Birthday Cake Cookies

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Every year around the beginning of July (specifically July 7th), I’m reminded of how much my husband hates celebrating his birthday. I mean HATES celebrating his birthday. I’m not exaggerating here, he hates his birthday the way other people hate poison ivy and spiders. His loathing of any type recognition on his day not only borders on bah-humbugness, but it goes against every grain in my party-planning body. See, I love birthdays. And not just mine, either, I love everybody’s birthday. I love the cakes and the presents and the balloons, and all the other hoopla that goes along with a throwing big fete. To not celebrate his birthday every year is torturous for me, which is why I do it anyway. BUT, I do it very slyly, almost stealth-like, so that he doesn’t even notice that he’s celebrating. I begrudgingly forgo the streamers and the decorations, and instead opt for a few cards and unwrapped gifts, followed by a nice dinner at his favorite restaurant (and as much as I’d love to see him flush, I don’t ask the waiters to parade out and sing to him). And above all, and this is very important, there are no candles, and the cake comes in the form of a cookie. A birthday cake cookie! Pretty sneaky, right? Continue reading

No-Bake Lemon Cheesecake with Cherry Compote

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In keeping with last week’s Backyard BBQ theme, I’ve come up with a winning dessert that takes minimal effort to assemble, can be made and refrigerated a day ahead, and doesn’t require you to fire up your oven on these very hot summer days. Oh, and did I mention that it’s seriously good? It is. Make a bunch of individual ones for easy serving, or one big one that you can bring out all fancy-like and impress your friends with your mad baking skills. I won’t tell them it only took 20 minutes to whip up if you don’t. Continue reading

Salted Caramel & Chocolate Blondies

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I’m just gonna put something out there right off the bat: these blondes are sinful, just sinful. They’re the kind of dessert that you can’t stay away from once you try. The kind that you think, How did I go my whole life without these delicious treats and how can I eat the rest of the pan without anyone noticing? – that’s how good they are. So go ahead, make a pan and then tell me if I’m crazy for loving them. You’ll see.

Salted Caramel & Chocolate Blondies

  • ¾ butter, melted
  • 3 cups brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1½ tsp. vanilla
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ cup dark chocolate chips, melted*
  • ½ cup caramel sauce, heated slightly to thin
  • Flaky sea salt for sprinkling (such as Maldon)
  • 1 bamboo skewer

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 13×9-inch, high-sided** baking pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or another large bowl, beat butter and sugar until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until incorporated.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour to butter mixture in two incorporations, beating between each addition until smooth. Pour batter into prepared baking pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Melt chocolate and heat caramel.

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Using a spoon or small spatula, drizzle caramel in a thin straight line running the length of the pan. Repeat ever 1½ to 2 inches.IMG_7205

Also using a spoon or small spatula, drizzle chocolate in a thin straight line running the length of the pan, alternating with the caramel.

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Turn the pan so that the lines are running up and down. Take a bamboo skewer and drag it horizontally (or perpendicular to the lines) along the top of the batter, running from left to right. Stop.IMG_7203

Wipe the skewer clean with a paper towel and repeat in the other direction, running from right to left, about ½-inch down from the first line.

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Continue to drag lines across the top of the batter, alternating direction with each line until you run out of room. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the center is set. Remove from oven, place on a cooling rack and immediately sprinkle with flaky sea salt.IMG_7207

Finally, try not to eat the entire pan in one sitting.

*Note on melting chocolate: I like to melt my butter in a coffee cup in the microwave. After I’ve emptied the butter out of the cup, I add the ½ cup of chocolate chips and microwave for 30 seconds, stir, then finish it with another 30 second blast. The little bit of butter on the inside of the cup helps the chocolate from getting dry and crumbly under the high heat. For the caramel I used jarred caramel sauce, then heated it in a coffee cup for 30 seconds.

**Note on the pan: I developed this recipe in my head about a month ago, jotted it down, then tested the recipe one rainy afternoon and it was a major bust! It tasted great, but I idiotically chose to put it in a square baking dish, which was way too small, resulting in cooked edges with a pool of molten lava batter in the center. Undeterred, I tried it again with a 13×9-inch cookie sheet, but the sides were way too short, resulting in a hot mess on the bottom of my oven…

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So when I say a high-sided baking pan, I mean a HIGH-SIDED baking pan. Live and learn, I guess!

