Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pumpkin Cookie Bars #CreativeCookieExchange


Cookie bars to celebrate Halloween in the chewiest and sweetest of ways should include pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spices, along with a good helping of white chocolate candy corn M&Ms. Substitute white chocolate chips for a solely Autumnal treat, sans the spooky.

Some of the hardest things to come by outside of the United States are the wonderful large pumpkins we use for Jack O’lanterns. Or if importers do bring them in, you have to give the shop an arm and two legs just to take one home. Right now in my local supermarket, Spinneys, there is a large pile of gorgeous pumpkins with price tags between 50 and 100 DOLLARS each. Isn’t that crazy? I must admit that there have been times that I’ve paid exorbitant prices – in Singapore, for instance – but then I still had girls at home and can one really put a price on passing cultural traditions on to one’s offspring? I didn’t feel like I was just paying for pumpkins but for a visual representation and demonstration of their heritage. Don’t mind me as I justify a ridiculous expenditure, but I promise not to judge whatever stupid thing you spend your money on.  Plus, who doesn’t love to carve a pumpkin?

Anyhoo, this year, I decided to forgo the whole pumpkins and just stock up on the canned stuff. I love the moisture that canned pumpkin adds to baked goods and knew that my Halloween cookies for this month’s Creative Cookie Exchange needed to have pumpkin. And some Halloween candy.

If you are planning your Halloween party and need some great cookie ideas, you’ve come to the right place. Make sure to scroll down after the recipe to see the links for all the Halloween cookies we are sharing today.

Ingredients
3/4 cup or 170g butter, softened
1 cup or 200g sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 15oz can or almost 1 cup or 215g canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
2 cups or 250g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 cup or 200g white chocolate candy corn M&Ms (You can substitute regular M&Ms or chocolate chips.)

To decorate:
Reserved M&Ms
Several pieces candy corn - optional

Cream cheese icing:
1/2 cup or 100g cream cheese
1/2 cup or 65g powdered sugar
2 teaspoons milk

Method
Preheat your oven to 350°F or 180°C and prepare your baking pan by spraying it with non-stick spray or lining it with parchment. My pan is about 9x13in or 23x33cm.

Mix the flour together with the salt and spices in a small mixing bowl and set aside.



Use your stand mixer or electric beaters to cream together the softened butter and sugar.

Add in the pumpkin puree, vanilla and flour mixture and beat until well combined, scraping down the sides occasionally. This takes just a couple of minutes.



Set aside a handful of the white chocolate candy corn M&Ms to decorate the top and fold the rest into the dough.



Scoop the dough out of the mixing bowl and into your prepared pan and spread it out evenly.

This stuff is thick and sticky so you might need to wet or oil your hands and use them to get it into all the corners and relatively even.



Top the dough with the reserved M&Ms and a few candy corn candies if you have some on hand.


Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cookie bars are just cooked and golden around the edges.



Meanwhile, you can be making the cream cheese icing. Soften the cream cheese with a few zaps in the microwave and give it a good stir.

Put it in a mixing bowl with the powdered sugar and stir until it is well combined. Add the milk one teaspoon at a time, stirring well in between.



Once the cookies are done, remove them from the oven and allow to cool. Cut them into squares and transfer to your serving platter.



Use a piping tip and bag to decorate the cookies. I wanted an offset spider web so I followed this plate-decorating tutorial on the web. Very helpful! If you only make the spider web, you are going to have plenty of cream cheese icing leftover. You can serve it on the side, or pop it in a airtight bag and freeze it.



Enjoy!









The Creative Cookie Exchange theme this month is Halloween! Spooky, silly, creepy, we’ve got it all! If you are looking for Halloween inspiration to get in the kitchen and start baking, check out what all of the hosting bloggers have made:

If you are a blogger and want to join in the fun, contact Laura at thespicedlife AT gmail DOT com and she will get you added to our Facebook group, where we discuss our cookies and share links.

You can also just use us as a great resource for cookie recipes - Be sure to check out our Pinterest Board and our monthly posts. You can find all of them here at The Spiced Life). We all post together on the first Tuesday after the 15th of each month!


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Monday, October 20, 2014

Spicy Cheesy Bacon Ranch Muffins #MuffinMonday


Extra sharp cheddar cheese, crispy bacon and ranch dressing seasonings are combined in these flavorful savory muffins, making them perfect brunch fare for game day or tailgating picnics. 

