Chocolate Walnut Holiday Bread

Pull off a branch of this Christmas tree and bite into tender bread layered with creamy dark chocolate and ground walnuts. I couldn’t resist adding maraschino cherries to make the bread even more festive. It’s rich without being too sweet, and the chocolate flavor really stands out.

This dough needs to chill overnight, so make it in the evening, let it rise, and then put it in the fridge until the next day. 

I’m sure you’ve seen variations of this idea, often using puff pastry and hazelnut spread. (Check out YouTube for this option.) It would have been much easier, but I wanted to make things difficult, of course, preferring a soft, puffy 3-D appearance.

I’m posting this at the last moment, but inspiration just struck today and I had to bake this. If you’re too busy this Christmas, the strips of layered dough could easily be woven into a heart for Valentine’s Day. Or you could simply roll the dough out, spread with the chocolate mixture, roll up and slice, and bake like cinnamon rolls.

This is undeniably messy to make. You will get chocolate on your hands, on the counter, and on the bread itself. But your hands and the counter will wash, and the chocolate smears on the dough just makes the bread prettier, honest!

Since this is a last minute slam-dunk, I’ll dispense with my usual chit chat and just go right to the recipe!

Chocolate Walnut Holiday Bread
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Ingredients
  • BREAD:
  • ¼ cup very warm water
  • 1 package active-dry yeast
  • pinch of sugar
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 5½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • FILLING:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 10 ounces chocolate (I used semi-sweet mini chips)
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 cups ground walnuts (grind in a food processor for 10 seconds)
  • Maraschino cherries, if desired, blotted well with paper towel
  • Egg wash: 1 egg and 1 teaspoon milk or water, whisked together well
  • Powdered sugar and water glaze, if desired
Instructions
  1. BREAD DOUGH:
  2. In a small bowl, combine the warm water, yeast, and pinch of sugar. Allow to sit until bubbly - about 5 minutes
  3. In a small pan place 2 cups milk, 2 tablespoons butter, and 2 tablespoons sugar. Heat on medium until butter is melted. It should be warm to the touch, but not hot.
  4. Pour warm milk mixture, yeast mixture, and eggs into large bowl. (A stand mixer with dough hook is recommended) and mix until combined.
  5. Add flour and salt and mix well.
  6. Add 2 tablespoons softened butter and knead by machine for 5 minutes. (Dough will be too soft to knead by hand. If you don't have a stand mixer, stir with a heavy spoon.)
  7. Scrape dough into a generously greased bowl, cover, and let rise until double - about 1 hour.
  8. Punch down the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
  9. FILLING: The next day, in a medium pan on low heat, combine the cream, butter, and chocolate. Stir often until chocolate melts. Once the mixture is smooth, add the flour and ground nuts. Stir well and set aside. Mixture will need to set up a little. If you plan on starting the bread right away, place the pan in a cold water bath. (Put the pan of chocolate filling in a larger pan and add cold water to the bottom pan, bringing it halfway up the side of the pan of chocolate.) Stir occasionally until thickened.
  10. ASSEMBLY: Place a sheet of parchment in a 12x17 rimmed baking pan. Remove dough from the refrigerator and drop onto floured surface. Form a long roll, flatten, and roll into a 24-inch by 14-inch rectangle. Spread with the filling and cut into three 8x14-inch pieces. Roll each up from the long side, stretching slightly to create rolls that are 18 inches long.
  11. Cut two of the rolls LENGTHWISE down the middle, exposing the chocolate layers. You will have 4 long skinny pieces and one whole piece (for the trunk).
  12. Note: Remember that dough will rise as it bakes, If all of your branches touch the sides of the pan, the tree will look square. Only let the bottom, bigger branches touch the sides of the pan.
  13. Pick up one of the cut pieces (yes, this will get messy) and twist it. Place it down in an upside-down 'V' shape, at the bottom (short end) of the pan. leaving room for a trunk. It will be too long; cut extra off with a scissors or knife.and set scrap aside. About an inch above the bottom branch, add another twisted piece, cutting off extra. This piece will be smaller, so the scrap will be larger. Repeat two more times, getting progressively smaller with each branch.
  14. Using the palms of your hands, roll the uncut piece to make it longer and skinnier, tapering it at one end, and place it in the center of the branches, putting the skinny end at the top and going from top to bottom, creating a trunk. Cut off excess, and cut the scrap down the middle to use for branches.
  15. Twist and stretch the remaining scraps to make them a little thinner, then fill in your tree, laying branches across the trunk. Pull and twist to shape the tree to your satisfaction. Cut some vertical lines down the trunk to look like bark.
  16. If you're using maraschino cherries, tuck them into the branches. Cover bread with a towel and allow it to rise for 30 minutes..
  17. Heat oven to 350 F. Brush bread with egg wash and bake for approximately 40 minutes. (Cover lightly with foil if bread is getting too dark.) Remove from oven and cool on rack.
  18. Use glaze to add "snow" to the branches, if desired.

Dissolve yeast until bubbly in very warm water with a pinch of sugar.

Combine warm milk mixture, yeast, and eggs.

Mix in flour and salt, then knead in softened butter. Dough will be soft and will stick to the bowl. That’s okay!

Scrape dough into buttered bowl. Flip over to coat both sides and let rise until doubled. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

Finely grind the walnuts in a food processor for about 10 seconds.

Heat cream, butter, and chocolate until smooth. Stir in nuts and flour.

Drop chilled dough onto floured surface. Use hands to make a long roll, then roll it out 24×14

Spread with filling

Cut into three equal pieces and roll each from the long edge.

 

Use a sharp knife (or pizza cutter) to slice up the middle of two rolls. This is where it starts getting messy!

First layer, place 4 branches, then top with uncut roll for trunk

Add another layer of branches. Get creative! Twist and pull to shape it, then add maraschino cherries.

I’m in love with the way this dough turned out. It was so soft I had my doubts, but once it was chilled, it was very cooperative. I’ll be playing with it more in the future, for sure.

TIPS:

  • I use maraschino cherries without artificial color. If you use regular ones, they will be brighter and prettier.
  • If you have a larger pan, use it! It will be much easier to shape your tree.
  • If you don’t have a food processor or blender, just chop the nuts finely.
  • I like to put a little meringue powder in my icing to give it more body.
  • If it looks like your bread is getting too dark, lightly cover it with foil as it bakes.

