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Tag Archives: #Pastrychef

My Guilty Pleasures: Dark Chocolate Truffles, Magic Cookie Bars and Biscotti

My Guilty Pleasures: Dark Chocolate Truffles, Magic Cookie Bars and Biscotti

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As I’m sitting here writing I decide to check my purse for a little something sweet. I usually have dark chocolate on me at all times. It’s insane, I know. But who doesn’t love chocolate? Instead of eating the Dove miniature that I usually embibe in, I was happy to discover I put some home made chocolate truffles in my purse this morning. My dark chocolate truffles are the perfect treat when you need a little pick me up. They are my “go to” guilty pleasure in a pinch. Recipe here for Ganache

 

Some folks require ice cream to satisfy their cravings, and I’m not opposed to that at all.In fact, a scoop of coffee ice cream with chocolate chunks is just the right amount of sweet and a nice boost in the mid day if you like coffee.

 

Speaking of desserts, I met a few friends last month at a nearby restaurant called Parada. Sharon, Elyse, Linda and I were celebrating Lisa’s birthday during lunch on a quiet Saturday afternoon. I’ve known these women for over 20 years since our kids attended the same elementary school and swim team. We spent time at boy scout outings together camping and hiking. It was nice to get together and share stories, lunch and get caught up.

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The food at Parada was delicious. We shared the roasted chicken, had a few salads and a couple of appetizers. The only disappointment was finding out that they didn’t offer dessert for the birthday girl. What’s up with that? Why would I go back to this restaurant again knowing they choose not to surprise their guests with a little something sweet at the end of their meal? Luckily, I brought everyone individual servings of my magic cookie bar that I had made the night before. You see, my family is not big on chocolate. Hard to believe, huh? So I happened to have a huge pan of these delicious treats to share and celebrate Lisa’s birthday. And I like to get these wonderful goodies out of my house before I eat them myself. Lisa was thrilled!

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Here’s Elyse and Lisa entering the Peruvian Restaurant Parada.
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Magic Cookie Bars

Ingredients:

2 Pkgs of Graham Crackers crushed in food processor

1 stick unsalted butter melted

1 tsp cinnamon

½ C sugar

 

2 Cans Sweetened Condensed Milk

2 C Chocolate Chips High quality like Ghirardelli, Valrhona

1 ½ C Shredded or flaked coconut

1 C toasted and chopped Walnuts

Directions:

Melt butter in small saucepan. Place graham crackers in food processor (or crush in a extra large ziplock bag with a rolling pin). Add sugar and cinnamon to crushed crackers and blend. Add melted butter and blend again.

 

Place mixture in a foil lined or parchment lined 13 X 9 pan. I used a slightly larger pan my Pampered Chef Bar Pan. Smooth. Sprinkle chocolate chips, coconut and walnuts over crust. Pour 2 cans of condensed milk over the top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30- 40 minutes until brown and bubbly. Cool. Cut into squares and serve warm if possible.

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Bonus Recipe:

My friends on Instagram are waiting for my cranberry orange and pistachio biscotti recipe. I made these crunchy and tart cookies to bring to Tom my step Dad. He has been suffering from the lousy cold that is going around so these cookies are sure to cheer him up. Here’s the recipe:

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Cranberry Orange and Pistachio Biscotti

 

2 C All Purpose Flour

1 C Sugar (Plus 2 T to sprinkle on at end)

1t Baking Powder

3 Eggs

2 T Brandy

2 T Cointreau Liqueur

1 t vanilla

1 t Anise extract

Zest from 1 large Orange

1 C whole fresh cranberries (Can substitute dried)

1 C toasted Pistachios

 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix flour sugar and baking powder together in a large bowl.

In medium size bowl, whisk eggs, brandy, cointreau, vanilla, and anise.

Add egg mixture to dry ingredients until combined. Mix in pistachios.

Transfer dough to a prepared lined sheet pan. Shape dough into a 5inch wide and ½ inch high loaf. Sprinkle on 2 T granulated sugar.

