Mini Cinnamon Rolls

Do you remember that line in You've Got Mail where Tom Hanks' character write's to Meg Ryan's that he's working on a project that needs...tweaking?

That's kind of how I approached these cinnamon rolls.  I used Pioneer Woman's recipe because they're the bomb, but I made a few little adjustments here and there. The full recipe makes waaaayyyy too many, so I cut it in half. Instead of using all oil, I used half butter & half canola oil, because BUTTER. And sorry, but I don't do coffee, so I did a simple vanilla frosting instead of the  maple coffee one she uses.  But other than that?  Totally the same...ish.

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Except that instead of rolls as big as your fist, these ones are as cute as a button.  The idea of a monstrous cinnamon roll to start the day off kinda gives me a headache.  The reality of it puts me into a sugar coma.  And that ain't no way to start any day.

So I made them mini! Throw in some fruit and eggs, and you have a perfect, indulgent weekend breakfast. (That was a hint about what you should do this weekend.)

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Mini Cinnamon Rolls

  • 2 cups of whole milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 cup reserved
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
     
  • 6 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1/3-1/2 cup brown sugar
  • Cinnamon
     
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. melted butter
  • 4-5 Tbsp. milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla

To make the dough: Combine the milk, butter, oil, and sugar in a saucepan and heat until barely simmering, then place in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Allow it to cool until lukewarm (if it's any hotter than 110°, it'll kill the yeast).  When it has cooled, sprinkle in the yeast and allow to soften for about 2 minutes.  Add in the four cups of flour all at once and mix in your stand mixer with a dough hook until it is all combined.(see Note)  Cover with a clean dish towel and allow to sit for about an hour.

After an hour, the dough will have risen significantly.  Add the reserved 1/2 cup of flour with the salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  Stir until well combined-- the dough will be fairly soft and sticky.  At this point, you can use it immediately or refrigerate it overnight-- I typically work with it after refrigerating.

For baking the rolls: Preheat the oven to 350° and line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper.  Grease the parchment paper and edges of the pan well and set aside

To make the rolls, divide the dough into half.  Using your hands, roll into a cylinder shape. On a lightly floured counter, roll the dough into a rectangle about 7"x 22." Pour 3 tablespoons of the melted butter over the dough and spread out evenly, then sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon.  Roll the dough towards yourself lengthwise, making sure to keep the roll fairly tight.  Pinch the ending edge of the dough to the roll and turn over so that the seam side is down.  Using a very sharp knife, cut 1"sections off of the end of the roll.  Place each small roll on the pan.  Repeat with second half of dough.

Allow the rolls to rise for about 10-15 minutes, then bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the center rolls are begging to lightly brown and measure 180° on an instant read thermometer.

For the Icing: Combine the 3 tablespoons of melted butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk.  Add milk until the desired consistency is reached.  I like mine to but thin enough to run a bit, but make sure it's not too watery or it will just soak into the rolls.  Pour the icing over the warm, freshly baked cinnamon rolls and enjoy!

Note: The dough can be make by hand, but the mixer does make it a lot easier.  To mix, simply use a sturdy wooden or metal spoon in place of a dough hook.  This method doubles as an arm workout.

Chocolate Toffee Popcorn

When I was growing up, my mom's best friend made English Toffee every Christmas.  It was one of the best parts of Christmas during those years when somehow, eating essentially cooked down butter and sugar, topped with chocolate, didn't make me think twice or gain an ounce.  What was my life?

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Toffee is one of the best things all year round (see above regarding butter and sugar), though I seem to have misplaced the modicum of self-control that had become part of my life (see above regarding butter and sugar) until this year.  Having grown a human and brought him into this world a mere two months ago, I'm blaming any um, extra on him.  He's down with it though-- I asked and he just grinned and cooed.  So we're all good over here.

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This year I took the toffee and tossed it in popcorn before drizzling with chocolate.  Then I started dramatically started singing "A Whole New WORLD!" until my three year old informed that it's not a seasonally appropriate song.  

But this really is the ultimate party food.  Maybe to ring in the New Year? Easy for snacking, classy and eye catching.  Highly addictive, so everyone will think that you're some sort of magician who is blessed with culinary gifts from the gods. 

Of course, some of it has to actually make it to the party.  I wish you luck with that part.

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Chocolate Toffee Popcorn

  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

Place the coconut oil in a 12 qt. pot over medium-high heat with three kernels of popcorn in it.  Cover and allow the oil to heat until the three kernels have popped, then add the rest of the popcorn at once and cover quickly.  Shake vigorously nearly constantly while the popcorn pops.  Remove from the heat when the popping has slowed so that you only hear a pop only every 5-8 seconds.  Also make sure that you don't smell any scorching and if you do immediately take the popcorn off of the heat.

Measure out 16 cups of the popcorn into a large bowl that's not plastic, avoiding getting any unpopped kernels in your bow.  Set out two baking sheets (preferably with edges).

