Category Archives: Valentine’s Day

Challah Bread

It has been a few months since I have shared a new post. I wanted to take some time to focus on my family. One of the things I did during this time was to help my dad find out some information about his ancestors. He had asked for my help early last fall. My dad’s mother was adopted, so he wasn’t sure what her background was. Although, he always suspected that her ancestors may have been jewish. To confirm his suspicions, I had an ancestry DNA test done on my dad. He was right!! The test showed that he is almost half European Jewish. It was such a wonderful thing for him and my family to find out this information. It is such a great feeling to be able to connect who we are to our past. This knowledge does not change who we are now, yet it gives us a connection to where we came from. To celebrate these new findings, I decided I needed to learn to make a traditional jewish bread called Challah bread. I have heard of it many times, but had never tried it. I turned to one of my most trusted recipe and ingredient sources of all time, King Arthur Flour. Now, a traditional jewish Challah bread is made using a 6 stranded braid. However, I was new at making this, so I decided to go with the four stranded braid. It turned out beautifully.

To test my new recipe, I made a loaf of challah bread one afternoon in December.  When my kids arrived home from school, the smell alone drove them to beg me for a taste. I was honestly quite pleasantly surprised at how delicious this bread is. It is a little sweet and has an incredibly soft and fluffy texture. Each of my children ate two pieces back to back of that first loaf. I am usually in charge of bringing bread or rolls to my families holiday celebrations. I decided that this year, I would bring Challah bread in honor of our new found ancestry. When I brought the bread to my parents house and explained what it was to my dad, he immediately hugged and kissed me. I do believe that he was truly touched by this simple gesture. What a blessing to be able to bless my family and my dad with this simple act of making a loaf of delicious bread! I also brought a loaf to my husband’s families holiday festivities.

I have recently made two loves in the past couple of weeks. This Challah bread is delicious toasted and served with butter and jam. It also makes wonderful ham sandwiches! My newly found way to use the challah bread is to make french toast with it. OMG!!! It is amazing! As I ate my challah bread french toast, I imagined how delicious it would be in a french toast casserole. I also thought how delicious it would be to add a bit of cinnamon and sugar to the loaf itself before baking…oh the possibilities! I froze a half of one of the recent loaves of bread that I made. I will update this post in the near future when I use that frozen loaf to determine if the bread freezes well.

Challah Bread

QUICK STARTER
1 cup (4 1/4 oz) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup (8 oz) lukewarm water
2 teaspoons instant yeast
DOUGH
all of the starter
3 1/2 cups (14 3/4 oz) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup (2 3/8 oz) sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) vegetable oil
2 large eggs + 1 yolk (save 1 egg white for the glaze, below)
GLAZE
1 egg white, saved from above
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) water

Instructions

To make the starter:

  1. Mix the 1 cup flour, 1 cup water and yeast together in a large bowl or the bucket of a bread machine.

2. Let the mixture sit for about 45 minutes.

To make the dough:

  1. Add the dough ingredients to the starter and mix and knead together — by hand, mixer or bread machine — until a smooth, supple dough is formed. The dough should not be too sticky. If it is sticky, add 1-2 TBS of flour at a time while kneading. Each time I have made this dough, I have had to add extra flour. However, that all depends on the environment that you live in.
  2. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat it lightly with oil.

3. Cover it and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until it’s not quite doubled in size.

To shape the dough:

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over once or twice, to expel the carbon dioxide. Divide the dough into four pieces, and roll each into a snake about 18″ long.


On the lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, braid a four-strand braid.

First, Squeeze the ends of the strands together.

Take the left-handed strand and move it to the right over two strands

Then take that same strand and move it under one strand to the left

Next, take the right handed strand and move it to the left over 2 strands

Then take that strand and move it under one strand to the right.

Repeat until the loaf is done and pinch the ends together.

 

In a small bowl, make the glaze by mixing together the reserved egg white, sugar, and water. Brush the loaf, reserving some for a second application.
Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it’s almost doubled in size. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.


