Thursday, December 24, 2015

Throwback Post: Muse, Thy Name is Chocolate

Hello all! Time for a Christmas special throwback post! I got about 90% through writing this post back in June so I finished it up and now you get to enjoy a somewhat harrowing kitchen adventure. This time, we return to an oldie but a goodie: the Death by Chocolate cookbook. Do you even remember the last time I made a recipe from that cookbook? I can't either! But I know it was delicious! In fact, I've never made a bad recipe from that book. So, to reground my baking efforts, I return to my tried and true love: chocolate.

Ok, maybe it wasn't an effort to reground my baking efforts. Maybe it was more like I had to bake a birthday cake for my husband's birthday dinner and I stupidly handed him a random cookbook and said "Pick a cake!" So I suppose it's my own fault that he picked the Chocolate Espresso Fudge Cake from the Death By Chocolate cookbook. So there I was, the morning of the dinner with both our families and I had to a) bake a cake b) prepare for a chicken parm dinner for seven people and c) clean my house because it was a complete disaster mess. Oh yeah, did I mention that my husband picked a cake that takes around five hours to make? Ready, Set, Go!

At about 7:30 in the morning, I headed to my friendly neighborhood Big Y to pick up the ingredients. I checked my supplies in advance so I only needed a few things. Or so I thought. I started out with melting a bunch of chocolate in my double boiler. This cookbook always recommends covering the top of the double boiler with plastic wrap to melt the chocolate, which is a nice trick that I usually forget. Only problem is that sometimes the edges of the plastic wrap sort of melt onto the double boiler itself. Oops. Not too big a deal though - just a burn-y smell and a bigger pain to clean. While that was melting, I commenced creaming the butter and brown sugar. One problem. My brown sugar hardened. Like, a lot. I keep it in a big container with a brown sugar terra cotta bear that usually keeps it soft so I didn't even think about it. But there it was, in a hardened brick in my container. It was so hard, I couldn't even chip at it with a knife. Hmm.

Creative solution time! I wasn't about to go out to the store because that's nonsense. Instead, I covered my plastic container back up and started to run hot water over the sides to try to soften it away. While this was happening, I prepared my baking pans for the cake. The recipe wanted me to use melted butter to grease the pans and then flour the pans with cake flour. I was so pissed about the brown sugar that I was already ready to defy the recipe and just used Crisco. It took probably half the time to do that and I doubt it made any difference. So for the next half hour, I alternated heating the brown sugar and chipping pieces away with a spoon. When I finally got what I thought was enough brown sugar for the recipe, I put it in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel and microwaved it for about 30 seconds. This softened it up perfectly. Except I had totally only gotten enough for half of the brown sugar I needed. UGGGGGGHHHHHHHH! Recommencing heating brown sugar container.

So things didn't start well. But after I got all my brown sugar (and a sore hand), I creamed the sugar and butter, added the eggs, then added the melted chocolate and vanilla. Not too hard. I then had to boil a cup of water to add to the recipe (that's another pot to clean, fyi) and add the cake flour and other dry ingredients. Oh yeah, and sour cream. Can't forget that. That's the secret to moist cakes, after all! Put in pans, put in oven, bing, bang, boom. Wash tools and get to work on the next phase.

The next phase includes making a chocolate espresso buttercream and an espresso ganache. Halfway through making this recipe, I decided to read the margin notes. My, how I love this cookbook and the author who waxes poetic about everything. Here are some excerpts from the margin notes for this recipe: "My olfactory senses have been put in high gear by walking by espresso bars in Auckland, Berkeley, Paris, and especially in tiny alcoves on crowded streets in Florence and Palermo. It would be over-romanticizing to say that the best espresso is made in Italy [when has that ever stopped him from over-romanticizing???], but then again the Italians are known for romance....This is the buttercream from hell if you have to prepare it - but buttercream from heaven when you eat it!" I'm so glad I read this when I was halfway through making the buttercream.

The ganache part was super easy with the exception of the instant espresso powder. Because I didn't have any. I did however have instant coffee powder so I just used that and called it a day. The buttercream on the other hand, was a bit of a pain. Heat chocolate, easy. By the way, it's worth pointing out at this point that there was an awful lot of chocolate in this cake. 22 ounces. That's kind of crazy. Again, no espresso powder here so I had to substitute instant coffee powder. I feel a bit bad about that. Next step, beat a pound of butter in the mixer. Yes, a pound. Yes, butter was flying out of my mixer. Really wish I had gotten that bigger mixer. After beating the pound of butter, I transferred it to a bowl. Wait, really? I just dirtied my KitchenAid to beat butter? I didn't even add anything to it? This recipe is nonsense.

