Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Delightful Desserts

Chocolate Hazelnut Caramel Bonbons
Gourmet chocolates cost anywhere from $20 a pound or more, but you can make your own caramel-hazelnut cream-cheese bonbon chocolates for about three dollars a pound. These bonbons make excellent gifts for housewarmings, teacher appreciation days and last-minute holiday guests. Make a pyramid of caramel-hazelnut bonbons on a tiered tray lined with gold doilies over snow-white cake boards and use it as a centerpiece.

16 oz. cream cheese
5 C powdered sugar
1/4 C coffee crystals
1 1/2 C cocoa powder
1 lb. caramels
1 lb. whole, shelled hazelnuts
2 lbs. semi-sweet chocolate morsels

Allow the cream cheese to soften to room temperature. Gradually work five cups of powdered sugar into the cream cheese, one cup at a time. Sift the cocoa powder and coffee crystals together and work them into the cream cheese mixture until well-blended.

Soften the caramels in the microwave for 20 seconds on high power, just enough to make them pliable. Push a hazelnut into the center of each caramel. Mold a teaspoon or so of the cream cheese mixture around each caramel-covered hazelnut. Place each cream-cheese-coated, caramel-covered hazelnut in a bonbon paper on a cookie sheet and refrigerate overnight.

Melt the semi-sweet chocolate morsels in a double boiler or in a bowl in the microwave. Pour the chocolate over each cream-cheese fondant center one tablespoon at a time until covered at least 1/8-inch thick. Allow the caramel-hazelnut chocolate bonbons to harden to room temperature. Place them in a 9-inch cookie tin or serve them on a gold scalloped cake board.

Buckeye Candy: Inside Out
If you enjoy making traditional, chocolate-coated buckeyes with peanut butter centers, try this last-minute Christmas gift idea: make them inside-out. Adults and older teens melt the chocolate and butterscotch morsels for the fudge centers and the candy coating. Younger children roll the fudge squares into balls and push skewers into each buckeye center and adults or teens can swirl the centers in a mixture of melted butterscotch and peanut butter.

3 bags semi-sweet chocolate chips, 12 oz. each
3 C smooth peanut butter
Double boiler
1/2 stick real butter
Small glass baking dish
Microwave oven
Wooden spoon
2 jars marshmallows cream, 7 oz. each
2 cans sweetened, condensed milk
9-by-12-inch glass baking dish
2 bags butterscotch chips, 12 oz. each
Package of bamboo skewers
Package of bonbon papers
Gift boxes, candy trays or fancy dishes
Squares of gold foil

This simple recipe makes nearly five pounds of butterscotch-coated, chocolate-fudge buckeyes. First, melt the bags of semi-sweet chocolate morsels over a double boiler. Melt the butter in a separate glass dish in the microwave. Drizzle the butter into the melted chocolate morsels while stirring the mixture constantly with a wooden spoon until well-blended. Stir in the marshmallow cream and the sweetened, condensed milk until well-blended.

Butter a 9-by-12-inch glass baking dish. Spread the chocolate fudge mixture evenly in the dish and allow it to cool overnight, then cut the fudge into 1-inch squares. Roll each fudge square into a ball to make the inside-out buckeye centers. Refrigerate them until each center is firm.

Melt the butterscotch chips over a double boiler. Stir in three cups of smooth peanut butter. Push a bamboo skewer into each chocolate fudge buckeye center. Dip each fudge center in the melted butterscotch chips, swirling it around to ensure that all but a 3/4-inch circle around the skewer gets an even coat of candy. Place each finished inside-out buckeye candy in a bonbon paper to cool.

Plunge the double boiler, glass bowl and the glass baking dish into hot water and allow them to soak for five minutes before rinsing them clean. Remove the bamboo skewers from each buckeye, using gentle, even pressure to avoid squashing them. Place the buckeye candies in a gift box, candy tray or fancy dish. Display your inside-out buckeye candy in their bonbon wrappers or wrap each one in gold foil.

