Champ de Noël

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Here is my version.  Not as perfectly neat, but it tastes amazing. IMG_2536.jpg

Have fun making this to impress family and friends with this modern twist on a classic bûche de Noël stolen from Fine Cooking Magazine.

This delightful looking cake was featured in the December edition of Fine Cooking, one of my favorite magazines.  I stole the photo from the article but will post mine tomorrow when it is decorated.

The layers are vertical rather than horizontal, making for a very dramatic reveal. It is an “all-day” project or one you can do over several days.

[Get a PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION HERE with all step-by-step photos.]

This version looks cool, but all the classic elements and flavor pairings are here, so it’s guaranteed to be delicious. The vanilla sponge cake has a delicate texture, yet it’s sturdy enough to “literally” stand on end. The layers are doused with a boozy soaking syrup before they’re coated with a smooth-as-silk, espresso-spiked white chocolate ganache filling and coated with a dreamy, creamy and eggless double-chocolate buttercream.

Like the traditional bûche, the garnishes for this cake can be rustic, whimsical, or elegant. I like to use the tines of a fork to create a barklike design in the buttercream around the side of the cake. Just before serving, I may top the cake with a cluster or two of small meringue mushrooms along with chocolate shavings for bark. You can add silver or white dragées for ice crystals, sugar-coated cranberries for a pop of color, a mint sprig or two for signs of spring, chopped pistachios for lichen, and a dusting of confectioners’ sugar for snow. Extra meringue mushrooms look great arranged around the base of the cake.

Vertical variation

While the garnishes make the cake look spectacular, what people really want to know is how I make those magical vertical layers.
All in all, it’s a straightforward process: You use what could be called a “wrapping” technique to assemble the cake. After baking the sponge cake in a large rimmed baking sheet, cut it into five strips. To train the shape of the innermost strip of cake and avoid cracking in the final product, I roll up one strip in paper towels while it’s still warm, just as you would when you’re making a jelly roll. I then roll the remaining strips up in a tight spiral together to train them. The ends of these strips are cut on an angle to create beveled edges; this step helps the strips to lie flat as the cake is assembled.

Start building the cake by brushing the innermost strip with soaking syrup then coating it with white chocolate espresso ganache. After this centerpiece is rolled and positioned on a plate, brush, fill, and wrap the remaining four beveled cake strips one at a time around it. The technique sounds complicated, but as you’ll see, it’s an easy-to-follow
process.

 Champ de Noël

What Is a Convection Oven—and What Should You Cook In It?

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An oven is an oven, right? Wrong. Many professional chefs swear by a convection oven for evenly cooked, perfectly browned foods. So should you invest in one for your own kitchen?

My oven has a convection mode, so I found this information interesting and hope to incorporate it in my cooking in the future.

Understanding why, when, and how to use a convection oven (or a convection setting) can make a world of difference in how your food turns out. Here’s what you need to know about convection oven cooking:

Convection Oven Vs. Conventional Oven

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A conventional (or traditional) oven cooks food by heating the air inside of it. The air inside the oven remains stagnant. A convection oven, meanwhile, has built-in fans that circulate the air during the cooking process. Many ovens have both convection and conventional settings, allowing you to choose between the two.

Convection Oven Pros

The convection setting on your oven can benefit your food in a number of ways, like:

It cooks food evenly.

Conventional ovens can have hot spots or areas in the oven that heat faster and higher than in other areas. This can result in unevenly cooked food, where one side cooks faster than the other. The circulating air of a convection oven keeps the temperature even throughout cooking, which is especially helpful when roasting a whole turkey or toasting nuts.

mr- classic roast turkey

It cooks food faster. Food cooks about 25 percent faster in a convection oven because the hot air blowing directly onto the food speeds up chemical reactions within the oven.

It’s better at browning. If you’re after a crispy or crunchy texture, reach for the convection setting. Conventional ovens are prone to humidity because of a lack of ventilation. Convection ovens, however, produce dry air that caramelizes sugars during roasting.

