Monday, January 17, 2011

Bake Fest 2010!

I meant to post this before the holidays were over, but never got around to it. I'll go ahead and post now, though. Enjoy!

Bake Fest is a tradition that is now in its third year. We put together a menu, gather ingredients, set aside a large chunk of time, and bake until our little hearts are content. Two years ago, our co-workers were the beneficiaries of our sweet treats. Last year, our neighbors and family received excellent baked goods. This year, we decided to go big or go home and held Bake Fest the day before we had a Christmas Open House. We both took off the entire day before, ran to the grocery to buy the final few ingredients, ate lunch, and started the baking. We only took a break long enough for me to go to a work party, and then went right back to it. We finally "finished" around midnight and put off everything else (including the final cleaning) until the next morning. Overall, I think it was a total success!

In the event that you are looking for some new ideas for sweet treats at your house, here is what we made.

Chocolate Bark
This is one of my holiday favorites. A recent article in Real Simple gave some clues to tons of ingredients that you could mix and match. As we were running out of steam when I started on the chocolate bark, we went simple with white chocolate and crushed candy canes. Love, love, love!

Chocolate Covered Pretzels
A Christmas classic in our house. Again, we went simple with white chocolate. No sprinkles or brown chocolate drizzle this year, but you can decorate any way you choose.

Peanut Brittle
We used a recipe that a friend of Josh's family gave them, and it's the only peanut brittle I like. It doesn't stick to your teeth and is super easy to make!

Chocolate Trail Mix Clusters
These were easy to make. I liked them okay. (The semi-sweet chocolate was a little bitter. I think it would be better with milk chocolate or white chocolate.) I don't think any of our guests even tried them. Oh well. I will try a new variation on this next year.

Alton Brown's Sugar Cookies
My husband wanted me to make this recipe, so we gave it a shot. The cookie itself wasn't that fantastic. (Sorry, Alton!) It needed more ... something ... I'm just not sure what. Maybe more sugar. With chocolate frosting, they were better, but just not fantastic. I'll try another recipe next year.

Paula Dean's Gooey Chocolate Cookies
These are super easy and stay soft and yummy for at least a full week after you bake them. The base is a cake mix and you just mix a few other things in. They are really pretty dipped in powdered sugar and everyone will think you slaved over them. (Which now, you all know, I did not.)

Oatmeal Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies
Again, super easy. I had a Betty Crocker oatmeal cookie bag mix in my pantry and looked for other things to toss in to jazz it up a little. I added 6 oz of chocolate chips and a couple of handfuls of craisins. Super yummy and not too difficult.

Chocolate Mint Brownies
These were a favorite in my house growing up. This was the first time I made them myself, and I finally understand why Mom only made these for special occassions. Because they're three layers, there is a good deal of "wait time," but they're really not that hard. Mom used to make the brownies, put on the mint layer later in the evening, refrigerate overnight, and put the final layer the next day. You just need about an hour of refrigeration to make sure the final layer sets before serving. Personally, I like them cold but they're fine to be left on the counter as well.

Strawberry Cake Bites
This was another recipe that was a little labor-intensive. However, based on the compliments we received, I think it was well worth the time. I will not wait until midnight to do the last step again. You can use any cake mix flavor you like. Plan ahead, and make sure you have enough time for the cake to cool completely. I dipped half in chocolate almond bark and half in vanilla almond bark. I still can't decide which I liked better.

So our guests wouldn't go straight into a sugar coma, we also had peanuts, pretzels, crackers, and a cheeseball. I went "easy" and bought the cheeseball from a local bakery. My husband actually made two kinds of crackers (one with rosemary and one with parmesan cheese and garlic), which were incredible! And he surprised me when I got home from my work party with a carrot cake, which everyone LOVED. (He was really excited that he was able to use Grandma's instructions and bake a cake that tasted pretty much exactly like hers.)

Don't worry. We intend to do this again next year. I've already decided on a few things for the menu. We may have to do this mid-year too so I can test a few new recipes out! Happy baking!!!

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