The Dark Side...for a Butter Lover

If you look in my fridge, at any point, there will always be more than a pound of butter.  I actually start to panic if I'm running low.  Does that mean I have a butter "problem"?  But, for awhile now I've been thinking about trying a vegan goodie just to see what it would be like - experience the thrill of leaving my staple baking items behind me.  A good source of inspiration came from our neighbor store at Dream Dinners, the Zig Zag Gallery.  Besides the fact it is an ultra hip store, where you can always find a unique gift, the owner Kim (love the name) is a vegan.  For almost a year now, I have trolloped over with my butter-filled goodies for all the non-vegans.  I finally decided it was time to include everyone.  I get to expand my baking horizons and make everyone happy?!  Why haven't I tried this sooner?

Vegan Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with "Cream Cheese" Frosting
adapted from Kitchen Corners

-1/2 c. organic coconut oil
-1 c. organic brown sugar
-1/2 c. apple butter (no sugar added) or applesauce
-1 c. pure organic pumpkin puree
-1 tsp. vanilla extract
-2 c. unbleached flour
-2 tsp. baking powder
-1 tsp. baking soda
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1/4 tsp cinnamon if using apple butter, 1 tsp if applesauce
-1/8 tsp fresh ground nutmeg, up to a half tsp. if applesauce
-1/2 c. soy buttermilk (add 2 tsp. cider vinegar to 1/2 c. soy milk & let curdle)

-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line cupcake pans with liners, makes 18 regular or 48 mini cupcakes (like mine).
-In bowl of stand mixer, cream coconut oil and sugar until light and fluffy.  (won't be as "fluffy" as butter and sugar gets).  Add apple butter and mix well.  Add the pumpkin puree and vanilla and beat until incorporated.
-In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.
-Add the flour mixture and soy buttermilk alternately to the pumpkin batter, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
-Scoop batter into prepared cupcake pans.  Bake regular size for 20 minutes.  Mini cupcakes for 12-15 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool in pan for 5 minutes.  Cool completely before frosting.

"Cream Cheese" Frosting
adapted from
-1/2 c. dairy-free margarine, such as Earth Balance, room temp.
-1, 8 oz. tub dairy-free cream cheese, such as Tofutti, room temp.
-4 cups organic powdered sugar, sifted (it will need it!)
-1/8 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

Optional Garnish:
-3 gingerbread graham cracker rectangles (seasonal item, can use regular or ginger snaps)
-sprinkle sea salt

-Crush graham crackers, spread on cookie sheet, sprinkle with salt.  Roast on top shelf in 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes.
-Sift together pie spice and powdered sugar.
-In bowl of a stand mixer, cream together margarine and cream cheese.  Slowly beat in powdered sugar, increase speed once sugar is incorporated and beat until light and fluffy.
-Pipe or spread on cupcakes as desired.
-Sprinkle with crushed gingerbread graham crackers if desired.

I searched high and low for a vegan recipe that didn't freak me out.  I wasn't ready to purchase ingredients that would just take up space in my pantry;  If I'm being honest with myself, I'll never be a vegan.  The idea is beautiful, and it has to be an undertaking to do it the right way, so praise to them for all their effort!  Alas, this one came to me and the only thing I needed was the soy milk, Earth Balance and Tofutti.  I wasn't breaking the bank.  Plus I could use some of my leftover coconut oil from making these awhile back.

These are super yummy!  I would have never guessed these were vegan if I hadn't made them.  Very, very moist!  For all you butter lovers, just take a walk on the wild side and try these.  If you're vegan, try these and let me know how they compare to other cupcakes you've tried.

*Waves hand* "It is not the butter you seek"

It's the Great Pumpkin Hoarder, Charlie Brown!

If you came over and looked in my pantry, you might assume that I'm living on a diet of pumpkin.  My paranoia that there is a pumpkin shortage is bordering on insanity.  Why else would I buy no less than four cans every time I go to the grocery store?  Because I'm living in fear that it won't be there the next time I go!  What is Fall without PUMPKIN?!  Buy MORE!!!  Lord, help me.  Then the guilt sets in.  Now I must use this pumpkin.  At the end of the season I don't want to see pumpkin still in my pantry while another family goes without because I have it ALL.  So let me share some pumpkin deliciousness with you!  Please.  I need to balance my karma!

Pumpkin Butterscotch Blondies
recipe courtesy Smells Like Home

-2 c. all-purpose flour
-1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
-1 tsp. baking soda
-3/4 tsp. salt
-1 c. unsalted butter, softened
-1 1/4 c. brown sugar
-1 large egg
-2 tsp. vanilla extract
-1 c. pumpkin puree
-1c. white chocolate chips
-1 1/2 c. butterscotch chips, divided

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9x13 pan with foil.  Spray foil lightly with non-stick cooking spray.  In a medium bowl, combine flour, pie spice, baking soda, and salt.  Whisk together and set aside.

-In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and then add brown sugar and beat at med-high speed until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg and vanilla until well combined.  Mix in pumpkin puree.

-With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients until just incorporated.  Fold in white chocolate chips and 1 cup of butterscotch chips.  Spread batter evenly in pan and sprinkle with remaining butterscotch chips. Bake 35-40 minutes or until edges start to pull away from pan.  Transfer to wire rack and cool completely before cutting.

-Use the foil edges to lift cooled blondies from pan.  On a cutting board, peel foil from blondie edges, cut into squares.  Enjoy!

Oh yummy, yum, yum!  These have the best texture-moist, but not too gooey.  You have the contrasting texture and flavor pop of the chips.  It's the flavors of Fall in a little square.  You can free hand the measurement of the chips to your liking, if you want.  I somewhat followed the original recipe; I just added what I thought looked like a good batter/chip ratio.  I didn't, but you could also sprinkle the white chocolate chips on top to have a nice contrasting color.  If you have some pumpkin in your pantry or you're looking for a different way to use pumpkin other than in pie...make these!

Want more?  How about a perfect seasonal dip?

-8 oz. package cream cheese (regular or light), softened
-1/2 c. packed brown sugar
-1/2 c. canned pumpkin
-1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon

In a medium bowl, using a hand mixer, beat cream cheese, brown sugar and pumpkin at medium speed until well blended.  Add pie spice or cinnamon, and beat until smooth.  Cover and chill for 1 hour.  You can serve this with tart apple slices, graham crackers, gingersnap cookies, or whatever you think would pair nicely with this fluffy, Fall dip!

Pumpkin dip?  Apples?  A kid can't resist.

S'more Biscotti, Does That Count?

The husband and I are not ones to spoil the boys.  All of their grandparents seem to do that well enough for us.  But there are certain things, fun things, that are a part of childhood you want your kids to experience even if it's a pain in the butt on our part.  That pain would be S'mores.  I know.  It doesn't seem like that big of a deal, it's three items, and I regularly make recipes with items that are grocery list long.  We had good intentions and purchased a bag of ENORMOUS marshmallows.  Everywhere we traveled this summer, we took the marshmallows with hopes to roast them to brown/burnt gooey goodness.  Never happened.  Whether it was too sweltering still to have a fire, the mosquitoes hovered in hoards, or it was waaaaay too late in the night to keep the boys (parents) up, the s'mores thing just never happened.  Now I'm feeling bad because summer is at a close, and while it isn't completely impossible to still accomplish, my window is closing.  So here is this, S'mores Biscotti, this mom's attempt to make-up for the real thing this year.  It definitely can't replace a true S'more, but give my boy something with chocolate and marshmallows, and he isn't complaining!

