Chocolate Cupcakes in Orange Peel Cups

With Victoria Day week-end upon us, many people will be thinking of outdoor events. For some reason, food just tastes better when it is cooked over a campfire (or barbecue).

To date, no one seems to know who actually started toasting marshmallows on a stick, over a campfire. S’mores have been a camp tradition ever since the recipe first appeared in the 1927 edition of the Girl Scout Handbook. No doubt it was given its name ….. short for ‘some more’.

It seems there are endless campfire dessert concoctions such as: dessert pizza, apple pie foil packets, monkey bread, pineapple upside-down cake foil packets, walnut chocolate burritos, cinnamon buns in orange peel cups, etc., etc.

Since Brion & I are not inclined to go camping, I baked these in the oven. The orange peels infuse the chocolate with a fragrant, citrus flavor. Nice!

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Chocolate Cupcakes in Orange Peel Cups
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Ingredients
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Ingredients
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Instructions
Oranges & Cake
  1. Cut oranges in half. Using a grapefruit knife, remove pulp from each half. Juice the pulp & reserve 1 cup for the cake mix.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, oil & 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice. Mix until batter has no lumps.
  3. Place the orange cups into a muffin tin & fill with about 1/4 cup each of the chocolate batter. Bake 25 minutes. Remove from oven & allow to cool.
Topping
  1. In a bowl, blend cream cheese, vanilla & orange zest with a hand mixer until smooth. Add butter & mix on medium-high for a couple of minutes. Add powdered sugar & blend until topping is uniformly smooth. Place a dollop of topping on each dessert.
Recipe Notes

If you wish to bake these desserts over a campfire:

  • Wrap each orange loosely in aluminium foil, taking care to keep the oranges upright.
  • Place the wrapped oranges on the edge of the camp-fire, out of the direct flame but close enough to the embers so the cakes will bake.
  • After 25 - 30 minutes remove the cakes from the heat and carefully unwrap. You should see cooked cake peeking out of the orange cup. Leave to cool for 15 minutes before adding a dollop of topping or just eat as is.

Christmas Cookies

December has arrived and when I was growing up, it was officially ‘baking season’ for my mom. Many of the ingredients for the special things she would bake at this time of year were just too expensive to have on hand all the time. While we were at school, over the weeks prior to Christmas, she would bake many different kinds of cookies and squares. When we would arrive home in the late afternoon, there was no trace of what she had baked. Every cookie tin and various other containers were being filled with these glorious goodies. It all became part of the mystery and suspense of the season.

Like many traditions, the origin of the Christmas baking ‘bonanza‘ comes from medieval times. Winter solstice rituals were conducted long before Christmas became the huge commercial holiday it is today. Celebrations revolved around food. By the middle ages, the Christmas holiday had overtaken solstice rituals and the pastry world was experiencing some big changes. Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper as well as dried exotic fruits were becoming available. Expensive delicacies like sugar, lard and butter all became treasured ingredients that could only be afforded on this most important holiday.

Unlike pies and cakes, cookies could easily be shared and given to friends and neighbors. Our modern day Christmas cookies are baked for similar reasons. They’re given as hostess gifts in festive tins, used on giant dessert trays and of course they make for wonderful family baking traditions.

Most homemade holiday cookies were simple rounds or squares until import laws changed in the 19th century introducing inexpensive cookie cutters made of tin and emphasized shapes.

I realize ‘mincemeat’ doesn’t appeal to everyone’s pallet. These days the ‘all-fruit’ varieties have made it much more appealing. In a previous blog, I had used a lemon curd filling in these tender little cheesecake cookies. Since Brion and I both enjoy the all-fruit mincemeat, I thought I’d do a Christmas version. Pairing the flavors of anise, mincemeat and lemon was real nice.

The Irish Cream cookies are an easy no-bake version. If you like this liqueur, I’m pretty sure these boozy little bites will work for you.

