Monday, October 31, 2011

Peppermint Mocha Cookies or Why Butter is your Best Friend and Worst Enemy

My dear friend, Leah and her husband Brian, live in Kimmswick - about 30 minutes outside of St. Louis. Each year, on the day that the town hosts the Apple Butter Festival, Leah and Brian have a cookout at their house, which is right in the middle of the action. As usual, I wanted to bake something to bring over and as usual I turned to Cook's Illustrated for guidance. I settled on a peppermint mocha cookie (as Leah pointed out - it would go awesome with hot chocolate!) and so, last Saturday morning I tried my hand at these simple cookies.
The sky was blue, the birds were chirping and it was a beautiful 60 degrees outside. I had no indication that the day held a baking disaster! ha! As usual, I am exaggerating. However, let me take the time to point out, yet again, why butter and it's temperature are so vital! So here I am, minding my own business creaming butter with sugar - it's a lovely consistency - fluffy and light. At this point, the directions read "add COOLED esspresso" to the butter and sugar. I dip the tip of my finger in the esspresso and notice that the water is actually still quite warm. I think to myself, "hmm too warm. The butter will melt." I then pop the measuring cup full esspresso in the freezer and decide to go do some laundry while the mixture cools. I come back about 10 minutes later and find the esspresso water to be very cold.  I then just dumped it right on in to the bowl and proceeded to try and mix the esspresso with the no avail. The butter became tiny little lumps in the bowl.
Oh goodness. This is when a normal baker would just scrap the mess and start over. Not I. I was committed to mixing these ingredients together if it was the last thing I did! After adding the flour and dutch process cocoa the dough seemed to look normal again. It sure tasted fine! So I decided to roll the dough in to balls and bake it up. I assumed the balls were supposed to flatten out in the oven as they baked. No such luck! Instead, the cookie balls were just like they were before I put them in. Okay. So, I think about it for a couple of minutes and like any pro baker I decide to fake it 'till I make it. I took the rest of the pre-rolled dough balls and flattened them with a serving spoon!

What resulted from all of these kookie cookie cooking techniques is something akin to a chocolate biscotti than a moist, chewy cookie. Sigh. The crushed peppermints and peppermint flavored icing really saved the day though, and as you can see below, the kids loved it!
The moral of the story: never, ever, take your butter for granted!

Apple Butter Festival

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse Cake

It's been a while since I have posted any of my cooking/baking forays. Last Saturday I had a dinner party in honor of a co-worker who is leaving. As requested by the group, I made my (Cook's Illustrated's) deep dish pizza and it turned out beautifully. For dessert, I decided to try my hand at making a Chocolate Mousse cake, because it just sounded awesome. And it was.
This recipe needs about 13 oz. of semi-sweet chocolate or bittersweet chocolate. Apprently the terms are interchangeable. Something I was not aware of at the time I made the cake. I considered making a grocery store run to buy come chocolate with bittwersweet on the lable, but instead threw caution to the wind and used the Ghiradelli semi-sweet baking bars I had stored away. They worked just fine!

This recipe does not use any flour or tradiational leavening agent. Instead, it uses whipped egg whites - not my favorite method. I've always found that to be a very unstable component. I can never quite manage to "fold" egg whites well enough. I either fold them too much and then render them useless or not enough.
But I folded the melted chocolate and egg whites as gingerly as I could. Cook's Illustrated mentioned to me that they included brown sugar in the egg whites to give them a bit more stamina, so maybe that helped me out this time around? Regardless, the next step to this cake was to bake it in a water bath! The cake needs to bake in an intensely humid environment to form correctly. 
Again, this was a first for me. Aside from freaking out that I had not sealed the pan well enough - if you look closely you may be able to make out the 3 layers of tin foil I wrapped around that puppy - the process was a breeze. Mousse cakes take a while to form once they're finished baking so the finished product bares little to resemblance to what comes out of the oven - a tall, puffy cake. It took about 6 hours for the cake to "settle" or deflate and then chill in the refriderator to the correct consistency.
It's a humble little thing really. At first glance it resembles a dry looking brownie, but The rich chocolate flavor it out of this world and the moist, smooth texture is a total surprise. One of my co-workers remarked that it tasted like a $15 dessert you get at a fancy restaraunt. It was so true! My family, after sampling the leftovers, has already requested this cake for Halloween - I'll be on the look out then, for some fun pumpkin faces I can put on it!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Family Fotogs

 It's getting to that time of year again where moms who are "on the ball" start putting together their family Christmas cards. My sister Aili, isn't one of them. Ha! She and I have been tossing around the idea of taking family portraits for a while now, however, and the Holidays are right around the corner so today was the day to get these shots!
Oh my we got some beautiful photos too!
 I took 425 pictures in about 30 minutes. Crazy! I think we got about 50 usable ones, regardless, the kids certainly deserved their reward - cookies and cream ice cream after the photo shoot! 

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I went to the St. Louis Zoo on Columbus day with the fam. I love how close we can get to the animals! I'm not quite so appreciative of the smell, however.
How cute is that little owl!? He was so tiny!
I didn't find this Toucan particularly cute, strange more like it. I thought it was kind of creepy cool how you could see his eyes bulging on either side of his head.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


I took my two nieces out in my parent's backyard today, so I could practice taking portraits on my camera. I got about 5 usable shots out of about 50, but hey, those 5 look awesome. It was hard keeping these two curious little minds on task though, and I had to take a picture of an acorn that the littlest one found. They both were fascinated by the tiny crack in the nut!