Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hot Cocoa

Who's ready for some hot cocoa? Lately it has been FREEZING here, and nothing warms me up faster than a nice cup of hot cocoa. The little Swiss Miss packs are great in a pinch, but nothing beats homemade hot cocoa. It's so rich and creamy and delicious. Give it a try and surprise your kids or hubby or friends. They'll appreciate you, I promise. This recipe is how my mom always made it for us, but I'm pretty sure it's very close if not the same as what's on the back of the Hershey's cocoa box.

Hot Cocoa

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup white sugar
1 pinch salt
1/3 cup boiling water
3 1/2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup half-and-half cream
Combine the cocoa, sugar and pinch of salt in a saucepan. Blend in the boiling water. Bring this mixture to an easy boil while you stir. Simmer and stir for about 2 minutes. Watch that it doesn't scorch. Stir in 3 1/2 cups of milk and heat until very hot, but do not boil! Remove from heat and add vanilla and half and half. Divide between 4 mugs.
Top with marshmellows or whipped cream. Enjoy!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Classic Spritz Cookies

These were so easy to make and so much fun to decorate. They made my neighbor goodie plates extra cute this year. If you don't have a cookie press, I suggest you get one... as soon as you can. It is so much fun to use and they are cheap. I picked mine up for less than 15 bucks. The kids and I have really enjoyed making and decorating these little cuties. Plus they are a classic cookie that just tastes good. And how can you resist the tininess? They are just too cute.
Classic Spritz Cookies
1 1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
3 1/2 cup all - purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Preaheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Thoroughly cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add egg, milk, vanilla, and almond extract. Beat well.
Stir together flour and baking powder in a separate bowl. Gradually add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture, mixing to make a smooth dough. Do not chill. Place dough in your cookie press and press cookies onto a greased cookie sheet.
Bake 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned around edges.
Remove cookies from sheet; cook on wire rack.
Have fun decorating!
Makes 7 -8 dozen cookies.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Soft Caramels

*I'm using Melanie's picture from My Kitchen Cafe until I get my picture downloaded. I can't find my card reader.
I finally started and finished my Christmas goodie plates. I decided to try some new things this year instead of my old standard tried and true goodies that I always do. It has been really fun! There has been one total fail so far, but the rest have been yummy successes.

My first experiment was Caramels! I've always wanted to try my hand at them, but was intimidated. That is all changed now. They are not hard at all, they just take a little bit of time and watching. They turned out so incredible!! This was a huge success and I hope you try it. You won't be disappointed.
I found the recipe on My Kitchen Cafe.
This particular caramel recipe is unusual in that you don't need to stir after adding the second half of the sweetened condensed milk. This is a bonus because you don't need to slave away at the stove stirring for hours - but still be careful to check your candy thermometer often to make sure the correct temperature has been reached (and not exceeded!). Also, in order for the caramel not to scorch, remember to cook the caramel over medium-low heat. This requires time and patience because the caramel won't cook as quickly as at high heat, but trust me, unscorched caramels are worth the wait! This really does take a long time, almost an hour. Make sure when you stir in the vanilla that your spoon doesn't touch the bottam of the pan.

*Finally, when pouring the caramel onto a buttered baking sheet, do not scrape the caramel from the bottom and sides of the pan. Simply turn the pan and let the cooked caramel roll out onto the baking sheet - when it has stopped flowing out, stop pouring and resist the temptation to scrape up the caramel stuck to the sides and bottom. You don't want the icky stuff left over on the pan.

2 cups sugar
1 ½ cups light corn syrup
1 can sweetened condensed milk (add only ½ to begin with)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 ½ cups chopped toasted pecans (optional)

Butter the sides and bottom of a 9X13-inch pan. Set aside.