It’s more energy efficient. Faster cooking times mean you’re using less energy. Theoretically, using the convection setting can save you money and help the environment.

Convection Oven Cons

Though it can often improve your food, a convection oven isn’t always appropriate. In fact, you should probably steer clear of it when you’re making delicate foods like cakes, souffles, bread, and custard. The air circulation can inhibit the setting process, causing batter not to rise properly.

Some people claim that you should never use the convection setting for cooking American baked goods like biscuits, cakes, and cookies.

Many American recipes were developed using a conventional oven and actually benefit from the moisture that comes from humidity. Dry air will speed up crust formation, which may affect how (and if) your recipe rises during the cooking process.

Using the convection setting during baking could result in flat, fluff-less cookies, cakes, and biscuits, and no one wants that.

What Can You Use If You Don’t Have a Convection Oven?

If your oven doesn’t have a convection setting, you don’t have to buy a new oven to reap the rewards of convection cooking. Believe it or not, you can often substitute an air fryer for the convection setting. Both appliances work by circulating hot air around the food being cooked, providing quick, crispy, and evenly cooked results. While they’re not exactly the same thing, the hot air in an air fryer circulates much faster and is not blown directly onto the food. You should definitely consider trying it out before splurging on a new oven. One caveat: Air fryers are much smaller than convection ovens so plan your meal accordingly.

How to Use a Convection Oven

Sheet Pan Chicken with Roasted Baby Potatoes

Though using the convection setting on your oven is as simple as pushing a button, there are a few things you should know:

You might need to adjust recipes. Most recipes you find in cookbooks and online were developed using a traditional oven, so you’ll have to tweak them a bit. Lowering the recommended temperature by 25 degrees should do the trick. Since food cooks faster in a convection oven, you’ll need to check it’s progress frequently to make sure it’s not burning.

Give your food room to breathe. You may have heard warnings against overcrowding the pan during roasting (we’re looking at you, Julia Child fans), but it’s especially important to make sure your food is spaced properly when you’re using a convection oven. Convection relies on air being able to circulate, and packing too much onto one pan can hinder that process. You should avoid crowding the oven with too many pans at one time, as you could block a fan.

Use low-sided or rimless baking sheets and pans. If you want to take full advantage of the convection setting, you should make sure that nothing is keeping the moving air from blowing onto the food, and that includes the sides of your pans. It’s all about circulation!

What Is a Convection Oven—and What Should You Cook In It?

Chocolate Toffee Butter Cookies

cookie.jpgChocolate Toffee Butter Cookies – Makes 5 dozen

2 1/3 cups flour

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt ( I use French Gray)

1 cup unsalted butter (softened, but cool)

1 cup packed light brown sugar (not dark brown)

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup toffee bits without chocolate ( I just used English Toffee bars with chocolate)

1 ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips ( I used milk chocolate)

1 tbl vegetable oil (I used butter) 2/3 cup pecans toasted and finely chopped

  1. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; whisk them to blend.
  2. In an electric mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed for 3 minutes or until fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
  3. On low speed, add the flour mixture in 2 additions, and mix until blended.
  4. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand. Stir in the toffee bits.
  5. Divide the dough in half. Roll 2 logs about 9 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Flatten the logs into 2 1/2-inch-wide rectangles. Wrap rectangles in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours or until firm.
  6. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  7. With a long knife, cut the dough 1/4-inch thick. Transfer to baking sheets, leaving 1 inch between them. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned around edges. Cool cookies completely on the sheets. Bake remaining cookies.
  8. Transfer the baked cookies to a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, heat the chocolate chips, stirring occasionally, until they melt. Stir in the oil and mix until smooth.
  9. Holding one side of the cookies, dip a part of each one into the chocolate or drizzle the chocolate over the cookies with a spoon. Sprinkle pecans on top. Let the chocolate set about 1 hour.

