Jan 23, 2012

Extra Curricular Activities – Oreo Trifle

I LOVE making trifles.  For many reason really.  But the best reason to make a trifle is plain and simple.  You cannot screw it up.  Even if you are Ms. Fimble-Fumble-Fingers in the kitchen it doesn't matter.  You can do this.  The reason it's impossible to screw up a trifle is there are NO rules.  Use any pudding/cake/cookies/chocolate/ice cream/candy whatever you have left hanging in your pantry.  Layer 'em up and you're good to go. 
Traditionally Trifle's are a British dessert layered with sponge cake, fruit, jelly, and/or custard.  That all sounds a bit too dainty for this American Cool-Whipped Girl.  For me, fruit is for breakfast only (well, unless we're baking a pie and we HAVE to use fruit, then I guess it's alright).  I feel dessert should be about chocolate, cake, SUGAR, frosting etc…if I am going to splurge on calories, let's at least do it properly.

If you'd like to try out this recipe, feel free to swap out any of the ingredients.  I've also used Toblerone candy broken into small pieces (instead of Oreo).  If you can't find Cool-Whip, use home-made whipped cream.  If you have a favorite brownie recipe, swap it out for the cake (just don't forget to add the Bailey's, really it's the best part).  If you are a fruit-for-dessert person, slice some strawberries or banana on top of the pudding.  Really the possibilities are endless; choose whatever you like or whatever you have on hand.

One last side note, depending on the size of your trifle dish (you can use the same type of serving dish you'd use for a tiramisu…don't go out and buy anything fancy for this, just as long as its glass and tall it will work) you will more than likely have some extra cake and pudding left over after assembling.  I certainly did, but don't you dare throw it out.  I used a freezer-safe container and layered up my left-over's.  This way when you've got a sweet tooth one night with nothing in the house, you'll have a back-up plan.

1 chocolate cake, baked and cooled to room temperature.  Use your favorite recipe – any will do.  If you don't have a favorite, use mine.

1 cup Bailey's Liquor or Kahlua

Hershey's chocolate syrup (I can't give you an amount; it depends on how hard you'll squeeze the bottle.  Just get yourself a bottle.  You can use the leftovers for chocolate martinis)

1 box (3.4 oz) Jello Brand Instant Pudding (vanilla or chocolate flavor, your choice) *prepare pudding prior to assembling the trifle; mix per directions on box
1 box (3.4 oz) Jello Brand Instant Pudding (Oreo cookies 'n cream flavor) *prepare pudding prior to assembling the trifle; mix per directions on box

2 tubs Cool Whip (8oz each.  You'll only use about 1 and a half though)
Approximate 30 Oreos, crushed (by hand, not in blender)

Take cooled cake and poke with fork thoroughly all over. 

This is fun for the kiddos to help you with.  Not mine, he'd fork himself.  Maybe next year.

Get out the good stuff.  Go on, take a shot for yourself.  Makes the trifle much easier to assemble.

Pour 1 cup Bailey's into a bowl and using a pastry brush cover the entire cake with the booze.  The holes help absorb the liquor into the cake.  Let the cake sit for about 45 minutes so the cake will get good and drunk…uh I mean soaked.

Next get out your already prepared pudding.  Take one tub of the Cool Whip and divide it equally into each bowl of pudding.  4oz into the vanilla, 4 oz into the Oreo flavor.  Mix well until combined, but don't over mix.  If you over-mix you'll start to lose the volume of the Cool Whip.  Cool Whip is even more delicate than home-made whipping cream.  You'll notice the pudding will get thin, this is okay.  It will thicken back up once you refrigerate.

Now it's time to assemble.  Take your trifle dish and cover the bottom with a good squeeze of chocolate syrup.  This will act like glue and hold the cake to the bottom.

Okay it's going to get messy here.  There is no polite way to go about it; you must use your hands for this part.  Take your cake and gently break it into large pieces to cover the bottom of your trifle dish in one layer.

Try to keep the dish clean as possible.  If you get a smudgin' of chocolate on the side, give it a wipe with a damp paper towel.  You'll appreciate this later once the trifle is done.  You want your lovely layers to be clean and perfect, not with sticky finger prints everywhere.

Next get your vanilla pudding mixed with the Cool Whip and spread an even layer on top of the cake layer.

Next get your crushed Oreo's and cover the vanilla pudding with an even layer.

See where we're going here.

And another drizzle of syrup…why not?

Repeat with another layer of cake.

Next layer with the Oreo pudding mixed with the Cool Whip.

Cover with another layer of Oreo's and chocolate syrup.  Are you drooling yet?  Good.

Cover with another layer of cake and then the vanilla pudding.

Cover with a sprinkling of Oreos, but just the smaller crumbs and no big chunkies.  You'll want the top to look pretty.  Get out the second tub of cool whip and spoon out a dollop onto the vanilla layer.  Try not to spread to the edges this time.  Keep somewhat centered so you can see the vanilla layer and the Oreo's underneath.  Ooh yeh.

And top with 1 whole Oreo in the center, in case there aren't enough inside…

Let chill in the fridge for a good 2 hours prior to serving..  You want the pudding and Cool Whip to firm back up.  This will taste even better the next day for breakfast. 


Jan 20, 2012

Extra Curricular Activities - Oreo Truffles

Your diet is going to hate this one.  Like REALLY hate it.  But we're not here to talk calories, we're here to discuss OREO'S. 

I came across this recipe at about 4am one night when I couldn't sleep.  We don't have infomercials over here, so what else to do?

This recipe can be thrown together in a snap yet it tastes and looks like you spent hours in the kitchen.  Just don't tell anybody…it's our little secret.  I usually stray away from those 5-ingredient recipes.  I am such a skeptic.  How can something made from so few ingredients taste any good?  No, I much prefer to make a mess in the kitchen and pull out every last ingredient, bowl, strainer, spoon I have.  BUT, after reading all the rave reviews this recipe received I thought, oh why the heck not.  At least it would be cheap to make, it only has 3 ingredients…can't beat that. 

And I must say those 3 key ingredients are all you need here.  Prepare for pure decadence biting into the hard candy shell then sinking your teeth into the velvety, smooth center.  It's a happy little ball of heaven...the Oreo kind anyway.  


1 - 18 oz package Oreo Cookies - NOTE: I actually had to Google 'how many Oreos are in an 18 oz package' because they are sold differently in the middle east than in the states.  Can you flippin' believe I found the answer?  It's 45.  The internet is one smart cookie. 
1 – 8oz container cream cheese (I suggest NOT to use the reduced fat here, it's a bit softer than the original and may not hold up as well)
4 oz white chocolate bark – NOTE: I found this wasn't enough to coat all the truffles so I used half a bag of chocolate chips and a Lindt chocolate bar I found hiding away in the pantry…but then that was TOO much chocolate and I had quite a bit left over so I ended up coating a couple of extra Oreo's.  Be friendly and give them to your neighbor. 
Count out your Oreo's. 1, 2, 3....45 (or just open your 18 oz package if you found one).

Add Oreos to food processor (no need to break them) and blend until fine.

Add cream cheese to oreo crumbles.

Continue to blend until the mixture starts to pull together and form a dough.

Chill mixture in the fridge for 15 minutes then roll into bite-size truffles.  Place on cookie sheet.

Place cookie sheet with truffles in the fridge and chill until very firm.  This is important so the truffles won't lose their shape when covering with the melted chocolate.   

Melt almond bark in microwave according to package directions.  If you're not using bark but rather chocolate chips, microwave in a glass bowl for 30 seconds.  Stir.  Microwave again for 10 seconds and stir again.  Repeat steps until chocolate is smooth and every last chip is melted.   

Dip chilled truffles in melted chocolate using a fork so the chocolate can drip off and set onto waxed paper.  Make sure to really let the chocolate drip otherwise you'll get a 'puddle' around the truffle once it's set.  Sprinkle with crumbled Oreo cookie or using a fork drizzle chocolate on top to give a finished look.  I used semi-sweet chocolate on the white chocolate to give a nice contrast.   Let sit about an hour to firm up.  Try not to eat them all before you show them off to your friends. 


Recipe adapted from Just A Pinch

Jan 19, 2012

Butter 101

I've decided to devote this next blog entry to the King of all Fats, butter.  Nothing quite compares to butter's smooth, velvety flavor and texture, or in culinary terminology its 'mouthfeel' ooh la-la.  The addition of butter is what makes pies flaky, cookies crisp, and well, it just makes everything taste richer. 