Fill a candy box with these delicious inside-out treats, along with a batch of regular buckeyes and some homemade hardtack candy. Take it a step further: wrap each inside-out buckeye in gold, red or green foil, pile them in a Christmas tree shape, and top them with a gold bow to make an edible centerpiece.

Pumpkin Yogurt Fluff
Serve a dollop of pumpkin yogurt fluff with peaches and pears for a healthy, delicious appetizer. It also makes a delicious, creamy dip for ginger snaps. Creamy, yogurt-based pumpkin fluff has all the flavor of pumpkin pie with far less cholesterol.

3 pie pumpkins
Carving knife
2 cookie sheets
Coarse sea salt
32 oz. vanilla yogurt
1/2 tsp. ground mace
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 Tbsp. granulated ginger
3 Tbsp. apple cider
1 C powdered sugar
Coffee grinder
3 dried vanilla beans
3 cinnamon sticks
5 star anise pods
White chocolate curls
Candied ginger slices
Holiday serving platter
1 pound ginger snaps
Two cans peach halves, 30 oz. each
Two cans pear halves, 30 oz. each
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate morsels
Decorative serving bowl

Remove the top of each pumpkin and scrape out the seeds and innards. Rinse the innards from the pumpkin seeds. Toss the pumpkin seeds with coarse sea salt, spread them on a cookie sheet and set them aside to bake later.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the scooped-out pie pumpkins on a cookie sheet and bake until the flesh is soft, about 45 to 90 minutes. Test the softness of the pumpkin flesh with a fork after 45 minutes, and again every 20 minutes until done. Cut the pumpkin flesh into 2-inch chunks and puree it in a food processor.

Pour the pureed pumpkin, vanilla yogurt, nutmeg, granulated ginger, apple cider, and powdered sugar into the food processor. Pulse everything in the food processor until the pumpkin and the vanilla yogurt blend to a uniform color.
Break the vanilla beans and cinnamon sticks into the coffee grinder. Add the star anise pods and pulse for two seconds at a time until everything grinds into fine powder. Add the spices to the pumpkin and vanilla yogurt fluff.

Drain the peaches and pears, reserving the juice for your holiday punch. Pat them dry on paper towels. Place a dollop of pumpkin yogurt fluff in each peach or pear half. Melt the semi-sweet chocolate morsels in the top half of a double boiler. Drizzle melted chocolate over the pumpkin yogurt fluff topping on each peach or pear half. Arrange the peach and pear halves on a holiday serving platter.

Scrape the remaining pumpkin yogurt fluff into a decorative serving bowl. Top it with curls of white chocolate and slices of candied ginger. Place the serving bowl full of pumpkin yogurt fluff in the center of a holiday serving platter and surround it with ginger snaps.

Cranberry Cream Cheese Fruit Dip
The first Thanksgiving dinner would certainly have featured fresh or dried cranberries. This light, fluffy cranberry cream cheese fruit dip is the perfect accompaniment to sliced apples, whole strawberries and vanilla wafers. Cranberries supplied the colonists with potassium, vitamins A and C, lutein and zeaxanthin. The cream cheese supplies calcium, phosphorus, folate and choline.

Food processor
1 lb. whole cranberries
3 Tbsp. orange juice
2 packages cream cheese
1 C powdered sugar
2-qt. serving bowl
Lemon peel curls
Orange peel curls
1 lb. sliced Granny Smith, Jonagold or Gala apples
2-quart mixing bowl
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. raw sugar
1 pint whole fresh strawberries
1 box red and green cocktail toothpicks 1 pound vanilla wafers
Holiday serving platter

Pulse 1 pound of whole cranberries for two seconds at a time in a 2-quart food processor until coarsely chopped. Pulsing in short bursts ensures that the cranberries will not liquefy. Add the orange juice, cream cheese and powdered sugar. Pulse the mixture in 3-second bursts until the ground cranberries are marbled throughout the cream cheese. Stop while some of the cream cheese still remains white. Scrape the cranberry cream cheese mixture into a 2-quart serving bowl and top it with curls of orange peel and lemon peel.

