Holiday Baking: Caramel Apple Fantans

So, here’s the thing.  I like Fall.  But, I don’t love Fall.  I love Spring.  I just feel like I needed to throw that out there.  I enjoy the cooler weather and all, but let’s face it… it’s just not that much cooler in southwest Florida.  It was like 87 degrees the day I made these fantans.  In November.  Of course, since I’m saying that, the low tomorrow is supposed to be 40 and the high on Thanksgiving is like 65.  It will be the coldest Thanksgiving we’ve had in maybe 10 years.  Don’t worry, we’ll still go to the beach and play bocce ball.  Because that’s just what we do in Florida on holidays.

The one thing I actually do love about Fall is the seasonal baking.  In all reality, you can bake with apples and pumpkin (albeit canned, but who purees their own fresh pumpkin for pumpkin pie these days?) all year.  I’m assuming that up north, where the seasons actually change, warm apples and pumpkin deliciousness make everybody feel a little warmer.  Here, it’s partly an excuse to make it feel like the season has changed… and mostly to get us more in the mood for something completely awesome: Thanksgiving and Christmas!  Which, to me, means time with awesome family!  Bah!  All of a sudden SO excited for Thanksgiving!

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Okay, to the task at hand.  My contribution for Turkey Day is always these Pumpkin Whoopie Pies, which are dessert for the Thanksgiving Eve festivities (yes, we have those at our house and they usually involve deep frying anything we can get our hands on, including whoopie pies) and then usually breakfast for T-Day morning.  This year, I’m adding these amaze-balls Caramel Apple Fantans.  They take a while to make, but each step in the process is relatively easy, and the end result is worth.it.  Promise.  They are pull apart, sticky, sugary, apply delicious.  If you don’t have time for Thanksgiving, they would be great for Christmas, too!  And, AND, you can make them ahead of time (sans caramel).  They freeze really well… just make the caramel right before you serve ’em.  Please excuse the lighting in the photos… I made these at night, because that’s when I have time to bake with a newborn.

Here’s what you need: (Adapted from Southern Living)
Makes 12 – allow yourself a total of 3 hours, an hour of which is hands on

For the dough:

  • 1 (1/4-oz.) envelope active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (105° to 115°)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

For the filling:

  • 9 tablespoons butter, softened and divided
  • 3 cups peeled and diced baking apples… I used Envy, but you can use Braeburn, Gala, Honeycrisp, etc.  Envys are huge, so I only used 2 apples
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans (optional… I didn’t use nuts)

For the caramel glaze:

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

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To prepare your dough, combine yeast, water and the teaspoon of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and let sit for about 5 minutes.  Using the paddle attachment, stir in egg, the 1/4 cup sugar, butter, salt and 1 1/2 cups bread flour.  Beat on medium for about a minute or so.  Gradually add in the whole wheat flour and enough of the remaining bread flour to make a soft dough.  Turn the dough out on a bread-floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic… somewhere between 5-10 minutes… sprinkling with bread flour as needed.    Put dough ball into a lightly grease bowl and turn once to grease all sides.  Cover loosely with plastic and let rise in a warm place for 45-55 minutes, until doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, prepare the filling.  In a large skillet on medium-high, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter.  Add apples, raisins and brown sugar.  Saute about 5 minutes, until the apples are tender but still slightly crisp.  Remove from heat and let cool completely… at least 30 minutes.

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Punch your dough down and turn back out onto floured surface.  Roll to a 20″ x 12″ rectangle.  Spread remaining 8 tablespoons of butter evenly onto surface.  Mix together 3/4 cup sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle/spread over butter.  Spread apple mixture onto surface.

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Pay attention here:  Cut dough into 5 (12″ x 4″) strips and stack, replacing any apple mixture back onto the dough.  Then, cut into 6 (4″ x 2″) rectangles.  THEN, cut those rectangles in half so that you have 12 (2″ x 2″) squares.

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Stuff each set of squares sideways into cups of a greased muffin pan (cut sides up).  Cover loosely with plastic and let rise about 45 minutes – 1 hour, until dough has risen 3/4″ above pan.  Preheat oven to 375 and bake 18-20 minutes, until deep golden brown.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack.  You’re supposed to remove the fantans after 5 minutes and let cool completely on a wire rack, but mine started falling apart, so I let them completely cool on a plate.

