The Great Food Bloggers Cookie Swap 2013

photo(48)This was my first year participating in The Great Food Bloggers Cookie Swap. I was excited to take part in this fun community building activity, and all for a great cause. Who could ask for more?! This activity raised more than $13,700 for Cookies For Kids Cancer!

The organization and communication was spotless. Just enough emails, just enough communication to keep it exciting, but not over whelming.

I got my 3 matches and went on their blogs to get to know them better. 2 of them I had already been on their blogs, 1 I was following so that was fun. They had great ideas and recipes and I found myself spending quiet a long time on their websites and blogs.

Then came the hard part of deciding what to bake. I had a couple of ideas but kept changing my mind as time passed. Finally I went for a new cookie that I had just tried to make, adjusted, and fallen in love with. The Almond Caramel Cookie. I had just received a book from a friend by mail a couple of weeks before Inside The Jewish Bakery, and found it really interesting. In that book I found the Lace Cookies that I played around with and the final cookie was better described as Almond Caramel cookie.

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I made it a couple of times before making the batch for the swap, but they were eaten too fast and I never had enough. Finally, I decided to bake the cookies late at night when everyone was asleep….

I decided to make a combination of 1 layer cookies, and some filled cookies. I needed a total of 36 cookies (a dozen for each blogger) and decided to send 4 plain and 8 filled. Some with white chocolate, some with milk truffle and some with chocolate mint. This meant that I needed a total of 60 cookies. Busy night was ahead of me.

photo(56)The house was quiet and I started chopping and mixing and baking. The smells these cookies spread are wonderful, and I thought that everyone probably had some great dreams…

I made a double batch of the cookie dough and started.

The recipe for these truly wonderful cookies is:

2.5 cups Almonds (or other nuts you like – Hazelnuts is wonderful as well).

1 cup brown sugar

70 gram (2.5 oz or 3/4 cups) Unsalted butter

3-4 tbsp. honey

1/4 + 1 tbsp. cup water

1/2 cup All purpose flour

2 tsp. cinnamon

How to prepare the dough:

First turn on the oven to 190C/375F.

I like to lightly roast the almonds (or hazelnuts) on a dry pan before I grind them. It adds a depth of flavor to the cookies. Then you need to grind the almonds to a fine texture.

In a saucepan combine sugar, butter, honey and water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir continuously. Add the flour, nuts and cinnamon and stir well until you get a thick paste. To get a caramel consistency, you need to let it all boil for more than 60 seconds while constantly stirring.

Turn off the heat and let cool but this paste must be pipped or spooned while still hot. Once it cools it is very hard to work with.

I tried pipping the cookies but soon found that using 2 spoons is easier and faster.

Arrange at least 3-4 trays and place baking paper on them.

With 2 spoons spread cookies on the baking paper leaving a lot of room in between as these cookies spread out a lot. Pat the dough down a bit to get thin lace like cookies.

Bake for 5-6 minutes only. As soon as they are light brown, take out of the oven. They burn fast. Once out of the oven, take the baking sheets with the cookies on them, off the baking trays and leave to cool on a table or cool surface. Leaving them on the hot baking trays will keep them baking.

Once the cookies are cold they harden you can take them off the baking paper, and only then can they be filled with chocolate.

I melted white chocolate, milk truffle and chocolate mint and filled 48 cookies (total of 24 double layered cookies).

photo(59)       Filled with white chocolate

photo(60)Filled with chocolate truffle, and Chocolate mint.

Then the cookies were wrapped, boxed and shipped to the Food Bloggers. All that was left was to enjoy packages and look forward to feedback from the recipients…..

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Thank you Lindsay and Julie for organizing and to Imperial Sugar and OXO and Gradmas Molasses for the great gift we got  and for matching the donations!

For inspiration visit the wonderful bloggers I sent cookies to:

Aesthetic Eats

A Couple in the Kitchen

Beth’s Blue Plate Special

I really enjoyed the cookies I got from the bloggers like Chocolate and Carrots  (great website), Cupcakes and Bakes and also from Food, Pleasure and Health.

I’m already looking forward to next year

Have a great Holiday Season with your loved ones!!

Sweet Treat

We all have our favorites, but when it comes to my middle girl, her favorites are very well known, so on her birthday I don’t need to think long about what to make for her.

The hard work is making all the birthday treats in sync to her celebrations. Her birthday starts early morning at home, but the first treat is always for her class. It needs to be special, sweet and something I can prepare in the morning, fresh and fast. This year, because of the proximity to Chanukah, I baked Sufganiot and decorated cupcake style with whipped cream, just like she loves.

