Baking, Food, Uncategorized

Baking and Life 101

With the holidays quickly approaching, and being currently unemployed, there are days I feel a great sense of freedom, and at the same time a lot of fear, and tremendous anxiety. Recently, I have been spending a lot of time meditating with the hopes of learning how to let go of my fears, and how to stay more in the moment, each, and every day. I am making every effort to focus on what I do want to flourish in my life, and to believe now is my time to fulfill my life’s passion, along with my heart’s deepest desires.

I am taking the time to learn, to really understand, and believe that every day brings me a gift to start over, and to truly learn who I am, and what do I want in this life. If we all could only find the time to stop, take a step back, and center ourselves, and connect with our true self, we can begin to appreciate the joy, and abundance in our lives. Once we pay attention to the joy, and abundance that surrounds us, they both begin to come effortlessly into our lives. I try every day to believe that with every life challenge I have been presented, they have been gifts (yes, at times, it’s hard to believe this), and understanding that with each challenge new doors will open, and lead me to my greatest destiny.

For me cooking is one of my life’s passions, and I find it to be a place where I am the most relaxed, creative, completely focused, and at peace. For the last two weeks, I put on my mad scientist baking hat, I turned my kitchen into a testing kitchen, and I must say, with great pride, the delicacies coming out of my kitchen have been getting rave reviews from my top critics, my grandchildren. Oh, and trust me, if they don’t enjoy something, there is no hesitation in telling their Nana the brutal honest truth (I think they learned that from me). I have said this many times before baking is pure science, and deviating from a recipe is a risk, and I have been known to be a risk taker many times over. While I follow most recipes to the letter of the law, I am compelled to put my own signature twist on most, if not, all recipes, and then, and only then, is it called mine. I have also dabbled in making my own well thought out creations, and my top critics have yet to be completely disappointed.

I have been testing some dessert recipes, in preparation of the upcoming holidays, and with hosting Thanksgiving, this year, I was looking to incorporate a new dessert onto the menu. But by popular demand, the standards (apple pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate cream pie…boring!), which are good old American Thanksgiving staples, will remain on Nana’s menu. However, it’s a given there will always be a surprise…a decadent new, and different delicacy on my table. With my testing complete, I share with you some new creations, with Nana’s spin on them, and each of them have been added to my recipe file.

Naturally, with it being Thanksgiving something had to be made with pumpkin. First up, the Pumpkin Snickerdoodles drizzled with Dulce de Leche. They were by far one of the easiest cookies I have made, with the exception of the Dulce de Leche sauce, which took nearly 3 ½ hours to make. While there are very few ingredients involved in the recipe (whole milk, sugar, vanilla, baking soda, and my own twists), patience, and a lot of love went into making this decadent sauce, and it had everyone humming with each bite of a cookie. Ironically, with all of the effort, and time, you end up with just about a cup of the Dulce de Leche, which is pure lusciousness. A small helpful hint, I would suggest the last 30 minutes or so be spent carefully watching the cooking process. The last thing you want to do is waste hours of your time, and love, and end up with a lumpy sauce or a burnt one, no less, versus a silky, shiny cup of creamy delicious sweetness.

These cookies received rave reviews from my grandchildren…one granddaughter asked me where I bought them (utmost compliment), and my grandson licked the Dulce de Leche off each cookie before he ate them. My oldest granddaughter begged me to take them out of her house, and my daughter wanted to hurt me for bringing the entire batch over. And the method to my madness…if I didn’t, Nana might of ate them all, and anyone that really knows me, knows I prefer food over dessert but these were just too hard to resist…even for me!

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Next up, French macarons, not macaroons, but macarons. I must admit, these were a challenge, time consuming, and a very detailed, delicate cookie that must be made with such precision, and handled with extreme care…yup, that’s why the French are masters at baking. Seriously, the passion, love, and precision that goes into making these treasures is the reason I have a new found respect for pastry chefs, who have mastered the art of macarons. With all of that said, my first attempt, while it turned out very few, they were incredibly light, airy, and decadent. The Eggnog Macarons were laced with a cinnamon, and nutmeg spiced buttercream. I must admit, out of a dozen, I ended up with four macarons. They are extremely delicate, and must be handled so gently when you add the buttercream…they shatter very easily. This was also my first attempt at buttercream, and after following the recipe to a tee, the first batch went straight into the trash. In making the second batch, it required me to put on my mad scientist hat, I got creative, and ended up with the most delicious buttercream that included a warm subtle hint of nutmeg, and cinnamon. My granddaughter told me they reminded her of a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte.

The second batch, Chocolate Macarons filled with Chocolate Ganache were much more successful. However, I learned very quickly that over mixing the meringue produces a flatter, and larger cookie. Chocolate ganache is pretty much a staple in my house, and while I have the recipe down to a science, you still need to be very careful with the chocolate, and that it is tempered correctly. Again, these were just as time consuming, as you must wait for each process to be completely cooled before proceeding with the next steps. In the end, they turned out magnificent, and along with the Eggnog Macarons, they were removed from my home very quickly.

Lessons learned with macarons…do not over mix the dry ingredients into the meringue, sifting of all dry ingredients is a must (especially the finely ground almonds), completely cooling the macarons before filling is essential, and eating the finished cookie the next day (as recommended) proved them to be a more decadent cookie. Lastly, the most helpful hint that I learned…they all must be the same size, and for the novice baker to ensure they are, making a template of precise circles, drawing them on parchment paper, and placing it on its reverse side on a cookie sheet, and then piping the meringue inside each circle…brilliant!

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Lastly, there are the Chocolate Truffle Cups, which I proudly claim as a pure creation of my very own, and one of the most decadent, irresistible little morsels I have ever made. The cups are made with wonton wrappers, and are filled with this incredible chocolate truffle that has a slight creamy texture, along with a note of bitter chocolate, and yet, they will satisfy any sweet tooth. They were topped or dusted with a mixture of cocoa powder, and cinnamon, along with a sprinkle of mini chocolate chips, or a cookie and cream crumble or my favorite, chopped pistachios, and sea salt. Again, rave reviews, and after posting a picture of these on my Facebook page, one comment stated, “Moving in. I won’t bring much. Just some elastic-waist pants.” Another said, “They look delicious!!” and another, “I want one of each!” Well, that “one of each” got the surprise of a lifetime, and the next day, I personally delivered a container filled with more than just “one of each” to a person I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. The element of surprise, along with someone’s flattering reaction to your food is by far one of the greatest compliments you can ever receive.

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Returning to where I began, I recently heard these words through my meditation exercises, “It is our birthright as human beings to receive infinite gifts from the universe. We are all here to fulfill our life purpose in this world…a life lived with passion, intention, and fulfillment.” Maybe it’s time for me to be in the present moment, and aware, and in doing so, maybe it’s time for different choices. Maybe my purpose is to bring the world joy, and abundance through my food. There is always a lot of maybe’s but what I do know for sure is my passion for cooking, and sharing my delicious food is a burning desire in my soul, and I strongly believe my dreams are not out of my reach. They say, “When we do what we love, and give freely of ourselves, what we offer comes back to us in ways far beyond our imagination.”

In giving what I love, if you are interested in trying one of my creations, please feel free to contact me, directly, at divinedelectables@aol.com, and I will be more than happy to share any recipe that you choose…freely.

Namaste