Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies!  Here are the recipes I used for my cookies- Thanks to the Cake Cottage's wonderful instructors, I have some amazingly simple yet YUMMY recipes- I made a couple of modifications (I included the recipes below with my changes) and they turned out super yummy and cute :)

I used a 1/3" depth for my cookies and they turned out great- the more thin cuts tended to brown more easily on the edges- but the bigger cookies avoided that fate! This was my first attempt at sugar cookies outside the classroom setting (I took my first cooking class last month- and it was sugar cookie decorating!). Here are a few pictures of my first Christmas Cookie Creations- enjoy!

[b]Cut-out Sugar Cookies:[/b]

Cream Together:
1 C Room Temperature Butter
1 C Sugar
1 Large Egg
1 tsp Vanilla
OPTIONAL: 1/2 tsp any extract flavor (typically lemon or almond)

Whisk or Sift together:
3 C Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder

Add Flour mixture to creamed ingredients, 1 C at a time, mixing well. Dough will be stiff. Do not chill dough- it is ready for roll out! Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and roll out the dough directly on the paper, then cut the shapes out on the sheet- peel away the excess dough and cook the cookies right on the parchment paper (keeps you from having to transfer them- makes it much easier!)

Bake at 350F for 6-10 minutes.
Gingerbread version:

Blend together:
5 C Flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp cinnamon (ground)
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves

Melt in a saucepan:
1 C solid white vegetable shortening (like crisco)
1 C sugar
1 1/4 C Molasses (dark or light)
2 beaten eggs

Cool melted mixture slightly and add 4 C of the dry blended ingredients. Then add the final cup. Roll out the gingerbread just like the sugar cookie recipe, but bake at 350F for 10-18 minutes.
Chocolate version (Super yummy! But don't overbake!)

Cream Together:
1/2 C Room Temperature Butter
3/4 C Sugar
1 Large Egg
1 tsp Vanilla

Whisk together:
1 1/2 C Flour
1/3 C Baking Cocoa
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt

Add flour mixture to creamed ingredients. Knead on a cutting board with an extra 1/2 C flour and make sure to use all of the flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Roll out just like the sugar cookie recipe, but bake at 325F for 7-10 minutes.

Royal Icing Recipe:
3 level TBSP Meringue Powder
4 C Confectioner's Sugar (Powdered Sugar)
6 TBSP Warm Water
OPTIONAL: Add any additional extracts- I like Lemon or Almond- about 1/2 tsp per 1 batch frosting

Beat all ingredients on low speed for 7-10 minutes with a stand mixer or 10-12 minutes with a hand held mixer until icing peaks form and the icing is no longer shiny. Icing can be colored with cake decorating colors after mixed.

*Make sure all utensils are grease free or it will not properly
*Make sure to keep royal icing covered in a bowl- it hardens quickly!
*Use full strength royal icing for outlining your cookies- then make flow-in by adding water a few drops at a time. You know flow in is ready if you drop a spoon full of icing back into the bowl and the traces of the icing disappears within 10 seconds.

Allow your cookies to dry for 2-4 hours before adding additional decorations or stacking.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Homemade Marshmallows!

I was sick for about 3 weeks- hence the lack of posting- plus that whole Thanksgiving thing... needless to say, life has been pretty busy!

Tonight I begin my baking adventures with homemade marshmallows.  Thanks to Martha Stewart I found an extremely easy recipe!

Ingredients included:
Vegetable oil, for brushing
4 envelopes unflavored gelatin (3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
My Tweak to Martha's Recipe: Flavored Concentrated Extracts- Eggnong and Cinnamon Roll

1.Brush a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with oil. Line with parchment, allowing a 2-inch overhang on the long sides. Brush parchment with oil; set aside.

2.Put granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 3/4 cup water into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cook, without stirring, until mixture registers 238 degrees.on a candy thermometer, about 9 minutes.

3.Meanwhile, put 3/4 cup cold water into the bowl of an electric mixer; sprinkle with gelatin. Let soften 5 minutes.

4.Attach bowl with gelatin to mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. With mixer on low speed, beat hot syrup into gelatin mixture. Gradually raise speed to high; beat until mixture is very stiff, about 12 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Pour into prepared dish, and smooth with an offset spatula. Set aside, uncovered, until firm, about 3 hours.