To bake the loaf:

Brush the loaf with the remaining glaze (this will give the finished loaf a beautiful, shiny crust.) If desired, sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seed, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the challah is golden brown, slightly firm to the touch, and the internal temperature is 195°F.
Remove the bread from the oven, and cool completely before slicing.
Store completely cool bread, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.

Recipe Source: King Arthur Flour

Baking Tips:

  • When proofing dough (or letting it rise) be sure you place the dough in a warm, draft free environment. I like to use my oven for this. I turn my oven light on to warm it up a tiny bit. I also place a small bowl of warm water in the oven to keep the bread dough from drying out.
  • Don’t afraid of yeast breads! Give this one a try. The rising times are just a guide. Be sure your dough has doubled in size. If it has not doubled by the suggested time, check it every ten minutes

Bake and Share Ideas:

  1. Bake a loaf for a new mom, new neighbor, or use as a hostess gift. Put the loaf in a basket with all the fixings for making french toast along with syrup and jam.
  2. Bake a loaf for valentine’s day. Slice the bread then cut it into heart shapes. Use the heart shaped bread to make sandwiches or heart shaped french toast for your sweethearts!
  3. Bake a loaf of challah bread. Slice it horizontally (like one large sub sandwich) and layer lettuce, tomato, cheese, and ham on the bottom of the bread. Place the top of the loaf on the lettuce, tomato, and cheese. Slice and serve! Bring this to a friend, family member, or neighbor in need of a meal, or serve at your next gathering.

Heart Shaped Raspberry Macarons

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I have become a bit obsessed with making macarons since taking a macaron class last summer. I had always been so intimidated with the thought of trying to make these beautiful, delicate french cookies. Funny as it may be, I was inspired to tackle the macaron after watching, “Grace Stirs Up Success,” with my daughter. I found a class at Sur La Table to learn the proper technique. I learned that there are two different methods to making macarons. There is the french, or common method, and there is the Italian meringue method. After mastering the common method, it was time to tackle the Italian meringue method which is the method used by most pastry chefs. In particular, Pierre Herme, a world renowned macaron master uses this method. And if HE uses it, then I needed to be using it! So, I bought his latest book, Pierre Herme Macarons:The Ultimate Recipes from the Master Patissier.” It comes with a wonderful detailed instruction pamphlet complete with photos.

My first attempt at this method was a salted caramel macaron. My shells did not turn out perfect, and I was so disappointed. I over mixed my batter and slightly over baked my shells. I had the intentions of sharing these cookies at a girls night out. But I could not show up with less than perfect macarons. The night of our outing, I decided to bring them anyways. And even though they weren’t perfect, the girls loved them! I sent some to work with my husband as well, and his co-workers also loved them. The encouragement and praise gave me confidence to try again. My next try yielded perfect macarons, crisp on the outside and delicately chewy in the middle. I have since been making macarons for every occasion!

I decided to try making heart shaped macarons as a Valentine gift for the teachers and staff at my children’s school. I love treating their teachers to something special. After all, they take care of my babies for 7 hours a day 5 days a week. And they do a darn good job! This has been the year of the macaron for them. This is our third year in the kids current school, and the teachers and staff are pretty used to receiving baked treats from me. I wondered if they were sick of getting macarons, since it is all I have been making for them since the fall. But I just had to try these pretty heart shaped cookies. So I went for it!

I practiced piping the heart shape a couple of weeks ago when I taught my daughter and her friends to make macarons. They came out perfect. Well, this time was a different story. The first mistake I made was shrinking the heart shaped template I found at ailovebaking.com. I wanted to make the cookies a little smaller than the template. The problem was that making them smaller made the piping more difficult. I kept having to stop in between piping each heart shape and use a toothpick to make the shape perfect. This caused the piping process to take much longer than usual which meant the batter was drying out for too long. So, some of the shells came out too crispy, and some were perfect. Ugh, I despise inconsistency. When I had practiced and piped the larger size, using the toothpick to adjust the shape was not as necessary. So, lesson learned! I also had trouble with my meringue not stiffening up as much as it usually does. I have no idea why this happened. I actually debated not giving the macarons out. As noted above, I hate to give out anything less than perfect. I tried really hard to make sure the teachers and staff received cookies from my first two trays I baked, as that batter had not sat out as long as the last three trays. I warned my recipients that the macarons may not be quite as good as ones they have received from me in the past. However, I think that they were all thrilled just to receive the packages of pretty heart shaped cookies. I just hope that the thought alone and show of appreciation over powered the less than perfect heart shaped macaron. Without further ado, the recipes….

