Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Winter morning

We awoke today to a quiet morning, so bitterly cold and peacefully blanketed in fresh snow.  Jamie came inside from shoveling with frost on his beard.

Winter mornings like this should come with their own soundtrack of piano music.  I've always loved piano music - maybe from growing up listening to my sister play for hours on end.  I took a few piano lessons, but greatly disliked my teacher and so with no determination to practice, I never developed much skill to speak of.  But Laura played beautifully, and sometimes I would sing while she played our favorite Broadway musical songs.

There's a kind of piano music that just sounds like winter.  Moody and soulful.  If you know what I mean, then you know the way the notes speaks to your heart on just such a morning as this.

It's the music I always hear on quiet winter mornings like this one.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The first Christmas...

This was our sixth Christmas together, but the first in our new house.  Between organizing and painting and projects, fueled by breakfasts of eggs and hearty bowls of oatmeal with not much else to eat until we clean up for dinner late at night, our vacation is really anything but, although we did take a break on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, put everything aside, and just relaxed and enjoyed our time together.

We watched movies, we slept and we made some fantastic food.  These are just a few of my favorite photos I took (above are from my Nikon DX, and below are from my iPhone via Instagram).

For a Christmas Eve dinner with friends, I made this flourless chocolate cake, so rich and decadent, and so simple to make.  I love that it has only six ingredients - chocolate, butter, cream, sugar, vanilla and eggs - the creme de la creme of baking ingredients.  It was beautiful with a simple dusting of powdered sugar.

To accompany the cake, I also churned a fresh batch of salted pecan ice cream, starting with my favorite vanilla ice cream base, and adding a teaspoon of coarse salt, a handful of chopped toasted pecans, and a splash of Jameson instead of the bourbon.  The whiskey gave the ice cream such a a smooth buttery flavor, almost like butter pecan ice cream.

Christmas morning we made blueberry pancakes for breakfast - pancakes are a rare treat for me these days - and we tried a recipe by Finding Home for their Mapletini Martini.  It was a little sweet for me, but still yummy with the pancakes.  Yes, we had a cocktail with breakfast.  No judgement, it was Christmas!

After the present opening, pie crust making and apple peeling, the apple pie was in the oven, with its top crust of Christmas trees browning beautifully, and I made a batch of homemade eggnog (which, by the way, can be made with or without the pumpkin) to serve in the pretty copper mugs Jamie gave me.

It was a lovely couple of days, and as always, I'm a little sad that Christmas is over.  However, we still have half a box of Belgian chocolates, which counts for something.

Monday, December 22, 2014

His favorite things cake...

Dark chocolate cake soaked in spoonfuls of whiskey,
Drip drops of caramel and sea salt and toffee,
Crispy potato chips added for bling,
These are a few of his favorite things...

Fast cars and trophies and really loud music,
Sturgis and bike rides and awesome acoustics,
New tools and head rubs and hearing me sing,
These are a few of his favorite things...

When his head hurts,
When he's tired,
When he's feeling sad,
Some chocolate and caramel and kisses from me,
And then he doesn't feel so bad!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Some of everything...

We are officially moved into our house, and after all the packing, box lifting and stair climbing to move our things out of our third-floor condo, the garage, and the storage unit into our house, I'm more physically exhausted than I remember being in a very long time.  And there are so many projects to do at the house, I feel it will be a while before we have a truly restful weekend there.

It's exciting to fill the house with our things, to finally relegate the brown bachelor sofa to the basement and to imagine the possibilities of making the space work perfectly for our needs.  I have turned the front living room into my own personal studio, which thrills me.  I have my sewing machine, photography equipment and art supplies all set up and ready to use at a moment's notice, with no need to stash them away in a closet after I'm finished with a project.

We have a pantry now, the bottom one-third of which is filled with my baking and cake decorating supplies.

My beautiful black iron bed is dusted off from its years in storage and sitting prettily in our guest room, ready for our first guests.

And we have an actual master bedroom now, with two closets.  I feel like such a grown-up all of a sudden.

We're talking of painting over Christmas break, as I have realized that, in fact, no, I cannot live with walls painted in a color called "brown teepee".  I'm thinking of a pale grey paint throughout the house, with white stripes here and there.

And just maybe this weekend, we'll get a real Christmas tree.

Instagram Photos:
1.  Pumpkin doughnuts with pistachios.
2.  Contemplating all the change.
3.  New t-shirt from Dress Corilynn.
4.  Taking a break while moving to check out my new bathtub.
5.  My man all dressed up for the office work party.
6.  Stripe inspiration.
7.  Lazy days over Thanksgiving weekend.
8.  First cup of coffee in the new house.
9.  First cake baked and decorated in the new house.
10. Favorite bow belt.
11. Waiting.
12. Sunlight in a coffee shop.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Almond Cake with Banana Cream Filling

Almond chocolate chip cake was one of my wedding cakes, and I might even say it was my favorite of the five cakes I baked.  I have always adored cakes and pastries flavored with almond extract.

When I was growing up, my mom baked a lot of almond desserts since it's a popular flavor for Danish pastries, so my love of almond pastries began early on.

I think a lot about my family this time of year, and the Christmases we've spent together, although in recent years, it's becoming less and less frequent to spend the holidays with family when we all live so far apart.

Christmas is my favorite time of year, wherever we are.  I love the lights, the sparkly decorations, warm gloves and boots, hot chocolate, romantic snowfalls and cozy evenings spent at home.  I've felt a bit cheated out of the holiday this year, what with our moving from a condo to a house, and I haven't even been able to give a second thought to decorations or baking yet.

