Monday, December 22, 2014

A star is born

A few weeks ago a wonderful friend (B--do you still read this?) posted a photo of a baking project she'd just completed: a bread with layers of Nutella shaped like a star. I've done a fair amount of holiday baking already this season, but nothing especially showy. I had a birthday brunch to go to this weekend though, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try something a little fun. Plus, I know my blog readers enjoy reading about food projects they would not themselves attempt (although I promise you, this one is a lot easier than it looks).

To start, you need to make the dough. It's a bit like regular bread dough but with a few additions. This is the recipe:

2 1/2 - 3 c flour
3/4 c milk
1 1/2 tsp yeast
2 eggs
2 T melted butter
1/3 c sugar
pinch of salt

Pretty basic dough construction. Warm the milk and add the yeast and a tablespoon of the sugar to proof it. Then add the flour, sugar, melted butter, salt, and egg yolks (keep the whites for later). Knead and let rise for 40 minutes. Then the fun part starts.

First divide the dough into four roughly equal parts.

This is what dough looks like when divided into four roughly equal parts, as seen by my phone.
Roll out one of the parts until about 1/8" thick. Use a cake pan as a guide to cut around the edges to make an even circle.
The bottom of a springform pan would also work great for this, but mine happened to have a cheesecake in it. 
 Next, spread Nutella all over your nice round dough circle. Pro tip: Never microwave Nutella. To get it  warm enough to spread easily, put the whole jar in warm/hot water.

Pro Tip #2: Just use your hands. You can pretty much see my finger patterns in this one, but it's so much easier than using a knife. 
 Next, repeat the last two steps with the other dough pieces, laying each circle on top of the last until you have a nice stack. After you lay the fourth dough circle on top, don't spread Nutella on it.

I think this was only three layers, and I forgot to photograph the fourth, but you can use your imagination.
Once you have a nice stack, use a drinking glass to mark a circle in the middle. Then divide the dough into 16 parts by cutting through the dough from the edge all the way to the center circle.

Like so!
 Now comes the part where I was pretty sure I would screw up, but that actually turned out to be fairly easy. Take each pair of cut sections and twist them inward, connecting them at the base. It should look like this:

I finessed it a little more after this photo, but this is the general idea.
 Finally, take your egg whites from earlier and brush them on top of this bad boy. Cook in a preheated oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

The end result!
I had to take mine to a brunch, so I didn't get to try it while it was warm. That said, it was pretty tasty cold, so I have a feeling this thing would be pretty amazing right out of the oven. Surprisingly, given the Nutella, it's not too sweet. Of course now I have half a jar of Nutella left in my cabinet. Let the holiday gluttony continue!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Austin alit

As a continuation of last week's holiday celebrations, last night Sam and I went to check out Austin's "Trail of Lights." This is basically a large display of Christmas lights set up in Zilker Park along Town Lake. You can see them from across the river driving through downtown, so we were intrigued. There was a shuttle stop for the event near our apartment and the event itself is free, so it seemed worth checking it out.

Trail of Lights somewhat reminded me of walking down 5th Ave or visiting the tree at Rockefeller Center. You're surrounded by holiday cheer, but also walking in a slow moving crowd elbowing for space. The only real difference is that Austin's crowd has a great deal more strollers than New York's, which makes for somewhat more difficult crowd maneuvering. For those not in the Austin area, I'm including some photos so that you too can experience the Trail of Lights, right from the comfort of your own home.
From inside the giant Christmas tree

A Trail of Lights panorama 

The entrance. This one was partially included because it showcases the crowds. This tunnel of lights extended for about 100 feet, and took several minutes to walk through due to bottle necking. 

Most of the Trail of Lights is full of different displays and often movie or book characters. My favorite was this one from Where the Wild Things Are

This was my favorite of the actual lighting displays. The lighting would flash and then was followed by rain and after the rain stopped, a Sun would come out followed by a giant light up rainbow. 

