Monday, January 15, 2018

Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake

"Those who never change their minds, never change anything." When I began this blog five years ago, I was using my cellphone camera to take the photos. It took me more than a year to make the switch to using my Canon as I had somehow convinced myself my photos were good enough. In retrospect, my powers of rationalization were operating at a delusional level. In spite of having a number of photography books, it wasn't until I took a photography class that I began to learn how to better optimize the functions on my camera. While I have yet to harness the power of the digital camera, I am in a better place than I had been but not to the place I envision. Somewhere along the way in this blog's evolution, I learned how to use Photoshop to edit my photos. As expected, the more I learned, the more I realized just how much I really don't know. I continue to wonder what my photos might look like if my knowledge level increased and if I took the plunge to purchase better editing software. Truth be told, it has been much easier to stay in the 'good enough' place than to go beyond my comfort zone. But I have come to realize the time has come for me to move beyond making the best of the 'good enough place' and head into uncharted territory. 

It's kind of a long story but I had lunch last week with a brother of a friend. Someone I had never met before. Over the course of an almost three hour lunch I learned about him, gained some knowledge about my camera (thank goodness he too uses a Canon), and listened as he talked about how his recent photo editing software purchase completely changed his photos (and here I naively thought his camera alone created the magic!). Although I didn't run right home and purchase this editing software, I left feeling as if all of the stars had aligned in order to gently 'push' me in that direction. It's inevitable there will be a new learning curve in my immediate future. Needless to say I am both excited and anxious. Not only to see how the quality of my photographs might change in the year ahead, but how much my perspective will change. I may or may not let you know when these 'shifts' happen. Well, that's not exactly true. More than likely I will share my trials and tribulations.

I have made this Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake twice in the last several days. The first time I accidentally tipped the cake platter. Before my very eyes I watched in what seemed like slow motion a beautiful, perfect cake slide onto the kitchen floor. Shortly after letting out a blood curdling scream and a few expletive deletives, I went into a temporary state of shock. After being in this more than ten second altered state, I picked up the unsalvageable splattered cake and set it back on the cake stand. Not because I was going to serve the cake or worried that the ten second rule police were going to descend into my house, but because I felt the need to mourn it. 

As distraught as I was over the loss of this Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake, I was determined to make it again. Keeping my fingers crossed the second time would be the charm.

The inspiration for this Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake came from the very talented blogger and photographer extrarodinaire Cenk Sonmezsoy. Someone who self describes himself as an obsessive home cook recently added new cookbook author to his resume. The only changes I made to his incredible bundt cake recipe was adding more chocolate in the form of miniature chocolate chips. Could this decadent, deeply chocolatey, rich, moist cake have been just as good in its' original Double Chocolate version? Probably yes. But considering there may be a chocolate shortage in the next 40 years, we might as well indulge our love of chocolate as often and as much as possible until then.

Bittersweet chocolate and Dutch-processed cocoa account for two of the chocolates used in this cake. Semi-sweet chocolate came in the form of the miniature chocolate chips, turning this bundt cake into a trifecta of chocolates!

After creaming the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, the eggs are added in one at a time. The dry ingredients and chocolate/cream/espresso mixture are added in alternately beginning and ending with the flour. Note: Beat each egg for one minute and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to ensure the eggs are completely incorporated into the butter/sugar mixture.

The dry and wet ingredients can either be added to the butter/sugar mixture with the mixture on the lowest speed or folded in by hand using a spatula. I used the mixture for both additions of the chocolate mixture and for the first two additions. The last and final addition of the flour was folded in with a spatula. The miniature chocolate chips, if you are adding, are folded in last.

Successfully removing a bundt cake from the bundt pan begins with the pan's preparation. Although all of my bundt pans are considered non-stick, I always lightly spray them with a vegetable spray versus using a butter/flour application. If there was ever a bundt pan to turn an ordinary bundt cake into an extraordinary one or an extraordinary bundt cake into a spectacular one, it would be due in large part to this 10 cup capacity Heritage Bundt Pan from Nordicware. 

Smooth the top of the bundt cake with an offset spatula or spoon before putting in a preheated 325 degrees (F) or 160 degrees (C) oven.

The recommended baking time for this cake is 50 to 55 minutes, however, my baking time was closer to the 60 minute mark. Whether this was because I placed my my baking rack in the upper third versus in the center the oven, I can't fully explain why my baking time was longer. However, I would encourage you to begin checking your cake for doneness at the minute mark to ensure it isn't over or under baked.

