Monday, December 31, 2007

As God Is My Witness

I'll never make pralines the old-fashioned way again.

Because in the three years I've dedicated myself to finding the perfect praline recipe, not only have I ingested enough sugar to keep all the dentists in the known universe in Mercedes and strippers, I have also reached levels of frustration that no one with my sensibility should ever have to reach. Yes, I like a challenge. What I do not like, is beating my head against a wall. It hurts.

To be sure, candy-making is fussy, fussy business. First, there are the vagaries of temperature – soft ball, hard ball, crackle stage. Then the chemistry involved in sugar crystal formation. Or, in the case of pralines, inhibited sugar crystal formation. Because nothing is worse than a grainy praline. Or one that's rock hard. The perfect praline is, instead, the absolute perfect melding of sugar, cream, butter, vanilla, and pecans into a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth confection that is firm but never crisp. And never, ever rock hard. That's brittle, Party People, not pralines.

Anyway. Over the past three years, I'd say I've reached success about 67.23 percent of the time. The other 32 some odd times, I ended up with either puddle or brittle. And a bit of a cry.

But no more. Our first night in Louisiana, my mother-in-law naturally laid out a bounteous spread for Christmas Eve noshing. 'Course, my focus was all on the sweet stuff – the chocolate pudding cake, the lemon ice box pie, the divinity, the fudge, and, oooo, what's this? A plate of perfect-looking pralines? So, I inquired, you've obviously mastered the trick of it. No, my mother-in-law replied. There is no trick. It's all done in the microwave.



Of course, I was blessed with the recipe, courtesy MIL's friend Nell Rogers. And I finally felt sufficiently de-stuffed last night to give these a go.

They're pretty much near perfect. The only difference I notice is perhaps a tad less depth of flavor that I believe is probably best achieved with the long-ass slow-cook time necessitated by the traditional method, which allows the caramel flavors to bloom more fully. Still. I think these are delicious enough to warrant the slight loss.

So, without further hesitation, here is Ms Rogers' recipe, with only one addition by Moi:

Perfect Pralines:

16 ounces (one pound or two cups) firmly packed light brown sugar
8 ounces (one cup) cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup (Moi's addition)
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla
1-1/2 cup pecan halves (toasted if you wish*)


Lay out two sheets of newspaper at least four pages thick along kitchen counter and cover with wax paper.

Into a large, deep microwave-proof bowl, stir together the brown sugar, cream, and corn syrup. Microwave on high for about 10 minutes, or until a candy thermometer reaches 235º F or the soft ball stage (check your mixture at 8 minutes).

Remove bowl from microwave (Carefully. The bowl will be super duper hot, so use your mittens and be careful not to drop. Likewise, resist all temptation to stick your finger into the mixture.) Immediately add the butter, vanilla, and pecan halves. Stir, stir, stir with a sturdy, long-handled wooden spoon until mixture starts to lose its sheen, cloud up, and thicken slightly, about a minute to two minutes. At that point, immediately spoon out onto your sheets of wax paper. The consistency we're looking for here is a mixture that will immediately hold its shape when dropped without spreading into a puddle, but not so thick you can't get it off the spoon. I've heard that if the mixture sets up too hard too quickly, you can add a tablespoon or so of water and re-microwave until you reach the proper consistency. But I think you've then blown the sugar crystal inhibition thing. Although, the product will probably taste just as good.

*To toast pecans, place pecan halves on a baking sheet and roast in pre-heated 350º F oven for 10-15 minutes, turning once. Be careful not to burn.

Enjoy. But one at a time. Otherwise, you may as well apply directly to your thighs and skip the mouth thing entirely.

Friday, December 14, 2007

When Life Hands Moi Tequila

This comes courtesy of the Pirate, that fabulously swashbuckling funster who, when not dragging her mother on a 5K run in the middle of a snowstorm or leaping 10,000 foot high mountains in her rockin' running skort, is cruising around looking for as many bits of high hilarity as she can stuff into one day.

Which comes in awfully handy at times like this when life's tapping its foot at Moi and I can't get in the kitchen (I had biscochitos and pralines and brickle oh my in mind for y'all this weekend, sniff!).

This is for fun. I think. Right?