Merry, Merry Christmas!

Lorinda

Christmas Kisses (Meringue Topped Brownies)

Hang up that mistletoe, because a kiss just doesn’t get any sweeter than this! Each chewy chocolate brownie is filled with a sweet surprise and topped with a crisp peppermint meringue rosette, creating a harmony of flavors and textures. These little two-bite treats are sure to brighten up a holiday cookie platter or buffet table. And make sure to put one next to Santa’s glass of milk to give him a break from all of those sugar cookies.

If you prefer cake brownies, well . . . move along; there’s nothing to see here! Nope, these are chewy with a crunchy edge, just the way I love them.

It took me a few tries to get this right. Okay, five. It took me five tries. My first attempt was with a chocolate cookie crust. They were delicious, but so messy. SO MESSY. Meringues crackle and crumble when you bite into them, which is expected, but add a crumbly crust that falls everywhere, and it simply wasn’t going to work. I could just see these being served at a tea and having to hand out bibs!

I tried baking the brownies for a bit first, and the final result was a dry, hard, brownie brick. Nope.

The third time I realized that they were hollow. The bottom of the meringues melted into the brownies, and the meringues puffed and were hollow (as meringues are) which would have been kind of neat, if the tops didn’t pop off so easily. I could see them filled with ganache, and almost went that direction (you can, if you wish) but ultimately tried, tried again.

On the fourth batch I went for a slower, shorter bake time. Goo. ‘Nuff said.

So . . . I tried an experiment, hoping to give the meringues something to hold onto besides brownie batter. Peppermint patties erupted in the oven, but the other three optionssoft peppermint candy, chocolate kisses (point down) and peppermint kisses (point up)—all worked great. Whew. You have a choice!

Left to right: Soft peppermint puffs (give the best support), Chocolate kiss, and peppermint kiss.

And if you’d like to really add some bling, dip the tips of each kiss in a little melted white chocolate and sprinkle with crushed peppermint candy, grated chocolate, or sprinkles.

Here’s the recipe . . . tips and photos are below.

Christmas Kisses (Meringue Topped Brownies)
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Makes 48 kisses. Ultra fine sugar is recommended for the meringue, but regular sugar can be used. It just may need a little more beating to dissolve properly.
Ingredients
  • BROWNIE LAYER
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1½ cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ⅔ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used half regular, half special dark)
  • ¼ cup grated or very finely chopped dark chocolate
  • ¾ cup flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Candy for filling - 48 each peppermint puffs or chocolate kisses)
  • MERINGUE:
  • 4 egg whites (at room temperature)
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ¾ cup ultrafine sugar (Baker's Sugar)
  • ¼ - ½ teaspoon peppermint extract
  • red food coloring (optional)
  • White chocolate melts, crushed candy cane, grated chocolate for decorating if desired
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 250 F. Place 48 paper liners in mini muffin pans.
  2. BROWNIES:
  3. In a large bowl, stir together the melted butter, cooking oil, and sugar.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla until frothy, then add to large bowl and stir to combine.
  5. Add cocoa powder, grated chocolate, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir just until combined. A few wisps of flour showing is just fine.
  6. Using a pastry bag with large tube tip (or you can use a spoon) divide the brownie mixture between the 48 cavities - approximately 2 level teaspoons each.
  7. Add a piece of candy to each cup, pressing down firmly. If using a chocolate kiss, place it point down. Set aside.
  8. MERINGUE:
  9. In a squeaky clean bowl, beat egg whites until thick and foamy, then sprinkle in the cream of tartar and continue to beat until soft peaks form.
  10. Trickle in the superfinen sugar, a tablespoon or two at a time, beating well before adding more. Take your time to ensure the sugar dissolves completely.
  11. Once all sugar has been added, beat until mixture is at stiff peak stage and holds its shape. Depending on many factors (weather, size of eggs, etc.) this can take 5 or 6 minutes.
  12. Add peppermint extract and beat until combined.
  13. For striped meringues, use red paste food coloring to paint stripes up the inside of a large pastry bag fitted with a large open star tip. (It's easiest to do this in two steps, folding down the top of the bag and painting from the tip up, then unfolding the bag and continuing the stripes.)
  14. Pipe in a circular motion upwards. Leave a little edge of brownie showing to make them easier to handle. (Use up extra meringue mixture by piping on a baking sheet covered with parchment.)
  15. Place pans in the oven (including extra meringues) and let them cook for 30 minutes, then WITHOUT OPENING THE OVEN DOOR, turn oven off and leave the kisses in there overnight.
  16. If desired, dip the tip of each in melted white chocolate and sprinkle on crushed candy cane, grated chocolate, or chocolate jimmies.
  17. Store in airtight container.

 

Beat eggs and vanilla, and add to butter and sugar mixture.

Add the dry ingredients and stir JUST until combined.

Pipe (or spoon) into paper liners.

Add candy to support the meringue. (I could have just cropped out the peppermint patties, but I want to show you what happens if you use them!)

Perfect peaks on the meringue.

Paint red stripes in pastry bag OR just add a couple of drops of red coloring to meringue for pink rosettes.

Pipe on the meringue. Leave a little brownie edge to make them easier to remove from the pan.

Just say “no” to peppermint patties!

TIPS:

  • Start the day before, because these really should be left overnight in the oven.
  • When you wake up in the morning and remove the kisses from the oven, immediately place them in an airtight container.
  • Putting the chocolate kiss point down seemed to support the meringue better
  • Skip the stripes if you’d like. They’re pretty plain white or light pink, too.
  • Regardless of what you may have heard, meringues are simple to make, and unless you are in Florida and the humidity is ghastly, don’t sweat the weather. I made this batch while it was snowing like crazy outside.
  • You can skip the paper liners if you use a baking spray (like Baker’s Joy) in the cavities. Just use a table knife to pop the kisses out when they’re cool.
  • This recipe can easily be halved to make 24. (If you don’t have a 1/8 cup measure for the 3/8 cups of flour and superfine sugar, use 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons.)

I’m hoping to get one more Christmas post up, but things are crazier than usual around here, so just in case . . .

