Sunday, December 28, 2014

Graham Chocolate Chip Muffins

Life can be a series of changes, sometimes those changes are unexpected and sometimes planned. I feel lucky that 2015 is well planned and I am committed to make sure it is one of the best ever.  At this time my life is fuller and happier than in years past, so life's journey has taken a good turn in the road.  However even in the face of all kinds of change, my passion for creating in the kitchen still remains.

I had intended to make something lemony, but one of the taste testers indicated something chocolate was in order due to the change.  I still wanted to make muffins but I declined on the double chocolate. After reviewing several recipes, I found this one to be just enough chocolate to squelch a craving without an overload.

These muffins have graham cracker crumbs in the batter.  That had me thinking that they may be real dense.  However, they turned out to be typical in texture. I believe the use of oil instead of butter kept the muffins moist. The addition of the chocolate chips and crunchy streusel give the batter the sweetness and texture that was needed to bring it more into a delicious balance. This recipe makes 14-16 muffins.

This is the perfect way to tone down a bit from the big meal extravaganza most people have had this holiday season.  These muffins do not take a lot of time in the kitchen.  It is the first step, but the second step will find you relaxing with a cup of hot tea or coffee along with one of these tasty muffins.  Perhaps enjoying the early morning quiet as well as the pinkish orange hue of the sunrise of the first day of 2015......

Graham Chocolate Chip Muffins
adapted from Dwell on Joy via Michelle's Tasty Creations

Ingredients/ topping
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
3 tbs melted butter

Ingredients/ Muffins
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, room temp
2 cups flour
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tbs baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup choc chips

Prepare a muffin tin by greasing the top edge of the muffin cavities and lining with cupcake papers. Then preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Make the streusel topping first by blending all topping ingredients together until entire mixture is damp and comes together in clumps.  Set aside.

In another bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder and graham crumbs.  Some graham crumbs may remain in the sieve.  In that case, empty into the sifted ingredients.  Stir in the sugar.

Pull out another bowl for the wet ingredients.  Add the egg, oil, milk and vanilla extract. Whisk together until all is blended.  Then fold in the dry mixture until no dry streaks remain.  Lastly, mix in the chocolate chips. Scoop even amounts into muffin cavities.

Mix streusel again, making sure to break up any clumps.  Place a tablespoon of streusel on top of each cavity of batter.  Press down lightly.  Put in oven and bake for 16-19 minutes.  Let cool in tin for 10 minutes then transfer to rack to finish cooling.
                             LAST YEAR: Maraschino Snowball Cookies

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Eggnog Chiffon Pie

I had thought that the true "original" eggnog contained rum for the alcohol content.  In passing the eggnog case at the grocers I saw "Southern Comfort" eggnog, which means some people prefer bourbon or whiskey.  Then this got me thinking.  After some research, I found that the the choice of alcohol varied in the early years, depending on the location of the creator.  However, the most standout variation must have been George Washington's mix.  His recipe contained rye whiskey, rum and sherry.  It also seems that the egg part was a secondary component, for his original recipe did not list the exact number of eggs used.  No worries though, I declined to pursue making his stout recipe for this pie filling. This particular pie is made with rum and no other alcohol.  I have stuck with my original idea of what eggnog should be spiked with.

The photo above really makes this pie look like cheesecake.  It is far from cheesecake.  For those of you that have had any type of chiffon pie, you know all about that billowy and wonderful light as air texture. As a bonus, the rum eggnog filling is encased in a crisp cinnamon graham pecan crust. The crunchy flavorful addition is truly an asset to the whole dessert.

Instead of the heavy chocolate desserts this year, why not try this pie?  It may turn out to be a keeper that finds its way to your table every Christmas season.

Eggnog Chiffon Pie
adapted from Pie by Ken Haedrich

Ingredients/Graham Cracker Crust
1 cup plus 2 tbs graham cracker crumbs
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup chopped pecans
2 tbs firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tbs flour
1/4 cup or 1/2 stick melted butter

Ingredients/ Filling
2 cups half and half
1/2 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
3 egg whites, room temp
2 tbs water
3/4 cup cold heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup dark rum
3 tbs sifted confectioners sugar
1 envelope plus 1 tsp unflavored gelatin

For the crust: Place all ingredients in a food processor except for melted butter.  Pulse until nuts are very finely chopped and all ingredients are blended evenly.  Pour into a bowl and stir, picking out and breaking up any large nut pieces the processor may have missed.  Then pour in the melted butter and mix until all crumbs are damp. You can use clean hands or a fork for this process. Set aside.