 

Chocolate Toffee Butter Cookies

Learning from Bad Cookies

Interesting article on how to bake a better cookie.  I have certainly learned over the years.  This is good basic information
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1. Amount of Flour

Getting the flour ratio right is crucial to a nicely textured cookie. Too much and your cookie will be dry, crumbly, and chalky. Too little and your cookies will burn easily, spread a TON, and will feel greasy to the touch. Not good!

2. The Mixing Method

It is tempting to dump all your ingredients into a bowl and stir them together all at once. Surprisingly the results aren’t terrible, but the cookies were inconsistent in flavor. On the other hand, our over-creamed batch resulted in overly tough, puck-like cookies. Finding a happy medium between doing the most and doing the least is important for both the texture and flavor of your cookies.

Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies - Delish.com

3. Baking Powder

There’s a reason baking powder is never called for in cookies: Adding it results in cookies that have a Play-Doh texture and a vaguely chemical taste.

4. Eggs

You gotta have ‘em! Leaving them out will result in overly sweet balls of dough. Crunchy on the outside, doughy in the middle, and completely unsatisfying.

Soft & Fudgy Chocolate Chip Cookies - Delish.com

5. Sugar

Not enough and your cookies will taste more like shortbread, too much and they’ll be crunchy, burnt, and obviously way too sweet.

6. Bake Time

We’ve all burnt a batch of cookies, so you likely know the deal with over-baked cookies. They’re dry, crumbly, and come with a slightly bitter burnt flavor. Still edible, though! Under-baked cookies are doughy, soft, and slightly greasy. Luckily, if that’s your issue, you can pop ‘em back in the oven and give them a little more time.

Learning from Bad Cookies

Make Your Own Vanilla

Vanilla is expensive and Imitation Vanilla is just that, and if you taste both they do NOT taste the same.  I never thought about making my own Vanilla till a group of cooks on Facebook of all places were talking about what kind of vanilla to use.

A good number of professional cooks and home cooks make their own.  It is just something I never thought of doing, but love the idea.  I am going to be making Vanilla this week.  I might make enough to give as gifts.  What a great idea!

Many people are often familiar with clear or imitation vanilla extract. The difference between pure vanilla and imitation vanilla is simple; the pure vanilla extract is made from whole vanilla beans extracted using 35%+ alcohol – that’s it! Don’t be fooled by extracts that claim to be pure. Imitation and clear vanilla utilize artificial flavors and harmful chemicals. Pure vanilla extract should be dark brown; the color of Vanilla Beans used in the extraction process.

Here is how simple it is to make your own Vanilla:

How to Make Vanilla Extract

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. Glass Bottle or Jar
  • 7 Vanilla Beans
  • 1 cup Vodka 70 Proof/35% Alcohol (or you can also use Bourbon, Rum or Brandy; any brand/quality)

Directions:

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Step 1: SLICE

Slice each bean once long-ways and place in a bottle. (If it helps to cut them into smaller, tootsie roll-sized pieces so they fit in the bottle more easily, go for it).

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Step 2: POUR

Pour one cup of vodka, rum or alcohol of your choice. Make sure vanilla beans are completely submerged.

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Step 3: SHAKE

Shake once or twice a week.

Step 4: WAIT

Wait about 8 weeks
Presto, your alcohol has turned into delicious vanilla! Store it at room temp and out of direct sunlight, and you can enjoy this puppy til’ the last drop!

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What makes homemade vanilla extract so much better than “store bought”? First, you have control over the quality and type of vanilla used in the extract. Using premium grade vanilla beans will provide significantly better flavor and aroma than commercially produced extracts. Did you know that you can make vanilla extract from different types of vanilla beans? Each different vanilla variety will create a unique flavor!