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Lorinda

Black Licorice & Orange No-Bake Cheesecake

I admit this recipe will appeal to a very limited audience, but I happen to adore black licorice. I always chose licorice ice cream when we were taken to the ice cream parlor as a child, and remember fondly the bowls of orange and black jelly beans that were put out for our Halloween parties.

I couldn’t resist running with that theme!

Which means I made this a little harder than it needs to be, because I wanted to actually use jelly beans to flavor my cheesecake. I also hoped that the pectin (or whatever is used to make them gummy) would help thicken my cheesecake, because there’s nothing worse than a no-bake cheesecake that doesn’t set properly.

My hope of covering all the bases (flavor, color, texture) with jelly beans may have been slightly optimistic. I ended up adding a little additional color, and found that unless you prefer subtle flavoring (I don’t), you’ll probably need to boost that too. I added orange zest to the orange layer and mashed licorice sticks to the licorice. (Easy to do . . . you’ll see.)

And . . . licorice has a way of turning green. And purple. You’ll need some serious black food coloring for this job! A final deep gray color was acceptable.

I used vodka for soaking the beans, assuming it would dissolve them more quickly than water. I’m not a lush, honest! It’s just that there are such fun flavors available in the liquor store. Pernod would be great for the licorice layer, and Grand Marnier for the orange. Sadly, I had neither, so if you go that route, please let me know how it tasted.

For an alcohol-free version, substitute orange juice for the booze when you soak the orange jelly beans, and Stash Licorice Spice tea (or just plain water) for the black jelly beans.

And, of course, you can always skip the jelly beans altogether (though DO use some to decorate your cheesecake) and simply use anise flavoring and black food color for the licorice layer, and orange flavoring and orange food color for the orange layer.

Black Licorice & Orange No-Bake Cheesecake
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This cheesecake needs to be refrigerated for a minimum of 10 hours before serving. Add any whipped cream decorations just before serving.
Ingredients
  • ORANGE MIXTURE:
  • 10 orange jelly beans, cut in half
  • 3 tablespoons vodka (or Grand Marnier or orange juice)
  • zest from one orange (zest orange and set aside to add to batter)
  • orange food coloring and flavoring, if desired
  • LICORICE MIXTURE:
  • 3 tablespoons vodka (or Pernod, licorice tea, or water)
  • 10 black licorice jelly beans, cut in half
  • 6 black licorice twists (I used Red Vines brand)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Black food coloring (powdered is best, but paste is okay - don't expect a true black color!)
  • CRUST:
  • 2 cups finely-crushed graham cracker crumbs
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • CHEESECAKE
  • 16 ounces cream cheese (full fat, room temperature)
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1¼ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • DRIZZLE:
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
Instructions
  1. Separate orange and black jelly beans into two small cups. Add 3 tablespoons vodka (or liquid of choice) to each. Cover lightly and set aside for at least 2 hours.
  2. Chop up licorice twists and place in a small cup. Add water. Cover lightly and set aside for at least 2 hours.
  3. Combine all ingredients for the crust in a medium bowl, mixing well. Press evenly into an 8-inch springform pan. Make sure you press it very firmly. Use a flat-bottomed measuring cup for best results. Place in the refrigerator.
  4. Drain the orange jelly beans, reserving the liquid and discarding any remaining jelly bean carcasses. Do the same with the black jelly beans. Set aside.Carefully drain the chopped licorice, but this time KEEP THE LICORICE and throw away the liquid. Mash licorice gently with a spoon and set aside. .
  5. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add sour cream and powdered sugar, and beat for 2 minutes.
  6. Add lemon juice and mix well.
  7. Remove 1⅓ cups of the batter and place in a separate medium bowl.
  8. Add 1 tablespoon of orange liquid to one of the bowls, and the orange zest. If you want to add orange coloring or flavoring, do so now. Stir well. Set aside.
  9. Add 1 tablespoon of black liquid to the other bowl, and the mashed licorice twists.
  10. Mix well, then add black coloring until it is the desired shade. NOTE: Don't throw away the remaining orange and black liquid. It will be used to make a drizzle for the top of the cheesecake.
  11. In a medium bowl, beat the whipping cream until soft peaks form. Add powdered sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Divide between both bowls and fold in gently.
  12. Remove springform pan from the refrigerator and carefully spread the licorice mixture into the pan, smoothing all the way to the edges.(Using an offset spatula helps.) Add the orange mixture to the top of the licorice layer and smooth evenly.
  13. (Optional) In a small sauce pan, combine the remaining orange liquid and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens (about 1 minute). Hold the pan high over the cheesecake and drizzle the syrup over the top. Repeat with the licorice liquid.
  14. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 10 hours. (It can be made a day ahead.) Carefully run a sharp knife between the crust and the side of the pan.before releasing the outer ring. Decorate with whipped cream and jelly beans (maybe sprinkles, too?) right before serving.
  15. This is delicious frozen, too. If you want to freeze it, wait until it is completely set, then wrap it well.

Chop up licorice twists. I used Red Vines Brand. (I can’t guarantee Twizzlers would “melt” the same way.)

Soak chopped licorice twists in water for 2 hours. They will turn to mush, which is exactly what you want. Drain and discard liquid – mash and save the licorice.

Soak the jelly beans for 2 hours before draining. Keep that liquid!

Mix crust ingredients together well. Press into 8-inch springform pan. Refrigerate.

Beat cream cheese well. Add sour cream and powdered sugar. Beat for 2 minutes

Add lemon. (I know it sounds weird with licorice, but don’t skip this!)

Whip it! Whip it good! You want to see stiff peaks form.

Divide into two equal portions. Add licorice to one and orange to the other. Add additional coloring or flavoring if you wish. Gently fold in the whipped cream.

Spread licorice on crust.

Top with the orange layer.

If you’d like, you can briefly cook the remaining orange and black liquids with a little sugar to make a drizzle. (Or I’ll bet it would be great in tea.) Sprinkles would look good, too.

If you’ve read this far, you must be a true licorice lover. You have just enough time to run to the store and get the ingredients so you can make it the day before Halloween. Shoo! Shoo!

Lorinda

Pumpkin Spice Cake (Garden Spider’s Revenge)

Surprisingly light, pleasantly spicy, and easy to make, this two-layer cake deserves a place on your table from now through Christmas. Brown sugar buttercream frosting complements it perfectly without overwhelming; it allows the flavor of the cake to shine through.

