pumpkin baked oatmeal

Baked in mini covered casserole dishes, this pecan-crunch topped, baked oatmeal offers a delicious start to any day.  Healthy oats are in this dish, mingled with pumpkin and under a layer of brown sugar glazed pecans.

Yes, it is as good as it sounds.
This recipe is adapted from Katie at goodLife {eats}.

Mix:
1 c oats
1T ground flax
2 1/2 T dark brown sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t cloves
1/8 t nutmeg
1/2 t lemon zest (I used Penzeys dried lemon zest)
1/4 t salt

In a separate bowl, combine:
2T soft butter
3/4 c pumpkin puree (I used Fairytale pumpkin)
3/4 c milk (I used heavy whipping cream, cut with a little water)
1/2 t vanilla

Pour wet ingredients over oat mixture.  Mix well and divide into 4 small baking dishes.

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, top the baking oatmeal with the following sugar/pecan mixture:
1/4 c chopped pecans
2T soft butter
1T brown sugar

Bake an additional 7 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool slightly.
Serve warm.

Very tasty; approximately 315 calories per serving.

spooky French Macarons

I tried once again to master the French Macaron, and.. well….
It was Halloween Eve…

I drew all the circles, then remembered I was using the Silpat -

The unbaked macarons air-dried and formed a firm crust over the top.

Per the recipe, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees (I think that was too hot.)

Into the oven I placed the ghostly, white blobs of meringue mixture that was to become a baked macaron.

At 5 to 6 minutes, there were feet.  Good sign!

I rotated the pan at 6 minutes, per the recipe (is this really necessary?).

At 6 to 7 minutes the nicely formed macaron tops began to  s – l – i – d – e  to one side, as if the sheet pan was tilted up and to the side.

At 9-10 minutes the unbaked batter beneath the nicely formed top began to  o – o – o – o – z – e  out the side of the cookie opposite the tilt of the top.

I just watched through the oven door and thought ‘happy halloween.’  It was as if a casket lid opened (as the cookie top slid off the cookie,) and the puffy insides of some ghastly creature oozed out.

Despite their appearance, they did taste good.  The tops formed nicely, though they were not smooth enough.  The bottoms formed nicely.  The insides celebrated halloween.

Mistakes:
I measured 60 grams of egg whites, per the recipe, and aged them on the counter for 1 1/2 days.  The egg whites evaporated considerably, and weighed 42 grams when I began mixing the batter.  The next time I bake these, I will measure the egg whites after they are aged.

Since there were almost no whites to beat, the mixer worked hard and long to beat 42 grams of egg whites to stiff peaks.  I’m sure they were over-beaten.

The batter was too thick when piped; banging the pan a dozen times on the tile floor did not smooth the tops.

…back to the drawing board, again, next weekend…
these little ghostly globs will not defeat me!!!

#3

I Love Pumpkin

…always have, probably always will….

In years now long past, Mom would always bake me (yes, all mine) a pumpkin pie for my October birthday.  And, I ate the whole thing!

This blog post affirms my pumpkin baking past.

Moving forward, to the present…

pumpkin cheesecake with espresso-pumpkin topping/swirls – yummmmmmm
The pumpkin for this cheesecake was baked, drained, and pureed from Fairytale pumpkins.  The flesh is bright and colorful, and processes to a smooth mass.
I halved the recipe; however, I misread the expresso powder.  The full recipe requires 3 teaspoons; I read this as 3 tablespoons, and I added 1 1/2 tablespoon espresso powder to my little 6″, half recipe, cheesecake.  It was Awesome!!!  Imagine a sweet pumpkin cheesecake bite with a strong, sharp shot of espresso.
The photo was taken before I consumed the last few bites.  This is a great recipe.  The base is made of almond meal; no graham crackers here.
I followed this recipe from sprinkle bakes; however, my cheesecake did not look like hers.  Her blog is great and the photography is amazing; be sure to click the link above and visit her blog.
Here’s my adaptation of her recipe:
makes 1 – 6″ cheesecake
Crust:
1/3 c all purpose flour
1/3 c almond flour
1/2 t cinnamon
1 1/2 T sugar
2T cold butter
Process all crust ingredients in food processor; press into bottom of springform pan; bake 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool
Filling:
Mix:
1 8-oz pkg cream cheese, at soft room temperature
1/4 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 t vanilla
Add 1 1/2 eggs, slowly
Remove half this mixture and transfer to another bowl.  To this removed half, add 1 1/2 Tablespoons espresso powder; mix well.  (this will be strong, but is delicious; her recipe lists 1 1/2 teaspoons)
Mix in another bowl:
2 T granulated sugar
1/2 c pumpkin puree
1 t allspice
1/2 t cinnamon
Pour the pumpkin mixture over the crust.
Top this with the espresso mixture; swirl if desired.
Bake the small cheesecake 30-40 minutes.  Cool, then refrigerate overnight.  Will keep in refrigerator several days.

shortbread Baked Explorations style

I visited their bakery in Charleston, SC last year, and my library contains both their cookbooks.  The latest book, “Baked Explorations,” contains their version of many old classics such as Mississippi Mud Pie and Buckeyes.
…and Shortbread.  
It’s not yet time to bake nor to post ‘holiday’ looking cookies; however, I wanted to see if this shortbread recipe would hold it’s shape baked into little gingerbread shaped men.  After refrigerating the dough overnight, cutting the men and refrigerating again for about an hour, I can say and show that the dough did hold it’s shape baked into little 2″ shortbread men.  
The fork-prick made cute buttons.  There is no question about the flavor and texture – Awesome!
I highly recommend this book.  You will be inspired to bake!
two little…

 three little…

 four little shortbread men…

Life Frosty, these little men will be ‘back again some day…’

French Macaron smooth tops

Inspired by this Viking class, I will continue to try until I get it right!

My goal was to achieve smooth tops on the macarons, and that I did achieve.  However, I made a mistake at some point in the process.

I stirred together the powdered sugar and almond meal, and then processed into a fine powder in the food processor.
fluffy mountain of powdered sugar/almond meal

 smooth and white, double sifted

 egg yolks were aged about 52 hours on the counter in a shallow bowl covered with a paper towel; whipping at medium speed until bubbles begin to form (mistake #1: recipe required 1t lemon juice added at this point – I added the entire small container of juice which was about 2t [this is why mise en place is so important!]

 adding granulated sugar after a whirl through the food processor; I wanted to be sure the sugar would properly dissolve in the egg whites

 soft peak – not ready yet

 stiff peak – ready

 holding mixer bowl over my head; Rachel Allen says this can be done with properly whipped egg whites; it worked!

dry ingredients added to egg whites/sugar; 50 strokes (probably over-mixed at this point)

 batter is too thin

 rounds of batter are too large and too thin, but the TOPS ARE SMOOTH; they dried smooth, and baked to a beautiful smooth top

And, here the pictures cease.  The macarons did form feet in the oven at about 6 minutes.  (mistake #2:  after rereading the recipe, the oven should have been at 320 degrees – mine was at 350 degrees) However, they did not properly bake, as they stuck to the Silpat when removed from the oven, and the shiny smooth top separated from the undercooked bottom.
They had a wonderful flavor as I scraped bits and pieces from the pan to sample.
Though this was not a success, I am encouraged.  Hopefully, post #3 will show beautiful, home baked French Macarons!
I somewhat followed this recipe.
#2

feet! feet! feet on French Macarons at Viking Class

We used a small cookie cutter dipped in flour to create circle guidelines on the Silpat mat. How creative! Sure was better than drawing all those circles on parchment paper!

It’s almost Halloween – purple macarons!  Notice the stiff peak in the lower third of the picture – very important.

Color in the lines, students – or pipe within the flour circles.

Oops – a few tails tapped flat with a little water on the pinkie

air drying (with the help of a large fan just out of photo range)

Just baked.  Now, ignore the rough tops and LOOK AT THE FEET!  We will try for smooth tops in lesson two, but for now we celebrate the feet.

Another angle

The Viking class was French Macarons (yes, only one ‘o’) and Whoopie pies.

Our instructor is seriously stuffing this pumpkin whoopie pie

Healthy hand size whoopie pie

A final look at my first ever attempt to make French Macarons.

Our instructor suggested we refrigerate the macarons for 24 hours.  I followed the suggestion and enjoyed the slight change in texture.
The most important lesson of the night taught us to lose our fear of mixing and baking macarons. Books have been written and blogs have been posted detailing all the scary aspects of making macarons.  
I have egg whites aging on the counter as I type…
(all photos are from my iPhone – use the camera you have at hand)
#1
updated 10.24.10
Trying to achieve a smooth top on the macaron.  See blog post here.

chocolate granola featuring Olive and Sinclair chocolate

This is my dessert granola.  I feel healthier eating oats and almonds with my chocolate.  
Seriously, this granola, baked from a recipe adapted from Orangette, is flavorful and filling.  You can find her original recipe here.

Here’s my adaptation of Molly’s recipe.

Chocolate Granola

preheat oven to 300 degrees

Mix:
3 c oats
1/2 c of KY Kernel pecans and-or almonds (or nuts of your choice)
4 T milled flax
pinch of salt
1/4 c cacao nibs

In a small saucepan, warm:
6 T honey
2 T coconut oil
1 t espresso powder

Pour the warm liquid over the oat mixture; stir well.
Bake on parchment lined baking sheet 10 minutes; stir well and bake 10 more minutes.

Turn oven off
Leave granola in oven for 10 more minutes (total time 30 minutes).

Remove pan from oven.

Add:

1/2 c dried currents
Allow to cool completely.
Store in tightly sealed container in freezer.

‘theo’ artisan chocolate tasting and factory tour

With a little help from my GPS friend, and two trips around the block searching for a parking lot (which I finally found directly across the street from theo, hidden behind the trees!), I arrived at 3400 Phinney Ave N. – the home of an artisan chocolate marketed as ‘theo.’

