Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Peanut Butter Pie

Consider the fact that my husband isn't really a fruit person and combine that with the fact that he really doesn't want fruit "messing up" his dessert, you may be able to understand why this is the only pie that Brad eats. And it really is pretty darn tasty. Kristen actually introduced this pie to us years ago and Brad loved it, so I knew I had to keep it in my arsenal. It's yummy and simple so it works for any occasion but you could spruce it up with some whipped cream or ganache drizzle if fancy is what you are going for.

The biggest con to this dessert is that it is a frozen pie and starts to lose it's texture if exposed to room temperature for too long. Also, you need to give this several hours in the freezer before it is firm enough to serve, so it doesn't lend itself to any last minute applications. That being said, it's definitely a people-pleaser. It's very light but the peanut butter flavor definitely stands out. I've served it to adults and kids and they all loved it!

Peanut Butter Pie**
(Original recipe by Hold the Tomato)

1 cup milk
8 oz cream cheese
2/3 cup peanut butter
2 cups powdered sugar
12 oz Cool Whip
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 9-inch graham cracker pie crusts

Combine first 3 ingredients in a bowl and beat together. Once combined, stir in last 3 ingredients. Pour mixture into the two prepared crusts and freeze for several hours or overnight. Remove from freezer a few minutes before serving and garnish with whipped cream, chocolate drizzle, etc.

**This recipe is for two pies but can be easily halved. In fact, I rarely make the full recipe.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Homemade Marshmallows

This is one of those recipes that I never thought I'd be able or willing to tackle. I know that I can make my own marshmallows at home and I know how wonderful they are but I also know enough to know that they are a huge pain in the rear! In other words, I hadn't convinced myself that they were really worth it. Plus I'm a huge mess-a-phobe and that even extends to the kitchen and I was worried that there was no way that I could make these without creating a disaster area in my kitchen.

Kristen had the guts to tackle these lovelies a couple of Christmases ago and, of course, they were little pillows of heaven. (Especially yummy in hot chocolate.) And she even brought her own horror stories back about mixing madness, crazy-sore arms and sticky gunk, oh my! And I was still content to let her do all the work once a year and partake in the yummy afterward.

Well, no longer! We had a baking day recently and this is one of the recipes she had on her list. Since I was participating I got a chance to see exactly how bad this stuff really was. The truth? Not too terrible! Sure, there are hurdles in this recipe and you have to be smart enough to know how to maneuver around them. But Kristen has done a pretty good job of finding the annoyances in the process and sidestepping (or outsmarting them) them as much as possible. So I am a convert and am no longer afraid of homemade marshmallows. I'm sure I'll be tackling these again next holiday season . . . or sooner if the craving hits! ;-)

So here is the recipe and I've included our notes to help you through the process. It can be done with minimal frustration and mess, just take a breath and follow along!

Homemade Marshmallows

(Original recipe by Alton Brown)

3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Nonstick spray

Combine the gelatin and 1/2 cup of water into the bowl of your stand mixer. Attach the whisk attachment and let gelatin solution stand. In a small saucepan, combine remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil, allowing to cook for several minutes until the mixture reaches 240 F. (Note: AB's recipe says this will take 7-8 minutes but ours took longer.)

Using a candy thermometer is the easiest way to monitor this, but we didn't have one so we used the "cold water test" to determine which stage our sugar solution was at. You want your solution at the soft-ball stage. For a great description of each sugar stage and how to determine when you've reached the soft-ball stage, go here.

Once your sugar solution has reached this stage, remove from the heat and turn your mixer (with the gelatin solution in it) on low. Slowly add the sugar solution to the mixer while running. Once the syrup is all added, increase the mixer speed to high and continue to mix for 12-15 minutes. The mixture will turn white and become very thick, very sticky, and increase in volume significantly. During the last minute of mixing add the vanilla (or any other flavorings you want) to the marshmallows.

During this time, combine powdered sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Spray a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with nonstick spray and coat the bottom and sides with powdered sugar and cornstarch mixture.

NOTE: Up until now, the process will have run relatively smoothly. But this next step is where things can get very messy. The best advice I can give you during this whole process is to avoid touching the marshmallow mixture at all costs, unless absolutely necessary.

Once the mixture is ready, tilt the head of the mixer back (with the whisk still attached) and let the mixture attached to the whisk drip off. It will fall, very slowly, back into the bowl. Do not be tempted to scrap the whisk clean. If you try to battle this stuff or hurry it up . . . you will lose. After a minute or so, most of the mixture should have dripped off the whisk. Invert the mixing bowl over your coated pan and again use gravity to dump most of the mixture into the pan. Then use a lightly oiled spatula to get the rest.

NOTE: If you are an obsessive bowl-scraper, like I am, please understand that you will have to let that go on this recipe. There will be a good size mass of goo on the sides of the bowl that you will not be able to scrape down. Just do your best and walk away!