This terrible picture of Sam (I swear he's in there; albeit shrouded by darkness) was mostly to photograph him and "Elf Pacino" one of many punny elfs present at Trail of Lights. Given Sam's Pacino fandom, it seemed appropriate. 
I guess that's about all there is to say about Trail of Lights. As displays of Christmas lights go, it was definitely something to see, although I can't promise I'll go back every year. If I do return though, I will make sure to bring cash to partake in all the fried food. It's a shame more places don't offer funnel cake in winter. Who's to say it can't be a Christmas food?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Getting in the holiday spirit

It's funny because it really doesn't feel like December to me. Perhaps because snow and cold have been replaced by 70 degree days. Also, there aren't nearly as many Christmas lights here and no hoards of tourists looking at window displays. They do however have a "Trail of Lights" in Zilker Park that I'm hoping to check out next week. Sam and I are also hoping to plan something special and holiday-like for Christmas Eve. It will be our first year spending Christmas Eve without family, so perhaps we can come up with a tradition of our own. We haven't exactly narrowed it down yet, but my guess is that it will center around food. 

In the meantime, to get in the holiday spirit, I went to a craft making party at the aptly named Craft. Normally the place functions as a crafter's paradise. They have tons of supplies that you can use, and you just pay by the hour to use stuff and thus avoid shellacking your own house in glitter. Given the sheer amount of crafting materials, I think I would find going and trying to figure out what to make to be totally overwhelming; however, for the holiday event (in addition to free drinks and cookies) they had makers come and lead workshops, so you could just pay for each gift item you made. They had screen printing tote bags, making bath salts and scrubs, wood burning magenta, and several other activities. Theoretically you were supposed to be making Christmas gifts, but I just made things for myself (unless…does anyone want some cedar magnets with plants and balloons burned into them?). 

An action shot of wood burning. We used stamps as patterns and then just follow the lines with the word burning tool. 
I also made a Christmas wreath to spruce up the front door. It was something on impulse. I saw some other girls doing it, and their wreathes turned out so pretty. It seemed easy enough, but I think they were wreath-making ringers because mine turned out a little more special. I think I didn't anchor some of the spruce down enough, but I decided it has character and I like it. 

The fruits of my labor
On Saturday night, a friend hosted what is apparently her fourth annual Home Alone party. She and her  roommates show the Christmas classics Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. To complement the cinema, they serve cheese pizzas (everyone theoretically could have eaten their own), hot cocoa, and ice cream sundaes. Your basic makings for a food coma. Now I'll admit, I'm not personally a huge fan of Home Alone or slapstick comedy in general, but watching it this time I could appreciate some of the occasionally subtle points in the screenplay as well as the very humorous John Candy cameo. However, it certainly doesn't unseat Die Hard as my preferred needlessly violent Christmas movie. 

I appreciated that they bought a bunch of tiny pizzas instead of a few large ones for authenticity. 
There's still a few more weeks til Christmas, but I wanted to share one more photo. Sam and I went to a holiday party for an organization I've been volunteering with. For some reason because he and another guy were standing in front of the tree at the party, one of the people who works for the organization decided to take their picture and tweet it out as a summary of the party. I thought it was funny because Sam has never worked with them and came along as my plus one, but I also just think it's a cute picture.

We didn't get a tree this year, so this will have to do!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014: The one with the cute puppy

Thanksgiving was over a week ago. It was a wonderful time with family, and particularly nice this year because Aileen could join us, we didn't have to fly (although we were stuck in traffic for six hours, so I haven't figured out if that's better or not), and there was an adorable King Charles Spaniel puppy in our midst. That said, it's been a somber week, and I feel weird about posting happy pictures right away. Still, if I don't leave a record of them, then they're just lost of my phone/computer never to be seen or categorized again. So here are just a couple of photos, and back with a real post next week!

Sam is really good about taking candid group photos. Or sometimes bad, I guess, if you're in them. 

I can now say I've been to a hockey game.


The cutest puppy. He lived to be chased.

There were more serious tamale making photos, but I think this best captures  the spirit of the event.