Almond Buttercream Pine Cones

My lemon almond Yule log was a big hit at our holiday get-together, and these adorable little almond pine cones were probably my favorite part of the cake. You could use them to decorate nearly any type of cake, or even round sugar cookies. I actually think chocolate frosting would make a more authentic-looking cone, but you can use any flavor you like. My almond buttercream worked very well.

I had five pine cones on my Yule log, and they each take about one tablespoon of buttercream and 12-15 almond flakes, so quantities will vary depending on how many you”d like to make, and how large they will be. My pine cones were small, about two inches high, but you could certainly make larger versions.

Ingredients

Preparation

Place buttercream in a piping bag with a large plain tip and pipe about 1 tablespoon of frosting per pine cone.

Starting at the top, place flaked almonds in descending rows for the scales; start with one almond at the top, then add two or three on the next row, and so fort. Gently press almonds into the frosting so they set.

 

 

Clara the Kitchen Mascot

claraMeet Clara, my kitchen mascot. I found her at Crate & Barrel’s after-Christmas sale and couldn’t resist her. I mean, she’s a mouse wearing an apron, oven mitts, and a chef’s hat. What’s not to love?

Clara is named for the girl in the Nutcracker, and though she’s actually a Christmas ornament, I decided to keep her on my kitchen windowsill (sitting in a tealight holder so she won’t fall over) so she can cheer me on in my various baking endeavors. Clara, like me, believes that fear has no place in the kitchen, so she’s always supportive when I want to try something new – though she’d probably appreciate it if I baked with cheese more often.

 

Gingerbread House

IMG_1773Gingerbread houses are charming, aren’t they? I’ve never made one until today, and it didn’t turn out at all as I expected. Perhaps if I have a different recipe for both the gingerbread and the royal icing, I’ll give it another go someday. In fact, this is the first time I won’t post the recipes I used on this blog, because I truly believe there have to be better ones out there.

Like many shoddy construction jobs, I believe the fault in my house lies in my building materials. The gingerbread was far too soft, while the royal icing was far too hard. While I realize that royal icing is hefty stuff, designed to keep one’s gingerbread walls from caving in, mine turned out more like spackle…and it might have been easier to use actual spackle, since no one will be eating this.

Despite the recipe challenges, my end result is a cute and eco-friendly little structure. It’s small, with fairly thick walls, so it would be easy to heat and cool. And yes, those are supposed to be solar panels on the left side of the roof. Perhaps I could have constructed a wind turbine out of some pretzel sticks, but that’ll have to wait until next time.

 

 

Zella’s Homemade Chicken Soup

soup

 

 

 

 

 

Medication does nothing for my colds. While Nyquil usually helps me sleep, there is one thing, and one thing alone, that truly makes me feel better when I am sick: my grandma Zella’s homemade chicken soup. And while soup isn’t baked, of course, this recipe is one I’ve wanted to share for a while.

“Grandma’s making soup on Saturday,” my father would say, upon returning from his parents’ house down the street on any given weeknight. Immediately, my eyes would widen and my mouth would water. Zella’s soup is a two-course affair, the first involving golden broth and homemade egg noodles, the second, flavor-rich chicken, potatoes, and carrots, not diced or chopped so they blend into the broth, but left whole for the second course, a bowl of shredded chicken, mashed potatoes, and carrots, all drizzled with broth. This might sound strange, but to me, it was food heaven.

Growing up I’d sit in Zella’s tidy yellow kitchen and watch, transfixed, as she stirred in the ingredients; I got to help make the noodles, adding egg after egg into her noodle maker, standing at the ready to catch the fine strands from its extruder.  At the age of 26, while living in DC, I traveled home to Pittsburgh one weekend to be taught how to make the soup. There was no actual recipe that Zella could send me, of course. It was all in her head, as much about how you make it as what you put in it.

Yesterday, while I made this, my mom stopped by. “It smells like Grandma’s house,” she said. This rich aroma is distinctly tied with my grandparents, and when I smell it now, I marvel at the power of scent connected to memory. This time, I made her soup in the same pot she used, stirring with her wooden spoon. I’d like to believe she, my grandpap, and my dad were all in the kitchen with me.

Ingredients

  • About 2 gallons water
  • 4 bone-in chicken breasts (or one pick-of-the-chicken package)
  • 1 soup bone
  • 5 stalks celery, leaves removed
  • 1 green pepper, cut in half, seeds and stalk removed
  • 1-2 yellow onions (depending on size), cut in half
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut in half length-wise
  • About 2 tablespoons paprika
  • About 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 5-6 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
  • 1 bunch Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, bound with a kitchen band or twine
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 12-ounce package fine egg noodles

Preparation

Place chicken breasts and soup bone in the bottom of a large, 2-gallon stockpot. Cover with 1 3/4 gallons water and place over high heat on the stove with the lid tilted open.

Bring to a boil, watching carefully. When foam begins to form on the top, skim off with a small sieve; you will need to do this at least a few times. Continue boiling for one hour.

Add celery, green pepper, onion(s), carrots, paprika, and peppercorns. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for one hour.

Add potatoes, parsley, and salt (to taste-don’t overdo it); simmer for one hour. Once soup is finished, begin boiling water for egg noodles and prepare according to the package directions.

Remove soup from heat and extract the meat, bone, and vegetables; reserve the chicken, carrots, and potatoes (and other vegetables if you want to eat them); discard the bone.

Strain broth through a fine sieve and discard peppercorns.

Serve soup with noodles as a first course, then follow with chicken, potatoes, and carrots. Drizzle some broth over the chicken, potatoes, and carrots for extra flavor.

The Scrap Cookie…

scrap cookie

 

 

 

 

 

With Christmas right around the corner and Hanukkah on day two, I imagine many folks are baking sugar cookies today. And so, I pay tribute to the scrap cookie.

Scrap cookies are always misshapen, but they taste just as good as the regular ones that you’ve rolled, cut, and baked in the shape of pumpkins, turkeys, shamrocks, trees, dreidls, whatever. I encourage all bakers of sugar cookies to embrace the imperfection of the scrap cookie, to hold it up as an example for life in general. While not everything will turn out as pretty as you might have wanted, or look the way you thought it should, it’s still valuable and important.

Plus, the scrap cookie allows you to be as creative as you like. So roll into a ball and press it flat with the bottom of a glass (which is what I always do), or shape it free-form. Either way, you’ll have something tasty.

Oh, how I love cookbooks…

Last weekend, while visiting family in Ashton, Maryland, I flipped through the Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook and knew instantly that I had to have it.  Back in the Day Bakery is actually located in Savannah, Georgia, and it will definitely be on my list of places to visit should Mike and I ever travel there.

I spent a good part of the drizzly Saturday afternoon reading recipe after recipe, making mental notes of which ones I wanted to try.  My first experiment will be the cinnamon-sugar doughnut muffin, which I cannot wait to bake after I get through my Passover/Easter projects.  Other gems on my list are a lovely lemon loaf, sweet potato cupcakes, chocolate mint cookies, and buttermilk chess pie.

I own 30 cookbooks; of those, 13 are specifically dedicated to baking.  I’ve been fortunate that both Mike and my sister-in-law Kristin tend to give me cookbooks for my birthday and holidays; I’ve amassed quite a collection varying from the sophisticated tastes of Martha Stewart to Warren Brown’s fun, quirky United Cakes of America.

Please share with me – what is your favorite cookbook, and which ones should I add to my collection?