Do you prefer bold and smokey? If so, try Ugandan vanilla beans. Traditional, rich and creamy? Use Madagascar Vanilla Beans! Floral aroma with a unique cherry-chocolate flavor? Venture to the Tahitian vanilla beans. You can even blend various varieties together! The floral, fruity, cherry-like notes of the Tahitian variety blend wonderfully with the nutty-chocolate character of the Bourbon varieties.

After 8 weeks the vast majority of the extraction process is complete. At this point, the vanilla is ready to use and the vanilla beans can be removed. If the vanilla beans are left in the bottle, the flavor will continue to evolve just like a fine wine (just be sure the beans are always submerged in alcohol).

Whether you are a seasoned baker, procrastinating about making vanilla extract, or looking for the perfect holiday gift this year it is easy and will save you a lot of $$$$.

Making vanilla extract is a fun, easy way to bring a favorite recipe to the next level.

Make Your Own Vanilla

Hazelnut Espresso Truffle Cookies

Hazelnut Espresso Truffle Cookies: a perfect treat of sinful chocolate ganache sandwiched between two hazelnut espresso cookies. I found this recipe in America’s Test Kitchen’s “The Perfect Cookie Book”.  Next time I would just buy the hazelnuts already skinned.  That took way too long, and even though I like the taste, it took forever to roll the dough out to 1/8″ and actually my rolling pin only measure 1/6″, so that is the thickness of mine. These and Snickerdoodles, that I made yesterday will be delivered to our local Senior Apartments, for their Friday movie night.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
  • 4 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 cups bittersweet chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS

  1. Process hazelnuts in a food processor until finely ground, about 30 seconds.
  2. Whisk flour, salt, baking powder, and ground hazelnuts together in a bowl.
  3. Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add egg and yolk, one at a time, espresso powder, and vanilla and beat until combined.
  5. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions until just combined, scraping down the bowl as needed.
  6. Transfer dough to counter and divide in half. Form each half into a 5-inch disk, wrap disks tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  7. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  8. Let chilled dough soften on the counter, about 10 minutes. Roll 1 disk of dough into a 14-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick, on a lightly floured counter.
  9. Using a 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out 30 circles; space circles 1/2 inch apart on prepared sheets.
  10. Gently reroll scraps once, cut into circles, and transfer to prepared sheets.
  11. Bake until edges are lightly browned, about 7 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through baking. Let cookies cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack.
  12. Repeat with the second disk of dough. Let cookies cool completely.
  13. Heat cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Place 1 3/4 cups chocolate chips in a bowl. Pour hot cream over chocolate chips; cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk chocolate mixture until smooth. Refrigerate ganache, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 40 minutes.
  14. Spread 2 teaspoons of ganache over bottom half of cookies, then top with remaining cookies, pressing lightly to adhere.
  15. Microwave remaining 1 1/4 cups chocolate chips in a bowl at 50% power, stirring occasionally, until melted, 2 to 3 minutes. Drizzle chocolate over cookies and let set, about 30 minutes, before serving.
Hazelnut Espresso Truffle Cookies

18 Bad Baking Habits You Need to Stop

I found this article online and made a few corrections and additions, but it has great information.

These baking mistakes threaten your beautiful bundts, bread, and bar cookies. Here’s what you should do instead…

In cooking, you’re encouraged to riff: Edamame in your stir-fry? Sure! A splash of rice wine vinegar in your pan sauce? Why not! Curious about herbes de Provence in your chicken rub? Give it a whirl!

In baking, however, creativity should be directed toward what you decide to make and how you decorate it—not how you cook it. That’s because baking is a science; cooking is an art. Science has rules. Art? Not so much.

You don’t read the recipe.

As you do with any IKEA furniture, you should read through the steps and gather your tools before you start mixing and whipping. Otherwise, you might get started and realize you’re one short a cup of cocoa powder of what your recipe needs. Or worse, you’ll start mixing up the dough for the birthday party you’re going to tonight and then realize it’s supposed to chill overnight. Oops!