We are moving into our house tomorrow, though, and just maybe, we will go to the woods and cut down a real tree for Christmas this year.

For something a little different with this cake, I filled the cake layers with banana cream, which nicely complemented all the almond in the cake and buttercream.

To finish the cake, I sprinkled the top with toasted coconut, and I love the sweet crunch it adds.

My kitchen is officially packed, and I couldn't bake anything right now if I wanted to, so the next thing I make will be from the new Curly Girl Kitchen.

Until then...

click link for cake recipe:
Almond Chocolate Chip Cake

banana filling
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 - 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
For the filling, whip all ingredients until smooth and creamy; refrigerate until ready to fill the cake.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Goat Cheese and Chive Biscuit Breakfast Sandwiches

This week, we're leaving our first home, our one-bedroom condo where he made me pancakes the morning after the first night we spent together, where we said I love you for the first time, where we started our married life together.

We've outgrown the condo, and it's time to move on, so we're buying a house.  I don't want to stay here, and yet, I'm so sad to leave it behind, this chapter of the first five years our lives together that's about to close.

We close on the house on Tuesday, and the condo on the 19th, when someone else will make this her home, and maybe even find love herself while living here.  I like to think we're leaving good serendipity behind.

I didn't know last Christmas that it would be the last Christmas we would celebrate here.  Or that the last cake I baked in our familiar oven would be the last one I would bake here.  And as happy as I am over the prospect of a bigger home to grow into, I'm grieving over the one we're leaving behind, where we've created so many beautiful memories.

I've been overwhelmed with emotions these past few weeks, and it doesn't take much to make me cry lately.  In the midst of all this, I find myself wanting something comforting, homey and familiar, like biscuit sandwiches for breakfast.

Goat Cheese and Chive Biscuits

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • handful of chopped chives
  • 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, divided
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, cold
  • 2/3 - 3/4 cup whole milk
For biscuit sandwiches, fill them with crisp bacon, slices of avocado and sunny side up eggs.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and chives.  Cut 6 tablespoons of butter and the goat cheese into pieces and sprinkle over the flour mixture.  Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter and cheese in until pea-sized pieces remain.  Refrigerate while you preheat the oven.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Add the milk to the chilled flour mixture and stir with a spoon just until a shaggy dough forms; the dough should just barely hold together.  On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1 inch thick.  Cut into biscuits with a 2-inch biscuit cutter and place 1 inch apart on the baking sheet.

Bake at 450 for 12-14 minutes, until risen and golden brown.  Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and brush over the hot biscuits.  Serve piping hot.

Yields about 12 biscuits.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Chocolate Espresso Cake with Espresso Dusted Chocolate Shards

Coffee and chocolate is a timeless combination of flavors.

A love affair of bitter and sweet.

A consummation of what defines a day's inception and conclusion, for many.  For me, at least.  Coffee in the morning, and a piece of dark chocolate after dinner?  Yes, please.

One of my aunts has a piece or two of dark chocolate with her coffee every morning.  I start my days with eggs, but trading those in for chocolate instead is pretty tempting.

My chocolate espresso cake with cappuccino buttercream has been one of my most loved cake recipes I've tested on friends and coworkers, so I always know it will go over well when I make it.

This time, though, I wrapped the cake in thin shards of dark chocolate that I melted down, sprinkled with salt and espresso powder and let harden again.  The result was quite stunning.

Aren't the bokeh flecks of salt on the chocolate so pretty?

It's funny, but every time I mix up this particular cake recipe with the boiling water, I'm astonished at the thin-ness of the batter, as it looks like little more than chocolate soup poured into cake pans.

And yet, somehow, it turns into cake...

Chocolate Espresso Cake

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened, special dark cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons espresso powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons espresso powder
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1-3 tablespoons cream or whole milk, if needed
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • espresso powder
  • coarse salt
  • finely chopped nuts, if desired

Preheat the oven to 350.  Line the bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper.  Spray the paper with non-stick spray.

In a the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients.  Add the wet ingredients and mix gently on low speed for one minute, then on medium speed for two minutes.  Batter will be very thin.

Divide the batter between the pans.  Bake for 25-28 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Set the pans on wire racks, cover loosely with clean kitchen towels, and cool completely.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and espresso powder until smooth.  With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar and meringue powder, mixing until combined.  Add the vanilla and whip on medium high for 4-5 minutes, until very light and fluffy, adding the cream or milk as needed for desired consistency.

Frost the cooled cakes with the buttercream.  Before the buttercream crusts over, decorate with the chocolate shards.

Lay a piece of parchment paper on a large cutting board or the back of a baking sheet.  Melt the chocolate and spread into an even, thin layer over the paper; the chocolate should be about 1/16 of an inch thick.  Sprinkle with the espresso powder, salt and nuts or anything else you like.

Refrigerate for 3-4 minutes, just until the chocolate begins to thicken up, but is still soft.  Drag a knife through the soft chocolate in the size and shape of the shards that you want to decorate your cake with.  If you don't score your chocolate, you can also just cut or break it into random shards, but I wanted mine to look more uniform, which is why I scored it while it was soft.  Refrigerate until completely solid again (this can be done a day in advance as well).

While the chocolate is very cold and hard, and working quickly so the heat of your hands doesn't melt the chocolate, decorate your cake with the chocolate - it will easily lift off the parchment paper.

For a pretty holiday presentation, tie a bow around the cake.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen