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Sophia saw me making my pumpkin cheesecake this morning and really wanted to help me. Since cheesecake is a bit out of her league at this point - I found some big boxes of strawberry gelatin, I had bought some powdered gelatin and of course we had applesauce and a tree full of lemons. The following tasty treat resulted.

Homemade Gumdrops - makes - LOTS, depending on how you cut them depends on how many you get! (generally about 1 3/4 lbs)

Ingredients

1 1/3 c. applesauce
2 +1/2 sugar
6 oz of fruit gelatin (we use strawberry and lime during Christmas time, but other colors/flavors will work for different seasons/occasions)
1 t. lemon juice
2 packets of unflavored gelatin

Grease a 11-in x 7-in x 2-in pan with non-stick cooking spray, put in freezer to make very very cold.

In a large saucepan, combine 2 cups of the sugar, applesauce, fruit gelatin, unflavored gelatin and lemon juice. Let stand 1 minute. Bring to a boil over medium heat (note this takes a while, but fight the temptation to turn up the heat!). Stir almost constantly . Once at a good boil, leave to boil for 1 minute (no stirring). Immediately pour into your nice and cold pan. Refrigerate for 3 hours or until firm.

With a spatula loosen gelatin from the sides of the pan. Invert onto a large piece of wax paper. Using a knife, or cookie cutters dipped in hot water, cut into shapes/squares. Place on wax paper and let dry at room temp for about 8 hours (or until slightly sticky) .Roll in remaining sugar, store in an airtight container.

I made these as an after thought with some left over dough I had from my Mini Tarts. I thought it would be a shame to waste it since the dough was so nice and delicious (much like a shortbread). So for the shells, please refer to the previous post. These were super tasty as well (ok by now I'm sure you think I'm bias, but hey - I wouldn't recommend them if I couldn't promise a happy tummy)

Cranberry-Pecan Tassies - makes 2 dozen (so for all you not too keen on math, either double the filling recipe below, or half your shell recipe - if you don't you'll find yourself lopsided!)

Filling:
1 Egg
1 t. vanilla
3/4 c. packed brown sugar (I used dark)
1/3 c. finely chopped dried cranberries
3. T chopped pecans

Beat together egg, brown sugar, vanilla and a dash of salt if your heart desires. Beat until nice and smooth. Stir in cranberries and pecans. Spoon filling into pastry shells (which should be in your mini-muffin tins, just like in the tart recipe)

Bake at 325 for 30 to 35 minutes, or until shells are golden brown. Cool in pan on wire racks - remove from pan and serve up or store in air tight container at room temp. up to 3 days. Or if you're the make ahead time, freeze them for up to 3 months.

*NOTE* Do not under any circumstances fill with a little extra of the syrupy part of the filling! Brown sugar loves to bubble up when cooked (thank you molasses!), and getting the tassies out will no only be near impossible - but scrubbing your pans will suck too!

I made these this morning - very tasty. So tasty in fact that I made 4 dozen but by the time I actually finished up the final touches I was down to 2 dozen! Hmmm... I'm pretty sure that DH had something to do with that. I made them with Mother's Kosher unsalted butter, Toffuti Better than Cream Cheese, Soy Milk and Ener-G Egg Replacement in place of the dairy and egg ingredients - once again, if they rock without the "good stuff" then you know they must be good!

Miniature Almond Tarts - makes 4 dozen (unless your hubby gets his hands on them first)

Ingredient list -
Shells:
1 c. butter, softened
2 pkg (3oz each) cream cheese, softened
2 c. AP flour
Filling:
6 oz almond paste, crumbled
2 eggs, beaten
1c. sugar
Frosting:
1 1/2 c. confectioners' sugar
3 T butter, softened
4 to 5 t. milk

Maraschino cherry halves (about 48) - make sure to dry thoroughly after slicing! :)

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and cream cheese. Add flour and mix well - (try not to over-mix, too much gluten does not make for like and flaky goodness :)). Refrigerate for 1 hour.

While waiting patiently for dough to chill, combine almond paste, eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl. Beat at low speed until blended.

After an hour shape dough into 1 inch (or a little larger) balls and place in an ungreased miniature muffin tin. press into the bottom and up sides to form a shell. (Make sure to allow at least 1/8 - 1/4 inch bottom or getting them out of the pan is not an easy task!)

Fill each shell with 1 1/2 t. filling. It puffs up pretty good, so for easier removal leave a little space at the top so the filling doesn't overflow.

Bake at 325 for 25 -30 minutes of until edges are golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes before removing and moving to wire racks to cool completely.

While being patient yet again, make the frosting and cut the cherries. - Combine the confectioners' sugar, butter and enough milk to achieve desired consistency (I'd say to start with 2 t. and add 1 at a time until you're happy). Pipe or spread over tarts (I dollop-ed as to not break the tart) - top with a cherry (this helped to "spread" the frosting evenly, it worked great).

