From our home to yours: Wishing You a Very Warm and Wonderful Christmas!
Monthly Archives: December 2011
We decided to make a Buche de Noel or Yule Log this Christmas. This is not a tutorial on making one. I can suggest going here to Joe Pastry if you want to read all about it. I just want to tell you a bit about our experience.
The very wise suggestion was made by Joe Pastry to allow plenty of time, as in a week, to make all the components of this dessert. That was our saving grace! I’ve been staying up too late writing posts, doing some Christmas crafting and generally not getting enough sleep. This project entailed making a Génoise cake (a rich sponge cake), jelly-roll style, Swiss Meringue Buttercream for the filling, Chocolate Ganache for the frosting or bark and meringue mushrooms for garnish. Of those, I’d only made Chocolate Ganache and I’d never made a rolled cake of any kind.
Joe’s site has loads of information such as how to temper your eggs and butter so they’re not too cold when you start. I’d read through the various recipes before we started and the directions and steps with lots of photos really helped. But I still seemed to make every mistake I could.
The first thing we attempted were the Meringue Mushrooms. The problem on this was I didn’t get the egg whites quite as stiff as they needed to be so our mushroom stems and tops looks quite similar – we would have ended up with some squat mushrooms but I did some carving and gluing with powdered sugar-water paste to make taller stems out of some of the short ones. Mushrooms managed.
Next up was the Swiss Meringue Buttercream and it turned out great! But as we were just getting started, I was separating egg whites from egg yolks and I dropped some eggshell into the bowl of whites. Then I dropped an egg yolk into the whites but managed to get all uninvited ingredients out. Finally, while cracking eggs over the sink in an attempt to keep both shells and yolks out of the whites, I dropped part of an egg white down the sink! Argh! But in spite of that, it turned out. Whew. Swiss Meringue Buttercream dealt with.
Next up was the Génoise – a sponge cake baked in a thin layer in a large baking pan. After baking, the cake is flipped out onto a tea towel dusted with powdered sugar, then rolled up in the towel. Once it is cool it is unrolled, filled with the Swiss Meringue Buttercream and rerolled. Our Génoise looked good – a pale gold, and it came out of the pan without too much fuss. Parchment paper that had been greased and floured made a big difference. But when we stared unrolling the cake, it stuck to the towel and the inside edge broke completely off!
With determination (or stubbornness) we pressed on. Once we got it unstuck from the towel, buttercream surrounded the broken edge and glued it back together enough that we could roll it up where it wouldn’t show. Tasting the cake later, we both felt the génoise was a bit tough. But dressed up with buttercream and ganache it was really tasty. It was our first attempt at a génoise and I’d try it again (in a simpler dessert) before throwing in the towel.
Finally we had all the components and we were ready to put them all together. It all worked! I’d even made a batch of chocolate cherry mice and used those as garnish along with the meringue mushrooms. I wish I had made smaller mushrooms but overall I’m very pleased with pulling this one off. The presentation was lovely, the mushrooms looked as if they were growing out of the bark of our log. A dusting of powdered-sugar snow, sprigs of holly, olive and rosemary branches and three chocolate cherry mice surrounded the log.
Throughout the whole project Rem had been working alongside me. He read the recipe steps, piped mushrooms, sifted flour and sugar, simmered water, checked the temperature of egg whites and sugar, and washed bowls, pots, pans and counters. When I got frustrated with the whole thing he was calm and steady.
I’d promised my parents we would visit, cake in hand, in the later afternoon so they could see (and taste) our finished creation. Making the second batch of ganache (and waiting for it to chill and firm up) had taken more time than planned but they were patient when I called to say we’d be late. We wrapped it carefully and drove over. Molly was so excited to see us and curious about this item being carried in. We got inside and my folks oohed and aahed. The real joy was tasting it. The Swiss Meringue Buttercream was silky and delicious and balanced out with the dense, rich chocolate of the ganache. Each serving was garnished with a mushroom that melted into sweetness on the tongue. The Buche de Noel was declared a success.
