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The Blossom Experiment

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when it comes to baking, I get excited at just about any possibility.  What better way to enjoy life than to pick your poison for death by sugar overdose?

One particular combination of flavors I’ll happily die by is peanut butter and chocolate.  I’m not even just talking Reese’s, I mean anything with those flavors together.  The combination leads to an automatic categorization of awesomeness  That said, it’s amazing that I haven’t tried a little twist on the classic PB & J: Peanut Butter and Nutella.  I probably should.

What am I getting at with this?  Well, let me entertain one last tried and true combination so I can transition: peanut butter blossoms.  The first time I learned about these as a kid, I freaked.  I HAD to have them.  And like a polarized cousin to the peanut butter cup, I fell in love.  Since then I’ve pondered varying twists on how I could deform the original blossom.  One that I made twice and yielded moderate success with was chocolate candy cane blossoms for Christmas.  What were those?  Take chocolate chip cookies and instead of adding normal Hershey Kisses, use the Peppermint Kisses from Christmas time.  They probably work well with regular sugar cookies as well, but I like variation in the consistency of my food.  The fact I can have chocolate while I’m at it helps too.

And with the advent of Fall upon us once again, I got some ideas for a nice, seasonal twists on the classic blossom.  Curiosity brought me to two combinations: peanut butter cookies or gingerbread cookies with regular Kisses or Caramel Kisses on top.  But then I thought…why not have both?  The two don’t seem so alien from each other to me, so I figured I’d find a couple recipes for peanut butter and gingerbread cookies that used similar core ingredients and mix them together.

By that point the most challenging part was getting the portions down, but I took an average of whatever two weren’t too demanding and yielded a similar quantity.  This is to say that I prefer to be more sparing than six dozen cookies, I’m not THAT addicted (I swear I’m not).

There were two final things I needed after deciding how I’d handle the quantity and preparation of ingredients.  The first came from looking up ginger cookie recipes, most of which involved dipping or covering the rolled up cookie dough in sugar.  I guess the ginger, cinnamon and sugar in the dough already just isn’t enough sweetness for everybody.  At that point I thought what would be a nice way to put a little twist on that as well?  Last-minute summer staples began to converge on my creativity as the latest idea popped: graham cracker crumbs.

That’s right, we got ginger, peanut butter and graham crackers together at once.  And we haven’t even reached the second of the two final things I alluded to.

Like I said, the Fall season is already in full swing with pumpkin literally being infused into everything.  If the stuff from a recent Spotted on Shelves (courtesy of The Impulsive Buy) wasn’t enough for you, I saw a bottle of pumpkin flavored vodka from Pinnacle.  I think we all know where this is going, what with the blossom topic: Pumpkin Spice Kisses.  But I still had a hard time deciding between pumpkin and caramel for the Kisses flavor, so once again, I decided I’d include both.  Half the batch would have one flavor of Kisses and the other half the other flavor Kisses.  Once again we’re getting the best of both worlds, because I believe in awesomeness like that.  Politicians should really listen to people like me.

Much like a previous recipe I tried (dark chocolate raspberry cupcakes for one’s birthday), this was a moderately lengthy, occasionally frustrating experience.  I always forget how tough it is to mix ingredients when finally brewing the actual cookie dough itself.  “But hey,” I though, “the results have to be worth it.”

Turns out the batch I concocted yielded more cookies than I would’ve liked, which left me rummaging for extra baking sheets and struggling to fit them all in the oven at once.  Those of you who know baking and cooking can probably tell this is a big fat no-no, especially when you’re only putting your work in the oven for a few minutes.  Cue a burning smell and the bottom baking sheet (almost half my batch) was burnt.  Yet the top sheets seemed to come out alright, so I focused on taking a frozen Kiss to indent in them a spot for the remaining Kisses.

As I let the good cookies cool off, I checked underneath the burnt bunch and only two of the 21 didn’t seem too bad.  And by that I mean they didn’t look pitch black.  Biting into those to see if they were any decent yielded such a bittersweet emotion.  I loved it.  The cookies were great, even burnt and without Kisses on top.  And as someone who doesn’t look fondly on stiff cookies like regular Chip A-Hoy! (chewy for me), these crunchy babies were remarkably scrumptious.  All the more reason I hated my egghead move.  Success and failure all at the same time.

