate just railroaded it in my opinion. Could have also been that I made it with Nestle chocolate chips – I inherited 3 giant bags of it, so I figured I would start in on those. It turns out I may be a bit spoiled by Guittard chocolate. Oh well.

I also substituted walnuts for the original pecans… again, on the banana bread kick.

Banana-Oatmeal Bars with Chocolate Chunks

from Bon Appetit Desserts

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup mashed ripe bananas, about 2 large
2 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz chocolate, cut into pieces (or chocolate chips)
1 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped

Preheat the oven 350°F. Butter and flour a 15x10x1-inch baking sheet. (I put down parchment paper first – made getting them out much easier.) Blend flour, oats, baking powder and salt in medium bowl. Beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add both sugars and beat until well-blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in bananas, then vanilla. Stir in flour mixture, then chocolates and nuts.

Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake until tester inserted in center comes out clean and the top is golden, about 45 minutes. Cool in pan on rack, then cut into bars.