Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mississippi Mud Cupcakes

It's now the 21st of January and I'm ready to post (and eat) some sweets. I've noticed that others are beginning to bake and blog about brownies, cookies and other fantastic sweets too. I think three weeks of staying true to our new years' resolutions is pretty good. I'm still very conscious of preparing healthier meals for my family, but to deprive them of a daily sweet treat can certainly cause sour moods. Funny how that works!

Cupcakes are hugely popular right now, on food blogs, for birthday parties, weddings and any type of celebration. I have always loved these cute little cakes. They're versatile, convenient and easy to decorate for any occasion. While researching the web for different cupcake recipes, I found this version of one of my favorite pies. I love the internet!

I love foods that have a variety of textures in every bite! There's something joyous of biting into foods that are crunchy, moist and sweet at the same time. It makes my mouth happy. And everyone knows that if your mouth is happy, your hips are happy. Well, maybe keeping my mouth happy ALL the time isn't such a great idea, but a little indulgence doesn't hurt. Does it?

These cupcakes were a huge hit with the kids! The bottom of the cupcakes are formed by crushed oreos and mini chocolate chips. On top of all that crunch is the moist, yummy chocolate cake. The cake is then sprinkled with more oreos and chips. Do I have your attention yet? Mmmm!

The original recipe called for topping the cakes with melted chocolate or your favorite chocolate frosting. I wanted something a little different, so I whipped some whipping cream and added chopped Oreo cookies to the frosting. I'm thrilled with the how the icing tasted, but not so happy with the look of it. The cookie bits kept clogging my decorator so I resorted to using a ziplock bag with a clipped corner. Better luck next time...and I'll definitely be fixing these again.

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Mississippi Mud Cupcakes

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temp
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup water

2 1/4 cups crushed Oreo cookies (about 20 cookies)
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips (I used mini chips)

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 24 muffin tin cups with paper liners.

Put the unsweetened chocolate in a heatproof bowl or the top of a double boiler and place it over, but not touching, a saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from the water and set aside to cool slightly.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar until smoothly blended and creamy, about 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed during mixing. On low speed, mix in the melted chocolate. On medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is blended into the batter. Add the vanilla and beat until the mixture looks creamy and the color has lightened slightly, about 1 minute. Mix in the sour cream until no white streaks remain. On low speed, add half of the flour mixture, mixing just to incorporate it. Mix in the water. Mix in the remaining flour mixture until it is incorporated and the batter looks smooth.

Spoon 1 tablespoon of the cookie pieces and 2 teaspoons of chocolate chips into the bottom of each paper liner. Spoon a scant 1/4 cup of batter over the chocolate chips. Sprinkle remaining cookie pieces and chocolate chips over the tops, pressing them gently into the batter.

Bake just until the tops feel firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the pans on a wire rack.

Frost with melted chocolate, your favorite chocolate frosting or whipped cream.

Source: How To Eat A Cupcake

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lasagna Rolls

My family loves Italian dishes. Who doesn't? Most people enjoy savoring the pasta, cheeses, sauces, salad and bread. When we are planning to invite guests over for dinner, Italian dishes tend to be the first recipes that come to mind. The main reason I hesitate to serve spaghetti or lasagna or something similar is that those dishes really lack in "presentation". When I've spent time planning and preparing a meal to serve for guests, I like a certain "awe" factor when the meal is served up on plates. Not that I want my guests to admire the cook and sing my praises (though it's nice to hear sometimes.he he), but, let's be honest, when food has a pleasing presentation, they're more apt to enjoy the meal and its flavors.

When I came across this recipe, I was so excited to plan this on our menu. The presentation in the picture was beautiful and I thought it would be perfect for individual servings for a dinner party. Lasagna, a dish typically a mess to serve, rolled into single serve rolls. Genious! The rolls filled with wonderful, tasty cheeses, healthy spinach and prosciutto, are placed atop a creamy, delicious, bechamel sauce and topped with a small amount of marinara sauce. Mmmm!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Lasagna Rolls


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pinch ground nutmeg


1 (15 ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
1 large egg, beaten to blend
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for salting water
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1-2 tablespoon olive oil
12 uncooked lasagna noodles
2 cups marinara sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (about 4 ounces)

