Friday, November 21, 2014

woodland birthday: pfeffernusse mushrooms

How cute are these? While the do look remarkably like little cremini mushrooms, these are pfeffernusse ("peppernuts"),  a spicy, peppery gingerbread. I have eighteen of these little guys to scatter around my woodland birthday table - and later this weekend, I'm going to attempt making a meringue version, as well!

My original inspiration for the pfeffernusse mushrooms was this post from Twigg Studio - but when I tried her recipe, I found it has a few crucial errors. As a second attempt, I tried this recipe from Bake Street, which is in Spanish (thank you, seven years of Spanish study!), and it totally worked. So, here I'll provide my own riff on this recipe. I should tell you; I like my pfeffernusse spicy - zingy! I like the tang and the burn of black pepper when paired with sweet spices. So feel free to adjust the spice volume down a bit, if you like something milder.

Pfeffernusse Mushrooms

3 large eggs
1 c. sugar

1 1/4 c. flour
1/2 c. almond flour
2 heaping/mounded Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 heaping/mounded teaspoons ground ginger
2 heaping/mounted teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 c. finely chopped candied orange peel


In the bowl of a stand mixer, sift together flour, almond flour, cocoa powder, spices, and orange peel. Set aside.

*NOTE: I ran out of orange peel when the first recipe I tried failed. I substituted glaceed kumquats I'd made earlier this year when I made this recipe. I chopped them fine. They were a bit sticky, so I mixed up the flours, cocoa and spices, then added the sticky bits of  orange peel and tossed them in the flour, then worked each little sticky bit apart from its companions, coating them in the flour/spice mixture with my fingers to keep them from sticking back together. And it worked just fine. So feel like you can experiment a bit here. And if you don't like citrus, you could substitute finely chopped candied ginger ... or drop this from the recipe altogether.

In a metal bowl, combine the eggs and sugar and whisk together. Set over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, until the sugar has dissolved and the eggs have thickened. Both Twigg Studios and Bake Street suggested this would only take a few minutes; I left mine on the stove for 12 minutes (which is actually pretty standard for making a lemon curd, too).

After 12 minutes, remove the bowl from heat and continue whisking the mixture hard for two more minutes.

Combine the egg mixture and flour mixture and beat until thoroughly combined - about 3 minutes on low speed (1) on a stand mixer. The dough will be very sticky.

Shape the dough into a tube, wrap in plastic cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Bake Street suggested that leaving it overnight would make it easier to work; I tried this, but I found my dough was dry and crumbly and hard to work, so next time I will only leave it for two hours.

After your dough has firmed, it's time to shape it. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line baking sheets with parchment (do not oil or grease your sheets or the paper!).

Divide your dough into two halves. Working with the first half, form 18-20 balls.Flatten these balls slightly on the baking sheet to create mushroom caps. Use the other half to roll out trunks (one for each mushroom cap). Tap each end slightly to flatten so that your mushrooms will be able to stand up after you bake them. If you are having trouble with the dough sticking to your hands, gently dampen your hands (but be careful not to handle the dough with dripping-wet hands, as too much water will start to dissolve the dough and then you'll REALLY have a mess on your hands - ask me how I know!)

Place trunks and caps on the parchment and bake. Bake trunks for 15 minutes and caps for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely on a rack.


After the mushroom pieces had cooled, I placed my cooling rack on my baking sheet (the same one I'd used to bake the mushroom pieces, and I left the parchment down). I place all of the mushroom pieces on the rack. I mixed up a glaze using approx 1 c. powdered sugar and just enough water (add it 1 tsp at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition) to make a creamy glaze. I used a small silicone pastry brush to brush glaze all over each cap and around the sides (but not on the top or bottom) of each trunk. I set the pieces on the rack to drip-dry.

But before they were fully dry, I sprinkled a bit of dry powdered sugar and dry unsweetened cocoa powder over  and around the glazed mushroom caps and trunks. Then I let them dry. Once they were dry, I patted the sugar/cocoa in and around the caps and trunks to remove any excess powder.


An hour or two later, when I knew the caps were fully cured, I flipped them over. I melted 1 oz of chocolate (sweetened, but you could use baking chocolate if you want) in the double boiler. I spooned a little bit (maybe 1/4 teaspoon) onto the base of each mushroom cap and smoothed it around with the back of the spoon. I let it cool and harden just until it looked satiny (not shiny), and then I dragged a toothpick through the chocolate to draw the gills.

I left them for two more hours to set.


Finally, I put the mushrooms together. This part was tricky, I have to admit. I mixed up more glaze (powdered sugar and water), but this time I made sure the glaze was as thick as sweetened condensed milk. I dipped one end of my mushroom trunks into the glaze, made sure each had a good dollop on top of the trunk, and then pressed the trunk into the center of the mushroom cap. I found it was easier to make them upside down like this; some of the caps were balanced on the drying rack; others I balanced on a hot pad...whatever it took.