Then I had to heat egg whites and sugar in a double boiler. For those keeping track, this is now the fourth time I'm using my double boiler in this recipe. Then I had to gently whisk until the egg whites reached a temperature of 120 degrees. No, I didn't check. I just went with 3-5 minutes. Then I had to transfer to my KitchenAid bowl (which I had to clean the butter out of) and whip those egg whites into a frenzy before folding the butter, egg whites, and chocolate together. What a pain. But fine, whatever, time to assemble!

I was starting to feel the time pressure now but the assembly wasn't too bad. I was directed to assemble the cake inside a springform pan and to slice each cake in half so I would have four layers. Assembly was easy and I tossed the cake back into the fridge to chill.

Now the finishing touches. I had to frost the cake with the remaining buttercream and then pipe decoration with the remaining ganache and buttercream. It recommended alternating buttercream and ganache rings on the top of the cake which looked quite lovely. And then, drama. I had a nice cake stand that I put the cake on but in the process, the bottom of the springform pan (and hence the whole cake) nearly slid off the stand! I balanced it just in time though so we didn't have a smashed cake. (I'll tell you now though, the next day when I took the cake out of the fridge to cut another slice, the base of the stand actually cracked off and the cake went flying. Amazingly enough, I actually caught the cake. But I was really pissed that my cake stand broke.)

Anyway, this cake was very tasty and very rich and not too shabby in terms of decoration. But it sure was a headache. Next time, I pick the birthday dessert!

Oh, and I'm not going to blog about this one, but I made panda birthday cupcakes for my sister. Here's a few pictures because they're adorable.

Special and exciting Christmas desserts post coming soon! Merry Christmas everyone!

A Disney Moment: Meet the Robinsons

I did not care for this movie. Halfway through it, I had no idea what was going on. Since I'm writing this so late, I don't really remember anything about it (unfortunately) but I do remember it was my least favorite in this group. There's a time machine and a bowler hat and if I recall correctly, things get timey-wimey but in general, it just wasn't for me. Eh, nuff said. We all know we're just waiting for the final verdict on what the best Disney movie of all is so we'll just move it along. It's clearly not this one. 5/5.

A Disney Moment: Bolt
Ah, my love of cartoon dogs. It ends here with Bolt. I didn't like Bolt. This was my first time seeing Bolt and it was largely forgettable. I remember that Bolt thought he had super powers and I remember Penny missed Bolt and there was a big fire and a superbark. After that, I'm out. I remember thinking that it felt like a strange cross between Oliver and Company and Homeward Bound but lacked some of the charm. It just felt very predictable in terms of plot. I think that's why I liked Chicken Little better. But maybe I'm not really remembering correctly. Who knows? This one earned a 4/5 and thank goodness, we're coming to actual good movies again!

Monday, December 21, 2015

I Hate this Pastry Bag

This adventure is brought to you by running out of cookies to bring to a Christmas party. Yes, seriously. After divvying up the many cookies, I realized that I didn't have quite enough to bring to a Christmas party. The obvious solution? Make a croquembouche, of course! The idea for this dessert came from two places: first, it was one of the challenges on Master Chef Junior and I figured that if children could do it, I surely could as well and second, my mom got a lovely dessert stand as a gift that honestly looks like it is meant to hold a croquembouche (and nothing else).

What is a croquembouche, you ask? Well, friends, it's a tower of cream puffs held together with caramel and decorated with spun caramel. It's just a lovely and festive dessert. And, conveniently enough, my mom was going to help me bake it! She's so nice. The plan was for me to make the cream puff shells the day before in CT and bring them to NJ for filling and assembly. Long story short: I didn't. No excuses here, just didn't do it. So I got to NJ around 2:00 needing to make the shells, the cream (which has to chill for 2 hours), the caramel, and then assemble everything by 7:00. No pressure, right? Oh, and if you're wondering why I got such a late start, it's because I saw Star Wars at 8:30 am. No regrets - we only paid $14 for 2 tickets.

