Baked Sunday Mornings: Chocolate-Chip Orange Panettone

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Happy Almost-Christmas!! I just had a birthday (my twelfth twenty-fifth 😉 and I’ll write about that soon, but right now it’s the time of year when my boys are pacing the floors like madmen waiting impatiently for the morning they can rip open their presents. I’m feeling pretty much in the spirit–it’s our first Christmas in this house and for the first time in years we are staying home. Our presents are wrapped and ready to go and our beautiful tree (our biggest yet) is full to max capacity with all of our special ornaments.

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I felt a little weird/sad to not spend the holidays with our family like we normally do, so I was happy to hear that my in-laws were coming this weekend to drop off presents/hang out with us for Christmas. They are literally staying one day (not overnight) so I’m happy to be baking a special treat to share with them.

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I’ve never made panettone before, but I’ve eaten it store bought plenty of times. Whole Foods has a nice one that I used to get for the holidays pretty frequently. I had considered not making this since I waited so long to get the few ingredients I didn’t have on hand and I needed to clean the house, but when my husband came home this evening (at around 10pm) with paper molds and oranges and corn syrup (after my house was fully clean) I knew there was no turning back.

I was a little worried when I added the milk to the yeast/flour because I had a recipe (it’s been months but it still messed with my confidence…) that used yeast and didn’t rise properly so I’m still a little gun shy. The milk seemed a bit warmer than it was supposed to be and I was afraid I had killed my yeast.

I couldn’t remember what size it was before after I let it rise the first time so I’m not sure if it was doing it’s thing or not. It’s now 1am and I am waiting for my sugar to turn to syrup on the stove with my orange peels. My dough is in the mixer bowl and the chocolate chips are in the measuring cup on the counter, waiting patiently for their turn.

Once my peels are ready I am going to take a shower while they cool. After I get my dough in the paper mold I am hitting the hay and hoping that an overnight rise will be fine. (did I mention they will be here at 8am-ish?!)

I am minutes away from taking the peels off the heat, so I am going to leave you here. I will update in the morning after my panettone is baked (and we try a bit of it) and let you know what the verdict was.

Good Night!!!

Update:

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I woke up to perfectly risen panettone, much to my delight. I got the oven fired up and the panettone baking. My in-laws texted and let us know that they were going to be here a couple of hours later than we had originally thought so we made coffee and went back to bed. A few How I Met Your Mother episodes later and my panettone was complete.

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I meant to put foil on the top but I lost track of time. Luckily it seemed ok, not too dark.

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I set it out to cool and went back to bed. My in-laws are here now and the panettone was perfect for cutting. We just had a couple of sample slices and it was great. The orange-chocolate combo was perfect and the texture was great–lighter than bread but more chewy than cake. I definitely think this one was a winner!

**Note: I didn’t realize the recipe called for bread flour so I used A/P. I was worried, but it didn’t seem to hurt the texture. Also, my husband brought home milk chocolate chips so it a pretty mellow chocolate flavor as opposed to what it would have been with semi-sweet chips.

Go see what everyone else thought!

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Next up: Lemon lime champagne granita!

Family Traditions

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I love December–it’s my birthday month and I do enjoy Christmas. (although Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday)

I grew up with a mom who liked Christmas–her mom died the day before my 9th birthday and they played the Christmas song Winter Wonderland for her because she loved it so much. But my dad HATED Christmas. Hated it. He would miss family dinners and pretty much hide out until it was over, which wasn’t fun for my brothers and I.

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Of course, I grew up and married someone who hates Christmas. So the boys stay with me for Christmas each year and spend Thanksgiving with their dad. But my sweet husband likes celebrating. He also prefers Thanksgiving but loves doing fun things together and loves making my birthday special and loves seeing the boys’ faces on Christmas morning.

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For years we’ve gone to his parents’ house, but its five hours away. We have a great time and it’s good to get some Grandparent time in, but this is our first winter in this house and we love it here. We want to create special memories here and start to find out special traditions that work for our little family. So this year we are staying home.

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Last night was my big boy’s Winter music program and baby G and I went to cheer them on. In other years they were shy but not this year. They sang and danced and Peachy played the bell (Monkey was on bell duty last year) They were adorable and so proud of themselves.

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Afterwards I offered to take them to dinner. It’s been a while and they love dinners out. They couldn’t decide where they wanted to go and each one vetoed every idea the other had. I was driving in the general direction of home when I saw an option: IHOP.

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I am kind of a food snob and usually would NOT consider IHOP a viable option, but the boys have never been and what kid doesn’t like pancakes for dinner?! So we went and of course they LOVED it. We all had pancakes and bacon and eggs and hashbrowns and hot cocoa and it was a blast.

On the way home we blasted the AC/DC Pandora station and were enjoying it so much we drove around our neighborhood and the one next to ours and checked out all the cool Christmas lights. Some houses really went all out! When we got home we kept the party going and turned off all the lights and turned on the Christmas tree lights and danced around our living room to an old Iron Maiden record. As I spun around under the twinkly rainbow lights with my 3 sweet boys dancing beside me I was the happiest Mama ever.