Super Easy Sopapillas

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Sopapillas are a traditional Mexican dessert consisting of fried dough that’s been sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar then drizzled with honey. Ohmygod my mouth started watering just typing that sentence. Okay, now you’ve all had elephant ears at the fair, right? Yeah, well these are so much better. I don’t know why, but they are. Maybe it’s the honey. Maybe it’s the Mexican flare. Or maybe it’s just me. But this dessert is the single most thing I look forward to whenever we go out for Mexican food. Forget the chips and salsa, I’m all about the sopapillas.

Now normally I like to do things the right way. I’m about making the dough by hand, letting it rise, rolling it out, and frying it in small batches. When time permits. But when you have a house full of hungry guests who have been drinking daiquiris and noshing on street tacos, there’s no way you’re gonna to want to pull yourself away from the party to cook up a labor-intensive dessert. At least I wouldn’t. So why not opt for something simpler. Let’s all just agree to skip the kneading and rolling this Cinco de Mayo and throw a bunch of tortillas into the fryer instead!

Super Easy Sopapillas

  • vegetable oil, roughly ¼-½ cup
  • 4-6 small flour tortillas (fajita size works well)
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. cinnamon
  • honey

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Cut each tortilla into 4 wedges, set aside. In a small bowl, mix cinnamon and sugar.

Pour oil into a straight-sided skillet until it’s ¼-inch deep. Set heat between medium-high and high. Allow oil to get hot (you’ll know it’s ready when a couple drops of water pop when they hit the oil).

With kitchen tongs, carefully place 4-5 tortilla wedges into the oil and cook, occasionally pressing down on the tortillas, until they brown on one side, then flip and cook on the other side, approximately 1 minute per side.

Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and immediately sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar mixture. Repeat with remaining tortilla wedges.

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Either drizzle with honey and serve immediately, or allow to cool, then store at room temperature in a resealable plastic bag for up to 1 day. Drizzle with honey just before serving.

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Side note: In case you were wondering what happens to all this delicious food after I’m done with my photo shoots, I can tell you that everything goes directly to my Quality Assurance department (a.k.a. my stomach). So yeah, I ate this entire plate of sopapillas as soon as I put down my camera. And no, I didn’t save any for my toddler who was napping at the time. Don’t judge me.

 

Chocolate Covered Pretzel Cookies

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The other day when I was jogging (which almost never happens), I was trying to decide how I would reward myself for my sudden burst of exercise — you see, that’s how I work, I run so that I can eat. Maybe I’ll stop for a doughnut, I thought, as I passed our local doughnut shop, Or I could get a bag of chips, I contemplated as I turned the corner by the mini-mart. Hmm, what do I crave, savory or sweet? And then around mile 2 I realized that I didn’t have any money on me, so I started rummaging through my mental inventory of snacks in my pantry. What could I do with the pittance I have in my cupboard? Let’s see, I have chocolate chips, pretzels, stuff to make cookies…wait, hang on a sec! At that moment I turned around and sprinted home to make my new favorite cookies, and they were exactly what I needed to satisfy every craving I’ve had since birth. Seriously, that’s how good they are. But I’ll warn you, don’t (DO NOT!) make these cookies unless you have a fresh gallon of milk in the fridge, because you will need it! These rich and salty beauties deserve a big, cold, creamy glass of milk to properly wash them down.

Chocolate Covered Pretzel Cookies

Makes 2-3 dozen

  • 1¼ cups unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • ¾ brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup coco powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1½ cups crushed pretzel sticks (preferably Snyder’s of Hanover Old Fashioned Dipping Sticks), plus 1-2 dozen pretzel sticks snapped into thirds for topping

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Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, coco powder, baking soda, and salt. Working in two batches, add the flour mixture to egg mixture, mixing until just combined after each incorporation.

Fold in chocolate chips and pretzels. Using a spoon, scoop out 2 Tbsp. of cookie batter and roll into thick balls, place on a cookie sheet. Take a piece of pretzel and press into the top of each cookie, slightly flattening out the ball, like this…

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See, this way you’re guaranteed a crunchy, salty pretzel in every chocolatey bite — and it just looks cool.

Bake for 9-11 minutes, until just cooked through (I recommend cooking for 9 minutes, then letting sit on the hot cookie sheet for another 1-2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack). Serve with milk. Lots and lots of milk.