Oh . . . you may have noticed that I decorated this one for Halloween. A little gross,  with a tipped over wheelbarrow that spilled its pumpkins on the ground, next to a trowel and straw hat that have been abandoned because the unlucky gardener—who had obviously gotten on the bad side of a huge garden spider—has been wrapped tightly in the spider’s silk. A lot of webs, a little blood . . . good times! You may not want to decorate your cake like this for Thanksgiving, but it’s a slam-dunk winner for a Halloween party.

This blog is about the cake and frosting, but I’ll also tell you what I used for Halloween decorations at the bottom of the post, in case you want to creep out your family and friends.

Pumpkin Spice Cake
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Makes two 9-inch round layers or 36-38 cupcakes (bake for approximately 18 minutes)
Ingredients
  • 2½ cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1¼ cups cooking oil
  • 1 cup solid pack pumpkin
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • FROSTING:
  • 1½ cups butter - room temperature
  • ½ cup shortening
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 6-7 cups powdered sugar
  • Cream or milk (if needed)
Instructions
  1. CAKE: Heat oven to 350 F. Place rounds of parchment in two 9-inch round cake pans. Spray sides and parchment lightly with baking spray (like Baker's Joy). Or grease and flour the pans and place a parchment round in the bottom of each.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the sugar, oil, and pumpkin well.
  4. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly and scraping the side of the bowl with each addition.
  5. Combine buttermilk and vanilla.
  6. Add half of the flour mixture to the bowl and mix until incorporated. Add half of the buttermilk mixture and mix until incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl and repeat. Mix just until the batter is smooth.
  7. Divide evenly between prepared pans. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out cleanly when inserted in the middle of one cake. Don't overbake or cake will be dry.
  8. Cool for a few minutes on rack, then turn out of pans to cool completely.
  9. FROSTING:
  10. In a large bowl, beat the butter and shortening together until smooth. Add brown sugar and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes.
  11. Slowly add powdered sugar until desired consistency, scraping the sides of the bowl often. Beat 2-3 minutes. To achieve a good spreading consistency, add a little cream or milk if too thick, or if mixture is too soft, add a little more powdered sugar. This frosting needs to be soft and easy to spread, because the cake is very light.
  12. Place one cake on serving plate and cover the top with a generous amount of frosting. Place second cake on top (flattest side up) and press gently to level it. Cover entire cake with remaining frosting.
  13. Decorate if desired with finely chopped nuts, sprinkles, or holiday candies.

Sift the dry ingredients and set aside.

Beat sugar, oil, and pumpkin (yes, it was colorful, but maybe not THIS red . . . ) then add eggs – one at a time. Seriously, take your time and beat well after each egg.

Add flour and liquids alternately.

Divide batter between two prepared 9-inch pans and bake.

Bake just until toothpick comes out clean . . . about 25 minutes.

This frosting is so good. Add liquid if necessary so it will spread easily. The cake is very light, and you don’t want to mash it!

There should be plenty of frosting for piping around the bottom. I left it plain because I was adding candy pumpkins. If you’re making this for an occasion other than Halloween, decorate the top with chopped nuts, candy, edible leaves . . . whatever you like.

 

So, stop here if you are making this cake for Thanksgiving or Christmas (or any other festive occasion). If you want to know how I made my Halloween decorations, read on.

The toppings on my cake were a mishmash of ideas.

When I frosted my cake I pressed “dirt” onto the top. (Chocolate and regular graham crackers, finely crushed and blended.)

The wheelbarrow was made from red fondant, with long cinnamon stick handles. The wheel was two candy melt discs stuck flat side together (heat one side briefly on a warm saucepan, then press together). wrapped in a strip of licorice to look like a tire. Use a little melted Isomalt (more about this stuff later) or melted candy melt as glue. If using Isomalt, be careful, and use gloves! A thin piece of cinnamon stick was pushed through the center of the candy melts to act as an axle, then both sides were stuck to the long handles. A little black licorice was also used as a trowel, with a handle made from a Kraft caramel.

I made a small batch of simple shortbread for the fence in the background. I have a fence cookie cutter, but you could just make posts. I also used the cookie dough to create the straw hat.

The poor gardener was made by wrapping cotton candy around a head, two arms, and two feet made from white chocolate. I added a little pink, orange, and brown to get a flesh color, but it could have used a bit more. I poured it into molds. What, doesn’t everyone have body part molds??? If not, you could use candy clay, fondant, or gum paste to create your own. Or just use cotton candy and let everyone imagine there is a person in it. (Oh, and I painted some hair and two eyes on the head with food coloring.)

I only ended up making one person on the cake, but had plenty of body parts to choose from 😀

They all looked a little too jolly to be victims, so I wrapped the cotton candy up over their mouths. Silenced!

There was some trial and error (and possibly some foul language) when it came to that spiderweb. I played with spun sugar with very limited success, and finally broke down and used Isomalt. If you’ve never used Isomalt, it’s similar to sugar but stays clear when heated, instead of amber, and is a little more forgiving. It’s hot hot HOT, so if you play with it, please be careful. I like to use it for windows in my gingerbread houses, so had some on hand. (I order the crystals through Amazon.) There are some wonderful videos online, but basically I just heated it until it melted, cooled it briefly, and when it thickened slightly I used a fork to drizzle/whisk it over the entire garden scene (not too much, just a hint of webbing) and then on a large piece of parchment. First I aimed at making “spokes”, then went in circles around and around. Dip, whisk. Once it cooled, I trimmed it to size carefully with scissors and placed it over my garden scene.

I used black fondant to shape the spider. (Hint: stick those legs on with a little water. They tend to drop off at inopportune times, otherwise.)

I bought the candy pumpkins. (I do have limits to my patience!) For the blood oozing out of the man’s mouth and down the side of the cake, I remelted the remaining isomalt and added a little red food coloring. Powdered food coloring is best, but I didn’t have any, so used paste. It thickens really quickly when you do that, so I had to work fast. Drizzle! (Or just buy a tube of red cake gel.)

That’s it. Gross cake accomplished!

Happy Halloween. (Sweet dreams . . . bwa ha ha.)