*note* I had never made these before - so being a daughter I took the "advice" of my mother when she told me I had too much dough in my cups for the shells. Well, batch 1 was super hard to get out because they were too thin on the bottom. So I ended up with a decent amount of extra shell dough. I used it to make Cranberry Pecan Tassies. Super yummy! Recipe to follow.

While visiting the family up in NY, I was tasked with prepping a dessert for lunch after Lil' B's baptism. MIL bought an Organic's boxed yellow cake and frosting. I figured it would be easy enough and to make things more fun, I'd use it to make a Strawberry Shortcake type dessert. Well - many many not fun character building moments later - a Delicious Strawberry Tart resulted! So if you're up for something easy and quick and almost from scratch this is for you!

Daphne's Strawberry Tart

Ingredients:
1 box of Organic's Yellow cake mix (I'm sure you could use any cake mix, I just happened to use this one)
*the following are used IN PLACE OF what the box actually calls for*
2/3 c. sour cream
1/4 c. milk
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 stick of butter (melted)
1 Box of Organic's Vanilla frosting mix
+ 1 t. vanilla

Strawberries, hulled and sliced

Prepare the boxed cake - replacing the ingredients listed on the box with those listed above. Cook according to box instructions. Keep rather thin layer, I used a 9 inch cake pan and just made 2 tarts- you could use a sheet cake pan, or if you are super cool and own a tart pan go for it!

Prep frosting according to directions, add vanilla.

Slice up strawberries in any manner that suits your needs. I like to make pretty designs - but that's just because I want to try and trick people into eating my tasty treats by catching their eye first :)

Let cake cool completely frost and decorate with strawberries. *NOTE* Prior to decorating with berries, be sure that they are as dry as possible. If not the extra moisture will make the frosting soggy and pink! Not so pretty.

That's it! So easy wasn't it? And tasty too!

Whoopee! Pies *

I made these last year as part of a tasty good basket for everyone in our family (and believe you me, that is a lot of people). These Whoopee Pies were by far the most wide spread favorites. Even my 85 year old grandmother who is quite an amazing baker herself called to tell me how great they were! I thought for sure she'd have enjoyed the Kourambiedes the best - but in all reality, who doesn't love Whoopee Pies? Even saying the word whoopee is fun.

Whoopee Pies - makes just about 18

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a muffin tin (the recipe called for using parchment on a cookie sheet, I found that using a muffin tin helped keep the cookies more uniform in size and shape. )

Put 2 oz unsweetened (I use the highest quality stuff I can find to ensure super tastiness - Even the really good stuff goes on sale sometimes!) and 4 oz semisweet chocolate, both chopped and 1/2 c. (that's 1 stick) butter(unsalted of course, but is there anything else in baking?) in a medium microwave-safe bowl; heat at 75 percent power until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir, and continue to microwave until completely melted, about 2 minutes more. (Alternatively, put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl. Bring a saucepan filled with an inch or so of water to a very slow simmer; set the bowl over, but not touching the water, and stir occasionally until melted and smooth, we know how I feel about cleaning dishes so I often go with the least dirty option)

Whisk:
1 c sugar, 3 large eggs and 1 t. pure vanilla extract into the chocolate mixture until smooth.

Sift:
1 c. AP flour, 1/4 c. natural cocoa powder, 1/2 t. baking powder and 1/2 t. fine salt into another bowl. Gradually whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until moistened. Switch to a rubber spatula and finish folding the batter together; take care not to over-mix.

Use a small cookie scoop or spoon to drop a heaping tablespoon of batter onto the prepared pan. Repeat to make 36 cookies (spacing them about 1-inch apart if not using muffin tin) Bake until the cookies spring back when lightly touched, about 6 minutes.

Cool the cookies slightly. Transfer half of the cookies to a rack. Turn the remaining cookies on the pan over, so they lay flat side up. Place a marshmallow on top of each flipped cookie (that's 18 marshmallows folks, and the big ones, no skimping here!) and return pan to the oven. Cook just until the marshmallow begins to soften and puff, about 3 minutes. Cool marshmallow topped cookies slightly, about 2 minutes. Top with the remaining cookies, pressing lightly to make sandwiches. Cool whoopee pies completely on wire racks.

After completely cool eat your fill before everyone else in your family does. How sad would it be to miss out on such tastiness?!

FudGE?! Where?

