Trending….. My thoughts on Episode 2

Interested in recipes from the latest episode of Holiday Baking Championship? Click here or read on to learn more about the episode.

So if you have been watching Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network, which I hope you have, you will know that week one was not my best week.  Little brown spheres of death and a dark pie crust were almost my demise.  It didn’t make air, but I was crossing every finger possible behind my back.  Those few moments standing in front of the judges felt like an eternity.  I bawled like a baby as soon as I walked off the set; tears of joy for being able to stay to bake another round.  I think I went back to the hotel and sat in the hot tub for an hour to relax and take a little Taylor Swift advice, shake it off!!!

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Thank you Swifty, thank you!!!

So after a good night’s sleep and a little peppermint tea (how holiday) I report to the kitchen to begin a new day.  We walk into the kitchen and I immediately see this huge display of candy canes behind Bobby.  (I learned from Episode 1, it’s never just decoration on that podium.  When I saw the Nutcrackers I thought, “Wow, that is so festive.”  It didn’t even occur to me that it would be a clue to the challenge.  Well played Food Network, well played.)  So, peppermint…..good thing I had that tea!  Bring it on!!!   Bobby tells us our challenge is about getting crafty.  That resonates with me.  As kids, we made crafts all the time.  My mother had, correction has, boxes upon boxes of all sorts of items to make crafts.  Buttons, ribbons, shells, paints, the list goes on and on.  I want to make sure that my plate is decorated so I get crafty with colored sugar in red and white stripes.  I thought it was pretty clever.  I don’t think the judges really got it.  So, it’s Susan with the win.

Time to get crafty again……this time with a holiday wreath-shaped dessert.  I immediately think of my sister and her family.

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My sister is possibly one of the most creative and crafty people I know.  You can check out her blog here.  My sister, like a lot of people in this country, is on a tight budget, especially at the holidays.  I am so inspired by all she does and sacrifices in order to make a magical Christmas for her family.  So, I want to make something that she would be proud to have at her house on Christmas.  I also think about the great American holiday tradition of the cookie swap.  Eureka, Cookie Swap Wreath.

I make 4 different kinds of cookies; Spiced Sugar Cookie, Orange Langue de Chats, Coconut Lime Russian Tea Cakes, and Hippen Tuiles.  My plan is to cut the sugar cookie into a large wreath shape, then attach the Langue de Chats to the sugar cookie wreath to give it texture and look like pine bows.  The Russian Tea Cakes will be holly berries, and the Hippen Tuiles I’ll pipe to look like holly leaves.  It’s a pretty ambitious plan, and only 90 mins to pull it off.  I’ve made each of these cookies a hundred times and I know that each of them takes between 5 to 15 mins to bake, so if I work fast I can have these done in no time.

Time flies in that kitchen.  You think you have plenty of time……but you don’t.  In the blink of an eye, Bobby yells, “Time’s up.”  I look at my wreath and I am so proud of what I have made.  I know that my sister will be proud too.

Cookie Swap WreathI deliberately made it monochromatic because I think it instantly reads sophisticated and it is very trendy.  Maybe you heard me say that during Episode 2, like 10 times.  I just want you to know that it is on trend.  It’s on point right now.  Got it? ….monochromatic is on trend.  Embrace it.  Love it.  Get trendy with it.

And the judges agree……WIN!  Last episode I was about to go home.  This time, I won.  It felt amazing.  I had a clear vision in my head and I was able to execute that precisely.  So let’s start a trend, shall we.  Get the recipe for my Cookie Swap Wreath.

Perhaps you have seen our baking classes on the website.  Perhaps you have seen that we have a cookie class in November.  Guess what, we are going to make Spiced Sugar Cookies, Langue de Chats, Coconut Lime Russian Tea Cakes, and Hippen Tuiles…….and we are going to put them together in a monochromatic wreath.  Haven’t you heard?  It’s on trend right now!

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Little Spheres of Death

Episode 1 of Holiday Baking Championship is in the bag!  In case you missed it, you can view highlights here or watch the full episode here.  I watched the show with a crowd of about 65 people from my community, which was an incredible experience.  There was so much support and encouragement from everyone.  I was definitely feeling the love!

