Tasks and tools

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I have always said that for every task there is a tool, and while I don’t always stand by this (why accumulate more and more specialized tools when you can improvise and accumulate less), sometimes the difference the right tool makes is astounding.

One example that surprised me was when I somehow acquired a little plastic thing that makes holes in the middle of cupcakes to fill them. I thought it seemed like a wasteful wee bit of plastic until I actually used it – the days of ripped-up cupcake tops with holes inelegantly stabbed into being with not-fit-for-purpose paring knives were finally over. And the cupcake “holer” was so much quicker, neater. And for someone who makes filled cupcakes by the hundreds, rather than the dozens, this made a lot of sense.

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On a similar note, for a very long time, I have been using a cheap, flimsy but reliable blender to make my morning breakfast monstrosity (a lot of spinach and a bit of kiwi, yogurt, cinnamon and turmeric). It’s been a loyal and useful tool. I also had a KitchenAid blender, which was much more expensive and supposedly heavy-duty, but it couldn’t handle anything, meaning that I eventually went out and bought another of the cheap blenders when the first one eventually died.

Just before the end of the year, I bought a heavy-duty, rather insane, Ninja blender/food processor thing but put it away until the old, basic blender breathed its last, which happened to be this afternoon, when it spewed a not inconsiderable amount of smoke into the air and smelled of burning plastic. Yes, the time had come to give this trusty blender his well-earned retirement.

Making a smoothie in this Ninja thing is like joining an entirely different world of appliances. Not unlike moving from mixing everything by hand to the magnificent KitchenAid stand mixer (which is, apparently, the only thing KitchenAid can reliably make – my other KitchenAid appliances are weak and fragile).

Once upon a time, I lived in a seaside flat in Iceland and spent my days and nights mixing all my copious baking projects by hand. I know the difference a purpose-made appliance can make. And while this Ninja thing might be overkill, it certainly created something completely different from what I was drinking – using so much less noise.

white chocolate raspberry prosecco truffles

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What do you do when you end up not only with about five pounds of white chocolate (when you only needed about half a pound and also find white chocolate to be little better than eating crayons) but also with bottles of prosecco (when you don’t really drink, and if you did, prosecco would be one of the last things you’d reach for)?

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Too much white chocolate! And I was wrong. It wasn’t only 5 pounds but 5.5! Fuck! Incidentally I still have quite a lot of these and will make another batch of everyone’s favorite white chocolate macadamia cookies soon, even though my baking days are over… but as white chocolate goes, these are amazing. Thanks, Callebaut quality

You make white chocolate raspberry prosecco truffles. I saw a recipe online at the same time I was 1. stuck with these extraneous, and let’s face it, almost inappropriate amounts of ingredients, and 2. happened to be in a candy-making frenzy for handing over some homemade gifts to neighbors and people who stopped by in the post-holiday period.

So how did we get from there (see the oversized bag of white chocolate) to here (see below)? You can click the link above or follow the recipe below.

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White chocolate raspberry prosecco truffles
1 cup raspberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup prosecco
red food coloring

2 cups white chocolate (for truffles)
2 cups white chocolate (for dipping/coating)

edible gold glitter

Mix in saucepan on medium, cook 3-4 minutes. Reduce to low. Add ½ cup prosecco. Simmer 2 minutes. Strain to remove seeds. Return to pan, add one drop red food color. Cook 10 minutes ( you should end up with about 1/2 cup of liquid).

Put 2 cups white chocolate chips in a bowl. Pour the cooked raspberry prosecco mixture over the chips. Let this sit 2 minutes, and then whisk until smooth.

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Put in freezer for an hour or two.

Remove from freezer and work quickly make 1 tablespoon-sized balls from the frozen mixture. Place balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze again, at least an hour.

When nearly ready to finish, melt 2 cups of white chocolate chips in a double boiler or microwave.

Using a toothpick, lift each frozen prosecco ball and dip in white chocolate and place on a wax paper lined baking sheet. Freeze 30 minutes.

Re-melt chocolate and put in piping bag. Remove toothpicks gently – 3 at a time, drizzle white choc over – and top each with edible gold glitter.

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One of them cracked open and this is how it looked inside (somehow I think it could be less grey-lavender colored but my luck with red food coloring is lacking.

I can’t tell you how these taste, though, because I sure as hell wasn’t going to eat blobs of white chocolate and prosecco-tinged raspberry goo!

white chocolate cherry shortbread

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I don’t think this was terribly successful. I found a recipe online somewhere (I can’t remember where) that claimed you could actually form this dough, once assembled, into a cohesive ball and then could flatten it with a glass to make individual cookies.

