1 Apt. 2B Baking Co.: December 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gingerbread Cookie Clouds

If you follow me on facebook or twitter you may have noticed that I have been spending a bit of time away from APT 2B. There was just too much exciting stuff happening without me back home in Seattle so I decided to spend a nice chunk of time with my family and friends out west this holiday season. So here I am, in the great Northwest making wreaths and pine cone garland and chasing my parent's chickens around the back yard. It is glorious. I get to cook and bake for all of my favorite folks who I don't get to see too often and I have had lots of time to tackle some of my favorite holiday recipes. I usually make these gingerbread cookies to decorate the mantle in our apartment, but they are just as good for tea time. Happy Holidays everyone, I hope you all get to spend time with the folks you love most.

Gingerbread Cookies
from Simply Recipes
yield about 3dz, 3'' cookies

3 1/4c all-purpose flour
3/4t baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1T ground ginger
1T cinnamon
1/4t ground cloves
1/2t finely grated nutmeg
1/4t finely ground black pepper
1/2t salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses

1. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and spices. Set aside.
2. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg, then the molasses.
3. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. You may need to use your hands to finish the mixing as the dough is quite stiff. Divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hr.

When you are ready to bake heat oven to 350°.

1. Place one half of the dough on a lightly floured board, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough to 1/4'' thick if you prefer chewier cookies, 1/8'' thick if you prefer crunchy. Use a cookie cutter or stencil to cut out desired shapes. If you find the dough is too soft to cut into shapes, try refrigerating it on a sheet pan for a few minutes, then proceed to cut out your desired shapes.
2. Place the cut outs onto ungreased sheet pans or pans lined with silicone mats. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the edges have just barely begun to brown. Cool the cookies on the pans for a few minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack to cook completely. Decorate as desired.

To Decorate

Royal Icing
from Simply Recipes
yield, enough to decorate about 3dz, 3'' cookies with lines and dots or about 1/2 that amount if you are filing in the cookies completely

1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 3/4 cup confectioners sugar

1. Combine all of the ingredients and beat with a hand mixer (or in a stand mixer) until stiff peaks form. See this link over at Simply Recipes to learn how to cook this icing to make it safe for pregnant ladies, old folks and kids. I used the microwave method because I know my pregnant sister in law was going to eat these cookies and the icing turned out great.

Use a pastry bag fitted with a #2 or #3 round tip and the stiff icing to add lines, shapes and dots to your cookies. You can also use this icing to outline cookies you plan to flood completely, as I did with my clouds. To fill the clouds, simply dilute the icing with a few drops of water or lemon juice and fill in the outlines you've made. For more detailed instructions, I have linked to a video below.

- For detailed decorating instructions I have to defer to my girl Martha. I've linked to a video where Martha and Aisha Tyler decorate sugar cookies, but all of the techniques are the same. Fast forward about 1/2 way through to get to the decorating part.
- I've made the Martha Stewart gingerbread cookie recipe in the past, but I find that the one above makes for a chewier cookie due to the slightly higher fat to butter ratio. I also prefer this combination of spices which is a bit milder than Martha's.
- These make great cookie ornaments, just pierce a hole in the top of the cookies before baking, decorate and put them up on your tree (or mantle). Remember to bake the cookies thoroughly and the cookies will puff a bit so make sure to make the hole big enough to put a string through.
- I got my incredible, handmade cloud cookie cutter from Herriott Grace.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Edible Holiday Gifts Part II: Squash Harvest Bread

These squash loaves are one of my favorite fall and winter treats. They are super hearty from the chopped nuts and seeds, perfectly spiced and stay most and delicious for days on the counter. This recipe makes two, nice sized loaves which makes it perfect for gift giving. I like to bring one along to holiday parties as a hostess gift, so my generous friends don't have to worry about cooking breakfast for themselves the next morning. This recipe also bakes up beautifully into paper baking molds, which makes it an even cuter gift to give (I have included some resources down below).

Squash Harvest Bread
adapted from the Macrina Bakery Cookbook
yield, 2 9x5 loaves or 6-8 smaller loaves

2 cups roasted squash purée (butternut, red kuri, or kabocha work great and canned pumpkin puree is just fine here too)
1/2c walnut halves
1/2c pecan halves
1c pepitas
2t baking soda
2t baking powder
3 1/2c flour
1/2t nutmeg
1 1/2t cinnamon
1 1/2t salt
1 1/2c light brown sugar
1 1/2c granulated sugar
1c canola oil
4 eggs
3/4c buttermilk

To Toast the Nuts and Seeds

Spread them on a baking sheet in an even layer and bake in a 375º oven for 10-15min or until they are nice and toasty. Cool the nuts completely and chop them medium/fine.