Well! Hopefully in your kitchen after checking out this super awesome recipe. I'm going to warn however- this is a bit tricky. This is best prepared on chilly yet dry days - as fudge will absorb extra moisture in the air and the texture will be all wrong. I have made fantastically wonderful batches of fudge with this recipe - I have also had tasty fudge with a texture that is tragic. (although to my defense, the good days out weight the bad)

Chocolate Fudge - makes about 64 1-inch pieces


Grease an 8x8 -inch pan with butter. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine 2 3/4 c. sugar, 4 oz unsweetened chocolate (I usually go with no less than 60 - 70 % cacao), 1 1/2 T of the butter, 1 c. half-and-half, and 1 T corn syrup. Over medium heat, stir with a wooden spoon until sugar is dissolved and chocolate is melted. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and boil for 3 minutes. Remove the cover and attach a candy thermometer to the pot. Cook until the thermometer reads 234 degrees F. Remove from the heat and add 1 1/2 T butter (usually place it on the top to do it's magic). Do not stir. Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes or until it drops to 130 degrees F. Add 1 T vanilla (and 1 c roasted nuts, if desired), and mix until well-blended and the shiny texture becomes matte (stir very very fast - as fast as you can, it will get thick quick and really hard to stir.I usually keep DH on call for reserve stirring duty in case the texture isn't right yet - after all, we're going for little itty bitty crystals, not nasty lumpy clumpies) Pour into the prepared pan. Let sit in cool dry area until firm. Cut into 1-inch pieces and store in an airtight container for up to a week- if you can get it to last that long!

This fudge often results in DH tummy aches and good Daphne chuckles :)

Now - I have never made this with actual cream cheese, nor actual eggs (or butter). So if my husband's family had no clue it wasn't made with all that good stuff then it must be good with it. For anyone who doesn't eat dairy or eggs - we used Toffuti's Better than Cream cheese and Ener-G egg replacer, and Nucoa margarine in place of the dairy/egg ingredients. Let me tell you- it is freakin' awesome.


Pumpkin Cheesecake - serves 12 (or if you really like cheesecake it could be single serving)

Position rack in center of the oven and preheat to 350. Assemble a 9 inch springform pan, making sure the raised side of the bottom is facing out (I'd hate for you to get smoked out of your house by butter burning off the bottom of your oven.)

Make the crust (once again, food processor works, I used the good ol' fashioned zip lock bag and a rolling pin, less clean up for me) - crush up 10 graham crackers and 1/4 c. sugar. Add 4 T unsalted butter, melted and mix until moist yet crumbly. Press firmly into the bottom of the pan, coming up a it on the edges to prevent the batter from getting under the crust. Bake until golden around the edges (about 10 minutes)

Set a timer and start on the filling. With an electric mixer, beat 4 pkg (8 oz each) bars of very soft cream cheese and 1 1/4 c. sugar on low speed until smooth. Mix in 3 T. flour (be very careful not to over mix. Gluten is not a cheesecake's best friend). Add 1 c. canned pumpkin puree, 1 T + 1/2 t. cinnamon, 1/2 t. nutmeg, 1/2 t. ground cloves, 1 t. all spice and 1/2 t. ground ginger (or you could just use 2 T Pumpkin Pie spice, I find that too simple), 1 T pure vanilla extract, and 1/2 t. salt; mix until just smooth. Add 4 large eggs (at room temp.), 1 at a time, mixing after each.

Hopefully you remembered to remove your crust from the oven - Place springform pan on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour filling into springform and gentle smooth top. Transfer to oven and reduce heat to 300. Bake 45 minutes. DO NO OPEN YOUR OVEN. Turn off the oven and let cheesecake stand in oven for 2 more hours. Resist all temptation to open the door.

Remove your cheesecake from the oven after waiting patiently for 2 hours; transfer entire pan to a wire rack to cool completely. After completely cool, cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge until firm. This takes no less than 4 hours. If you are a make ahead sort of person, you can leave it in the fridge up to 3 days. Remove sides of springform before serving.

The process of making the cheesecake isn't complicated, but it is quite a time consuming feat. Trust me, the results are well worth the wait.

How about some pie? OK - well a pie crust. This is my very favorite. It's tender yet flaky, does life get any better? I've used it with cherry, apple and blueberry pie - so it has withstood the test of variety I'd say.

Very Favorite Pie Crust - makes 1 crust (for most filled pies you'll need 2, for run of the mill pumpkin and other cream pies one will do just fine)

Place 4 T. butter and 5. T butter flavored shortening onto a plate and put into the freezer for 20 minutes.

