Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top 10 posts in 2012

I wasn't originally going to do a Top 10 roundup on the blog, but I figured that it would be a fun way to see what recipes you, my awesome readers, deemed the most popular in 2012. Ready? Let's get started!

10.  Baked buttermilk donuts with lemon glaze - This was my first attempt at making a baked donut with my new donut pan, and I am pleased to say that it was a success!

9.  Chocolate chip cookie dough pudding - Cookie dough in pudding form? Heck yeah!

8.  Brown derby cake - A sweet way to celebrate our little girl's 2nd birthday - and a trip down memory lane.

7.  Pumpkin cheesecake cookies - This version of a popular grocery store shelf brand doesn't contain anything you can't pronounce.

6.  Chocolate chocolate chunk muffins  - As usual, Dorie Greenspan comes through. These chocolate chocolate chunk muffins will get your day off to a great start!

5.  Honey butter croissants from Hop's - All it took was an email to Hop's corporate headquarters, and this recipe was born!

4.  Brown butter sugar cookies - I can't believe how long it took me to finally make browned butter. These cookies were out of this world!

3.  Vanilla bean cupcakes with vanilla buttercream - If you're looking for a perfectly vanilla cupcake, look no further. This is it!

2.  Sweet potato cupcakes with brown butter cream cheese frosting - As a former sweet potato hater, I took a bite of this cupcake and turned into a believer.

1.  Vanilla buttermilk cupcakes - And finally - these beautiful buttermilk cupcakes! I discovered this recipe after I had some leftover ingredients laying around.
I can't wait to see what 2013 brings. Happy New Year to everyone!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mint chocolate fudge (mint meltaways)

This month, I received more direct mail catalogs who tried to lure me into buying their goods. One day, we got 5 different catalogs, some from companies that I'd never heard of.

One of the catalogs that I received and enjoyed flipping through was one from Crate & Barrel--one of my favorite stores. My husband was browsing through the pages and found something that he said looked really good.  The item he tagged were mint meltaways, and they cost $22 for an 18.5 ounce package. Yikes!

I agreed that they looked good, but I was determined to make these myself for a fraction of the cost. I did a search for mint meltaways and came across a few potential recipes. When I saw the one on Dying for Chocolate, I knew this was the one I wanted to make. It only contained 5 ingredients with the option to add food coloring.

Both Addison and my husband tried one and loved them. I thought that it could have used more mint flavoring, but that's just me. My husband said that it was perfectly balanced just the way it was.  And the best part was that the recipe made about 36 pieces, so we shared these with some friends!

Mint chocolate fudge (mint meltaways)
  • 2 cups (12 oz pkg) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 (14 oz) can Eagle Brand Condensed Milk, divided
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 oz white confectioners coating or 1 cup (6 oz) premium white chocolate chips
  • 1 TBSP peppermint or mint extract
  • Green or red food coloring (optional)
Line a 8- or 9-inch square pan with wax paper or foil (I used a silicone pan and didn't line or spray it).

In a heavy saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate chips with 1 cup of the sweetened condensed milk; then add vanilla. Spread half the mixture into prepared pan; chill 10 minutes or until firm. Set the remaining chocolate mixture aside but keep at room temperature.

Melt white confectioners' coating/white chocolate chips with the remaining sweetened condensed milk in heavy saucepan over low heat or in the microwave (note that the mixture will be thick). Add peppermint or mint extract and food coloring and mix until incorporated. Spread the white chocolate layer on top of the chilled chocolate layer. Chill an additional 10 minutes or until firm.

Finally, spread the remaining chocolate mixture on top of the mint layer. Chill 2 hours or until firm.

To remove the fudge from the pan, lifting the wax paper out and turn the fudge onto a cutting board. Peel off the paper and cut into squares.

Yield: About 36 pieces

Source: Dying for Chocolate; originally from Lesa Holsine

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays

Happy holidays from our family to yours!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Peppermint marshmallows

The holidays are a time of giving, and I have tried for the past several years to make homemade sweets to give to coworkers, teachers, coaches and friends. It had been a tradition of mine to make peppermint bark and homemade caramels year after year, but this season, I wanted to switch things up a bit. Carrie from Carrie's Sweet Life challenged us to bake with peppermint for this month's What's Baking theme, so I started brainstorming.

I had a wonderful time making homemade marshmallows for Valentine's Day and thought I'd make a peppermint version for this holiday season. They were just as easy as the first time I made them, and I made sure to fully grease my pan instead of using parchment paper like I did previously.

These marshmallows were packaged with homemade hot chocolate mix and placed into fun holiday mugs as gifts. Happy holidays to all!

Peppermint marshmallows
  • 3 packages unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup cold water, divided
  • 1 cup light Karo syrup
  • 1 1/2 cup grandulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp peppermint extract
  • Gel food coloring (optional)
  • Baking or cooking spray
  • Powdered sugar for dusting/stick-proofing
Place the whisk attachment onto your stand mixer. Pour 1/2 cup of the cold water in the stand mixer's bowl and sprinkle the 3 packages of gelatin over the top of the water and set aside. 

In a small sauce pan, heat corn syrup, sugar, salt, and the other 1/2 cup cold water over medium heat. Keep stirring until the sugar is dissolved and then turn the heat on high. Using a candy thermometer, cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F (it should take about 6-8 minutes). Turn the heat off.

With the mixer on low, slowly pour the hot syrup over the gelatin and water mixture. Gradually increase the mixer speed to the highest setting and let it whip for about 10 minutes. Add the peppermint extract and whip the mixture for another 5 minutes until you it is glossy, smooth, and thick (it will not reach stiff peaks like whipped cream). 

Heavily grease an 8"x8" pan (I used a 9"x12" pan) with baking spray. Generously coat the pan with powdered sugar and tap out the excess. Using a greased spatula, evenly spread the marshmallow mixture into the pan. If desired, add 6-8 drops of red food coloring over the top and swirl with a knife.

Let the marshmallows rest for at least 4 hours or overnight until it is solidified and cooled. Flip the marshmallow pan onto surface that has been generously coated with powdered sugar. Using a long greased knife or pizza cutter, cut the marshmallows into 1-inch pieces. Dust all sides of the marshmallows with powdered sugar before storing.