Place the sliced Granny Smith, Jonagold or Gala apples in a 2-quart mixing bowl. Sprinkle them with the lemon juice and raw sugar. Toss the sliced apples until they are coated all over with the sweetened lemon juice. Rinse the strawberries and pat them dry on paper towels. Stick a red or green cocktail toothpick into the stem end of each strawberry.

Place the bowl of cranberry cream cheese fruit dip in the center of a divided serving platter. Fill the spaces in the divided platter with vanilla wafers, sliced apples and whole fresh strawberries.

Teach Preschool Reading: Gingerbread Letter Cookies
Preschool children learn best when they can manipulate objects. Making gingerbread letters helps your child master letter recognition while having fun in the kitchen. Make several batches, so that you have three to four of each letter. Use the letters to spell the names of family members, favorite toys and other items your child interacts with daily. Have your child dictate stories and use the letters to spell each word.

1 C vegetable shortening
1 C granulated sugar 
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 C molasses
2 Tbsp. vinegar
5 C all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves

Cream the shortening, sugar and salt together until smooth and evenly mixed. Stir in the egg, molasses and vinegar. Beat well. Add the baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and cloves and stir until all ingredients are completely incorporated into the mixture. Work the flour into the molasses mixture until all the flour is incorporated, resulting in stiff, sticky dough.

Roll the dough into a log and chill for two hours. On a lightly floured surface, roll your gingerbread dough to 1/8-inch thicknesses, and then into 1/2-inch wide strips. Help your child shape each strip into an alphabet letter.

Place all of the alphabet cookies 1-inch apart on a greased or nonstick cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees F. for about 6 minutes. Cool slightly and remove from oven. Allow your alphabet gingerbread cookies to finish cooling on wire racks. Store in a tightly covered tin. Keeps well for 3-4 weeks.

Gingerbread People
Fill your cookie jar or tea tray with these delicious, traditional gingerbread people. Blackstrap molasses provides the traditional gingerbread-cookie flavor that is missing in store-bought cookies. Dried cranberries replace raisins as buttons and eyes for a tasty twist.

1 C vegetable shortening
1 C granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 C blackstrap molasses
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
5 C all-purpose flour
1 C dried cranberries

Cream together the shortening, sugar, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Stir the egg, blackstrap molasses and vinegar into the sugar mixture and beat until well-blended. Stir the flour into the molasses mixture one cup at a time until it is all incorporated into stiff gingerbread cookie dough. Chill the dough for two hours.

Dust the counter with flour and roll the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Use a gingerbread person cutter to cut the dough to shape. Space gingerbread cookies 1-inch apart on a greased cookie sheet. Press dried cranberries into the face for eyes and into the belly area for buttons, or use raisins for a more traditional gingerbread cookie.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 6 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool lightly before you transfer the cookies to wire racks to finish cooling. Store your gingerbread people in a cookie tin with a tight cover. These cookies keep well for three to four weeks.

No-bake Cheesecake with Strawberry Jam
For a quick, cold, sweet summer treat, mix up some creamy, no-bake cheesecake. Top it with strawberry jam and serve it fresh or frozen for maximum enjoyment. From start to finish, this velvet-textured cheesecake is ready to eat in as little as 15 minutes.

8 oz. cream cheese
4 oz. sour cream
3-ounce package instant lemon pudding mix
2-quart mixing bowl
Pastry whisk
1 C whole milk
1 Tbsp. lemon or lime juice
1 tsp. vanilla flavoring
Rubber scraper
1 graham cracker crust
1/4 C strawberry jam
1 tsp. lemon juice

Optional: sliced strawberries, peaches, mango, kiwi fruit or star fruit
1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
1 whole lemon, lime or orange
Lemon zester

Place the cream cheese, sour cream and lemon pudding mix in a 2-quart mixing bowl. Use a fork or a pastry whisk to mix everything together into a smooth paste. Add the milk, lemon or lime juice and the vanilla flavoring. Mix everything together until the mixture is creamy and well-blended.