In a heavy bottomed pot, combine the butter, sugar, salt, and water.  Heat on medium, stirring with a wooden spoon constantly as the butter and sugar melt and begin to bubble. Continue cooking and stirring for about 3-5 minutes, or until the mixture has reached 300 degrees on a candy or instant read thermometer.  If you don't have a thermometer, it is done when the mixture is the color of a raw almond skin.

Once the toffee is ready, slowly drizzle over the popcorn with one hand while quickly tossing it with a long-handled fork (a serving fork does nicely) to coat as evenly as possible.  You need to work quickly, as the toffee is somewhat thick and will harden quickly.

Once the toffee has coated the popcorn, pour half of the mixture onto each baking sheet.  Once the mixture has cooled enough to handle without burning your hands, break any large clumps up with your fingers.

Once the toffee has cooled and hardened completely, melt down the chocolate and drizzle about half over each of the sheets.  Lightly toss with a fork to spread out the chocolate more and allow it to harden.  Keeps for about a week in an air-tight container, if it lasts that long!

Notes: Because toffee contains melted sugar at a very high temperature, be very careful when working with it.  Burns happen quickly and can be very painful and serious.  

You may have extra popcorn. You can coat it with a little bit of butter and salt for a lighter snack.

Peppermint Chocolate Crinkle Blossoms

 These are pretty much what would happen if a Chocolate Crinkle Cookie and a Peanut Butter Blossom got together and had a pretty, tasty, wintery baby. But like so many of our children, they have a bit more pizazz than their somewhat tired, more experienced parents. #newparenttalking

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To be completely honest, crinkle cookies have never been my favorites. I mean, there's nothing wrong with them, but if I'm scanning the Christmas cookie plate, they just don't have the wow factor of some of the other offerings. Pretty, yes, but why eat plain chocolate when you can probably have a bit more flavor thrown in the mix at the festive time of year?

Peanut Butter Blossoms, on the other hand, are kind of a weakness. Maybe a little retro, nice and chewy (which is the best way for cookies to be, can I get an amen?), and then the chocolate prize at the end. Or beginning. You get to decide. 

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These are also great for making with a toddler if you don't mind saying "don't touch the pan, it's hot" about 50 times before your three year old starts shrieking because "OH NO, THEY JUST TOUCHED THE PAN!" And guess what? It was hot. Maybe put the cookies on a cool sheet before allowing the kids to have free reign and put the kisses on. Because they really will love feeling like they are involved and doing important things with you, and that's what holiday baking memories are about, right?

I started with Lindsay at Life, Love, and Sugar's basic crinkle cookie recipe, because she seems like a pretty good authority when it comes to all things sweet and because I pretty drool on my phone every time she posts a photo on Instagram.  From there I just added all of the mint and kisses I thought were ethically supportable, and you pretty much have the finished product.  Merry Christmas baking!

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Peppermint Chocolate Crinkle Blossoms

Makes 24-28 Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6 tbsp salted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. peppermint extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 24 - 28 candy cane kisses

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Melt the butter and pour into the bowl of your mixer, then stir in the cocoa powder until a paste forms. Add in the eggs, vanilla, and peppermint extract and beat until smooth and combined.

3. In a medium bowl combine the flour, sugars, baking powder and salt. Add the wet ingredients and mix until combined. The mixture may seem dry, but will come together as you mix.

4. Shape dough into balls approximately 1.5 tablespoons in size and roll in powdered sugar. Arrange on a baking sheet and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand. Bake for 10-12 minutes until cookies are still soft in the centers and remove from oven.

5. Let cookies cool on the sheets for about five minutes, then gently press a Candy Cane Kiss into the center of each of them. Remove to a cooling rack and cool completely before serving.

Note: Be sure to use peppermint extract rather than mint extract. Mint extract has other flavors (like spearmint and wintergreen) and can give a toothpaste flavor to the cookies.

Also, because the candy cane kisses are white chocolate and softer than regular kisses, you have to let the cookies cool for five minutes before adding them or they will almost melt down completely

 

 

 

Apple Twist Bread Wreath

A few weeks ago found me trekking through an apple orchard with one of my very best friends, my three year old, and my very pregnant self.  There was also a half-bushel bag that I had rather rashly chosen over the "tiny" peck-sized bags.  Suffice it to say, we came home with a LOT of apples, and as a result have been eating apples and all of the apple things.  This bread is the result of my overly ambitious picking, and a rather enjoyable consequence at that.

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This bread was mostly inspired by King Arthur Flour's September bakealong challenge.  Beautiful pictures of the apple twist loaves started popping up in my Instagram feed, but I was busy that weekend and couldn't participate.  Fast forward a few weeks, and with a bit of spare time, and a lot of apples to play with, I decided to give it a try.  But being me, I felt the need to tweak.  So I changed up the bread recipe (Um, does anyone actually keep mashed potatoes in their fridge to randomly use in bread?  I don't.) and doubled up the filling.  The glaze though?  That definitely stayed.