Marshmallows will keep in an air-tight container for about 2 weeks.

Yield: About 120 marshmallows, depending on how big or little you want them to be

Source: Confections of a Foodie Bride; originally adapted from The Food Network

Friday, December 21, 2012

Salted caramel stuffed crinkle cookies

This post is dedicated to the Sandy Hook community as part of the Bloggers for Sandy Hook event. Bloggers all across the country are uniting to show our support for all those affected by the horrific tragedy in Newtown.

The event's organizer, Crazy for Crust, is also collecting donations for Newtown Youth and Family Services. All money collected through this website will go towards those in the Newtown community who were impacted by the event.

For my (miniscule) contribution, I am posting a recipe for salted caramel stuffed crinkle cookies. Crinkle cookies on their own are fantastic, but the addition of a hidden salted caramel is what makes these treats a hundred times better.

I cannot even express the sorrow and heartbreak that I am feeling right now for the community of Newtown. May you find the strength to honor and remember those you've loved and lost, and may you find peace during this holiday season.

Salted caramel stuffed crinkle cookies
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup + 2 TBSP cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 10 TBSP salted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 dozen unwrapped soft caramels or Rolos candy
  • coarse sea salt
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt together and set aside. 

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, granulated sugar and light-brown sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs in one at a time until they have been fully incorporated into the mixture. Add in vanilla. Put the mixer on low speed and slowly add in dry ingredients until just mixed. 
Using a cookie scoop or spoon, portion out the dough about 2 TBSP at a time and roll into a ball. Press a caramel or Rolo candy into the center and sprinkle the top of the caramel/Rolo with a very small pinch of the coarse sea salt. 

Shape the cookie dough around the candy to make sure that it is fully covered with dough around all sides. Re-roll into a ball and coat it in the powdered sugar. 

Place the balls on a greased or lined cookie sheet (I used my fake Silpat) and bake for 11-13 minutes. Cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool. 

Yield: About two dozen cookies

Source: Cooking Classy

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Healthy hot chocolate

Time to be Captain Obvious - it is really, really cold at the skating rink. In the winter, my rink seems to crank up the air conditioning so our toes become as cold as the ice itself. When I get home from skating, I am usually freezing, and it takes me forever to thaw out. One thing I usually crave after returning from the rink is a nice, warm drink like hot chocolate. I'd been eyeing a healthy hot chocolate recipe on Chocolate-Covered Katie but just hadn't made the time to try it out.

I was recently selected by Sweet'N Low® to blog about a drink recipe using their products. Since Katie's recipe uses Sweet'N Low®, this was a perfect time to make her hot chocolate!

I had just gotten home from a lesson at the rink and as expected, my toes and hands were frozen. I was craving some homemade hot chocolate but gave away every last bit of my hot cocoa mix for holiday gifts. Enter this healthy hot chocolate.

I loved the fact that Katie's recipe made a single serving, but I doubled it so I could give my husband a steaming hot cup (hey - I was cold, and I didn't want to share!). This hot chocolate was so good that I forgot that it was healthy, and as an added bonus, it came together in about 5 minutes.  I had a few leftover peppermint marshmallows and added them into my cup, and it gave my beverage a nice minty flavor. If you want, you can add peppermint extract to your hot chocolate base instead.

Thank you, Sweet'N Low®, for giving me this wonderful opportunity!

Healthy hot chocolate
  • 2/3 cup milk of choice (I used soy)
  • 1/3 cup full-fat canned coconut milk
  • 2 T cocoa powder
  • 1/16 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 packages of Sweet'N Low®
  • Whipped cream or marshmallows (optional)
  • Peppermint extract (optional)
  • Chocolate shavings (optional) 
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir. Cook on medium heat until hot and completely mixed. Strain the ingredients through a fine mesh sieve and pour into your mug. If desired, you can add whipped cream, marshmallows and/or chocolate shavings on top.

Yield: 1 serving (two if you're being generous and want to share)

Source: Ever so slightly adapted from Chocolate-Covered Katie

Disclaimer: As a part of the DailyBuzz Food Tastemaker Program, I received a Sweet'N Low® Sweetener Gift Pack and a stipend.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bloggers for Sandy Hook

I'd like to take a moment today to make a quick announcement. Many bloggers across the country are organizing a Cookies & Crafts event for Sandy Hook. This is our way to show support for all those involved in this horrific tragedy. I cannot even begin to imagine the emotions that the Sandy Hook community must be going through. I am deeply saddened by this event, and my heart breaks for those families who lost loved ones.

If you would like to participate in this event, please jump over to Crazy for Crust for the details. The basic premise is that bloggers (and non-bloggers) will publish a post with a cookie or craft recipe this Friday, December 21. Use hashtag #BloggersforSandyHook to spread the word. There is also a donation site on Crazy for Crust where proceeds will be given to Newtown Youth and Family Services.

Please join me in showing support for Newtown. Thank you!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gooey s'mores cookies

I recently had the opportunity to participate in an online holiday cookie exchange.  Those of us who opted into this swap were to bake and send one dozen cookies to a secretly assigned person. We will reveal our identities later, so it will be fun trying to figure out who sent cookies to whom!

I made gooey s'mores cookies for my selected individual.  I saved a few for myself to taste test, and I have to say that these were pretty incredible. The marshmallows were melted and nice and gooey. The graham cracker cookie base was a little subtle for me, but otherwise, they tasted like a s'mores.

I know that my recipient enjoyed these because she mentioned it on our cooking message board. It will be fun to find out which individuals got paired up!

Gooey s'mores cookies
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/3 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (7 full graham cracker sheets)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips or chocolate chunks
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray (I used my imitation Silpat). Using an electric handheld or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and continue to mix for an additional 2 minutes.

Crush 7 graham cracker sheets into 3/4 cup fine crumbs (you can use a blender or food processor. Or, put the graham crackers into a zip-top bag and crush with your hands or a rolling pin).

In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk together the graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and continue mix on low speed until the dough just comes together.

Stir in the chocolate chips/chunks and marshmallows by hand until just combined.