Was creating this complicated dessert during a busy, stressful time of year a good idea? Maybe not. But allowing lots of time and spreading it out over most of a week made it doable. Sharing the results of our efforts with my parents was very rewarding. Hoping your holidays are sweet and satisfying. Thanks for your visit.
Here is a simple, cheerful paper heart ornament. I saw it on Pinterest. I’ve been having fun on Pinterest feasting my eyes. Pinterest, as their site says,
“…is an online pinboard. Organize and share things you love.”
You can create an online collection of visual items sorted by categories that make sense to you. You can also search and find things other people have pinned on their own boards. When someone asked me if I had any blog posts on making paper ornaments I started looking for ideas on Pinterest.
These easy heart-shaped ornaments caught my eye and I followed the links back to Reese Dixon‘s site. She’s got loads of tutorials for Christmas ornaments, other seasonal projects, clothing, recipes, etc. She is seriously creative!
Paper Heart Ornament
Paper Trimmer or Scissors
Stapler and Staples
Ribbon or Cord to make loop for hanging
Glue Dots or Glue Gun with Hot Melt Glue
If you use double-sided paper you will need two strips of paper that are 1.5 inches wide by 12 inches long and 2 that are 1.5 inches wide by 8 inches long.
If you are using paper with the design on one side only, you need 4 strips of 1.5 x 12 inch paper and 4 strips of 1.5 x 8 inch paper.
Cut your paper and for single-sided paper align your strips back to back with the design facing out so you end up with two double-sided 12 inch strips and two double-sided 8 inch strips.
Take one double-sided 8-inch strip and bend it into an open loop with the open ends pointing down.
Now bend one double-sided 12 inch strip over the first loop, keeping all the ends aligned.
Staple near the bottom of the open ends.
Make another set of double loops.
With some super-strong glue dots or hot glue, attach these two double loops together to form a double heart.
Cut a piece of ribbon or cord and glue into a loop for hanging between the two double paper loops.
A little strip of paper glue around the staples gives it a finished look but isn’t necessary. Trying to describe how to do this is more complicated than just doing it.
Big, happy (and economical) hearts for your tree and if you are like me, you have some great paper waiting for this project.
Wasn’t that easy?
I started making these beautiful vellum ornaments last Christmas. They’re outlined in gold, filled in with felt markers, and embellished with adhesive crystals and glitter so they are rich with color and sparkle. They are also lightweight which means even the smallest tree branch can support one and they look lovely with light coming through them.
Starform Stickers are what inspired these ornaments. I found some of their gold outline stickers at Scrapbook Territory in Berkeley. I picked up several different packages, not knowing what I was going to use them for, but knowing I loved how they looked. There are tons of designs – I think the first ones I picked up were doves, koi, and poinsettias. The designs are very detailed and peel off from a backing and press on to your project; in this case, vellum. They give you a slightly raised line around open space which can easily be colored in – think of the lead in a stained glass window.
I use the Starform Stickers but I don’t usually use them as they came on the sheet. I adapt them by cutting out pieces and putting them together for the designs that I either sketch myself or copy from other sources. The vellum makes it easy to trace your design from a coloring book or from clip art you can get online. I’ve even held a piece of white copy paper up to the computer and traced a simple design right from my computer screen.
This can be a bit of a fussy and painstaking project. If you are looking for something fast and easy, this is not the craft for you. (UPDATE: For a really easy project, see the next post on Paper Heart ornaments.) If you like something that will take your focus and concentration and you have good lighting, sharp scissors, a steady hand and a few hours (and in my case, good reading glasses) you will probably enjoy this. The end results are worth the time spent. The simple designs take less time and are every bit as beautiful as the more elaborate ones.
Vellum Paper – I use 17 lb. letter weight (Stampin’ Up)
White Copy Paper
Colored Felt Pens
Small, Sharp Scissors
Small Hole Punch
Craft Knife, such as X-acto, with fine point
Sketch or find a design for your ornament. I’ve found lots of designs off the internet. I traced the Swedish Dala horse off of my computer from an image I found on Pinterest. The peacock was traced from a picture of a beautiful, jeweled earring.
