Friday, October 31, 2014

Avocado Truffles

vegan, truffles, chocolate, candy, vegan candy

Happy Halloween!  Hope everyone big and small has some fun today!

True story: until my trip to Peru this past May, I did not want anything to do with avocados.  I thought they were slimy tasteless fruits that were incredibly difficult to cut.  Then, in Peru, I was able to eat really fresh avocados with a squirt of lemon juice and salt.  I was in heaven.

When we got home, I started eating everything avocado.  One of my favorite ways is to sub out meat or mayo in a sandwich and use avocado instead.  Which got me thinking...if avocado is a savory fat substitute, why can't it be a sweet fat substitute.  After all, we've seen it done before.  Enter the avocado truffle.  Surprisingly, the avocado (with a little help from some lemon juice) makes the truffle taste fruity.

Avocado Truffles

makes about 12 truffles

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli Chocolate Chips, 60%)
  • sprinkles, cocoa powder, crushed nuts, or powdered sugar for rolling the truffles

In a microwave safe bowl, melt chocolate chips in the microwave.  While you are melting the chocolate chips, beat together avocado, lemon juice, and salt until smooth.  Once the chocolate chips are melted, fold chocolate into the avocado mixture.  Cover and allow to cool.  I waited about 4 hours.

Using a teaspoon or small cookie scoop, scoop out a portion of the truffle mixture.  Roll it in your hands to make a nice smooth ball.  Then roll the ball in a small bowl of sprinkles (or cocoa powder or powdered sugar, or crushed nuts).  Continue with the same rolling process until all of the truffle mixture is gone.

Alternatively, you can dip the truffles in more melted chocolate instead of rolling them.  Personally, I like the ease and color pop I get from rolling them in sprinkles.

Monday, October 27, 2014

7 Tips For New Bread Bakers-What I Wish I'd Known

bread, baking bread, tips, homemade bread,

My mom taught me how to make bread when I was a little girl.  It was a really fun activity for a kid, kneading dough, watching it rise, slathering it with butter warm out of the oven (actually, also fun for a grown up).

So when I was first married, I thought nothing of cracking open my fresh copy of Joy of Cooking
and going to town on one of their bread recipes.  Imagine my dismay when the loaf turned out to be pure garbage.  But I knew how to bake bread!  I'd done it a million times!

Turns out, I didn't really understand the nuances involved.  The little things my mom took care of that I didn't fully understand.  Over the next few years (and lots of phone calls to my mom) here are seven things that I learned about baking bread:

No Knead Bread
The Second Rise Is Always Necessary-I love to tinker with recipes.  When I made that first loaf as a newlywed, I decided that waiting for that second rise was just too much of a pain.  Turns out, that second rise is extremely important.  It creates air pockets in the dough and shapes your bread into the loaf.  Without it, your loaf is very very heavy.

Whole Wheat Challah
The Amount Of Flour/Water In A Recipe Is Fluid-It depends who you ask as to which ingredient is supposed to be fluid.  My mom always says the amount of flour you put in depends on how dry your dough is.  Peter Reinhart says that the amount of water you put in the recipe is fluid depending on how dry your dough is.  I've done it both ways.  It works pretty well both ways.

The most important thing is to let your dough speak to you.  I know, that sounds crazy, but trust me, it works.  If the dough is sticky, add a LITTLE bit more flour.  If the dough is dry to the touch, a little more water.  Your dough should be tacky like that blue sticky tack your teacher used to hang stuff on the wall when you were a kid.  If you are going to err on one side or another, make the dough more wet at first because you always add more flour in on the second knead.  We tend not to like to get bread dough on our hands and so we make it too dry and then have a heavy loaf.

Monkey Muffins
Overproofing The Dough Tastes Bad-If you let your bread dough rise (proof) too long the yeast run out of food to eat.  Your dough becomes flaccid and smells like skunky beer.  When you are making a sourdough culture this is not a bad thing.  When you are making direct method (single day, 2 rise) bread, the flavor profile can get intense.  You only want to let it rise to about double the size of your starting dough.  Depending on the temperature of your house, this usually takes about 1-1 1/2 hours.  If your house is unusually warm, this might go faster.  Pay attention.  

Cinnamon Swirl Pumpkin Bread
Bread Is Pretty Forgiving- I know I have told you all the things that can go wrong, but really, you can fix the flour/water problem pretty easily.  If you let your dough rise too long, punch it down and let it go again, you will just have a little more flavor than you expected.