Use a medium sized cookie scoop (or measure out about 1.5 TBSP sized portions with a spoon) and place dough onto the prepared cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely.
Yield: About 2 dozen cookies

Source: Kevin & Amanda

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Oatmeal raisin cookies from Thomas Keller

I know what you're thinking - another oatmeal raisin cookie? But wait - this is not your average oatmeal raisin cookie. I've already made a fantastic thick and chewy oatmeal cookie, but this is different. One key reason is that this is Thomas Keller's recipe. Those of you who aren't familiar with Thomas Keller only need to know that he is considered one of the world's best (if not THE best) chef. He owns and operates Bouchon Bakery and The French Laundry, which has consistently made the exclusive Top 50 "Best Restaurants of the World." He's a 3-Michelin star chef., which is pretty much equivalent to being the best of the best in the restaurant industry. Yeah, this man is that good.

Another reason these cookies are different is that the cookies are absolutely ginormous. I normally would have happily portioned out this dough into at least 24 cookies, but Chef Keller actually wrote the recipe for only 6 cookies. Six.  I decided to split the dough and make twelve cookies instead. My husband wears a size large in gloves, and one of these (12) cookies barely fit into his palm.

As expected, these oatmeal raisin cookies were phenomenal. They were slightly crisp on the outside and had a wonderful chewiness on the inside. My husband already declared these as one of the best cookies he's ever had (next to Jacques Torres' mudslide cookies). I happily agreed.

Now that I've made my first Thomas Keller recipe, I can't wait to try more!

Oatmeal raisin cookies
  • 1 cup + 1 tsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 TBSP ground cinnamon
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1-1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup + 3-1/2 TBSP lightly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 1-1/2 TBSP granulated sugar
  • 11 TBSP butter, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1-1/4 tsp vanilla paste (I subbed with vanilla extract)
  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats (do not use instant)
  • 1 cup raisins
In a medium bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the sugars until no lumps remain.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter on medium speed. Add the sugars and mix for 3-4 minutes until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

Add the egg and vanilla paste and mix on low until just combined (do not overmix). Scrape down the bowl again.

Add the dry ingredients in two additions while mixing on low speed. Mix until just combined.

Add the oats and let the stand mixer go around for about 10 revolutions to combine. Then add in the raisins until they are just incorporated. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

If you want 6 huge cookies, use an ice cream scoop and divide the dough into 6 equal portions. Roll them into balls and place 3 on a cookie sheet (I recommend using a Silpat). If you are like me and want 12 smaller cookies (which are still massive compared to a standard cookie), portion the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll them out. I put 6 cookies on a pan.

Bake at 325 degrees F for 21-23 minutes if you made 6 cookies. If you made 12 cookies, bake at 325 degrees F for 18-20 minutes.

Set the pans on a cooling rack for 5-10 minutes and then transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely.

Yield: 6 or 12 cookies, depending on your appetite!

Source: Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel, page 32

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Pumpkin spiced pretzels

Pretzels have been on my baking bucket list for a while. I kept putting them off until I couldn't take it any longer. I had one last can of pumpkin puree in the pantry and one final tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice. It was time.

I freaked because my dough did not rise within an hour like the recipe mentioned. So, I did what any normal person would do - I went ice skating! I skated for about an hour, and after I returned, my dough had finally doubled. See what a bit of skating can do?

Although these pretzels were time-consuming, they were actually very easy to make. The resulting pretzel was nice and chewy, and the pumpkin pie spice mixture on top gave it good fall flavor. You could certainly make a plain cinnamon or plain sugar topping, or even leave it off altogether. The original recipe calls for a cream cheese drizzle, but I left that off to make them more booty-friendly.

I think these are my final pumpkin recipe for the year, but no promises.  =)

Pumpkin spiced pretzels
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tbsp warm water
  • 1 tbsp active dried yeast
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour (plus 1/3 cup more for kneading)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice mix
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil (e.g. vegetable oil, grapeseed oil, melted coconut oil)
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg
Dipping solution
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 tsp baking soda
Rolling mixture

  • 2 TBSP butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice mix
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
In a small bowl, combine the warm water, yeast and 1 TBSP of the brown sugar. Stir, and set aside until mixture gets frothy (about 10 minutes).

In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, spice mix and the remaining brown sugar together. Pour in the yeast mixture, oil, pumpkin and egg to the bowl.  Mix until the ingredients come together. .

Place the dough mixture onto a slightly floured work surface. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, and gradually add the 1/3 cup of flour until the dough becomes smooth yet slightly sticky. Put the dough into a large, lightly oiled large bowl and cover with a clean towel . Let it rise in a warm place for about an hour until doubled in size (my dough took over 2 hours).

Divide the dough into 10-12 equal pieces and roll into balls. Lightly dust the balls with flour to keep them from sticking to the work surface.

Roll each dough ball into a thin rope about 20″ long.

Shape the rope into a U, and cross the ends of the U over each other (it should look like an upside down breast cancer ribbon). Fold the ends of the "ribbon" towards you to make the pretzel shape. Press the ends into the dough so they stick.

In a shallow bowl, combine the hot water and baking soda. Dip each pretzel into the baking soda mixture and place onto a parchment-lined baking tray (I lined my tray with my imitation Silpat). Let the pretzels rest.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bake the pretzels for 7-10 minutes, and make sure to rotate the tray 180 degrees halfway through baking, until the pretzels are golden brown.

Melt the butter and set aside.

In a shallow bowl or plate, combine the granulated sugar and spice mix.

Once the pretzels are out of the oven, let them cool slightly (2-3 minutes). Then brush the pretzels with the melted butter and dip them into the spiced sugar mixture to coat.

Yield: 10-12 pretzels

Source: Slightly adapted from Top with Cinnamon

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Oatmeal raisin cinnamon chip cookies

Can you believe it's December already? Where has this year gone? One thing I look forward to every December is my coworker's annual cookie swap. She hosts a women-only soiree where attendees bake and bring cookies to swap with others. It's always fun to see which cookies are the most popular (or not) and how creative women can get with their goodies.

In previous years, I've brought dark chocolate peppermint patty cookies, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, and a white chocolate cherry cookie (I haven't blogged about that one yet). This year I happened to find and snag a package of cinnamon chips at the grocery store so I wanted to make something that highlighted my loot. I had originally wanted to use the chips for cinnamon zucchini bread but couldn't find them until after the fact, so they've been sitting in my pantry until now.