Once the cake completely cools, you can make the chocolate ganache. In addition to adding some sea salt to the ganache, I also added two tablespoons of corn syrup. If the ganache is too thin to pour over the cooled cake, allow it to set for at least five minutes. The additional time will allow the ganache to thicken slightly but still remain pourable. 

There is enough ganache to pour over the entire cake, however, I decided to use about half if it. 

If you ice your cooled bundt cake on a platter instead of a cooling rack, place pieces of parchment paper under the cake to catch any of the icing drippings so none of it goes to waste. Additionally, the parchment paper will help prevent your platter from turning into a chocolate mess.

I poured the ganache on this cake twice to have as much build up of chocolate as possible. After the first pour, I let it set up for about five minutes before pouring on more. Note: Using a pitcher to pour the ganache on the bundt cake gives you the greatest amount of control over its' flow and direction.

Allow the ganache to complete set before serving. You won't have to wait more than thirty minutes. This Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake is as close to dessert perfection served as as a simple, unadorned slice. But should you want to send it over it's heart racing chocolate edge, serve a cake slice with some of the remaining ganache (slightly warmed and poured over), lightly whipped cream, and/or vanilla ice cream.

After just one bite of this swoonworthy Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake you will immediately begin t plan how to get every cake morsel off of your plate without completely abandoning your table manners. This cake is so moist, so decadent, so deeply chocolatey, one generous slice is more than enough. And I don't say that often.
Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake (slight changes to the Double Chocolate Bundt Cake shared in Cenk Sonmezsoy's cookbook "The Artful Baker: Extraordinary Desserts From an Obsessive Home Baker")

14 Tablespoons (200 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
5 ounces (140 g) bittersweet (70% cacao) chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (50 g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla
1/2 cup (120 ml) espresso or strong brewed coffee
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy whipping cream
2 cups (280 g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 3/4 cups (350 g) granulated sugar 
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup (96 g) miniature chocolate chips (optional)

5 ounces (140 g) dark (60% cacao to 70% cacao) chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup (180 ml) heavy whipping cream
2 Tablespoons caster or granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons corn syrup, optional

Optional for serving: Lightly whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees (F) or 160 degrees (C). Prepare a 10 cup bundt pan. Set aside. Note: Butter and flour or lightly spray the pan.
2. In a medium sized bowl combine the bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder.
3. Over medium-high heat, bring the espresso and whipping cream to a boil, stirring occasionally (about 3-4 minutes). Pour over the chocolate and cocoa powder. Whisk until the chocolate complete melts. Allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Stir in vanilla. Set aside. 
4. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamy (approximately 2-3 minutes).
5. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy (approximately 3-4 minutes).
6. Add eggs in one at a time, beating each egg for one minute before adding the second. Scrape down the bowl at least twice to ensure all of the ingredients are evenly blended.
7. Reduce speed to low, add in 1/3 of the flour mixture. Mix only until incorporated. Add 1/2 of the chocolate mixture, mixing only until incorporated. Add another 1/3 of the flour, mixing only until incorporated. Add remaining 1/2 of the chocolate mixture, mixing only until blended. Remove bowl from stand and add in remaining 1/3 of the flour mixture. Fold in using a spatula. When fully incorporated fold in the miniature chocolate chips if using. Note: Be sure to scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all of the ingredients are incorporated.
8. Scrape cake mixture into prepared pan. Smooth top with an offset spatula or spoon.
9. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Yes, this is a big baking time range. Just be careful to not under or over bake. 
10. Allow cake to rest for 10 minutes on a wire rack.
11. Invent cake pan onto a cake plate or platter. Allow to cool completely before pouring on the ganache.

1. Put chocolate in a small heat proof bowl.
2. In a small sauce pan, bring cream and sugar to almost a boil. 
3. Pour half of the hot cream mixture over the chocolate and stir until blended.
4. Add the remaining hot cream mixture and stir until chocolate completely melts. Stir in vanilla, sea salt, and corn syrup for approximately 4-5 minutes. Allow the ganache to sit for 5-8 minutes slightly thicken before pouring on cake.
5. Pour into a pitcher and pour over the cake. Note: Place strips of parchment paper around the bottom of the cake to catch the ganache drippings. 
6. Serve cake at room temperature and enjoy!