I'm not lying about these ENORMOUS marshmallows

S'more Biscotti
inspired by Sugar Plum

-1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
-1 c. graham cracker crumbs, finely ground and divided
-1/3 c. sugar
-3/4 tsp. baking powder
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted
-1/2 of a 7 oz. jar of marshmallow creme
-1 large egg
-1/2 tsp. vanilla
-3/4 c. chocolate chips (milk or semi-sweet)
-8 oz. chocolate bark
-1 c. mini-marshmallows

-Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

-In a large bowl, whisk together flour, 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  In a large mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, whisk together the butter, marshmallow creme, egg, and vanilla until well combined.  Switching to the paddle attachment, stir in dry ingredients until a stiff dough forms.  Stir in chocolate chips.

-Dump dough onto cookie sheet and form two (approx. 5 inch length) "logs" but not round logs, biscotti shaped logs.  Bake 30 minutes.  Remove cookie sheet from oven.  Cool logs for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

-Transfer logs to a cutting board.  These will still be quite warm, watch for hot melted chocolate!  Using a serrated knife, diagonally cut 1/2 inch thick slices, I got 6 cookies from each log.  Place back on cookie sheet; bake 10 minutes, flip over and bake for another 10 minutes.  Transfer to wire rack to cool.

-Melt chocolate bark in microwave safe bowl in 30 second intervals, stirring each time.  Repeat until completely melted and smooth.  Dip half of the cooled biscotti in chocolate, immediately sprinkle with marshmallows first, then some of the reserved 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs.  Let cool on waxed paper until chocolate hardens.  Sit out over night to get a dryer, crunchier biscotti.

I've never made biscotti before and it was super EASY!  EASY!  I had some pre-concieved notion it would be difficult because biscotti seems to be a pretentious cookie.  Don't judge me for judging!  I only see people enjoy it with espresso or tea, pinkies high in the air.  It doesn't appear to be as easily accessible as say, a chocolate-chip cookie.  But my oldest ate this up like any other kid-friendly cookie, chocolate-dipped end first of course!

Maple Leaves, Please

I've been hoarding this recipe for several years.  It's a special cookie.  It's a labor of love.  And I only pull it out once the leaves start hitting the ground.  Because let's be honest, do you really want a maple cookie in any other season than fall?  Well, I don't anyway, and my maple leaf cookie cutter doesn't see any action till October.  And the action is short lived.  October and November only, then it's back in the storage bin.  Sad face.  So let's enjoy this wonderful cookie while we can!

Maple Cookie
adapted from Food Network

-2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
-1 c. packed brown sugar
-1/2 c. granulated sugar
-2 large eggs
-1 1/2 tsp. maple extract
-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
-1/4 c. maple syrup (preferably grade B)
-4 c. all-purpose flour
-2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
-1/2 tsp. salt
-Heavy cream

Maple Glaze
1 c. confectioners' sugar
1/4 c. maple syrup (not sugar like the original recipe)
1 tsp. maple extract
1/4 c. unsalted butter

-maple sugar for sprinkling (optional)

In a medium bowl or bowl of stand mixer, cream the butter, then gradually add the sugars and continue to beat until light and fluffy.  Scrape down sides of bowl.  Add the eggs, extracts, and maple syrup until well combined.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Slowly add flour mixture to wet mixture.  Beat until completely incorporated.  Turn dough out onto plastic wrap, divide dough into four even disks.  Individually wrap each disk and chill for at least 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Remove one disk at a time from fridge.  Set out 5-10 minutes before rolling.  Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, 1/4 inch thick.  With a cooke cutter of your choice, cut out cookies, and transfer to a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Brush the cookies with heavy cream.  Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, while cookies bake,  make the maple glaze.  Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan.  Stir over medium heat until it just reaches the boiling point.  As soon as cookies come out of the oven, brush the maple glaze over the top with a pastry brush.  Keep glaze on low heat.  Can be brought back to a higher heat and whisked if crystallization starts.  Sprinkle with maple sugar if desired.  Let cool.  Store in air tight container.  These are better the next day.

I'm actually not a huge maple fan.  Gasp.  And I've never actually heard anyone proclaim their love for maple, like say, one would about chocolate.  But these cookies are always a big hit.  Perfect with a cup of tea, for sure, and just a visual delight this time of year.

An Apple Bar a Day...

Ah life.  It's been crazy.  Let's just say, there have been places to go, a home to sell, and new things to do.  I've left my blog in the dust, and you too, my dear lone reader.  And I've been feeling guilty.  I wasn't sure if it would be right coming back after so long, but thanks to guilt trips from some (you know who you are) and sweet words of encouragement from others, here I am.  AND because it's cute, here's one of my reasons for being so busy...

The "excited for school" face.  I hope it never wears off.

Fall, Fall, Fall.  You're crazy if you don't love it.  Crazy.  It's just one person's opinion, but other than raking leaves, what's not to love?  If you haven't thought of a reason, then I'm going to give you just one. These scrumptious Apple Cristrudel Bars.  Wondering what "Cristrudel" is?  Its a made up word, thanks to your's truly.  I imagined these bars into existence, and had no idea what to call them.  And being the "original" character that I am, decided that since they seem to be similar in taste to an Apple Crisp and an Apple Strudel, why not combine the two into a Cristrudel?  Clever?  Probably not, but it works!  And these are serious yum in your mouth!

Apple Cristrudel Bars                                

Cookie Base:
-package sugar cookie mix
-1 stick unsalted butter, softened
-1 egg

Cream Cheese layer:
-8 oz. cream cheese, softened
-3.5 oz. marshmallow cream
-1/8 tsp. apple pie spice or cinnamon

Apple layer:
-4, medium-large Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled, and chopped (I prefer organic)
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. apple pie spice or cinnamon

Caramel layer:
-10 oz. pre-wrapped caramel candies
-3 Tbsp. milk or cream
-sprinkle of sea salt (optional)

Crumb topping:
-1/2 c. brown sugar
-6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
-1/2 tsp. apple pie spice or cinnamon
-scant 1/2 tsp. salt
-1/4 tsp. baking soda
-1/4 tsp. vanilla
-1/2 c. flour
-1 c. old-fashioned oats

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9x13 pan, line with aluminum foil, leaving foil hanging over the edges for easy bar removal later.  Spray foil with non-stick cooking spray.

-Using a stand or hand mixer, combine sugar cookie mix, butter, and egg in medium size bowl until well combined.  Press dough evenly into the bottom of prepared pan.  Using damp hands prevents sticking.  Prick dough evenly with fork.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove and let cool.

-Prepare apples.  Sprinkle apples, in a bowl, with salt and pie spice.  Toss to coat evenly.

-Using stand or hand mixer, combine cream cheese, marshmallow cream, and pie spice until creamy and smooth.  Evenly spread over cooled cookie crust.  An offset spatula works best.  Evenly distribute apples over cream cheese, gently press down.

-In a microwave safe bowl, combine unwrapped caramels and milk (or cream).  Microwave on 1 minute intervals for 3 minutes, stirring after each minute, then 30 second intervals until completely melted and smooth.  (Times may vary based on each microwave)  Drizzle caramel evenly over apples.  Very lightly sprinkle sea salt over caramel, if desired.