The sway of flavors is interesting.  When I bite in, I’m immediately greeted by the ginger, with the peanut butter quickly being picked up before the ginger comes back once again for that final aftertaste.  As I said, the cookies came out rather stiff in texture, which is probably because of the molasses.  This was also the first time I used or got a whiff of molasses…I almost thought of not including it the second I opened the jar.  It’d be nice for these to be softer, so if you forgo that and try these, let me know how they come out.  I’d say these were successful, but I’ll have to work on them again to nail down what I really want.

Here’s the recipe I used:

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt
About 1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger
3/4 to 1 cup of sugar
1/3 stick of butter (room temperature)
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup vegetable shortening (room temperature)
1/4 cup mild-flavored light molasses
1 egg
3/4 cup (smooth) peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
About 3 whole graham crackers smashed into crumbs
1 bag of Hershey Kisses of your choice

-Combine first 6 ingredients in bowl with whisk, mixing in crystallized ginger.  Set aside
-In large bowl, cream together white sugar and butter.  Add and beat brown sugar and shortening.  Add egg and molasses and beat until blended.  Mix in peanut butter and vanilla.  Add dry/flour mixture and mix until blended.  Cover and refrigerate for an hour or so.
-Grease cookie sheets
-Preheat oven to 365 degrees
–Using lightly wet hands, roll and form dough into small balls, dipping in crushed graham crumbs to finish.
-Bake until golden brown (about 10 minutes)
-Create crease in cookies with a wrapped up kiss (frozen/refrigerated).  Add Kisses immediately.  Set cookies aside to cool off.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2012 in Baking, Blog, Candy, Food

 

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The Taste of Chocolate

This past weekend brought a doubly delicious treat for me.  For starters, I finished the last of my classes at the University of Central Florida (I’ll be graduating Thursday morning).  The second and sweeter treat, however, was the arrival of the Festival of Chocolate.  Since I’ve been living right off campus, it made attending this decadent event a bit easier.  And when you’re a college student who has to pay for an event that demands $17 just for entry, anything easier is all sweeter.

My expectations were wondrously met as I wandered about, eyes darting back and forth at numerous booths, each simply begging for the last share of my student loan.  Of course, this being the end of the semester and seeing so many overly rich treats, the concern of temptation quickly becomes irrelevant.  And when I say “overly rich,” I don’t exaggerate…someone actually had a heart attack.  Granted, I didn’t actually witness this, but the sweet and rich factor can’t be underestimated.  Until I treated myself to a golf ball-shaped cake drop, I was convinced sweet was synonymous with non-filling.

All of the booths and displays throughout the festival were, to put it simply, overwhelming.  For all of the sweets to crave, I actually found myself initially drawn to trivia posters and boards placed throughout the Arena.  A few weren’t too surprising, such as how people who eat chocolate typically live a year longer than those who might not.  But then there was some more curious trivia, such as how a single chocolate chip can apparently give one person enough energy to walk 150 feet.  Or how about this?  Even though chocolate is the most liked flavor in the United States, we’re far from the greatest chocolate consumers…that honor goes to Switzerland.

There was certainly a fair share of the usual suspects for a festival dedicated to chocolate treats, ranging from large cookies, to immaculately designed cupcakes of all sizes, ice cream, multi-flavored fudge, covered apples, doused marshmallows and many more of what you’d expect to find.

This isn’t to say there weren’t some surprises and twists to find lying about.  Some chocolate sculptures were on display, including an unnamed Chocolate Lab, a life-size jazz man made of fudge, several dresses made out of candy wrappers and even a game of hands-free doughnut-eating (hung above the contestants).  Watching people struggle to chomp and talk while eating their doughnut only made me chuckle, thinking that this must be how dogs feel when we tease them with Beggin’ Strips.

Something else that drew much attention was a wedding cake decorating contest in which four people had two hours to make their best creation.  Two of the contestants were trying their hand at a wedding cake for the first time, while the other two had several under their belts.  It shouldn’t be tough to guess who did better than the others.  Regardless, I have to give credit to anyone who can make a decent-looking cake in such a short span of time, especially since one of the contestants didn’t wind up faring so well (but the judges at least liked the way it tasted).

Not long after the winner was crowned for the cake competition, I wound up making my take-home purchases of the day and went on my way.  The damage came to $18 for four pieces of the aforementioned fudge and five assorted cupcakes (and a brownie bite on the house).  It’s a miracle I haven’t brought myself to finish them all at this point, two days later.

But why should I have all the fun?  Have a look below at some of the photos I took and see a bit of what I saw at the Festival of Chocolate.  If it ever comes near you in the future, then be sure you check it out, especially if you haven’t before!

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Blog, Food

 

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