1. To make the sauce: Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk for 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk. Increase the heat to medium-high. Whisk the sauce until it comes to a simmer and is thick and smooth, about 3 minutes. Whisk the salt, pepper, and nutmeg into the bechamel sauce.
2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
3. Whisk the ricotta, spinach, 1 cup Parmesan, prosciutto, egg, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl to blend.
4. Add a tablespoon or 2 of oil to a large pot of boiling salted water. Boil the noodles until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Arrange the noodles in a single layer on a baking sheet to prevent them from sticking.
5. Butter a 13-by-9-by-2 -inch glass baking dish. Pour the bechamel sauce over the bottom of the prepared dish. Lay out 4 lasagna noodles on a work surface, then spread about 3 tablespoons of ricotta mixture evenly over each noodle. Starting at 1 end, roll each noodle like a jelly roll. Lay the lasagna rolls seam side down, without touching, atop the bechamel sauce in the dish. Repeat with the remaining noodles and ricotta mixture. Spoon 1 cup of marinara sauce over the lasagna rolls. Sprinkle the mozzarella and remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan over the lasagna rolls. cover tightly with foil. Bake until heated through and the sauce bubbles, about 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese on top becomes golden, about 15 minutes longer. Let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the remaining marinara sauce in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until hot, and serve alongside.

Source: Food Network, Giada De Laurentiis, Everyday Italian

Friday, January 16, 2009

Chocolate Chip Vanilla Ice Cream

This is the final post of the yummy food I prepared for Marty's birthday celebration. I've already shared with you the fresh homemade Kaiser rolls and bbq pulled pork that we had for dinner, both of which Marty and the kids loved, next of course would be DESSERT! Every birthday celebration has to be completed with dessert, most typically a birthday cake and ice cream, but Marty doesn't really care for cake, so I debated with myself over what treat would be special enough for the evening. Marty love, love, loves warm, fresh cookies or brownies with ice cream and chocolate sauce. I chose to bake chocolate chip cookies and make homemade chocolate chip ice cream. My friend Sarah gave me the AWESOME Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker for Christmas. This was the perfect opportunity to put it to work. I was excited, it was going to be perfect!!

I prepared the basic vanilla ice cream and added mini chips during the last 5 minutes of churning. The more basic the taste the more Marty will like something. The ice cream maker was so much fun to work with and had soft serve ice cream ready in about 25 minutes. I then put it in the freezer to harden up just a little.

I ran out of time to make "gourmet" cookies, so I resorted to the ever faithful Nestle chocolate chip cookie recipe and made bar cookies with it. Easy, quick and still delicious!

This was a perfect ending to our fabulous celebration dinner in honor of my fantastic husband. I hope you have enjoyed sharing all the yummy recipes from our evening.

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Vanilla Ice Cream

1 cup whole milk, well chilled
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups heavy cream, well chilled
1 - 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, to taste
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, use a hand mixer or a whisk to combine the milk and granulated sugar until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 - 2 minutes on low speed. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla to taste. Turn machine on, pour mixture into freezer bowl through ingredient spout and let mix until thickened, about 25 - 30 minutes.

Source: Cuisinart Recipe Booklet (Thanks So Much Sarah-I Love My Ice Cream Maker!)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Barbecue Pulled Pork

I love recipes that are simple yet are filled with such amazing flavor that it tastes as if I spent all day on it. With today's lifestyle for so many families, evening schedules are packed with a variety of extra-curricular activities that leave little time for the family to gather at the table to share a meal. Multiple studies show that families that sit together and share the evening meal three to four times per week have children that are more successful in school, are more communicative with parents and are less apt to experiment with drugs and alcohol. I don't know about you, but this seems like a such a simple way for me to to help keep my family safe, successful and confident.

My friend Sarah fixed this recipe not too long ago and I absolutely fell in love with it. It takes no time at all to throw into the slow cooker, let it cook, shred and serve. I think we ate this as leftovers for lunch for several days, and I never did tire of it. Yummy! She shared her recipe with me and my family loved it, it's now a regular on my monthly menu.

