I decided it was time to upgrade a few things in the kitchen. 

First, I asked my mother for a new collection of plates.  I have plenty of plates, but they’re mostly all white, and none of them ever look very interesting in pictures.  She found all kinds of interesting colors and patterns, and most of them will show up here over the next few months.

Next, I bought myself some new lights for the kitchen as an after-Christmas present.  And Mike got a new camera, so I inherited his old SLR.

Once I had everything assembled and organized, it was time to bake some cookies and take some pictures.

These are cornmeal cookies.  My mother made them all the time when I was growing up.  

Cornmeal Cookies

They’re a very simple cookie – cream some butter and sugar, add an egg and some vanilla, then mix in the flour, baking powder, and cornmeal. 

These come out best if you use a coarse cornmeal, like you’d put in cornbread.  If you use a very finely-ground cornmeal, you’ll lose the texture that makes them unique (it’s hard to describe, but the best word I can find is “rustic”), and you’ll just have a slightly-odd sugar cookie.

They were very good, and the texture made for an interesting picture.  I’m still trying to get everything set up quite right (the background wasn’t really purple!), but I’ll just have to keep baking cookies to take pictures of until I get it right!

( see the recipe )

(The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.)

I’m never good at artistic Daring Bakers recipes, so I put this one off until the end of the month.  The idea was simple – make a decorated sponge cake to wrap around a filling.  The recipe called for almond flour in the cake, so I figured a cherry mousse would be the perfect filling. 

And if the center was going to be cherry, then the design on the cake should also be cherries. 

I started by mixing up a half batch of the Joconde Paste.  It was very simple – some butter, some sugar, a lot of eggs, and a bit of flour.  I used my good gel candy colors to get a bright red and green:

Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet

Piping it was fun and easy.  I laid out two long rows of cherries for the “wrappers”, and a few more because I had more room left. 

They went in the freezer for 15 minutes to solidify, so they wouldn’t get distorted when I poured the cake over them.

Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet

The sponge cake was easy, too.  Cake and almond flour, more eggs (the entire recipe took 13 eggs, 10 of them whites only, so I have 10 egg yolks in the fridge waiting for a use), a bit of sugar.

The eggs got beaten into a foam, then folded back into the batter.   I was careful not to deflate the eggs, but my sponge came out a bit thick.  A bit more melted butter would have helped, but I didn’t realize it was too thick until it was baked – and by then, I was out of eggs.

My pretty piped cherries flatted a bit after baking, and Mike thought they looked more like Christmas tree lights.  I just don’t have the artistic gene.

Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet

I used some small Corning Ware bowls for molds.  My sponge was thick enough that a biscuit-sized version wouldn’t have had enough room for filling, but I thought a springform-pan sized one might lack structural stability.

I cut the wrapper too short on the first one:

Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet

But I got the second one right.  I think if the sponge had been warmer, the ends would have stuck together better, but they did okay even cold.  I should have used a ruler and pizza cutter to get the edges more straight.

Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet

I filled the center with a basic cherry mousse – some whipped cream and a bag of chopped frozen cherries.  It would have been improved with a bit of almond extract.   You can see that the wrapper came a bit unstuck, but it held together. 

Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet

This wasn’t really part of the challenge, but I took some of the random bits and make little “sandwich cakes” with them.  These little ones would have made great finger food for a party, maybe with a very firm pastry cream inside.

Daring Bakers: Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet

All in all, it was a fun challenge.  Next time I’ll make sure to spread the sponge thinner, and think more carefully about how the backside of the decorations will come out.

Or maybe I’ll just wait for the holidays, and then the Christmas tree light design will be perfect!

( see the cake recipes )

( see the mousse recipe )

Every year, when the holidays are approaching, I take Mike to the grocery store.  We get to the dairy case, and he spots the eggnog.  I look at the quantity of eggnog he’s holding, and I say, “Are you really going to drink that much eggnog?”.

And every year, two weeks after Christmas, I clean out the fridge, and in the back corner I find an entirely unopened bottle of eggnog.

I had 2 days before it expired, so I started looking around for recipes.  It’s easy to find recipes to make your own eggnog, but not quite so easy to find recipes to use up the eggnog you already have.

I found two that looked good.  This is the first one – it’s just a simple bread pudding, with eggnog as the custard.  I happened to have half a loaf of bread on the counter, and I can’t turn down a recipe that uses up two leftover ingredients.

Eggnog Bread Pudding

It starts with dried cranberries reconstituted in liquid.  The recipe calls for brandy or bourbon, but a very good quality apple cider works just as well if you want a non-alcoholic version.  I didn’t have cranberries, so I used raisins.

Then the bread gets cubed and put in a big bowl.  2 cups of eggnog gets mixed with a few more eggs, some milk,  a bit of sugar, some vanilla and some nutmeg.

Once the liquid comes together, pour it over the bread, add the fruit, mix well, and pour into a 9×9 pan. 

Bake for almost an hour.  This will make the entire house smell like eggnog.

I missed the instructions to sprinkle sugar over the top before baking, so I added some when it came out of the oven.  It really didn’t need it

Eggnog Bread Pudding

All in all, a very good bread pudding.  The eggnog wasn’t over whelming, but it was noticeable. I doubled the nutmeg from the original recipe, and it still could have used a bit more, so I updated it to call for a full teaspoon, and that should bring out the eggnog a bit more.

The other recipe I found?  Dump one quart eggnog and some nutmeg (to taste) in your ice cream maker, then freeze.  That only leaves me with two more cups to use up!

( see the recipe )