Our lives are so hurried–rush to school, rush to finish homework and get in bed…it’s nice to just stop for a minute and enjoy each others’ company and do something different just for fun.

We still plan on baking Christmas cookies–both for us and for the children’s shelter nearby. We plan on making ornaments to add to our already-full tree. (I love unpacking each ornament from the years before) We plan on have a big Christmas Eve dinner–and we can each open one small present and a huge Christmas Day brunch and gift extravaganza.

I’m so grateful for the chance to give my babies experiences they will always remember. I still to this day dancing around under our tree with my mom and two brothers. It was Wham! and not Iron Maiden, but the feeling is the same and I know these moments are fleeting.

What traditions have YOU created with your special people?

Thanksgiving Wrap Up

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20131207-180948.jpg Beulah Pearl Tanner

This year for Thanksgiving we went to my in-law’s house in Southeast Texas. I volunteered to make the pies and this year I chose a Chocolate Ginger Chess Pie, a Roasted Pumpkin Pie and a classic Pecan Pie. The pecan pie was right off of the Karo syrup label my Grandmother’s secret recipe. She was well-known for that pie and this is the first holiday she is not with us, so I decided to use that recipe in honor of my sweet Grandma, Beulah Pearl.

I thought they all turned out well (despite my pumpkin pie cracking on top) AND I was finally able to figure out how to prevent my pie crusts from slipping. (hint: it’s all about the crimping)

This year we are spending our Christmas at home. (for the very first time!) We are looking forward to building our family traditions and just hanging out: cooking, eating, etc. I can’t wait!

What are YOU doing for Christmas?

Share the Scoby Love

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With every batch of kombucha that is made, the scoby starts to get a bit thicker. Translucent gummy goodness is a sign that the scoby is having a baby. I hadn’t separated my fused mama/baby scoby until this last batch. I realized that as the holidays approach maybe a little starter kit with a scoby (swimming in the brew it was born in) directions and helpful hints (handwritten for a personal touch) and a bottle of my latest batch may be a fun gift for one of the kombucha lovers in my life.

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I know so many people who enjoy a bottle of store bought kombucha, and most probably don’t enjoy the $4 price tag. Just like anything else, it’s so cheap to make and I achieved success with my very first batch with zero experience or knowledge prior to giving it a shot. I have read a lot of blogs and websites discussing methods and equipment and was able to get a pretty solid working technique down quickly. (although I did use a spicy tea last time without realizing the essential oils may be harmful to my scoby, I guess we’ll see if it is ok by how my current batch pans out)

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Williams-Sonoma sells this kit online for $70 and even though the glass jar is cool, I think it’s a total scam. I don’t think I’ve spent $20 on supplies and I’m on my 5th batch.

I think I have a recipient in mind for my first little kit, if I get a good response I may continue to spread the scoby love around.

What are your favorite DIY gifts to give this time of year?

School’s Out for the Summer!

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Last Friday was the final day of 2nd grade for my big littles. The year went by pretty quickly, and I felt like this by the end, but since I am on the PTO board it was a huge final push to pull off the biggest party we had all year–The End of Year Bash!

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We did silly huge projects like candy balls and staying at the school all night to pop corn and make hundreds of bags of cotton candy. (so many that the machine conked out, hopefully not permanently) Even though we were all tired, it was so amazing to come together to make something fun and awesome happen for our kids. I love being a part of the community that we are building.

We had face painting, a dance party, a really amazing photo booth, sno-cones, plus the aforementioned cotton candy and popcorn. The kids were pretty amped up all day, and so was I after drinking a giant coffee:

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I had such a fun time volunteering and seeing how much fun the kids were having, and getting to hang out with my guys:

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I was so energized by the party and the caffeine that I decided to drive alone with all 3 boys to Dallas for my family’s memorial. I am so glad I went, but on the drive home after school to pack I was definitely wondering if I had lost my mind.

I had to stop by Target to get my guys some dressy-ish attire, all of their black pants and polos are pretty tired after being worn to school all year. That required another huge coffee.

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And then we were ready to hit the road.

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The service was lovely and my boys were not as weirded out by it as I had thought they might be. They were both very sweet and said they were happy to learn so much about family members that were such awesome people. It felt really good to hear them say that.

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Dealing with another loss kicked off a huge wave of processing things I have gone through in my life and really evaluate where I am at and who I am. It’s intense when things like that happen suddenly, especially if/when the circumstances were very tragic, like they were in this case.

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After our quick trip I dropped my boys off at their dad’s house to start his summer visitation with them. It was very jarring to be on this hurried trip, then have to say goodbye for a couple of weeks suddenly. I didn’t really get a good chance to work up to it in my mind, so it still feels weird to not hear their sweet little chipmunk voices at home.