Homemade Naan
People Really Love Homemade Bread-I know that I love homemade bread, but I grew up with it.  I assumed it was one of those weird things that only my family enjoyed like Dite Rite or excessively sweet desserts.  Turns out though, almost everyone I have run into loves homemade bread.  And more than that, they love it when you bake bread just for them, shows you're willing to put out a little effort to say I love you.  Luckily, many bread recipes make two loaves.  One for you to keep and one to give to someone you care about.

French Bread
Instant Yeast Is A Lot Easier To Use Than Active Dry Yeast-I grew up using active dry yeast.  To make active dry yeast work, you have to add it to a little bit of warm water for 15 minutes at the start of your recipe to "activate" the yeast.  Instant yeast or bread machine yeast needs no warm up.  You just add it directly to the dough.  This is nice because you don't have to worry about what that extra bit of water will do to your dough.  If your recipe calls for active dry yeast and you only have instant yeast, just remember to add in that extra bit of water because it is usually accounted for in recipes calling for active dry yeast.

Apple Cider Doughnuts
Bread Machines Aren't Necessary-Some people love their bread machines.  I am not one of those people.   To me, it is a big heavy machine that took up cabinet space and really limits the kinds of bread I can make.  One of the best things about baking bread is its simplicity.  All you really need is a bowl, a spoon, some bread pans and time.  And most of your bread baking time is really passive time you could be doing something else like laundry or watching the Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Age Old Question: Baking Powder Vs. Baking Soda-Which One and Why?

baking soda, baking powder, infographic

Life Beyond Silicon wrote:Hi H! Technical question: how come some of your recent cookies don't have baking powder or baking soda? These are ingredients I almost always find in cookies. Cookies don't really "rise", but what do these ingredients do? Or, written another way, what would happen if I made this recipe and added one or the other one in?

Baking Soda: Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate.  It is a base.  When added together with an acid, it creates a reaction and the byproduct is carbon dioxide.  Maybe you remember from when you were a kid and mixed baking soda and vinegar together to make volcanos.  Same idea.  Consequently, you want to add baking soda to baked goods where there in another acidic ingredient.  Buttermilk, lemon juice, and some cocoa powders are all examples of acidic ingredients.

One of the reasons that baking soda is regularly used in cookies is that it makes your baked goods spread so you get a flatter, crispier cookie.

Baking Powder: Sodium bicarbonate plus cream of tarter.  What is cream of tarter you ask?  It is potassium bitartrate and is an acidic byproduct of winemaking.  It is added to the sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda) in order to activate it.  That way you do not have to have any acidic ingredients in the recipe, you can use regular milk and flour, etc.  Baking powder makes your baked goods puff up, which is once of the reasons it is used in many cake recipes. 

Can you swap one for the other?  Not really.  Even though baking powder is comprised to baking soda, you would have to add in a lot more baking powder to get the same effect.  I mixed the two up when baking stout cake once and had a big flat mess on my hands.

The other part of the question was why have some of my cookie recipes not called for either one?  Well, in the case of the caramel apple cookies-butter makes the cookies spread quite a bit already and the eggs in the batter provide enough puff.  Also any of the cake mix cookies will already have one or the other in the mix so no additional is needed.

Personally, I have always wondered why some recipes, like butternut squash bread, required both.  Looks like the answer to that is you may may have a bit of acid in the recipe but not enough to make the product raise on just baking soda alone.  So you use baking soda to neutralize the acid and baking powder to puff up the baked good.

Baking Soda and Baking Powder by Brian Geiger
Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder by Kimberly Holland
Baking 101: The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder by Joy The Baker

Monday, October 20, 2014

Wicked Easy Garlic Toast

Ok, this is too too easy.  However, there is nothing like garlic bread to jazz up your weeknight dinner.  Simply take some bread, any bread will do, and toast it.  Then rub the warm toast with a peeled raw clove of garlic and then slather with salted butter.  Perfect weeknight garlic toast.  Basically zero effort.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Funday

Happy Sunday!  What are you all up to today?  Dave and I are headed downtown to try and find a place to live.  Hopefully we'll find something good.

My poor pony has managed to get himself an eye infection, so I have been lucky enough to get to go medicate him every night.  There is nothing like a horse barn on a crisp fall evening.  Everything is quiet, with just the sounds of all the horses munching their hay.