Lorinda

 

 

 

 

Raspberry Marshmallow Fudge

If there’s anything I can’t resist, it’s fudge. Though I usually like mine with lots of nuts, this time I left them out and added swirls of seedless raspberry jam and mini-marshmallows, and loved the results. Since this batch is going to a bake sale, I also left out the Chambord, but if you have a bottle of this delicious raspberry liqueur, add a splash at the end when you stir in the chocolate and marshmallow fluff for extra flavor.

For Valentine’s Day, you can cut the fudge with a heart-shaped cutter. Or, if you have small silicone heart molds, use them – they work really well. Traditional square pieces are lovely too, of course.

“Special” Instructions:

What I say: Once fudge is firm, cut edges neatly with a very sharp knife. This will create attractive squares of fudge.

What I mean: Cut the edges off and eat them.

This uses a pound of dark chocolate, but it makes a big batch of fudge. (4+ pounds.) I doubt you’ll find yourself with extra fudge, but if you do it can be wrapped tightly and frozen.

Raspberry Marshmallow Fudge
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Makes over 4 pounds of fudge. You will need a candy thermometer for this recipe.
Ingredients
  • 3½ cups sugar
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup butter (if using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt)
  • ⅔ cup seedless raspberry spread (or jam), divided
  • 1 pound dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 13 ounces marshmallow creme (fluff)
  • 2 cups mini-marshmallows
  • Special equipment: candy thermometer
Instructions
  1. Prepare a 9x12-inch baking pan by placing a piece of parchment in the bottom, extended over the sides. Butter lightly, including any exposed areas on the ends.
  2. In a large saucepan on medium heat, bring sugar, milk, butter, and ⅓ cup raspberry spread to a boil. stirring frequently. Once it is boiling, stir continuously until it reaches 234 F. (Adjust for high altitudes by subtracting 1 degree for each 500 feet above sea level.) Remove from heat.
  3. Stir in chopped chocolate and marshmallow fluff until completely melted and smooth.
  4. Drop spoonfuls of remaining ⅓ cup of raspberry on the mixture and add marshmallows. Fold gently, no more than 8-10 times. The goal is to have streaks of raspberry and semi-whole marshmallows.
  5. Pour into prepared pan and smooth with a spatula. Once fudge is cooled, chill until firm. Lift out of pan and cut as desired.

Some special things you’ll need to make this fudge. I prefer to use good dark chocolate, but you can use chocolate chips (or a combination of both) if you prefer.

Bring sugar, milk, butter, and some of the raspberry spread to a boil.

Bring mixture to 234 F (adjust for high altitudes). This is almost there.

Stir in chocolate and marshmallow fluff until smooth. (Here’s where a splash of Chambord would be added if desired.)

Gently fold in the remaining raspberry spread and the marshmallows.

Pour into prepared pan.

Ready to cut!

Wishing you hearts and flowers . . . and lots of sweet indulgences.

Lorinda

Haunted House Cake

If you have a surplus of patience and a little spare time, have I got a Halloween cake for you! This is a lovely orange-flavored cake, enough for two deep 8-inch pans and one 6-inch pan, which will create the base for the houses and the top for the moon and witch.

There is a lot going on here if you make it the way I did. The cake, Italian buttercream icing, black fondant cutouts, and a hollow moon made of candy melts.

Let’s see how much of that we can dispense with, for your sake.

  • The cake can be a boxed mix. You’ll need two boxes of yellow cake mix.
  • For icing, use a standard buttercream recipe, but double it so you don’t have to be stingy with the icing. I wouldn’t use canned frosting; it would take a lot of cans to do it right, and it’s pretty soft. You don’t want your houses sliding off the cake! I used Italian buttercream, but it’s a lot of work. I hadn’t made it in a long time and just felt like messing with it.
  • That moon! I really did it the hard way and made it out of candy melts, formed in a bowl. Two large cookies (bought at a grocery store bakery) would be the easiest way to go. Simply coat them with melted yellow candy melts and stick them together.
  • When you cut out the printed silhouettes for the houses, bats, and witches, leave a little white border around the silhouettes so you’ll be able to see what you’re doing when you cut the fondant. I learned this the hard way.
  • Buy black fondant. Even I wasn’t nuts enough to make it and try to color it a true black. Nope. Buy it! (If I’d given you more time you could have had edible designs custom printed. Maybe next year?) I tried a new brand this year and am a real fan: Fondarific. I ordered it online, but you may be able to find it in craft stores.

Create black fondant decorations. Do this first; it’s going to take you a while. This can be done a day or two ahead. I printed out clip art silhouettes and cut each one out. Haunted houses, bats, and a witch (or two if you want one on each side of the moon). Working with small pieces of fondant at a time, roll very thin. Use a dusting of cornstarch if necessary to prevent sticking. Rolling between parchment helps too. Lay a template on the fondant and carefully cut around the outside edge with a sharp blade. Remove the template and cut out windows and doors. I used a large straw for round windows. I found it was easier for me to cut out the whole window and then replace the cross pieces, smoothing the edges than trying to cut out those itty bitty squares. Layer the completed pieces between sheets of parchment or plastic wrap. I did the trees free form when decorating the cake. Just rolled and twisted. I also cut long strips that were flat on the bottom and curved on the top to place around the cake bottom.

Lay paper templates on thinly rolled fondant. Cut out carefully, then peel off the paper. A toothpick is a great tool for straightening the little windows!

Bake the cake. Here’s the recipe I used.

Orange Cake (for Haunted House Cake)
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Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2⅔ cups sugar
  • 5 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon orange extract or zest from 1 large orange
  • 4 cups cake flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter, add an additional ¼ teaspoon of salt)
  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons frozen concentrated orange juice
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F. Place parchment rounds in the bottom of two 8-inch (2 inches deep) round cake pans and one 6-inch (2 inches deep) round cake pan. Spray parchment and the sides of the pan with a flour/oil baking spray. Or grease and flour pans. (I'd still use the parchment rounds to ensure the cakes release easily.)
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, one a time, beating thoroughly after the addition of each egg and scraping the bowl often.
  4. Add vanilla and orange extract (or zest).
  5. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  6. In a small bowl combine the milk and concentrated orange juice.
  7. Add approximately ⅓ of the flour to the butter and sugar mixture. Beat just until combined. Add ⅓ of the liquids and beat just until combined. Repeat two more times, scraping the bowl often.
  8. Spoon 3 generous cups of batter into each of the large pans. Drop each pan several times on a hard surface to level. Add remaining batter (about 2 cups) into the smaller pan. Drop to level.
  9. Bake 35-40 minutes. Don't open the oven door while the cakes are baking. At 35 minutes carefully check. If a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle of a cake, they're done. If not, let the cakes bake a little longer.
  10. Move to a cooling rack for 10 minutes before turning out the cakes. Let the cakes cool completely before icing.

