Archive for August, 2011

Baking Challenge: Chocolate Marzipan Cookies

August 29, 2011

Last week’s recipe comes from one of the books I appropriated from mom’s collection, aptly and creatively named Cookies.  I only bake cookies involving a rolling-pin when I have extra time and patience, and it’s been a boring week, so fortunately I had both.  Given the double rolling and cutting involved to make a top and bottom for these cookies, I was questioning somewhere in the middle of shouting at my sticky dough (which had perversely and deliberately adhered itself to the rolling-pin) whether they’d be worth it or not.  They actually were.  The marzipan punches up the mildness of the chocolate cookie nicely.  It was a good flavor complement.  Time and patience allowing, I would definitely make these again.

Chocolate Marzipan Cookies

scant 1 cup unsalted butter (I used salted; it was fine.)
generous 1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
7 ounces white almond paste (I used actual marzipan, which apparently is a type of almond paste with more sugar added which makes it easier to mold, but it seems there is disagreement in the culinary world as to how each is defined.  Surprise, surprise.)
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped (Just buy chips.  Eliminate the chopping.)

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Lightly grease two large baking sheets.  Cream the butter with the sugar in a bowl until pale and fluffy.  Add the egg and beat well.

Sift the flour and cocoa over the mixture.  Stir in, first with a wooden spoon, then with clean hands, pressing the mixture together to make a fairly soft dough.  If the dough is too sticky to roll, chill it for about 30 minutes, then try again.

Roll out about half the dough on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 1/4 inch.  Using a 2 inch cookie cutter, cut out rounds, re-rolling the dough as required until you have about 36 rounds.

Cut the almond paste into about 36 equal pieces.  Roll into balls, flatten slightly and place one on each round of dough.  I found 7 ounces of marzipan was more than I needed.  The balls need to be small enough that you can put the second dough round on top and still have room to seal the two together.  Leave about half an inch of clearance around the marzipan ball so you can seal the two cookies without stretching the dough too much and tearing it.  Roll out the remaining dough, cut out more rounds, then place on top of the almond paste.  Press the dough edges to seal.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until the cookies have risen well.  They don’t rise much to speak of, but the baking time is accurate.  Cool completely.  Melt the white chocolate, spoon into a paper piping bag and pipe onto the biscuits.  I couldn’t find our pastry bags, and I’ve never used paper for this.  I just spooned it into the corner of a Ziploc bag and snipped the end.  Don’t snip too much though.  You want the hole to be very small, or it’ll all just ooze out.

Chocolate Marzipan Cookies

Until next week then!


Baking Challenge: Coconut Cake

August 22, 2011

It’s two-for-one week here at The Gumball Machine.  I actually managed to bake twice.  I was motivated; I had a guest.  My uncle’s birthday is in two days, and since I won’t be with him then, we celebrated tonight.

I had a coconut cream cupcake from a “gourmet” bakery recently, and aside from tasting like coconut, it was remarkably similar to the plain white cupcakes I bake at home, only it cost more.  Since Uncle likes coconut too, I decided to play with flavoring his birthday cake to try and recreate it.  It was quite tasty, but I don’t recommend using it as a birthday cake if you’re going to have candles.  When Uncle blew them out, coconut flew everywhere!

Coconut Cake

1 white cake mix, plus what it says to add (usually oil, water & egg)
1 tsp butter extract
1 tsp coconut extract
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut, plus extra for top

Mix cake as directed on the package, except add coconut extract and butter extract before beating the batter.  I learned from a professional baker (via a mutual acquaintance) that when using coconut flavoring, adding an equal amount of butter extract brings out the coconut flavor better, so I took her advice.

When the batter is beaten, fold in the coconut.  Bake according to box directions, but watch your baking time.  This baked up faster than I expected.  Allow to cool completely, frost with Coconut Buttercream, and sprinkle shredded coconut on top.

Coconut Buttercream

1/3 cup butter or margarine
4 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
scant 1 tsp vanilla
scant 1 tsp coconut extract
scant 1 tsp butter extract
Additional milk and/or powdered sugar if necessary

Beat butter until fluffy.  Gradually add 2 cups of the powdered sugar, beating well.  Slowly beat in the 1/4 cup milk and flavorings.  Slowly beat in remaining powdered sugar.  If icing is too thick or thin, beat in additional milk or powdered sugar to reach spreading consistency.

Coconut Cake

Happy Birthday, Uncle!

Baking Challenge: Pecan Shortbread Melts

August 18, 2011

I didn’t get around to baking last week since I was too busy simultaneously developing a sinus infection and working overtime, but I’m on the mend now, and I believe cookies will help keep me on the path to good health.  After all, a balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.  A friend of mine slaps his forehead in exasperation whenever I say that, but I still maintain it’s true.

I went rummaging on one of Mom’s cookbook shelves not long ago, and I came across two intriguing and heretofore unused cookie books:  Cookies (formerly titled The Great Big Cookie Book; not sure why they changed that) and The Ultimate Cookie Book.  I asked for, and received, permission to appropriate these books, and found dozens of recipes I want to try, starting with this one from the “Ultimate” book.