In today's tough economy, I've begun to try to save money any way I can at the grocery store without compromising flavor and taste to our meals. One item I've never been picky about brand names is barbecue sauce. That was until I had Sarah's pulled pork with Sweet Baby Ray's sauce. It was/is the best sauce I've ever tasted and now the only one I purchase. If you have never tried this bbq sauce, give it a try with the pulled pork. It's absolutely delish!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and your food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Barbecue Pulled Pork

Pork shoulder picnic roast (any size)
Minced garlic
Minced onion
1 stick butter
Salt & Pepper to taste

Place roast in slow cooker, salt and pepper to your taste, cover with minced onion and garlic. Cut the butter into small pads and dot the roast with it.

Cook on low 6-8 hours.

Remove roast to platter to pull apart. Pork should be pulled into bite sized strips.

I drain about half the liquid from the pot and keep the rest to mix with the bbq sauce and pork.

Place pulled pork and bbq sauce back into the slow cooker and warm to desired temperature. Serve on rolls.

Source: Sarah O'Brien

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Homemade Kaiser Rolls

This past Wednesday was my hubby's birthday. Anytime we celebrate a birthday in our home, the birthday person chooses his favorite dinner meal and type/style of cake or dessert they would like me to prepare for that evening. Marty chose barbecue pulled pork for dinner and left the rest for me to surprise him with. In our opinion, the best roll to serve bbq pork on is the Kaiser roll. I decided that since I've been experiencing such great success with my baked, yeast breads lately, I would try homemade Kaiser rolls. I recently purchased "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart. It has been so informative to read through to understand the how's and why's of bread baking. I would highly recommend this book to any novice baker who has been hesitant in working with yeasts.

I will be honest, I had to rush this recipe a little because I forgot to prepare the Pate Fermentee the night before. I was able to have the "starter" in the fridge by 9a.m. and removed it after lunch to warm to room temperature before preparing the remainder of the dough for the rolls. The finished rolls didn't seem to have been too affected by the rushed process. I don't have a Kaiser dough cutter, so I rolled each roll into a 6 inch rope and then tied it into a knot. I then sprinkled poppy seeds on top since my kiddos don't like sesame seeds. The rolls had a nice crisp outer crust and wonderful chewy centers. They were perfect filled with the bbq pulled pork (recipe to come).

I'm calling my first attempt at Kaiser Rolls a great success. I'm sure that the next time I fix them, and don't have to rush the recipe, they will be even better. The process of this recipe, though a little time consuming, was fairly simple and definitely one I will be using again.

Just a little added information during this economy crunch. I read today that if you begin to make your own bread every week, instead of buying bread at the store, the average family would save approximately $4.00 per week. That is an annual savings of over $240.00! I found this very interesting and encouraging for me. I'm looking for any way I can to assist my family in saving money.

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and your food always flavorful! Enjoy!

Pate Fermentee

1 1/8 cups (5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/8 cups (5 oz.) unbleached bread flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3/4 cup to 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water at room temperature

1. Stir together the flours, salt and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add 3/4 cup of the water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball (or mix on low speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment). Adjust the flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff. (It is better to err on the sticky side, as you can adjust easier during kneading. It is harder to add water once the dough firms up.

2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for 4 to 6 minutes (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 4 minutes), or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky. The internal temperature should be 77 to 81 degrees.

3. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour, or until it swells to about 1 1/2 times its original size.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it lightly to degas, and return it to the bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze it in an airtight plastic bag for up to 3 months.

Kaiser Rolls

1 1/2 cups (8 oz.) pate fermentee
2 1/4 cups (10 oz.) unbleached bread flour
3/4 teaspoons plus a pinch salt
1 - 1 1/2 teaspoons diastatic barley malt powder or barley malt syrup
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil or shortening, melted
10 tablespoons to 3/4 cup water, lukewarm (90-100 degrees)
Poppy or sesame seeds for topping
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting

1. Take the pate fermentee out of the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough. Cut it up into about 10 small pieces with a pastry scraper or serrated knife. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill.

2. Stir together the flour, salt, malt powder, and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add the pate fermentee, egg, oil and 10 tablespoons water. Stir (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) for 1 minute, or until the ingredients form a ball. If there is still some loose flour, add the remaining 2 tablespoons water.