 

 

Ready for the oven.

Make icing. Use your favorite buttercream recipe, and make lots. Cakes are much easier to ice neatly when you can be generous with the icing. Save at least a cup of white out for the clouds, color a couple of cups of icing blue/gray for the top layer (black food coloring adds a nice tone) and color the rest a pretty yellow/orange.

Most of the icing will be orange, the rest is a blue/gray. Save some white too, for clouds.

Ice the cakes. I didn’t bother cutting layers because I wanted the final cake to be as straight as possible, and I’ve learned from experience that the more layers I make, the more chance I have of having a wonky cake. (I know. I need to work on that!) Put the two large cakes together with a generous amount of the orange icing, then ice the outside as smoothly as you can.  Ice the small cake with the blue/gray. I found it easiest to ice the small cake first and then lift it onto the large cake with two spatulas. Combine the reserved white icing with streaks of the blue/gray to make clouds. I piped it on with a large round piping tip, at the base of the small cake. (Save a small amount for attaching the moon to the top.)

You can add the silhouettes immediately, or wait until the icing has dried a bit. Your call! Melt a few yellow candy melts and place in a disposable pastry bag or zipper-type bag with a tiny bit of the tip cut off. Pipe into windows and doors to create the appearance of light inside the houses.

Make the moon. Whether you use two cookies or go with the hollow candy melt option, you’ll still need to do some melting and coloring. I used a heaping cup of candy melts, found with cake decorating supplies. Unless you have colors specially meant for chocolate (regular food coloring may react with the melts and cause them to seize into a hard blob) I’d stick with yellow. I wanted a pale yellow, so used mostly white with a few yellow melts. Let your artistic side take over and get the color you want.

White and yellow candy melts are used to make the moon.

If you’re using cookies for your moon, spread the melted yellow chocolate on the rounded sides and lay them, flat side down, on a piece of parchment. Melt a few discs of white, yellow and orange with a tablespoon of chocolate chips to get a contrasting color for the moon’s details. Using a photo from the internet, make a stab at realism by creating craters. Brush or dab color on both cookies so it will look like the moon on either side of the cake.

I mixed white, yellow, orange, and red for my moon accents.

If you want to make a hollow moon, line two small bowls with plastic wrap. The sticky kind works best because you can get most of the little creases out and the plastic won’t budge. Using the darker accent color, dab designs on the plastic on the bottom of the bowl. Here’s the tricky part: you have to do it the opposite of the picture you’re looking at because otherwise, once you turn it out, the craters that you just painstakingly painted from left to right will actually be right to left. I have no spatial abilities. NONE. So I had to flip that bowl over a whole bunch of times to convince myself of this fact.

Line bowls with plastic wrap. (The sticky kind, if you have it.) Smooth out as many wrinkles as possible.

Bowl on the right has the crater design painted in it. Bowl on the left shows the next step – adding the yellow. Then chill!

Once the accent colors have dried, pour melted yellow chocolate into each bowl, swirling as you go. Try to keep the top line even, about 1 inch from the bottom of the bowl. For ease in assembling later, let this dry and then spread on a second layer. Pop them in the fridge to harden quickly. Once firm, gently ease the plastic away from the sides of the bowl, lifting carefully. Take your time. It may help to warm the bottom of the bowl with your hands. Remove plastic from chocolate. “Glue” the two pieces together with melted yellow chocolate and place on top of the cake.

So . . . that’s it. Easy, huh! Hello? Hello?

I don’t really expect anyone to make this, but if you do I’d sure love to see a picture! Just leave it on my Rowdy Baker Facebook Page!

Lorinda

Chocolate Caramel Acorns

There is no baking required to make these elegant fall treats. Thin pieces of caramel are wrapped around chocolate truffles, creating acorns that are beautiful to look at and delicious to eat. Yes, yes, you heard me. No baking, no mixing . . . just a little rolling.

Whether you put an acorn at each place setting, use them to adorn a cake, or place one on each slice of pumpkin pie, you will create fall magic for friends and family. These would also make a memorable gift for a teacher, and kids would love to help to create them.

As you can see, they’ve featured prominently on some recent projects: my Maple Crown Cake and some fancy-schmantzy fall brownies.

The acorns in this post are made with purchased truffles, caramels, and a package of caramel apple wraps (found in the produce department of most large grocery stores). I used wraps because of the beautiful color, but if you can’t find them, there is a good substitution; with a little more—okay, a lot more—rolling, Tootsie Rolls will work.

Caramel wraps are conveniently rolled out for you. That’s a plus! But they are a little softer than square caramels, so they are slightly harder to work with and won’t hold a design well, making them a poor option for the acorn caps. They do make a beautiful, shiny acorn, however. That’s why I used both wraps and caramels in this version.

Chocolate Caramel Acorns
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Author:
Makes 12
Ingredients
  • 3 sheets caramel apple wraps (1 package contains 5 sheets)
  • 12 round 1-inch chocolate truffles (or you can use large malted milk balls if you prefer)
  • 6 square caramels
  • 1 teaspoon butter (optional)
Instructions
  1. Place one caramel wrap on a piece of parchment. Using a 2½-inch round cutter, cut 3 circles. Move them to a large piece of parchment, being careful not to let them overlap. Set scraps aside. Repeat with the other two caramel wraps.
  2. Form a ball with the scraps and place between two pieces of parchment. Roll out to the same thickness as the wraps and cut out 3 more circles to equal 12 circles total. Gently stretch each piece out a little.
  3. From the scraps, form small balls of caramel – smaller than a pea. Place one in the center of each circle. This will help create a pointy bottom tip for your acorn.
  4. Unwrap truffles and center one on top of the small piece of caramel. Bring the sides up, smoothing as you go. If the caramel gets sticky, butter your fingers very lightly. Cut off excess caramel at the top, close to the truffle. Pinch the tip at the bottom a little to make it pointed.
  5. Unwrap square caramels. Roll out, one at a time, between pieces of parchment – approximately 1½ inches by 2½ inches. Cut two circles out of each piece with a 1-inch round cutter. (The cap from a milk carton works well.)
  6. With a metal spatula or the back of a knife, press lines into the caramel vertically and horizontally, creating a crisscross design. Use a toothpick to make a small hole in the center of each circle. Stick a small piece of the dark caramel wrap into the hole to make a short stem. It doesn’t have to go all the way through the hole. This is the acorn’s cap.
  7. Place one cap on the top of each acorn, pressing gently.
  8. Caramel wrap is softer than the square caramels, and the acorns will get sticky. To prevent them from sticking together, use a very small amount of butter on your fingers and rub the acorns lightly. Serve individually in pretty mini-muffin cups or arrange them a little bit apart on a plate.
  9. Store lightly covered at room temperature.