In some ways I am thankful for the chance to get to regroup and plan our summer activities. I definitely feel like I am scrambling to get back to normal life, to work, to the whole balancing act. If I had to try and plan a fun (yet educational!) summer break right now I may actually fail miserably.

I definitely want to do this, then make a list of things I hope to do when the guys return. I’m looking forward to a summer filled with love, laughter, swimming, exploring, learning, crafting and relaxing.

I hope you are planning a summer filled with love and family too!

Baked Sunday Mornings: Chocolate Malted Madeleines

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When my last baby was first born my husband got a job as the executive chef for a French restaurant. I helped him choose desserts for the initial menu even though, to be perfectly honest French baking intimidates me. (stop staring at me, Bouchon Bakery coobook!)

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I always intended to buy a madeleine pan and give them a shot– I love their soft, spongey texture and delicate seashell scallops–but until this week I never got around to picking one up.

I found a mini madeleine pan at the Home Goods store near my house. I love malt and was really excited about this recipe.

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I started baking these while my boys had friends over for a play date. I figured I would make them a batch of regular basic chocolate chunk cookies while they played. The madeleine batter needs to rest for an hour so that time seemed like the perfect opportunity to whip up some kid-friendly treats.

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I completely discounted the fact that I normally use my weekly baking time as sort of a tasty meditation and having a houseful of kids underfoot in a thunderstorm is maybe not the most relaxing of environments.

But regardless, I was able to shove cookies into the hands of all the littles so I could check on my madeleine batter and get them in the oven. Since I had never made them before I definitely overfilled the pan on the first batch.

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They looked more like chocolate pillows than delicate seaside collectibles so I scaled wayyy back on the batter for the second batch. But the texture was right so I was still excited about them, and guess who doesn’t care about the shape of a cookie? Kids. They didn’t even glance at them before shoving them in their mouths.

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I got the batter amount right the second time and they came out of the oven looking cute and delicate.

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They looked even better when I dusted them with cocoa and malt powder. Despite the chaos going on at my house while I baked this week, I was really happy with the way these turned out.

And now that I have a pan I can try out some classic madeleines. My boys will be decidedly less excited about those since they are on a weird lemon-hating kick right now, but that’s ok. I’m happy to eat them up test them out.

After baking these I did some internet roaming and noticed that there is quite a bit of strong opinion about what constitutes the perfect madeleine.

The ‘hump’ is quite important and it seems you achieve this by first chilling the batter and/or the pans. I had remembered reading about chilling the pans in the Bouchon cookbook but I had no idea it was such a big deal. Interesting.

Side note: Had my middle boy been a girl his name would have been Madeleine. 🙂

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Go see how all my fellow bakers’ yummy tiny cakes turned out!

Next up: Mississippi Mud Pie aka Coffee Ice Cream Tart!!!

Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

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We were invited to my boys’ Nana’s house for Easter this year. Her birthday always falls close to Easter and every year I’ve ever spent it with her I’ve made her a cake to celebrate. She’s in luck now because I’ve been improving my baking steadily over the years and I do make a pretty badass nice cake if I do say so myself.

I just bought a new cook book and this recipe in particular jumped out at me. It was described as ‘sunshine on a plate’ um…yes please!!

I have to say, I’m usually not a huge fan of lemony desserts but Nana is not a huge fan of overly rich desserts so I wanted to make something I thought she’d like. I had no idea I’d end up loving it as much as I did.

I found a bunch of beautiful ripe, organic Meyer lemons that I was super excited to use for this cake. The smell of them always takes me right back to when I lived in Berkeley, some of the best times of my life. I was so worried I’d eff the cake up, I wanted so much for it to be perfect.

The night before Easter Sunday I baked the three cake layers. The batter was easy and fragrant and baked up perfectly. The cake seemed springy and moist but also a bit delicate. I was so excited to wake up and make the curd and the lemon-scented vanilla buttercream frosting.

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The cake came together perfectly, and right in time for us to leave. It was a pretty humid day, rain was in the forecast. I would have preferred to refrigerate the cake for a few hours to set a bit but there was no time and there is something amazing about room-temp buttercream melting on your tongue.

After a lovely frittata and an antipasti platter it was onto the cake. It slid against the cake-taker on the drive over which stressed me out to no end but after a few mimosas I wasn’t so concerned. When we went inside to grab it the top two layers were trying to escape: they had slid away from the base layer. No worries, we just scooted them over with a spatula and the cake still looked great.

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When I took my first bite I swear I heard angels sing. There is something so miraculous when all components of an untested recipe come together well. If I had have not been a guest I would have definitely did some sort of happy dance. It was amazing. Delicate/tender crumb, sweet/tart curd, perfect, delicate lemony-vanilla frosting. Holy cow.

The (belated) birthday girl enjoyed it too. I thought she was going to take the whole thing inside with a fork for some alone time but she managed to restrain herself. 😉 We left half of the leftover cake there and ate the last of our half this morning with coffee.

I was right: a few hours in the fridge made it all come together beautifully. This recipe is a keeper!!