-Using a stand or hand mixer, in a medium bowl beat together brown sugar, butter, pie spice, salt, baking soda, and vanilla until well blended.  Stir in flour and oats until it resembles a moist, crumbly texture.  Evenly cover apple-caramel layer with crumb topping.  Bake 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until caramel is bubbling.  Longer if you want a browner, crisper crust.  Let bars cool completely before removing and cutting into squares.  Squares look best if they've been cooled, refrigerated, removed from pan and cut.

The nice thing about these bars are that the ingredients are simple, and if it seems like one too many layers for you, I'm sure if you decide not to do the cream cheese layer or the caramel layer they will still be delicious!  Just call them Apple Strudel Bars if you go with the cream cheese layer, no caramel or Apple Crisp Bars with caramel layer, no cream cheese!  But these are sure to put you in the Fall spirit-ready to break out those cardigans, sip apple cider and carve some pumpkins!  Look for more Fall inspired recipes soon...

Caught you!  This monkey makes baking difficult; good thing he's cute!

Life is a Pan Full of Cherries

I've had cherries on the brain.  Most likely due to the fact I stare at 15 pounds of them every time I open my freezer.  Those are tart ones, and frozen, therefore not nearly as appealing as the beautiful, shiny fresh ones I see at the grocers.  Sweet and plump, they called to me even though I have pounds of their tart brother already at home.  But, I thought to myself, this is a necessary purchase because I just came upon the most amazing sounding recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  She has me hooked on anything that requires brown butter.  I'm convinced any recipe can be made better if you just brown the butter.

Brown Butter Cherry Bars
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

-7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
-1/3 c. sugar
-1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
-1 c. plus 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
-1/4 tsp. cinnamon
-pinch of salt

-1/2 c. sugar
-2 large eggs
-pinch of salt
-1/4 c. flour
-1 tsp. vanilla extract
-1/2 c. unsalted butter
-1 pound sweet cherries (before pitting)
-1 tsp. almond extract
-3 Tbsp. raw sugar

-Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a 8x8 or 9x9 pan with parchment paper, leaving paper hanging over pan edges to easily remove bars when done.  Spray pan with non-stick cooking spray.
-Using a rubber spatula, mix melted butter, sugar,  and vanilla in a small bowl or the bowl you melted the butter in.  Add flour, cinnamon, and salt and stir until incorporated.
-Transfer dough to prepared pan and use your fingertips to press the dough evenly across the bottom of the pan.  Bake the crust until golden, about 18 minutes.  Transfer crust to rack and cool in pan.  Keep oven on.

-Clean, pit, and place in bowl.  Toss with teaspoon of almond extract.

-Cook butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until butter becomes brown and gives off a nutty aroma.  Stir often and watch carefully so as not to burn.  Pour butter into measuring glass and let cool slightly.
-Whisk sugar, eggs, and salt in medium bowl to blend.  Add flour and vanilla.  Whisk till smooth.  Gradually whisk in browned butter into sugar-egg mixture.  Whisk until well blended.
-Arrange pitted cherries in bottom of cooled crust.  Carefully pour filling evenly over the fruit.  Sprinkle raw sugar over the top.  Bake bars until filling is puffed and golden, or until toothpick comes out clean, about 40 minutes.  Cool bars completely in pan on rack.

Once cooled, use parchment paper to help you remove bars from pan.  Cut into 16 squares using a very sharp knife so as not to damage the cherries.  Enjoy alone, or with a dollop of whipped cream.

I thought these bars were a simple treat where the integrity of this summer fruit truly shines.  The cherries stay full and plump.  And I thought they wavered on having a sweet-tart flavor after baking.  People seemed to really enjoy these bars even after a couple days they were originally baked.  This recipe is definitely a keeper!

A Blondie for My Favorite Blondie

I've been gone in the land of vacation.  While I thought of my dear, sweet blog, I didn't think about it too much because I was enjoying things like this:

And this:

Can you blame me?  Mmm-hmm.  Didn't think so.  I did miss baking.  I missed my kitchen and all the handy things in it.  Mostly I missed my babies.  But I'm home now and back to the land of normal, dirty faces and all.  *happy sigh*

Before I left, I managed to pop these out.  Easy, of course.  Normally I'm not big on Snickerdoodles, but I made them with my mom (the blondie) in mind.  I always make chocolate or something with chocolate and she isn't crazy over the stuff.  If we didn't sound like the same lady, I might question our relation!

Snickerdoodle Blondies
adapted from Recipe Girl

-2 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
-2 tsp. baking powder
-1 tsp. cinnamon
-1/8 tsp. nutmeg
-1/2 tsp. cream of tartar, heaping
-1 tsp. salt
-2 c. brown sugar, packed
-1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
-2 large eggs, room temperature
-3/4 Tbsp. vanilla
-1 c. cinnamon chips (optional)

-2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
-1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 9x13 pan with nonstick spray.  Line pan with parchment paper, let paper hang over sides.  Spray parchment paper.
2.  In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cream of tartar and salt.  Set aside.
3.  In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and brown sugar for 3-5 minutes.  Mix in eggs, one at a time, then vanilla.  Beat until mixture is smooth.
4.  Stir in flour mixture until well blended.  Stir in cinnamon chips, if using.  Spread evenly into prepared pan.  With a thick batter, I scoop it out into the pan versus pouring it.  This helps me evenly distribute into the corners better.
5.  Combine the topping ingredients in a small bowl; sprinkle evenly on top of the batter.
6.  Bake 25-30 minutes or until surface springs back to the touch.  Let pan cool completely.
7.  Once cooled, use the ends of the parchment paper to lift out the bars.  Do carefully so as not to crack the bars.  Cut into squares or other desired shape.

My first impression is that these remind me of good cinnamon toast.  Which is exactly what my mom would make me for breakfast.  Look at this full circle.  I made these because I thought my mom would enjoy them, and then they end up whisking me back to childhood memories of her making me toast.  Sweet.

Now, I'm not a fan of nutmeg.  I halved what Recipe Girl called for and still, all I could taste was nutmeg.  Clearly my taste buds are hyper-sensitive to this spice.  Next time I won't add it, but I could see the value of having it in there if you like that extra warmth and spiciness.  These are chewy and a nice traditional spin on a classic cookie.  See Recipe Girl if you want something a little fancier...she has a glaze!

It's Sooo Vanilla or IS It?

Mmm.  I love a good cupcake.  I really don't know anyone who doesn't, except my husband.  Weirdo.  I force him to try them anyway.  Torturous, I'm sure.  I was browsing Tasty Kitchen one day and this picture was on their home page.  Click this (seriously).  Definitely yum, right?  Must.  Make.  Now.

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
adapted from Annie's Eats

-1/2 c. cake flour
-1/2 Tbsp. baking powder
-1/4 tsp. salt
-1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean or 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
-1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
-1 cup sugar
-3 large eggs, room temperature
-1/2 c. + 2 Tbsp buttermilk, room temperature

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.  I was able to get 15 cupcakes with batter.  Set aside.
2.  In a medium bowl, combine cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk together and set aside.  Add butter and vanilla bean paste or vanilla bean seeds to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  (Can use hand mixer too)  Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix an additional minute.
3.  Add the sugar to the butter mixture,  1/4 c. at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition.  Mix in eggs one at a time until incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.  With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  (If using vanilla extract add with the buttermilk)  Mix until just incorporated, scrape sides of the bowl and mix 15 seconds longer.
4.  Divide batter amongst liners, filling 2/3 of the way full.  Bake 18-22 minutes, check after 18 minutes; toothpick should come out clean.  Cool in pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Filling and Frosting
Adapted from Evil Shenanigans

-1 tsp. hot water
-3 1/2 oz. marshmallow fluff
-1/4 c. vegetable shortening
-3 Tbsp. powdered sugar
-2 Tbsp. Dutch-processed cocoa
-1/2 tsp. vanilla
-pinch of salt

-In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the filling and whisk until completely mixed.  Place the filling into a pastry bag (or ziploc bag) fitted with a filling tip or a medium sized tip.