Pour the cheesecake mixture into a graham cracker crust. Use a rubber scraper to get all the mixture from the bowl and to smooth the top of the cheesecake to an even depth, with a slight dip in the center.

Mix the jam and lemon juice together and pour it onto the center of the cheesecake, smoothing it evenly without making it touch the edges of the graham cracker crust. Arrange sliced strawberries on top of the jam sauce if desired, along with curls of lemon or lime zest. Whip 1/2 pint of heavy cream and 2 tablespoons of sugar together to make whipped topping if desired.

Cover the cheesecake with the plastic insert from the graham cracker crust. Refrigerate the cheesecake for 15 minutes, or place it in the freezer for 5 to 15 minutes. Place your no-bake cheesecake on a bed of ice if you take it to picnics or potlucks, to keep it from becoming runny. Substitute orange juice, orange zest and orange marmalade for the lemon juice, lemon zest and strawberry jam of desired. Nearly any type of jam makes good topping for cheesecake. Just substitute a corresponding fruit that matches its flavor profile.

Carrot Cake Topped With Caramel Apples
Sweet grated carrot, crisp chopped apples, cinnamon and ginger combine in a moist fall cake topped with caramel sauce and sliced apples. Serve each slice of carrot cake warm with a cup of mulled cider while you watch a fall sunrise, for a relaxing recharge. This cake travels well to potlucks and complements a cup of chai or a mocha latte.

3 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 cup amaretto coffee creamer powder
1 lb. grated carrots
2 C chopped apples
4 large eggs
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 C caramel or hazelnut syrup
1/2 C granulated sugar
1/4 C cola
4 sliced apples
9-by-9-inch glass casserole dish
1 tablespoon olive oil
Clean kitchen cloth
12 oz. caramels
1/4 C evaporated milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together until the mixture feels light and fluffy. Repeat at least three times. Fold the amaretto coffee creamer powder, grated carrots, chopped apples and sugar into the flour mixture.

Whisk the eggs together in a small mixing bowl while adding the spices. Pour the eggs into the flour mixture. Add the caramel or hazelnut syrup and the cola to the carrot cake batter. Mix the batter by hand until well-blended.

Rub olive oil all over the inside of the glass casserole dish, including up the sides. Pour the carrot cake batter into the casserole dish. Arrange the apple slices in a daisy-like pattern on top of the cake batter. Wipe any spillovers from the edges and sides of the dish with a clean cloth. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit in a glass baking dish for 45 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Melt the caramel in a double boiler. Stir in the evaporated milk until the sauce is a uniform smoothness. Pour the caramel sauce over the cake. Cut the caramel apple-topped carrot cake into 3-inch squares. Serve warm.

Victorian Sugar Cookies
Sugar cookies are a must-have item for your Easter basket, tea tray or cookie jar. They make an excellent housewarming or hostess gift at any time of year. By cutting and positioning disks of dough, you can make rabbits, angels, cats or other shapes as well as the traditional 2-inch diameter tea cookies.

Large mixing bowl
Waxed paper
3-inch diameter, flat-bottomed drinking glass
1 cup sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup butter
2 eggs
4 1/2 cups flour

Optional: candied violets, lemon or orange zest curls
1/2 tsp. lemon or orange juice, 1 additional cup powdered sugar

Cream together the eggs, sugars, butter, vanilla, salt and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. Fold in the flour one cup at a time until all ingredients are well-blended. Lay the sugar cookie dough on a doubled sheet of waxed paper and form it into a 2-inch diameter roll. Chill the rolled dough for two hours or until it is firm.