No. Fail. Maybe less flour, more butter? Using the recipe below, however, I salvaged it by just pressing the dough into round pans like I do with any other normal shortbread recipe. It was crumbly, and I was skeptical as to whether it would hold together and allow me to cut it into slices. But it did… and even though I have no idea how it tastes or even if the slices will hold up until I get them to their intended recipients, it at least worked well enough for now. I suspect these could be experimented with to achieve a better consistency.

White chocolate cherry shortbread
1/2 cup candied cocktail cherries, chopped finely
2 1/2 cups flour (maybe 2 cups would be better?)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
1 to 2 cups white chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or almond, if you prefer)

Preheat oven to 325F/160C. Use two round cake pans to bake in.

Mix flour, sugar, butter and mix until fine crumbs form. Mix in the extract.

Add your cherries and chocolate. Divide dough into the two pans and press it firmly into the pan evenly. Bake for about 15-18 minutes.

 

random brownies

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Putting together a bunch of wee packages of gifts and homemade candy and stuff, I find that I still have a bunch of baking-related ingredients on hand and want to rid myself of them. First I had the urge to make cinnamon rolls for the first time in about eight years (underway); I was in the midst of making candy for the first time since probably 2001 (?). Then I thought I should use some other stuff and made a random batch of brownies – no clue how they have turned out or how they taste since I don’t eat this stuff… this is why I work. Not for professional pride or a paycheck… but to feed fellow workers with sugar. Haha. Not really, but yeah, when I have taste tasters, I am always more willing and inspired to make things to test.

Meanwhile my house is heavily fragrant with cinnamon and vanilla. My hands, even after washing them a million times, carry the faint aroma of vanilla caramel.

Try your hand at brownies:

1/2 cup melted, unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 175C/350F

Mix melted butter and the two sugars.

Add in eggs, one at a time.

Add vegetable oil and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and then add them to the wet mix in a few intervals. Don’t overstir.

Bake in a greased 8″x 8″ square pan for 25-30 minutes. I also added in some holiday red and green chocolate chips I had on hand. You can add nuts or sprinkles or chocolate chips or whatever strikes your fancy. Obviously – they’re your brownies.

Pumpkin cupcakes

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Nothing special to say about these. After I made pumpkin-stuffed snickerdoodles, I was left with some pumpkin and decided to use it up by making pumpkin cupcakes. I frosted these with plain chocolate buttercream to which I added a bit of cinnamon.

Pumpkin cupcakes
1 1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cloves
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree or mashed butternut squash
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Mix wet ingredients together. Sift dry ingredients together. Mix dry ingredients into wet.

Preheat oven to 175C. Divide batter among cupcake papers lining a cupcake pan. Bake 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into cupcakes comes out clean. Cool on baking racks. Frost/decorate as desired.

Cupcake graveyard

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I used a very basic, and incidentally, vegan chocolate cake recipe to make these cupcakes – although I added in a few teaspoons of instant espresso powder to make them mocha cupcakes.

The cupcake recipe is below. They are frosted with a basic chocolate buttercream and then dipped in Oreo crumbs (Oreos make good dirt/earth). Then the tombstone cookies are added. Various other decorations can be added to suit your tastes.

Chocolate cupcake recipe (vegan)
2 cups water
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocoa

(2-3 teaspoons instant espresso if you’re going for a mocha thing, like I did)

Preheat oven to 175C. Mix the wet ingredients. Sift dry ingredients together and add to the wet ingredients. Divide among cupcake pans lined with cupcake papers. Bake 15-20 minutes until toothpick inserted in the middle of cupcakes comes out clean.

Frost/decorate as desired.

 

Ginger cookies with pumpkin spice chips

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I have made many different variations of ginger cookies/ginger snaps in recent years. I used to have a standard recipe – the one with which I grew up – but I tried others that used fresh grated ginger, some that didn’t call for molasses (not always easy or possible to find in Europe) and some just to change things up.

This time, having no molasses and wanting to use some pumpkin spice chips someone had given me (I really wasn’t sure about these – they seemed a bit too ‘toxic’ and unnatural in flavor…), I adapted a bit. I had a lot of golden syrup on hand and decided to use that in place of molasses…

Ginger cookies
Preheat oven to 180C
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup golden syrup
1/3 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
pumpkin spice chips

Mix all ingredients except the final two listed. Add the chips, if desired, at the end when dough is well-mixed. You can wrap and chill for a while if you prefer.

Roll dough into small, walnut-sized balls, roll in sugar and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 9-10 minutes.