Bake until firm and dry about 30 to 35 minutes when it is golden brown.

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Remove pan from oven and slice loaf on a diagonal into ¼ to ½ inch thick slices. Arrange cookies cut side down onto the sheet pan and bake again until golden brown about 7 or 10 minutes. I prefer them not too crunchy, so I don’t bake them too long during the second bake only 7 minutes.

If you have any questions for me or you want to talk about your guilty pleasure, leave me comments below. I’d be honored.

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Baking a Wedding Cake and a Tour of Facebook in the Same Day.

Baking a Wedding Cake and a Tour of Facebook in the Same Day.

IMG_0232It’s been quite a month. I took on making a wedding cake for a good friend that reconnected with me on Facebook.  I also was unusually busy because I met up with my niece at Facebook the same day that I had to bake the cakes. This is what’s so great about Facebook. You never know who you might meet up with again since they have globally 1.28 billion people active users daily and 200 billion monthly active users.

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Last month I was invited to take a tour of the Facebook campus from my niece who works for an accounting firm there. Jasmine showed me around the property. It was quite expansive and the employees  used bikes and busses to get from campus to campus. These busses come frequently, are air conditioned and very comfortable. But, let’s talk about the FOOD at Facebook. When I arrived, I was given a day pass and offered something to drink. I delightedly made myself my fav drink: an espresso w half and half and sugar. It was so exciting to see all the options and everything was FREE.Eventually, we made our way over to the BBQ pork, macaroni and cheese, and spicy greens and I was in heaven.

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Jasmine also introduced me to several snack areas which give away, pretzels, chips, granola bars, fruit snacks, popcorn,candy, gum and pretty much whatever your heart desires. I took Altoids (my Dad’s favorite), peppermint gum and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup for the ride home. Yum. They also have refrigerators near the exits that have pre made salads, etc so you don’t have to cook when you get home. That’s a huge help to many families that struggle with meal preparation. I can’t imagine anyone being hungry though. Jasmine and I walked down the main campus where there were places to eat lining the street. I saw a Noodle Bar, a BBQ place, a burger joint, a Salad Bar,  a bakery and an ice cream shop. And I’m sure I’m forgetting many more.They even had a cafeteria on her campus which was closed already.  I wanted EVERYTHING. I couldn’t believe that all this food was FREE.

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Cameras weren’t allowed near the workstations, but I was amazed at all the different nooks and crannies all over campus that were set up to work from. Comfy couches and rooms that looked like libraries were positioned all over making it hard to choose where one would feel like hanging out. It felt more like Disneyland than a place of employment. We even walked by Mark Zuckerman’s office! So cool.

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Jasmine also showed me all around Instagram which Facebook also owns. There were huge art pieces all colorful and exciting, a place one could be inventive and inspired for sure.

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The wedding cake story is explained next. I don’t consider myself a professional cake baker. Yes, I have gone to pastry school and made special occasion cakes for different events, but never for a wedding. That’s a lot of pressure that I don’t need to put on myself, and no one had ever asked me before so it wasn’t an issue. Noelle and I had raised our kids together in the same neighborhood, same swim team and same schools. That is, until she and her husband separated about 10 years ago and moved out of the neighborhood. She and I lost touch and I hadn’t spoken for a very long time. Then out of the blue, she sent me a message on Facebook and asked me to give her a call. I guess she saw my many dessert  posts and of course remembered how much I loved baking. About a week later, I had her and another friend from the neighborhood named Chris over for dinner to discuss her new man, anything we might have missed out on the last 10 years and of course THE CAKE.  

 

And Noelle, is in sales and can be very assertive and overbearing, yet I like that about her. I was also excited to have this opportunity to make a wedding cake. After all, she really wanted me to bake her cake and there is something kinda cool about that.

It took some convincing, but I finally agreed. Now I had to do the research, look for recipes, find the right sized cake pans, figure out how what to put them on and learn what kind of supports I would need to serve a wedding cake in Mid July. Thank goodness for You Tube, Pinterest and good friends who suggested I make a tiered wedding cake instead of piling them on top of each other. (Best decision ever!) I spend hours watching home chefs decorate cakes, and got to see what tricks I would need to make this process a success.