3.Lightly dust the counter with flour, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook). Knead for about 10 minutes (6 minutes by machine), adding flour, if needed, to make a dough that is soft and supple, tacky but not sticky. The dough should pass the windowpane test and the internal temperature should register 77-81 degrees. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

4. Ferment at room temperature for 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size. If the dough doubles in size before 2 hours have elapsed, remove it, knead it lightly to degas it, and return it to the bowl to continue fermenting until doubled from original size or until 2 hours have elapsed.

5. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 6 to 9 equal pieces (4 ounces for large rolls, 2 2/3 ounce pieces for smaller rolls). Form the pieces into rolls. Mist the rounds lightly with spray oil, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and let the dough relax for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, line a sheet pan with baking parchment, lightly mist it with spray oil, and then dust with semolina flour or cornmeal.

6. Prepare the individual rolls by cutting them with a kaiser roll cutter or knotting them. Place the rolls, cut side down, on the parchment, mist lightly with spray oil, and loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag.

7. Proof the rolls for 45 minutes at room temperature, then flip them over so the cut or folded side is facing up. Mist again with spray oil, cover the pan and continue proofing for another 30 to 45 minutes, or until the rolls are double their original size.

8. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Uncover the rolls and prepare them for baking. If you want seeds on your rolls, mist them with water and sprinkle poppy seeds over the top. If not, just mist them with water.

9. Place the pan in the oven, spray the oven walls with water, and close the door. After 10 minutes, rotate the pan for even baking and lower the oven setting to 400 degrees. Continue baking until the rolls are a medium golden brown and register approximately 200 degrees in the center. This will take 15-30 minutes for large rolls, or less for smaller rolls.

10. Remove the rolls from the pan and transfer to a cooling rack. Wait at least 3o minutes before serving.

Source: The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Neapolitan Cupcakes

This is, hands down, one of the most exciting recipes for me to post. "Why", you ask? Well, let me tell you..because these cute little cupcakes were chosen by, prepared by, baked and iced by my "baker-in-training", precious daughter, Megan.

Our dear friends, the O'Briens' (yes, same O'Brien's as Sundays For Sarah) invited us over to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah with them. Sarah fixed an amazing meal of brisket, potato latkes, cheesy rice and Challah bread. Mmmm, it was all so delicious! When we exchanged gifts, Megan received a cupcake cookbook and immediately began looking through it. She was so excited to have her own cookbook and couldn't wait to bake her first cupcakes.

Megan chose these adorable Neapolitan Cupcakes as her first recipe. I remained in the kitchen with her, but made sure to allow her to do things her way. She had a few questions along the way, but in all she did a phenomenal job. The batter is mixed in one bowl and then divided out into three batches. One is colored pink with food coloring, cocoa is added to another for the chocolate and the remaining one is left alone as the vanilla. Megan asked me to help her in filling the muffin cups since there were three bowls to dip from. We had a ball working side by side sharing giggles and grins.

When the cakes were cooled it was time for the icing. It took awhile to get the right consistency, but once she got it, she divided it up and colored the icing in the same manner as the cakes with food coloring and cocoa. Then she proceeded, very carefully, to ice the cupcakes. Didn't they turn out wonderfully? I'm very proud of her!! I did get a kick out of this last little bit I'm about to share with you...once Meg got her cakes done, I was shocked that she didn't immediately want to taste her creations. It wasn't close to dinner time and we had only "snacked" for lunch, so I was a little befuddled. So I asked her, "Megan, honey, why don't you want to eat one of your cakes?" Her response made me laugh..."Mom, I ate too much icing off my fingers as I was working on the cupcakes and now my stomach kinda hurts. I really don't feel like eating any more icing, even if it's on the cakes" Cute huh? Don't worry, the cakes were for our family, so whatever germs she shared while licking her fingers remained within our home. :) I'll be sure to share the "cleanliness" rules next time we bake together.

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and your food always flavorful! Enjoy!