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All of those swirly layers of cinnamony, gooey, apple-y goodness? They're cozied up with some of the softest, pillowy of breads.  Fall flavors aren't typically my favorite, but this recipe will probably become an annual happening.  

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For the Bread:

  • 1 Cup of milk
  • 1/4 Cup of Butter
  • 1/4 Cup of Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Yeast
  • 2 1/4-1/2 Cups of All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tsp. Salt

Apple Filling

  • 1.5 Cups of Apples
  • 1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp. Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Cornstartch

Frosting

  • 1-1 1/4 cup sifted Powdered Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 3-4 Tbsp. Heavy Cream

In a medium pan, combine milk, butter, and sugar.  Warm over medium heat until butter has melted, then allow to cool until it's lukewarm, about 90-100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Sprinkle with yeast and let sit for a couple of minutes to let it soften.  Beat in the egg, then the flour and salt.  The dough should be soft, but not too sticky to work with.  If the dough is too sticky, add flour, a tablespoon at a time, until a workable consistency. Allow to rise for about an hour, or until dough has nearly doubled in size.

While dough is rising, prepare the apple filling.  Cut the apples into small chunks, 1/2" at most, place in a medium saucepan and sprinkle with lemon juice.  In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, and cornstarch.  Stir into the apples, add the butter, and cook over low heat until the butter is melted and the juice from the apples has begun to cook out. turn the heat up to medium-low and continue cooking until the juices bubble and have thickened, about 5-8 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and roll into a rectangle that is approximately 12"x 20."  Spread the cooled apple filling onto the dough, then roll it lengthwise, as you would if you were making cinnamon rolls, and pinch the edge closed.  With a very sharp knife, cut the roll in half along the length, then gently turn the half-rolls onto their sides with the filling side up.  

Offset the ends by a few inches, then gently lift one half-roll over the other along the whole length to create a twist, keeping the filling side up.  Bring the ends together to create a ring, tucking the ends together.  Place the ring on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 45 minutes to an hour, or until dough is soft and puffy.  Rising time may vary depending on the temperature of the room.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place the bread ring on a rack in the center.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the ring is golden brown.  A thermometer inserted in the center should read at least 180 degrees.  Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar, vanilla, and cream and beat until a smooth frosting is formed.  Place the glaze in a disposable zippered bag and trim the corner off and squeeze over the bread, or apply it with a spoon.

Note: Bread can be prepared one day and baked the next.  Prepare the wreath and place it on sheet and cover immediately with a clean, unscented plastic bag.  Refrigerate until ready to bake.  Remove the bread from the refrigerator and allow to sit for 1 to 1.5 hours, or until dough has come to room temperature and has become puffy and risen.  Continue with baking normally.

Note: The bread freezes very well! Pre-slice and freeze on a tray before transferring to a zipper freezer bag. Pull out and thaw at room temperature.  

Blackberry Straciatella Ice Cream

Does something being on sale make it in season?  I'm going with yes.

Last week, Sprouts had a weekend sale on blackberries for $1/package, and I grabbed up four of them with no particular plans in mind.  Then, because I kind of sort of REALLY bought way too much whipping cream for an event that I was making desserts for, I had a lightbulb moment and decided to make ice cream.  It helps that I'm 39.5 weeks pregnant, and am totally taking advantage of the "pregnant ladies eat ice cream" stereotype while I can.

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I've done a lot of reading about ice cream making, since most homemade efforts can be really disappointing.  Due to the lack of gums, additives, and extra air that only industrial ice cream makers can add, it tends to be a soft, runny mess or a complete brick when frozen hard.  There are all kinds of fixes given in various recipes.  Corn syrup is the answer!  Add more fat from whipping cream or egg yolks!  Alcohol doesn't freeze either, so throw in a glug!

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Since sugar and fat are already in plentiful supply when it comes to ice cream, and booze is generally too strong to be pleasant, I started thinking about the only other variable that I knew of and wasn't implementing-- air.  The average home machine doesn't run fast enough to incorporate extra air, so I had to figure out another way to get it in.  And the whipping cream held my answer.

Before adding to the custard, I beat half of the whipping cream until it formed soft peaks, and carefully added it into the custard just after it began churning.  Holding my breath and saying a prayer, I let the ice cream finish it's time in the cooler (sorry. ish.) then put it in the freezer to see if it came out a brick.  And guess WHAT? IT DIDN'T! (<----sorry I yelled.  But it's exciting!)

It came out soft and scoopable, but still firm enough to hold a shape.  It has a light, airy feel in your mouth without being overly thick or goopy.  Even my husband, the Sceptic, was impressed when he ran a spoon through it.