Ranch trumps plans
I had a complete different muffin planned for today. I had bought the ingredients and it was going to be sweet and fabulous. But then, I saw this. This, my dear readers, is the even more fabulous Cheesy Bacon Ranch Dip from my friend, Carla, over at Chocolate Moosey. 

© Carla Cardello at Chocolate Moosey. Used by permission.

I am a huge fan of ranch dressing and ranch dip and ranch pretty much everything. My suitcase returning from the US to whichever country we are living is regularly stocked with packets of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing, unless it’s available where I am. I hate to be without it. I also stock up on the buttermilk ranch seasonings from Penzey's. One cannot ever have too much ranch. It’s great for dipping carrot sticks or potato chips and there's hardly anything that makes me happier than cutting an avocado in half, removing the pit and filling the holes with ranch dressing so I can eat it with a spoon. Unless it’s being home alone when I do it so that I don’t have to give someone else one of my avocado halves. Dang moochers. 

The upshot of it was that when I saw Carla’s spicy cheesy bacon ranch dip, I knew all those flavors – that bacon, the cheese, that hot sauce, the ranch seasonings! - would also make a fabulous muffin. And I wasn’t willing to wait. As I sit here typing this, I have just polished off my second muffin. Then I licked my finger and picked up the crumbs from the saucer and cleaned them off too so, unless someone is counting muffins, it looks like I haven’t even started yet. And that, friends, would be the truth. Two down, just 10 to go. Don't bother to knock. I'm not answering. 

Ingredients
2 cups or 250g flour
5 oz or 140g extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons ranch seasoning (About half of a ranch dip packet. I used my Penzey's for this.)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup or 240ml sour cream
1/3 cup or 80ml milk
5-6 slices bacon, fried and chopped – approx. weight after frying and draining: 1 3/4 oz or 50g
2-4 tablespoons hot sauce, depending on your taste and how spicy your chosen hot sauce is. Know thyself, as the ancient Greeks said. 

Method
Preheat your oven to 350°F or 180°C and prepare your 12-cup muffin pan by greasing it or lining it with paper muffin cups. 

Separate out small handfuls of both your grated cheese and your bacon for decorating the muffins before baking.

In a large bowl, mix together your flour, the bigger of the grated cheddar, ranch seasoning, baking powder, baking soda and salt, making sure that the cheese is well coated in flour and is not sticking together in clumps.


In a smaller bowl, whisk together your eggs, sour cream, milk and hot sauce.



Pour your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients stir until just mixed.  Then fold in the larger pile of bacon pieces.



Divide the batter between the muffin cups.



Top each with the reserved smaller piles of grated cheddar and bacon.



Bake in your preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until the muffins are golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for a few minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.



Enjoy!


And, just a side note that I found amusing. Muffins are not a stable building material. I was stacking them like this.



And then this happened. One went off the left and one went off the right. And that is the story of how my helper got a muffin. Three down, nine to go.



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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Profiteroles with Caramel Drizzle #SundaySupper


Profiteroles is a fancy name for choux pastry, baked into little buns then split open and filled with custard or sometimes even ice cream. A drizzle of caramel or chocolate sauce finishes this fancy dessert that can be made with ingredients most people keep on hand. 

Budget Friendly Recipes
This week our Sunday Supper group is sharing a wonderful varied bunch of budget friendly recipes. As I was browsing through my cookbooks and the internet, I was suddenly struck by the idea of profiteroles because, despite their fancy looks, they are made of choux pastry with normal ingredients most folks keep on hand anyway– butter, flour, water and eggs - that don’t cost a fortune. And if you fill them with traditional custard, that’s just milk, flour, sugar, eggs and butter - more staples that won’t break the bank. You certainly don’t have to, but if you top them with homemade caramel sauce, that’s easily made by caramelizing sugar and adding milk! I find it quite amazing that we can take pantry and refrigerator staples – none of them expensive items - and transform them with heat and time into something as special as profiteroles.

Make sure to scroll down to the bottom of this post to see the links to all the other wonderful Budget Friendly recipes we are sharing today. Many thanks to our hosts for this great theme, T.R. of Gluten Free Crumbley and David of Cooking Chat.