Neapolitan Cupcakes

1 stick butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups self-rising flour
1/3 cup milk
pink food coloring
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa-powder
2 teaspoons milk, extra

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 6-hole oversize (Texas) or 12-hole standard muffin pan with paper baking cups.
2. Beat butter, vanilla, sugar and eggs in small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in sifted flour and milk, in two batches.
3. Divide mixture evenly among three bowls. Tint one mixture pink. blend sifted cocoa with extra milk in cup, stir into another mixture. Leave third mixture plain.
4. Drop alternate spoonfuls of the three mixtures into baking cups. Pull a skewer backwards and forwards through mixtures for a marbled effect, smooth surface.
5. Bake large cakes about 30 minutes, small cakes about 20 minutes. Turn cakes onto wire rack to cool.
6. Make butter cream.
7. Spread cakes with the three colors of butter cream.

Butter Cream

1 stick butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk
pink food coloring
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 teaspoons milk, extra

Beat butter in small bowl with electric mixer until as white as possible, beat in sifted powdered sugar and milk, in two batches. Divide mixture evenly among three bowls. Tint one mixture pink. Blend sifted cocoa with extra milk in cup; stir into another mixture. Leave third mixture plain.

Source: cupcakes

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

TWD - French Pear Tart

This week's TWD selection was chosen by Dorie herself. How awesome is that? I was thrilled when I read that we would be making a French Tart. Tarts have been on my "to do" list for awhile now, and this pushed me to try one sooner rather than later. I'm pleased how the tart tasted, but not real happy about the presentation. Next time I'll play with how the pears are to be cut and fanned to make the tart a little prettier, but right now I'm just going to savor the wonderful sweet taste of my first French Tart. Thanks Dorie for your selection, I had a wonderful time expanding my culinary biography.

Source: Baking From My Home To Yours: Dorie Greenspan

Monday, January 5, 2009

Easy Cheesy Rigatoni

Today was the first day back to work, school, piano lessons, cheer team practice and, of course, the resuming of homework. For my weekly menu planning this meant putting my faithful crock-pot back to work to have dinner ready between activities. Knowing the kids would be mentally and physically exhausted tonight, I didn't want to spring any new dishes on them and encounter finicky taste buds and short tempers so I prepared one of our favorite slow cooker recipes. This dinner can be ready to place in the crock pot in under 20 minutes and is very versatile to please any picky palate. You might want to add sausage to the hamburger to spice it up a little, add mushrooms or onions for texture or use a variety of cheeses to change the taste. Change it up to best fit your family's pleasure. Enjoy!


28-oz. jar spaghetti sauce
12-oz. rigatoni, cooked
1-1 1/2 lbs. ground beef, browned
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 lb. pepperoni slices

1. In a 4-quart slow cooker, layer half of each ingredient in order listed. Repeat.
2. Cover. Cook on Low 4-5 hours.

Source: Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Chocolate Babkas

I have thoroughly enjoyed Christmas break for so many reasons. I am always thrilled when my kiddos are home and I never tire of listening to their laughter while they play and the loud voices as they fight with one another. Sometimes the arguing gets tiresome, but I remind myself how blessed we are that they have those voices to express their emotions. We also enjoyed a break from all music, sports, and work commitments. Since I provide childcare for teachers in our school district, I am blessed to be off when my kids are off, it's the best. Christmas break has also allowed me some spare time in the kitchen and I spent every extra minute there was "playing" and trying new tasty treats. I had bookmarked so many recipes, most I didn't get to, but the ones I did...I experienced great successes.

I have to say that at the top of my success list is this delicious bread. When I read through the recipe in Martha's Baking Handbook, I was hooked. My two favorites are yeast breads, especially homemade and of course every woman's love...chocolate. Oh my, just reading the recipe practically had me drooling all over the page. Embarrassing.

The dough was so easy to mix and knead together and smelled amazing as it was rising in the breakfast nook. There's something about making homemade yeast bread that gives me great pleasure and a feeling of profound accomplishment. After the dough has doubled in size, you divide the dough into 3 equal portions and "sprinkle" with the 2 POUNDS of chocolate filling. After rolling the dough jelly roll style, the bread is again sprinkled with more chocolate then shaped into a horseshoe and twisted.

It's now time to prepare the streusel topping...yeah, I know, the bread already sounded rich and wonderful, but we're about to make rich and wonderful even better! The topping is a combination of butter, flour and powdered sugar. Ooo-la-la! Sprinkle over the dough and let the loaves rise for another 4o minutes, then it's time for the magic. Baking.

