Sunday, January 31, 2010

Chocolate Ganache Tart


If you receive Martha Stewart Living or have seen it on newstands, you may notice this tart on the cover of the February issue. This chocolate tart has a buttery chocolate crust and a creamy ganache filling. It is to die for if you love chocolate and my sister, her husband and I all agreed it was one of the best desserts we have had in a while. It is rich, but has a smooth texture and great flavor. The Martha recipe was for individual tarts, but we made one large tart in a regular round tart tin. The crust had to be kneaded a bit after refrigerating, but was easy to roll out and transfer to the tin. One tip is to roll out the dough on cocoa instead of flour so as to not discolor the crust. The filling was easy to make and it's highly recommended to use good chocolate. We used 65% cocoa bittersweet chocolate and along with the heavy cream and whole milk, it was a dreamy filling. We waited until all the kids were in bed and then enjoyed it topped with whipped cream and a meringue heart. It would also be great with strawberries or raspberries on the side. To drink? A glass of smooth red wine!

Meringue Hearts

I've made meringue to top a lemon pie, but have never made baked meringues. These meringue hearts were made as a decoration to top our chocolate tart (see next post), but were a sweet treat on their own and turned out very pretty. They are quite easy to make and only take three ingredients - egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar. The time is in piping and baking them. They need to bake at a very low temperature for a few hours and then stay in the oven overnight. So, you won't want to make them if you have a lot of other baking to follow. I made them a day in advance of the tart as they keep well. You have to make sure to whip the meringue to stiff peaks (a mixer is essential) and I separated the meringue into three bowls to make white, pink and red hearts. The prettiest ones where when the colors were mixed a little when I switched colors while piping. They are such a sweet Valentine decoration and looked so nice on top of the chocolate tart.

Candy Gems

This was more my sister's project than mine, but I helped a little. My nephew is infatuated with glittery sparkly things with gems and jewelry included so she wanted to try to make these pretty candy gems to decorate cupcakes for his birthday party. Once we got past the candy thermometer troubles that I explained previously, we were able to make one batch to test out the recipe. She needs to finesse working with the molds a little more, but the color turned out gorgeous (she's also planning to make green and possibly chocolate gems) and they tasted yummy too.

Candy Thermometer Tip

My sister and I always like to tackle some cooking or baking challenge each time we get together. On my recent visit to see her in Cincinnati we focused on baking and also made candy for the first time. She was a bit frustrated with her candy thermometer (especially after she realized it didn't work correctly). After burning a batch of the candy, we tested it in water and the temperature was not registering correctly. She also wanted to get it to sit correctly in the pot. The handy clips they put on them don't always position it correctly and she ended up having to use her meat thermometer (which doesn't have a clip) after realizing the candy thermometer was a lemon. We found a handy tip online to place a whisk on top of the pot and put the thermometer needle through it to place it in the liquid. Very handy! We made another batch of the candy and it turned out just that we were using a thermometer that was working! See the next post for the candy we made.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chocolate No-bake Cookies

I grew up with cookies we commonly called "no-bakes" that are fudgy chocolate cookies with oats. Some people made them with just cocoa and some would also include peanut butter for a richer flavor. You don't bake them in the oven, but simply melt all the ingredients together in a stove top pot and drop them on parchment to dry and solidify. However, the appropriate moistness and texture of the cookies requires the right temperature and timing when you're making them. I've found a recipe that I love and they turn out great each time. It uses chunky peanut butter so they also have a little crunch to them. It's a simple cookie, but has such a great texture and flavor. I thought everybody knew about these, but have come across a few people that were unfamiliar. Did you grow up with your mom making "no-bakes"?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Farm Fresh Eggs

My in-laws have acquired some new animals on their farm in Wisconsin, including five beautiful chickens. This morning I went out with my father-in-law to say hi, feed them breakfast and gather the eggs. I've always tended to buy free-range or organic eggs at the market and have lately been getting my eggs straight from the Amish farms in Michigan. However, I had not yet met the chickens that provided my eggs for breakfast until today. It's just nice to know where your food comes from. We had a fantastic cooked breakfast and all enjoyed farm fresh eggs fried to order. Over hard for me, please.

Hot Chocolate at Beernsten's

On a recent visit to see our family in Wisconsin, my sister-in-law, mother-in-law and I had a nice afternoon break to catch up at Beernsten's Confectionery. They have told me about it several times and it was great to have some time to check it out. It's a charming little chocolate shop with an old fashioned feel from the original wood display cases and booths. It feels like a cross between a 1930's candy shop and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's so fun visiting a chocolate shop this time of year with all the beautiful Valentine treats and pretty decorated heart candy boxes. It inspired me to want to make chocolates again and I may try to make some truffles for Valentine's Day this year. They have sit-down service so instead of just getting some chocolates and heading home, we picked out a few treats and sat down to catch up in person instead of via Facebook, video calls or e-mail, like usual. We each had a chocolate and a homemade caramel with the highlight being our hot chocolate. It was steaming hot with an unusual topping...instead of whipped cream or marshmallows it was topped with marshmallow cream. What a treat on a cold and windy winter day!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Shortbread and Tea

Each Christmas for the last several years, I've made homemade shortbread. It's an icebox shortbread recipe that is very easy, but I've been told that it rivals Walkers. You can make the dough, roll it into a log shape and refrigerate or freeze it and then slice it and bake it later. This year I made cherry, pecan, chocolate and plain shortbread. I've used it to package in cellophane bags or pretty boxes to give as gifts. But, I always keep some extra to have with a nice cup of hot tea. In fact, I just indulged in one of each flavour while I sat in front of the fire with my book and cup of tea. This is one of my favorite china cups in the photo - a toast and tea set that my Auntie Vera in England gave to me a few years ago to add to my collection.