I apologize for the lack of instructional photos in this post. I was in a bit of a rush while making this batch of macarons, and was already having issues with my meringue and piping which made it difficult to stop and take photos. I promise to post more detailed instructions with photos soon!

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Raspberry Macarons
Ingredients:

3 Cups (300 g) powdered sugar
2 Cups plus 2 TBS (300 g) almond meal
7 large (220 g) liquified egg whites
1 1/2 Cups (300 g) superfine sugar
1/4 Cup plus 1 TBS (75 g) water
red and pink food coloring

Directions
  1. Line baking pans with parchment paper or silpat. Put heart shaped template under parchment or silpat. Prepare piping bag fitted with a plain 1/2 in round pastry tip.
  2. Pulse the powdered sugar and almond flour in a food processor until very fine. Then sift together into a large bowl.
  3. Combine half of the egg whites (110 g) with the food coloring. I used about 10 drops of pink food coloring and 5 drops of red food coloring. Pour this into the powdered sugar/almond mixture without mixing.
  4. Add the remaining egg whites to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a wire whisk.
  5. In a saucepan, combine the water and superfine sugar and boil until it reaches 244 degrees F. As soon as the syrup reaches 239 degrees F, begin beating the egg white in your mixer on high speed.
  6. When the syrup reaches 244 degrees F, reduce the mixer speed to medium and pour the syrup in a steady stream down the side of the bowl into the beating egg whites. Beat until it cools to 122 degrees F. The meringue should look shiny and have peaks that slightly droop in a shape of a birds beak when the whisk is lifted.
  7. Add the meringue to the powdered sugar-almond flour mixture. Fold the mixture with a silicone spatula by lifting it up in the center of the bowl and around the edge of the bowl and over onto itself. At first the mixture will be very clumpy and grainy. Continue to fold until the batter is smooth and shiny and falls in a wide ribbon when the spatial is lifted. DO NOT OVERFOLD YOUR BATTER. If you overfold, your macarons will spread too thin and not have the pretty “feet” on the bottom. To test if my batter is ready, I let a small blob of batter fall into the bowl. Watch the blob to see if just the edges of the blob melt back into the batter. If they do not, continue to fold the batter. If they do, the batter is ready! If the entire blob melts back into the batter right away, you overfolded your batter. So test it often!
  8. Fill your pastry bag with batter half full. To pipe the heart shapes, start at the top of one side of the heart, gently pipe a round circle, keeping your piping bag perpendicular to your baking sheet, and move your tip down to the point of the heart. Release pressure on the bag and quickly but gently twist the tip a quarter turn to release it. Try not to pull up until the batter has released from the tip. Repeat on the other side of the heart.
  9. Gently tap the baking sheet on a work surface to gently smooth the hearts.
  10. Set the hearts aside for 30 minutes to allow a skin to form. Lightly touch the top of one disk to test if they are ready for the oven. The batter should not stick to your finger our make a dent in the heart.
  11. Preheat a convection oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the shells for 8 minutes then quickly open and close the oven door. Bake the shells an additional 2 minutes the open and close the oven door again. Bake again for 2 more minutes (for a total of 12 minutes).
  12. Remove from the oven and slide the parchment paper onto a work surface to cool. Let cool for several minutes before removing them from the paper.
  13. When shells are completely cool, pair same size shells together and pipe raspberry buttercream onto one shell. If you want a stronger raspberry flavor, put a small dot of raspberry jam in the center of a shell, then pipe the raspberry buttercream around the jam. Top with another shell.
  14. Refrigerate the macarons for 24 hours before serving. Remove them from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature before eating.