When these beautiful babies came out of the oven, my little babies came-a-runnin'! The aroma of the chocolate and yeast permeated our entire house and smelled absolutely divine. We couldn't wait to cut a slice or two to taste, but from experience with filled breads, I knew the loaves had to cool completely before we savored it.
The waiting was worth every minute! My foodie friends, I think these loaves are a small slice of heaven on earth. This bread is divinely delicious! It's filled with yummy rich with chocolate, the crust was perfectly soft on the sides and the streusel topping was wonderful.
As you read through the recipe, don't be put off by the length of it! I found that because Martha is so thorough in the explanation of preparing this bread, it makes for very long, detailed directions. I was extremely thankful for her details, it helped me to prepare my bread to look almost identical to hers. I love it when that happens. :) Enjoy!
Chocolate Babkas
1 1/2 cups warm milk (110 degrees)
2 envelopes (1/3 ounce each) active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups plus a pinch of sugar
3 whole large eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 sticks (1 3/4 cups) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temp., plus more for bowl and pans
2 pounds semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Streusel Topping (recipe following)
In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast and a pinch of sugar over the warm milk; stir until dissolved. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, and the yolks; add yeast mixture, and whisk to combine.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Add the egg mixture, and beat on low speed until almost all the flour is incorporated, about 30 seconds. Switch to the dough hook. Add 2 sticks butter and beat until completely incorporated and a smooth, soft dough forms, about 10 minutes. The dough should still be slightly sticky when squeezed.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead a few times until smooth. Place dough in a well-buttered bowl, and turn to coat with butter. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
In a bowl, stir together chocolate, remaining cup sugar, and the cinnamon. Using a pastry blender, cut in remaining 1 1/2 sticks butter until combined; set aside filling. (I used my new food processor for this and it worked great!)
Generously butter three 9-by-5-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pans and line with parchment paper, leaving a 1 1/2 inch overhang along the long sides. Brush more butter over the parchment, and set aside. Punch down the dough, and transfer to a clean work surface. Let the dough rest 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat the remaining egg with the cream. Cut dough into three equal pieces. On a well-floured work surface, roll out one piece of dough to a 16-inch square, about 1/8 inch thick. (Keep other pieces covered with plastic wrap while you work. Brush edges of dough with the egg wash. Crumble one-third of the chocolate filling evenly over dough, leaving about a 1/2-inch border on the long sides. Roll up dough lengthwise into a tight log, pinching ends together to seal. Twist dough evenly down the length of the log, a full five or six times. Brush to top of the log with egg wash. Crumble 2 tablespoons filling down the center of the log, being careful not to let mixture slide off. Fold log in half into a horseshoe shape, then cross the right half over the left. Pinch ends together to seal and form a figure eight. Twist two more times, and fit into a prepared pan. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the lower third. Brush the top of each loaf with egg wash; sprinkle with one-third of the Streusel Topping. Loosely cover each pan with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until dough has expanded and feels pillowy, about 40 minutes.
Bake loaves, rotating halfway through, until golden, about 55 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees; bake until loaves are deep golden, 20 to 30 minutes more. (If the tops begin to brown too quickly, tent with aluminum foil.) Transfer pans to wire racks to cool completely. Babkas can be wrapped in plastic and kept at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Streusel Topping
1 2/3 cups confectioner's sugar
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
Combine sugar and flour in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some larger clumps remaining.
**Note** A babka can be frozen in the pan for up to a month before baking. When ready to bake, remove from freezer, let stand at room temperature for about five hours. Be careful not to underbake; otherwise, the center may not set properly.
Source: Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Sundays For Sarah - Hannah is here!

This is the best and last post for my series "Sundays For Sarah"! I'm thrilled to share with you that Hannah Rose O'Brien was born Monday, December 29th @ 3:35pm. She weighed 6 lbs. 4 oz. and is 19.5 inches long. She is absolutely beautiful!! Mom and daughter are both doing great, they arrived home Wednesday afternoon and Sarah and Mike are beginning to settle in as a family of four. Can you think of a better way to begin a new year? I certainly can't, there's nothing more amazing than the birth of a child. Thank you again to everyone who kept Sarah and Hannah in your prayers these last few months as Sarah was bedridden with premature labor. God certainly answered all our prayers and blessed the O'Brien's with a perfectly healthy baby girl. WOW!

