Sunday, February 28, 2010

Peanut butter chocolate truffles

Dad stopped by on his way through town this evening, so I invited Hally, Sara, and Annie over to join us for dinner. Gage and I have taken a few cooking classes over the past several weeks and we were putting together a Greek salad, spanokopitas, and baklava. Even though it didn't really match the rest of the evening's food, I decided to try making a peanut butter chocolate ganache for truffles to send home with everyone.

Here is what I used to make the peanut butter chocolate ganache filling:

* 10 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
* 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
* 1 cup heavy cream
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the ganache, put the chocolate and peanut butter into a heatproof bowl and set it aside. Pour the vanilla extract and the cream into a saucepan over medium heat and bring it to a simmer (don't leave--it only takes about three minutes). Then pour the cream over the chocolate mixture and let it all sit until chocolate is mostly melted--about two minutes. After that, stir the mixture until the everything is completely melted and smooth. Set it aside for several hours at room temperature, until it is the consistency of peanut butter.

Once cooled, put the ganache into a pastry bag and pipe it onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Move them to the fridge for an hour to really firm up. Then it's time to do the final coating; dip them in melted chocolate and roll them in cocoa powder, toasted nuts, sprinkles...whatever sounds good. The finished truffles can be stored in an airtight container in the freezer for a couple of months.

I toasted almonds and macadamia nuts for these. This recipe makes a pretty big batch of ganache, so I had enough to serve and still ended up putting a lot of them in the freezer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cookies: experimenting

Well, I failed.

With winter blasting away outside last weekend, I decided to make cookies just to experiment. I tried to make Spongebob cookies, and although they seem to have all of the individual elements to that wonderful little guy, something is missing. And...horribly WRONG.

I think this one comes the closest, but still doesn't really get there:

Spongebob didn't go quite as hoped, but I did like how these turned out:

Wouldn't it be kind of fun to get thank you cookies in the mail rather than a card?

I have another batch of sugar cookie dough--a different recipe--in the fridge, cooling it's heels until later, when I give things another shot. Gage had the nerve to ask me why I was making so many sugar cookies lately. In case you are wondering the same thing, here is the ugly truth: I can't get them just right, and I will not stand for that. The recipe is off a little bit, like there is maybe too much flour involved. So I keep trying, altering as I go, to see if I can tweak it just the right way and get the results I envision. I need dough that is sweet and buttery, but will not spread out when I bake it and can be rolled and cut into shapes.

So until I conquer this, sugar cookies for everyone!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A couple of pendants

The weekend has been filled with snow and wind--again!--so I did a couple of "inside" jewelry projects: agate pendants. They are both put together with sterling silver findings and hang from leather cords.

This one has some sort of crackle pattern to the inner, lighter area. I think it is called fire agate or...hmm. I have referred to them since I bought them as the "x-ray agates" because of that center window and crackle pattern that I can't actually remember. I may stumble upon the tag if I keep going through my stones!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I know it's winter and it's supposed to be cold.

I get that, really.

But I find myself thinking often about going out to the garage to my workbench, only to realize that it won't be a productive use of time until it warms up at least a little bit. No matter how many layers I put on, I just can't stay out there longer than about 20 turns out that when I can't move my fingers, I have trouble doing metal and glass work. By the time I set up materials, I'm not left with much actual work time. So right now, these things are OUT: Sawing. Most of the metal forging work. Soldering. Sanding. Polishing. Lampworking. Pretty much all of the stuff that I really love to do.

But I'm thinking I need to change my perspective a bit, given the cold weather forecast, and come up with projects I can do at my "inside" work area.

I get stones here and there and I tend to forget about them. I went through them last night and was particularly drawn to these:

Apparently, I'm an Agate Girl. Probably a third of the stash of stones I have are agates. Various pieces of jasper make up a good portion as well.

I do have a steel block, a chasing hammer, a ton of sterling wire, and all of these maybe I can figure something out.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentine sweets

I think we are finally done making sugar cookies for a while--this is the final batch went out with Ben's Valentines yesterday.

We also sent cupcakes for his class party. I got them all set up and Ben decorated them...generously.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cookies for Baby Sofia

That's right, siblings. You know I fight dirty, so this won't be a surprise to any of you, but just be aware that the competition to be Sofia's favorite is ON.

I attached the sugar jewels I made over the weekend to some of the cookies we packed up and sent to Susan and Sergei. The cookies are all about their baby-to-be, Sofia. Ben helped me with the dough cutting, design, decorating, and all-day affair, off and on.

Hmm. I hope Susan and Sergei were really firm on the name. I mean, I think they were...

I'm not sure how well the sugar jewels will travel. They are basically like unwrapped lollipops, sitting in icing on top of a wrapped cookie. They could be fairly unrecognizable by the time they arrive, but this will be a good test.