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For the glaze, bring butter and brown sugar to boil in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Boil for 1 minute, remove from heat and drizzle over rolls.  As I said before, the pre-glazed rolls freeze well.  The post-glazed rolls refrigerate well, also!  Enjoy!

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Holiday Cookie Series: Orange Almond Lace Cookies

I first made these cookies like 5 years ago.  Ever since then, my coworkers have asked me to make them again every single year.  And every year I oblige.  Because they are different.  And delicious.  And easy.  And festive.  I’m not quite sure how they’re festive, but they are.  Just trust me on this.

Here’s what you need: (adapted from epicurious.com)

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped almonds (I use a food processor)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest (or the zest from 1 orange)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Preheat your oven to 325 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (a must!!).  Melt the butter over medium-low in a saucepan.  Once melted, remove from heat and add everything but the egg, mixing with a spoon until just incorporated.  Add the egg and mix well.

Add batter by the spoonful onto parchment paper lined baking sheets, leaving 3 inches or so in between each cookie.  These babies spread out quite a bit.  Bake for 13-17 minutes.  You want them to be browned… but once they start to brown, they’ll burn pretty quickly, so keep an eye on them.  Transfer paper to wire racks and let cool completely.

See, wasn’t that easy?  These cookies will last for a week in an airtight container with wax paper in between each layer at room temperature.

Holiday Cookie Series: Palmiers

One of my all time favorite cookies to make (and eat!) are these Lemon Rosemary Palmiers.  I blogged about them several years ago, so I’m going to repeat the instructions here today.  Seriously, they are delicious.  Well worth a spot in the Holiday Cookie Series.

Palmiers are fun because you can really fill them with just about anything.  Here is a recipe/how-to for Chocolate Orange Palmiers as well.

Puff pastry embedded with sugar and delicious flavors?  Yes, please!  They come out crispy and flaky and sometimes just a little bit chewy when you get to a good cooked sugar-filled pocket.

They are also incredibly easy to make.  The perfect oh-crap-I-need-to-make-cookies-and-I-don’t-have-time cookies.  For a long time, I kept puff pastry dough in my freezer just in case I needed to make a quick batch.

Coming up next… Almond Lace Cookies!

Holiday Cookie Series: Chocolate Pepper Sable

My hometown newspaper is doing this Cookie Swap thing this year, which is actually kind of cool.  You submit your holiday cookie recipes to their website, which they will publish online.  They’ll pick their favorites and publish them in the Food & Wine section of the paper.  And then, readers can vote for their favorites, with the winners receiving cookbooks or something like that.  Anywho, the kickoff of this swap started in this week’s edition of Food & Wine with some really different holiday cookie ideas.

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I saw these Chocolate Pepper Sables and immediately wanted to try them.  I love cookies that have unexpected ingredients… my favorite chocolate chip cookie has sesame seeds and soy sauce.  Hubby thinks I’m crazy (he’s not a fan).  He was a little more than unsure about the outcome of a cookie with black pepper in it, but in the end he decided that they were “really good!”  At least, that’s what he texted me.  And he’s also sitting next to me at this very moment eating one.  Or two.  If you didn’t know there was pepper, you might not be able to discern what that tingling is on your tongue.  However, if you do know about the pepper, you can taste it.  There is an undeniable kick and peppery aftertaste that really compliments the sweetness and the chocolate.

This recipe kicks off a little Holiday Cookie Series that I’m going to do over the next couple of weeks.  Though this cookie is new to me, the rest of the series will focus on my the cookies that I make every holiday season.  Enjoy!

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Here’s what you need: (adapted from a recipe I found in the paper that doesn’t credit anybody)

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup finely chopped chocolate or mini-chocolate chips (I used some leftover bittersweet discs)

Ignore that there isn’t granulated sugar in that picture up there… I remembered I needed it just in the nick of time.