Viewing party with Chef Steve Konopelski - Holiday Baking Championship

The very first challenge of the show involved nuts, which was not great news for me since I’m allergic.  But it made for some memorable moments!  As if baking a dessert I couldn’t even taste wasn’t difficult enough, I accidentally nicked my finger at one point.  An open wound (even a tiny one) is not a good thing around a pile of allergy-inducing nuts.  I referred to the nuts as “little brown spheres of death,” which got a pretty big laugh from everyone at the viewing party.

My favorite tweet of the night came from my friend Lauren.  A few weeks ago, I made a Death Star cake for her son Mark’s first birthday.  Not only does Mark have a Star Wars-themed nursery, his middle name is Anakin.  So the kid definitely needed an awesome Death Star cake to celebrate his first year of life.  Anyway, after the whole little-brown-spheres-of-death moment, Lauren tweeted this:

Sphere of Death - Chef Steve Konopelski - Holiday Baking Championship

Ha!  Love it!

If you live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and want to watch the next episode with me and my crew, we’ll be at Market Street Public House (200 Market St., Denton, MD 21629) this Sunday at 9:00 p.m.  Come out to join us and get your very own #TeamSteve button!

#TeamSteve Buttons - Chef Steve Konopelski - Holiday Baking Championship

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HUGE Announcement!

I have been bursting with HUGE news for weeks, and today I can finally share it! I’ve been wanting to talk about this for so long, and I’m not going to spend one more second holding back, so here goes:

In just a few weeks, I will be competing in this year’s Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network!!! Beginning November 1st, you’ll see me face off against some phenomenal bakers in Season 2 of the show. I am beyond excited that I was selected to be part of the competition!

Seriously, you guys. It still doesn’t even feel real to me that I actually got to be part of something so cool.

I don’t want to slip and accidentally share a spoiler in all my excitement, so I’m not going to say too much more about being on the show at this point. But I will say that it was an absolute blast! This whole experience is something I really want to share with my husband, family, friends, and the whole community. We’re having a viewing party for the first episode on November 1st, so if you live near Denton, Maryland come out and join us!

Wish me luck! #HolidayBakingChampionship

Chef Steve Konopelski

Sangria-Poached Fruit

This recipe offers a wonderful alternative to fruit salad. Poaching the fruit in wine really enhances its flavor and provides a nice change-of-pace to the traditional summer side dish.

Sangria-poached fruit also makes an excellent dessert. Eat it as-is or serve it over vanilla ice cream topped with toasted pistachios. Heaven!

What you’ll need:

2 C pinot noir
2 C water
2 C sugar
Zest and juice of one lime
4 apples cored and cut into 1 inch pieces
4 peaches, stones removed and cut into 1 inch pieces
4 plums, stones removed and cut into 1 inch pieces
4 pears, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces

What to do:

Bring pinot noir, water, sugar and lime juice to a boil. Set aside. Place cut fruit in shallow baking dish. Pour enough poaching liquid to cover the fruit. Cover baking dish with foil. Pierce foil with a paring knife. Place covered baking dish in preheated 325°F oven. Bake fruit until tender (about 15 minutes).

Remove and allow to cool completely. Store fruit in half of the poaching liquid. Place remaining poaching liquid in a sauce pan and cook at medium-low temperature until liquid has reduced by half. Cool and store in refrigerator.

To serve, place cooled, cooked fruit in a serving bowl and top with a bit of the reduced poaching liquid. Sprinkle with toasted pistachios or granola for added crunch.

Savory Palmiers

This recipe is very easy but looks difficult. It is flaky, cheesy, and people can’t get enough. You can make it with homemade puff pastry or store-bought if you’re in a pinch.

What you’ll need:

1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed
6 oz goat cheese
3 oz cream cheese, room temp
1/3 C heavy cream
½ C grated parmesan cheese
2 T finely chopped fresh parsley
1 T finely chopped fresh chives
Salt and pepper to taste

What to do:

In bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the goat cheese and cream cheese until creamy. Add heavy cream and continue to paddle until smooth. Add cheese, herbs, and seasoning. Mix until combined. Set aside.