To make the design easier to see through the vellum, I like to go over the lines with a fine, black Sharpie.
Put a few X’s with pencil on the white paper. Tape the vellum paper over the white paper and mark the X’s on the vellum so if you move the paper it will be easy to align it again.
Take a look at the various curves, curlicues, dots and lines of the sticker sheet and look at your ornament design to see what can be used without changes. Start cutting and piecing together parts of the design from the Starform outline stickers. I have made fairies and used butterfly wings that didn’t need much adapting.
Flower petals worked for flounces on the skirt. Leaves worked beautifully for peacock-tail feathers with only minor alterations, and the mermaid ornament started out, naturally, as a fish sticker.
The sharp point of my scissors is what I use to pick up the stickers but you can also use the tip of a craft knife or piercing tool. A piece of vellum works great for the bits and pieces of stickers you are cutting apart to use and the leftovers (which you may use before you’re done).
Once you’ve finished with the outline, undo the tape and turn the vellum over.
Using a gold pen, go over all the lines on the back. This way your ornament will look beautiful when seen from any angle.
Do a rough cut around your shape, leaving at least a half inch border of plain vellum. You want to make a hole for hanging it up but depending on the shape it isn’t always easy to tell how it will hang. Once it is cut out, hold the vellum on the edge and see how it hangs.
Once you’ve determined where the hole should be it is nice if you can find a small bit of sticker that you can put on and then punch a hole using your small hole punch. Some sticker sheets have various sizes of dots or small circles that work perfectly for this. If that feels like too much fuss, simply punch the hole and (if you want) outline it with gold ink.
Now go back and cut carefully around the whole ornament. Cut close to the sticker edge but with some small detail areas it is best to leave a little of the plain vellum around it for structural integrity.
Get out your colored markers and color the design. I put color on both sides of the vellum, sometimes using two colors on opposite sides to create a third color.
Embellish your ornament with stick on jewels and if desired, glitter. A glue pen is a great way to put glue exactly where you need it before adding glitter. Let it dry.
Thread a piece of gold cord through the hole and tie into a loop for hanging on a tree or in a window. For a finishing touch I like to put a very tiny tag made from scrap paper folded over the cord. I put my initials and the year the item was created.
Thanks you for taking time in this busy season to visit and read my post.
Not a creature was stirring except maybe a chocolate cherry mouse. Or at least the person making Chocolate Cherry Mice.
It isn’t quite time to be nestled all snug in your bed waiting for Santa but it’s getting close. I meant to do a new batch of these cute cherry-chocolate mousies and get some better photos but it didn’t happen. So these photos are from the ones I made last year.
They’re still very sweet and even if none of you make chocolate cherry mice this Christmas, I’ll be happy to let these chocolate cuties out into blogland. Maybe next year I’ll get it together to make a batch a little earlier and take some new pictures sooner.
Chocolate Cherry Mice
Maraschino Cherries with stems for the tails
Melting Chocolate (I use Guittard Chocolate Apeels or you can get Meltaways or Candymelts at Michaels – match the chocolate of the kisses to the melting chocolate)
Decorating Gel in Black and Pink (you could also use silver dragees for eyes and noses or dots of melted chocolate.)
Drain the cherries and pat them dry with paper towel.
Melt some of the melting chocolate. I use a bowl in the microwave, stirring and checking every 15 to 20 seconds until melted. You can use a double-boiler. A wooden chopstick is my stirrer of choice.
Dip cherries in melted chocolate. Set dipped cherries down on parchment or waxed paper covered rimmed baking sheet with stems pointing up. Coat stems with chocolate. Let set enough to handle.
Now attach the flat bottom of the dipped cherry with melted chocolate to the flat bottom of a kiss. If at any point your melted chocolate gets to hard, microwave for 10 more seconds and stir.
