Christmas in……..January??

So, if you remember my blog post back in November on our family Thanksgiving, I mentioned that our holiday get togethers aren’t exactly always celebrated on time!  So, in keeping with our Levear tradition, this year’s Christmas was no different.  I know that when there are extended families involved with holiday gatherings, they don’t always happen on the exact date, however, we really pushed the envelope on this one and had our Christmas dinner on January 31st.  Yes, 37 days after the actual day!  But seriously……does it really matter that much when we have it?  As long as it’s still technically in the winter, right?  I probably shouldn’t mention then, that the weekend of January 31st was also the weekend that our temperatures were a record high of 17!  LOL.  Oh well, we still had a great dinner, as always!  We all piled into my brother’s dining room and once again filled it with copious amounts of laughter, loud conversation, a hodgepodge of beverages and crazy delish food!  We had a big, fat turkey with all the traditional fixings, including my sister-in-law, Angela’s, heavenly cranberry sauce, stuffing, taters, salads and veggies!  And in following Dutch tradition, my amazing mom got us all our Chocoladeletter.

Chocolate letterSince my brother was hosting all of us, I gave him the option of which dessert he wanted me to bring – my Oma’s apple pie or a cheesecake of some sort, which completely threw him for a loop.  He actually had to take a night to decide…….all I got the next day was a text with the word “cheesecake”.  I’m not the biggest fan of a simple (and in my mind, boring) cherry cheesecake, so I elected to go with a dark and white chocolate cheesecake.   And just to be sure I scored extra brownie points, I made sure to use Lindt chocolate too!

cheesecake 004Chocolate crust, with a rich concoction of cream cheese, eggs, vanilla and the melted white chocolate.

                             cheesecake 001   cheesecake 006
Dollups of the dark chocolate blended with a bit of the cream cheese mixture, swirled in through the cake just enough to create a kaleidoscopic design and keep the contrast of colours visible, then into the oven she goes for the hour.

                            cheesecake 007   cheesecake 008

One of the first times I baked a cheesecake, I made the mistake of opening the oven door a few times to see how the cake was coming along – BIG MISTAKE.  By the time it was done, there were so many cracks across the top, it looked like remnants of an earthquake!  Needless to say, that cheesecake was topped with lots and lots of whipped cream!  Luckily, I’ve made enough cheesecakes since then to almost perfect them!  I’d say this one is pretty close and appears that it was quite popular too!

       cheesecake 016   cheesecake 032   cheesecake 023

Merry (very belated) Christmas everyone?? 

 

Heavenly Treats For The Holidays

Another year has come and gone and I hope that everyone had a wonderful and relaxing Christmas and New Years.  I know, I know, the word relaxation within Christmas holidays for most people doesn’t exist and I can admit that I did my fair share of late nights and running around.  However, I can contribute most of those late nights to creating some heavenly treats as gifts to some of my friends and my family.  I threw in my ear buds with some great tunes and away I went making a floury and chocolaty mess in the kitchen.  Thankfully, I have an incredible space in the home where I live with a nice, big island and a double oven.  This definitely helps!  As I mentioned in a previously, I had a list made up a while ago of what I wanted to bake, I just had to cut in down a bit from the dozen or so that was on that list!  I finally settled on shortbread, chocolate truffles, spiced mocha fudge, peanut clusters and caramel pretzel bark, all of which, I’m proud to say got exceptional reviews

Christmas Cheer 2

Out of all these little morsels of ooey-gooey tastiness, I still, after more than 20 years, enjoy making my shortbread the most.  It’s your basic, simple ingredients – sugar, butter, egg, vanilla and flour, and when they are mixed and baked just right, the first bite is like a party in your mouth!