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Mincemeat Cheesecake Cookies / Irish Cream Cookies
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Instructions
Mincemeat Filling
  1. Combine mincemeat filling ingredients & refrigerate until needed.
Cheesecake Cookies
  1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese & butter until fluffy & smooth; 1-2 minutes. Add sugar; beat another 1-2 minutes then add eggs & anise extract & continue beating 1 more minute.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, anise seed & salt. Gradually add dry ingredients to the butter mixture & stir just until incorporated. Do NOT over mix. Divide dough in half.
  3. Between 2 sheets of parchment paper, roll each half of the dough to a 1/8"-1/4" thickness. Remove top sheet & using a 2 1/2" (6 cm) round cookie cutter, cut out cookies. Using top sheet of parchment, lay rounds about 2" apart. Slide a plastic cutting board under parchment paper & transfer to freezer for about 30 minutes. (I found this made it much easier to continue the procedure).
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F. Remove cookies from freezer. Spoon about a teaspoon of COLD mincemeat filling onto center of each circle. Wet edges a bit with water or beaten egg. Fold cookies in half & using a fork, press edges to seal. (If your mincemeat filling is well chilled, I found it didn't run out of the cookies while being baked).
  5. Bake cookies for 10-11 minutes. Cookies should be light in color, not browned & just starting to brown on bottom. * Length of baking time may vary from oven to oven. Cool cookies on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Lemon Glaze
  1. In a small bowl, combine glaze ingredients & beat to a drizzle consistency. When cookies are cooled, drizzle with glaze.
Irish Cream Cookies
  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine Irish cream, corn syrup, butter, white chocolate & salt. Heat while stirring until butter & chocolate have melted. Gently boil for about 2 minutes.
  2. Turn off heat & stir in puffed rice & oatmeal. Let stand for 2 minutes. If the mixture is a little runny, you may need to add a little more oatmeal ... about 1/4 - 1/3 cup).
  3. Using a spoon, you can either drop by spoonfuls on buttered parchment or press mixture into a buttered 1/4 cup measuring cup to form more precise cookie rounds. Let stand for at least an hour or until cookies are set. They will be soft but chewy. If you wish, decorate with holiday motifs.

Seafood Stuffed Pork Medallions with Peppercorn Sauce

CELEBRATING FATHER’S DAY!

Honoring your father on Father’s Day doesn’t require his physical presence. I feel what is more important, is just the act of doing it. I am very grateful to have had a father who was such a strong role model in my life. Everything he did was driven by his commitment to provide and care for the family he loved.

My father passed away in 2005 and Brion’s in 2011. Both our Dad’s loved to talk and tell stories from their lives. We often wish we could retrace that time and hear their voices again. It seems you never fully appreciate your parents until they are no longer on this earth. It is so important to appreciate every hour they are in your life.

My special meal to honor them on this Father’s Day, is a nice medley of pork, shrimp and mushrooms.

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Seafood Stuffed Pork Medallions with Peppercorn Sauce
Instructions
Stuffed Mushrooms
  1. Shred zucchini, sprinkle with a little salt & set aside. In a bowl, combine the cheeses, crumbled bacon, egg & seasonings. Squeeze as much liquid from zucchini as possible. Add it to the filling & mix well. Divide the filling between mushrooms. Place a small amount of Zesty Italian dressing in a cup. Dip bottom of each mushroom in dressing & allow to dip off for a few seconds. Place stuffed mushroom caps on a small baking dish making sure they will stay upright. Place in fridge until ready to bake.
Parmesan Shrimp
  1. In a bowl, combine oil, garlic, oregano, basil, Parmesan, salt & pepper. Add shrimp & toss gently; thread onto skewers. Place on a plate & refrigerate until ready to cook.
Stuffing / Tenderloin
  1. In a saucepan, saute garlic & shallots in 1 Tbsp olive oil for a few minutes. Add a few pinches of salt & pepper; stir in breadcrumbs. Add water; stir till all is combined & transfer to a bowl.
  2. In a bowl, cream together butter & cream cheese. Add 1/2 of the capers, the parsley & stir thoroughly. Add the Gruyere & scallops, stirring gently. Set aside.
  3. 'Butterfly' tenderloin & pound making it all the same thickness. Spread stuffing evenly on flattened cut side. Starting with the long side, carefully ROLL the tenderloin as opposed to just FOLDING it over. On work surface, lay out bacon strips side by side. Lay stuffed tenderloin at one end & roll up in bacon strips, placing a toothpick at end of each strip.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a skillet, heat remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil, add the roast carefully & saute for about 3-4 minutes on each side to cook the bacon a bit. Place a rack in a shallow roasting pan & lay stuffed tenderloin on it; bake at 400 F. for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 F. & bake for another 20 minutes. Remove from oven, set the roast on a cutting board, cover loosely with foil, & let rest while the shrimp & stuffed mushrooms are cooking. When ready to serve, slice into 1 - 1 1/2" thick 'medallions'.
  5. Increase oven temperature to 400 F. Remove stuffed mushrooms from refrigerator, bake for 20-30 minutes or until filling is golden & mushrooms have softened. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with foil, place skewered shrimp in oven for the last 6-8 minutes of cooking the mushrooms.
Peppercorn Sauce
  1. This can be made earlier or while the last items are cooking in the oven. In a hot skillet, add butter, shallots & peppercorns; stir until shallots are golden, about 1 minute. Add broth & thyme sprigs; reduce heat & allow sauce to simmer for a few minutes. Remove thyme sprigs. Add cream & salt & pepper to taste. If you wish to thicken sauce, combine cornstarch & water in a small dish, stirring until smooth. Add a bit at a time to your hot mixture, stirring until desired thickness is achieved.