For stability I like to dab some of the melted chocolate on the bottom of the “body” for a more flat base. Let set.
Find sliced almonds of similar size and break off the pointed end.
Use melted chocolate to glue the almonds onto the back of the head (the kiss). Let set.
If you like, coat the almond with more melted chocolate so your mice are all chocolate. Let set.
If at any point you see cherry juice seepage, just dot some melted chocolate over to seal.
Carefully dot on eyes and nose with decorating gel.
The gel doesn’t set up dry so be careful how you handle your mice. You can opt to use silver dragees or other tiny candy for eyes and nose or dot on melted dark chocolate for milk chocolate mice and the reverse on dark chocolate mice.
They would look cute on a Yule log or added to a holiday cookie (or cheese) platter.
Now I have to scurry and get some other Christmas projects done.
Thank you for for stopping by. I appreciate the visit.
Here are recipes for two easy, sweet treats that I made for a potluck at work. First – an apology: I didn’t take pictures when I made them and though I made a second batch of the Cracker Toffee, I don’t have any pictures of the Pretzel Turtles. You can see them here: at Glorious Treats.
There are variations to both of these recipes all over the internet but if you haven’t tried them yet, now you can have both recipes in one convenient place. Both are easy, don’t need special equipment like a candy thermometer and both are popular.
The first one, my favorite, is sometimes known as Saltine Toffee. OK, I admit I refer to it as Crack. It is hard to resist. I’ve seen recipes using other crackers (club, matzo, graham) but I like it with classic Saltines. The combination of the salt and crunch with the sweet toffee and the semi-sweet chocolate is pretty hard to beat.
I went to one of my favorite sites, Smitten Kitchen, and adapted her recipe for Chocolate Caramel Crack(ers).
40 to 48 Saltines crackers (enough to cover cookie sheet – mine is aprox. 11 x 17 inches)
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (much as I love chocolate, the lower amount lets the caramel really shine in this recipe. The higher amount is wonderful and helps the nuts to stick better)
1 cup toasted finely chopped pecans or toasted sliced almonds (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Line an 11-by-17-inch baking sheet completely with parchment paper, cut to fit.
Line the baking sheet with crackers. Break some if you need to so you fill the whole sheet.
In a medium heavy-duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, and stir it over medium heat until it begins to boil.
Once it has begun boiling, keep stirring it and watch for the sugar and butter to come together. Cook for three minutes, stirring constantly.
Note: If you use matzo instead of Saltines you should add a good pinch of salt. The Saltines don’t need any extra.
Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla, and then quickly pour it over the crackers. Spread it over the crackers quickly before it hardens.
If you are having trouble getting the caramel spread over the crackers, put it in the oven for 2 or 3 minutes then take it out and spread it all the way to the edge of the crackers
Put the baking sheet in the oven for 15 minutes total (12 or 13 minutes if you already had it in 2 or 3 minutes).
Remove from oven and sprinkle with the chocolate chips. Let stand five minutes then spread them evenly across the caramel.
Sprinkle the melted chocolate with toasted chopped nuts (if you are using them).
Once this is cool and the chocolate is set, break into pieces and store in an airtight container. I’ve heard that they’ll last a week but I’ve never been able to test this theory. I try not to make a batch unless I am planning on giving most of it away because I have a hard time resisting this stuff.
Pretzel Turtles aka Rolo Bites
Adapted from Glorious Treats
These are even easier than the Saltine Toffee but don’t quite achieve that addictive balance of sweet/salty/crunchy. Close but no cigar.
1 bag of square pretzels (such as Snyders of Hanover Snaps)
1 bag Rolo candies, unwrapped
Preheat oven to 250°F.
Line baking sheet with parchment paper. A bit of the chocolate will inevitably goosh through the pretzels onto the baking sheet (I learned the hard way) and without the parchment paper you will have to work get them them unstuck without breakage. On the other hand, broken ones are calorie-free.