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Heat your oven to 350 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Combine flour, cocoa powder, pepper, and baking soda… whisk together.  Side note: I only had about 1/3 cup cocoa powder (eek!), so I threw a couple of squares of unsweetened baker’s chocolate (finely chopped first) into the food processor.  It took quite awhile to get enough ground down fine enough (I used a sifter), but I think the last minute substitute worked pretty well.  Later, I looked at the baker’s chocolate box and noticed it said that 1 square = 3 tablespoons cocoa powder + 1 tablespoon oil.  Score.

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In a mixing bowl, put butter, both sugars, vanilla and salt.  Beat on medium until light & fluffy.  Gradually add flour mixture and continue to beat just until a dough forms, scraping down sides with a spatula as needed.

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Mix in the chocolate pieces or chocolate chips.

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Form dough into 1 inch balls with your hands (about 36 balls) and place about 2 inches apart on baking sheets.  The recipe says to use a flat-bottomed glass to flatten each cookie, but that didn’t work for me.  The glass kept sticking.  I even tried oil spray, but no worky.  In the end, I used my hands to flatten each cookie.  Much better.

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Bake on 350 for 12-15 minutes, or until no longer wet looking.  Cool on the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Halloween 2012: The Recap

Halloween this year was beyond awesome.  Bugger totally got into it and it was so much fun to watch him enjoy himself that much.  He’s usually a pretty social kid (and by pretty social I mean he says “HI!” to everybody), and he was totally in his element all day long!  We started out the day at his preschool’s little Halloween parade, which was super cute.  Walking into the building he told every single person that we walked by, “I’nna fireman!!!”  He had this huge smile the whole parade.  I dub that a major step, considering that last year we had a hard time getting him to wear his costume for more than 5 minutes.

It turns out that our next door neighbor (Zach) and one of Eli’s favorite buddies from our neighborhood mom’s group (Isaac) were also fire fighters for Halloween!  So, we got all three boys together for a picture… along with Trax & Xena the fire dogs and, of course, Hubby as fire.  Isaac diligently tried to put the Hubby fire out, while Bug was really more worried about the dogs than anything.  Funny guys.

We had lots of friends come to our annual Halloween party.  It was so cute to see all the little ones in their costumes… and awesome to see the few adults who dressed up as well!  I think next year we might make it a requirement for everyone to come in costume!  I think my favorite costumers were our buddy Grady as a miniature Mr. 2-Bits (it’s a Gator thing) and Madison’s little brother Christoper as a turkey.  If you knew baby Christopher, you’d understand why it is the perfect costume for that turkey of a child.  Our neighborhood was so crazy that the line to get in the gate took anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour to get through.  Holy cow, trick-or-treaters!

We took the kids down our street trick-or-treating.  Bug kept saying, “Candy, peese!” instead, but at least he said thank you without prompting!  At the end of the night, we hung out the house and played until all of the little ones went home.  Bug got to wear Namaw’s (my mom) princess crown, which has now become one of his favorite dress up items.

All-in-all, I’d say it was a successful Halloween!

Crafts for Toddlers: Painting Pumpkins 2012

First… HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!  (Or, as Bug says, Happy How-ween!)

Last year, I had the bright idea to let Bug paint some pumpkins for not only decoration, but also as a fun activity that might occupy his little mind for more than 3 minutes.  I am aware that this was not a novel idea, but I was pretty excited about it nonetheless.


I am happy to say that we have now, by doing it two years in a row, made painting pumpkins a tradition in our household.  Something fun about this year was that Bug got to pick out his own pumpkin.  He was really excited about that.  And, this year, painting said “punkin” occupied Bug for more like twenty minutes… and that was only with one pumpkin as opposed to the two he painted last year in five minutes flat.

Have a toddler?  Get out some paint and a brush, buy a little pumpkin and let the kid go to town.

DIY Firefighter Costume

First off, before we talk about the costume, let’s have a little chat about Halloween.  You see, we live in what you could call a retirement community.  By that, I mean that the median age in our city is upwards of 65.  That being said, we live in one of the only neighborhoods in our area that is comprised largely of young families with children.  In addition to that fact, our neighborhood also has street lights and nice, wide sidewalks on both sides of every street.  I think that every child in the city of Venice comes to our neighborhood to trick-or-treat.  Hundreds of children.  And that is no exaggeration.  Last year, we handed out fifteen large bags of candy.  FIFTEEN.  We would have handed out more, but we ran out.