The cool July morning was on the edge of brisk.  I stood on the sidewalk with a growing multitude of eager men, women, and children, waiting for the door to be unlocked at 10AM.  After a last minute decision to visit the chocolate factory, I knew I did not have a tour reservation.  I entered the store along with all the excited chocoholics, added my name to the wait list, and hoped for the best.  Just before the chocolate tour began, my name was called, I was given the blue hair net, (paid my $6) and off I went, saying a little prayer of thanks for my good fortune.

We were guided through the door, down the hall to the right, under the brick arch, and into a room lined with chairs, yellow tape lines on the floor, and a lively tour guide welcoming us into her arena.  She entertained us with her enthusiasm for the chocolate production process and educated us via her tantalizing voice, pictures of chocolate production, and….are you ready….chocolate samples to taste!

As an aside, theo is not a person.  Theo is the partial name of a tree.  Education…

Always taste chocolate from darkest to lightest, our guide stated; following this method, the sugar content of the lighter will not interfere with the tasting of the darker chocolate.  Education…
(I have read conflicting information related to tasting.  Other sources state that chocolate should be tasted from the least % cacao to the highest % cacao.) [comment from theo: It is true that there is some debate about whether to go from dark to milk or vice versa. We find that for Theo chocolate, going from dark to light works best because sugar, as well as strong flavors (like curry) can muddy the palate.]

We began tasting with a 91% cacao content chocolate / single origin, meaning all the beans came from one place – in this instance a co-op in Costa Rica.  We were encouraged to hold the morsel of chocolate in our mouth, and let it melt slowly.  The tour guide explained that the longer we held the chocolate on our tongue, the  more flavor we would experience.  I must confess that I didn’t hold my morsel long enough to sense all the nuances of the sample.  Maybe next time…

Next we sampled a 74% cacao content chocolate, made from Madagascar, single origin beans grown in the red soil of the land.  We were encouraged to sense the tartness of this chocolate.  (I’m beginning to think I’m on a wine tasting tour.) [comment from theo:  We generally share that the flavor is influenced by 'terroir', which includes soil, weather patterns, production  methods, etc. Flavor is not influenced by surrounding crops necessarily, but environmental and human cultivation techniques.]

The next tasting was a 70% cacao, flavored with mint and marketed in a green wrapper.  Image the very best Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies on overload.  This was delicious, imparting its cooling, cleansing freshness.

There are 20-40 cocoa beans in one pod, which is approximately the size of an American football.
One bar of chocolate is comprised of 2 to 4 pods, or up to 160 beans.  Education…

The cocoa beans are removed from the pod, and allowed to dry.  Fermentation takes place, just as in wine, cheese, and bread.  Dried beans are bagged in burlap and readied for shipment.  Education…

Next sampling was a 45% milk chocolate flavored with Chai Tea.

We saw the roaster and the winnower (the machine that removes the husk from the bean).  At this point, we tasted cocoa nibs, which are 100% cacao.  I enjoy baking with cocoa nibs, including them in shortbread, granola, and cookies to name a few items. Next we tasted 70% cacao nib brittle.

The nibs are placed in the auger to be stone ground.  The dispensed product resembles chunky peanut butter and is called cacao liquor.  Steel balls are added; they spin and pulverize the cacao liquor to yield a silky smooth molten textured chocolate.  This process establishes the ‘melt in your mouth’ feel.

Next comes the mixer and then the refiner and then the conche where the spray releases acidity.  In this holding tank, the chocolate awaits formation into bars.

Theo’s production process does not remove the cocoa butter; thus, yielding a smoother chocolate.  Education…

70% cacao chocolate with toasted bread crumbs was next on the tasting list.  Theo incorporates the Essential Baking Company’s toasted bread crumbs into chocolate, and they produce a chocolate bar with a texture that was delicious.  We were told this is the perfect chocolate bar to pair with wine.

We next sampled a tray of assorted chocolates flavored with such additions as caramel, or salt, or figs, or basil,  just to name a few.  There was also a a lemon-white chocolate treat on the tray, and for the vegan taster, there was a blueberry almond ganache.

The final chocolate we tasted on the tour was a 45% cacao, packaged as a tribute to Jane Goodall.

Back in our original meeting room, we removed our hair nets, asked a few final questions, and were directed back into the showroom.  Placed on easily accessible tables, samples of many, many Theo chocolate bars were steeply piled and waiting for eager tasters.  I tasted a spicy chili chocolate that had a kick on the tongue, and a lingering effect in the throat.

Disclaimer:
As you can see, we tasted many chocolate varieties.  If I have misstated facts above, please forgive me, or let me know and I will correct the post.  I was taking notes and eating chocolate during the tour.  At that particular moment, the tasting was more important than the note taking.

This was an excellent opportunity to sample a huge variety of chocolates.

thanks, Audrey at theo, for helping me keep the facts correct

Click HERE to see pictures from the tour.