The Truth About Baking

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My baking extravaganza has come to a close….almost.  I currently have cream cheese pound cake in the oven.  And, cream cheese sugar cookies in the fridge ready to be rolled out and cut into shapes.  And, a plan to make more chocolate dipped pretzels.  Okay…I am not even close to done yet.  Somewhere in this post will be all of the recipes for all these yummy treats below.

But first, here are the lessons learned from yesterday:

  1. Martha Stewart is NOT always right.  

  2. Making caramel from scratch is never easy no matter how many times you do it.  (might have been easier if I could have found my candy thermometer).

  3. Not everything always works…tried macadamia nut turtles…sounds great…not so much.  Only if you want to remove a tooth.

  4. You cannot color chocolate with coloring food.  It turns into lovely clumps.

  5. Cleaning is overrated….

Full Plate

I only think it is fair to show the disaster that accompanies the wonderful plate of goodies above.  It is kind of a precautionary note should you decide to do this.  No matter how neat I try to be….it doesn’t quite work.  Creativity is messy for me; very messy.

What a mess!!

Now for the recipes….let me give you a run down of what I made, then they will be followed by a photo (if there is one and a recipe, link to the recipe and tips):

  1. Chocolate Covered Pretzel Rods – Easy

  2. Gingerbread – Easy

  3. Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies – Medium

  4. Pinwheel Cookies – Medium

  5. Cashew Caramel Cracker Bars – Medium

  6. Congo Bars – Hard

  7. Cream Cheese Pound Cake – Easy

Dark Chocolate Pretzel Rods

White Chocolate Pretzel Rods

So, these are super easy.  Just your standard pretzel rods, any type of chocolate and some holiday candy decorations.  Make sure that you get chocolate that comes already in chips.  It will make it much easier to deal with and to melt.  Dump the chocolate chips into a microwave proof bowl and heat at 30 second intervals, stirring in between each time.  Do not overheat…it will make the chocolate clump together and you will have to throw it out.

Another little tip…do not get any water in contact with the chocolate as you melt it or it will mess up your chocolate.

Dip in your pretzel and set on wax paper (wax side up)…sprinkle whatever you would like onto the chocolate.  Let dry for about 15 minutes and package them up.

I packaged up the pretzels in some cute Christmas good bags and tied them up.

Pretzel Rods Ready to Give

Next up is super quick and easy gingerbread…they are in the middle of the top photo with the white frosting and red sprinkles.

This is a recipe from Martha Stewart and here’s the link:  Gingerbread

It is super easy and I added cream cheese frosting on top rather than powdered sugar.  It is super easy and makes a perfect gift.

Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies Ready for the Oven

These are some of my favorite cookies to make.  They just melt in your mouth.  I think they are personally better than the cookies with the hershey kiss on top because these have a soft chocolate center.  These do take some time because you have to roll them prior to baking and then pull out several times during baking to make the indentions for the chocolate.  This is also a Martha Stewart Recipe; here’s the link:  Thumbprint Cookie Recipe

A few hints on this recipe:

  • Roll the balls slightly larger than the recipe says.

  • Take out the cookies about half way through and use a small handle of a wooden spoon to make the indentions in the middle.  I try to press a good 1/4″ down and make a good size indention.  Don’t use anything too big or it will crack the edges of the cookie and your chocolate will spill out.

  • When you take the cookies out of the oven, press down the centers again.  I have never used by thumb…they are too damn hot and it doesn’t work very well.

    Pinwheels in Progress

    These is a fairly simple recipe, but the volume of the recipe is enough to stop the biggest mixer.  And, because there is a lot of powdered sugar in these cookies…it makes a monumental mess.  Poof!

    The most complicated thing about this recipe is getting the dough rolled so that you can make the shape.  I did some research and found a few tips that I will share.  I am certainly not the master, but am starting to perfect this cookie.  Here is the recipe:  Pinwheel aka Bull’s Eye Cookie.

    One thing that I did with these cookies was that I made one roll of cookie dough instead of two…this made the cookies really really big!  Next time, I will roll them into two separate logs so that the cookies are smaller and easier to handle.  First, you have to master the rolling of the dough log…follow the directions on this one.

    I sought out better instructions on how to do this and found it here:  America’s Test Kitchen.  The key to these cookies is wax paper and the refrigerator.  It makes all the different in rolling the log.  For baking these cookies, do not overcook!  As soon as you see the slightest hint of brown edges, take them out of the oven!  Happy rolling!

    The Beginnings of Cashew Caramel Cracker Bars

    So, this is an interesting recipe and I first tasted these when my mom made them a few years ago.  I got my recipe from a cookbook called ‘Holiday Baking’ by Sara Perry.  And, you can find the recipe on line:  Cashew Caramel Cracker Bars.  These are really pretty easy.  The only part that may be tricky is the brown sugar over the stove to make the caramel type sauce.

    One thing you should definitely do is to line your baking sheet with tin foil (shiny side up)…it makes this much easier to cut when they are done.  And, easier to clean the pan!  Enjoy these!

    Congo Bars

    Onto the congo bars…this is a fantastic recipe that I found a few years ago in Martha Stewart Magazine…yes, I know…another from Martha Stewart.  Here’s the recipe:  Congo Bars.

    The most complicated part about making these bars is making the caramel.  I insist on making it from scratch because it is a challenge and always proves to be difficult.  It takes much longer than the recipe says it does and is even harder when you can’t find your candy thermometer.  This is an area where I definitely need to do more work and practice!

    Here’s the recipe for caramel if you are so inclined:  Caramel.  Here are photos below of caramel in process.  It takes way longer than it says in the recipe to turn ‘golden’.  And, be very careful when you pour in the whipping cream because it bubbles up in the pan pretty high.  (FYI…buy extra whipping cream in case you have to try this multiple times.)  And, be very careful and resist the temptation to taste the newly formed caramel….

    The Start of Caramelhmmm...caramel

     

    Cream Cheese Pound Cake

    And, last but not least is cream cheese pound cake.  This is actually a photo of the cake that went in the trash.  I eventually figured out the problem…the temperature on the recipe was not right!  So much for Martha Stewart.  This is an amazing tasting cake.  I eventually made these in smaller individual pound cake pans to give away and they worked great.

    I baked three at a time on a cookie sheet.  They is that I cooked them at 325 degrees for the first 30 minutes and then dropped the temperature down to 300 degrees once I saw the top edges starting to brown.  DO NOT cook at 350 like it says in the recipe.  Here is the recipe:  Cream Cheese Pound Cake  Perfect to slice up and give away as a hostess gift.

    Last, but not least is the sorting and packaging of all the goodie plates…one of my favorite parts:

    Preparing the Plates

    All Wrapped Up

    I will post the recipe for cream cheese sugar cookies and frosting later when I get those started.  Happy baking!

     

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