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After school she loves to celebrate with all her after-school friends (yes all 70-80 of them) so I made a strawberry shortbread take, dairy free, in small cups to be easy to give out to 80 kids.

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And then the highlight of the night, was creating her ultimate favorite Pavlova- Meringue with Strawberry Mousse (recipe here) and Chocolate….. what can go wrong there ?

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All this for a sweet 10 year old girl! Happy birthday baby girl!

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Until next year…..:)

Gløgg & Marzipan For A Cold Night

Whole Blanched Almonds

The days are getting shorter, the mornings colder and the evenings are really cold.

Whenever the winter is getting closer I want to curl up on the couch with a fleece blanket and drink Gløgg.

The Danes are supposedly the happiest people in the world and one of the reasons is that they have invented Hygge.  Hygge is a term that describes the state of mind the Danes get into when the days get dark early and they spend time indoors. While other cultures might turn on more lights, blast music and watch television, the Danes light candles, get cozy and eat and drink together. Favorites for this time of the year are Gløgg and marzipan. Well…. there are many favorites – most come in 100 gram bags in the form of Likrish- sweet, salty or hot, but others are cardamom baked rolls, and marzipan just cut with soft Nougat chocolate.

For the past couple of days I’ve been in the mood for some Gløgg and decided to inspire you all to make and enjoy some as well.

Basically Gløgg is red wine, warmed with blanched whole almonds, spices and additions to make it perfect for you.

For 6 servings you need:

1 cup almonds

1/2 cup raisins

1/3 cup Port, Cointreau or  Rum

1 bottle red wine

1 cup Brandy or Port wine

1/3 cup brown sugar

Orange zest from 1 orange and some small cut orange slices

5 cloves
1-2 cinnamon sticks

Soak raisins in about 1/2 cup Port, Cointreau or  Rum for at least 2 hours.

Toast the blanched almonds on a dry skillet – I like to keep the almonds whole, but you can also cut them in half.

In a heavy pot combine all ingredients but the red wine and fresh sliced oranges. Bring to a heat and then reduce the heat and add the red wine. Cook for at least 15 minutes- but don’t boil it. Let it simmer 30 more minutes.

Serve in clear glasses with a spoonful of raisins and spoonful of almonds. Very recommended to add fresh sliced oranges on top. You can strain the Gløgg so you don’t get all the spices in your glass.

Why Marzipan you ask? And I say why not?! Probably the best companion for Gløgg, anytime. With chocolate or on its own.

Enjoy and stay warm….. Let me hear how you

keep warm and your favorite winter comforts….

Being Grateful

photo(35)Thanksgiving is about being thankful and grateful and a great opportunity for each of us to think about what we are grateful for.

I lost my grandparents, from my father’s side, when I was young and we lived on a different continent at that time. I loved them greatly and losing them that early, without being there with them, is something I think of often. I also lost my grandfather, from my mother’s side too early and he was one of the most amazing people I have ever had the privilege to know. I am grateful for the years I did have with them, for the wonderful memories we created and I am mostly grateful for my grandmother, whom I love deeply and for my husbands grandmother who is amazing. Those 2 ladies mean the world to me, and my family.

Being a mother, for me, means constant fear and worry and eternal happiness and love for seeing them grow and following life, through their naive, creative, curious eyes.

I am grateful for being able to see some positive in September’s fall, to the healing I’m going through, to remembering everyday it could have been worse and that nothing has been taken away from me because of the fall. Healing is a process that demands patience that I do not always have, but where the small positive steps give a great feeling.

I am grateful for new beginnings, for every recipe I create and try, for bringing smiles and happiness to so many through baking, volunteering and just in daily life.

I have a wonderful support web created by friends, family, the community and the virtual and real world of FB and the Blogging world. All these make me more knowledgeable, caring and feeling alive everyday.

I have the most amazing parents, wonderful husband, best kids, great sister and some of the best “sisters” in addition to her.

I am grateful to live in the free world where I can be what I want, chose those I believe in, let my voice be heard and make a difference. I have lived through too many wars, seen too many casualties of hatred and suffering, and can only try to make this place a better one for future generation.

I am truly grateful and thankful for my life.

What are you grateful for?

Homemade Marshmallow Fondant

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I’m not a huge user of fondant, but from time to time I feel like making something with fondant. The high prices of ready-to-use fondant and the long list of ingredients, are just 2 reasons for me not being a real fan.

For the past couple of days though, I’ve been in the mood to explore more fondant and read a lot of recipes. Some for regular sugary fondant and some for marshmallow based fondant. The last one sounded fun to make, and I decided to try.