I have to say that these cookies were quite tasty. I already love oatmeal raisin cookies, and the addition of the cinnamon chips was brilliant (yay, Hershey's!). I'm slowly eating my way through my new cookie stash from the exchange and will be sad when they're all gone. Even Addison has had a blast trying new cookies. Once she's older, I'll have to bring her with me to partake in the fun.

Oatmeal cranberry cinnamon chip cookies
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2  eggs
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2-1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
  • 1-2/3 cups (10-oz. pkg.) HERSHEY'S Cinnamon Chips
  • 3/4 cup raisins
Heat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well.

In a separate small bowl, mix the flour and baking soda. Add this to the butter mixture and mix well. Stir in the oats, cinnamon chips and raisins by hand. The batter will be stiff. Use a cookie scoop or drop the batter by heaping teaspoons unto ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes on until lightly browned. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. About 4 dozen.

BAR VARIATION: Spread batter into lightly greased 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool until cutting into bars.

Yield: About 4 dozen cookies; If making into bars, you should get about 3 dozen bars.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Overnight cinnamon rolls

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that cinnamon rolls have been on my baking bucket list. I haven't found the courage (or the occasion) to bake them from scratch. Most recipes that I've seen yield huge portions that wouldn't be rational for my family of 3 to enjoy.

Well, the occasion finally presented itself when my family came to visit for Thanksgiving. My parents, my brother and his wife braved the chaos of I-95 and made it to our house for the holiday. I didn't have anything prepared for Friday morning breakfast and thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to make cinnamon rolls.

I had some help from my sister-in-law (who also graciously designed my new logo - thanks, Michelle!), and it made the process much easier and less daunting. The cinnamon rolls, though a bit too browned and crunchy for my liking, actually had a nice mild cinnamon sugar taste. They weren't overly sweet like the ones you find in your local mall. We also opted to leave the glaze off so we could give our tummies a break from all the calories we consumed the night before.

I'd recommend baking these for about 25 minutes in a 325 degree F oven. Like I said, the rolls were too crunchy when we baked them for 30 minutes in a 350 degree F oven.  Otherwise, the recipe was fantastic, and I am excited to bake different types of cinnamon rolls the next time an opportunity arises!

Overnight cinnamon rolls
  • 1 TBSP. (1 package) active dry yeast 
  • 1/2 cup warm water (105°F) 
  • 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed 
  • 4 eggs 
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar 
  • 2 tsp kosher salt 
  • 8 TBSP (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 8 TBSP (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted 
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar mixed with 1 TBSP ground cinnamon
In the bowl of a stand mixer, sprinkle the yeast over the water. Let it set for a few minutes until it gets frothy, then whisk until smooth. Whisk in 1/2 cup of the flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm spot for about 30 minutes.

To the yeast mixture, add the eggs, granulated sugar, salt and the remaining 4 cups of flour. Using the dough hook, knead on medium speed until smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the room-temperature butter and continue to knead for about 10-12 minutes or until the dough is smooth. You may need to add some extra flour to the dough so it isn't so sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

Butter or grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough into a 15-by-10-inch rectangle. Brush the dough with half of the melted butter and be sure to leave a 2-inch-wide strip uncovered on one of the long sides. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over the butter.

Starting at the long side that is fully buttered and covered with sugar, tightly roll up the rectangle into a log shape. Place the roll with the seam facing down and cut it into 10 or 12 equal pieces. Put the pieces cut side up in the prepared dish. Brush the tops of the rolls with the remaining butter. Cover with plastic wrap and let it cool in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning, remove the rolls from the refrigerator and let them rise for 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 350°F (I recommend baking at 325 degrees F).

Bake the rolls until the tops are golden brown, about 30 minutes (I recommend baking for 25 minutes in a 325 degree F oven). Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes.  Serve warm.

If desired, you can top the rolls with a powdered sugar or cream cheese icing glaze. Head over to the Williams-Sonoma website for the powdered sugar glaze recipe. 

Yield: 10-12 rolls

Source: Williams-Sonoma; originally adapted from Williams-Sonoma Family Meals, by Maria Helm Sinskey (Oxmoor House, 2008).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Chinese bakery-style cake

This was my first year hosting a holiday and probably the first time in over 10 years that I haven't had to travel for Thanksgiving. Also, my mom is celebrating a milestone birthday at the end of the month, so I wanted to make something special for her while she was visiting us for Thanksgiving.

I know that she (and my dad) aren't big fans of American sweets. They claim that our desserts are too sugary for their tastes. They much prefer the more subdued sweets that Chinese bakeries offer. We used to order Chinese bakery cakes all the time when we went to Philadelphia's Chinatown for a meal. There was always a reason to celebrate some momentous occasion, and therefore, always a reason to eat these cakes.

The sponge cake layers are light and fluffy and do not taste too sugary. Two cake layers are sandwiched on top of vanilla custard and fresh fruits. The entire cake is covered in a freshly made whipped cream frosting and garnished with additional fresh fruits. I can see why my parents love this cake - it just seems healthier because the cake is lighter than their American counterparts.

I've had this cake bookmarked from Christine's Kitchen Chronicles for a long, long time. And now was the perfect time for me to tackle it. Don't be overwhelmed with the long list of ingredients and directions. The cake is actually very easy to make, and you'll be rewarded with a beautiful Chinese style cake at the end.

Mom actually helped me bake this cake and had a blast making it. My dad happily ate the remaining custard with a spoon and is already looking forward to the day that my mom recreates it for him. This cake was a huge success and was enjoyed by all.

Happy birthday, Mom!

For the Cake
  • 0.7 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 0.8 cups of granulated sugar (split into 2 even portions)
  • 6 large eggs, separated into yolks and whites (both at room temperature)
  • 1.4 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1.4 tbsp milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
For the Custard Filling*
  • 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup of all purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
* Note: You can take a shortcut and sub the custard filling with a large box of cook-to-serve (not instant) vanilla pudding.  Follow the directions to cook the pudding, place a sheet of saran wrap directly over the surface and put it in the refrigerator to chill while you prep the frosting and fruit filling. 
For the Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting
  • 2TBSP cold water
  • 1 tsp unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups (1 pint) of chilled heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2.5 tbsp of confectioner's sugar
For Fruit Filling and Decorating
  • Various fruits of different colors and shapes, sliced as desired (Can use mangoes, grapes, strawberries, honeydew, canteloupe, canned peaches, or anything else you want)
To Make the Cake
Preheat oven to 340 degrees F.