So, it's possible that when I arrived, my mom got a bit frustrated with me for not telling her that I didn't make the shells but hey, that makes things more interesting, right? We were racing against the clock! We got to work on the pastry cream first since that needed to chill for 2 hours. And by "we" I definitely mean my mom. I'm not sure I did anything with that pastry cream except hand my mom ingredients and bowls and read the directions out loud. But my track record with custard is not the best so I was happy to cede control to my mom. Eventually, the custard started custard-ing and looked very nice so into the fridge it went. We did taste a bit before chilling and it seemed awfully sweet. Oh, I should mention that the recipe called for a really really tall croquembouche and we weren't doing that so we halved the recipe. Dividing by 2 is hard! At one point, we had to figure out the conversion for 1/3 cup to tablespoons because we don't have a 1/6 cup measure. If memory serves, it was 3 tbsp + 1 tsp so dividing by 2 made it 1.5 tbsp + 1/2 tsp. It was a lot of math and a lot of looking for the right measuring instruments. 

Custard in the fridge, time to go buy a Christmas tree! Yes, in the middle of baking, we had to go get a Christmas tree and carry it in and set it up. While I was putting water in the tree stand, my mom basically finished the dough for the pastry shells. I'm not sure I baked any of this dessert. Hmm. Anyway, I took charge of setting up the pastry bag. I hate this pastry bag. There's no other way to say it. It's the worst. It's a slippery, stiff, plastic-y bag that is hard to work with and always makes a mess. Also, I spent at least 5 minutes trying to put the piping tip on which was IMPOSSIBLE. At one point the tip flew across the kitchen. Turns out it didn't fit because it isn't for that pastry bag. Oops. Perhaps that one was user error. But the problem was that we didn't have a large plain tip for piping so we needed to use the large star tip. After a row of piping though, I figure out how to make smooth mounds and it started working out much better. Naturally, I couldn't fit all of the dough in the bag so there was a harrowing refilling process that made a huge mess. Meanwhile as I was piping, my mom was following to brush the puffs with egg wash and smooth out the spikes and scold me for piping them too close together. Joke's on you, mom, they puffed up just fine! 

Beautiful golden brown puffs. Lovely. 

Now it's time to fill the puffs! We were supposed to poke a hole, then fill the center with the cream. The problem is, piping with this bag one-handed is impossible. I had to hold the puff in one hand and pipe with the other and let's just say, it was all coming out the top. And I was getting in trouble for not filling them enough. Eventually I got the hang of that at least but my hands were shaking, my mom was telling me I was doing it wrong, and the greasy bag was just a mess. So my mom took the bag away volunteered to fill the rest. Oh, imagine that, she's having just as much trouble as I did! After a lot of laughing and calling her a smartass for thinking she could do it better, we developed a system where I held the puff while she piped two-handed. It got much easier. Our technique leaves something to be desired but we got it done. 

And then abandonment. My mom had to leave for a dinner and movie and I was left to make the caramel and assemble the whole thing. The caramel was just boiling sugar and water until it turned golden brown and my mom warned me that it can turn on a dime so I was watching very carefully. And watching. And watching. It took at least 10 minutes. I probably could have taken a walk. I also prepared an ice bath to put the pot in as directed to get it to stop cooking immediately once it hit the right color. Eventually, it started to turn brown. It seemed a little light but I noticed the sides were smoking a bit so I put it in the ice bath to be on the safe side. After a quick hiss, the bubbles cleared and behold! Lovely lovely golden brown caramel.

Now to assemble. I had to dip the sides of the puffs in the caramel and place them in a ring to form the base. On the second puff, I just barely nicked the tip of my finger in the caramel. Caramel burns hurt! It wasn't the end of the world but I do have a tiny caramel blister on my finger still. Meanwhile, the caramel is still in the ice bath and is now audibly cracking and hardening very very quickly. By the third puff, it was impossible to dip in the caramel because it was so hard. But, I used my brain (for once) and tossed the pot back on low heat to warm up the caramel and after a few minutes and some stirring, it was the perfect consistency again. I ended up repeating this process several times but it worked well. I stacked up the puffs and I am REALLY proud of how it turned out. Nice and symmetric and I even added some spun caramel as decoration, basically accomplished by using the spoon to drizzle caramel on but it worked great. Apparently I was supposed to use a fork or a broken whisk (a broken whisk? Who saves a broken whisk? Seriously?) but the spoon worked just fine. It probably helped that the caramel was slightly cool. Anyway, it's not as tall and fancy as many croquembouches but I love it just the same. 

