Friday, December 24, 2010

The One With Christmas Eve Dessert

Last year for Christmas Eve, my sister and I made super cute snowman cupcakes. They turned out great, but took forever to make. This year we wanted something a little simpler. We looked through all of the holiday ideas in one of our favorite cupcake books, What's New, Cupcake?, and decided that the Hannukah star cupcakes would be the easiest. This was a slight problem, because we don't actually celebrate Hannukah, so we adapted the recipe a little to be Christmas star cupcakes. It turns out they weren't as simple as we thought, but here's how they turned out...

Step 1: Bake some cupcakes (we made funfetti holiday cupcakes from a mix). These can be made ahead of time so you don't have to do everything all in one day.
Step 2: Gather your supplies: Jolly Ranchers, White Frosting, Christmas Cookie Cutters, Cooking Spray,
Foil, Cookie Sheets
Step 2 1/2: Preheat the oven to 350.
Step 3: Sort out the Jolly Ranchers into colors. Pick the colors you want to use, and unwrap them. Save the rest for bribing the 1st graders when school starts again (oh wait, that's just me).
Step 4: Put the candies into a big ziplock bag. Using a rolling pin or something else heavy, crush the candies into little pieces. They are hard to crush since they are such thick candies, but just keep hitting them. We found that slow and steady was best. Here are some "action" shots of crushing the candies. (Notice my super cute flower headband/wrapping from my present. Visit my sister's blog at someone's gotta pay to see more of her fair trade wrapping ideas!)
Step 5: Once your candies are crushed, put them in a little pile in the middle of a cookie sheet covered in foil. We used a pie tin, which also worked out pretty well.

Setp 6: Bake the candies for about 3 minutes or until they are all melted together and smooth. While the candies are melting, choose the cookie cutters you want to use (we used 2 different size stars, an ornament, and a snowflake) and spray them with a little cooking spray. As soon as the candies come out of the oven, press the cookie cutters down into the melted goo. Leave them there until the candy hardens again. You might want to put it in the fridge to speed up the process.

Step 7: Once the candy is hard, carefully break the candy around the cookie cutters, then peel the shapes off the foil. I broke the tips off quite a few stars, so be careful! Then put them on some wax paper until you are ready to decorate all of the cupcakes.

Step 8: Repeat the candy melting process with all of your colors. We found out that it would have been really helpful to have more than just 4 cookie cutters so we could do bigger batches. We did a lot of waiting in between colors because we had to let the candy get hard with the cookie cutters still stuck in.

Step 9: When all of your shapes are made, start frosting the cupcakes. Then stick the stars and snowflakes in however you want. I especially like the ones with 2 shapes. Make sure the broken tips point down!

Step 10: Enjoy spending time with your friends and family this Christmas, and enjoy eating your dessert! 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The One with The Rum Balls

Now before you start thinking I've turned into an alcoholic baker, I will tell you that these candies are not actually made with rum, although I think you could if you wanted. Around here, we use orange extract as a substitute. I'm not actually sure how that works out, because the two are really not at all the same, but that's just how it's done.

Rum balls are a Christmas tradition (I know, you're shocked, another tradition) for my family. They are also an acquired taste, so if you don't like them after you make them, send them my way!

You will need:
  • 1 pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. light corn syrup
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 2 1/2 c. finely crushed vanilla wafers (about 5 dozen)
  • 1 c. finely chopped nuts (we use walnuts)
  • 1 tsp. orange extract
  • extra sugar (for rolling)
Step 1: Melt the chocolate chips. The best way to do this is in a double boiler. We make our own by filling a pan with water, then balancing a bigger pot on top of it. This is important! If you just melt the chocolate with no water underneath it, IT WILL BURN!

Step 2: While the chocolate is melting (don't forget to watch and stir), use your food processor, or whatever you might have, to chop the vanilla wafers and nuts. We usually end up chopping a bunch of extra - it's good to have more in case you need to add it in at the end.

Step 3: Once the chocolate is melted, take it off the stove (but leave it in the big pot - you'll just mix everything together in the pot). Stir in the sugar and corn syrup. Then mix in the water. Next, add the orange extract. Finally, mix in the vanilla wafers and nuts. Add it in little by little because it will get hard to mix, but keep going. Keep adding until the chocolate is all mixed in with the dry mixture. By the end, the mixture needs to be thick enough to be able to roll into balls.
Step 4: Roll the mixture into balls. This part takes forever (kind of like cake balls) but if you have help, it will go faster. Some people in my family like to make little 1-inch balls, others like to make huge ones, and sometimes we end up with super tiny ones - it's really your choice!

Step 4 1/2: As you roll the balls, put them into a bowl of sugar and roll them around in the sugar until they are coated. Sometimes we like to have 2 people roll the mixture into balls and 1 person roll them around in the sugar, it just depends on how much help you have!

Step 5: Once you have all of the mixture rolled into balls and rolled in sugar the first time, go back and roll all of the balls in sugar again to make sure they look good. Then put them all on a cookie sheet and cover them with foil.

Important: DO NOT EAT THEM YET! They will NOT taste good and you will never want to eat them again. They need at least 2-3 days to age. The longer, the better, really. Just put them in an out of the way place where you won't be tempted to sneak one early! And seriously, if you don't like them, bring them over to my house!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The One with Christmas Break!

It's FINALLY Christmas break, and I am sitting at home with a bad cold, so it's a good time to catch up on blogging about Christmas treats (while also watching a lot of TV!) Since my new favorite thing seems to be mini candy canes (see the Christmas cake balls), I decided to try making peppermint almond bark. They have a really good kind at Cost-co that has white and milk chocolate so I thought maybe I could make the same kind at home. It turned out to be really easy...