Line two 8" or 9" round baking pans with parchment paper and grease the paper and sides of the pan with non-stick cooking spray or butter. (I used silicone baking pans so I skipped this 

Separate the eggs and place the egg whites into large stand mixer bowl and the 6 egg yolks into a separate large mixing bowl.  It's imperative that there isn't any yolk in the egg white portion!

Mix 0.4 cups of the sugar with the egg yolks and beat until slightly thick and pale yellow.  Stir in vanilla.

In the bowl of a large stand mixer, beat egg whites until they are about halfway to forming stiff peaks. Add the remaining 0.4 cups of sugar in three separate additions while continuing to beat the egg whites. Continue whipping until stiff peaks form, creating meringue.

Gently fold in half of the meringue into the egg yolk mixture using as few strokes as possible.  Gradually add flour and baking powder and mix carefully.  Add the melted butter and milk to the batter.  Gently fold in the remaining half of the meringue. 

Divide batter and pour into the two prepared pans. Bake for about 20-25 minutes in preheated oven until the cakes are a light brown and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. (Your baking time may be shorter if you use a dark, matte, or non-stick pan, and your baking time may be longer if you use a glass, aluminum, or other shiny pan).

Note that you should bake the two cake layers immediately after the batter is done to prevent the liquid from separating from the rest of the cake.

Remove cakes from oven and leave in pan and allow to cool to room temperature.  You may also wrap the cooled cake layers in saran wrap if you are planning to assemble the cake in the same day.
For the custard filling
In a medium saucepan, whisk the sugar, flour, and salt. Add 3/4 cup of milk and mix until smooth.

Bring mixture to a boil at medium heat, whisking constantly. Do not scrape off any clumps that form on the sides and bottoms because they will leave clumps in your custard.

Cook another 2 minutes and remove from heat (do not turn off the stove). The mixture should have thickened up dramatically.

Mix the egg with remaining 1/4 cup of milk, then pour it into the mixture in the saucepan. Whisk vigorously to combine. Return the mixture to the heat and cook until it just starts to boil. There will be a lot of lumps initially but just keep whisking over the medium heat and most of the lumps should disappear.

Remove from heat and immediately stir in vanilla. Transfer the custard to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. If there are still lumps in the custard, you can 1) keep whisking until they disappear, 2) strain the custard using a fine mesh sieve to get rid of the lumps, or 3) scoop them out with a fork or spoon.

Chill at least 2 hours in the fridge or overnight.
For the Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting
Sprinkle the gelatin powder over the cold water and let it sit for 5 minutes.
Dissolve the gelatin by placing it in a bowl over a small pot of simmering water and stirring until the mixture turns clear. Let the mixture cool but do allow it to get cold.

Beat the heavy cream using an electric stand mixer (or a hand-held mixer) on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until small bubbles form.

Increase the speed to medium and continue beating for an additional 30 seconds.

Increase speed to high and beat until just before the cream becomes soft and poofy.

At this point, slowly add the sugar and vanilla while continuing to beat the cream until it is almost at stuff peaks.

Finally, add the melted gelatin mixture and keep beating until the cream becomes super thick.

Use frosting immediately or refrigerate for later use.
To Assemble the Finished Cake
Carefully remove cakes from pans. If desired, you can peel or cut away the browned top parts of the cakes using hands or a knife. Level the surface of cake with a knife to make the cakes as flat as possible.

Prepare the fresh fruits to be placed between the cake layers. You'll need enough fruit to cover the entire surface between the two cake layers and any additional fruits that you'll want to garnish for the top of the cake.

Make a simple syrup of 2 parts water to 1 part granulated sugar: Mix the two ingredients together in a saucepan and heat it up just until all the sugar dissolves. Squeeze in the juice from half a lemon. Brush each cake with a thin layer of simple syrup on all surfaces.

Lay the first cake layer down onto plate.  Spread half of the cooled custard onto the top of the cake layer leaving about 1/2" margin around the edge of the cake.  Add the fruit on top of the custard, and be sure to cover the entire custard area. Add remaining custard on top of the fruit.

Place the second cake layer on top of the fruit filling. Gently push down on the layers and wipe away any excess custard that escapes out of the sides of the cake.

Frost the sides and top of the cake using the whipped cream frosting. Use a wide blade or a offset spatula for best results.

If you want to give your cake an extra special professional-looking touch, you can make a glaze to top the fruits on the top of the cake. In a saucepan, heat 1/4 cup of fruit preserves (any flavor) with an equal amount of water. Stir until boiling. Let the mixture reduce by continuing to boil off the water until you reach a glaze consistency (it should be runnier than honey). If desired, you can strain the glaze through a fine sieve to get rid of the fruit and/or seeds.  While the glaze is still warm, gently brush over your fruit and let it dry to achieve a shiny finish.

Finally, chill the cake in the fridge and for a few hours to let the frosting set. The cake is best served the same day it is made.
Yield: About 12-16 servings, or more if you want smaller slices like me

Source: Christine's Kitchen Chronicles; originally adapted from My Edible Memories

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Old fashioned Southern sweet potato pie

Culture shock. That's what I experienced when I first set foot onto my college campus as a lowly freshman many years ago. Here I was, a naive Mid-Atlantic girl who decided to go to school in the South. It literally took me a full month to understand what people were saying because I had never heard a real Southern drawl before. "You ain't from around here, are ya?"

What I soon came to learn was that people in the South are very proud about their food. When asked if my family ever had barbeques, I got scoffed at when my response was yes, and we served corn on the cob, hot dogs, chicken and hamburgers. I was quickly put in my place and given the full explanation of what a real barbeque or pig pickin' was: a whole pig that roasted for at least 12 hours and usually included sides like black-eyed peas, mac and cheese, collard greens and cornbread. My version of the backyard barbeque was called "grilling out." Consider me schooled.

This past spring, I returned to my college town since my husband and I were attending a regional March Madness tournament game. We visited one of the area's best barbeque joints that has been written up all over the internet and featured on several food and travel shows on TV. While at the restaurant, I was told that I had to try the sweet potato pie because it was to die for. Our waitress brought out a piece, and after I tried a bite, I thought I'd died in this Southern part of heaven. It was unbelievable.