The fix: Pull your recipe up on your phone, or get it from your cookbook. Read the ingredient list, and assemble everything that’s listed. Then, read the directions. You can even go so far as to “pretend” each step. This way, you can double check you have every ingredient and every appliance or tool you need.

You decide to wing it instead of measuring the ingredients.

The “a little of this, a little of that” mentality may suit you well in cooking, but in baking, it could backfire. After all, consider this: cookies, cakes, and bread contain many of the same ingredients: eggs, flour, sugar, butter, for example. In the right ratios, they make a specific type of baked good. In the wrong ratios, they could be a disaster. That’s why it’s vital to measure every ingredient, from the flour to the tiniest bit of cinnamon.

The fix: Use your measuring spoons and cups. You need the right ratios to get the best results. Save the winging it for your salad dressing.

You don’t respect the comma.

Has the comma in “1 cup flour, sifted” ever confused you? What about the comma in “1/2 cup pecans, chopped”? The comma is telling you something very important. Do you know what?

The fix: The comma is telling you to first measure the ingredient and then perform the task. Measure the cup of flour, then sift it. Or measure the half cup of pecans, then chop them. There’s a big difference between half a cup of chopped pecans and half a cup of pecans that were measured, then chopped. It can dramatically affect your final result.

You use liquid measuring cups for dry ingredients (or vice versa).

Liquid measuring cups and dry measuring cups measure things differently. Though it’s not a significant amount, it’s enough that it could affect the texture of your final product.

The fix: Use wet measuring cups (typically, the glass type you pour from) for everything liquid: water, oil, honey, milk, molasses, corn syrup, etc. Use dry cups for everything else, from flour and sugar to chocolate chips and yogurt. With the dry cups, be sure to use a flat surface, like the back of a knife, to swipe across the top of the cup to remove excess before adding to the batter.

You dip your measuring cup into the flour.

Dipping a measuring cup into a bag or jar of flour packs the flour into the well of the measuring cup. It may seem like the easiest way to scoop flour, but you’re actually getting more flour than you really need. Too much flour will turn into dense bread, hard cookies, and stiff cakes.

The fix: You need the same amount of flour each time to get consistent results, and you can do this in two ways: The less accurate option is to use a spoon to lightly scoop flour into a dry measuring cup, then use a flat edge (like a knife) to level off the flour. The most accurate way to measure flour is with a digital scale. A cup of all-purpose flour should be 130 grams.

You don’t preheat your oven.

We’ve all been there: You’ve just finished rolling out a tray full of cookie dough only to realize your oven is cool as a cucumber. So to save time, you turn the oven on and just stick the pan in any way. Bad idea. The quick and sudden heat is an important part of the baking process. If the dough heats slowly, you may have a mess on your hands.

The fix: If you realize the oven isn’t pre-heated when you’re ready to bake, just let the dough or batter sit while the oven heats up. Most ovens can be heated in about 10 minutes time. If you’re working with a temperature-sensitive dough, pop it in the fridge until the oven is ready.

You’ve never measured your oven’s temperature.

I have some bad news: Your oven could be lying to you. Just because it says 350°F doesn’t mean it really is. That means your brownies or pastries may not bake properly because your oven could be too hot, or even too cool. And 25°F in one direction can make a big difference in the final product.

The fix: Invest in an oven thermometer. Hang it from the grates in your oven the next time you turn it on. Let the oven pre-heat fully, and then see what the thermometer says. That will give you an idea of how correct your oven is—and how you need to adjust the oven when you bake in it.

You substitute baking powder for baking soda.

They might share a similar name, and they even look similar out of the box. But baking soda and baking powder are quite different. Baking soda must have an accompanying acid (lemon juice, vinegar, buttermilk, for example) to activate it; baking powder, on the other hand, has that acid already. If you use the wrong one, your baked goods will take a hit.