I actually made a second one (not pictured) because I had so many leftover puffs. It wasn't quite as tall as the first but was pretty easy to replicate. Not sure why the Master Chef Junior children had such problems with it. Oh, and as for the taste, apparently the pastry shells cut the sweetness of the cream and people liked them. I don't actually eat cream puffs so I wouldn't know. But so pretty! Oh, and I finished the whole thing with an hour to spare. 

I think I need a bigger challenge for the next one. What do you think?

A Disney Moment: Home on the Range

Whoops, apparently I jumped the gun on leaving the last group of five. And nobody even corrected me! Shameful. Although, I can't blame you, dear readers, because Home on the Range is a solid middle of the pack movie and ranked a 3/5 according to my notes. I actually liked this one better than I thought I would because there were a lot of pretty funny background jokes that were going on and overall, it was not taking itself too seriously. But OMG, the yodeling song! This might be the trippiest scene since pink elephants! There are psychedelic cows! The colors! I remember being unable to stop laughing the first time I saw it. You can see it here if you haven't seen it before. It's worth it. I don't really remember the rest but oh boy, that yodeling. 

A Disney Moment: Chicken Little

Apparently my notes were not as good as I thought they were. I'm writing this now but I saw this movie well over a year ago. This group of five includes Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, Bolt, Princess and the Frog, and Tangled. Two of these are clearly better than the other three. But I don't really remember the first three! I asked my sister to remind me and we determined that Chicken Little ranked a 3/5. Then I asked her why and apparently there was an actual bull in a china shop that I couldn't stop laughing at. So hang on, let me Wikipedia this movie to jog my memory....

Aha! Apparently just seeing the picture of Chicken Little jogged my memory! I loved his huge glasses! And he has the ugly duckling friend! The whole beginning of this movie had such charm! And then...aliens? Ok, things got a little weird at that point and I don't entirely remember so I won't comment. By the way, the Wikipedia entry for this movie was clearly written by an eight year old. So, umm, middle of the road movie but overall not too bad. Maybe I'll watch it again some day and try to figure out what happens in it. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Go Big or Go Home: A Return to Blogging with 845 Cookies

Well, folks, if I'm going to come back, I'm obviously going to come back in a big way. Yes! this blog has been stagnant for over a year and yes! there has been much less baking than in years past but the siren call of my KitchenAid mixer has finally convinced me to dive headfirst back into the insanity. Contributing to this insanity is my good friend and Christmas baking partner. We've developed this new holiday tradition of baking together at Christmas. This is the third year of our tradition and last year (which I sadly failed to blog about), we made 517 cookies in one day. We counted because we're nerds. It goes without saying that we needed to surpass last year's total this year. We also didn't want to just make cookies this year and decided to expand our baking list to include truffles because who doesn't love truffles? So, on a lovely Sunday afternoon we were off to the races!

Here was our plan: Ok, we kind of didn't have a plan. Last year we had decided on what we were going to bake and strategized the order of the baking and everything. This year our strategy was more in the tone of "Hey, we should bake cookies." So we spent the first hour of our baking time developing a plan. Here was our original plan:

1) Truffles covered in almonds, dark chocolate ganache, white chocolate ganache, Christmas sprinkles, coconut, cocoa
2) Peanut butter truffles covered in dark chocolate ganache and white chocolate ganache
3) Coffee pecan fudge
4) Cookies and cream fudge
5) Palmiers (double batch)
6) M&M cookies (double batch)
7) Reese's peanut butter cup cookies (double batch)
8) Cookie press cookies (snowflakes and trees)
9) Chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips (double batch)
10) Walnut balls (double batch)

That sounds completely reasonable for one day of baking, right? Agreed! Off we went to the kitchen where the first order of business was making the truffles since we would be covering them with so many different things. I love making truffles. It's just heavy cream and chocolate and rolling into a ball. After some very difficult math trying to determine how many truffles should be made for the number of tins that we bought, my friend got to work heating the cream and measuring out the chocolate while I got to work on the base of the M&M cookies. Efficiency! I don't think I've ever talked about the M&M cookies but they're just the regular Nestle Toll House cookies with the chocolate chips cut slightly (which I definitely eyeballed). Then they get baked most of the way until we take them out and add red and green M&Ms in an adorable pattern on the top. And by adorable, I mean completely OCD in that each cookie has six M&Ms (green center, five reds surrounding or vice versa) and obviously the M&Ms must be placed "M" side down. This requires speed, agility, and teamwork to get all of the cookies decorated before the cookies cool down too much. Then, back in the oven for another minute to set the M&Ms and bam! First cookies done!