I spend days shopping picking up ingredients like drinking straws (to use inside the cake to keep from falling), fresh lemons for lemon curd, eggs, butter (lots of butter), meringue powder, powdered sugar, raspberries, and pudding mix. Yes. I used box cake mixes because I am guaranteed a good tasting cake with the right texture. If I made them from scratch, I would worry that the weight of these cakes wouldn’t hold up to another on top. Like I said, I’m not a cake baker. I generally dislike making a decorating cakes, because it takes someone with patience to make them look just right. They have to be even and the icing needs to be the right consistency with various scrolling, etc…

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Another thing most people don’t know about me is that I listen to motivational podcasts every morning. I like Deleon Motivation , Tony Robbins, and The Mulligan Brothers just to name a few. These talks push me a little out of my comfort zone and ask that you try something new. Do something that you wouldn’t normally do, they say. This cake definitely did that for me. I was waay out of my league, yet I was determined to make it happen for my friend. It was the least I could do for her, after all.

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Lucky for me, my husband helped out by engineering the “tiered look” and stepped up big time at the last minute. I also was fortunate to have our cousin volunteer to make the rose cake topper, which made the cake look professional. Lynie loves flower arranging and I knew I would not have the time or energy to give this cake the finishing touch that it deserved. She only charged me $39.00 for the roses and baby’s breath and refused to let me pay her for her time. It was such a gift.

A week or so before the wedding I started baking the five cakes. I’ve taken enough baking classes to know you never refrigerate a cake or it will dry out. So I had to take my freezer food to my mom’s house so I could make room for all five cakes. The lemon curd was made next, since that can be made ahead. I waited until the day before to make the frosting. Buckets and buckets of frosting! I worried a little, no A LOT about how I would decorate each cake, but in the end they all turned out beautiful. One I topped with the flowers, one I used fresh raspberries and blueberries, and one I delicately placed meringue cookies in a huge pile on top of this enormous round cake.

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I got excited when I decided to fill the cakes with whipped cream, lemon curd, raspberries, and buttercream. I used Grand Marnier, simple syrup, to moisten the layers before filling. I found pink ribbon and used mylar strips/acetate to keep the ribbon from touching the icing on the sides of the cake.To decorate the sides, I used tempered white chocolate and a piece of a huge metal form that my husband used to build a rock wall. This metal piece had a fun pattern to it that would make the cake look special. (Kind of fun to use something no one else would ever think of using!)

 

The tricky part was making room in the fridge and freezer for the finished cakes and also transporting them to the venue which was only 15 minutes away. The weather wasn’t cooperating with us either, since it was over 100 degrees at 2:00 in the afternoon. My little Lexus came through allowing us to crank up the air conditioning for 10 minutes before we loaded them in the car. I’m sure most cake makers have special vans or large vehicles that make it easier to get five huge cakes to a wedding.Not not me, but we made it happen.

After arriving at Il Postino in Lafayette, my husband built the structure of cake platters and we used a brand new white sheet that covered the table perfectly. I picked a few flowers and greens from my garden and was able to put together something cute to give the presentation a little color besides the rose cake topper.

In the end, everything worked out well. Noelle and Mark got married and they had a beautiful cake that make their day extra special. Who knows if there are any more wedding cakes to be made in my future. At least if there are, I will have the knowledge and expertise this time to do it.

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I genuinely would like to thank my niece Jasmine for taking the time to take me to Facebook. I’m so proud of her!  It’s because of Facebook that I was offered these friends like Noelle and Chris to magically pop back into my life. The wedding was beautiful, the cakes were phenomenal and I have a new trick up my sleeve when it comes to calling myself a pastry chef. And without the help of these morning motivational talks, I can ultimately say I probably wouldn’t have considered taking on this gargantuan task. To say  that I am grateful for the opportunity to make a wedding cake is an understatement. Congratulations Noelle and Mark. Thank you for including me in your special day.

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