Put pretzels about an inch apart on baking sheet. Put a Rolo on each pretzel. I’ve done it with the wide part of the candy down and the wide part up and it doesn’t seem to make any difference. So do it any way you like.
Put the baking sheet in the oven for 4 minutes.
Remove it from the oven and and press a pecan half in each Rolo. Let cool and set before removing from baking sheet. If you are in a rush, pop the baking sheet in the fridge or freezer (well, if you can find room in there). Don’t leave them in too long because biting into a really cold Rolo might just pull out a filling!
Once they are cool and chocolate is set store in airtight container.
Now, about that link I mentioned. The two sweet-salty treats I mention in this post are both yummy but I have to admit they are kind of down market. If you are looking for something a little more challenging, something kind of special and maybe even spectacular, you just might want to take a look at Joe Pastry which has a ton of recipes for pastries with all their component parts, techniques, and the science and history behind them plus gorgeous pictures that show the steps, helpful descriptions and a friendly, personal style.
Rem and I have been inspired to attempt a Bûche de Noël following the how-to’s on his site. I will post pictures.
What kind of treats are you making for the holidays?
Thanks for stopping by.
I recently wrapped a few gifts for a baby shower. Of course it was late and I didn’t have my camera at hand. I wasn’t really planning on writing a post about wrapping, but I received some very nice comments on the way the presents were wrapped so I decided to show you how to do it.
This will work best on small to medium boxes, books, wine bottles or mailing tubes.
Colored Tissue Paper (I got a great package of multicolored tissue paper at Toys R Us)
Double-Stick Tape or Adhesive
Ribbon or Raffia
Think of a drinking straw wrapped in paper. When you open it you usually just hold on to the straw and push down on the wrapping so the straw pokes out and the paper gets pressed into a crimped or ruched little tube. This is what you are going to do with this technique only on a larger scale.
In this first example I am wrapping a book.
Take a sheet of tissue paper and loosely wrap it using the whole sheet with the longest side of the paper matching the longest side of the book – the book and sheet of paper should both be oriented vertically (portrait).
Once you’ve got it loosely wrapped, seal along the whole length of the long edge with double-sided adhesive or double-sided tape. Fold in and seal one short end of your package. You want a tube of paper that gives you enough room to scrunch it down around the book (or box) without the edges of the book poking out.
Stand the book on end, loosely grasp the paper and scrunch it down.
Really crunch it down so the pleats stay in the paper. Now pull it gently back up enough to cover the end of the book or box and turn the ends in and seal with double-sided adhesive.
Here is the same wrapping done on a box and a wine bottle:
Doesn’t it look kind of like a Japanese paper lantern?
Now to finish the package: a simple ribbon or piece of raffia will keep the crinkled tissue paper in place around the box or book. Tie the ribbon or raffia around the neck of the wine bottle. I used two colors of raffia and added a tag.
Instead of a bow, how about a few pretty tissue paper roses?
To make a rose, roll a sheet of tissue paper diagonally into a long, thin tube.
Next roll the tube up into a snail or rosette.
Pinch the base together and turn it over and put an “X” of double-sided tape across the bottom to keep it from unrolling.
Some green tissue can folded and cut into a simple leaf shape.
Pinch in the center and tie with a piece of ribbon.
Use ribbon to tie the leaves to the package or adhere with a piece of double-sided tape. Adhere roses with double-sided tape.
Thanks for the visit.
Santa hats in place, plus the addition of a strand of battery-operated lights that Rem had strung around his scarf, we started at Ghirardelli Square.
After a sample of dark chocolate peppermint bark and some window shopping we headed to Aquatic Park and the end of the Powell-Hyde cable car line.
Riding a cable car with your sweetheart is nostalgic, romantic, exciting and fun. On a Wednesday evening in December there was a very short wait. We were able to get seats on the bench outside and enjoy chatting with the Italian couple who rode standing on the running board, hanging on tightly.
The city is all dressed up for the holidays and I really love looking into homes and businesses as we rumbled along, seeing the lights, Christmas trees and other decorations.