Alright, you're almost done now! Once the mixture is into the pan, use moist hands to flatten out the marshmallows into a sheet. If the marshmallows start sticking to your hands, just re-wet them a bit and continue smoothing the mixture out. Dust more of the cornstarch mixture over the top and let stand for 4 hours to overnight to allow the marshmallows to cool and set.

To cut, use a pizza cutter to slice the marshmallows into squares. Once cut, toss once again in the cornstarch mixture to lightly coat the remaining sides. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks!

One last thing. While I am not a fan of mint, Kristen wanted to try adding some different flavorants to the marshmallows. So after mixing, she separated a small batch and added some peppermint extract, mixed well and then added a drop or two of red food coloring and folded that once or twice into the mixture to give it a roughly swirled pattern. From what I hear, they were great . . . but I will take her word for it!

OH! And one of the most important notes I can give you, from one mess-a-phobe to another, it this: the clean up on this is actually NOT BAD!! Just make sure to soak your sticky dishes in warm, soapy water and all that sticky goo will just dissolve away! Just make sure the water is warm and cleanup should be a breeze!!


Friday, December 25, 2009

Saltine Toffee Candy

This is one of those recipes that seems to be everywhere in the food blogosphere. And with good reason . . . because it's fan-freakin-tastic and ridiculously easy. Only right that we should include it here also.

I first saw this particular version on Peabody's blog where she said she preferred butter crackers but after a little bit more searching, it seems like the larger preference is saltines. And who am I to mess with popular opinion? Kristen and I first made this last Christmas and we were skeptical, at best. But, lo and behold, it was amazing. It was such a simple idea. Use saltines as a base for homemade toffee, melt and spread chocolate on the top, cool and break into pieces. The result is a wonderful "bark"-like candy that is an absolute winner!

This year I had some white chocolate chips laying around so we got the idea to experiment with the topping. On half, we repeated last years version, which was milk chocolate with sliced almonds. On the other half we used white chocolate with red and green sugar crystals to add color and in the middle we swirled the white and milk chocolates together. They were all amazing but we all decided that the milk chocolate and almond combo is still the best.

Saltine Toffee Candy
(Recipe adapted from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody)

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup brown sugar
Enough crackers to make a layer on a cookie sheet
1 cup chocolate chips (or white chocolate chips)
Sliced almonds, sprinkles, toffee pieces, etc (for topping)

Pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Line a cookie sheet with foil (very helpful lator on when you are trying to break the candy). Put a single layer of saltines on the cookie sheet, close together. Bring the butter and brown sugar to a boil in a saucepan and simmer it for about 5 minutes. Pour the brown sugar mixture over the crackers and bake for about 6-10 minutes at 350F.

Remove and immediately pour the chocolate chips over the crackers, evenly distributing them. The following are Peabody's instructions and I really think she has nailed doing this the easy way:
  • "The recipe will tell you to spread immediately…I don’t. I let it sit for about 30 seconds. Then with the back of a spatula I move the chocolate chips just a little bit. I wait another 30 seconds and repeat. I start to slowly move the chocolate around being careful not to move the crackers. I let is sit for another 30 seconds and at this point it pretty much spreads like frosting."
At this point, top the candy with whatever you like. Like I mentioned above, we've tried different types of chocolate with colored sugar and nuts. I'm not a fan of mint so we obviously went another direction, but crushed candy canes would look very nice and festive for the holidays. Use your imagination! Cool the candy in the refrigerator until hard and then break into bite-sized pieces and serve!


PS: I hope everyone is having a wonderfully Merry Christmas today!!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Too. Much. Sugar!

Yes, this is actually how many sweets are currently residing in my fridge. It's scary really. SIX CONTAINERS worth!?! Two containers are from cookie baking adventures that I had with my mom last week. We made Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies, Chocolate Crack Cookies and Bourbon Balls. Toward the end my mother started losing it (baking is not her forte) and we got into some Lucy-and-Ethel type troubles. Think forgetting ingredients and mistaking flour for powdered sugar. The Bourban Balls bore the brunt of the badness but (surprisingly) still turned out very tasty!

Another two containers are from the much-less-exciting but still very, very tasty cooking adventures of Kristen and I earlier this week. We made more Crack Cookies, this time Coconut Crack Cookies, half rolled in powdered sugar, the other half rolled in flaked coconut. (Oh. My. God. YUM!) Also, on our list was Saltine Toffee Candy and Homemade Marshmallows. All turned out amazing and more to come on those. . .

The pretty round tin was my "cut" from Kristen's family's baking ventures. Too many yummy sweets in there to name but all great! And, finally, for some strange reason, I was in the mood to bake this last weekend and made whole wheat chocolate chip muffins with an oatmeal, brown sugar crumb topping. Of course, the recipe made 12 muffins and Brad and I only ate them for breakfast this weekend. We have been slowly whittling away at the rest of the batch since then.

The next couple of posts are a few recipes that Kristen and I made for the holidays. Obviously many many cookies, candies, pies, etc. . . were made for the holidays by the both of us but these recipes were the ones we made together. Oh! And there are amazing. So we thought we'd share.


PS: Merry Christmas Eve!!