Well, sort of. Since we made a double batch and we only fit about 12-16 cookies per pan, we were baking these for at least an hour. But that's ok because every time we put a pan in the oven, off we went to do something else! The mixer was occupied so I set about rolling a billion truffles while my friend looked for the spritz cookie recipe. It wasn't actually a billion truffles but the first ones I did were the ones rolled in almonds. Just kidding, because apparently I didn't have almonds! Oh well, walnuts work just as well, right? After a long discussion about the value of toasting nuts before using them, we completely forgot to toast the walnuts and just rolled the truffles in them anyway. Whoops. Oh, have I mentioned how much I love having a food processor? Remember back in the day when I used to chop nuts by smashing a rolling pin into them? This is way better!

Let's see, where was I? Rolling truffles. So I rolled the almond walnut truffles, the coconut truffles (hmm, I'm just now thinking that perhaps I should have toasted the coconut? Is that a thing? I don't actually eat coconut...), and the truffles that were to be covered in dark and white chocolate ganaches. I should also point out that the plan was to have white chocolate drizzle on the dark chocolate truffles and vice versa. Was being the operative word. But wouldn't it have been pretty? By the time I finished the intricate dance of rolling truffles and applying M&Ms and cleaning the chocolate off my hands, my friend had already made the spritz dough and it was definitely time for a glass of sangria.

Devoted readers will remember that I have made spritz cookies before and that I spoke at length of the merits of the Dead Lady Cookie Press. Obviously, I do not have the Dead Lady Cookie Press so I was forced to use a brand new cookie press that I got for my wedding. Well, sort of. Last week, I planned to make spritz cookies for a fundraiser so I opened up my new cookie press and lo and behold, the piece that actually presses the cookies is missing. I was very sad that my fancy electric cookie press was defective so I brought it back to Bed Bath and Beyond where they no longer stock the electric cookie press and I had to get the OXO Good Grips Cookie Press. I was skeptical after the terrible cookie press gun that my mom had failed to press cookies with in the past but let me tell you, I am a convert. This cookie press is SO easy to use! It doesn't hurt your hands, it doesn't slip around, it's easy to load with dough, and it's easy to clean! I know I sound like a commercial for a cookie press but I can't oversell how amazing this cookie press is. Everyone should be so lucky to have this cookie press. I also always love making spritz cookies with people who haven't made them before because it always seems like magic to them to get actual shapes out of those strange metal discs. Anyway, we decided to make the green Christmas trees (because they're the best) and blue snowflakes because they would make our cookie tins look colorful. Simple, beautiful, and baked without incident. Well, except that we forgot to refrigerate the dough before pressing but you know what? I think refrigerating the dough makes it much harder to press! These came out perfectly every time! Bam. More cookies done to add to our total.

At this point, while spritz cookies were baking, my friend magically finished the chocolate cookie dough and was adding the white chocolate chips. I don't even remember her doing any of this but apparently it got done. It was around this time that I realized that we had refrigerated the truffles for wayyyyy too long and now it was hard to pry them from the bowl to roll into balls. I took the bowls out of the fridge but it didn't seem to help much so I muscled my way through the chocolate to roll into balls. It was a fascinating lesson in the science of truffles. The outside of the "dough" was very stiff and hard to get through, but the inside was still creamy and almost wet. Ya know, like a truffle should be! I also learned that no matter how hard the chocolate is, the second I start rolling it in a ball, it gets sticky again and easy to dip in cocoa (which is what I did next).

By now, my dear husband was home and we had prepared a list for him of things he needed to pick up at the store. Also by now, we were realizing that we would need to downgrade at least some of our plans if we wanted to stay sane. So we come to our first compromise: instead of doing white and dark chocolate ganaches, we will just dip in white melted chocolate (Wilton candy melts) and red melted chocolate. How festive! We just needed some red candy melts. Now, I don't want to be too mean because my husband kindly ran this errand for us but I really do have to point out that he texted me a picture of a bag of red candy melts and a bag of dark cocoa candy melts and asked me which one was correct. I don't know how "Wilton red candy melts" on the list could have been clearer in this respect. Also, apparently there were no Christmas sprinkles at the store so my husband picked up red sanding sugar and green sanding sugar. It was a good move and we opted to go with the green since we already would have red truffles.