Prepare a pie pan by buttering the interior and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Dump the graham mixture into the pie pan and press evenly in bottom and up the sides.  Place in freezer for 3 minutes.

Remove pan from freezer and put in preheated oven and let bake until lightly browned. Crust should be done in about 7 minutes.  Remove and place on cooling rack.  Once completely cool put pan in refrigerator until ready to fill.

For the filling: fill a small bowl with the water and rum.  Then sprinkle the gelatin powder evenly over the top.  Set aside.  The next part of the filling will be making the creme anglaise.  Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until blended.

Place a saucepan over medium heat and add the half and half.  Let the cream come to a simmer, taking care that it does not boil.  Remove from heat.  Whisk in 1/3 cup of the hot half and half into the egg yolk mixture.  Continue to whisk and stream in the rest of the warm half and half.  Pour mixture back into saucepan and place over medium low heat.  Continue to stir until it reaches a consistency thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Run your finger through the coating and if it leaves a path, it is done.  The time to complete the consistency change should be about 5 minutes. This batter is commonly called creme anglaise.

Remove from heat and mix in the gelatin mixture.  Let the batter come to room temperature and then transfer to a bowl and place in refrigerator.  While you are waiting, place a metal bowl and beaters of a hand mixer in the freezer for about 2 minutes.

Take out the bowl and beaters from freezer and set up your mixer to create the whipped cream.  Pour the heavy cream into the bowl and beat on high speed until soft peaks form.  Sift in the confectioners sugar and then beat the mixture until it becomes firm, about 1 minute.  Then place the bowl of sweetened whipped cream in the refrigerator.

Next, clean and dry your beaters to prepare for the egg whites.  Check your creme anglaise to see if it has reached the right consistency.  It should be as thick as raw egg whites.  If it is not, place back in refrigerator and check every 10 minutes until it reaches the right consistency.

Once the right consistency is achieved, remove the creme anglaise and the bowl of whipped cream from refrigerator.  Fold half of the whipped cream into the creme anglaise until blended.  Then blend in the rest of the whipped cream.  If lumps of whipped cream still remain after some folding, pour through a sieve to remove the lumps. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, add the egg whites and beat with handheld mixer until you have reached the stiff peak stage.  Then add 1/2 cup of the whipped cream mixture and beat for about 30 seconds.  Pour this into the rest of the whipped cream mixture and fold together with spatula.  Once blended, empty this filling into the prepared pie crust and smooth the top.  Tent with foil and place in refrigerator to set up for a minimum of 2 hours and maximum overnight.

You are welcome to serve with a dust of nutmeg on top with a side of whipped cream.

I wish you and yours a wonderful Christmas Holiday!
                                     **LAST YEAR: Gooey Butter Cookies**

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Spiced Honey Pecan Fingers

After last weeks post, I am still craving warm spicy treats.  Outside of the winter spices, the honey with the pecans make me think of sticky buns.  Calling these a bar would be a mistake because there is not much thickness to these.   However, do not let that discourage you, the bars are very big on taste.

Since they have such a wonderful taste, pairing with something like hot chocolate would be too much.  Team this treat with something lighter, like tea, so the flavor can really shine through.  The other great thing about this dessert is that it is easy to make and does not require any hard to find ingredients.

Spiced Honey Pecan Fingers
adapted from the Southern Cookbook

2 egg yolks
12 tbs or 1 1/2 sticks  butter
3/4 cup honey
3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Prepare a 9x13 inch pan by greasing the interior and lining with parchment. Leave some parchment overhang along the two long sides and grease the face up side of the parchment paper.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Sift together cinnamon, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and clove.  Set aside.

In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar together by running the mixer on medium high for about 4 minutes.  The mixture should be light and fluffy. Beat in one of the egg yolks until thoroughly blended, about 30 seconds. Repeat with the second egg yolk and follow with the honey.  Once all is combined, fold in the sifted ingredients until there are no more dry streaks.  Then mix in the pecans.

Empty batter into prepared pan and smooth out evenly, making sure all edges and corners are covered.  Place pan in oven and bake for 20 minutes and rotate.  Then bake for about 20 minutes more or until top is lightly browned.