 

Cut circles from caramel wraps.

 

Make the acorns.

Make caps. Place one on each acorn and press gently.

That’s about as easy as it gets, folks. Start unwrapping those caramels!

Lorinda

Maple Crown Cake

This sinfully rich pound cake is dense and moist and grows more flavorful as it ages. It gets its subtle maple taste from the addition of Maple Crown Royal whiskey. (No, I’m not getting a kickback from them, and yes, I’ll give you non-alcohol alternatives.) It has a delicate crispy crust from coating the pan with sugar before adding the batter, and I kicked the sweet maple flavor up a notch by using maple sugar— but that’s just me; I can never get enough maple!

I played with the icing on this cake. On my first attempt, I made a ganache from maple morsels (something new on the market) and was less than impressed. So I went back to my trusty brown sugar icing and spiked it with maple whiskey. Much better!

If you have a little of this icing left, and you haven’t just eaten it with a spoon, try adding a spoonful to a cup of hot coffee. I like my coffee strong and black, but I’ve got to say, this was delightful. Go ahead and refrigerate it if you want; it’ll cool the coffee down a bit when you add it. You may even want to double the recipe!

Maple Crown Cake
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Author:
Ingredients
  • CAKE:
  • 2 cups white sugar (plus enough to coat the inside of the pan)
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 1½ cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 6 eggs, room temperature
  • ½ cup buttermilk (Bulgarian style, if possible)
  • ½ cup Crown Royal Maple Finished Whiskey*
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter, add an additional ¼ teaspoon)
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • * If preferred, substitute ½ cup buttermilk and 1 teaspoon maple flavoring for whiskey)
  • ICING:
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons maple whiskey
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F.
  2. Prepare a 10-inch bundt pan by coating it generously with vegetable oil (or coconut oil or shortening - don't use butter!) and then sprinkling thoroughly with sugar.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the white sugar, brown sugar, and butter together for 3-4 minutes. The mixture should lighten in color.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly and scraping the sides of the bowl with each addition. Take your time! It should take you several minutes to add 6 eggs.
  5. Add the liquid and dry ingredients alternately in three additions, beginning with the dry ingredients and ending with the liquids. Beat just enough to combine each time, taking care to scrape the bowl down often.
  6. Spoon into prepared bundt pan carefully so you don't disturb the sugar on the sides. Smooth the top and bake for approximately 1 hour 20 minutes. The top should be rich brown and a long toothpick inserted in the cake should come out clean.
  7. Allow cake to rest on cooling rack for 10 minutes, then flip it over. Wait a few more minutes before lifting off the pan. Let cake cool before making icing.
  8. ICING: Put brown sugar, milk, and butter in a medium saucepan. Turn heat to medium and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Once it boils, let it cook for 2 minutes without stirring.
  9. Remove from heat and add powdered sugar and maple whiskey. Whisk vigorously until the icing is smooth. Pour over cooled cake. If you have a little extra, it can be gently reheated and drizzled over ice cream. (if it's too thick, feel free to add a bit more whiskey!)

It’s important to let the butter and eggs come to room temperature.

Coat a bundt pan with vegetable oil or coconut oil and sprinkle liberally with sugar. I used maple sugar for added flavor, but regular sugar is great; it’ll give a crispier sugar crust to the cake.

Beat butter and sugar well, then add eggs. One.At.A.Time. Don’t be in a hurry here!

Last egg. See how fluffy the batter is?

Combine buttermilk and whiskey

Add dry and liquid ingredients alternately, then spoon into pan. Spread gently and bake.

Cool for 10 minutes, then turn the cake over and let cool a few more minutes before lifting the pan.

Make icing. Add whiskey and powdered sugar to the boiled mixture and whisk it like you mean it!

 

Once the cake has cooled, pour the warm icing over it.

Keep this covered on the counter (don’t refrigerate) and enjoy it slice by slice. It just gets better and better!

Lorinda

 

Maple Marshmallow Treats

Okay, I’m not offering a stunning show of baking skills here; what I’m posting is pure comfort food, with a maple twist. I’ve always loved Krispie treats, as long as they aren’t so dry they tear your mouth up. My version has always included more butter and more marshmallows for a soft, chewy experience.

These are even better, because . . . duh . . . maple!

I cooked a very simple caramel-type syrup, using pure maple syrup, then stirred in marshmallows and MORE maple flavoring. Actually, in the pictured batch on this post, I was so intent on getting a photo of the maple flavoring being poured into the mixture that I jerked my hand and probably poured another tablespoon into the pan. It was wonderful, but you don’t have to use that much!

Whoops. I may have gotten a little carried away.

To do this right you will need pure maple syrup. Inexpensive breakfast syrup might not set up as well. You know those maple candies I blather on about every year? The ones shaped like leaves that melt in your mouth? Those are just pure maple syrup, cooked until it turns into sugar. You can’t make that happen with fake syrup, no matter how good it tastes. It’s just a different product entirely.

You’ll also want to buy maple extract or flavoring. I usually use Mapleine, but have been known to experiment with other brands. And, here’s news!!! (Can you tell I’m so, so, so excited about this?) Nestle has just come out with maple morsels. I haven’t seen them yet (we live in the boondocks) but my friend in Florida just bought some, and I’m so jealous. I will buy them by the case as soon as I find them. Anyhow, my point here is, if you want to skip the flavoring and just stir in a bag of maple morsels, I’ll bet that would be fabulous.

I cut most of the treats into traditional squares but couldn’t resist forming some into little balls, then rolling them in chopped toasted pecans. Yum.