5.Sift 1 cup confectioners' sugar onto a work surface. Unmold marshmallow onto confectioners' sugar; remove parchment. Lightly brush a sharp knife with oil, then cut marshmallow into 2-inch squares. Sift remaining 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar into a small bowl, and roll each marshmallow in the sugar to coat. Marshmallows can be stored in an airtight container up to 3 days.
6. My addition to Martha's Recipe: Cut the marshmallows with various miniature holiday-shaped cookie cutters. Scatter sprinkles, drizzle chocolate or use any type of holiday-themed decoration you want to add a festive look and taste to your homemade marshmallows!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Birthday Presents!!!

So- my 30th birthday party has passed (today is the actual day, and I feel much better about the whole 30 thing). I received SO many different pans and gifts for baking I'm going to have to start baking more posting a LOT of new recipes! I received several cooking tools including: 2 Bundt pans, 2 Shortcake pans, a set of 3 Springform pans (all nestled in each other- yay for cheescake!), a square Springform pan (it is so cool!), a Heart baking pan (too cute!), a Tagine (for cooking Moroccan food!) with a Moroccan cookbook, and an Airbrush and compressor for my cakes! :) I will post pics of all of these wonderful tools very soon- but just wanted to say THANK YOU to everybody who supports me in my endeavors... it means the world to me!

PS. I got lots of great non-cooking birthday gifts, but seeing that this is my cooking blog, I'm only listing the food-related gifts here :)  But all of my gifts were wonderful and very unexpected- and I thank everybody for wanting to celebrate this wonderful day with me! Much love to all of you!!!

*Here are just a few of the pictures- I have several more to post- but I have to get on a plane pretty soon ;)

Friday, October 30, 2009

30th Birthday / Halloween Cake

Nothing says Birthday Cake like a Halloween themed RIP 20s cake (Thanks for the writing and tombstones Roxie :p ).  This is my 30th Birthday cake (yes, I made my own- I really wanted to play with some cake techniques).  As you see, it is a fondant covered cake with some fun chocolate and fondant characters covering the surface. This is my first attempt at a cake completely covered with fondant, so please humor me!

The cake is a Vanilla Butternut Sour Cream Cake filled with Bavarian Cream filling. The top layer is a thin layer of Rice Krispie treats to help produce the textured look of ground. The cake and Krispies were covered with a Vanilla Cream Cheese frosting. The cake is covered with black vanilla flavored fondant from Pila's Pantry and is airbrushed with edible silver airbrush paint. The cats were cut out of fondant, the tombstones were molded from white chocolate, the "spooky" tree was molded out of fondant, and the house was made out of Rice Krispie treats covered in white chocolate and airbrushed with edible brown airbrush paint, then topped with chocolate-coated graham crackers. 

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

I like to use this recipe for cupcakes or cake filling and frosting alike. It is an extremely easy recipe to make and is very flavorful!

3 (8oz) packages whipped Cream Cheese
3/4 C softened Butter
3 C Powdered (Confectioner's) Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract (or any other flavor- I like Vanilla Butternut)

1) Beat the Cream Cheese and Butter together until smooth.
2) Add in the vanilla extract.
3) Blend the moist mixture and Powdered sugar.
4) Use immediately or refrigerate up to 2 days (Prior to use (after refrigeration), you will need to bring the frosting to room temperature and mix with a hand mixture).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pan Fried Garlic Eggplant

Soooo, I know this isn't quite "baking"- ok, it isn't baking at all... but I made these with dinner tonight and my H said I had to post the recipe and pictures on my blog :) These are slices Pan Fried Garlic Eggplant. They were extremely easy to make and very flavorful- Charles said I could make them any day that ended in "y" or "day"!