And really, it has that effect on all off us. Don't lie.

Hell, Paula Deen is so in love with butter she's created a lip balm flavored after it.


I'm sure many of you out there think 'who needs butter, margarine (which is made from soybean oil) works fine and it's cheaper.' Sure it does the job and is considerably less expensive and not to mention its added health benefits (lower in fat AND zero cholesterol).  BUT if you ever had to wipe your lips after eating a cookie baked with margarine because they are greasy like you kissed an Italian, then margarine is usually your culprit.  (It's okay, I'm Italian I can say that).
But manufactures swear it's tastes like butter...uh huh, oh yeh. 

Let's make some Butta
Briefly we'll discuss the manufacturing of butter; unless you live on a farm you can skip this part.  To begin with, farm-fresh milk is transported into the manufacturing plant and then separated via centrifugal force.  This repetitive action aids in allowing the cream to raise the top of the surface.  The cream is then skimmed off to be pasteurized, removing any harmful bacteria that could be lurking.  It is then left to cool until it reaches 60° Fahrenheit (16° C).  At this point depending on the manufacturer, yellow coloring can sometimes be added.  Next, they get a churnin'. 

No, not like this. 

Big time, like this.   
Industrial churning is done on a massive size scale.  Batches can be anywhere from 1,500 to 5,000 pounds!  Holy pie crust.  Initially, churning produces whipped cream.  Churn churn churn some more you've got buttermilk.  Keep churnin' and eventually butter granules will start to form.  The butter crumbles are then rinsed with cool water and salted if desired.  The butter must still be churned further at this point to remove any excess water from the mixture.  Once it's reached the desired consistency it's sent off to distributors for packaging. 

Voila, smooth as butta.

Not only does butter provide a taste that can't be compared but it has a dual purpose with regards to baking.  Butter offers structure and volume to baked goods.  This typically happens during the creaming process. 

Generally the first step in any recipe that calls for butter and sugar is to cream them together until 'fluffy.'  Well I must say before starting this blog I thought that step lasted 30 seconds or so, or at least until they looked well incorporated.  Oh no no.  You must beat the butter and sugar for a minimum 4 to 6 minutes, wowza.  The time is needed so the sugar will dissolve into the fat and create gaps (air bubbles) into the binding proteins of the butter. These bubbles are what help the cake lift and rise, creating volume.  The baking powder and soda cannot do this alone; they simply enlarge the existing bubbles created during the creaming process.  Cool, I know.
Having the correct temperature butter is crucial to the success of your baked goods.   Using butter at a very cold temperature can be difficult to work with.  Too warm of a temperature and you'll be unable to cream it properly; losing the air bubbles = losing the volume.  Additionally, if you put cookies into a hot oven that are prepared with butter that is too warm they will spread quickly, causing them to become flat.  Always always always refrigerate your dough for a good 30 minutes to 1 hour before putting into the oven.  Likewise, in between batches keep your dough chillin' in the fridge.

Ideal temperature for working with butter (in Fahrenheit):
80 degrees: too hot

50 degrees: too cold
68-72 degree: BINGO!  This is just perfect.  Goldilocks approved.

However keep in mind when preparing delicate crusts for pies, tarts, puff pastry, etc. butter should be very cold.  Basically use it straight out of the fridge.  When baking crusts you want to see those lovely little butter nuggets throughout your dough.  Once in the oven, those cold little bits melt slowly in between the dough creating air pockets.  Air pockets = the flakiness that can be heard when breaking through the crust with your fork (aka lovely little slivers of heaven).     
For most other recipes, butter is to be used at room temperature.  What a nasty little phrase.  Well…room temperature winter, or room temperature summer?  Room temperature with the air conditioning/heater off or on.  I have spoiled countless bowls of frosting due to 'room temperature.'  In Dubai, that can mean something like 80 degrees in the summer.  So forget room temperature, give your butter a little squeeze (go on show it some love).  If the butter gives slightly when you apply pressure (but not mushy) it's ready to go. 