After the trip, I went online to look for a sweet potato pie, and most of the recipes I found contained cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger or allspice - otherwise known as pumpkin pie spice. I knew that my Southern friends would give me a smackdown if I even attempted a sweet potato pie with pumpkin pie spices. So I finally found this version on Sage Trifle. The ingredients are simple so the true sweetness of the sweet potatoes comes through.

This is my contribution for November's What's Baking challenge, which my dear friend Kim at Just Baked is hosting. She chose pie as this month's theme, and I was thrilled to be able to finally bake an authentic, old-fashioned, Southern sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving. Please send Kim some love and check out the round-up in early December to see what kinds of pies everyone made!

Aunt Ruby's Sweet Potato Pie
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup light Karo syrup
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 3 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
  • Nutmeg (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large bowl, cream butter, brown sugar and syrup with an electric or handheld mixer.

Add eggs and mix until completely incorporated. Add sweet potatoes and mix well. Stir in the milk, vanilla and salt and ensure all ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Pour mixture into the pie shell and bake 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Dust top with freshly grated nutmeg or freshly whipped cream if desired.

Yield: One 9-inch pie (12-16 servings, or more if you're watching your waistline)
Source: Sage Trifle

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chocolate acorn squash baked custard

Do you love custard? What if I told you I had a recipe for a chocolate custard? Now what would you say if I told you that it didn't contain any eggs, cream, milk or butter? You're probably thinking, "What kind of custard is that?"  Well, in one word, it is amazing.

I had one acorn squash left over and had no idea what to do with it. I did an internet search for "acorn squash desserts" and found this simple chocolate acorn squash custard on Manifest Vegan. Since I am not vegan, I made some slight revisions to the recipe, but if you'd like a vegan or gluten-free version, please go to the link for the original recipe (the original version also contained a topping that I decided to omit).

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from a dairy-free custard, but I am now a believer. This chocolately custard tastes like one of its dairy-filled cousins. I was amazed how the acorn squash puree could create something so divine. Don't believe me? Try it for yourself, and tell me that this stuff isn't pure genius.

If you're still looking for an easy, no-fuss Thanksgiving dessert, then this is it! Happy Thanksgiving to all my United States readers!

Chocolate acorn squash baked custard
  • 1 acorn squash, halved and roasted about 50 minutes (slice in half, remove the seeds and stringy bits and roast cut-side down in a pan with 1/2" of water)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Lightly grease and flour (using cocoa powder) two 4″ ramekins.

After roasting the acorn squash for 45-50 minutes at 350°F,  scoop out the insides and puree in a food processor or blender.

Add brown sugar, cocoa powder, flour, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla extract and salt to the blender or food processor. Pulse until all ingredients are well combined.

Transfer the mixture into two ramekins (you may have some left over) until the ramekins are 2/3 to 3/4 full.

Bake the custards for about 45-50 minutes. Serve hot or chill in the refrigerator for several hours before devouring.

Yield: Two 4" ramekins

Source: Slightly adapted from Manifest Vegan

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pumpkin ice cream

Even though it's officially fall and the weather is getting cooler, I'm still making ice cream. To me, ice cream is a year-round treat. If you asked me in the middle of winter whether or not I'd want to eat ice cream, I would say yes without any hesitation. It's one of the world's most perfect foods, in my opinion.

I've wanted to make pumpkin ice cream for a while now and finally decided to cross this off my to-make list. I had just enough pumpkin puree left over from another recipe and also had some egg yolks hanging around. This was not just some random coincidence, my friends. The pumpkin ice cream was just begging to be made!

Although the recipe was slightly more high maintenance than the other ice creams I've tried, it was definitely worth it. I hard a difficult time waiting overnight to chill the recipe and then finally incorporating the vanilla and pumpkin puree and straining the mixture. And then I had to wait another few hours for the ice cream to harden. How is a girl to wait when there is ice cream waiting to be eaten?

The ice cream was phenomenal! This frozen treat was incredibly rich and creamy, and the spices definitely came through. In fact, it was almost like eating a pumpkin pie, but in ice cream form. As David Lebovitz stated in his book, this would pair very well with some graham cracker crusts or gingersnaps. I'm actually thinking about eating this with some white chocolate cheesecake (which is definitely going on our Thanksgiving menu this year - it was Dad's request).

If you're looking for a pumpkin ice cream recipe, you definitely need to give this a try!

Pumpkin ice cream
  • 1-1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly-grated ginger*
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon*
  • 1 cinnamon stick*
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground nutmeg*
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar (I only have light brown sugar and used that)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier, rum or brandy (optional; I omitted)
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)
* I replaced these ingredients with 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice

Make an ice bath by putting some ice and a little water in a large bowl and nest a smaller metal bowl inside it. Set a mesh strainer over the top. (I skipped this step.)

In a medium saucepan combine the milk, cream, granulated sugar, ginger, ground cinnamon, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, and salt. (I replaced the ground spices with 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice, so I mixed this with the milk, cream, sugar and salt.)

Warm the mixture over medium heat until the edges begin to bubble and foam.

Whisk the egg yolks in a separate bowl and gradually whisk in about half of the warm milk mixture to temper the yolks. Stir constantly.

Transfer all of the warmed egg yolks into the saucepan and continue cooking over low heat. Keep stirring and scraping the bottom until the mixture thickens and can coat either your spatula or a wooden spoon. If using an instant-read thermometer, the temperature should read between 160º-170ºF.

Immediately pour the mixture through the strainer into the bowl nested in the ice bath. Mix in the brown sugar, then stir until cool. Chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.

After the mixture has cooled, whisk in the vanilla, liquor (if using), and pumpkin puree. Press the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Source: Slightly adapted from David Lebovitz

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Acorn squash bread

Do any of you parents have a hard time getting your children to eat vegetables? I certainly do. Addison eats fruits with no problem, but she isn't too fond of her veggies. For whatever reason, she eats them at daycare, but I am guessing that it's due to peer pressure. When she's at home, it's a different story. She is already showing signs of future teenaged years by ignoring her parents' instructions.