Because everyone comes to our neighborhood anyways, Hubby & I have a Halloween party every year.  We invite all of our friends with children (and friends without children!) to come over, eat pizza, drink beer and take the kiddos trick-or-treating.  (If you are my friend in real life and you have children and I forgot to invite you, it is merely because I am a space cadet.  Please feel free to come!)  We just ask that our friends bring a bag of candy to the party, because otherwise we would go broke in order to appease the children of Venice.

Ok, so now on to the costume.  Bug asked to be a fireman for “how-ween” (too cute) this year.  I looked for a firefighter costume for him, but couldn’t find any in his size.  I don’t really like ordering costumes online because I’m worried about size & materials.  It is usually hot as crap for Halloween, so I didn’t want to order a crappy plastic firefighter costume for $30 and have him be burning up inside of it… or it end up being way too big.  So, I decided to be Super Mom and make it.  I have to say, it turned out pretty darn cute.  Also, he’s two, so he doesn’t really care if it doesn’t look EXACTLY like a real firefighter’s uniform.

Here’s what you need:

  • Red jacket or zip-up sweatshirt.  I found one for $8 at Target… it’s a hoodie, but that’s ok.
  • Red pants.  I found red athletic pants for $5 at Target.
  • Black duct tape
  • Silver duct tape (you could silver & yellow or black & yellow, too, but I couldn’t find yellow)
  • Firefighter hat (free from your local fire station!)
  • Fire Department “patch.”  I Googled “firefighter patch” on Google images and printed one out on cardstock.
  • Black rain boots (I couldn’t find any in his size, so we are forgoing the boots… his pants cover his feet anyways)

All in all, with the tape, I spent $20 on Eli’s costume.

With the black duct tape, make a strip down the side of each pant leg.  I used two pieces of tape, the second halfway overlapping the first, so that it would be wider than the silver that goes on top.  Make a single strip of silver tape over the top of the black.  Do the same thing around the cuff of each pant leg, the bottom hem of the jacket, the middle of the jacket, and around each jacket sleeve.

Cut out the fire department patch.  I taped duct tape to the back of the patch before I cut it out just so it wouldn’t rip once on the costume.  Then, make a piece of double sided duct tape and tape it onto the jacket.  Super easy, and I think it turned out pretty cute!  And, Bug is super excited about it!  He keeps wanting to try it on, and then take it off after like 2 minutes because he doesn’t want it to “get dwoty” (dirty) before “How-ween.”

What are your kids going to be for Halloween?

Bug’s 2nd Birthday

Holy crap, people.  Bug is TWO.  There are moments when I can’t believe that he’s been in our lives for two whole years already.  Then, there are moments when I feel like he’s always been with us.  There are moments when he still looks like a baby.  Then, there are (increasingly more) moments when he looks like such a big kid.  Those last four sentences couldn’t have been more cliche.  Sorry.

I think that Bug had a pretty darn good birthday.  Lucky for him, his birthday fell on a Saturday.  Actually, he could really care less at this age what day his birthday falls on.  We started the day by letting him open gifts from family.  His big gifts were a T-Ball Set and a Basketball Hoop.  Bug is a big fan of both.

For his party, we threw his two main loves into one… a sports themed pool party.  (I almost wrote poo party.  Ha.)  I was super excited to make football, basketball and baseball cupcakes for my little man.  Bug was also a big fan of these puppies.  **Side note: buttercream frosting is TOUGH in hot, humid Florida.  That’s why it looks so darn shiny.  Argh.**

We had a few of Buggy’s little friends over to our community pool, where we grilled out, swam and played in the fountain area.  Hubby set up a little area with the basketball hoop, golf clubs & t-ball, plus every ball that we own.

Bug boy had so much fun showing off his swimming skills and hanging out with everybody that he loves.  Oh, and he got to eat 2 cupcakes.  That was pretty much the highlight of his day.