Notes: (1) Cake will be good for up to three days if covered. (2) There is enough of the ganache to cover the entire cake, however, I used only half of the ganache to ice the cake. The remaining ganache was covered and chilled. You can slightly warm the chilled ganache to drizzle over cake when served or use to pour over ice cream. Whatever you do, don't throw it away. (3) The use of miniature semisweet chocolate chips in the cake batter and corn syrup in the ganache is completely optional. (4) I made the espresso using instant espresso mixed into hot boiling water.

 Anderson Warehouse Graffiti, Ephraim, WI  - Door County (December 2017)  - The original warehouse built in 1858 and destroyed by a fire in 1880 was rebuilt. The warehouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Mixed Greens Salad with Karen's Vinaigrette

After spending more than a month on what seemed like a butter, sugar, chocolate baking binge, I thought the first post for 2018 should skew to the healthier end of the food continuum. Not to worry, I haven't given up my sweet tooth or passion for baking. More than likely the year ahead will bring an abundance of 'sweet' recipes! With so many new recipes to try, tweek, and revisit, I am looking forward to seeing how evolves in the year ahead. It's hard to believe this blog is beginning it's sixth year! For those of you who have been on this journey with me from the beginning or jumped in later, I thank you! So much has changed in my life and in the world over the course of the past five years, it is only natural this space should continue to change as well. My goals for the year ahead are both simple and lofty. But more on that in a subsequent blog post.

Rather than celebrating the new year at home, we traveled up to chilly northern Wisconsin with some friends this year. We packed up our cars with enough clothes, games, food, and alcohol to last us well beyond the long holiday weekend. Having been up there more than a half dozen times in the past couple of years, I was the 'designated' tour guide. The perfect role for someone with Type A personality tendencies. Double digit below zero wind chills thwarted our plans to take a hike through a state park. Which meant most of our sightseeing was done 'in the car' rather than 'on foot'. However, there were plenty of memorable moments as we drove around to the iconic sites of the area. Including, but not limited to, taking in the full moon setting over a cherry orchard at dusk, enjoying the beauty of rural winter landscapes, having a moment of panic when one of us went missing, and being the recipients of the random of act of kindness from a stranger who stopped to help get us 'unstuck' from an icy incline. Having the car slide into the frozen bay wasn't on the trip's itinerary. Not only would it have ruined the day, I would have never had the chance to taste a mixed greens salad tossed in a slightly tart, slightly tart, incredibly delicious vinaigrette. 

We decided early on we would have a more intimate, home cooked new year's eve dinner rather than spending it with strangers in a restaurant. And considering our early in the day and subsequent new year's day roadside assistance incidents, it was probably a good idea we weren't out on roads that night. After enjoying some appetizers and prosecco, we feasted on filet mignons browned and roasted on a cast iron skillet (doesn't everyone travel with a cast iron skillet?), this lasagna bolognese, and a Mixed Greens Salad tossed in a vinaigrette to die for. It was the most scrumptious, yummiest, divine new year's eve dinner ever. Every course was memorable, but for me the most memorable was the salad made and brought by my friend Karen. The vinaigrette was unlike any I had ever had before.

Not counting the pinches of kosher salt and pepper, Karen's Vinaigrette is made with only three ingredients: raspberry balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, and olive oil. It was slightly tart, slightly sweet, surprisingly light, and definitely one of the most refreshing vinaigrettes to grace a salad. After one bite, I hoped she would be willing to share her recipe with me.

As far as salads go, particularly this salad, there aren't any hard and fast rules about the quantity of mixed greens, green onions, dried cranberries, roasted almonds, mandarin oranges, and blue cheese to use. You only need to figure out which proportions make for a satisfying salad. The ingredient list below for the salad are simply a guideline. If you like more of anything, add it. But before adding all of salad ingredients to the mixed green, lightly dress the mixed greens with the vinaigrette. Note: I used only half of the vinaigrette and served the rest in a small pitcher alongside the finished salad.

If at all possible when making this salad, buy a block of your favorite blue cheese (mine is Point Reyes Blue) and make your own crumbles. Freshly made crumbles are the creamiest and most flavorful.

The mandarin oranges work incredibly well in this salad. But if you aren't a fan or want to change this salad up a bit, slices of Honey Crisp apples would be equally delicious. Note: Before adding the dried cranberries to the salad I mixed them with about a tablespoon of the vinaigrette to soften them just a bit.

Next to its' flavorfulness, is this salad's versatility. It paired perfectly with the filets and lasagna bolognese, but it would also be a great precursor or accompaniment to chicken, pork, all types of grilled meats. We had it with some grilled chicken this past week and there wasn't a bite left of the salad.