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Lemon Lace Cookies

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This recipe is older than I am, like, circa 1966 I think. It’s one of the first cookies I remember eating as a kid, and I’m not sure, but I suspect that it came from a cookbook specializing in meals that use 5 ingredients or less. You know the type of cookbooks, the ones that rely heavily on Jell-O and packaged soup mix? My mom had a bunch of these when she first got married, and although she phased them out as she became a skilled cook, this recipe stuck around. She tried to get rid of it, but it was a favorite of my sister and mine. We would beg her, plead with her to make them so that we could bring them to school for a party, or sell them at a bake sale or something. She absolutely hated these cookies. Hated them! She was embarrassed that they weren’t made from scratch; that the ingredients included cake mix and Cool Whip instead of flour and cream. Whenever anyone would ask her for the recipe, she’d wince and inevitably “forget” to jot it down for them. Regardless of the somewhat retro ingredients, these cookies are still one of my favorites and always mark the beginning of Spring for my sister and me. [On a side note, I’m betting that I’ll be receiving a call from my mother this afternoon scolding me for crediting her with this abomination of a cookie. But it’s worth it.] Enjoy!

Lemon Lace Cookies

  • 1 package yellow cake mix
  • 2 cups Cool Whip
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • ½ cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix together all ingredients except powdered sugar.

Between the palm of your hands, roll about 1½ – 2 Tbsp. of batter into a 1-inch ball.

IMG_0889{I’ve found that the most effective way of cleaning batter off your fingers is with your tongue.}

Then roll the ball in powdered sugar, covering evenly.

IMG_0890{See how my pinky’s up? This is an important step that helps make the cookies more delicate.}

Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes. Let rest on the cookie sheet for 1-2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. See? Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

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Trail Mix Cookies

I’ve been making these cookies for years, but I never really had a name for them. When I decided to post them on my blog, I knew I needed to call them something, so I stood back and looked at the ingredients – chocolate chips, nuts, raisins, coconut – and they reminded me of trail mix. Ah-ha! Trail Mix Cookies, perfect! The batter has an oatmeal base, and the add-ins are really adaptable; if you don’t like one of the ingredients, just replace it with another trail mix-y alternative like bits of dried pineapple, M&M’s, pistachios, etc. Just make sure you roll the dough thick before sliding them into the oven so that they come out big and chunky and delicious, like a handful of trail mix!

Trail Mix Cookies

Makes 2-3 dozen

  • ½ cup almond or peanut butter
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 2 cups quick cooking oats
  • 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks (or chips)
  • 1 cup raisins (or other dried fruit)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
  • flaky sea salt (such as Maldon) for sprinkling over hot cookies

*Nut allergy note: Omit nut butter and increase amount of unsalted butter to ¾ cup.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl or stand mixer bowl, cream almond butter, butter, and sugars until thoroughly combined. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.

Working in two batches, add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until smooth. Fold in oats, chocolate, raisins, coconut, and nuts (if using), and stir until incorporated.

Roll a large spoonful of batter (about 2-3 Tbsp.) between your palms to create a ball. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 8-12 minutes, or until golden on top. Immediately sprinkle hot cookies with flaky sea salt.

Let cookies rest on baking sheet for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Serve with a cold glass of milk. Yum!

Chocolate Guinness Layer Cake

Chocolate Guinness Layer Cake

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Well this cake has just about all of my favorite things: chocolate, beer, and espresso – need I give you any more of an introduction than that? I thought not. (Recipe slightly adapted from Bon Appètit)

Chocolate Guinness Layer Cake

Makes 12 servings

Cake:
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons (1 ¾ sticks) salted butter, room temperature
1 ¼ cups plus 3 tablespoons sugar
3 large eggs, separated
¾ cup Guinness, chocolate stout, regular stout, or porter
2/3 cup freshly brewed strong coffee (I stopped by Starbucks and bought a Grande French Roast, used a bit for the cake, then drank the rest. It’s called being resourceful, people!)

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Frosting:
1 pound bittersweet chocolate (54% to 60% cacao), chopped
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

PREPARATION

For cake:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 ½-inch-high sides. Line bottom of each cake pan with parchment paper round; butter and flour parchment and sides. Place chopped chocolate in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water and set aside. (This is not the time to lick your fingers, friends. It looks really melty and delicious, but remember it’s unsweetened, so it still tastes skunky at this point! Wait until the batter’s finished then lick the beaters clean.)