1 lg. Eggplant
2 Eggs (Beaten)
3 tbsp melted Butter or I Can't Believe It's Not Butter
1 C panko or regular unseasoned bread crumbs
Garlic Salt

1) Melt the butter in a skillet and leave the fire on medium.
2) Slice the eggplant into 1/2" thick slices.
3) Coat each side of the eggplant with the beaten egg.
4) Coat each side of the eggplant with the breadcrumbs.
5) Set the eggplant in the skillet and sprinkle the top of each slice with garlic salt.
6) Allow the eggplant to heat for 4 minutes on each side until a dark crust forms.
7) Serve Warm

This recipe was developed by myself after I realized I had 3/4 of an eggplant left after making a veggie pie for dinner :)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Coffin Brownie Cake

Here you see a very sad picture of my coffin cake- I will take better pictures when it is finished- this is just my rough draft :)  This coffin "cake" is actually a mix of gooey chocolatey brownies with caramel (Here is your chocolate Roberta!). I cheated and used a boxed mix for the brownies (but added chocolate chunks and caramel bits because thats how I like my brownies!), and used the "cake-like" recipe instead of the "fudge-like" recipe listed on the box.  I baked the brownies in a 13"x9" pan for 40 minutes (remember, it was a double batch!).  When I took the pan out of then oven, I allowed the brownies to cool for 10 minutes, then flipped the pan and removed the sheet of brownies. *Don't forget to use cake release or line the pan with foil or waxed paper- it can be a pain to separate the brownies and caramel from the bottom of the pain- trust me on that one!

While the brownies were baking, I made a double batch of rice krispie treats (some will be used for the Haunted House to be made tomorrow, some for the coffin brownie, and some to take to the peeps at work- they hate my cooking ;) ). 

I carved the brownies to look like a old standard wood coffin, and its depth is approximately 2".  I then cut a set of rice krispies to mirror the brownie coffin piece.  Once I set the rice krispies on top of the brownie, I cut out the middle to leave space for a final resting place for the fondant skeleton you see here:

The middle piece that I cut out will then be used as the lid that will be slid off enough to peek inside and see the skeleton. 

I plan to cover all pieces in brown fondant to give the appearance of a wooden coffin, and I will give the skeleton a pillow to rest his bony head! These steps will be completed Friday night to prepare for the Saturday party! :)

Fondant Figures

These are my Fondant creations. I purchased the fondant (no, I'm not quite confident enough to make my own- but someday I tell you, someday I WILL make my own Fondant) in two colors- black and white.  So far I have managed to make a spooky tree (that was my first attempt), an almost-complete skeleton (notice he is missing hands and feet, and his head is a little too small for his body), some cute black cats (who happen to be missing eyes and whiskers at the moment) and some fondant-covered marshmallow ghosts (aren't they cute?!). 

Making my fondant creations has been extremely therapeutic; however, they can be quite time consuming when attempting to make anatomically correct skeletal bones, and not speshul looking cats.  Although I am sure my mad skills will improve with time, I am pretty happy for my first attempt at making fondant figures for my spooky Halloween cake!

Sorry no recipe on this one- HOWEVER, I highly recommend using a fondant made by a local cake supply company, or purchasing flavored fondant online. I tried using the Wilton brand fondant, and was very sad to say that it was very difficult to work with and was not very yummy... the black fondant I bought at Pila's Pantry in Temecula, CA tastes like tootsie rolls, and the white fondant tastes like white chocolate- yum! I will post more of my spooky Halloween creations when I finish them later this week!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Vanilla is a Mexican crop that is translated into English as Little Pod. According to some reports, it is the second most expensive spice (after Saffron), due to its labor-intensive efforts to grow and harvest this fragrant and delicious spice.

I love the smell and taste of Vanilla. I love cutting open a vanilla bean and using it in recipes because the flavor a fresh bean provides seems to enhance the taste of baked goods. Unfortunately, the fruits of this Mexican "vainilla" crop can be quite pricey. Every time I go to Mexico I pick up a large container of pure Vanilla- but I always seem to use it quickly. The prices are very reasonable in Mexico, but it is not always easy to run down to a local country to pick up a baking ingredient. 

But, Vanilla fortune has smiled upon me- Recently I discovered the wonderful "little pods" at the Costco near my home! You get approximately 15 beans for only $12! What a steal compared to buying 2-3 beans from the local grocery store spice aisle for the same price. Trader Joe's market occasionally carries Vanilla Bean paste (extract filled with the tiny Vanilla seeds) which is a good alternative to the fresh pods- but you have to keep an eye out for it- the product seems to fly off the shelves!

After my searches for a good Vanilla extract, I discovered a recipe that allows me to make my own and have a constant supply, in the hopes that I will never run out of vanilla again!  It is very simple and makes a great Vanilla to be used in any baking recipe!