Here are some interesting things I read this week:

Apple Fritter Monkey Bread-need I say more?

The cutest pretzel broomsticks!

It's time to put our money where our mouth is.

And in case you missed it, here's what was here earlier this week:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Mini Cupcakes

Delicious Sticky Buns

Don't forget, there is still time to enter my giveaway!

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Friday Giveaway!

We decided to sell our house and move into the city.  We are looking for a change of pace and quite a change it will be.  Consequently, I am going from a giant kitchen to probably a very tiny kitchen.

We got an offer a couple weeks ago that we accepted so it's go time in terms of packing up and cleaning out.  Which means good things for you.  I was cleaning out my cupboards and stumbled across 3 cake items still in the wrapper.  If I haven't used them in the last few years, I'm probably not going to use them.  But I thought, maybe, one of you guys could use them.

First item: some cute Valentine's cupcake picks

Next item: a cardboard circus themed cake stand with cake server.  I originally bought it for my nephew's first birthday but ended up making too big of a cake to be supported on the stand.

Finally: set of Wilton pillow pans.  I had lofty dreams of making Cinderella pillow cakes.  But, I never did.  Maybe one of you can now fulfill your own dreams of pillowy cakes.

This giveaway is going to run until next Friday.  One winner and open to U.S. Residents only.   Have a great weekend!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Mini Cupcakes

Yesterday, I committed two cardinal food  sins:

1. I went to the grocery store hungry.  I ran in for some milk and somehow ended up driving home with a big bag of Reese's cups

2. I used canned frosting for these cupcakes.  I KNOW!  But honestly, I was lazy and it was in my cupboard and sometimes, it's important to make life easier on yourself.

Forgive me?  You will once you realize how over the top delicious and incredibly easy these cupcakes are to make.  I got the cupcakes in the oven last night while I was waiting for the pasta water to boil.  Yeah.  Easy like that.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Mini Cupcakes

makes about 20 mini cupcakes


  • 1 box Jiffy Yellow Cake Mix (this can sometimes be hard to find in the store.  You are more than welcome to use whatever yellow cake mix, just follow the directions on the back of the box)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 egg
  • 20 Reeses miniatures
Line a mini muffin tin with mini cupcake wrappers.  If you don't have mini cupcake wrappers-get some.  The Reese's are going to melt and then stick to the bottom of your pan an pull apart your cupcakes if you don't have cupcake wrappers.  You can buy them here and have them shipped right to your house.  Unwrap Reese's miniatures and place one into the bottom of each cupcake wrapper.

In a large bowl, mix together cake mix, water, and egg.  Scoop about 1 1/2 tablespoons cake batter overtop of the Reese's cup in the bottom of the mini cupcake tin.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes.  Allow to cool completely and then frost.  Maybe try not to eat them all while they're cooling but be sure to sample at least one while they are warm.  They are pretty incredible even at this point.


  • 1 can chocolate frosting
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
Stir together chocolate frosting and peanut butter.  The good news is the peanut butter thickens up the canned frosting making it easier to pipe.  Fill your piping bag.  I used a Wilton 4B tip.  (Pro tip: don't use a basic round tip with chocolate frosting or you run the risk of your frosting looking like poo).  Pipe swirls, stars, or whatever onto your cuppies.  Garnish with sprinkles, if you so desire.  Enjoy!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Delicious Pecan Sticky Buns

pecan, cinnamon rolls, pecan rolls,

Let's see, what is the best way to make cinnamon rolls a little more unhealthy?  I know, add in more butter, more brown sugar, and some pecan.  But whoa baby, those things really snazz them up.  

So when you get a few extra minute, do yourself a favor and whip these babies up.  Then, sit down, take a load off, maybe make yourself some tea, and enjoy.

Pecan Sticky Buns

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup milk, scalded and then cooled
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups butter
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3 1/2-4 cups all purpose flour
  • sugar and cinnamon to add to the inside of the dough
  • 1 cup pecan halves
  • 1 cup brown sugar

Microwave 1/2 cup butter and milk.  Add water and eggs to the mixture and stir.  Feel the bowl, if it is only lukewarm, add the yeast.  Mix in the sugar, salt and flours, taking care to use the flour sparingly.  Knead for a few minutes and allow to rise until doubled.