Anise-Lemon Cheesecake Cookies

Spring gives good reason to celebrate the taste of fresh lemon. Next try pairing it with cream cheese and anise in some tender little cookies. Amazing!

Cheesecake itself, has been a dessert many of us have loved for years. Using cream cheese has become so common, it is used in just about any application you can think of sweet or savory. Cheesecake cookies are the perfect back drop to showcase the unique taste of anise.

Slightly sweet, anise has an appealing licorice-like flavor and aroma. It has been a popular herb in holiday and special occasion treats for centuries, around the world. Since it requires at least 120 frost free days to ripen the seeds, anise is difficult to grow in cooler regions. The fact that it has a long tap root also makes it hard to grow in a container indoors. Seeds, extract and oil are all used in cooking, but the leaves can also be tossed in salads or dropped into the water when boiling shellfish.

To complete this cookie creation today, I made an eggless lemon curd to sandwich them with. I found this recipe was best made over two days. Use the first day to prepare the dough, bake the cookies and make the lemon curd. Waiting a day to assemble the cookie sandwiches gives both cookies and curd ample time to cool. This is definitely a cookie designed with flavor in mind.


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Anise-Lemon Cheesecake Cookies

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Course dessert

Servings

Course dessert

Servings

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Rating: 5
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Instructions
Lemon Curd
  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine lemon juice, sugar, lemon zest & salt, stirring well to dissolve sugar. Add the cornstarch mixture & the milk, stirring well to combine. Cook until mixture begins to thicken, about 5-6 minutes, stirring constantly until the first few bubbles appear on the surface. Add butter & food color; continue to cook until resembles thick pudding. Transfer to a dish; cover with plastic wrap & allow to cool completely before placing in refrigerator. Chill at least 2 hours in the refrigerator or preferably overnight.

Cookies
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  2. Beat cream cheese & butter together at high speed until fluffy & smooth; 1-2 minutes. Add sugar & beat until fully incorporated & fluffy; 1-2 minutes. Beat in eggs, lemon zest, anise extract & seeds.

  3. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder & salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Mix ONLY until blended, DO NOT OVER MIX. Batter will be sticky. Using a small scoop, drop cookies onto prepared baking sheet.

  4. Bake for 10-11 minutes. Cookies should be light in color, not browned & just starting to brown on the bottom. Cool cookies on baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Assembly
  1. The following day, lay out half of the cookies; spoon 1 heaping teaspoon of lemon curd onto the center of each cookie. Top each with the remaining cookies & gently press together until the filling reaches the edges of the cookies.

Walnut Orange Buche de Noel

Buche de Noel  is not just another cake roll. It is THE cake. As in, the iconic French Christmas Cake. It was a tradition, dating from pre-Christian times, to honor the God Thor and celebrate the winter solstice with the building of a bonfire. As Christmas came to replace the winter solstice celebrations, France carried on the tradition for a ‘Yule’ log by cutting down a tree each year and placing it in the fireplace so heat from the log could be used to prepare the Christmas Eve midnight supper. The ashes from this yule log were believed to hold magical and medicinal powers that would ward off the evil spirits in the coming year. Another tradition was started when new homes were built without fireplaces so they could not burn a real yule log. The story goes than an innovative French pastry chef came up with the idea of replacing the real yule log with a cake that was log shaped.

Marzipan and meringue decorations, two of the most popular choices for yule logs, appeared on many a medieval table. Sponge cake, which often constitutes the base of the log, is one of the oldest cakes still made today, dating back to at least 1615.