Slice the chilled sugar cookie dough into 1/4-inch thick disks. Cut arcs from the right and left sides of each disk to create one triangle and two wing shapes to make angels. You can also cut a small arc from the top and pull it to a 45-degree angle to resemble a bunny ear. Reshape the remainder of the disk to more of an oval to make the rabbit's body.

Roll the remaining dough into 1-inch diameter balls. Dip the bottom of a chilled drinking glass in white granulated sugar and press each ball of dough flat to make traditional sugar cookies.

Sprinkle the rabbit cookies with pink, blue or yellow sugar. Sprinkle the angels and the traditional sugar cookies with white granulated sugar. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown.

Optional: Mix 1/2 tsp. lemon or orange juice with 1 cup powdered sugar to make confectioner's glaze. Brush the glaze onto candied violets and orange or lemon zest curls and place them on your cookies for added eye appeal.

Heavenly Rainbow Ambrosia Fruit Salad
Celebrate the holiday season with this colorful twist on classic ambrosia fruit salad. Bursting with fluffy, rainbow-colored marshmallows, chopped apple, cranberries and golden raisins, this trifle topped with cherry pie filling will have everyone's taste buds singing the Hallelujah Chorus. Serve this ambrosia trifle on its own or make it the crowning moment of your holiday meal of baked honey-glazed ham, green bean casserole, clouds of mashed potatoes with red-eye gravy, fluffy southern biscuits and mandarin yam casserole.

6 quart mixing bowl
3 large cans crushed drained pineapple
3 pints heavy whipping cream
2 quart mixing bowl
Electric hand mixer
3 pints plain or vanilla yogurt
3 packages instant lemon pudding mix
8 cups mini rainbow marshmallows
2 cups chopped apples
12 ounce bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups dried cranberries
2 cups golden raisins
9-by-13-inch glass casserole dish
2 ounces real butter
1 pound coarsely crumbled vanilla wafer cookies
3 cans cherry pie filling
1 cup shredded coconut
2 cups chopped pecans

Line a colander with cheesecloth and place it over a 6-quart mixing bowl. Pour the crushed pineapple into the lined colander and allow it to drain for 10 to 15 minutes. Pour the juice into an ice cube tray and freeze it for later use in another recipe.

Pour all three pints of heavy whipping cream into a 2-quart mixing bowl. Whip the cream into soft peaks with an electric hand mixer. Pour the crushed pineapple from the colander into the 6-quart mixing bowl. Add the yogurt and the instant lemon pudding mix. Stir everything together until well blended.

Fold the mini rainbow marshmallows, chopped apples, semi-sweet chocolate chips, dried cranberries and golden raisins into the pudding mixture. Refrigerate the ambrosia fruit salad for 30 minutes until the pudding sets.

Butter the entire inside of a 9-by-13-inch glass casserole dish. Line it with the coarsely-crumbled vanilla wafers. Spread the ambrosia fruit salad mixture into the casserole dish and top it with cherry pie filling. Sprinkle the shredded coconut and chopped pecans over the cherry-topped ambrosia fruit salad and serve immediately.

June Bug's Orange Drop Cookies
My grandmother called my mother "June Bug," in honor of her birth month. June Bug grew up playing house with real dishes she bought at thrift shops with her allowance. She held elaborate tea parties for her friends, her brother, David, who was ten years younger, and her toddler-age niece, Deborah. Orange drop cookies slathered in orange glaze were one of mom's favorite tea cookies.