In a medium heavy saucepan, add sugar, corn syrup, 1/2 can sweetened condensed milk, salt and butter. Over medium-low heat, stirring constantly to ensure the sugar is completely melted, bring the mixture to a boil and add the rest of the sweetened condensed milk when it begins to boil. Insert the candy thermometer and clip onto your pan at this point. Once the second half of the condensed milk has been added and the mixture is boiling again, stop stirring to prevent sugar crystallization (which means the caramels will have a grainy texture). Boil the mixture still at medium-low heat, without stirring until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage on a candy thermometer (234 degrees F). If you like your caramels a bit firmer, you can cook them up to 248 degrees F, which is firm ball stage but I prefer mine really soft (I will warn you that most people find this stage a bit too soft so use your best judgment and preference). When the caramel reaches the right temperature, immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and toasted pecans (if using). Carefully pour the hot mixture into the prepared pan without scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. Let the caramel cool completely before cutting into squares and wrapping in waxed paper.

* I cooked mine until about 240 degrees F and they are the absolute perfect softness. Not too hard, not too soft, just right.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Candy Cane Cupcakes

Here is a fun Christmas treat recipe for you! These are really fun to make and they look so cute and festive. I found them on Baking Bites, one of my favorite recipe sites. One of my favorite parts of these cute little cupcakes is the red and white patterned center. When you take a bite, it's festive treat. I forgot to take a picture of the inside though! The burst of peppermint flavor is such a nice surprise, especially when paired with the vanilla cream cheese frosting. I'm not a huge cupcake fan, but these are gooooood!
Note: This recipe only makes twelve cupcakes. I doubled the recipe with great success and had enough batter to make 12 mini cupcakes from a mini muffin pan in addition to 24 cupcakes.

Candy Cane Christmas Cupcakes

2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 tsp peppermint extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp red food coloring

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. In a large bowl, mix together eggs and sugar until mixture is light and creamy and the sugar has mostly been dissolved. Stir in milk, vegetable oil, vanilla and peppermint extracts. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Pour into wet ingredients and whisk just until batter is smooth. Measure out one cup of batter and place it back in the medium bowl. Add red food coloring to this bowl and whisk to incorporate. Put a spoonful (approx 2-3 tsp) of the white batter into the center each cupcake paper and let it spread slightly on its own. Put a spoonful of red batter in the center of the white. It will push out the other batter and, as it sits for a moment, will also spread itself. Alternating spoonfuls of the two batters and trying to keep the amounts as even as possible (after the first layer, I used smaller amounts of red and white with each spoonful), repeat the technique until all the batter has been used up. Bake for about 15 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center of each cupcake comes out clean and the top springs back when lightly pressed. Cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
4-oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
2-3 cups confectioners’ sugar
green food coloring (optional, but recommended for the holidays)

In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese and butter. Beat until smooth, then mix in vanilla extract, milk and 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar. Beat until very smooth, then gradually blend in additional sugar until frosting is fluffy, thick and easy to spread. Beat in up to 1/2 tsp green food coloring to dye the frosting, if you wish. Frosting can be spread onto the cupcakes or piped using a piping bag.

This is how the cupcakes should look before being baked. Mine are a little messy but you can see how each layer of batter pushes the other layer out a bit.

This is how they look after being baked. They look so neat when you bite into them. Plus the burst of peppermint is a wonderful surprise.I made a big batch for a party and they were a hit. No one suspected the peppermint flavor.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Easiest Pumpkin Cookies ever!!

From the looks of the ingredients you would not think that these taste as good as they do. It's amazing how great they taste and how easy they are!! This is going in my emergency file for when I need to bring something quick!
The finishing touch is a drizzle of cinnamon frosting... Yumm and drool. To die for.

Easy Pumpkin Cookies

1 box Spice cake mix
1 15oz can pumpkin
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Mix the cake mix and pumpkin till moist and smooth. Add chocolate chips. Roll into 1 inch balls and bake at 350 degrees for 11-15 minutes.

See how incredibly easy? It's just amazing to me how someone figured this out... I got this recipe by word of mouth from my aunt.

Cinnamon Frosting

1/2 cup butter (melted)
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Splash of milk if needed

Mix together until smooth and. Add more cinnamon if desired.

Coming up is a great snack recipe made with this frosting. You won't want to miss it!