The aroma wafting out of the oven while these baked was unlike anything I’d ever smelled.  It was so rich and delectable I liked this recipe before I’d even tried one, and they did not disappoint once I had.  This is a very crumbly melt-in-your-mouth kind of cookie.  Think Keebler Pecan Sandies, only lighter, not as hard and slightly less sweet.

Pecan Shortbread Melts

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans
superfine sugar (I once again ignored this and used granulated; seemed fine [har!])

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Cream butter in a large bowl.  Blend in confectioners’ sugar and vanilla.  Sift flour and salt into creamed mixture.  Blend using wooden spoon.  Fold in pecans.

Shape dough into small balls the size (and shape; more like logs than balls per the picture in my book) of dates, and dredge in superfine sugar.  Arrange on ungreased cookie sheets.  You can put these pretty close together on the sheet.  They spread out slightly, but not much.  I got most of them on one large cookie sheet.

Bake 25 to 35 minutes.  Mine browned lightly on the bottom in 20-25 minutes.  If desired, broil 2 minutes or until lightly browned.  As far as I can tell, this is just for looks.  I didn’t broil most of mine, though I tried it on the last few.  There was no discernible difference in taste.  When done, transfer to wire racks and let cool.

Pecan Shortbread Melts

Uncle Paul evaluates the result of my efforts

So that’s it for this week’s challenge.  Time & health permitting, I’ve got something ambitious in mind for next week.  See you then!


Baking Challenge: Lemon Drizzle Squares

August 8, 2011

Okay, so I am baking every week.  I’m just not blogging quite as promptly.  I’ll try to work on that.  Last week’s recipe was number 174 in the “1001” book.  It was a sticky, lemony “upside down” kind of cake, and it was yummy.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Three of my co-workers tried these flavorful little squares yesterday, and when asked how they liked them, they all nodded blissfully with full mouths and wide eyes, making muffled but enthusiastic  “MMMmmmMMM” sorts of sounds.  And once they’d swallowed, they all asked for the recipe, so I’m going to go ahead and say this one’s a keeper.

Lemon Drizzle Squares

heaping 2/3 cup softened butter or margarine, plus extra for greasing
1 cup superfine sugar (again, granulated is just fine, no pun intended)
2 eggs
finely grated rind of 1 lemon (I cannot stress enough how much I love the microplane)
1 1/4 cups self-rising flour  (if you don’t have self-rising, sift 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder into every 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour)
1/2 cup milk
confectioners’ sugar for dusting


1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 7 inch square cake pan and line with parchment paper.  I questioned the necessity of doing both, but I understood the reasoning once I turned out the cake.  It is extremely sticky.  The paper makes cleanup much simpler, and the greasing keeps the paper from sticking.

Place the butter, sugar and eggs in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy.  Stir in the lemon rind, then sift in the flour and fold into the mixture.  Stir in the milk.  Spoon the batter into the cake pan, smoothing the top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to the touch.  I found this baking time to be accurate.  Even if it’s already browning, don’t poke the cake halfway through to see if it’s firm like I did.  It wasn’t, and it fell and made a sinkhole in the middle.  It still tasted fine though.  Leave the pan on a wire rack.

To make the syrup, place the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.  Do not boil.  I never went over simmer on my knob; keep it low.  Prick the warm cake all over with a fork, and spoon the hot syrup evenly over the top, allowing it to be absorbed.

Let cool completely in the pan, then turn out the cake, cut into 12 pieces, and dust with sifted confectioners’ sugar.  Enjoy!

Lemon Drizzle Squares

I found a couple of new cookie books on mom’s shelves, and I’ll be trying out a delicious-sounding new recipe this week (assuming I can narrow it down to just one out of all the recipes I’ve marked), so stay tuned!

No-Bake Challenge: Not to be trifled with!

August 1, 2011

This week’s recipe is brought to you by my Aunt Paula.  I first tried this dessert while visiting her a few years ago, and it was yummy.  Technically it’s not baking since it just involved mixing and layering prepared items, but since I’m the one who set myself the baking challenge, I’m just going to feel free to make up the rules as I go along.  I suppose if you wanted to bake you could make your own ladyfingers, but I suspect that’s not worth the trouble.  I’ve been meaning to try this recipe for quite a while, and given the kind of heat we’ve been having this past week, a cool and refreshing treat that didn’t involve heating up the oven seemed timely.  It is simple and delicious, plus it looks very pretty, so it’s a great dessert to make for company.  Thanks, Aunt Paula!

Aunt Paula’s English Trifle

3 packages ladyfingers
1 jar raspberry preserves
1 package frozen raspberries with syrup
1/2 package frozen whole raspberries
1 large instant vanilla pudding
1 large container Cool Whip
slivered almonds for top

Mix preserves, frozen raspberries (thawed) and frozen whole berries (thawed) together.  Layer the ladyfingers in the bowl, alternating with the raspberry mixture.  Continue layering until all the ladyfingers and all of the raspberry mixture have been used.  Mix the pudding according to the directions on the box.  Pour pudding over the layers, cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate.  Before serving, top with Cool Whip and sprinkle with almonds.

Raspberry Trifle