While waiting patiently, combine 3/4 c. cake flour and 3/4 c. AP flour, 1 t. sugar, 1 t. salt and 1/8 t. baking powder into a food processor and pulse for a few seconds to mix. (please note, I made this at my MIL's house and she does not own a food processor, I sifted them together instead and it worked out just fine)

Add half of butter and half of shortening and pulse for 1 minute. Add remaining butter and shortening; cut in very briefly with processor, leaving pea-sized crumbs (once again, no food processor, no problem. I used a pastry cutter and must say I do prefer it. Plus there is less to clean up afterward)

In a small bowl, mix together 1 T vegetable oil, and 2 t. white vinegar. Add 3 ice cubes and 1/2 c. cold water. Allow to sit for several minutes to let the temp. drop a bit. Place flour and shortening mix into a large mixing bowl (if you're not using a food processor there is no need to transfer, just keep everything in the bowl you're using for the flour/shortening mix); sprinkle with 4 T of the water mixture, if you feel you need a bit more add a 5th T. Cut a bit more with pastry cutter. Place dough in plastic wrap and chill for 7 minutes. Remove from fridge and roll out.

*I recommend rolling between 2 sheets of wax paper, it makes for a better crust because no additional flour is being worked into the dough, and it makes for less frustration because the crust doesn't tear or get stuck to the rolling pin causing a dough club.

Bake according to pie recipe. Don't forget to put foil around the edges!

They gotta be good! Next in line is one of my very favorites. They're a cookie of Greek origin - and no doubt a staple of my youth. They're buttery and crumbly and sugary... everything a cookie should be!

Kourambiedes - makes about 4 dozen

Beat on medium speed until lightened in color and smooth and creamy:
3/4 lb (yes that is 3 sticks, no typo here) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 t. salt


Beat in until very fluffy and well blended:
2/3 c. powdered sugar
1 large egg yolk
2 T ouzo
1 t. vanilla

gradually add and stir until well blended and smooth:
3 c. AP flour, sifted.

Cover and refrigerate the dough until firm enough to shape into a ball (this takes about an hour, but more time wouldn't hurt - if anything your balls will keep their shape better)
To bake, position a rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease cookie sheets.
Pull of pieces of the dough and roll into 1 inch balls. Space an inch or so apart on sheet.
Bake 1 sheet at a time until the cookies are very very slightly browned - about 14 - 18 minutes. Rotate sheet half way through. Remove sheet to a rack and let stand until cookies set slightly. NOTE - they will be very fragile, they may look set - give it another 5 minutes or I promise they will fall apart on you.
Move cookies to cooling rack and sift over cookies until evenly coated with 1/2 c. powdered sugar.

Enjoy - they really are something else. If you've never had Kourambiedes before... I advice you stop reading and start baking!

What kind of mother would I be if I didn't share with my youth the joy of baking? Well, I don't want to think about that - so rather than dwell on what could be - I shall share our very favorite sugar cookie recipe. I tend to tweak things a bit, and due to some very unfortunate food allergies that are extraordinarily severe, we often sub out butter, eggs, and the like. The way I see it, if these are tasty without butter and eggs then imagine how super awesome they must be with!

Rolled Sugar Cookies - makes about 3 dozen (give or take depending on how much of the dough your my 3 year old eats before baking)

Whisk together thoroughly:
3 1/4 c. All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt

Beat on medium speed until very fluffy and well blended:
20 T (that's 2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 c. sugar
add and beat until well combined:
1 Large egg (we use Ener-G egg replacer)
1 T milk (we go with Soy)
2 1/2 t. vanilla

Gradually stir flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended and smooth. Divide the dough in half. Place each half between 2 large sheets of wax (or parchment) paper.Roll out to 1/4 inch thick, checking the underside of the dough and soothing any creases. Keeping the paper in place, later the rolled dough on a baking sheet and refrigerate until cold and slightly firm (about 30 minutes).
Position a rack in the center of oven. Preheat oven to 375 - grease cookie sheet. Working with one portion at a time (leave other portion in refrigerator), gently peel away and replace 1 sheet of paper. Peel away and discard 2nd sheet. Cut out the cookies using your choice of cutters. With a spatula transfer them to the cookie sheet, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Roll dough scraps and continue cutting until all dough is used. If the dough becomes sticky or hard to work with place back in fridge for a few minutes.
Bake 1 sheet at a time, just until the cookies are lightly colored on top and slightly darker at the edges - 6 - 9 minutes; rotate the sheet halfway through baking for even browning. Remove the sheet to a rack and let stand until the cookies firm slightly. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool. Make sure cookies cool completely before decorating. Use table knife to ice cookies if desired.

OK - I have given into the pressure and I am embarking upon my second blogging adventures. I figure since cooking is my favorite - and baking is my very favorite - I should perhaps share my passion a wee bit with anyone else who enjoys to create tasty morsels in the warmth of their own kitchen. If all goes as planned (and it rarely does), I hope to keep on my baking theme this holiday season. Should I feel extra crafty, perhaps I'll post a non-desserty recipe or two. Only time will tell. So keep those eyes peel and get out the mixer and pastry cutter (which by the way are very hard to find now a day! - but that's another story for another day), a few loaf pans and perhaps a cookie sheet or two - it's time to get a' bakin'

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