18 Bad Baking Habits You Need to Stop

Millionaires Shortbread Cookies

Millionaires.jpgIngredients

Crust

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

16 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Filling

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup corn syrup

8 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon salt Chocolate

8 oz bittersweet chocolate (6 oz chopped fine, 2 oz grated)

For the Crust: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line bottom and sides of 13- by 9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in medium bowl. Add melted butter and stir with rubber spatula until the flour is evenly moistened. Crumble dough evenly over bottom of prepared pan. Using your fingertips and palm of your hand, press and smooth dough into an even thickness. Using a fork, pierce dough at 1-inch intervals. Bake until light golden brown and firm to touch, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack. Using a sturdy metal spatula, press on the entire surface of warm crust to compress (compressing crust while warm will make cutting finished bars easier). Cool crust to just warm, at least 20 minutes.

For the Filling: Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is homogenous and sugar is melted 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in sweetened condensed milk, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to boil. Cook, stirring constantly and scraping corners of the saucepan, until mixture registers 235 degrees, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in salt. Pour over crust and spread to even thickness. Let cool until filling is just warm, about 20 minutes.

For the Chocolate: Microwave 6 ounces chopped chocolate at 50 percent power, stirring every 15 seconds until fully melted but not much warmer than body temperature, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 2 ounces grated chocolate, and stir until melted, returning to microwave for no more than 5 seconds at a time to complete melting if necessary. Spread chocolate evenly over the surface of filling. Refrigerate shortbread until chocolate is just set, about 10 minutes. Let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before cutting.

Using foil, remove shortbread from pan and transfer to cutting board; discard foil. Using a serrated knife and sawing motion, cut shortbread in half crosswise to create two 6 ½- by 9-inch rectangles. Cut each rectangle in half to make four 3 ½ – by 9-inch strips. Cut each strip crosswise into equal 10 pieces. (Shortbread can be stored at room temperature, between layers of parchment, for up to one week.) I just cut mine into squares, so they are not too big, as they are quite rich. (but yummy)

I like to put on parchment paper on a cooking tray after cutting and separating the cookies to freeze, then you can keep them a bit longer.

Millionaires Shortbread Cookies

Cookies for the Senior Center

I found out a week or so ago that the residents at our local Senior Center love sweets.  Well, I love to cook, so am going to try to make weekly treats for them.  This morning I dropped off Chocolate Chip Cookies with pecans and Peanut Butter Cookies.  Here are the recipes I used:

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

INGREDIENTS

1-3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

14 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon table salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1-1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips

3/4 cup chopped pecans or chopped toasted walnuts

PREPARATION

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using a heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to a large heatproof bowl.

Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds.

Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny.

Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute.

Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but will require 3 batches.)

Our perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe had to produce a cookie that would be moist and chewy on the inside and crisp at the edges, with deep notes of toffee and butterscotch to balance its sweetness. Melting the butter gave us the chewiness we were looking for. Cutting back on the flour and eliminating an egg white also improved texture and brought the brown sugar flavor to the fore.

To give our chocolate chip cookie recipe the crisp edges and toffee flavor we wanted, we let the sugar dissolve in the batter for 10 minutes, then baked the cookies at a high temperature so the edges darkened while the centers stayed so.

2/2 Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still so, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway.

Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

Peanut Butter Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen cookies
These cookies have a strong peanut flavor that comes from extra-crunchy peanut butter (in our taste test we preferred Jif) as well as from roasted salted peanuts that are ground in a food processor and worked into the dough. In our testing, we found that salted butter brings out the flavor of the nuts. If using unsalted butter, increase the salt to one teaspoon.