4 Vanilla Bean Pods
12 oz Vodka (any type- I prefer Grey Goose, but have used Skyy and Stoli)
14-16 oz Empty Bottle with a tight sealing Lid

1) Split the Vanilla Beans lengthwise and open the pod so you can see the bean paste inside.
2) Place the intact pod into the bottle and fill with enough Vodka to cover the beans.
3) Seal the bottle and store it in a dark place (cupboard, pantry, etc.) for 6 months (I find it useful to write the date on the bottle with a sharpie).
4) At the end of the 6 months, use as you would use any normal Vanilla Extract.

*You can refill the bottle as frequently as you like- just give it a couple of weeks to set (in a dark area) between fills. Typically every time I refill the bottle I add in 1-2 Vanilla Beans (split lengthwise). This original bottle can be refilled repeatedly up to 4 years. After the 4 years, remove all bean pods, rinse bottle, and begin again. I tend to have two bottles at any time, so one can be setting as the other is being used.
**The bottles I use typically have a rubber-gasket at the top with a plastic or rubber stopper. I would not recommend a cork-topped bottle because the cork can decay over time, allowing bacteria and other unwanted elements into the bottle.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Vanilla Butternut Sour Cream Cake

Within the next week I will begin a new chapter of my life. I am leaving my 20s and entering a new decade of life- yup, you guessed it- I'm turning 30!  In honor of this wonderful event, I have decided to make my own birthday cake. Although most people think I'm crazy for wanting to make my own cake, I want to explain my madness here :)

My birthday falls 2 days after the annual event- Halloween. For as long as I can recall, my birthday has been closely associated with this fun-filled day.  This year my parents helping me celebrate my 30th birthday part with my family's annual Halloween party (for old time's sake).  At this festive event every family member typically brings some Halloween-themed goodie to be shared with many. My recent enjoyment of cake making and decorating experimentation inspired me to make my own cake.

The next week will document my attempt at decorating a simple round cake with a graveyard scene.  This post gives you a look at the first part of the project- the unfinished and unchanged round cake layers.

This particular recipe is extremely easy to make, and provides a firm cake that is great for carving or layering to make wedding, birthday and other shaped cakes.

2 boxes of White cake (any type- I buy whatever is the least expensive)
2 C granulated Sugar
1 C all-purpose Flour
1 tsp Salt
8 Egg Whites
2 1/2 C Water
4 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
2 tsp Vanilla Extract (I use homemade Vanilla beans soaked with Vodka, but store-bought is fine)
6-8 drops Vanilla Butternut Concentrated Extract (*If you use regular extract, use 2 tsp- try different flavors like Almond, Butter, etc.)
16 oz Sour Cream OR 12 oz whipped Cream Cheese

*Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees Fareneheit
**This recipe can be easily halved

1) Mix all dry ingredients (Cake mixes, flour, sugar, salt).
2) Mix in the dry ingredients (Egg whites, water, vegetable oil, extracts and sour cream / cream cheese).
3) Mix by hand or with a hand mixer until the lumps of dry ingredients are out of the mixture.
4) Grease pans with shortening or cake release (I prefer cake release).
5) Baking time will vary depending on the size of the cake pan used. This recipe typically makes any of the following sizes:
    • One 16" round cake
    • One 14" round cake + One 6" round cake
    • One 12" round cake + One 10" round cake
    • One 10" round cake + One 8" round cake + One 6" round cake
    • One 12"x18" sheet cake
I've found that baking times typically follow this pattern (give or take a few minutes).
    • 6" = 20 minutes
    • 8" = 25 minutes
    • 10" = 35 minutes
    • 12" = 40 minutes
    • 14" = 45 minutes
    • 16" = 50 minutes
I would suggest adding 5 minutes if the middle of the cake seems to wiggle as you begin to move the oven rack that supports the cake. You can also check the cake's completeness by inserting a clean toothpick into the center of the cake. If the cake is not yet done but the outer layer is darkening too quickly, you can place tin foil over the top or move the cake to the bottom rack.

This recipe was adapted from the White Almond Sour Cream Cake from

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Almond Butter Cookies

My dream vacation is a 28 day cruise around the Mediterranean Ocean with the first stop being Greece. I have wanted to visit Greece since high school, and it continues to be my dream vacation destination. Because of my desire to make my first major trip a Grecian experience, I felt it was only fitting to make a recipe from Greece as my first experience in my Midnight Baking Adventures!