I received some acorn squash and wasn't quite sure what to do with it. Of course, I wanted to make some type of dessert or sweet with them and found this acorn squash bread. The recipe only made one loaf, and the method seemed easy enough. Addison even helped me mix all the ingredients together. I told her we were making cake so she'd eat some. And she did!

This is a wonderful way to sneak some additional veggies into any non-vegetable eating children or significant others. You cannot taste the acorn squash but instead will get a bite full of delicious autumn spices with the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. This bread is a wonderful treat for breakfast or as an anytime snack.

Acorn squash bread
  • 1 small-medium acorn squash
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup mild olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground clove
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup chopped pecans or hazelnuts (optional)
  • Coarse sugar for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  

Cut the squash in half and scoop out the insides with the seeds and stringy stuff.  Put the squash cut sides down on a high sided baking tray and fill the tray with ½ an inch of water.  Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the squash is very tender.  Remove from the oven and let the squash cool.  Scoop out the fleshy bits with a spoon puree in a food processor or blender until smooth.  Set aside 1 cup of the puree for the bread.

In a medium size bowl, blend together 1 cup of the squash puree, sugar, the oil, and the eggs.  

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Slowly add this to the squash mixture and mix until no longer lumpy.  Stir in the nuts (if you are adding them). 

Grease and flour your bread pan and pour in the batter.  Generously sprinkle the top of the bread with the coarse sugar.  Bake for 45-55 minutes until set.  A toothpick inserted into the center of the bread should come out clean.

If you want to make the bread super awesome, you can add a layer of streusel topping.

Source: Simmer Seasonal Recipes

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pumpkin swirl brownies

"Lumpkin, bumpkin, diddle diddle dumpkin, zumpkin, frumpkin, PUMPKIN!" That phrase from Sesame Street's Abby Cadabby gets stuck in my head when I mention pumpkin at our house. Abby is a fairy-in-training and has the ability to transform things into pumpkins.

I was contemplating what to make one afternoon but my requirement was that it couldn't be too time-consuming. I wanted something that that incorporated fall flavors and could be easily shared with friends or coworkers. If Abby Cadabby was at my house, she'd probably turn some of our household items into pumpkins while I was brainstorming. Suddenly, it hit me - pumpkin brownies!

While these were good, I thought they tasted more like cake than brownies. You really need to work quickly with the chocolate brownie batter layer - mine molded together like a batch of hardening caramel when I was pouring it into the pan, and the resulting chocolate brownie part tasted a bit like azuki (red bean). The pumpkin part of the brownie was good and full of pumpkin spice flavor. I'd make a bunch of tweaks next time and probably use my tried and true brownie base and create a separate layer of pumpkin on top to swirl. But overall, I still received some enthusiastic thumbs up from family and coworkers.

Pumpkin swirl brownies
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I omitted)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts or other nuts (I omitted)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir occasionally until smooth and set aside.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cayenne, and salt. Set aside. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar, eggs, and vanilla until fluffy and well combined, 3 to 5 minutes. Slowly add in the flour mixture.

Divide the batter between two bowls (about 2 cups per bowl). Add the chocolate mixture into one bowl. In other bowl, stir in the pumpkin, oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour half of the chocolate batter to prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Then pour the half of the pumpkin batter on top. 

Repeat to make one more chocolate layer and one more pumpkin layer (you should have four layers). Work quickly so batters don't set.

Using a small spatula or a butter knife, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled effect. Sprinkle with nuts if using.

Bake until set, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 16 squares.

Yield: 16 brownies

Source: Martha Stewart

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Chocolate Caramel Bars

In honor of my birthday that just passed, I wanted to share my signature dish with you. It's the dessert that I am best known for and the item most requested when I am invited to a party or potluck.

I don't exactly remember where this recipe came from, but I believe that one my childhood neighbors made these and was kind enough to share the recipe with my mom. If you are the nice neighbor or friend who gave us this recipe, please let me know so I can credit you properly!

Just a fair warning that these are very rich bars.  The crumb layers on the top and bottom effectively balance out the gooeyness of the caramel and chocolate interior.  You might need a napkin or two...and a nap afterwards! I wouldn't be surprised if these bars disappeared from your house within an hour. In fact, these bars were gobbled up within 15 minutes at a party we attended last weekend. And a friend of mine recently described these as "heaven in a bar." Are you tempted yet?

Try these bars today, and who knows--they may soon become your signature dessert! Oh, and if you are wondering what I did on my birthday, I took the day off and baked, skated and shopped. All in all, it was a perfect day!

Chocolate Caramel Bars
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet)
  • 38 caramels (I use Kraft, but you can certainly use homemade)
  • 6 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup softened butter (not melted)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Unwrap the caramels and place into a saucepan.  Add cream and melt both over low to medium heat. Set aside.

Mix together flour, salt, soda, oatmeal, sugar and butter.

Pat half of the flour mixture into an 8.5x8.5 inch square pan. Bake at 325 degrees F for 20 minutes.

Pour melted caramel mixture over baked crust; then sprinkle with chocolate chips.

Crumble the rest of the flour mixture over the chips and bake an additional 20 minutes.
    Yield:  about 16 bars of yummy goodness!

    Source:  Unknown - from my mom's old recipes, which may have come from a neighbor

    Sunday, November 4, 2012

    Caramel apple cake

    My college roommate and I have birthdays that are two days apart. There have only been a few times in my 15+ years of knowing her that we haven't celebrated our birthdays together. We didn't get to see other for the past few birthdays due to multiple conflicts, but this year we made our schedules work.

    I spent a long time thinking about what cake to make for my (our) birthdays and when I came across this caramel apple cake, my search was over. I read through the recipe, and although it seemed labor-intensive, I knew the end product would be worth it.  Because the cake uses 7 sticks of butter (!!!), I reluctantly cut back on my Halloween candy consumption to make every calorie count (I only ate one fun-sized Milky Way bar all night--how's that for self control?).

    I started baking the cake and making the caramel sauce on Halloween night. I stirred the caramel sauce and whisked ingredients while answering the doorbell to excited trick-or-treaters. At the end of the night, my kitchen smelled like fall. The sweet aroma of caramel wafted throughout the kitchen while hints of cinnamon escaped from the oven.