If you are looking to infuse more greens to your diet this year, add a new salad to your table, bring some savory balance to your sweet life, or wow your family and friends, make this Mixed Greens Salad with Karen's Vinaigrette. In addition to all of the memories created and photos taken on this trip, Karen's Vinaigrette was absolutely the best 'souvenir' I brought home. 

Mixed Greens Salad with Karen's Vinaigrette (recipe shared with me by my friend Karen Byrne)

1/4 cup Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar (I used the Raspberry Blush Balsamic Vinegar by Alessi.)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup olive oil
Kosher salt

5 ounces mixed greens
1-2 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/4 cup whole almonds, roasted in the oven
1/4 cup whole dried cranberries tossed with 1 tablespoon of the vinaigrette
2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled (I used Point Reyes Blue Cheese, but use your favorite)
Half of a 11 ounce can of mandarin oranges, drained
Kosher salt
Black Pepper

1. In a glass jar or bowl, combine the  Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar and maple syrup.
2. Slowly whisk in olive oil until the mixture thickens and emulsifies. Season with a kosher salt and black pepper. Place extra vinaigrette in a small pitcher and set aside. (Or if making early in the day, cover and refrigerate.)

1.  Place salad greens on a serving platter. Lightly toss with half of the vinaigrette. Lightly season with kosher salt and pepper.
2. Sprinkle the onions, almonds, dried cranberries and blue cheese evenly over the greens.
3. Arrange the mandarin orange slices on top of the salad.
4. Serve along with the remaining pitcher of the vinaigrette and enjoy! 

Notes: (1) I like to toss the salad dressing with greens only and then topping with the other ingredients. If you like tossing it all together at once, would recommend you wait to add the blue cheese and mandarin oranges until you plate the salad on your serving platter. (2) Use a good quality maple syrup (Grade A or Grade B), but feel free to use your everyday olive oil for this dressing. (3) If you like your salad with more cranberries, almonds, green onions, blue cheese, and/or mandarin oranges, go for it. The proportions I shared here reflect my preferences. (4) If at all possible, break up a block of blue cheese to make your crumbles rather than use prepackaged blue cheese crumbles to give your salad more texture. Gorgonzola would also work well in this salad. (5) If you don't like mandarin oranges, slices of apple (i.e., honey crisp) would also work well in this salad. (6) To soften the dried cranberries, toss then in tablespoon of the vinaigrette before adding to the salad.

Winter orchards and farms in Door County, Wisconsin (January 2018)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Almond Rice Pudding with Caramel Cream and Sour Cherry Jam

Whether your weather was warm and balmy or your wish of a white Christmas came true, I hope you all had a wonderfully memorable holiday with your family and friends. We certainly did. And all that time put into the decorating and spent getting ready for our Christmas dinner here were in the end all worth it. In spite of my predictable whining and worrying rituals (will it all get done? will it be almost perfect?), I absolutely love having and celebrating this holiday in our home. A generous and most perfect unexpected gift from my sister and brother-in-law brought tears to my eyes (seems getting me cry over a gift is one my family's goals). The meal was everything I hoped it would be. Although there is a recipe for a green bean casserole from a famous chef who shall remain nameless that will definitely not see the light of another holiday meal again (seriously I think the canned cream of mushroom soup and canned fried onion version, gasp, is actually better). The choice of our annual Christmas movie wasn't what you might call 'thought provoking or uplifting', however, "Get Out" really was one of my many favorite movies of the year. And it will definitely be one of those movies everyone will remember at all future Christmas gatherings. The only thing we seemed not to get around to was playing some games as a family. Considering the level of competitiveness in some members of the family (they shall remain nameless), maybe that was a good thing. And so in spite of a side dish that disappointed (me) and no game playing bragging rights to finish the day, it was a great, very blessed, memorable Christmas.

Our Christmas desserts included a tray of homemade holiday confections, a fresh fruit topped cheesecake and steamed pudding with hard sauce. Had I known how amazing this Almond Rice Pudding with Caramel Cream and Cherry Jam tasted, it too would have been one of the dessert options. But with the dessert menu already set and one dessert request (for Key Lime Pie) not granted, I thought it best to wait for another occasion to make it again.