Once the first proof is over, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Roll dough out into a rectangle.  Melt 1/4 cup butter.  Brush melted butter onto the dough.  Sprinkle the buttered dough generously with the cinnamon/sugar mixture.  I use a mixture that is a little heavier on the sugar than cinnamon, but my husband prefers it opposite.  Roll the dough up and slice into rolls of desired thickness.  Honestly, these rolls are best a bit on the thin side.  I have tried making them fat, but the ratio of dough to filling was not as tasty.

Line a 9 x 13 inch with parchment paper.  Melt final 1/2 cup butter and pour into bottom of pan.  Sprinkle brown sugar over the melted butter.  Sprinkle the pecans over top of the sugar.  Place the rolls on top of the sugar/butter mixture.  Cover and allow to raise for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Bake the rolls for 30 minutes or so until the rolls are baked through.  On a rimmed cookie sheet covered in aluminum foil, flip the buns over.  Now the gooey mixture is on top.  Enjoy!  They are especially good warm.

Friday, October 10, 2014

7 Things I Wish I'd Known When I first Started Baking and Decorating Cake

Baking and decorating cake is one of my favorite creative outlets.  It's the time where I get to smash my science brain and my artists brain together for one big sweet pile of deliciousness.  I have been baking and decorating cakes for 5-6 years now and have learned a lot along the way.  Here are some things I wish I had known from the beginning:

such an ugly cake
  • Don't Stress Out, You Will Make Ugly Cake-You will make a hundred ugly cakes.  Drop more icing on the floor than you can stand.  Your icing flowers will flop.  Your icing will turn out the wrong color.  Your writing will be shaky, off-center, and sometimes spelled wrong.  The cake will take a thousand times longer than anticipated and will never look like what you think it's going to.  Just remember two things: it's only cake and it can always be fixed.  This took me so long to realize.  I used to get so stressed out every time something wouldn't go according to plan and I lost the enjoyment of my art (and made my husband afraid to come in the kitchen).
Farm Cake
  • The Difference Between Parchment Paper and Wax Paper-You can bake on parchment paper, you cannot bake on wax paper.  You will have one hot mess on your hands if you forget this tidbit.  Use wax paper for candy making.
Fish Cake
  • Most People Prefer Cake Mix-When I first started making and decorating cakes, I felt a little bit like a fraud because I never made cake from scratch.  I slowly started to make cake from scratch and I was surprised by the reaction I got from family and friends.  They didn't like my scratch cake.  They wanted me to go back to making cake how I used to.  Which is from a cake mix.  Most people grow up eating cake made from cake mix and most bakeries make their cake that way too.  If you like to make your cake from scratch, more power to you.  But if, like me, you would rather spend time decorating instead of sifting flour, make your cake with cake mix and don't beat yourself up about it. Spend your time making your own frosting and creating a masterpiece.
Sock Monkey Cake Topper
  • Baker's Joy Is Your Friend-Always grease the pan.  Just do it.  You will be sad otherwise.  If you don't use Baker's Joy, grease your pan with butter or shortening and dust it with flour or line with parchment.  But for me personally, Baker's Joy has saved me tons of time and always works.

  • You Don't Need All The Gadgets-When I first started decorating cake, I thought that I needed every flower former, petal maker, cake pan and piping tip known to man.  As it turns out, I routinely use pretty much the same small set of tools for every cake.  Also, there is really quite a lot of shit out there that masquerades itself as cake decorating tools.  A basic set of piping tips, an offset spatula, an x-acto knife, and a turntable, along with a set of round and square cake pans will go a long way.  A really long way.  As for educating yourself, the internet is endless and this book is pretty sweet too.  I read it cover to cover at least once a year and learn something new each time.
Ruffle Cake
  • Set The Timer-this is one that I can never seem to get through my thick scull.  I cannot tell you how many burnt, overdone, dry and just plain ruined cakes and cupcakes I have made just because I haven't done the simple task of setting a timer.

work in progress

Measure Your Progress-take pictures.  Seriously.  It might seem silly, but it is so easy when you begin a new creative venture to feel like you are never making any progress.   So take a photo.  You will quickly realize that you are making more progress than you think.

The most important thing to remember, though, is to have fun.  Cake decorating is so much fun and no matter how things turn out, you usually have something pretty sweet.  For more on what I have leaned through trial, error, and a lot of reading, visit my tips and tricks page.

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