Rather than package them by using twist ties, we sealed them with the Foodsaver thing I have(if you put the folded edge of the cello bag on the little ledge of the Foodsaver, it provides a heat seal and will keep the air out) and then made our own little tent labels to go over them. Ben had some foam hearts he felt were appropriate, and we had a good time putting them together. (Although at one point, I left to check on dinner and came back to find a couple of labels that had hearts on them with messages like, "B Cool" and "text me" and "lol"...those had to come off.)

We packed them vertically rather than stacking them horizontally(this supposedly helps with could be a myth, though. I don't actually believe that all boxes are transported with the top facing up), surrounded by packing peanuts in a box. Then we put that box in a bigger box, cushioned with more packing peanuts. Hopefully they will get to Susan and Sergei looking somewhat decent. They should taste good, regardless of appearance!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Poured sugar jewels and shot glasses

We are busily making sugar cookies for class valentines and decided to do some more poured sugar for accents. I had a couple of molds I wanted to try out, so I made a batch of sugar jewels and some shot glasses. (The jewels were for iced sugar cookies, and the shot glasses were just because I wanted to see how they would turn out.)

Two batches of sugar became three because I so severely messed up the first batch of jewels. The hollow areas in those molds are super tiny, and any overflow of sugar means you don't have clean, crisp jewels as an end product. You know the joke plastic liquid attached to a tipped glass that looks like you spilled your drink all over the counter? Same concept...a faceted gem floating on top of a pool.

I used sugar rather than isomalt because it's cheaper and I didn't need it to be clear. I ended up with batches of yellow (the base color I get when I heat the sugar to the hard crack stage), orange, light purple, and a smoky-quartzy brown.

*Side Rant* Before I go any further, I have to say something about coloring. Until this weekend, I have used Wilton gels to color my frosting, sugar, etc. However. This is what the little basket of Wilton colors looks like EVERY TIME I get it out, no matter how much organizing I do in between uses (brace yourself, it's ugly--this is the true underbelly of cake and cookie making):

The basket sits on a shelf in the cabinet, and I move it in and out to get to other things, so I'm sure that doesn't help. Every single little container has gel on it that has magically escaped from another, so when you pick them up, you inevitably end up with some random color all over your hand. Gross. No matter how much you clean off of the container, there always seems to be a spot you miss. They are never totally cleaned off. And the gel gets...gummy after a while, so I often end up throwing away more than half of the container.

This weekend, I threw away every. last. container. of the Wilton gels and replaced them with the AmeriColor brand...lovely little squeeze bottles in amazing colors:

Amazing! No unwanted mess, beautiful colors, no need to dip a toothpick into the container and try to swirl it into things...just turn over the bottle and squeeze.

Ok, back to the sugar. Here are the jewels and the shot glasses I made:

See all of the little bubbles on the sides of the glasses? I can make these go away by shaking the molds after pouring the sugar and using a small torch to burn them off the surface. Good to know for using 3D molds in general, but I kind of like them on these.

The jewels are attached to cookies, headed to their destination. After doing a fair amount of internet research, I packaged them up the most securely I could and they are going out in the mail today. Hopefully some of them will arrive looking as they did when they left...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Not cake, not jewelry.

We got a small amount of snow on Friday morning. It was really pretty--big, fat, wet flakes that stuck to everything for a while and I couldn't ignore the opportunity to take a few pictures.

Here is a shot of the back yard going into the wooded area behind the house:

And one of a tree in our side yard.

Ok, so they aren't anything like the pictures my sister takes, but they aren't bad for an amateur!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Iced sugar cookies

This week, we had a small baby shower-ish celebration for a friend of mine at work. Since even I couldn't justify bringing a tiered cake for seven people, I was on the fence about what to bring and finally settled on iced sugar cookies. I have made a ton of them in my adult life, but the icing hasn't ever quite been what I hoped for. Until now.

I used new recipes for both the cookies and the icing. My cookie recipe was fine before, but I wanted to make this batch super-thick and I didn't think the "usual" recipe would hold up. I used rolling pin bands to make sure they were consistent for even baking, and the cookies came out great--here is the sugar cookie recipe I used.

What? Hearts are for baby showers, too! Since I grew up in a large family and almost physically cannot make things in single batches, I doubled the cookie dough recipe and had so much that I got to try out a variety of cutters.

On to the icing. In the past, I have used royal icing to flood cookies. It works ok, but doesn't get me that smooth finish I always hope for, so I tried this recipe...but substituted vanilla extract for the almond extract. It was perfect! I colored batches of it and got to work on hearts, shoes, crowns, lips, and...

oh yeah, baby onesies...the whole reason I started this project!

I was very happy with how they came out. The icing does a nice job of keeping the cookies moist, and it dries in several hours so well that the cookies can be stacked without messing up the decoration. The colors stay vibrant, too.

The little get-together was scheduled for 10am, and even though I think that is late enough in the day for dessert, not everyone feels that way. So I put them in individual bags for everyone, making sure to set some aside to send home for my friend to take home to her husband and daughter.

Ben and I already have plans for the next batch of decorated cookies!