While we were waiting for our missing ingredients to arrive from Santa, we got to work on the palmiers. We made these last year and they were a big hit and it felt like we didn't make enough last year so we decided to double the recipe. Fun fact: that makes a whole lot of cookies! So many cookies that we ran out of places to put them. We only had enough room to cut one batch in advance and had to wait to cut the rest. But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself! I haven't even told you what these are! Palmiers are puff pastry with sugar rolled in and folded intricately and baked. Sounds pretty easy, right? As always in this blog, if it sounds easy, it surely is not. We had to read the folding directions three or four times and correct the first folding attempt before we got it right, despite having done this before. It's also critical to be careful with the bake time because it's a different amount of time on each side and if you let them go too long, they will burn for sure and burned sugar smells bad. I only burned one batch a little bit but that's because I started to get antsy making just one pan at a time and tossed two pans in at once for one batch. Turns out the bottom pan burns if you do that. After it happened, I vaguely remember that happening last year, hence why I had been doing it one pan at a time. Instinct is an interesting thing. However, now it's documented so that Christmas 2016 Jen won't make the same mistake. Hopefully.

Finally, while the palmiers were baking, we took a break. We were very hungry and thirsty and waiting for our pizza and we needed to continue our annual tradition of watching Home Alone while baking. This year we opted for Home Alone 2 because we didn't finish watching it last year. That movie sure is dated. But I love it all the same. Bear in mind that while we were watching, we were still getting up to remove cookies from the oven at a fairly steady pace. We also used this time to re-discuss our plan and make our second compromise of the night, i.e. there was no way in hell we were making a second version of truffle. Peanut butter truffles were a no-go. We also downgraded the Reese's cookies to a single batch from a double because it was already almost 7 pm and we still had a lot to do. Left on our list at this point was dipping truffles in two types of chocolate, two types of fudge, Reese's cookies, and walnut balls (plus however many palmiers were still left to bake).

After a quick meal, we hauled our already tired and aching bodies off the couch at the approximate point where Kevin is heading to Duncan's toy chest and got back to work. My friend took the cookies and cream fudge and I continued baking the never ending trays of palmiers. Speaking of which, after I put in the last pan of palmiers, my friend played a very mean joke and said "Only one more after that one!" Cruel, cruel joke. I wish I had counted how many batches of palmiers we made because they just went on forever. I also used this time to crush the oreos for the cookies and cream fudge. I was excited to do this with my food processor but I still hadn't cleaned it from chopping walnuts and didn't want to because I still needed to chop more walnuts for the walnut balls. There wasn't time to chop walnuts and then oreos (because apparently fudge is a pretty delicate process that involves moving very quickly once things get going) so I used the old standby: put oreos in a ziplock bag and smack them with a rolling pin. There is something very satisfying about that though. There was something even more satisfying about getting the opportunity to sit on the floor to do it. We were really starting to feel the pain at this point.

There was some intricate teamwork involved with the cookies and cream fudge, especially when we tried to empty a jar of marshmallow fluff into the pot but ultimately we got the fudge in the pan and got the pan in the fridge and set about the next tasks. I took the lead on the second fudge, a nice coffee-pecan fudge. Somehow, this one was more involved than the previous one and involved approximately 20 minutes of constant stirring. While I was doing that, I think my friend was making the walnut ball dough? I don't even know, it all starts to get fuzzy at this point. Anyway, I was very excited to use my candy thermometer for the first time and kept a very close eye to identify exactly when the mixture reached the "soft ball" stage. Then I had to stir in some pecans and put it in the pans. Now, I don't know if we misread the directions or if we were having a collective blonde moment but we definitely should have put it in one pan and not two. It ended up being pretty thin and, in the second pan, didn't even reach the edges. But once it was in the pan, there was no turning back because it was hardening almost instantly. Oh well! Into the fridge you go!