These are called Almond Butter Cookies, aka Greek Wedding Cookies. They are typically found in the ball shape or crescent / moon shape and covered with powdered sugar once they leave the oven. This cookie is kind of dry, and not ideal for dunking (will crumble!). They aren't too sweet if you only eat one or two, but will satisfy that midnight sweet-tooth craving!

1/2 C blanched almonds or walnuts (Measure whole then finely chop- I used my Food Chopper)
1 C unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 C confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1 egg yolk
2 C all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
*Preheat oven to 300 degrees Farenheit.
**Line two cookie sheets with parchment / waxed paper.

1) Using a hand or stand mixer on medium speed: Blend butter, 1/4 C powdered sugar and egg yolk together until smooth.
2) Add in flour, cloves and salt until well blended.
3) Add in chopped nuts.
4) Roll into 1" balls or form dough into crescent / moon shapes and place on the lined cookie sheet 1" apart (the cookies don't expand much).
5) Bake for 10 minutes.
6) Remove from oven to cooling rack and allow to cool and set for approximately 5 minutes.
7) Fill a small bowl with the remaining 1 C of powdered sugar.
8) Roll each cookie gently in the sugar to lightly coat each cookie.
This recipe yields approximately 40 cookies.

Kitchen Tools used in this recipe:
Pampered Chef Food Chopper
1/4 C Measuring Cup
1/4 tsp Measuring Spoon
Large Mixing Bowl
Hand Mixer with Two Beaters
Pampered Cheff Small Cookie Scoop
Two Cookie Sheets
Pampered Chef Cooling Rack

This recipe was found in Williams-Sonoma's Essentials of Mediterranean Cooking.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Midnight Baking Adventures Begin!

My DH is snoring soundly next to me and I'm going through my almost-30-crisis. The word "Purpose" runs through my mind- like the soundtrack of the Broadway play Avenue Q! I'd been wanting to begin some sort of project for quite a while now, but hadn't quite figured it out- until now. So here goes nothing! I have decided to begin my Midnight Baking Adventures tonight- and I want to document them so I can look back and laugh at how ridiculous I was acting at this wonderful time of my life.

Here is a little bit of background on me to start off this blogging adventure. This is my first blog, so I'm sorry if I seem too formal or informal- I'm pretty clueless about the whole process and figure I'll start checking out other blogs throughout the week to get a better idea about how to really go about this! :) My name is Lena (aka MBA Gal). I am 29 and live in Southern California. I was born and raised in this area.

I went to Pepperdine University (in Malibu, CA) for my undergraduate studies and earned my BS in Sports Medicine (back when I wanted to be a Physical Therapist and planned to change the world!). Shortly after college I realized PT wasn't all it was cracked up to be- so I became an employee of the Golden State (yes, California). In 2006 I got bored and decided I wanted to go back to school. So I went to University of Phoenix and earned my Masters in Business Administration (MBA). I am still an employee of the Golden State- furloughs and all.

Livin' the Dream:
I got married in 2005 and we bought a house in 2008. We have 3 cats (Yoda, Oreo and Fiona), and 2 German Shepherd Puppies (CT and Dozer). No kids so far, but thats ok because the cats and puppies are enough to handle for now (sorry mom! :) ).

Baking. Reading. Facebook Addiction (more specifically: Restaurant City, Egg Breaker, Farm Town and Mafia Wars).

Baking Experience:
I have no formal training in the kitchen. I have never taken a class (although I plan to take a decorating class very soon). Everything I know about cooking is from my parents, grandparents, Food Network and my own experimentation. One of my earliest cooking memories is the time I helped my preschool class bake cookies for Father's Day (I got to crack the eggs)... from that moment on I was hooked! Holidays, random events, family parties, show and tell, you name it- I baked or cooked for it. Cooking is therapeutic for me. It does not matter if i'm stressed, sad, lonely, happy, concerned, carefree or whatever emotion you can think of- I love to cook. I particularly enjoy baking- hence the "Midnight Baking Adventures" that begin tonight.

So wish me luck- I'm off to the races. Don't ask me what I intend to accomplish- because I don't know... yet.