 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup extra-crunchy peanut butter, preferably Jif, at room temperature
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
1 cup roasted salted peanuts, ground in food processor to resemble bread crumbs, (about 14 pulses)

1. Adjust ovens rack to upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper. 
2. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside. 
3. Either by hand or with an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add sugars; beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes with electric mixer, stopping to scrape down the bowl as necessary. Beat in peanut butter until fully incorporated, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla. Gently stir dry ingredients into peanut butter mixture. Add ground peanuts; stir gently until just incorporated.
4. Working with generous 2 tablespoons each time, roll dough into 2-inch balls. Place balls on parchment-lined cookie sheets, leaving 2 1/2inches between each ball. Press each dough ball twice with dinner fork dipped in cold water to make crisscross design. 
5. Bake, reversing position of cookie sheets halfway through baking time (from top to bottom racks and back to front) until cookies are puffed and slightly brown along edges but not on top, 10 to 12 minutes. (Cookies will not look fully baked.) Cool cookies on cookie sheet until set, about 4 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack with a wide spatula to cool completely. 

 

Cookies for the Senior Center

2019 Challenge

Last year I challenged myself to read 75 books in the year and made it, finishing the last two in December. This year I am attempting, and I do say attempting a different type of challenge.  I bought the book by Kevin McPhearson called “Reflection of a Pond”

McPhearson.jpg

For a little over a year, he painted the pond in his back yard. I thought it might be a great idea to work on my brushwork and color skills in my artwork.  I live on a beach with a beautiful view.  Depending on the day, I see the mountains, amazing sunrises, boats, people, the marina and love the view every day. I am going (to try) to paint my view at some angle every day this coming year.

The paintings will be small at 5″ x 7″ and I am not going to only focus on part of the view, because as I see it there are three sections to my view.  To the right and mostly south, I see a park and a small falling apart dock.  In the middle, I see the break-water and a few boats and off to the left is the marina where the ferries come in and out.

I started this six days ago on January 16th, and in all honesty am a little overwhelmed by the idea.  I decided I was not going to set up my easel in my living room, but take photos and paint them from my Ipad in my studio.  I am a messy painter and I think my house would be safer without the possibility of my cat wandering through the paint and spreading it throughout the interior.

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DAY ONE

Sunrise, where I live, is sensational. This time of year it is usually a little after seven, so I have gotten in the habit of waking up and checking to see if it is beautiful or if it is gray.  If it is gray with no sun, then I know I have to wait till later or for a later day.  Keep in mind that these are small and quick studies.

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DAY TWO

I am starting to relax a little with my second painting, knowing that most likely they will never sell, but they might make a fun show or a fun book, but I am savoring the differences in the colors of the morning.

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DAY THREE

Some days are peaceful and don’t seem to sing to me, but this morning on day three, the sky was amazing and constantly changing.  The interesting thing about sunrises here is that they can be totally amazing one minute and literally gone the next.  You have to try to capture the essence of what is happening quickly.

 

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DAY FOUR

I am starting to experiment a little more with texture and using a palette knife a little more.  I am hoping during the year to gain control of the palette knife using it for the dock and sometimes for everything.  The boat to the right of the dock, looks more like a rock than a boat, but it is a learning experience.

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DAY FIVE

On this morning it was misty and you could barely see the boats through the fog.  I moved to the marina area to focus on the painting and love the almost eeriness of the painting.  It could be a city or a marina or another country, but I had fun just playing with the color, which is the opposite of Day 6.

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DAY SIX

So often, as most of you know, we awaken to gray, grey and grayer, so I decided to attempt a tonal painting using only Payne’s Gray, Titanium White, and French Ultramarine Blue.  I tried my new camera lens which is a 150 -800 mm to see what I could do with a close-up shot.  I had fun with just the three colors and the closer view.

Going forward I will try to paint daily with different colors or different views and see what happens.  I will post every few days with my newest painting.

I will continue to post food posts, as I love to cook.  Today I made Peanut Butter cookies and Chocolate Chip cookies to take to our local Senior Center for their Bingo Game tomorrow.  I know they love sweets and not too many of them cook.

 

2019 Challenge