My last post prior to Christmas was our cookie bouquets for teachers and bus drivers. I had so much fun making those gifts that I made another 13 bouquets for Marty's fellow office workers and a few for friends of the family for Christmas gifts. Every recipient was so thankful and gracious that I began to think of other ways to share this cute gift made with love from my kitchen. guessed it...when Hannah was born I immediately knew I wanted to try preparing a baby bouquet. I began planning which shapes, colors and sizes would be the best to celebrate Hannah's birth.

I chose the star cookie cutter in three different sizes. The largest was used to announce that "A Star is Born", the middle sizes I used for Hannah's weight and length and the smallest sizes I made colorful with polka-dots and squiggles.

When I was creating the ornament cookie for the Christmas bouquets, I looked at the shape upside down and realized it could also be used to make a baby rattle. I cut out two rattles, on one I piped Hannah's name and the other I piped to look like a baby girl's rattle.

Of course, when you hear of any birth you can't help but thinking of those precious little hands and feet, so I knew I would have to make a couple of those too. My wonderful Mom had given me some cookie cutters at Christmas gifts and one was a little hand...perfect! Thanks Mom!! I ran to Michael's and found the foot. I piped and flooded these with purple and pink and piped cute little baby phrases.

My final cookie design was chosen by my eldest daughter who insisted that we include two duckies. Mike and Sarah just completed the kids' bathroom in a cute, duck theme and my observant, creative daughter thought this design would tie everything together and give Josh a cookie to eat too. I love moments like this with her! She even researched duck cookies on the web to pick the perfect way to decorate the ducks. It doesn't have to be said, but I must...she just loves Josh. :)

To present the bouquet, I bought a simple clay pot and Megan (eldest daughter) painted it white with pink polka-dots that went well with the polka dots on the cookies. We then rolled up 5 onesies and tied them to the outside of the pot with a ribbon that said "It's a Girl".

The entire bouquet turned out really cute, and, more importantly, Sarah loved it!! That's the best part of giving a gift that is homemade with love...seeing the joy that the gift brings to it's recipient.

For this bouquet, I used a different recipe for the cookies. I recently purchased the amazing book "Cookie Craft". I wanted to research and learn more techniques to creating beautiful, artful cookies and this book does not disappoint. The cookies were soft and chewy and have a great buttery flavor and held up incredibly well on the cookie sticks. Enjoy!

Rolled Sugar Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Whisk together the flour and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
2. Using your mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. (If your mixer has multiple multiple attachments, use the paddle.) Add the egg and vanilla until well blended.
3. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until the two are thoroughly blended.
4. Turn out the dough on the work surface and divide it into two or three equal portions. Form each one into a rough disk. Chill for a couple hours.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
6. After you've rolled and cut the dough and the cookie shapes are on parchment-lined cookie sheets, bake them in the middle rack of your oven for 12-16 minutes.
7. Cool the cookies completely on a rack before icing or decorating.

Source: Cookie Craft

Friday, January 2, 2009

Technical Difficulties

A great way to end the year and begin a new one is to experience computer glitches that keep you from opening any applications, including all of your camera software! Ugh-very frustrating!

Throughout the last three weeks while every member of my family has been infected with a wicked stomach flu, our desktop also contracted several viruses and has become inoperable. Greaaaaat. I have 100's of pictures of the kids at Christmas that I want to share with family and friends and I've got some wonderful, tasty treats that I'm dying to get posted for you all to see. I have made multiple attempts to contain the virus and fix the desktop with no results. So, tonight I decided to load all of my software onto my laptop until we're up and running with the desktop. Great idea? Yea-right. The laptop isn't recognizing my camera and refuses to download any pictures. My hope is to spend the day tomorrow (Saturday) attempting to fix the desktop again, calling anyone I know that has IT knowledge and be up and running by next week.

Thank you to all my loyal followers who have remained patient with me. I promise to do all that I can to be up and running soon and resume posting delicious dishes and desserts.

Happy New Year to you!