We got off at Union Square and started a slow stroll around the stores to look at the window displays. I have to say I was a bit disappointed. There was nothing really special in most of the windows of the fancy stores around the square.
There was plenty to look at other than window displays.
Like the beautiful 80-foot fir tree covered in 21,000 twinkling LED lights in the middle of the square.
A blur of skaters on the ice rink.
In the background the Macy’s windows are each adorned with a wreath.
Sparkling palm trees. This is California after all.
Every corner of the square had a different street artist or musician: I noticed a bagpiper in a kilt on one side and a robot doing carol karaoke on another but the trumpeter playing Silent Night in the cold, clear night was the one that got my donation.
We entered the lobby of the Westin St. Francis to see what their pastry chefs had concocted for the holidays this year.
From the Westin St. Francis website:
Executive Pastry Chef, Jean-Francois Houdré, will reveal The Westin St. Francis’ Sugar Castle in the historic Main Lobby. Resembling a French Chateau from Chef Houdre’s hometown of Bordeaux, the 100% edible castle weighs more than 1,200 pounds and features more than 20 grand circular towers, approximately 30 rooms, illuminated windows, and is surrounded by a quaint village and a running train. New this year is an extensive life-like replica of a medieval French village complete with intricately constructed homes, a church, a bakery and stores, all with illuminated windows and surrounded by a magical forest. A second train filled with elves will encircle this winter fantasyland.
A sign nearby said the castle was comprised of:
70 lbs. of gingerbread, 130 lbs. of pastillage (powdered sugar, egg whites and gelatin dough), 40 lbs. of pulled sugar, Royal Icing made from 300 lbs. of sugar and egg whites, 40 lbs. of molasses, 60 lbs. of flour, 100 lbs. of assorted Christmas candy and 360 hours of hard work!
It makes the gingerbread house we decorated seem so small!
Back outside to catch the cable car to Hyde Street.
More buildings and more decorations to see as we rode back to Aquatic Park.
It was a wonderful day and special evening. I was running out of steam and ready to say goodnight to the city.
Thank you for stopping by.
Thank you to Rem for sharing some of his beautiful photos.
Maybe I am the last one to try these and you all know this old recipe. They really knocked my socks off when I tasted them for the first time and I still love them. They’re little cheese wafers with Rice Krispies in the dough. They’re simple – you make them like a drop cookie, and really good.
Adapted (barely) from the Rice Krispies website
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded, sharp Cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups Rice Krispies
Set oven to 350° F.
Combine the flour and salt and set aside. (The original recipe included cayenne pepper – if you use it, put it in with the flour). Get the butter out of the fridge to soften while you grate the cheddar cheese.
It really is better if you buy a block of good cheddar and grate it up but I won’t tell anyone if you use the already-grated stuff.
Beat the butter in a large bowl (I cut mine up in pieces to help it soften), then add the cheese and continue beating until very light and fluffy.
Stir in the flour mixture. Stir in the Rice Krispies. Mix until well combined.
Cover baking sheets with parchment paper and drop dough by teaspoon onto the parchment-covered sheets. The original recipe says to bake on ungreased baking sheets but I found they tend to stick and then break on the sheets and the parchment paper made a big difference. I suggest a bit of non-stick spray on the baking sheet if you don’t have parchment paper.
Flatten with a fork that has been dipped in flour.
Rem and I had a great day Wednesday We drove up to Petaluma to cut down our Christmas tree.
I put on red and green striped socks in the morning.
We listened to Nat King Cole in the car.
We wore our Santa hats.
We searched for the perfect tree.
We knew it when we found it.
We each had a turn as lumberjack.
Or lumberjill as the case may be.
Li’l Li’l Pup supervised the whole thing.
Some snow would have made this more scenic. It was about 65 out and sunny.
The tree is tied to the roof and we’re heading home to get the tree in water and start the next stage: lights and decorations!
Thanks for stopping by.