I understand there are more than a handful of people out there who aren't big fans of Rice Pudding. Those who would normally opt out of having any even if they were starving. Of the top five working theories as to why this might be, I believe never having tasted a really delicious, creamy, decadent rice pudding is at the top of the list. Sure we all have had the less than so-so 'please don't make me eat another bite' rice puddings. You know the ones with weird textures, too much cinnamon, horribly bland or overly boozy. Some of the reasons why rice pudding can get a really rap. So I get why one might be so easily dismissive of even the thought of it. Which means it might take a bit of work, or more accurately a bit of deception, to turn someone's revulsion of rice pudding into a craving. And yes, for the record, I am all about having someone taste something first before I tell them what it is. As I know all too well that first tastes are highly influenced by past tastes and pre-conceived notions. 

But this a Rice Pudding recipe I didn't think I would share on the blog as I was midway into the process. All I can say is thank goodness I stayed the course and didn't give up. But more on that in just a bit.

The rice used in a rice pudding matters. With rice options of basmati, jasmine, Japanese short grain, long grain, arborio instant, and par-boiled, it's no wonder the taste and textures of rice puddings vary. What I learned in a limited rice pudding research endeavor was that with the exception of instant and par-boiled rice (designated as definitely not acceptable), there were pros and cons to all of the others. Yet some will argue that rice isn't the critical ingredient in the rice pudding, but the liquid used in the making of the pudding is. Whole milk seemed to be getting the most nods for creating a deliciously creamy pudding. The inspiration for this Almond Rice Pudding with Caramel Cream and Cherry Jam recipe came from a recent issue of Food and Wine Magazine. It recommended using arborio rice and whole milk. And I followed those recommendations. I opted to use vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla bean pods and replaced the homemade sweet cherry sauce with a sour cherry jam. While I can't honestly tell you their version is as good as or even better than the one I made, I would be willing to put their version against my modified one (yes, I am that confident of a win). 

The ratio of liquid to rice (6.25 cups to 1 cup). The liquid is comprised of 1.25 cups of water and 5 cups of whole milk. That is alot of liquid for one cup of arborio rice. That along with a cooking time of 35-40 minutes had me a bit concerned even before I started making it. But I forged ahead. However, when my cooking time was approaching the 40 minute mark and the texture of the rice pudding was not what I thought it should be, I thought this was endeavor was going to be a bust.  And even as my cooking time was approaching 55 minutes, I for a brief moment thought there was a typographical error in the recipe. Instead of cooking it until the rice absorbed all the liquid (which I don't think was completely possible in the cooking time recommended), it cooked the mixture until the rice was tender and it had the consistency of a thick pudding or porridge. I hoped or rather prayed the rice would absorb the liquid while it chilled in the refrigerator overnight. Spoiler alert: My hopes and prayers were answered.

The flavor of sweetness, creaminess and richness to this rice pudding comes from the vanilla bean paste, the sugar (only 6 Tablespoons) and one cup of freshly whipped cream. The addition of the whipped cream to the chilled rice pudding texture, in my opinion, is what makes it worthy of a comfort food distinction. And that's before it's topped with a caramel cream and sour cherry jam.

The addition of the caramel cream is what turns this comfort food dessert into a dinner party worthy comfort food dessert. I probably cooked my caramel mixture about a minute longer than I should have, but the slightly burnt caramel taste was an incredibly delicious compliment. However, since that may not exactly be everyone's favorite flavor of caramel (remember we might be trying to convert non-rice pudding lovers into rice pudding aficionados), cook your water/sugar mixture only until a golden (not deep deep) golden color appears. 

Once you make this caramel cream for this rice pudding, you are going to find more uses for it. It's insanely good.

If by now you are thinking, wow this rice pudding has a lot of whipped cream it. You would be right! But remember, there is no such thing as too much of a good thing.

I knew from the onset of making this recipe I would be using a sour cherry jam. The kind where the jar contains oodles and oodles of whole cherries swimming in a sweet syrupy jam. In other words, the kind you just want to eat off a spoon its that good. Use whatever brand you love (I used this one by Sarantis), but definitely use one having whole versus pieces of cherries. Or if you want to push this dessert even further over the extravagance edge, top it with Luxardo Maraschino Cherries. But you really, really, really need to like the people you are serving this rice pudding to as its' crazy expensive.

There is an explosion of flavors in every bite of this Almond Rice Pudding with Caramel Cream and Sour Cherry Jam. It is hands down comfort food at its' best. And if there was ever a rice pudding to change the opinion of those non-fans out there, this would be THE one. Seriously, it's that good. It's almost hard to resist anything topped with caramel cream and a thick, sweet sour cherry jam.