The beauty of this cake is that you can use any flavor combination that you choose in both the cake and filling. It can range all the way from very basic to very sophisticated. During the many years I worked in the commercial food industry, it was probably one of the most requested desserts with trifle coming in right behind it.

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Walnut Orange Buche de Noel
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Course Brunch, dessert
Servings
Course Brunch, dessert
Servings
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
You:
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Instructions
Cake Roll
  1. Preheat oven to 300 F. Line a 12 X 17-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spray & flour parchment, tapping off excess; set aside. In a food processor, pulse walnuts with flour until coarsely ground; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk egg yolks with 5 Tbsp sugar until thick & pale. Beat in vanilla. In a clean mixing bowl fitted with a clean whisk, beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks. form. Gradually add remaining 5 Tbsp sugar, beating until stiff, glossy peaks form. Fold egg whites into yolk mixture in 3 equal batches; add walnut/flour mixture with last batch.
  3. Spread batter evenly in prepared baking pan. Bake until top is golden & springs back when touched, about 30 minutes. Run a small sharp knife around edges of cake; invert cake onto a clean, dry towel dusted with powdered sugar. Peel off parchment paper. Starting at short side, gently roll the cake into a log, incorporating towel. Transfer to a wire rack, cool completely for about 1 hour.
Orange Mascarpone Filling
  1. In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat all ingredients except heavy cream, until smooth. Gently fold in whipped cream.
Chocolate Bark
  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Place chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl; set over a pan of simmering water, stir until melted. Remove bowl from heat; let chocolate cool, stirring occasionally, until it registers 88 degrees on a candy thermometer.
  2. Pour onto prepared baking sheet; spread evenly with an offset spatula. Refrigerate until firm but still pliable, 8-10 minutes. Tear into jagged pieces, no larger than 1 1/2-inches each. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
Meringue Mushrooms
  1. Preheat oven to 200 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a bowl, beat egg whites until frothy; add cream of tartar. Continue beating until soft peaks form then increase speed to high & gradually add sugar, 1 tsp at a time. Beat egg whites until shiny & hold stiff peaks, being careful not to dry. Spoon meringue into a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip.
  2. For Mushroom Caps: hold the pastry bag at a 90 degree angle about 1/2-inch from the parchment. Using firm & even pressure, squeeze out a round meringue disk about 2-inches in diameter & 1-inch high. Stop squeezing, then twist the bag & lift it from the meringue to get a clean 'break' from the cap. Repeat in regular intervals on the baking sheet until you have approximately 2 dozen mushroom caps. You can smooth out the tops by wetting you index finger & lightly running it along the caps.
  3. For Stems: Position the bag perpendicular, about 1/2-inch from the baking sheet. Begin squeezing the bag to form a 1-inch round base. Continue to squeeze as you slowly & evenly draw the bag up, forming a tapering stem about 1 1/2-inches tall. Use the remaining meringue to pipe as many stems as possible.
  4. Bake the meringues for about 90 minutes, turning them halfway through the cooking time to ensure even baking. The meringues should be hard to the touch & easy to lift off the parchment. Once they are done, turn off the oven & let them sit in the oven for several hours.
  5. To Assemble the Mushrooms: melt white chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave, stirring after every 30 seconds to prevent overheating. Use a toothpick to carve a small hole in the bottom of a mushroom cap. Dip the top of a stem into white chocolate, then place the stem in the hole on the bottom of mushroom cap. Repeat until all caps & stems are used; placing them on a baking sheet. Place cocoa powder in a wire sieve & lightly dust tops of the mushrooms.
  6. Due to the amount of time required to make mushrooms, it is nice if you can do this well in advance. Mushrooms can be stored for up to a month in an airtight container in a cool, dark room. Humidity can make them collapse, so do not place them on a cake (or in the refrigerator) until immediately before serving.
Assembly of Buche de Noel
  1. Reserve 1 1/2 cups mascarpone filling. Unroll cake & spread with remaining filling, leaving a 1/2-inch border on all sides. Carefully re-roll cake. Arrange, seam side down, on serving platter. Spread top & sides ONLY with remaining 1 1/2 cups mascarpone filling. Using a serrated knife, trim off ends of log to even it ( if you wish ). Arrange chocolate bark, overlapping pieces slightly, to look like wood bark. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour. Garnish with meringue mushrooms, fresh, whole cranberries, marzipan holly leaves, a dusting of powdered sugar or whatever is your choice.