-Once the cupcakes are cooled, take a small paring knife, poke it into the center of the cupcake in a cross pattern about one inch deep or skip this if you have a filling tip.  Take the pastry bag and place the tip into the cross and pipe out very slowly until the filling just starts to come out of the top of the hole.  Clean the tops before frosting.

-1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
-1 tsp vanilla bean paste
-3 c. powdered sugar
-1/4 cup half & half or milk or cream

-In a medium bowl combine the butter and vanilla bean paste.  Add the powdered sugar and 3/4 of the milk.  Whisk to combine.  If the frosting seems to thick or stiff add the rest of the milk and whisk.  Frost the cupcakes as desired.  Eat and enjoy!

In the cupcake recipe I didn't have buttermilk.  So I used the buttermilk substitute trick; 1 Tbsp white vinegar in a liquid measuring cup, add milk until measurement reads 1 cup.  Let stand 5 minutes and use in recipe as called for.

The filling is very tasty.  The frosting is very sweet.  These aren't my favorite cupcakes, but they aren't bad.  I think they'd just be "eh" without the filling.  The vanilla bean specks give it more "Oooh" factor too.

Sophistication is Key

Remember the good ol days; the days where you freely ate cookie dough without a care in the world?  In my wonder years, buying a roll of dough was a prerequisite for getting a sleepover started.  My girlfriends and I would unabashedly scarf down a tube of dough.  Lovely visual, right?  That was before my metabolism disappeared, before kids, and before worrying about illness from scary bacteria.  Where has all the fun gone?!  Okay, I still have fun, but not from licking delicious looking batter or dough from my you can imagine my girlish delight when I discovered this gem from Joy the Baker.  Cookie dough without the egg.  I'm running to the kitchen now!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls
adapted from Joy the Baker

-1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-1/3 cup granulated sugar
-1/3 cup greek yogurt
-1 tsp. vanilla
-1 cup + 2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
-1/2 tsp. baking soda
-3/4 tsp salt
-3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
-10 oz. chocolate bark or semi-sweet chocolate, melted for dipping

1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, (or you can do this by hand) cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
2.  Beat in yogurt and vanilla.  Mixing until combined.
3.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.
4.  Add flour mixture all at once to butter/sugar mix and stir until incorporated.
5.  Fold in mini chips, cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 2-4 hours.

Using a tablespoon or melon-baller, scoop dough and form into tablespoon size balls.  Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Place in fridge 8 hours or overnight to chill and harden.  With a toothpick,  dip ball in melted chocolate.  You can melt chocolate over double boiler or in microwave at 30 second intervals.  Place coated ball on cookie sheet lined with wax or parchment paper.  Return balls to refrigerator or freezer.  Serve chilled and let your childhood memories take over!

Joy from "Joy the Baker" is a girl after my own heart!  Girl had her recipe making 9 balls-whoo!  I made 35 truffle size balls.  Maybe it's a sign of my age.  Since I knew I was making a bite size version, I chose to use mini chocolate chips.  Those things are so darn cute!  Either way you choose to size the balls or the chocolate chips, you can now eat your cookie dough care-free and I think, with a touch of sophistication.  Or at least more sophisticated then gnawing at a tube of dough.  *hangs head*

The Real (and not so real) Deal

Mmmm....strawberries.  When I was a little girl my grandma and I would pick those tiny wild strawberries in the summer.  She would often serve them in a shallow pool of ice cold milk with a dash of sugar.  I have fond memories and a lifelong love of strawberries.

Grocery store strawberries are masters in the art of deception.  They look pretty at a distance, but once you get close, most times, they are all bruised and/or partially rotten.  Nice.  No wonder they're $1.50 for a quart, you'll get (maybe) two good ones.  What a deal!  Other times I think they look great, but once home and washed, they lack in a nice strawberry flavor I desire.  Fed up with the antics, this spring I planted my own strawberry plant.  It has grown!  But no strawberries.  I don't even know.  Plants and I aren't generally friends.  But I will continue to water and care for it, and when I get strawberries of my own several years from now, it will all be worth it!  I'm sticking it to the MAN, the GROCERY MAN.

Now, on to sharing some very EASY strawberry flavored treats and one delicious cupcake made with the real deal.

Strawberry Oreo Truffles

-1 package Strawberry Milkshake Oreo's (this is seasonal)
-6 oz cream cheese, softened
-10 oz chocolate candy coating
-4 oz pink candy coating or sprinkles, non-pariels, etc.  (optional)

1.  Empty package of Oreo's into a gallon size ziploc bag.  Crush Oreo's using a rolling pin or whatever heavier object you have handy.
2.  Empty crushed Oreo's into a food processor, top with softened cream cheese, and pulse mixture until it appears moist and well combined.
3.  Refrigerate for 8 hours or until cool enough to form into balls.
4.  Using a melon baller, spoon, or keen eye, roll Oreo mixture into balls; tablespoon/truffle size.  Place balls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
5.  Place cookie sheet in refrigerator for 4-6 hours.  Remove once balls have cooled and hardened and will be manageable in melted chocolate.
6.  Melt chocolate candy coating in microwave safe bowl in 30 second intervals or in a heat proof bowl over boiling water.
7.  Working quickly and with a few balls out at a time, insert a toothpick into Oreo ball and roll around in chocolate, using a spoon to help coat if needed.  Gently tap against bowl to remove excess chocolate.  Place on parchment lined cookie sheet.  Decorate with sprinkles/decor of choice if desired.
8.  Let cool and harden.  Decorate with additional candy coating if desired.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Strawberry Rice Krispie Treats

-4 Tbsp. butter
-10 oz package Strawberry flavored marshmallows (large ones were all I found)
-1/4 tsp. almond extract
-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
-1-2 drops red food coloring (if desired)
-6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
-1 cup miniature marshmallows (if desired)
-8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips

1.  Evenly coat a 9x13 pan with non-stick cooking spray or butter.
2.  In a large non-stick pot, melt butter over med-low heat.  Stir in package of Strawberry marshmallows.   Stir until melted.  Remove from heat.
3.  Add in extracts and food coloring.  Stir to combine.
4.  Add cereal and fold gently into melted marshmallow until cereal is evenly coated.  Sprinkle 1 cup of mini marshmallows over Rice Krispie mixture and continue to fold until mini marshmallows are evenly distributed through mixture.
5.  Turn out mixture into prepared pan and gently pat down with damp hands to evenly distribute.
6.  Melt semi-sweet chips in microwave safe bowl in 30 second intervals, stirring at each interval.  Continue until melted.  Drizzle chocolate over Rice Krispie treats.
7.  Cool, cut into squares, serve and enjoy!