  • 1 package white chocolate almond bark
  • 1 package milk chocolate almond bark
  • about 30 crushed mini candy canes
Step 1: Melt the package of chocolate almond bark. Pour it onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. The good thing about this layer is that it doesn't really matter how smooth it is because it will be covered with the white chocolate layer.

Step 2: Wait for the milk chocolate layer to harden, then melt the package of white chocolate and pour it over the top. The bottom layer might start to melt a little, so be careful not to mix them together. While the white chocolate is still wet, sprinkle the crushed candy canes on top.

Step 3: Let it all harden, then cut it into small pieces.

It looks really pretty, but here are a few things I might try differently next time...
  • When I started cutting the bark, the candy canes fell off a little bit, so I thought next time, smoosh the candy canes down into the white chocolate to make them stick better OR mix the candy canes into the white chocolate before spreading it over the milk chocolate, then maybe sprinkle some extras on top.
  • The mint flavor was not very strong. Next time, I might try mixing some mint extract into the milk chocolate layer.
  • Someone also suggested adding pretzels to the chocolate layer, which sounded good to me!
Any other suggestions?

Friday, December 17, 2010

The One Where I Feel Guilty (even though it wasn't my fault)

Christmas means LOTS of parties with LOTS of goodies, so I made up a HUGE batch of Christmas cake balls for a few different things: a cookie exchange, my brother's youth group party, and my mom's work party. I made 2 kinds - white cake with white frosting, and white cake with mint chocolate frosting (just add a little mint extract to store bought chocolate frosting - make sure to get the kind with box tops for me!). Then, to make them a little more festive, I decided to add mini candy canes. For the mint chocolate ones, I used a candy cane stick to dip them, and then left it in. I think they kind of look like Christmas ornaments...
Then I decided to do a little stress relief by putting the rest of the candy canes into a little plastic baggie and slamming it onto the counter to make even smaller pieces (I was a little alarmed by how much I enjoyed this part)!

Next I made little piles of the candy cane crumbs, dipped the cake balls, and put them on top of the candy canes. After they hardened, I turned them over, and they looked super cute!

When they were all done, I put Kim (yay, home from Africa!) in charge of arranging them, and here they are, looking all festive and Christmas-y... 
I thought after this that I was done with cake balls for a while, but when I went to work on Thursday for our holiday potluck lunch, I realized I was wrong. This is where the guilt comes in...Even though I had made delicious mini pumpkin cheesecakes to share, I was yelled at for not bringing cake balls! Apparently someone (not me) had promised there would be cake balls (made by me), so they were expecting cake balls! So, to make everyone happy, I went home and made a new batch. They turned out just as cute, especially when I wrapped them up in cute Christmas bags to give to the people who complained the most!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The One with No Baking

These don't actually have much to do with baking, but they are just too cute, so I decided to share...

First, my snowman for the bulletin board at work. The secretaries passed one out to everyone, then we were supposed to decorate them. I thought ok, just get out the magic markers - draw a hat, scarf, whatever. But then, the other snowmen started to go up and I started to get stressed out because they were SO creative. So my mom (thanks, mom!) kind of took over creating my snowman (I know, I'm like the kid who's mom does their homework), and sewed her a little apron so that she could be a snowbaker! Look how cute she turned out...
Also school related, we have been learning about the Polar Regions (penguins, polar bears, snow, etc...). The other day, I got desperate and decided to bribe the kids with a polar bear art project. So then I actually had to find a polar bear art project! I looked around and found a cute idea where you cover a picture of a polar bear with coconut to look like the fur. I think they turned out super cute, plus now my classroom smells good! Next step is to cut them out and write some polar bear facts (did you know that they don't have eyelashes?), then stick them up on our winter wonderland bulletin board! Cute, right?

Now this last one has absolutely nothing to do with baking (at least the coconut project has a baking ingredient involved), but it's too cute not to share. Every year at Christmas, my mom, sister, aunt, and I help with a Christmas store for the Community Outreach Center in Carol Stream. We collect money and then get to go on a HUGE shopping spree to buy tons of toys for the kids. It's so fun spending someone else's money on all kinds of fun stuff. This year we filled 7 shopping carts, overflowing with clothes, books, games, dolls, and toys. And our favorite, this sweet bird bean bag chair...
I promise next time, there will be more baking involved...Stay tuned for my family's favorite Christmas treats...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The One With the Thanksgiving Project!

In my family, it's not Thanksgiving without all of our crazy traditions. One of the best is the (mandatory for everyone) Thanksgiving Project. Over the years, it has been everything from painting birdhouses to team gingerbread house building to decorating candle holders. The one my sister and I always remember (and beg to re-create) was the year we made a gingerbread village. It was fronts of houses that we decorated, then set up around a lake made of foil, and surrounded with coconut snow. This year, our wish came true when my Aunt pulled these out...

Everything is included: Frosting, Candy, Gingerbread, etc... The pieces come already baked, and hooked together, so all you have to do is break them apart and frost them back together to look like a house!
Everyone got their own to decorate. Here's my before and after...

After all of the decorating, my sister, cousins, and I may or may not have gotten a little bit carried away with constructing the village! You decide...
 Here are some close-ups of the different village buildings...
The Bakery

In the front: the Christmas Tree farm, with the Barn and the Bank behind it. Up on the hill: Santa's House and Toy Shop.

In the very back: the Candy Shop. Up on the little hill: the Church.

The Little Neighborhood (Can you spot the foreclosures?)

The Skating Pond and Christmas Tree (where Whos from Whoville should be gathered around singing "dah who dor-aze"

Hope you enjoy looking at it as much as we enjoyed making it!