Christmas Tequila Cookies

1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup (two sticks) butter
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups dried fruit (dried cranberries or raisins)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
2 cups all purpose flour
1 liter bottle Don Julio or Patron Tequila

First, sample the Tequila to check quality.
Take a large bowl. Check the Tequila to be sure it is of the highest quality.
Pour another 4 ounces in a measuring cup and drink.
Turn on the electric mixer.
Beat one cup of the butter in a large fluffy bowl.
Add one teaspoon sugar. Beat again.
At this point, it is best to make sure the Tequila is still OK.
Try another 4 ounces, just in case.
Turn off the mixerer thingy.
Break two leggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit, picking the frigging fruit off the floor.
Mix on the turner.
If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers, just pry it loose with a screwdriver.
Sample the Tequila to check for tonsisticity.
Next, sift 2 cups of salt or shomething.
Check the Tequila.
Now shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts.
Add one table.
Add a spoon of sugar, or somefink. Whatever you can find.
Greash the oven.
Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over.
Don't forget to beat off the turner.
Finally, throw the bowl through the window, finish the Tequila and make sure to put the stove in the dishwasher.

Cherry Mistmas

Sunday, December 9, 2007

S.B's Favorite Cookies

Very few things make S.B. grumpy. Not having a batch of these cookies readily available at all times is one of them.

A simple oatmeal-raisin, you ask? When there are so many other fabulous, much more interesting cookies out there?

Don't fool yourself. These may be made with raisins and oats, but they're a delightfully decadent surprise – chock full of plump raisins, redolent of vanilla, and melt-in-your-mouth chewy/soft.

Now, go turn on that oven and whip yourself up a batch. If not for yourself, then for someone you love. Or even someone you don't. Nothing aides in diplomacy like baked goods.

1-1/2 cups dark raisins
2 cups all-purpose white flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons dark corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups Quaker Oats (or similar quality brand, but not instant or quick)

Place raisins in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Let sit for 15 minutes. Drain in a metal colander and set back over bowl to continue draining.

In the meantime:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare two cookie sheets by either spraying with non-stick baking spray or lining with Silpat.

Measure out all dry ingredients into a bowl and stir to combine. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, place the butter and both sugars and whip together with the paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth and light, about a minute. Add the eggs, corn syrup, and vanilla and continue beating another two minutes, scraping down bowl after first minute. On low speed, slowly beat in dry ingredients just until incorporated. With a sturdy wooden spoon, fold in raisins and then oats.

Form heaping tablespoons of dough into balls and place on cookie sheets about 2" apart. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until edges turn light brown. If your oven bakes unevenly, reverse the sheet from front to back halfway through.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Makes 48 cookies.

Will keep up to two weeks in an airtight container at room temperature, for about four months in the freezer (but they never last that long in Moi's house).

Friday, December 7, 2007

Other People's Cookies

I'll be baking again this weekend. But in the meantime, I encourage you to click on this link to the Mighty She's post on her attempts at sugar cookie baking and decorating.

Hilarious. And just a tad, well, sad.

RIP chicken cookies . . .

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Party Menu

This weekend, Anonymous Boxer is hosting a holiday blog party and she's asked Moi to cater. Fabulous!

If there's anything I love more than an opportunity to actually bake, it's an opportunity to virtually bake. You know, to mull over in my mind all those terrific things I would set about to creating if only I had five bazillion hours in a lifetime and an unending supply of lottery winnings.

So, without further ado, I present:

Anonymous Boxer's Big Phat Holiday Blog Party Menu

The Hot Stuff Savory:
• Guacamole with red, white, and blue corn chips
• Chorizo and Monterey Jack cheese-stuffed jalapeño poppers
• Smoked turkey-stuffed wontons with chocolate/red chile/peanut dipping sauce
• Roasted green chile and onion tart

El Gringos Savory:
• Puff pastry cheddar cheese straws
• Bubbling artichoke dip with three cheeses and French bread rounds
• Baked lemon and garlic marinated shrimp skewers with vodka/tomato sauce dip
• Roasted pepper and balsamic vinegar salsa with baked tortilla triangles
• Tuna tartar with golden rye crisps
• Cool Ranch Doritos with sour cream and onion dip

The Sweets - One-Bite Cookies
• Scottish short bread cookies with lime glaze
• Mini bizcochitos
• Brownie cups

The Sweets - Sorta Guilt-Free
• Pineapple, strawberry, and kiwi chunks with chocolate/sour cream dipping sauce
• Tarte tatin
• Meringue drops

The Sweets - Fuggedabout it. Get on the treadmill in the morning.
• Pistachio divinity squares
• Pecan-bourbon pralines
• Cranberry-almond caramel tart
• Chocolate mousse balls with Kirsch-flavored whipped cream
• Chocolate cake