Ingredients
For the vanilla custard:
1/2 cup or 100g sugar
5 tablespoons plain flour
1 good pinch salt
2 cups or 475ml milk
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons butter

For the choux pastry:
7 tablespoons or 100g butter
1 cup or 225ml water
1 cup or 125g plain flour
1 pinch salt
4 eggs, at room temperature

For the caramel sauce:
1 cup or 200g sugar
1 1/4 cups or 300ml milk
1/4 teaspoon salt

N.B. I won’t repeat the instructions for the caramel sauce since you can find them here on Confessions of a Bright-eyed Baker, whose recipe I used. Follow her directions to cook the sauce a little longer for a thicker caramel.

Method
Make your caramel sauce ahead of time to make sure you are not distracted by choux pastry baking in the oven or custard thickening on the stove. (See link in note just above.) It will require your complete concentration. Set it aside to cool.

Next comes the custard. In a small saucepan, either not on the stove or with the stove turned off, combine sugar, flour and the pinch of salt. Stir in your milk, a little at a time, whisking until smooth.

Turn on the stove and bring your mixture to the boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.

Boil 60 seconds and then pour about a 1/4 cup or 60 ml of the hot liquid into the two beaten egg yolks while you whisk constantly. This warms the egg yolks so they don’t cook when you add them to the saucepan.

Need a visual of how slow to pour and how fast to whisk? It’s not the best but it will give you a good idea.



Now add the heated egg yolks to the saucepan gradually, once again, stirring all the while and then keep stirring until mixture starts to bubble again.

Your custard should be quite thick now. Remove from heat and add the vanilla and butter. Stir well until the butter is melted and both are fully incorporated.



Put the custard in a bowl and cover the surface with cling film so a skin doesn’t form on top as it cools. Chill in a refrigerator.

Tip for making nice even profiteroles: Use a circle template or bottle cap that is about an inch or 2.5cm in diameter to draw circles with a pencil about an inch or 2.5cm apart on the back of your baking parchment. Turn the parchment over and stick it down to your baking sheet with a quick shot of non-stick spray.

Preheat your oven to 445°F or 230°C and prepare your baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper stuck down with a little non-stick spray – with or without circles drawn on the bottom. (See note just above.) I have a small baking pan so I had to prepare two.

Now let’s get on with the main attraction, the choux pastry. Sift together your flour and a pinch of salt and put the bowl right next to the stove in readiness.

In a medium pot, combine the butter and water and bring to the boil.



Pour the flour/salt mixture into the boiling water/butter all at once. Stir vigorously until the mixture forms a ball and pulls right away from the sides. This takes just a minute or two.



Now take the pot off of the stove and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well with your wooden spoon in between. With each addition, it looks like the egg won’t mix in and the dough starts to fall apart but keep mixing and after a couple of minutes of hard labor, the dough comes together again in one big lump and it’s time to add the next egg.


After the fourth egg has been thoroughly incorporated, put the dough into a piping bag with a large tip, about 1/2 in or 1 cm wide.

Pipe the soft dough on the parchment paper in 1 inch or 2.5cm circles about an equal measure apart from each other.


Poke down any pointy tops with a damp finger.


Bake in your preheated oven for 10 minutes then turn the temperature down to 400°F or 200°C and bake for a further 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. The dough makes about 50 choux buns.



When you are ready to serve the profiteroles, cut the completely cooled choux pastry buns in half with a serrated knife and fill them with the chilled vanilla custard. I used a piping bag for this as well but you could also just spoon it in. Pop the tops back on the choux buns.

Drizzle with a little of your caramel sauce. You may now call them profiteroles!


Store any unfilled choux buns in an airtight container where they will stay nicely for several days.


Enjoy!






Looking for tasty recipes that won’t empty your wallet? This is your Sunday Supper week!

Scrumptious Mains (Breakfast and Dinner)
Satisfying Sides
Sweet Treats
Sips, Spreads, and Snacks
Sunday Supper Movement Join the #SundaySupper conversation on Twitter on Sunday! We tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world. Our weekly chat starts at 7 p.m. ET. Follow the #SundaySupper hashtag and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat. To get more great Sunday Supper Recipes, visit our website or check out our Pinterest board.

Would you like to join the Sunday Supper Movement? It’s easy. You can sign up by clicking here: Sunday Supper Movement.





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