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter and 1 ¼ cups sugar in large bowl until fluffy and pale yellow, about 2 minutes. (I can’t stress enough how important it is to properly cream the butter and sugar; this is what makes the cake light and fluffy instead of heavy in the middle. Cream it until you think you’re done, then go an extra minute. It should look like this…)

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Add egg yolks 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Pour ¾ cup of Guinness into a measuring beaker, then drink the rest. In the same measuring beaker, pour 2/3 cup of freshly brewed coffee – if the coffee’s still warm the beer will help cool it down. Beat in lukewarm melted chocolate, then stout and coffee. At this point the batter will look a little strange, like it’s separating or curdling, but that’s normal. Beat flour mixture into chocolate mixture in 2 additions just until incorporated and batter is smooth. Oooh, now we’re getting somewhere!

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Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar in another medium bowl until stiff but not dry. (They should form stiff peaks when the beaters are lifted from the bowl, like so…)

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Fold ⅓ of egg whites into cake batter to lighten, then fold in remaining egg whites in 2 additions. Divide batter between prepared cake pans (about 3 cups for each); smooth tops. (Now you can lick your fingers!)

Bake cakes until tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. Transfer cakes to racks and cool in pans 20 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks; remove parchment paper and cool completely. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and store at room temperature.

For frosting:
Place chopped chocolate in medium heatproof bowl. Combine whipping cream and espresso powder in medium saucepan. Bring cream mixture to simmer over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally. Pour cream mixture over chopped chocolate; let stand 1 minute, then whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Chill chocolate frosting until slightly thickened and spreadable, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours (or for quick chilling, place frosting in freezer until thickened and spreadable, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes).

Using serrated knife, trim rounded tops from both cake layers so that tops are flat.

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You’ll end up with extra-thin slivers of cake. Don’t let these go to waste, they’re perfect for snacking on while you sweat over getting your frosting smooth and your cake looking beautiful.

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Place 1 cake layer, trimmed side up, on a cake plate. Drop 1¼ cups frosting by large spoonfuls over top of cake layer; spread frosting evenly to edges with offset spatula or butter knife.

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Top with second cake layer, trimmed side down so that the flat bottom side creates nice sharp edges – this makes it much easier to spread the frosting evenly without getting pesky crumbs in it. Spread remaining frosting evenly over top and sides of cake.

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This recipe yields plenty of frosting, so don’t skimp, really lay it on thick! DO AHEAD: Can be made up to 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate. Let cake stand at room temperature at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours before serving.

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Beautiful! Now slice it up…

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Oh, yeah!

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Staying Warm: Spicy Mexican Hot Chocolate

Staying Warm

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This week brought us 10 inches of snow, a mad hunt for our snow shovel, and a sub-zero trek to the park on a sledding expedition (which was only semi-successful with a toddler). Upon returning to the warmth of our home, and after shedding piles of wet clothing in the hall, I was bombarded with requests for hot chocolate. As I pulled the Swiss Miss box out of the cupboard, I was alarmed at how light it felt. Alarm quickly turned to panic as I realized the box was empty. The first snowstorm of the year and we were out of hot chocolate. Total rookie-mom mistake!  Frantically, I started digging and digging, and thankfully discovered that we had all the fixings for homemade hot chocolate — even better! So if this month has you shoveling snow and dreaming of a more tropical climate, than wrap your hands around a steaming mug of chocolate, tuck in with the ones you love, and smile as you weather the storm together.

Spicy Mexican Hot Chocolate

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The chiles in this recipe add just enough of a kick to get your blood circulating — and the orange? It just serves a little reminder that warmer days are soon to come.

Spicy Mexican Hot Chocolate

Serves 2

  • 3 cups milk
  • 4 oz. dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 dried chile peppers (such as Chiles de Arbol), cut in half
  • 1 3-4″ long strip of orange rind

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Divide chocolate among two mugs. Set aside.

In a saucepan over low heat, bring milk, cinnamon, cloves, peppers, and orange rind to a gentle simmer, continue simmering on low for 2-3 minutes, stirring. With a fine-mesh sieve, strain milk into a large measuring cup or bowl. Pour half of milk into each mug and whisk until chocolate has melted. Serve topped with marshmallows or whipped cream. (My toddler prefers mini marshmallows; “Ten for my hot chocolate and one my mouth,” as she says.)

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