Creamy Rice Pudding with Caramel Cream and Sour Cherry Jam (several adaptations to Food and Wine's Almond Rice Pudding with Sweet Cherry Sauce and Caramel Cream, December 2017)
Serves 8-10, depending on portion size

Rice Pudding
1 cup (194 g) arborio rice
1 1/4 cups water
5 cups whole milk
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Bean Paste (or 2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise, seeds scraped and pods reserved)
6 Tablespoons (86 g) granulated or caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups whole skin on natural almonds
1 cup heavy whipping cream
12-16 ounces of sour cherry jam in heavy syrup (Note: I used this one.)

Caramel Cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup boiling water
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Rice Pudding
1. Bring 1 1/4 cups of water to a boil in a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan. 
2. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly for 3 minutes.
3. Stir in the milk and the vanilla bean paste (or vanilla bean seeds and pods) and bring to a boil.
4. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and cook for 45-55 minutes (stirring frequently) until the mixture has the consistency of a very thick pudding or porridge and the rice is tender.  Note: Inspiration recipe indicated all of the liquid would be absorbed, however, that did not happen.)
5. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar and salt. Transfer to a heatproof bowl and allow to cool. Note: If using a vanilla bean, remove pod.
6. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap, placing the plastic wrap on top of the pudding so a crust does not form, and refrigerate overnight.
7. Before serving, whip 1 cup of heavy whipping cream until firm peaks form. Fold the whipped cream and almonds into the rice pudding.

Caramel Cream
1. In a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan, cook one cup of granulated sugar over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar liquifies and turns a golden caramel color (approximately 7-9 minutes)
2. While whisking, slowly and carefully pour the boiling water into the caramel. Whisk until blended. Note: Mixture will splash, so use a long handled whisk to prevent yourself from getting splashed with the hot mixture.
3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and sea salt.
4. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes.
5. In a medium bowl or standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip 1 1/4 cups of heavy whipping cream until soft peaks form.
6. Using a spatula, fold the caramel into the whipped cream until fully incorporated.

1. Spoon some of the rice pudding into a bowl, glass or cup.
2. Top with a generous tablespoon of the cherry jam.
3. Top with a generous tablespoon of the caramel cream. Note: You could form the caramel cream into quenelles rather than just dolloping it on top of the rice pudding. Directions on how to form them can be found here.

Notes: So my biggest takeaway from making this new recipe for the first time was to trust my instincts over the directions. Which means you too should trust your instincts. If the rice is tender and the mixture has a thick porridge like consistency at 40 minutes rather than 55 minutes, go with the 40 minutes. You will know in the morning after it is chilled overnight if your instincts were right.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Holiday Cookie Round-Up

The holidays around here mean the refrigerator is stocked with an (over) abundance of butter and the pantry contains a larger than usual amount of chocolate. With eight of the ten of this year's favorite holiday cookies being dipped in chocolate, there is probably little doubt as to what my vision of 'sugar plums' are made of. Christmas is the season to make our most favorite cookies. As well as the ones we make so infrequently, they have become the ones most anticipated. This year I discovered some new incredibly delicious. They will undoubtedly and definitely make repeat appearances at all future holidays. And that's a promise! Although these cookies are so over the moon wicked good, more than likely none of them will be put on hiatus for twelve long months.

Making Christmas cookies is one of the ways I gift myself during the holidays. Creating little bites of made with love, beautiful deliciousness to give to family and friends makes my heart incredibly happy. With the exception of the Linzer cookies and the Viennese Finger Biscuits, all of the others travel well if carefully packaged. Additionally, they remain flavorful, even if the post office takes three to four days to ship 'two day guaranteed' delivery packages. 

The spirit of Christmas takes many forms. Sometimes it manifests itself in anonymously extending 'pay it forward' kindnesses to strangers as well as friends. Or often it is displayed through volunteerism. But then other times it takes the form of homemade gifts of love for the people in our lives who unselfishly extended kindness, offered encouragement, made the time for shared memorable moments, showed heartwarming thoughtfulness, and/or never let anything affect a friendship. 'How' we show love, gratitude, or appreciation during the holidays isn't what matters most. Keeping the spirit of gratefulness and thankfulness alive is. Although a box of homemade cookies can often bring joy to both the giver and receiver. And just in case you want to share even more love and gratefulness, here's the link to last year's Holiday Candies and Confections Round-Up. Happy holidays to you! And may the gift of giving be one of the best you receive this holiday season!