Place pan on rack and let cool in pan.  After cooling, cut into 36 even strips and leave in baking pan. Cover until ready to serve.
                                          **LAST YEAR: Fruits of the Forest Pie**

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Pineapple Upside Down Pumpkin Gingerbread

I think that one of the more difficult things in creating your own recipe is balancing the flavors.  I have posted and have seen other bloggers post comments regarding "subtle flavor" or that a certain flavor takes over the whole dessert which is not what is intended.  I think the worst I have seen is a recipe review stating "and after that dessert we all went to bed with upset stomachs".  It was not a blogger recipe but an actual comment regarding a recipe in a published cookbook.

This cake recipe, in reading the name itself, makes you think there is too much going on here. However, I give kudos to the collaboration of Gold Medal Flour and the Hawaiian Pineapple company in creating this recipe.  It came out back in the 1960's and proves that both knew a thing or two about balance of flavor.

This recipe is spot on when it comes to texture as well as flavor. As you can see by the above picture, this cake was moist and tender.  The cake brings all those wonderful winter flavors together, pumpkin, gingerbread and cinnamon.  Great as a stand alone, but even better with the pineapple caramel topping with an occasional bite of fresh pineapple on top.

This one does not require a lot of time or effort.  The biggest effort was only cutting out the circles of pineapple and most of the time used was in the baking of the cake.  The size of this cake is not real big.  Perhaps you and one of your loved ones should take some time out from all the holiday stress.  Time to crank up the fireplace, put on some Christmas music and kick back with a warm a cup of hot tea or coffee and a slice of this cake. Ahhh, I just feel better thinking about it...

Pineapple Upside-Down Pumpkin Gingerbread
adapted from Bon Appetit/ Oct 2008

1 ripe pineapple/ peeled
2/3 cup light brown sugar (packed)
1 tsp light or mild molasses
2 tbs frozen pineapple juice concentrate, thawed
1/2 cup or 1 stick of butter
Nonstick pan spray

1/2 cup light molasses
2 eggs
1/2 cup or 1 stick softened butter
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup boiling water
1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
Whipped cream (optional)

Start by cutting 1/3 inch round from the pineapple and core it.  Then stand the pineapple on end and cut 1/3 inch thick lengthwise slices, avoiding the core.  Take a small biscuit cutter (I used a 1 inch) and cut the slices into circles. 15-20 circles will be enough.  Place the slices in a bowl, cover and refrigerate.  Reserve the rest of the pineapple in the fridge for another use.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 inch square or round cake pan with non-stick spray.

The topping will be prepared first. Place a saucepan on medium high heat and fill with butter, sugar and pineapple juice concentrate.  Stir and let butter melt and sugar dissolve until smooth.  Then stop stirring and let mixture boil for about 1-2 minutes. It should have the consistency of warm caramel. Remove and pour into prepared pan and swirl a little, to make sure it is even on the bottom.

Place the pineapple slices on top of the caramel mixture in a decorative design, making sure there is no overlap. For the cake, sift together the ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt and flour. Set the filled cake pan as well as the bowl with sifted ingredients aside.

In another bowl, beat butter until smooth.  Pour in the sugar and beat on medium speed until all is incorporated.  Add one egg and beat for 30 seconds.  Repeat with the additional egg.  Continue to beat mixture and pour in molasses and spoon in the pumpkin.  Remove beater blades and if using a stand mixer, remove bowl from stand when all is blended together. Using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the batter until no dry streaks remain.  Lastly, pour the boiling water into the batter and mix until blended.

Empty batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface, so it is even.  Place in oven and bake until tester comes out clean.  Bake time is approximately 50 minutes. Remove cake pan from oven and place over cooling rack.  Cake should cool in pan for about 45 minutes. Then invert pan over platter or cake board.  Let rest in place for 5 minutes, then remove pan. 

For serving, cake can be warm or room temperature.  Also, if you prefer, you can add a dollup of whipped cream on the side with each slice.

Tips and Notes:
1. Fresh pineapple on top does beat canned, for cutting the canned is way too mushy.  As noted above, you will have some left over.  I did not have an issue since fresh fruit is always eaten in this house.

2. Be aware that the cake bakes up very dark, so do not think it is burnt.  The above noted baking time was perfect for my oven 
                                        **LAST YEAR: Czech Nut Bars*