 

Raspberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Ingredients

1 1/2 pints (500 g) raspberries
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 lb Extra fine sugar
8 oz Egg (Whites)
24 oz unsalted butter,softened
2 tsp Vanilla Extract

Directions
  1. Puree raspberries in blender or food processor. Strain out seeds if desired
  2. Combine pureed raspberries and lemon juice in saucepan and bring to a boil. Let cool completely
  3. Place sugar and egg whites in a stainless steel mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and heat, whisking constantly, to 165 degrees.
  4. Transfer the mixture to an electric mixer with a wire whisk and whip on high speed until the meringue is at stiff peaks.
  5.  With the mixer running at medium speed, gradually add the butter in small pieces until all the butter is incorporated. Mixture should be light and creamy. Blend in vanilla.
  6. Add raspberry puree to buttercream and mix until incorporated.
    Cover with plastic wrap and store under refrigeration.

*to use after refrigeration, place into microwave approximately 45 seconds or until parts of Buttercream are becoming soft and then mix in an electric mixer with paddle. Continue mixing until mixture comes together.

Baking tips:

*There are a lot of different “rules” to making macarons. For example, some people swear by letting macaron shells dry for 30 minute before baking and some say it is not necessary. Find what works for you and stick with it!

*”Liquified” egg whites refer to aged egg whites. Pierre Herme recommends aging the egg white for 3-7 days in the refrigerator. Separate the egg white into a bowl. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and poke a few holes in it. Place in the fridge. Be sure to let the egg whites come to room temperature before using. Some say using liquified egg whites is not necessary. I say if Pierre does it, I am doing it! I don’t always give the egg whites an entire 3-5 days. Sometimes I just do it overnight and sometimes I will just age them for the few hours I have time for.

*Practice, Practice, Practice! It took me a few tries to really figure out what the batter should look like before piping, and when it is ready. This just takes experience and practice. I recommend taking a class or watching a lot of youtube tutorials!

Bake and Share:
  1. Bake a batch and share with your children’s teachers as I did. I packaged the macarons in little boxes, placed them in bags, and added a tag with a little Valentine’s Day note.

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2. Macarons make a wonderful gift for anyone. They are expensive to buy in a bakery, so when people receive these, they are always thrilled!!!!

 

 

 

Flaming Turtle Chocolate Fondue with Homemade Marshmallows

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I absolutely love chocolate fondue! It has been a Valentine’s Day tradition in my home since well before my children came along. My husband and I enjoy celebrating Valentine’s Day with our kids. It’s all about love and family and this family has lots of love to give. Before we had kids, I made a full fondue meal for my husband every Valentine’s Day. Last year, we felt that the kids were old enough to handle cooking their own food in the fondue pot, so we enjoyed our Valentine fondue dinner as a family. The kids are hooked! They have been asking repeatedly when we can have fondue again for dinner. It’s a once a year treat. We always finish our fondue dinner with a delicious chocolate fondue. My absolute favorite chocolate fondue is the Flaming Turtle Fondue from The Melting Pot Restaurant. I was so excited when the Melting Pot published the recipe for the Flaming Turtle Chocolate Fondue in their recipe book a few years ago. The book is called, “The Melting Pot, Dip into Something Different.” My favorite part is lighting the chocolate on fire and roasting a delicious homemade marshmallow, then dipping it in chocolate. It’s so YUMMY, impressive, and perfect for a special occasion.

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Oh yes, I said HOMEMADE MARSHMALLOW. You will be so pleasantly suprised at how quick and simple they are to make. They are light and fluffy and so much better than store bought marshmallows. They can be cut into squares or you can use a cookie cutter to cut them out into shapes. Of course, I cut mine out in a heart shape for Valentine’s Day. You can get your kids involved in cutting the shapes and rolling them in powdered sugar.