    I was skeptical about the original recipe's caramel buttercream that contained flour (used as a thickening agent). After working on the buttercream for a good 20-30 minutes, I gave up. My frosting was a big, gloopy mess. I tried saving it by adding some powdered sugar, but it was still too runny. So I dumped it out and made my own frosting instead - I should have trusted my instincts and made this from the get-go.

    Happy birthday, E! I'm glad you enjoyed this cake, and I had a wonderful time hanging out with you this past weekend. I can't wait to celebrate with you again next year!

    Caramel sauce
    • 1-1/2 cups sugar
    • 1/4 cup corn syrup
    • 1/2 cup butter
    • 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
    • 4 cups flour
    • 2 teaspoons baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
    • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
    • 2 1/2 cups sugar
    • 2 large eggs
    • 4 cups applesauce
    Caramel buttercream
      • About 4-6 cups of powder sugar (two pounds or about eight cups)
      • 1/2 cup unsalted butter or shortening
      • 1 tsp vanilla extract
      • 1/2 cup – 3/4 cup milk
      • 1/2 cup caramel sauce (from above)
      For the caramel sauce: In a tall saucepan, combine sugar and corn syrup with 1/2 cup water. Cook over medium-high heat while stirring until sugar dissolves. Increase heat, stop stirring, and bring mixture to a boil. Cook the mixture until it reaches rich caramel color. Remove pan from heat, mix in butter and heavy cream, and stir until combined.  If the mixture becomes clumpy or seizes, keep stirring over heat how until the sauce comes back together.

      To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease three 8-inch round cake pans, line with parchment, and butter and flour the parchment (I used two 9-inch silicone pans).  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a hand or stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the egg and mix until combined.  Alternately add the dry ingredients and the applesauce, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Divide the batter among the pans, smooth the tops with a silicone spatula, and bake for 40 to 45 minutes.  Cool for 20 minutes before turning the cakes out onto a cooling rack.  Let cool completely.

      For the frosting: In a large bowl or the stand of an electric mixer, cream the sugar and vanilla for about 3-4 minutes.  Alternate adding the powdered sugar and milk until you reach the desired consistency. Add 1/2 cup of caramel sauce from the first step and mix until combined. If the frosting is still too stiff, add more milk.  If it is too runny, add more powdered sugar.

      Cake assembly: Place one cake layer and frost the top with a thin layer of frosting.  Repeat for the second and third layers. Frost the sides with a thin layer of frosting and refrigerate until frosting is firm.  Remove the cake from the refrigerator and frost the top and sides with the  remaining frosting. If there is extra drizzle, you can swirl it on top (or in between the cake layers if you want to add another punch of flavor).

      Sources: Cake and caramel sauce from Lulu the Baker; originally from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito; frosting is an Eva Bakes original but inspired from Lulu the Baker and i am baker

      Wednesday, October 31, 2012

      What's Baking roundup - Sweet Potatoes and Pumpkins, Oh My!

      Happy Halloween, everybody! I am so excited to be the host for our What's Baking group this month. Since I love to bake with pumpkin and had a goal to bake with sweet potatoes, I decided to choose pumpkin and sweet potatoes as this month's theme. Participants could choose to bake with one or both ingredients this month. As you can see, everyone had fantastic contributions for our theme, and I can't wait to try them all. Let's get to the roundup, shall we?

      Melissa of I Was Born to Cook made these Baked Pumpkin Donut Holes for her coworkers in two different offices. I don't know about you, but I would be thrilled if my coworkers brought these in for me to enjoy! Hint, hint.

      Jen at Beantown Baker made Pumpkin Dulce De Leche Oat Bars. I already love pumpkin, but the addition of dulce de leche definitely makes these swoon-worthy. I need some of these ASAP.

      Catherine over at Pursuing Domestic Goddess-ness made some amazing Pumpkin Maple Beer Cookies. My husband and I have been sampling all kinds of pumpkin beer this fall, and these cookies sound like a fabulous way to use them in baking!

      Heather Lynne, who is the author of Hezzi-D's Books and Cooks, created a no-fuss but mouth-watering Pumpkin Crunch Custard Cake. This sounds like a great recipe for my next work potluck!

      Nicole from Seven Ate Nine regularly makes things with both pumpkins and sweet potatoes and found a recipe for Pumpkin Chili that sounds just perfect for the chilly autumn days. I may suggest this to my husband for our next indoor tailgate!

      Kim at Just Baked made Martha's Pumpkin Cookies with Brown Butter Icing for her husband and kids to enjoy. Talk about heaven in a cookie! I'd love to try some if there are any extras left over, but it's doubtful since these were such a huge hit at her house.

      Ange of The Tiny Tyrant's Kitchen baked Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream for her 5th wedding anniversary. She and her husband taste tested over a dozen pumpkin beers before finding the perfect one for these cupcakes. Now that's a homework assignment I wouldn't mind doing!

      Jaida of Sweet Beginnings baked Pumpkin Biscuits from her pumpkin e-cookbook for her contribution. She recommends smearing the biscuits with some maple butter for an even tastier breakfast treat. Um, yes please!

      I am only one of two people that made something with sweet potato. I baked Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Brown Butter Butter Cream Cheese Frosting. It is the one thing that finally made me love and respect sweet potatoes.

      Joanna of Kosher Kitchen made a batch of Pumpkin-Parmesan Biscuits. These were so good that her husband ate two of them and then stole the one she was eating! If that's not a sign of a good recipe, then I don't know what is!

      Jenna at Jenna's Cooking Journey baked Pumpkin Scones. She is enjoying the fall colors and changing leaves on the East Coast and finally got to cross scones off her baking bucket list! These sound absolutely divine.

      Cara from The Boys Made Me Do It baked a Pumpkin Dump Cake so she could try a new pumpkin dessert before Thanksgiving. This seems like the perfect recipe if you want something impressive that doesn't take a lot of time (and you can literally throw all the ingredients together very quickly).

      And finally, Ammie of Adventures In My Kitchen contributed her Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes for the challenge. She liked being able to tailor each potato to individual tastes. Sounds like a great Thanksgiving side dish!

      Kim from Just Baked is next month's What's Baking hostess and chose pie as our theme. Be sure to stop by her blog in early December to see what kinds of pie everyone made!


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