Pink Lady Cupcakes
adapted from Tasty Kitchen

-2 1/4 cup cake flour
-1 1/2 cup sugar
-2 tsp. baking powder
-1/4 tsp. salt
-6 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
-3/4 cup pureed strawberries, strained
-4 whole egg whites
-1/3 cup milk
-1-2 drops red food coloring (to make the pink pop)

1.  Preheat oven 350 F.  Place liners into cupcake pan.  Makes 24 cupcakes.
2.  In a large mixing bowl, add flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  On low speed with hand or stand mixer, blend for 30 seconds.  Add butter and strawberry puree and mix on low to incorporate ingredients.  Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
3.  In another bowl, whisk together egg whites, milk, and food coloring, blending until light and airy.
4.  Add the whites to the batter in 3 additions.  Mixing just to incorporate after each addition.
5.  Divide batter evenly amongst cupcake liners.  I use a 1 3/4 oz. ice cream scoop or you can fill until liners are 3/4 full.
6.  Bake for 15-17 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.  Let cupcakes cool in tin for 5 minutes and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Strawberry Mascarpone Frosting
adapted from Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy

-4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
-8 oz. mascarpone cheese, room temperature
-1/2 c. fresh strawberries, pureed
-2 Tbsp. strawberry jam
-4-5 cups powdered sugar

*disclaimer:  My mascarpone and butter mix did something funky and it was wet, splashing me, wet!  I ended up adding about 5 oz. cream cheese.  I added just 4 cups sugar, (it was sweet!) a pinch of salt, and used Smucker's Strawberry spreadable fruit instead of jam.

1.  Cream butter and mascarpone with electric or stand mixer until sort and fluffy, about 2 minutes (or never, if you're me)
2.  Add the strawberry puree and jam.  Mix to combine.
3.  Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, and beat until light and fluffy.  (This is when I tasted, added salt, and softened cream cheese)
4.  Pipe or spread onto cupcakes.

These were awesomely yummy!  The cake is sooooo moist.  The frosting ended up being "loose" but very tasty.  I would make these again in a heartbeat.

See my strawberry plant trying to make an appearance?  Now if I could just make it produce some strawberries!

It must be love if it's...Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake.  I hear this and immediately a look of disgust washes over my face.  I think of a cake with chunks of things, crunching down on, wait, is that a nut?..., and that overly sweet, thick cream cheese frosting.  But people love, love this cake.  I know such a person.  My husband.  The poor guy always loses out when it's an option on the dessert tray.  Thankfully we built our relationship on chocolate, and therefore there is always another dessert we can agree on.  He's such a good sport.  And on top of that, he's a pretty awesome daddy to our boys.  So how does this lady show her man love and appreciation on "his" day?  Bake a carrot cake.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes
adapted from Cupcake Project

-1/2 c. sugar
-3/4 tsp. baking soda
-1 tsp. baking powder
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
-1/2 tsp. ground cardamom, scant
-1 c. finely grated carrots-approx. 2 medium-lg carrots
-8 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
-1 c. desiccated coconut*
-1/2 c. currants or raisins (raisins are larger)
-1/4 c. coconut oil (available at Kroger's in health food dept.)
-1/4 c. unsalted butter, softened
-2 eggs
-1 c. flour

-  Preheat oven 350 F.  Line cupcake pan with paper liners.
-  In a large bowl, combine all ingredients minus oil, butter, eggs and flour
-  Add oil and butter and beat at a medium speed until combined
-  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition
-  Stir in flour, 1/2 c. at a time, mixing until just combined
-  Divide evenly among cupcake liners.  I use a 1 3/4 oz cookie scoop.
-  Bake for 22-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean
-  Let cool in pan on wire rack 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool completely before frosting.

*Go here to learn how to make desiccated coconut

Cream Cheese Brown Butter Frosting
by Me
1/4 c. unsalted butter
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
3 c. powdered sugar, sifted

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, brown your butter.  Stirring constantly, it will melt, foam, and start to turn golden and will have a nutty aroma.  Bits will be at the bottom of the pan.  Watch these.  They can go from dark brown (where you want them) to burnt in milliseconds.  Remove from heat.  Set aside and let cool.  Once your butter is cooled, in a large bowl at a medium speed, beat browned butter and cream cheese until combined and creamy.  Stir in vanilla and cinnamon.  Slowly mix in powdered sugar, then whip together at a medium-high speed.  Pipe or spread on cupcakes immediately.

1/3 c. chopped walnuts
1/4 tsp. sea salt

In a small pan on stove, toast nuts over a medium heat, occasionally tossing.  You know they are toasting when they give off a nuttier aroma and start to look slightly glossy.  Once they reach this stage, sprinkle with sea salt.  Toss to coat.  Remove from heat.  Let cool before garnishing tops of cupcakes.

I asked the hub's to describe his feeling after first biting into the cupcake.  "Euphoric."  Okay, now, let's not go overboard!  I must say I had some divine inspirations while making this cupcake.  I've never used cardamom before, so I gave it the smell/taste test.  It smells like a cleaning product and is quite spicy. I think the Cupcake Project woman is very talented, but I was not about to make a frosting with 2 teaspoons of the stuff.  I thought about using cinnamon instead, but even as much as I love cinnamon I thought it would be a bit much.  And so I thought about other things I love.  I love butter.  I love to brown my butter.  Let's do that.  Put me on the train to Yummytown, because that is where I was headed!

Walnuts were not in this recipe.  Probably one of the main reasons I chose it apart from that it was labeled moist.  Yet, my husband loves them and if I was going to make carrot cake in the first place I really wanted to give him what he likes.  I thought the nuts showcased on the top of the cupcake would be nice.  That way, you know they're there and since they are toasted and salty they offer a nice contrast and texture to the sweet frosting and soft cake.

And so, my friends, if you're one of those people who enjoy carrot cake.  Make this.  They are surprisingly easy, and I guess, euphoric.

Hey hon, your crazy's showing.  It is just carrot cake.

I'll Have Samoa Those!!!

Clever and original title.  Yes?  Okay, no, but these bars might have you turning those little Girl Scouts away later this year.  Who am I kidding?  Those girls are too sweet to pass up on their cookies, but as soon as the boxes hit $10, I'm out!  Nowadays you can find many recipes that pay homage to our favorite yearly treat, and Samoas happen to be a family favorite.  Growing up, these and Thin Mints were a fixture in my house for a week, because let's be honest, a sleeve of Thin Mints can be inhaled in minutes if you aren't paying attention.  So I hope you enjoy my adaptation of Samoas via inspiration through Baking Bites.

Samoa Cookie Bars

1 pouch Sugar Cookie Mix
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 egg

Coconut-Caramel Topping:
12 oz. pre-wrapped caramels
3 Tbsp. milk
1/4 tsp. salt
3 c. coconut, toasted

12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate for coating and drizzling

-Preheat oven 350 degrees.  Coat 9x13 pan well with non-stick cooking spray.  Blend sugar cookie mix, butter, and egg with hand or stand mixer until ingredients are combined well and dough forms.  Press dough down evenly in pan, prick dough all over with fork.  Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from oven, slide a sharp knife between the dough and pan, let cool completely on wire rack.

-Melt 10 oz. of chocolate using a double boiler or microwave in a microwave safe bowl for 30 second intervals until smooth.

-Cut cooled cookie base, width wise, down the middle (this helps base from breaking when removing from pan).  Again, loosen the dough around the sides of the pan.  Turn pan upside down onto parchment paper and let cookie base fall onto paper.  Spread melted chocolate evenly over the bottom of the base.  Let chocolate cool and harden, this process can be sped up in fridge.