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One little side note.  I know  that Straciatella is traditionally a gelato flavor.  In fact, it's pretty much my favorite gelato.  But I look the sharp, crackling little shards of chocolate so much, I decided to add it to this ice cream, and I have #noregrets.  So maybe you can forgive me?  Even if you're Italian?  You could even prove it by making it and telling me how much you love it.  

Blackberry Straciatella Ice Cream

Brown Sugar Shortbread Cookies

Christmas Eve is 10 days away.  We've only got 11 'til Christmas. There are 17 more sunrises and sunsets before the resolutions kick in and we set aside the cookies for kale and the loungewear for gym clothes.  I say we live it UP!  All of the cookies, cakes, and chocolate we can take for the next few weeks before austerity (or reality, if you prefer) kicks in.

Shortbread is my idea of cookie perfection.  It's simple and timeless, not overly sweet yet still decadent, and can be appreciated any season, event, or holiday. They can be perfect whether they come from the kitchen of a novice or a professional.  They're classy and appealing without being pretentious or stuffy.

The brown sugar in these add another layer of flavor, while the sprinkling of turbinado sugar on the top give a subtle bit of crunch to the soft crumble of the texture.

Shortbread has to be poked, or it will bubble up and become uneven during baking.  This is the fun part!  I used a (clean, of course) drinking straw in the center, then the flat end of a toothpick for the smaller holes.  You could also employ a fork or any other thing that will poke small, even holes for heat to escape and keep your cookies flat and even. 

These are best with a cup of something hot and comforting to drink, and a friend to share them with.  But that makes everything better, doesn't it?

Brown Sugar Shortbread Cookies

  • 8 Tbsp. soft unsalted butter (I recommend a high-quality brand)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Turbinado, or any other large-grain sugar, for sprinkling

In a large mixing bowl (you can also use a stand mixer if you're doubling it), cream butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until smooth and fluffy.  Combine the flour and salt and slowly beat into the butter and sugar.  It may look crumbly and dry at first, but if you keep mixing it will eventually form a smooth dough.  Dough can be used immediately, or left in the refrigerator for up to a week.  If you a going to chill it, be sure to allow time for it to soften before it is baked.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough until it's approximately 1/4" thick.  At this point, you can cut out shapes (totally fun) or cut it into 2" rectangles or squares (totally traditional). Just rock your final design, get them on the baking pans, then make sure to prick small holes  and give a sprinkling of turbinado sugar before putting the cookies in the oven.  Bake for 8-12 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies, until the edges are beginning to turn golden brown and the centers don't look dough-y.

Remove to cooling rack and enjoy!  These are best within a week, but they freeze beautifully for up to a month.

 

  

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Salted Caramel Apple Mousse Cakes

Life is full of frightening things.  The world we live in is overrun with people full of hate and empty of all light, those we love are capable of causing hurt, and we spend our whole lives fighting demons of our own.  But sometimes, we can find that the thing we feared, if we just go for it, may not be the frightening thing we imagined, and may end up bringing so much happiness and enjoyment.

This dessert was one of those things for me. I would read words like "mousse," and they made me want curl up in the fetal position and realize that I wasn't good enough.  Or at least, that's what I assumed, because it seemed like something that needed to be perfect. And I'm so very far from perfect in anyway, shape or form, with my baking and cooking following suit.  

But I've started to just go for it.  Make the mousse, and maybe it'll be a soupy mess, maybe it'll be a cube of jello, but just do it.  Stack your mousse in layers on cake, and enjoy the fact that you created something that tastes good, even if it's not a masterpiece.  And enjoy the process, no matter what.  Enjoy creating and loving others in the process.

And you know something?  These weren't perfect.  My mousse was the right consistency (yay!), but the layers weren't completely even or as distinct as I wanted, and the apple roses didn't look like they had been perfected by a pastry chef.  But you want to know something else?  They were enjoyed together with friends, and the flaws weren't seen, ignored, or were forgotten in the fun of good company.  And that's how good food should be, don't you think?

Don't be daunted by the number of elements and steps in these.  None of them are individually that hard, so take it one at a time, and it'll all come together.  You can even do it over the course of several days (Cookies can be baked ahead and even frozen), and they will keep overnight in the fridge to make serving as stress-free as possible. 

Salted Caramel Apple Mousse Cakes

Apple Spice Cake

  • 1 Cup + 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1.5 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 Cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 6 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 6 Tbsp. applesauce
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup of peeled apple, very finely chopped

Salted Caramel Mousse

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 6 Tbsp. soft butter
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream at room temperature
  • 1/2-1 tsp. Coarse Sea Salt
  • 1.5 tsp. powdered plain gelatin
  • 2 Tbsp. cold water
  • 1.5 cups cold heavy whipping cream

Vanilla Mousse

  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeded, or two teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. powdered plain gelatin
  • 3 Tbsp. cold water
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream, cold

Shortbread Cookies

  • 8 Tbsp. butter, softened
  • 1/4 Cup light brown sugar
  • 1 Cup flour
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla

Apple Roses & Caramel for Topping

  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, and sliced as thinly possible
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1.5 Tbsp. soft butter
  • 3-4 Tbsp. whipping cream at room temperature
  • a pinch of coarse sea salt

For the Apple Cake: Preheat oven to 350, and grease a jelly roll pan well.  In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder & soda, and spices and whisk until well combined.  