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Homemade Marshmallows
Ingredient

3 packages (1/4-ounce each) (3/4 oz) unflavored gelatin
1 cup (8 oz)cool water, divided
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1 cup (11 oz) light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
confectioners’ sugar, to sprinkle on top
Instructions
1. Combine the gelatin and 1/2 cup cool water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix briefly to combine; set aside.
2. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup cool water in a small, deep saucepan. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.
Raise the heat to high and cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 240°F on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat.
3. With the mixer set on low speed, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the softened gelatin. Increase the speed to high, and whip until the mixture is very thick and fluffy, and has cooled to lukewarm, 3 to 10 minutes (depending on the mixer and attachment you use; a stand mixer using the whisk attachment will work more quickly than a hand mixer equipped with beaters). The mixture should be cool enough that you can spread it into the pan without burning your fingers, about 95°F. Add vanilla towards the end of the mixing time.
4. Spread the marshmallow mixture into a greased 9″ x 13″ pan (glass or ceramic is best). Use your wet hands or a wet spatula to smooth and flatten the marshmallows.
5. Sprinkle confectioners’ sugar over the top, and let sit for several hours (or overnight) before cutting.  Remove marshmallow from pan onto a cutting board. Use a greased knife or cookie cutters to make squares or other shapes. Dipping the knife or cutters in cold water before cutting helps reduce any stickiness. Shake marshmallows in confectioners sugar and shake off excess.
6. Store at room temperature. For storage, place in a closed container, the layers separated by waxed paper or parchment paper.

Yield: about 4 dozen square marshmallows

Recipe Source: King Arthur Flour 

Flaming Turtle Chocolate Fondue

INGREDIENTS

12 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup caramel ice cream topping
1 tablespoon 151 rum
3 tablespoons chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS
1. Combine the chocolate and cream in the top of a double boiler set over simmering water.

2. Heat until the chocolate is melted, stirring constantly; or combine the chocolate and cream in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave until melted, stirring every 30-45 seconds. Be careful not to burn chocolate.

3. Pour into a warm fondue pot.

4. Pour the caramel into the center of the chocolate mixture. Do not stir.

5. Add the rum to the pot and ignite carefully, using a long wooden match or lighter. Allow the flame to burn out and stir gently to combine.

6. Sprinkle with the pecans before serving. Keep fondue warm over low heat. Serve with assorted fruits, marshmallows or 1-inch cubed pieces of pound cake. Sometimes I also like to serve it with cubed brownies and cut up chocolate chip cookies.

Recipe Source: The Melting Pot, Dip into Something Different cookbook

Baking Tips:

*Use very high quality chocolate for the fondue such as Ghiradelli. Before the cookbook was released, I emailed the chef at The Melting Pot for this recipe. He told me that using high quality chocolate is very important since it is the star ingredient. It will also be able to stand up to the high heat of the flaming alcohol.

*The fondue is safe for your children to eat. The alcohol will burn off when lit. Be sure your guests have their marshmallows ready before you light the fondue. It will only burn for a minute or so. I do not always use the pecans if my kids do not want them.

*You can experiment with the flavor of your marshmallows by adding espresso powder, cocoa powder, or crushed peppermint candy. My son helped me make the marshmallows pictured. I think I have created a monster. He now wants to make chocolate, cookies and cream, and orange flavored marshmallows.

*Roll the sides of your marshmallows in colored sugar sprinkle for a decorative touch. The marshmallows taste more like peeps with the sugar on them! Yum!!!

Bake and Share Ideas
  1. Package a few marshmallows in a clear bag tied with ribbon and give to friends and family to enjoy. You can also attach a valentine card to the bag for a special Valentine treat.
  2. Insert a cookie stick into a heart shaped marshmallow. Cover the marshmallow with a clear sandwich bag and tie with ribbon. I gave these out as Valentine’s from my children one year with a Valentine note attached.
  3. Treat your family and/or sweetheart to a special Valentine’s Day chocolate fondue
  4. Package all of the necessities to make the chocolate fondue in a pretty basket with the recipe attached. Give as a gift to a newly married couple, someone celebrating an anniversary, or to a friend just because!