-Turn oven temperature down to 300 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and evenly spread coconut.  Toast coconut for approx. 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to toast evenly.

-In a microwave-safe bowl, combine caramels, milk, and salt.  Microwave on high for 3-4 minutes, stopping a couple times to stir.  Once caramel is melted, stir until smooth, fold in coconut.  Spoon coconut-caramel mix evenly on top of cookie base.  Gently press down onto cookie base.  Let the cookie bars cool completely before cutting.

-Cut cookies into squares.  I was able to get 24 squares.  Melt remaining 2 oz of chocolate and drizzle over each individual bar.

My sidenotes:
-To coat my baking pan, I use a cooking spray that contains flour.  I prefer the Pam brand.
-Dampening my hands to evenly spread dough into pan and the coconut-topping prevents the headache of having to deal with 'stuff' sticking to utensils.
-If you can find desiccated coconut, use that for authentic Samoa cookie texture.  You can use regular coconut, they will still be yummy!  Or, take regular coconut and grind into smaller pieces in a food processor.
-Make sure you really keep an eye on your coconut as it toasts; it can go from golden to burnt in seconds!  Trust me, I ruined my first batch.
-Before cutting my bars, I lightly sprayed my knife blade with non-stick cooking spray to keep the caramel mix from sticking.  You may not need to do this, but clearly I don't like things sticking and go to paranoid measures to prevent it!
-If you don't want to chance removing the whole cookie base and spreading it with chocolate, then skip that step.  After you cut cookie bars, melt the chocolate, and individually dip the bottom of the cookies into chocolate.

I hope I didn't make these sound difficult!  They are not!  But it is a longer process because you have to let each step cool before you can move to the next step.  I'm not a patient person, but the wait is worth it. I really am getting a kick out of these treats.  HAHA Girl Scouts!  I've made something that tastes like your expensive little cookies and I don't have to wait an entire year before I can get them again!  But don't worry, I'll still be waiting for your Thin Mints.

I'll Take My Cereal with a Side of Butter and Marshmallows

I thought I'd share the recipe for my breakfast.  My breakfast for the last two days.  Salted.  Brown Butter.  Rice Krispie Treat.  I see nothing wrong with this picture.  It is cereal, with a touch of razzle dazzle.  Yes?  I have made, and I'm not joking, five batches of these in the last two weeks.  It's my way of spreading love and happiness throughout the world.

Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 stick unsalted butter
10.5 oz bag mini marshmallows
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
6 cups Rice Krispies
1/4 tsp. coarse sea salt, heaping
extra marshmallows

-Coat a 9x13 pan with butter or non-stick spray.
-In a large, non-stick, pot, melt butter over medium-low heat.  Stirring frequently, the butter will melt, foam, and then start to turn golden.  Start watching it because it will start to turn brown and give off a nutty aroma.  You start to notice brown bits at the bottom, keep stirring to prevent burning.  You want a nice dark brown color of these bits, not burnt, it can be a blurry line so trust your instincts!  Once it reaches a nice brown color remove from heat.
-Add bag of marshmallows to butter, stir around until you can no longer see any marshmallow shape, you may need to add it back to the heat temporarily to make sure they are all melty and gooey.
-Add your vanilla and almond extract.  I always eyeball my amount, so the 1/4 tsp is a good estimate of what I think I add.  Stir around and mix well into the melted marshmallow.
-Add your Rice Krispies.  I generally measure over the pot, so we'll say it's a generous 6 cups.
-Sprinkle the salt evenly over the cereal.  Fold cereal into marshmallow mixture.  Folding is what I do instead of stirring so the cereal pieces don't get crushed into a powder.
-Once the cereal is coated, sprinkle in some marshmallows.  Fold those in until they are even throughout.
-Turn out into pan.  Wet you hands to where they are just slightly moist.  Press krispies down into pan gently, working the mix evenly around pan.  I don't like to press them down hard because I enjoy "fluffier" treats, not hard, dense ones.
- Let them cool long enough so you can make neat cuts. Enjoy!  And enjoy!  And then enjoy some more!

As you can see, I take my Rice Krispies seriously.  The brown butter and salt are new, but I've always added vanilla and almond extract for extra yummy flavor.  I love marshmallows, so adding extra marshmallows at the end seemed to be a logical decision.  They make the treats more special, because let's be honest, they are just Rice Krispie Treats!  These are about as elegant as these things can get; a slight nutty flavor with a hint of salt at the end of each bite.  These can be made quickly and they will go quickly!  It will be your, "What can I make last-minute, that still pleases everyone?" recipe.  Trust me.

Baklava Bars

I love Baklava.  It is such a rare treat.  Which is good, because it just feels sinful as you eat it.  The honey is generally dripping down your hand, it oozes goodness when you bite into it, and you know that someone slaved over this delicious pastry that took mere seconds to inhale.  I've always wanted to try my hand at a batch of baklava, but I've seen videos of this being done, and I've heard the agonizing tales of the long process, (peeling the phyllo sheets gently apart without tearing) and well, this lady just doesn't have enough patience to handle all that!  So naturally, when I came across a simplified version, I had to try it.  I knew if it tasted anything like the real stuff, this was going to be a keeper, and guess what?  It's a family favorite!  Plus easy-peasy (oh, yeah!).

Baklava Bars
adapted from A Southern Grace and Betty Crocker

Cookie Base:
1 pouch sugar cookie mix
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
pinch of cinnamon-big pinch!

1 1/4 c. walnuts, chopped
1/4 c. pistachio meats, dry roasted and salted, chopped
1/3 c. sugar
1/4 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp. cinnamon (heaping)
1/8 tsp. salt
-package frozen, pre-baked mini phyllo shells

In case you were wondering what I'm talking about, I use these.
2/3 c. honey
1/4 c. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves

-additional honey for drizzling

1.  Preheat oven 350 degrees F.  Spray 9x13 pan with cooking spray.

2.  In a stand mixer,  mix all cookie base ingredients until dough forms.  Press into bottom of prepared pan; Bake 12-15 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes.

3.  While cookie base bakes, using a food processor, pulse the filling ingredients until well mixed and you have a nutty, chunky paste.

4.  Sprinkle the nut mixture evenly over partially baked, slightly cooled base. Crumble phyllo shells in hand and evenly sprinkle over nut mixture until covered.  Bake additional 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Sprinkle that nut mixture over the top

Crush up those phyllo shells

5.  On medium heat, combine all glaze ingredients in a small pot.  Stir until sugar dissolves and mixture starts to bubble and boil. Remove from heat, strain out cloves and cinnamon sticks.

6.  Drizzle glaze evenly over bars.  Cool before cutting.  Drizzle with honey before serving.

I like to be generous with my drizzling of honey!

Watch these go quickly from any picnic platter!

Leftover Tip of the Week

Not too many posts ago, I made sugar cookies.  When I roll out my sugar cookie dough, I try to cut out as many cookies as possible, which makes sense, right?  Unfortunately I don't like the idea of re-using all of the little scraps for cookies after they've been man-handled, dredged in extra flour, re-chilled, and re-rolled, even though I'm told that it makes perfectly good cookies.  I won't go into my little OCD's in the kitchen, but I also can't stand to waste food/ingredients that are still quite useable.  Therefore, I squish all my little cookie scraps together, wrap up the dough ball I've created and store it in the fridge.  And so it sits there and it eventually ends up in the back of the fridge which I find one day, hiding, and I look at it sadly as I toss it in the trash.