Place brown sugar in a mixing bowl, and make sure there are no clumps.  Using a hand mixer, or by hand, stir in oil and applesauce.  Next, mix in eggs and vanilla.  Add 1/2 of the flour until well blended, then stir in the milk.  Stir in the rest of the flour and mix until well combined.  Fold in the chopped apples.

Spread the mixture onto the pan, and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until done.  Remove from oven and allow to cool, then use a 2.5" biscuit or donut cutter to cut twelve cake circles.

If you have pastry circles, you can use those, but if you don't have them (like me!), use flexible plastic sheet (such as folder sleeves) and tape them around the cake circles to make molds for the mousse to set in.  Make sure to very lightly spray either plastic sheets or pastry circles.

For the Salted Caramel Mousse: Place 1 cup of sugar in a medium sized, heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat.  Whisk continually until the sugar has melted, then swirl the pan until the sugar has reached 350 degrees and is a light amber color.  Remove the sugar from the heat and immediately whisk in the butter.

Add the 1/2 cup of cream to the pan, and whisk to combine. Cool, then add in the salt to the desired flavor.

Stir cold water into the gelatin, and allow to soften for one minute.  Whisk into the caramel mixture until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat the cream until it reaches stiff peaks.  With a spatula, fold in the salted caramel until combined.  Spoon or pipe mousse onto the apple cake, into the molds, smoothing out the tops.  Place in the refrigerator until the mousse has set, approximately 2 hours.

For the Vanilla Mousse: In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup of the whipping cream with the vanilla seeds and pods, if using.  Allow to steep for 15-20 minutes.  In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until they are light yellow and smooth.  Slowly whisk in the warm cream.  Pour the mixture back into the sauce pan, and cook over medium-low heat while stirring constantly until mixture has thickened, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat, and add the vanilla extract if using.  Prepare an ice water bath.

Stir the gelatin into the cold water, and allow to soften for about 1 minute.  Stir into the egg and cream mixture until the gelatin has completely dissolved.  Strain into a clean bowl through a sieve, then place the bowl into the ice water bath and whisk until the mixture thickens and cools.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat the cream until it reaches stiff peaks.  With a spatula, fold in the egg and cream mixture.  Pipe or smooth onto the top of the caramel mousse, and place in refrigerator to set up, about 2 hours.

For the Shortbread Cookies: Beat together the butter and sugar until smooth, then add vanilla, salt, and flour.  Mix to create a dough.  Roll out to about a 1/4 inch thick and cut in rounds a bit smaller than the mousse cakes.  Prick with a fork and bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes, or until slightly golden.

For the Apple Roses and Caramel Topping: Peel and slice a Granny Smith apple as thinly as possible (no really, thinner).  Place five slices in a row on a baking sheet, overlapping them half way on top of each other.  Repeat 12 times.  Bake at 350 for 5-10 minutes, just until the slices are tender but still firm.  Roll each  section of five slices as tightly as possible and secure with a toothpick.  Refrigerate overnight.

For the caramel topping, place 1/4 cup of sugar in a medium sized, heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat.  Whisk continually until the sugar has melted, then swirl the pan until the sugar has reached 350 degrees and is a light amber color.  Remove the sugar from the heat and immediately whisk in the butter.

Add the 3-4 Tbsp. of cream to the pan until the consistency is caramel like and not runny, and whisk to combine. Spread over the tops of the cookies, and place an apple rose in the center of each while the caramel is still warm, removing the toothpicks. Place the cookies with roses on the tops of each mousse cake, and serve with much love. 

Normandy, France

 

Our month in Europe got started with almost two weeks in Normandy, France, living the dreamiest, happiest beach life you can imagine.  Our rental townhouse was a block away from Sword Beach, and we were there pretty much every possible waking moment of every day.

Prentice started out with a terrified fascination with the water, but after a couple of days he was smitten, and begged to go "play beach?" from the minute his eyes opened in the morning to the time he got tucked in at night.  The bakery was his other favorite place to go, and on the cooler mornings (things get pretty brisk on the coast, even in July!) we would opt for a walk to buy baguettes and a "'pecial 'nack," which usually meant a fancy tart or eclair that was anticipated and talked about ALL DAY LONG.  

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I didn't edit the color on that photo at all.  The sky was really that blue, and the clouds truly that white and fluffy.  

These were from the Sunday morning market in Caen.  It wasn't exclusively a farmer's, or even food market, but the produce stands were beautiful, and the fruits and veggies were amazing. The tiny purple artichokes were one of my favorite things there, as well as the ruffly tomatoes.  And of course, we had to stop for a fresh, warm crepe, one smeared with butter, and the other given a perfect sprinkle of sugar. 