4-sided grater
3 oranges
Sharp utility knife
Orange juicer
5-qt. covered bowl
6 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 eggs
2 sticks butter One cup granulated white sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
Cookie sheets
4 cups confectioner's sugar
Storage containers
Waxed paper

Mom started my baking career off early, between ages two and three. She allowed me to press scraps of pie dough into little mini muffin tins from an Easy Bake oven and showed me how to make what she called "pie-dough" cookies, or as most people called them, thumbprint cookies. But it was her orange drop cookies that I loved most. Mom used a Pyrex orange juicer to squeeze three or four oranges, carefully straining out the seeds but leaving the pulp. She taught my brother and I to grate the oranges on the four-sided grater, using the side with all the tiny holes. We used a clean, dry basting brush to get every bit of that grated orange peel off the grater and into the orange drop cookie batter.

Mom used what she called "basic cookie mix," a recipe that everyone who had ever owned the light aqua five-quart sealed bowl that Tupperware carried back then shared. The recipe called for five to six cups of flour, two eggs, two sticks of butter and one cup of sugar, plus about 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice, minus 1 tablespoon. She added all but two tablespoons of the grated orange peel and stirred until the dough was creamy.

Mom used a teaspoon to drop the dough onto cookie sheets, then baked the cookies at 350 degrees until the bottoms began to turn golden, about 10 to 12 minutes. She took them out of the oven and placed each cookie on the counter to cool.

The glaze consisted of four cups of confectioner's sugar plus one teaspoon of orange juice and 2 tablespoons of grated orange peel. Mom drizzled the glaze over each cookie until it was covered. She stored her orange drop cookies in plastic peanut butter pails between sheets of waxed paper.

June Bug's Bread Pudding

My grandmother gave my Dad an old chest freezer when she closed her candy store in Brewster, Ohio. Dad drove the whole family to the Schwebel and Nickles Bakery thrift stores and load up the trunk of our family's 1968 Dodge Dart GT with loaves of day-old bread at 10 to 20 cents a loaf. For weeks afterward, we'd have toasted cheese sandwiches with homemade tomato soup, French toast and bread pudding.

Mom's bread pudding was simple: eggs, stale bread cut into strips, Carnation evaporated milk, a little sugar and a lot of cinnamon, with a hint of nutmeg and a stick of real butter. It was soft, sweet and filling, and it tasted great with a glass of cold, reconstituted nonfat dry milk.

Mom's bread pudding recipe may have come from my Aunt Ressie, a four-foot-nothing-much, feisty woman who didn't take any crap, especially from menfolk. Ressie was a Depression-era baby, oldest of 11 children, and she could make a turkey carcass feed a family for a month. Mom drew the line at the turkey carcass after the second appearance on the table, but she definitely absorbed Ressie's lessons in frugal cooking.

Mom cut the bread for her pudding into strips and filled her glass casserole dish to the top, sometimes even mounding the bread. Then she'd whip 3 or 4 large eggs into a froth, along with the milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar, pouring it over the bread. She'd cut the butter into chunks and distribute them as evenly as possible throughout the casserole dish, then shake more cinnamon and sugar over everything. She baked the bread pudding at 375 degrees until the top browned, then served it piping hot with a glass of milk.

Mom's bread pudding travels well to potlucks and picnics. Bread pudding tastes best hot, but it can also be served cold. It makes a filling snack or a fast breakfast, especially when served with a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, hot apple cider or milk, covered in fresh berries or apple slices or topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or yogurt.

All these ingredients are approximate. Feel free to adjust them after you taste your first batch of bread pudding.

2 to 3 loaves stale bread
9- by 12-inch glass casserole dish
6 large eggs
2 cans Carnation evaporated milk, 12-oz or larger
1/2 C white granulated sugar
2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 stick real butter

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the bread into 1-inch wide strips and fill the casserole dish. Whip the eggs, evaporated milk, sugar and spices together until frothy and pour the mixture over the bread. Bake at 375 degrees until the top of the bread pudding is golden brown.

Keep any leftover bread pudding covered with foil for up to a week in the refrigerator. If you do not eat milk or eggs, substitute a 26-ounce jar of applesauce for the eggs and use soy, rice or almond milk to replace the evaporated milk. Replace the butter with olive oil or omit it altogether if desired.

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