Until one fine day, I was randomly going through baking blogs and came across, "Sugar Cookie Bars" on Recipe Girl's blog.  They looked extremely yummy with fluffy yellow frosting. I printed off the recipe and decided to make this lovely treat for my son's birthday party.  And then it hit me!  Why make new sugar cookie dough, when I've got a big ball of dough scraps in the fridge?

So if you have the same issue I do, then this post is for you!  Leftover cookie dough scraps have finally found a home!

Sugar Cookie Bars
adapted from Recipe Girl

Whatever sugar cookie dough you have leftover.  Hopefully your recipe works like mine did, otherwise click on Recipe Girl which links you to her recipe if you want to start from scratch.

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. shortening
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
4 cups of powdered sugar (sift after measuring)
5 Tbsp. milk
food coloring, if desired

1.  Spread dough on a greased, rimmed baking sheet.
2.  Bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown or until toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely before frosting.
3.  Prepare frosting:  In a large bowl, beat butter and shortening together until smooth and creamy.  Mix in vanilla and salt.  Add powdered sugar (1 cup at a time) until combined, then add milk and mix until smooth and spreading consistency.  Add a few drops of color, if desired.  Spread over cooled cookie, then cut into bars.

Okay, a few things.  I found my smallest baking sheet because I was working with scraps, not a full batch of dough.  I worked it down into my desired thickness.  Now my dough still didn't cover the whole baking sheet, so I improvised and rolled some foil against the dough line.  Worked great.  A little ghetto looking, but it worked.  Recipe girl recommends you refrigerate the bars until firm to get nice clean cuts.

These were delicious, and fun looking with sprinkles.  And that frosting....oh my goodness it is good.  My husband asked, "Why pink?" but there is just something about that color that makes them more appealing to me.  Maybe it reminds me of childhood.  But I want to put it on all my cookies.  I'll control myself.

Week 16: Dark Chocolate Truffles with Fleur De Sel

#1. Unless you consider yourself a "foodie" you may be wondering what 'fleur de sel' is, well, it's fancy salt. Fancy salt that you can buy in fancy stores. But I'm pretty sure it is becoming more recognizable and can be found in more common grocers. #2. You may also be saying to yourself, "This isn't a cookie! And, this is a cookie blog!" Alright, you caught me. I love cookies (clearly) but I also like to get my hands on a different project so I can get comfortable making other goodies. And, I'm justifying this post because I also include candy in my yearly Christmas tin. And, if you're wondering what Christmas tins have to do with this, refer to post #1.

Dark Chocolate Truffles with Fleur De Sel
Recipe courtesy Bon Appetit

(makes about 32)
20 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, divided
1/3 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. water
2/3 c. whipping cream
1/4 tsp. fleur de sel

1/2 c unsweetened cocoa powder
Additional fleur de sel

1.Place 8 ounces chocolate in metal bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water; stir until chocolate is smooth. Remove chocolate from over water.
2.Combine sugar and water in small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves, occasionally brushing sides of pan with wet pastry brush. Increase heat; boil until syrup is deep amber color, brushing down sides and swirling pan occasionally.
3. Add cream (mixture will bubble). Stir over very low heat until caramel is smooth. Mix caramel and 1/4 tsp. fleur de sel into melted chocolate.
4. Chill until truffle filling is firm, at least 3 hours. Place cocoa in bowl. Using about 1 tablespoon for each truffle, roll into balls, then roll in cocoa. Arrange on baking sheet. Cover; chill overnight.
5. Line baking sheet with foil. Place remaining 12 oz chocolate in medium metal bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water; stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water.
6. Working quickly, submerge 1 truffle in melted chocolate. Roll around to coat. Using fork, lift out truffle and tap fork against the side of the bowl to allow excess coating to drip off. Transfer truffle to prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining truffles. Sprinkle lightly with additional fleur de sel. Let stand until coating sets (about 1 hour). Cover and chill, bring to room temp. before serving.

Why didn't I title the post "Caramel-Dark Chocolate Truffles...."? Well, to be honest, I didn't get the flavor of caramel so much. If I told my tasters that is what they were, then I would get the, "Where's the caramel?" question/comment. It was a long week and I wasn't in the mood to launch into explanations. It may have been my fault that there wasn't a strong caramel flavor. Probably all my fault, but let's not dwell. The last thing I wanted to do was burn a batch of caramel, so when it started turning amber I got a little nervous that at any moment it would turn black. And so, I may have taken it off the heat a little sooner than I should have. Oh, and FYI, when I added the cream, the caramel immediately turned hard and I panicked, but I took a few deep breaths and continued stirring. Thankfully I didn't give up, because it dissolved into the cream and became smooth.

After letting the filling chill for 3 hours or so, I used a melon baller to help me glide through the hardened chocolate. My tiny cookie scooper broke right away when I tried to use it; I was highly annoyed since it was my first time using it. After they were all rolled, I stuck them in the freezer so I could coat them in chocolate that same night. It worked great. I was able to coat about 3 truffles before the chocolate started to set, this is when I sprinkled on my fleur de sel.

My Verdict: These remind me of a chocolate-covered pretzel...minus the pretzel? And I love chocolate-covered pretzels. In fact, I practically ate a whole bag of Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate-Covered Pretzel Slims the other week. Don't judge. Just go buy a bag for yourself if you're near a Trader Joe's. You'll understand. I put the bag away a million times, and eventually just gave up the whole charade. Okay, anyway, these truffles are rich and I think the salt helps them from being too much. Do you know what I mean? The combo of sweet and salty in the same bite is really big right now ("they" say), so I recommend you make these and possibly introduce those around you to a whole new taste bud experience.

Week 14: Kahlua-Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies

I subscribe to a lot of baking blogs. It's fun to see what other people are baking in their kitchen and what's inspiring them to do what they do. Some blogs are simple; no razzle dazzle (like mine), while others make me green with envy. This week I came across one recipe that seemed to be made just for me. What deliciousness is in this recipe? Oh, um, just some of my favorites. Chocolate, cinnamon, espresso, and Kahlua. How could I stay out of the kitchen any longer? You see, after baking myself into a frenzy Easter weekend, flour and I needed some time apart. But, after a couple weeks off, I got the itch and the inspiration to get a little messy in the kitchen again!

Recipe courtesy of Recipe Girl

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
½ Tbsp. espresso powder
1 Tbsp. Kahlua
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed firmly
½ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted & cooled a little bit
1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; set aside.
3. In a small dish, dissolve espresso powder in Kahlua; set aside.
4. In a large bowl, use electric mixer to cream butter and sugars together. Add Kahlua mixture, eggs and vanilla; beat until thoroughly combined. Add cooled, melted chocolate and continue to beat until it’s mixed in. Add flour mixture and beat at low speed until all flour is incorporated into the dough, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in chocolate chips.
5. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls (or use a cookie scoop) 2-inches apart onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown and no longer look gooey in the middles. Cool completely on wire rack.

Now, if you're shaking you head at me because I've made yet another recipe that has espresso powder-I'm sorry! I can't help myself. But, I only have a smidge left at the bottom of my jar and I promise not to purchase any more for awhile. The most common brand of instant espresso powder is Medaglia D'Oro, if you happen to be looking. As for the chocolate, I used some of my Ghiradelli baking chips for the melting chocolate and good ol' Nestle for the mix-in. My cookies baked for 8 1/2 minutes. Half way through I opened the door and placed some chips on the top and rotated the baking sheet.