I based my trial on a recipe from candy.about.com  and got some white marshmallows with not too many ingredients…

I adjusted the recipe to half the amount of everything called for, as I did not need a big amount of fondant.

My final recipe is:

2 cups small marshmallows (4oz, 120 gram)

1 tbsp. water

1.5 cups powdered sugar

Food coloring – if needed

Combine the marshmallows and water in a bowl and placed in the microwave for 1 minute. Make sure the marshmallows are puffy and melting soft. With a rubber spatula stir the marshmallows until you get a very smooth (sticky) cream consistency. Add the color you like, and mix well.

Here is where the fun begins. Add 1/4 cup powdered sugar and mix well. Continue adding 1/4 cups of powdered sugar until you get a smooth dough like  consistency or as my kids defined it- feeling like a huge bubble gum. It is fun to mix-in the powdered sugar. Best to give yourself enough room to knead in the powdered sugar. Take your time and check that it is nice to work with and not too sticky. To shape the dough, dust some more sugar powder on your work surface.

photo(29)If you don’t need it right away or have some left, wrap well in plastic and place in a tight zip-lock bag.

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It is fun, fast and easy to make. No more store-bought fondant in this kitchen…

Feel free to share and let me hear from you.

Home-Made NY Bagels

photo(19)For a while my son has asked to make home-made bagels. Mostly because I told him how fun the process is – dipping in hot water and then baking in the oven.

This weekend we made home-made NY Bagels and there is nothing better than baking with the kids in the kitchen. Especially fun things like bagels……

I’m usually not a huge fan of bagels, because they are dense, but these ones were amazing! Light and tasty.

What is needed for 12 delicious bagels:

4 cups flour

1 Tbsp. oil

1 1/3 cups of warm water

2 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1.5 tsp. dry yeast

Mix yeast and sugar in the warm water, let it rest until bubbles start. This wakes up the yeast and although the bagels don’t need to rise a lot, it makes them fluffier and less dense.

Mix flour with salt , add the oil and mix the yeast water in as well until you get a smooth dough. Leave to rise 30-45 minutes. If you have time, punch the dough and let it rise again, I usually don’t have the time for that….

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Once the dough is ready, decide what additions you like. My kids wanted some plain, some with cinnamon and dried sweet cranberries, and some with pumpkin spice. So we divided the dough into 3 equal parts. Into each part we kneaded the additions and divided the dough into 3. I like to weigh all doughs I make, and divide by weight to get equal parts, this help the baking a lot.

Once the additions were incorporated into the dough, we rolled it out, and shaped into bagels with a hole in the middle, lastly, placed them on baking sheets.

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I read a tip some time ago on a website that suggested to bake the bagels on broil for 2 minutes each side, before dipping in hot water. I loved this, so the baking steps are:

1. Heat the oven to very high/broil. Bake the bagels 2 minutes on each side.

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2. In the mean time, broil a pot of water with a bit of sugar – it needs to be deep enough for the bagels not to touch the bottom.

3. Take the bagels out, put them in the hot water, broil 1 minute on each side. Lower the oven to 350F/180C.

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4. Place back on the baking sheet, and bake for another 20-25 minutes. If you like sesame or poppy seeds on your bagels, add it before placing in the oven for the 2nd time.

Your bagels are ready. Add butter, cream cheese, jam, Nutella or our favorite…. enjoy on their own. They  were truly delicious and will become a stable in our home on the weekends, no doubt.

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Enjoy! Share, and let me hear from you.

Delicious Cookies, Vegan Too

photo(4)I felt like creating a new gluten-free cookie today and eventually  came up with this Vegan cookie – no Gluten, no Dairy and no eggs….

These are very delicious. Crispy and just the right sweetness.photo(2)Ingredients:

1 cup gluten-free flour – I really love King Arthur’s GF flour

1/4 cup powdered sugar

50 gram (1.8 oz) dairy-free margarine

1/4 cup oil

1 cup almond flour

Lemon zest from 1 lemon

1 tsp. almond essence

1 spoon ground coffee or instant coffee

Optional – 1 tbsp. coffee liquor

Pinch of salt

Place the dry ingredients in a bowl, add lemon zest and coffee.

Cut the butter into small squares and mix in the dough.

Slowly add the oil, you might not need it all, and mix until the dough is sticky but can be rolled into a log.

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Wrap the dough in plastic and freeze for 20 minutes or place in the fridge for 40 minutes at least.

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Once the dough has hardened, roll in brown sugar and cut into slices.

photoPlace on baking paper and bake for about 20 minutes at 150C, 320F, until they are golden on the bottom of the cookies. Let cool completely or they might break.

Enjoy!