For the Loaves
Turn the oven down to 325º

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Stir in the chopped nuts and seeds, reserving a few tablespoons to sprinkle over the top of the loaves.
2. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the oil and sugars. Mix on medium high for 4min. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the squash puree and mix for another 2 minutes. Then add the eggs one at a time, mixing until well combined.
3. Alternate adding the flour (3 parts) and the buttermilk (2 parts) and stir gently to combine completely, being careful to scrape down to the bottom of the bowl.
4. Pour the batter into oiled loaf pans, filling them 2/3 full, and sprinkle with the reserved nuts. Bake large loaves for 60min, smaller loaves for 25-35min depending on size. They are done when a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 20min before unmolding.


- For gift giving, paper loaf pans like these can be found locally in NY at Bowery Kitchen Supply or New York Cake and Baking Supply where the service is pretty surly and the selection is unbeatable. They can also be found at many specialty cook shops like Sur la Table.
- Here are some online resources make sure to search for "paper baking molds".
- Here is a link to food52's easy peasy squash roasting technique and video.
- For 2 cups of squash puree, you'll need about a 1 lb squash

Edible Holiday Gifts: Spicy Caramel Cashew Corn

Every year around this time I try to take up knitting. I've always wanted to give hand knit hats and scarves and chunky cowls as gifts, but every year I get about 20 rows into the same scarf and give up. Patience for learning new tasks is hard for me to come by these days. The thing is, I really love to give hand made gifts. So after giving up on knitting and purling I inevitably end up in the kitchen stirring boiling hot pots of sugar, rolling out cookie doughs and pulling the sprinkles down from the top shelf to decorate cookie ornaments. Over the years I've built up quite a repertoire of tasty gifts and this caramel corn is one of my favorite snacks to bring to a holiday party. It also looks oh so cute packed up in little jars or bags for party favors. It is salty, sweet with just a hint of heat from the cayenne pepper and it is totally addictive. I use mushroom corn here which is a super fluffy variety of popcorn that is just perfect for holding lots and lots of tasty caramel and can handle the stirring without breaking, but good old fashioned jiffy pop works too.

Spicy Caramel Cashew Corn
yield about 2 quarts of finished caramel corn

3T oil
1/2c popcorn kernels (mushroom corn if you can find it)
2c sugar
3T butter
1T salt
1 1/2t baking soda
1/2t cayenne pepper
1t cinnamon
1/2t freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups salted cashews

To Pop the Corn

Use an air popper OR if you are like me, do it on the stovetop

1. Heat the 3T of oil in a large heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat, drop a few un popped kernels in there while the oil is heating. When the kernels pop, the oil is ready to go.
2. When the oil is hot, toss in the 1/2c of popcorn kernels, put on the lid and shake the pan back and forth a few times to coat all of the kernels with hot oil. As the popcorn pops, shake the pan every 30 seconds or so to prevent the bottom kernels from scorching. Once the time between "pops" slows down to a few seconds, it's done. Immediately turn the popcorn out into a large bowl.
3. When the pop corn is cool, carefully go through and remove all of the un-popped kernels then pour the cashews on top of the popcorn, without stirring them in.

For the Caramel

1. Lightly oil 2 wooden spoons or spatulas (these will be used to stir the caramel into the popcorn) and line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or lightly oil it (this will be used to cool the caramel covered corn).
2. In a large heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat add the sugar, butter, salt and 1/2c water. Bring the mixture to a boil (without stirring) and let it boil vigorously until it turns a light golden caramel, 10-14min.
3. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the spices and baking soda. The baking soda will make the mixture foam and expand so make sure you are using a large pot. The spices will cause the caramel to darken in color.
4. Immediately and carefully pour the caramel over the popcorn and cashews, grab your oiled spatulas and start gently tossing the mixture together. Keep stirring until the corn and cashews are evenly coated, then turn the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and gently separate the kernels. You don't need to go crazy here, but try to get it in an even layer.

To give as gifts

Package a few cups of the corn in a mason jar, weck jar, or pretty glassine bag tied with a ribbon and a label.


- To wash all of your caramel covered bowls, spoons, and pots just soak them in really hot water and all of the sugar will just melt off.
-You can buy your own mushroom popcorn kernels here. I've ordered from JustPoppin.com quite a few times and their customer service is great, plus I really like their name.