                           Shapes cut        Cut & baked

I had a customer that placed an order for 2 dozen French Macarons – 12 chocolate and 12 salted caramel, and I was thrilled for the opportunity to create these delectable little French almond meringue cookies once again.  Basically, these are what kept me up until the wee hours of the morning (which was entirely my own choice).   Whipping the egg whites just enough to create that slight peak, then gently folding in the cocoa without over mixing (otherwise you end up with flat and cracked Macaron shells), letting your perfectly round little discs harden just a bit at room temperature before popping them in the oven and keeping a close eye on them so they don’t overbake, which would make them hard and crunchy instead of light and chewy.  Messing up on any of these steps is what causes many bakers copious amounts of frustration and a lot of four-letter words!  I’ve had the good fortune of not having run into these issues (and hopefully won’t in the future) and having my French Macarons turn out – with a really great review from my friend that ordered them!

Egg whitesMixing Choc GanacheChocolate shells unbaked

 

 

 

 

I find that the trick to baking the meringues really well is rotating the baking sheet halfway through (I actually do this with all my cookies too).  Maybe it’s just me or maybe it really does help, but now that I’m in the habit of doing it, I have to do it all the time!  Not all Macarons are going to come out looking the same, some rise a bit more, some spread out a bit less, just remember that if they are still round-ish and not cracked, they’ll most likely have the same texture.  In fact, even when using the same recipe, they’ll likely be a tiny bit different each time you make them.

                            White shells baked        Chocolate shells baked

The filling for the Macarons is definitely the easiest part of these little 2-bite slices of heaven.  You can use either ganache, butter cream, meringue or jam, which so far, I’ve found that the ganache and butter cream pair the best.  Once you place a dollup in the centre of the cookie and gently press the top half on top of it, you have your masterpiece!

                            Salted Caramel         Chocolate French Macarons

Now that a new year is upon us, so is a new year of creations and adventures in the kitchen for me.  I am excited and happy to announce that I will be expanding my business and will now be offering Dessert Dutchess packages which will cater to weddings, private parties and corporate events.  Please contact me for more details.

I want to thank everyone for following my blog and I welcome your comments as well as suggestions for any baked goodies that you may want to learn more about – which recipe is the best, which to stay away from and why.

Baking From the Heart

I know that for some people, something as simple as baking a cake seems like climbing Mount Everest, but for me, I could spend a whole day in the kitchen, baking everything from cookies to cakes to chocolate anything!  And there’s nothing that makes me happier than to watch someone take that first bite, see their eyes light up and the expression on their face when their taste buds explode with pleasure!

 

Now anyone who knows me, knows I’m not exactly a big Christmas person (I’m not a Grinch, but I’m certainly not a Who-ville citizen either!).  However, I absolutely LOVE doing copious amounts of baking at Christmas, it’s my escape from the craziness.  Yes, I know that Christmas is still 2 months away, but really, that’s only 8 more weekends, and unless you love baking as much as I do, you’re probably not going to want to, or be able to, give up one of those weekends to spend it in the kitchen!  From experience, doing a lot of Christmas baking does require a bit of planning ahead of time, and for me, it usually ends up being more than just a single weekend event!  I’ve already started planning my list of goodies that I’ll be baking for gifts to my family and friends.  There will be of course, my 2 traditional treats, which are both my own recipes and ones that I’ve been making since high school – my secret recipe shortbread and my chocolate truffles (my brother, who loves these, has another name for them, however, it’s not exactly blog-friendly! Haha).  Like with any recipe, it takes some tinkering to get them just perfect and with about 20 years of practice, I’ve been told they’re pretty close!

Cut & baked

My secret recipe shortbread

White chocolate and white sprinkled dark chocolate truffles

White chocolate and white sprinkled dark chocolate truffles

One of my recent and most challenging creations was Chocolate Ganache French Macarons, which I decided to make for a birthday gift.  Now these delectable treats either work out or they don’t, there’s no in between.  I ended up looking through a bunch of different websites – Allrecipes, Martha Stewart, Food Network and Popsugar, (to name a few), to find a recipe that caught my eye – and believe me, there are LOTS of different recipes out there!  I finally settled on one that didn’t have about 25 different ingredients and that wasn’t overly time consuming (meaning less than 3 hours from start to finish)  The recipe I chose to use was from Chowhound and they turned out great!  As I mentioned before, the look on my friend’s face when she bit into it, was all worth it!

Chocolate Ganache French Macarons

Chocolate Ganache French Macarons