 

October is what really marks the end of summer for me.  School may begin in August now (seriously?), but pool season is still in full swing in my brain.  In September, the heat begins to loose some of it's intensity and feel a bit tired, but I still lick my ice cream cones and ignore the pumpkins that sprout up everywhere. Not yet pie, not yet.f

But with the first day of October comes the realization that the breeze is beginning to nip, and will soon have the full bite of winter's frosts, and I start to feel nostalgic and a wee bit melancholy.  One of the saddest parts is saying goodbye to my garden.  I may not be any master gardener, but I do love sinking my fingers into the dirt and watching the slow magic of seeds turning to sprouts, sprouts growing to flower, and flowers becoming something breath-takingly beautiful or delicious to eat.

So with the leaves falling and the warm blankets coming out, here are a few pictures to say goodbye to the glory that was this summer and hello to the wonder that comes next. 

An Autumn Feast

Note:  I'm STILL working on getting the rest of the pictures from our European Summer trip up on the blog, and hopefully all of them will be present and accounted for in the next week.  But until then...

You know what I love about fall where I live? 

90 degree days.  Which essentially means that summer just lasts a littttle bit longer--more pool days, more ice cream cones, more sunshine.  But there's a certain golden hint in the late afternoon light, combined with a hint of a breeze and leaves on the ground that tell me that cooler weather is, most certainly, right around the corner.  And fall weather means that we roast instead of grill our meat and veggies, and bake instead of freeze all of our desserts.  I think I can be good with that.

And here, for your enjoyment, is a Fall Menu, curated from some of my favorite websites and blogs around the 'net. (<--sorry)  Happy Fall eating!

Fall Dinner

Roasted Chicken -- I use this method from NomNomPaleo, and add a sliced lemon and fresh rosemary sprigs to the cavity.  It's poultry perfection every single time.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes -- If you have time, slow roast them like this.  They're pretty much out of this world, though I hardly ever have it together enough to use that method and am throwing them into a very hot oven an hour before we eat.  Don't be like me.
Roasted Broccoli -- So easy, there's no recipe needed.  Simply spread broccoli spears on a foil lined roasting sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with large-grain salt.  Roast at high heat (400 degrees or so) for 15-25 minutes, depending on how "done" you like it.  Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Sourdough Rustic Rolls -- This recipe is gooood, and it comes from one of the websites most responsible for wasting my time.  I don't care for olives, so they didn't make it in.  No sourdough starter on hand?  No prob.  These ones will stand in for you nicely.
Dutch Apple Galette -- The perfect dessert for the feast.

 

 

Cookie Butter Cup Ice Cream

Remember our conversations about Trader Joes, the cool kids who shop there, and how I joined the club?  I just took it to the next level.  

I put those cookie butter cups in ICE CREAM.

 Not only that, it's no churn ice cream, which is basically the easiest way to make really good homemade ice cream.  Last year, recipes for no churn ice cream started blowing up my blog feed, I totally turned up my nose.  There was no way whipping up some cream and mixing it with sweetened condensed milk could be as good as the much more time intense custard and cream concoctions I was perfecting in my traditional ice cream maker.

Well, I was wrong.  So wrong.  It's creamy, and soft, and EASY.  So easy it's almost embarrassing, but I'm sure you'll quit blushing soon enough.  I hope so, because I'm going to be making lots more this summer.   

The perfect summer food just became perfecter.

Cookie Butter No-Churn Ice Cream

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
  • 1 batch of cookie butter cups, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Speculoos cookie butter
  • 2 tsp. powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Chop the cookie butter cups and set aside.  Beat together the cookie butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and canola oil until well combined and smooth.

Beat the heavy whipping cream until stiff peaks form, then stir in the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla bean paste.  Pour mixture into an 8x10 dish. Dollop tablespoons of cookie butter mixture onto the top and swirl in with a table knife.  Sprinkle the cookie butter cups and mini chocolate chips over the ice cream and gently stir in.

Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for at least 6 hours.  Serve with more cookie butter cups on top.

Normandy // D-Day Sites

If you looked at my Instagram posts from the last two weeks, you would probably assume that all we've done in France is eat baguettes. That's not entirely the case though-- we've traveled around and seen the sites while eating baguettes. 

Some of the things high on our to see list in Normandy was the D-Day landing sites. Our rental house is just down the street from Sword Beach, which was the most eastern of the five landing beaches and was taken by British, Canadian, and French troops. It's mostly just a great beach for families to enjoy now, but all along the length of it there are memorials and tributes to the battle and the men who fought it. 