Ready? This is easy. If you have a candy thermometer, cook the mixture until it’s about 260 F. It not, just boil for 6 minutes. This isn’t as touchy as fudge or peanut brittle – just get the temperature in the ballpark and you’re good.

Maple Marshmallow Krispie Treats
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Author:
Ingredients
  • 3 quarts (12 cups) crispy rice cereal
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup (If you can find Grade B, use it for more flavor)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons maple flavoring (I use Mapleine)
  • A 10-ounce bag of mini-marshmallows
  • Chopped, toasted pecans (optional, if making pecan covered balls)
Instructions
  1. Line a 12 x 17 baking sheet with parchment. Butter lightly.
  2. Lightly grease a very large bowl (I use a stock pot). Put the cereal in this and set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan (3-quart size is best) over medium heat, cook and stir sugar, butter, syrup, and salt until it comes to a boil. Continue to cook and stir for approximately 6 minutes (it will get slightly thick) or until 250-260 on a candy thermometer.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the maple flavoring and marshmallows. Pour over the cereal and stir well.
  5. Press into the prepared baking sheet and allow it to cool and set up. If you want to roll some into balls, simply spoon a little out at a time and roll, using buttered hands. Roll in pecans if desired.
  6. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container.

Bring the sugar, butter, syrup, and salt to a boil.

Boil and stir 6 minutes, or until it reaches 250-260 degrees.

Add marshmallows and maple flavoring

Stir the hot marshmallow mixture into the rice cereal

Press into prepared pan. Let them set a bit before cutting.

Or form balls and roll in chopped pecans!

Chewy, squishy, buttery. Yes, these are good. Very good.

Next up is a maple recipe that isn’t sweet! Wait for it . . .

Lorinda

Patriotic Meringue Puffs

Well, these are addictive little devils! Sweet little sugar puffs that melt in your mouth, all dressed up for the Fourth of July. Trust me, you won’t be able to stop at one.

I did something out of character and took the easy route with these treats. I’ve made meringues many times using egg whites, but I tried using Wilton’s meringue powder and it worked beautifully.

If you’re fresh out of meringue powder, I’d advise a trip to the store – pronto. And get some superfine sugar while you’re there. You don’t HAVE to use it, but it dissolves into the liquid a lot faster and I highly recommend it. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Meringue Powder
  • Superfine sugar (aka: Baker’s sugar)
  • large pastry bag
  • large star tip
  • red and blue paste food coloring (or gel, if it’s thick)
  • Two paintbrushes
  • Parchment

I tried using my gel coloring but it didn’t stick to the bag at all. Maybe because it’s “squeezable” gel, so it’s thinner. Paste coloring worked fine.

This is seriously so easy. The hardest thing you’ll have to do is get the stripes of color inside the pastry bag. I’ll give you some pointers, but the important thing to remember is that even if your stripes are wonky, the meringues will still look great.

Patriotic Meringue Puffs
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Author:
Makes about 30 meringues (1½ inch) or hundreds of little bitty ones.
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder (I use Wiltons)
  • ½ cup superfine sugar
  • a few drops of flavoring if desired (use clear colors: lemon, peppermint, cinnamon are all good.)
  • red and blue paste food coloring
Instructions
  1. PREPARATION: Drop large star tip into the pastry bag. Fold down the top third of the bag (making a cuff) and paint alternating stripes of red and blue up the inside of the bag, starting at the base of the star tip and working up. Don't make them too thick or too close together, or you'll end up with purple! (I used 3 stripes of each color.) Set bag aside.
  2. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment.
  3. MERINGUES: For best results, use a stand mixer (or a sturdy hand mixer and medium-sized bowl.) Heat oven to 250 F.
  4. Beat together the water and meringue powder until foamy.
  5. Add sugar very gradually, sprinkling it in a little at a time, scraping bowl occasionally.
  6. Beat until thick and shiny, about 5-7 minutes. Add flavoring if using and beat until incorporated.
  7. Place the prepared pastry bag inside a tall water glass. Carefully drop meringue into bag. Don't try to spread it, just drop it in there. Unfold the cuff of the bag and twist to close.
  8. Pipe meringues on prepared pan. Squeeze near the pan and pull up slowly, releasing pressure as you go. Aim for about 1½ inches at the base. The first few won't be very colorful, but they're still pretty. They won't spread and can be fairly close together. Small stars can be piped for decorations, but pipe them on a separate sheet; they'll take less time to bake.
  9. Bake large puffs for 25 minutes, (10 minutes for the tiny stars), then turn off oven (don't open the door!) and leave them for a couple of hours. If you have an oven that vents heat out when it's turned off, at the end of the bake time turn the heat down as low as it will go and let them bake for another 10 minutes before turning oven off.
  10. Store the meringues in an airtight container.

Slooooowly add sugar to water and meringue powder. Beat until very thick and shiny.

I place the cuff over my hand and very (very) carefully paint the lines. I was pretty generous here and had some vibrant colors. I used less on the second batch and they were still bright and pretty.

Here’s what it looks like before the meringue is added.

Place bag in glass for support. Carefully drop the meringue into the bag.

Piping the puffs

Tips:

  • Take your time when adding the sugar. Give it time to dissolve.
  • If you want to make the tiny stars (great for decorating cupcakes) hold the tip a little bit above the parchment and start squeezing as you push down and touch the sheet. Stop squeezing and pull up. You’ll get the hang of it!
  • To make both sizes, put the large puffs in the oven first. Let them bake for 15 minutes, then put the other sheet in too. Continue to bake for the remaining 10 minutes then turn off the oven without opening the door. Don’t peek – leave them to dry out for a couple of hours (or overnight). If you have an oven that vents the heat once it’s turned off, see the recipe for instructions.
  • Put a dot of meringue batter on the baking sheet under the parchment to hold it in place while piping.
  • If you want a little more white and a little less color in your meringues, just make 4 stripes instead of 6 inside the pastry bag.
  • Keep them dry, cool, and dark. In theory, they’ll last 2 weeks. I don’t think they’ll have that opportunity!

Here is the mini version:

Piped and ready for the oven.

Jazz up strawberry shortcake, cookies, cupcakes, or a bowl of ice cream. Or just pop them—one after another—in your mouth.

Have a sweet and safe 4th!

Lorinda