We had a football pinata, which was awesome at first.  Bug totally got that you took hits at the football with a bat.  However, Bug totally did NOT get that the football was going to bust open.  That was very upsetting to him.  I don’t have a picture of him crying when the football got destroyed, but trust that he was in tears.  Poor thing.  That was not the highlight of his day.  He did enjoy the m&ms that came out, though.

We ended the day with a good, long nap, followed by more gift opening, playing in the sweet airplane tent from Scary Uncle Adam, dinner & the Lion King.  I’m tellin’ ya… pretty much the best 2-year old birthday ever.

Memorial Day

K, so I’m working today while a good majority of the country has the day off.  I have no complaints about that.  Sure, today is a good day for grilling and boating and sunshine and friends.  But, most importantly, today is a day to remember our soldiers.  The men & women who have given their lives so that ours could and can continue to be free.  The men & women who are still willing to give their lives so that we can grill and boat and enjoy sunshine and friends.  So, I don’t mind that I have to work today, because it gives me a chance to remember that I am allowed the opportunity to work a job that I love.

Also, I get off at 5 (early for me!) and get to grill out on the beach with family & friends.  Woot!  Happy Memorial Day!

The Obligatory Easter Post 2012

Easter pretty much dominated our weekend… as it should have, because, well, Easter is pretty darn important.  Jesus rose from the dead, people… kind of a big deal.  I don’t really talk about my faith on this here blog, and I’m not going to get into it now either.  Just know that I love Jesus and do my best to have a heart for Him.

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Onto our weekend of festivities.  I managed to forget my real camera all weekend, so all of these kind of fuzzy pictures are from my phone.  Saturday, we went to Buggy’s school, which also happens to be our church, for an Easter egg hunt.  They lots of crafts set up for the kids, which was very fun.  Bug’s favorite was the sugar cookie that he got to decorate.  And eat.  Hence the chocolate frosting all over his face.  He was sweet enough to share bites with Momma & Daddy.

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They also had a bounce house set up, which was awesome, obvi.  This was Bug’s 2nd time in a bounce house (3rd if you count the first time, where he freaked and immediately got out) and after a couple moments of trepidation, he was all about it.  That sweet little thing in pink next to him is one of his buddies from preschool.  There were a bunch of kids from his class there, which Bug loved.  It is so cute to when these little guys see each other outside of their classroom setting.  They all get SO EXCITED.

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They had egg hunts set up for different age groups, which was great, because Bug is not the fastest egg collector.  Each egg he picked up, he opened to make sure there was a treat inside, then he’d close it back up and put it in his basket.  It took us 10 minutes to get 10 eggs.  One of his classmates starting bringing him eggs from her basket, because she had so many it was overflowing.

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Sunday morning, we dressed Bug in the cutest, sweetest, most preppy outfit ever and headed to church.  We (including my parents) then spent the afternoon at my in-laws, complete with Honey Baked Ham for lunch.  The Easter bunny didn’t come to our house… he went to Nana & Pop’s house instead.  Here’s what was in Bug’s Easter basket (which was a compilation from Easter bunny Nana, Easter bunny Grandma & Easter bunny Momma):

  • Cars
  • Easter Cookies
  • Squirt gun noodles
  • And M&M fan
  • Bubbles
  • Curious George Coloring Book
  • Curious George Easter Book
  • Mercer Mayer Easter Book
  • Jelly Bean filled Elmo eggs
  • Golf Clubs
  • Sports Elmo (not pictured)

Dude. Made. Out.  We tried to keep it low on the sugary stuff, which was a good plan, except for Bug spent the rest of the day sticking his little hand into OUR baskets for jelly beans!

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The M&M fan blew his mind.  Ha.  Pun not intended.  Until I realized that I made a pun… so I guess it remains intended.

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Bug’s a big Elmo fan and also a big sports fan, so this is a perfect first Elmo doll for him.  It has shapes and colors on the shirt and sings a little song about them.  We only had to play the song 27 times today.

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The big Easter basket hit was the golf clubs, which the Easter bunny might have picked up at Walmart for SIX DOLLARS.  Not even on sale!  Only thing is, Bug insists on calling it baseball.  We’re working on it.

The only thing we didn’t do was dye Easter eggs.  I bought the stuff to do it, but we never got a chance this past week.  Whoopsies.

What did you do for Easter?