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Omaha Beach  

On Saturday, we headed for Omaha Beach, which was the main landing site for othe American forces.  To give a little pop culture context- if you've seen Saving Private Ryan, it's the site of the first battle. The day was overcast but not uncomfortably cool, and we walked along the beach after lunch. There are remains of the bombed out German fortifications at the far end of the beach, and a pier that is build on part of the temporary dock built by the Allies for access during the invasion of Normandy. 

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The American Cemetery  

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This was one of the most sobering places I've ever been. There are more than 9,000 crosses in this graveyard, each one representing a husband, father, son, and brother. And there were no words for the feelings as I walked through with my two boys. 

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If you go, take the time to walk through the visitor's center/ museum. There are several films and quite a few displays that are very well done. 

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Pegasus Bridge  

Our last D-Day site was Pegasus Bridge, captured by British paratroopers. It was strategically necessary to take it intact so that the Allied forces could get their tanks over the Arne river into the country. The original bridge isn't actually spanning the river anymore- they replaced it a few years ago with one that looks nearly identical, but is larger. You can go to the Pegasus Memorial to see the original bridge, as well as a small collection of other military vehicles, large guns, etc. 

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For some reason, Prentice has developed an affinity for the "ganks." It probably has something to do with really large wheels.

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Things to Know...

If you're planning to visit the D-Day sites, there are a few things you should know before you go.  

  • The beaches cover over 50 miles of coastline, and it takes a long time to drive in between. For instance, from where we were on Sword, it was about an hour to Omaha, and would have been another 45-55 minutes to get to Utah.   
  • There are a million and one museums. We're not really museum people (especially with a tired two year old in tow), so we only did the American Cemetery musem, which is free, and the Pegasus Bridge. Admission to most is usually between €6-8, so not too expensive, but you may want to pick the areas that interest you most.  
  • Watch The Longest Day (and maybe Saving Private Ryan) before you go. I'm serious. TLD isn't a very entertaining movie, in my opinion, but it at least gave me a general idea of what was going on where. Some of it didn't make much sense while watching, but I at least vaguely know what happened at any given site. SPR isn't really an overview of the whole battle, but it gives you a very realistic (if somewhat gritty) picture of what the battle entailed. 
  • Always take a light jacket with you. Even in July, we had a cold morning at Omaha and a warm afternoon at the cemetery.  


Off to See the World

So, things have changed a bit around here. As in, the around here is now...France. We picked up and left our little house behind for a few weeks, and are living by a little house near the sea in Normandy.  

I've kept the trip fairly quiet for several reasons. First of all, the itinerary wasn't even finalized until last week. "No minute like the last" is totally our motto. And we rock it. Also, I've felt a little bit, I dunno, awkward about it all. Almost like taking a trip that we've dreamed of ever since we got back from Europe the first time is just showing off, and too much. But I realized that's silly. This is a blessing God has given us. And there's nothing wrong with delighting in it and sharing it with friends and family.  

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Here's what we've accomplished so far-- two days in New York, surviving an overnight flight with a 2 year old, and a loooong drive from Brussels, Belgium to Normandy, France, plus a visit to the boulangerie.  Micah can't take all of the time off, so he'll be working during the week and we'll spend weekends taking it all in. I have my heart set on Monet's house, Mont St. Michel, and we'll definitely visit the landing beaches and World War II memorials. Our AirBnB is just down the street from the beach (see picture above), so The Bops and I will probably spend a good portion of our days there. And the boulangerie, because who am I kidding?

After Normandy, there will be a weekend in Paris (don't tell, but I think that's what I'm most excited about. Best. City. Ever.). Then we'll fly down to Florence, Italy to check out all of the art, and then wrap  it up in Rome to visit our pal the Pope. Just kidding! We're not friends with him. He seems nice and all, but we're a bit too Protestant to be BFFs, if you know what I mean. 

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All told, we'll be gone for about 4 weeks, and while I know it will be long and we'll miss home, part of me feels like I'm are back home. Europe was where Micah and I made our rather nomadic home for the first few months of our marriage, and in spite of the jet lag and the frustration of a lost bag (why, United? WHY?), it feels kind of like we're right where we belong. 

So all of that to say, expect a picture explosion that is not (all) food related (le gasp!). Instagram won't know what hit it. I'll probably break this blog with all of the photos. I'll tell and show you everything I see that's worth sharing, and if you think that's obnoxious, come back in August. I'll be too exhausted to be annoying then. 

Kisses! 

 

Strawberries and Cream Donuts

When it comes to food, I have strong convictions.

Pie crust should never be whole wheat (just eewww).  Cookies should never have raisins (they shouldn't be in anything else, for that matter).  And donut day shouldn't be confined to one paltry day a year.

Donuts? Doughnuts?  Do two spellings mean we get to eat two do(ugh)nuts?  I think yes.

And see that bright, pretty glaze?  It was made with nary a drop of artificial flavoring or food coloring.  Just powderized freeze dried strawberries, which have officially become my new food crush.  Can we start making them trend?  So much flavor and color in such a small size and usable texture.  They could very well world peace, or at least world kitchen peace.