Roll sheet of puff pastry on lightly floured surface until pastry sheet is 1/8th of an inch thin. Spread a thin, even layer of the cheese mixture on the entire surface of the puff pastry. Fold left side of pastry length wise in by one forth. Repeat with the right side of the pastry. You should have a gap between the two folded over sides that is equal to twice the width of the folded over sections. Spread a thin layer of cheese mixture over the left and right sides. Fold each of the two sides in again lengthwise so that the seams of each side are now touching. Spread another thin layer of cheese mixture over the folded sections. Fold puff pastry in half lengthwise. Wrap dough tightly with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Slice puff pastry log width-wise in slices about ½ an inch thick. Place slices flat on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake palmiers at 350° for about 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool on sheet pan until ready to serve.

Spinach Artichoke Dip (served hot or cold)

I love spinach artichoke dip because it works for just about any type of party. It’s appropriate at a tailgate, and you can fancy it up with an elegant presentation for a cocktail party. And I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like spinach artichoke dip!

This particular version is one of my favorite dip recipes because it can be served hot or cold. Serving it hot is a classic approach, and you can’t go wrong. Serving it cold is a bit more unexpected, and it’s perfect for hot summer days or any time you need to transport the dish. A hot dish that is no longer hot by the time it’s served is a bit of a letdown. But with this spinach artichoke dip recipe, you can serve the dish cold and it will be absolutely delicious.

One recipe, two uses!

What you’ll need:

2 10 oz frozen spinach, thawed and drained
2 14 oz cans artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
½ C mayonnaise
½ C sour cream
1 C grated parmesan cheese
1 C pepper jack cheese or sharp white cheddar
Healthy pinch of fresh cracked black pepper
Healthy pinch of red pepper flake
Salt to taste

What to do:

Combine all ingredients together. If serving cold, chill for 2 hours before serving. Serve with tortilla chips, crackers, or cubes of fresh bread. (Can it get any easier than that??)

If serving hot, mix all ingredients together, reserving half of the pepper jack or cheddar cheese. Place mixture in greased baking dish. Top with remaining cheese and bake at 350°F until hot and bubbly. Serve with tortilla chips, crackers, or cubes of fresh bread.

What is a Kouign Amann? (And how the heck do you pronounce it??)

Kouign Amanns are a simple yet insanely delicious pastry. These crusty, round cakes have been known to cause stampedes among our guests at the B&B. There’s something very appealing about the crackly, caramelized exterior that gives way to a surprisingly light center. And the simplicity of the flavor, which is derived from butter and sugar (LOTS of butter and sugar!) is truly delightful. I could take a bath in it!

Kouign-Amanns

For me, Kouign Amanns are a perfect example of one of life’s simple pleasures. I make many other desserts and pastries that are more elaborate, with complex ingredients and precise presentations. And don’t get me wrong, those elaborate desserts are a lot of fun to create and share with people. But when it comes to simple pleasures, nothing beats a Kouign Amann. A cup of coffee, a Kouign Amann, and a few minutes of solitude has me feeling like…

So what exactly is a Kouign Amann? Kouign Amanns are made using bread dough with layers of butter and sugar folded in. As the cake bakes, the butter permeates the dough and puffs it up. The sugar becomes caramelized, creating that great crusty texture on the outside of the cake.

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Over time, I’ve perfected this simple recipe to create a Kouign Amann with a center that is lighter and moister than is typical. But sorry folks, that little trick is one I’m going to keep secret!

But I will tell you how to pronounce “Kouign Amann.” It’s basically pronounced like “Queen Ah-Mahn.” The translation of “Kouign Amann” is “Cake Butter,” which is pretty appropriate. The origin of the name is Breton, which was a Celtic-based language spoken in the Brittany region of France during the Middle Ages.

So there you have it… A linguistics lesson and a bit of information about one of my absolute favorite things to bake. Just call me the #KingofKouigns!

Chef Steve Konopelski

P.S. For those of you who live near Denton, Maryland, you can order Kouign Amanns for local pickup.