In the US, butter is given a Grade from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) which you've probably seen printed on the box: 

This grade informs the consumer on the quality, taste, and texture of the butter.  The grades range from AA, A, and B.  I've never seen B before.  Maybe it's the stuff they sell at the 99 cent store?
Below are the specifications determined by the USDA:

U.S. Grade AA Butter:   Based on aroma, texture, and flavor. 
  • Delicate, sweet flavor, with a fine, highly pleasing aroma
  • Made from high-quality fresh, sweet cream
  • Smooth, creamy texture with good 'spreadability'
U.S. Grade A Butter: Graded with a score of at least 92 out of 100. Very similar to AA.

  • Pleasing flavor
  • Made from fresh cream
  • Fairly smooth texture
  • Rates close to top grade
U.S. Grade B Butter: Graded with a score of at least 90 out of 100. Typically not used for baking but rather manufacturing.
  • May have slightly acid flavor
  • Readily acceptable to many consumers


Butter is a greedy fat and likes to absorb the odors around it.  Be sure to wrap tightly in plastic wrap and keep in the butter bin in your fridge…if you've got one.  You can also easily store them in zip lock bags.  Just make sure it's zipped.  Husband, this means you.
You can also freeze butter for up to six months.  However it should be used immediately after thawing.





Jan 10, 2012

Extra Curricular Activities - Classic Thumbprint Cookies

Happy 2012!  And with the start of a new year, here is a Christmas cookie recipe…doh!  Well I certainly had good intentions of getting this recipe out to you before the holiday, but time was just not on my side.  In less than two weeks we traveled to both Lebanon and the US to visit our families for Christmas, so needless to say I got sidetracked…then jet lagged. 

But the good news is this cookie recipe is a classic and can really be made any time of the year.  For my family however, the Thumbprint Cookie was a Christmas staple.  My Grandmother made these every year and quite honestly as I child I was never interested in them.  I think the jam threw me off.  I was much more interested in chocolate and candy and anything overly processed. 
However as I grew older I really learned to love these little gems.  Not only do they look fabulous but the combination of the buttery crisp cookie, crunch of the toasted pecans and the sweet bite of the jam is a winning combo for any picky palette.

You'll notice that the recipe calls for 'butter flavored' Crisco.  God I know it sounds awful if you're not familiar with it.  I can't imagine that any top pastry chef would use something described as 'butter flavored' but trust me just go with it.  As I mentioned, this is an American classic cookie and sometimes you just have to follow the recipe, at least for traditions sake.  If you cannot find Crisco, you can easily substitute butter if you wish.  The substitution swap is equal, I cup Crisco = I cup butter.

Classic Thumbprint Cookies

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup Crisco Butter Flavored Shortening
3 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups finely chopped pecans (toast in oven prior to chopping, 5-7 minutes at 350 degrees)
1 cup preserves, your choice (I used 1/2 cup blackberry and 1/2 cup apricot to have two different fillings)

Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Adjust rack to middle position. Coat two cookie sheets lightly with non-stick cooking spray.
Beat brown sugar and shortening in medium bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed for 2 minutes or until fluffy.

Scrape down sides of bowl. Add egg yolks, water, vanilla and salt.  Beat until well combined.  

Add flour on low speed until well blended.

 Beat egg whites in a shallow bowl until foamy.

Now you'll want to set up yourself an assembly line.  One bowl cookie dough, one bowl egg whites, and one bowl chopped pecans.  Have your greased cookie sheet handy since things are about to get sticky.

Measure about 2 teaspoons dough for each cookie.  I pre-rolled all the balls before I dipped them since your hands will get messy with the eggs/nuts.

Dip each dough ball into egg whites, then roll into pecans.  I suggest using one hand to dip into the egg whites and your other hand for the pecans.  Place on prepared cookie sheet.

Using the back of a teaspoon or your thumb, make a rounded indentation in the top of each cookie.  Don't worry if the sides crack as shown here.  Just go back and pinch them together. 

Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven.  As you can see the cookies puff up while baking and you may need to create the indentation once again with a spoon.

Have your jam ready and place about 1 teaspoon preserves into the indentation of each cookie.

Bake an additional 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven. Cool on baking sheet for several minutes. Remove to wire rack to cool completely.

adapted from Crisco