And onto the floor we go to roll out all of the walnut balls. We were completely out of counter space and we were tired of standing and it was definitely past 9:00 at this point. But walnut balls got rave reviews last year! How could we not do them? Strategically, that's why we left them till last. Wait, last....I'm missing something...the peanut butter cup cookies! We also made those sometime between pizza and walnut balls! I literally don't recall how we made that happen. I guess it must have been while I was making fudge? Yes! I remember now, because the muffin tins with the peanut butter cup dough were behind my feet on the floor while I was stirring the fudge! It may have been a bit of a tripping hazard. There were only two pans of those though so I guess they baked quickly. So I suppose that before rolling walnut balls, we were pressing Reese's peanut butter cups into the muffin tins (it's another bake most of the way and add candy recipe) which must mean that at some point, my friend unwrapped all of the peanut butter cups. Hmm. This was only two days ago, I really should remember. We were just getting so tired at this point. And thirsty! It was so weird but we were both so thirsty and we weren't even eating the cookies! We seriously need our heads examined.

Whatever. At some point, we made Reese's cookies and now we're sitting on the floor rolling walnut balls. Despite having very few ingredients, these cookies are delicious. So we rolled them all out on the pans, stuck one in the oven and wait a minute, I missed something else. Sometime before sticking the walnut balls in the oven, we melted the chocolate to dip the remaining truffles in! Let's rewind to that point (whenever it was) and just say that the chocolate melted perfectly in the microwave and we dipped the truffles by sticking a toothpick in each one and spinning it around in the chocolate. In the future, we will be more careful about completely covering the truffles and we will put them on wax paper and not on the pan so they come off easier but in general, this strategy worked well for us. Except for one truffle that looked ugly so we were going to discard it but then we realized that one tin would be a truffle short so we obviously couldn't have that. I actually peeled off cooled chocolate from one of the truffles so that we would have enough of the white truffles to go in the tins. So whew, the last of the truffles are in the fridge chilling and are you tired yet? We are!

Back to balls. We put the walnut balls in the oven and collapsed on the couches to continue watching Home Alone. By the time all of the walnut balls were cooked though, we only got as far as the dramatic music where Kevin starts setting booby traps. Next time we'll need to start the movie earlier. Also, we were rolling the walnut balls in powdered sugar and it worked pretty well but next time, we'll actually sift the powdered sugar first. It was a little bit lumpy. Note for next year!

AND WE'RE DONE! Well, sort of. Done baking. Now we just have to cut a bunch of fudge and actually assemble the tins of cookies and truffles. And ya know, clean up. But look how beautiful they are! And yes, of course we laid the cookies out decoratively on the dining room table for picture taking purposes!

In summary, we made a total of 845 cookies/truffles/pieces of fudge. We started at 1 pm on a Sunday and finished cleaning up at approximately midnight. We are tired. But honestly, it's such a beautiful sight to behold and I feel very accomplished. Next year, I'm thinking that perhaps we don't increase the number like crazy people and instead we focus on better methods of packaging. As it stands, the cookie tins look very nice at first but they are not very stable and the powdered sugar from the walnut balls can make a bit of a mess. We'll definitely be looking for some process improvement there. Overall though, not bad for a day's work. Plus, it was a super fun way to get in the Christmas spirit! Now, who wants a cookie?

A Disney Moment: Treasure Planet
Ok, ok, I know it's been forever. We finished watching all of the Disney animated features well over a year ago and have since moved on to Pixar. But, we did take notes and rank the movies so I'll give you a double feature review until we finish up and give the final rankings! Let's start with Treasure Planet. This is the shocking movie of the group. We settled into watching this with the attitude that we were in for another Atlantis (as a reminder, Atlantis was Black Cauldron bad) but we were pleasantly surprised. It's a pretty underrated movie. We really liked the animation and the creativity of the huge quantities of differently animated aliens. I don't remember much about it except that it was very much in the tone of Muppet Treasure Island (an obvious classic) and we liked that the captain was a woman. Writing it now, it seems pretty forgettable but it was our favorite of the group at the time. Doesn't say much for this group. But we definitely enjoyed this one!

A Disney Moment: Brother Bear
No. There's brothers and bears and my interest in this one ends about there. My sister and I were pretty much yelling at the TV for this one. It felt so long and not much happens and I just did not care. The human animation was reminiscent of Lilo's sister's legs and honestly, were it not for Atlantis, this would be a clear bottom ranking. However, it is saved by the fact that Atlantis might be my least favorite Disney animated film of all time so that earns this movie a 4/5 to close out this grouping. Coming next we have Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, Bolt, Princess and the Frog, and Tangled. Finally coming out of the black hole of animated films!