My Verdict: These smell DIVINE. I love, love the smell of cinnamon. All year round too, not just in the fall/winter season. And when you bite into them, they definitely taste of cinnamon. I really didn't get the flavor of espresso or any alcoholic bite of Kahlua. I think these ingredients really just help the chocolate to shine more. Apparently these cookies exceeded my husband's expectations. Wait. Do I normally bake crap cookies? Anyway, he ate a handful but then said his fifth cookie wasn't as good as the first. Gee, you think? I say "YUM!" and these (for me) will be in the running for the Christmas tins.

Week 11: Sugar Cookies Round 1

I know I said that I wasn't going to blog until next payday. But a couple things got in the way of my self-imposed break. Number 1: Cookie Decorating class on Tuesday. How could I walk away from that not wanting to whip out a batch of cute Easter cookies? Number 2: I had to go to the grocery store AND eggs and butter had to be purchased. They're a household staple for goodness sake! And with my grocery purchase-hey, I got bargain butter- I had everything I needed to whip out a batch (or two) of sugar cookies.

I have a ton of baking cookbooks. A ton. Anyway, I decided to go through each good baking cookbook/magazine that I own and look at all the sugar cookie recipes. Each one is different. Can you believe that? I decided to make a chart of each recipe and the quantity of the ingredients so I could look at all of them side by side. I'm sure that there is an easier way to do that, but I do a lot of things the old-fashioned way. I still write checks too. By comparing the recipes I decided to make the ones with the most butter. Butter=Deliciousness. Yes? Yes.
With there being a few too many recipes, I decided to pick two, test each one out, of course, survey them and see which was preferred. I used two different royal icings. I was feeling rather motivated at the time. But, after a whole day in the kitchen, finished with sweeping the pink sanding sugar off the floor, I was just beginning to think that maybe I bit off more than I could chew. By the time I was done, I had every step of my adventure all over my clothes. You would think I rolled around on my counters to clean up the mess!

I was pretty satisfied with the results. And, the gals at Zig Zag Gallery seemed to like them. I even got a few orders. Sweet. I won't be posting the recipes until I'm done with my sugar cookie rounds and the best has been chosen. If you absolutely must have it, then let me know. I believe that the suspense of waiting for the best cookie will be good for you!

Wow, I use a lot of butter!

Hello out there! As you may or may not have noticed, I didn't post my cookie blog last week. I made the cookies-bars actually, Cappuccino bars to be exact, and I wasn't thrilled with them. I just handed them to whoever would take one and told them not to have high expectations this week and that I wasn't giving a survey.

Last week was actually a bustling week in the Horn kitchen. I made three or four batches of whoopie pies (which my son affectionately calls "pookie" pies) to sell, chocolate-zucchini cupcakes, the cookie bars, and some tiramisu cupcakes. I have not a single stick of butter or egg left in my house! This leads me to my next item. Sadly, I'll be postponing further blogs until next pay period. Now I realize that this would seem like kind of a lame excuse to not blog, but after paying all the bills and seeing our remaining balance, well, let's just say I wish I had stock in
flour and sugar! Some girls get a thrill buying a cute top, mine is finding and purchasing that rare (and perhaps pricey) ingredient to use in some random baked item sometime in the near future. And so I have a lovely stocked pantry with all sorts of unique things, but now not so much dough to make the dough (haha). Of course, baking isn't the only place extra money is going, but it is one of the things that is being cut back for the time being-along with movie rentals and dining out. Wow, that's almost all of my favorite things! Bummer. But this is only for a couple weeks. So in the mean time, here is a picture of my son enjoying his "pookie" pie and links to some of the other blogs I enjoy!

Week 9: Butterscotch Sundae Cookies

Hello stranger. Ugh, my laptop is on the fritz, and if you saw the angle I have to manipulate the screen you'd wonder why I bother. So, I used this as one of my many excuses to not blog last week-tisk, tisk-I know! This week I decided to make a conscience effort to not make anything that contained chocolate or coffee. Clearly, I know what
I enjoy, however I need to branch out a little and explore other ingredients. I also wanted a recipe that was going to be fairly easy on me. I had run myself down to the wire, and it was too late for anything that called for multiple steps that came with fillings or glazes. So I present... Butterscotch Sundae Cookies!

Recipe courtesy King Arthur Cookie Companion

3 Tbsp. plus 3/4 c. unsalted butter-at room temp.
2 c. small pecan halves
3/4 tsp. plus 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/3 c. dark brown sugar
A few drops butter-rum flavor to taste
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 c. flour
1 c. butterscotch chips

1. Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease baking sheets or line with parchment paper.
2. In med. sized skillet, melt 3 Tbsp. butter over low heat, and add the pecans. Stir for a couple minutes , until the nuts begin to brown and smell toasty.
3. Sprinkle with 3/4 tsp. salt, stir to combine, and remove the pan from burner. Transfer nuts to a small bowl.
4. In a med. sized bowl, cream together the remaining 3/4 c. butter, sugar, and butter-rum flavor, then beat in the eggs. Beat in the remaining 1/4 tsp salt, baking powder, and baking soda, then stir in the flour, reserved pecans, and chips.
5. Drop the dough by the tablespoon onto prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies for 13 minutes, until they are a deep golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and transfer to a rack to cool.

These cookies are as simple as making a batch of Chocolate Chip cookies. However, butter-rum flavor isn't a common ingredient in the house and neither is dark brown sugar if you don't bake often with it. Thankfully, these things aren't too hard to find (well... the dark brown sugar isn't anyway). Around in this area we have a store called
Cake Craft. I love it! The women are lovely and helpful and they offer all kinds of cool things for a baker-professional or novice. I'm actually taking some classes there. But, ANYWAY... this store is where I found butter-rum flavoring, which I happened to pick up a couple weeks ago. I knew that I would be using it eventually, and look... I did! Now if you can't find it where you live, then Google a bake supply store or go to King Arthur's website. When you buy flavoring this concentrated you need to buy a little dropper; at Cake Craft they were with all of the other oil, extract and flavor bottles. I used three drops in the recipe.

Honestly, I was afraid that these weren't going to be all that great. My head wasn't in it, and I didn't stir in the flour. I threw it in and let my paddle mixer do the work on a medium speed. Then, my nuts were still warm when I added them to the batter, so I ended up stirring a glossy batter... oops. I threw it in the fridge, had some dinner and came back to it. I scooped them out on to my pan, and when they came out of the oven they looked yummy. Thank the Lord that these are some forgiving cookies!

My verdict: These are the perfect balance of sweet and salty, which I adore. They are crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle-well they are when they're fresh out of the oven anyhow. There is also no mistaking that these are indeed butterscotch cookies, and while I don't normally like nuts they add a nice texture and very mild flavor. I had these today (not fresh out of the oven), and I thought they were a little dry. I think if I do these again I won't bake them as long.

Survey Results: These got a 3.83 out of 12 surveys. I was beginning to wonder if people were being too nice, and then these cookies came along. I got a lot of, "I don't care for butterscotch" or "They were dry", the latter of which I completely agree. I think this week's cookie I'll go back to my favorite stand-by...chocolate.