And if you look reeeeeaaallly closey, you can maybe see that my first food love made it in too.  The cream filling is filled with tiny, itty bitty black specks of vanilla bean perfection, courtesy of vanilla bean paste rather than extract.  They just make food so real, you know?  

All of that to say... There's so much to love here for your warm weather baking.  They look like summer.  They taste like summer.  You don't even have to heat your oven because SUMMER.  You'll probably definitely love them (even if your swimsuit won't).

And look!  They'll even love you back. XOXO

Strawberries and Cream Donuts

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 cups peanut, vegetable, or canola oil for frying
  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
     
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup freeze-dried strawberries, powdered
  • 2-3 Tbsp. milk

For the donuts: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast.  In a small bowl, whisk together egg, milk, melted butter, and vanilla extract.  Dump all of the wet ingredients into the dry, and stir and knead into a soft dough.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

After the rest, knead for 6-8 minutes, or until the dough is soft, supple, and smooth.  Place it in a clean, oiled bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap.  Allow to rise for 1 to 1.5 hours or until doubled.

Once dough has finished rising, deflate and turn out onto well floured counter.  Roll out to a 1/4" thick and cut into 2 to 2.5" circles.  Place on parchment paper, cover lightly with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for about a half hour.

In a frying pan, heat at least 3" of oil until 350 degrees.  place 2-3 donuts in the hot oil at a time, allowing it to cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until they are golden brown and puffy.  Set aside and allow oil to return to to 350 before adding the next batch.  Allow to cool completely.

For the pastry cream: While the donuts are rising, make the cream filling.  Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt.  In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolk and vanilla bean paste with a fork until they are well blended and slightly lightened.  Gradually beat in the sugar mixture until completely combined and smooth.  The mixture will be quite thick.

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat until bubbles begin to form around the edge, but it's not boiling.  Slowly drizzle the hot milk into the eggs while stirring, making sure that the eggs aren't being cooked by the hot milk.  Scrape it all back into the saucepan and place over medium heat, whisking constantly to prevent scorching, and cook until it comes to a boil.  Cook until mixture is smooth and glossy, about ten seconds.  Place in a clean bowl, press plastic wrap over the top to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate until cold.

For the frosting: In a small mixing bowl, crush the freeze dried strawberries until they are powder.  You can use a pestle, the end of a french rolling pin, or your psychic powers, but they need to be well powderized.  Whisk in the powdered sugar, then gradually add the milk until a glaze like consistency has been reached.

To make the donuts: Place the cream filling in a pastry bag with a medium/small round tip in the end.  Use a sharp paring knife to cut a slit in the side of the donuts, insert the pastry bag tip, and squeeze until you feel the donut begin to bulge slightly.  Dip the tops in glaze and allow to dry.

Enjoy!

Chicken Fajita Salad

I try to fit a salad in for dinner about once a week.  It's healthy, it's budget friendly, and usually pretty easy to throw together.  

But if it's nothing but a bed of lettuce with a few pieces of chicken thrown on?  Ugh.  It leaves you a) feeling like a foraging creature of the woodland, and b) still hungry.

Enter ALL THE TOPPINGS!  They fill you up, they add so much variety in flavor and texture, and they make the salad so much more enjoyable.  And since fajitas are one of our favorite dinners, this salad is pretty likely to make the rotation frequently.

You can get pretty crazy with the toppings here.  I made some avocado rose because they're so pretty, and crisped up some tortilla strips.  But you could totally channel the Chicken Bacon Fajitas and throw on a good crumble of bacon.  Or add some lime rice over the top if you're a grain on the salad sort (I totally am.  Micah's totally not).  Whatever you love and makes your fajita dreams come true can happen on this salad.

Chicken Fajita Salad

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tsp. red chilli flakes (add less if you aren't into spicy foods)
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs

Combine all ingredients except chicken and put half of the mixture in a large zipper bag. Add chicken to bag and allow to marinade at least two hours or overnight. Grill and allow to cool some before adding to salad.

 Reserve remaining mixture and use as salad dressing.

  • 1 head romaine lettuce, cut or torn into bite sized pieces.
  • 1 avocado, sliced or made into a rose
  • 1 small white onion, sliced thin and sauteed in a skillet until brown
  • 1 small bell pepper, sliced thin and sauteed in a skillet until brown
  • 2 corn tortillas, sliced into small strips and crisped over medium heat in a sprayed skillet
  • A sprinkling of cheddar cheese.
  • Anything else your heart desires.  You want bacon, just so you know.  Black beans are also a stellar option.  Use your creativity.

To assemble the salad, spread lettuce on one large platter or 3-4 individual plates.  Start with the chicken, and add onions and peppers.  Top with avocado, cheese, tortilla strips, and any other toppings you may have.  Pour some of the reserved marinade/dressing over the salad(s) and serve immediately.

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