Don't work too fast as you put them together. Hold the two pieces together for at least a minute before gently releasing pressure. Some of the trunks will slip and slide off or fall over, and you'll have to do it again. You've just got to keep at it; you've got to get them to stand on their own (or propped against boxes of salt or jars of jam) while the sugar dries and hardens the trunks in place - then you're all set (so this is why it helps if the top of your mushroom cap is a little flat, not too pointy!). And in the end, I managed to get all of them together and standing, their little trunks in the air, overnight.

 And this is how they looked the next morning, when I gathered them all together on a plate. I'm delighted; they really do look like a little plate of mushrooms!

And here they are in my hands. They're quite large, really, aren't they?

Now, final points: these things are rock hard after the first day. The trick with pfeffernusse is that you should make it in advance. It will be rock hard for at least a day. Stored in an airtight container, it will gradually absorb moisture and become a more tender cookie. These cookies can be stored (again, in an airtight container) for a month before serving - which is also rather convenient: you can make these guys well in advance of your party and then just pull them out and wow all your guests at your event.

I hope you try making these and that you enjoy them!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

woodland birthday: moss

For years, I've wanted to throw a party with a woodland theme or woodland aesthetic. This year, I decided, I'd finally do it - for my birthday. There aren't any woodland-themed party activities; really, this is just about setting a pretty table of pretty bites for an afternoon of games and maybe a holiday movie, after a midday ice skating session.

Click here to see the wedding idea from Amy Wallen photography that is my table inspiration for this party. I went to the florist today to order three "pink mink" protea for the floral arrangement. I think the other bits and pieces - the eucalyptus, the limonium, the roses, even the ranunculus - shouldn't be too hard to find at my local grocery stores.

But you'll see there's a lot of moss there in that picture. And I thought that moss would be nice to tuck around platters and serving dishes on a table full of appetizers, to give a woodsy feel. And  since I live in the Pacific Northwest, with the shade of a grove of doug firs guaranteeing a regular crop of moss in the backyard, it was a simple matter of going out and harvesting clumps of moss and cleaning it (this did, however, take me an entire afternoon and evening), and then preserving it, to have a good amount of moss for my table (not quite as much as I'd like, but that's okay - I'm just being forced to practice moderation here... or heck, maybe I'll just go dig some more!)

I found the instructions for preserving moss at The Art of Doing Stuff. Basically, the moss is cleaned, allowed to dry, and then soaked in a mixture of vegetable glycerine and denatured alcohol (two parts glycerine are mixed with 1 part alcohol) for 10 minutes, then drained for 10 minutes, then left on paper towels to dry for a few days.

Above, the moss is clean and dry. Below is the preserved moss. What's nice about this (as contrasted with just drying moss) is that it stays nice and green, and it's pliable. Also, any little clumps of dirt that were stuck in the moss through the preserving process are just falling out as the moss dries, which is pretty cool. The downside, however, is that it kind of stinks like green, wet seaweed in our kitchen! I might transfer all of it outside tomorrow to air and see if that helps!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

a personal touch

Okay, these have been opened, so I can post them now. My dad has started using handkerchiefs regularly lately, or so my mom told me when we chatted about "what to do for Dad's birthday?" last month. But you know, handkerchiefs you can buy at a store these days are pretty flimsy, made of cotton so thin as to be transparent. The nice thing about making handkerchiefs is the opportunity to indulge in quality materials and traditional (and time-consuming) construction - and starting in advance meant that I could still give a nice gift even though money's tight. These are made of hanky-weight linen. They look a little thin and crisp right now, but once the fabric has been through the washer and dryer, they'll fluff up and the texture will be a bit rougher and thicker. I made a 1/4" hem all around (really, a 1/8" hem, rolled twice), and hand-stitched the blind hems. Then I monogrammed them, in two different styles: one a little fancier, and one a bit more casual.

And that's it! I hope he likes them; I hope whenever he's got a cut or a runny nose, he enjoys pulling out and using these workhorses that his daughter made and embroidered for him. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

At last!

Summer's Queen (Portrait of Shannon O). Oilbar and graphite on canvas. 18X24. 2014.

Finally finished this commissioned portrait that I've been working on all summer. As it was a gift (and a surprise) for the subject's husband, I couldn't post any updates about this anywhere until after I'd sold it and left a few days for the gift to be given. So, here it is! As there won't be any prints made of this commissioned portrait, I don't have professional photos, just this one above - snapped rather late in the day, as you can tell by the shadows - and the one below, which is slightly better, but a bit gray (owing to being taken on a dark October morning before I sold the painting to my patron). Still, I think this queen of summer shines: