Sunday, December 10, 2017

Chocolate Swig Cookies

Chocolate Swig Cookies - made dough October 28, 2017 from A Bountiful Kitchen
I originally thought I would make these for my holiday dessert party but when I tried the taste test cookie, decided against it and brought them to work instead. That's probably not the best lead in to get you to try these cookies, oops.
It isn't that they were bad because they weren't. If you like chocolate shortbread or "bread-y" type cookies, this could be a good choice. I tend to prefer my chocolate cookies to be more in the baked-fudge category and these weren't quite that. They're a little heavy in texture and while not dry, was not quite fudgy either.
I believe the thing with "swig cookies" is the frosting but, not being a frosting person, that didn't do it for me either. I liked the swig cookies I've made before but think I prefer the vanilla or lemon versions of these.

Still, these provided a nice background for the Christmas sprinkles I bought for decoration and looked pretty on the plate. I advise making these a bit on the small side since they're so dense.
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup granulated sugar for pressing top of cookies

Sour cream frosting
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons sour cream
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt
2-3 tablespoons milk, to thin to desired consistency
  1. Cream butter, shortening and sugar until smooth and creamy. Add sour cream and vanilla extract.
  2. Whisk together cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Do not overmix.
  3. Using a 2-inch scoop, portion the dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Lightly spray the flat bottom of a round glass with nonstick cooking spray then dip into 1/4 cup granulated sugar to coat the bottom of the glass. Press glass bottom over cookie dough balls and flatten slightly. Re-coat glass bottom and dip in granulated sugar as needed to flatten all cookies. Cover and chill or freeze at least an hour.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Space the cookies evenly on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar. Bake for 10-12 minutes. The cookies should be barely firm on top. Do not over bake. Let cool completely. Frost when cool.
  5. Make frosting: Cream butter and sour cream until smooth and well blended. Whisk together cocoa, powdered sugar and salt. Add to butter mixture and beat. Add vanilla and enough milk until desired consistency is achieved.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

2017 Holiday Dessert Party #1

Holiday Dessert Party round up - hosted on December 2, 2017

I typically decorate big for Christmas every other year. Anyone who's known me for any length of time knows I'm a Christmas nut. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday but decorating for Christmas is where my freak flag lives. And flies high.

Triple Layer Chocolate Cake with Fudge Frosting
It's usually a 2-3 month-long process, starting with the first month where I clean my house from top to bottom. You can't put decorations on dusty surfaces. Plus bookshelves must be cleared, every conceivable surface swept, vacuumed, mopped or dusted, furniture cleared away, the year-round pictures on the walls tucked away to be replaced by Christmas wall hangings, extraneous "stuff" donated to charity and so on.
Peanut Butter and Chocolate Kisses

Then month 2 is the structural framework. Artificial trees have to be put up, sometimes a new tree (or two *cough*) ordered, display planning needs to be done. The last month (this would be November since my goal is always to be done by Thanksgiving weekend) is about hanging the ornaments on the trees, putting up the wreaths on nearly every internal door in the house, hanging whatever needs to be hung on the walls, decorating the mantle, filling up the bookshelves with little vignettes of Christmas display pieces, lining the stairs with plush snowmen, and the list goes on.

Soft and Thick Snickerdoodles
This year, it took me a little longer since I could only work on it during weekends. I came home too late at night during the week to do it then. But I crammed a lot of decorating into those weekends so I met my goal of being done by Thanksgiving. Although, to be honest, I didn't actually finish all of my decorating plans. But I'd done enough that by Thanksgiving weekend, when it started to feel like a chore to keep putting more decorations up, I declared myself done. When I'm not enjoying it anymore, I stop. I don't believe in stressing for the holidays.
Almond Butter and Nutella Swirl Cookies

This year, I was motivated to declare myself done because I was out of time and needed to switch my energy from decorating to baking. Because I was going to hold my not-always-annual holiday dessert party this year. Several weekends before the party, I started making cookie dough to store in my freezer. What I made partially depended on who was coming as I know some of my friends' personal favorites and partially on any new recipes since the last party that I thought had turned out well and I wanted to make for them.

Ginger Krinkles (recipe to follow at later date)
But ultimately it also depended on the practical realities of what could be made ahead of time and baked off at the last minute. Because you know I'm all about freshness and only serve baked goods that I could bake on the same day or the day before. Brownies are the only exception since they freeze well, can be made ahead of time, frozen (well wrapped) then thawed and cut right before serving.

Brownie-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies (recipe to follow later)
For what I was serving, I made only the toffee butter crunch shortbread and the triple layer chocolate cake the night before since both would be fine the next day. I knew the caneles would take the longest not only to bake but because I had to build in some buffer time for the canele copper molds to cool before I used them again.
Buttery Tea Balls
On the day of the party, I woke up at 5 am, brushed my teeth, washed my face, and turned on my oven by 5:05 am. I baked all the frozen cookie dough and canele batter steadily throughout the day. I didn't turn my oven off until 1:58 pm; the party was slated to start at 2. Made it just in the nick of time.
Cream Cheese Chocolate Brownies without the frosting

Essence of Chocolate Squares
So here's the holiday round up with links of the stuff I've made in the past. The new entrants to the holiday baking lineup will be posted later this month. Hopefully.

Toasted Hazelnut Slice n Bake Cookies sandwiched with Nutella

Diamond-Edged, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Butter Cookies

Butter Toffee Crunch Shortbread

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting - made November 19, 2017, adapted from Divas Can Cook 
Okay, yeah, I'm going a little longer between posts again. I'll spare you the details of working a lot and trying to do my regular holiday stuff and doing non-holiday stuff. It's all getting done but I'm not sleeping much. Or blogging much either.
I made this cake last month. If you see the inside, you might mistake it for a carrot cake like one of my coworkers did. Nope, it's a triple layer pumpkin spice cake. It'd make a great dessert for Thanksgiving but I didn't get it up in time to share with anyone for Thanksgiving. Bookmark it for next year or make it any time year-round because it's really good.
I'm having a thing with triple layer cakes. As in, I've now made two three-layer cakes (remember the Most Amazing Chocolate Cake?) that have turned out and I'm getting a little bold and sassy. Two-layer cakes seem kinda wimpy. Go three layers or go home.
I did make a couple of modifications to this recipe. Instead of 1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice, I used 2 teaspoons instead plus 1 teaspoon of Penzey's Vietnamese cinnamon. Because you know me and Penzey's Vietnamese Cinnamon. We can't be parted for long.
I also skipped the heavy cream and cinnamon in the frosting because I wanted a straight up cream cheese frosting to go with this cake. My cake layers didn't come out as fluffy as on the original blog, Divas Can Cook, as I think I should've left the cake in the oven just 1-2 minutes longer. But still, this was a delicious cake. It doesn't have a strong pumpkin flavor and I'm glad I subbed in a little cinnamon. Because Penzey's cinnamon....

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon heavy cream
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
cinnamon to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 3590 degrees F. Grease and flour 3 round 9" cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment rounds. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cram together butter and sugars.
  4. Beat in egg, one at a time. Fold in vanilla. Alternately add dry and wet ingredients. Fold in pure pumpkin. Pour batter evenly into prepared cake pans.
  5. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs. Do not overbake. Let cool for 5 minutes then overturn onto plates lined with wax paper. Let cool completely before frosting and assembling.
  6. Frosting: Cream together cream cheese, butter and heavy cream. Mix in powdered sugar, a cup at a time, beating until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla and cinnamon to taste, mixing completely. Frost and assemble cake layers.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Coconut Toffee Chocolate Chip Bars

Coconut Toffee Chocolate Chip Bars - made November 12, 2017 from Mom on Timeout
Trying to get caught up on my blog over Thanksgiving weekend.....
I needed to make something for a church potluck but was still working weekends earlier this month so I needed another quick and easy recipe. Hence these bar cookies. They reminded me of magic cookie bars, sans the graham cracker crust, and with oats. But they had coconut, chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk so there are some similarities.

They're also really easy to make. Make sure you line your baking pan with foil with overhang at the sides so they're easy to take out of the pan and cut into neat squares. Unlike other bar cookies, this makes enough "dough" to do a nice bottom layer while still leaving enough for the top layer. You do want an even bottom layer with no holes or else the filling will leak onto the bottom during baking and make clean up and cutting a bit messy. I had one thin spot on the bottom layer and discovered this personally.

Mine didn't come out as fancy-looking as Mom on Timeout's but they were still good nonetheless. I love that coconut and toffee blend with the chocolate chips and oats. If you're thinking holiday care packages, this would survive well in mailing. Just wrap tightly so they don't dry out in transit.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
2 cups flaked coconut
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 egg
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup light corn syrup
8 ounces toffee bits
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Crust: Combine flour, oats, coconut, salt and brown sugar in a large bowl of an electric mixer and mix at low speed.
  3. Add butter and mix until a crumbly dough forms. Add egg and mix until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
  4. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of dough for topping. Press remaining dough into bottom of prepared pan. Bake 10 minutes.
  5. Filling: combine sweetened condensed milk and corn syrup in a small bowl; mix until combined. Pour evenly over hot crust. Sprinkle with toffee bits. Top evenly with reserved crust mixture.
  6. Bake 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Cool and cut into bars.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Nutella Bundt Cake

Nutella Bundt Cake - made November 5, 2017 from Chef in Training
You know I'm a snob about boxed cake mixes. As in, I don't really believe in them. Homemade from scratch always tastes better to me. But when I do use them, it's because the picture someone made using the box mix as a base is so compelling that I have to try it. As long as they add other ingredients to the mix other than actually using it as is, my baking snobbery can deal. Barely.

Such is the case with this Nutella Bundt Cake from Chef in Training. I needed something quick and easy to make for work for my usual Monday morning offering to the communal kitchen but not a lot of time to make something since I was also working weekends. Like working in the office, not just logging in from home. So something easy was needed.
This fit the bill. I made it even easier by not making the frosting recipe listed below and instead covered the whole cake with Nutella. Yeah, I cheated but it had been a long day, k? Besides, nothing makes a Nutella Bundt cake more Nutella-y than actual Nutella covering the whole thing, amIright?? I did add chopped toasted hazelnuts to signal the cake had nuts in the form of Nutella in case anyone had any nut allergies and might think this was a plain non-nutty chocolate cake. Nope.
While I don't like nuts in cakes, I'm more open-minded about putting them outside of the cake, sitting there bold as brass on frosting. The toasted hazelnuts added a nice crunch perched atop the Nutella cloaking the cake. The cake itself doesn't have a strong Nutella flavor. Truth be told, it tasted like a normal chocolate cake. So if you do want to punch up the nutella flavor, be generous with the nutella in the frosting itself or do what I did and simply blanket it with Nutella. You can't go wrong.
1 box chocolate cake mix
1 3.9-ounce box chocolate pudding mix
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup Nutella
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup Nutella
chopped, toasted hazelnuts for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease and flour Bundt pan.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and beat for 3 minutes on high speed. Pour into prepared pan. 
  3. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let sit in pan for 5 minutes then invert onto cooling rack to cool completely.
  4. Make frosting: in medium bowl, combine cream cheese, powdered sugar and Nutella. Beat on high speed until creamy.
  5. Scrape frosting into piping bag fitted with round plain tip and pipe frosting over the cake. Sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts for garnish.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Pumpkin Upside Down Cake revisited

Pumpkin Upside-Down Cake with Caramelized Pecans and Cranberries - made November 15 and November 17, 2017 from A Passion for Desserts by Emily Luchetti
First attempt this year - caramel came out too thick
I make this cake every year around Thanksgiving, sometimes on the day itself and other times by request. This year, I made it twice, once for a Thanksgiving work potluck last week and once for my niece's birthday. The work potluck came first and I hadn't made this in almost a year so I forgot not to overcook the caramel. Oops.
First attempt, second cake, same too-thick caramel
So I'm blogging this again to remind myself how to do it right. I'm so used to letting butter and brown sugar boil together, whisking smoothly, for a couple of minutes that I forgot you're not supposed to do that with the caramel in this recipe. The first batch I made for work, the caramel came out too thick. You can see the error of my ways in the pictures. Sigh. I also underbaked one of the cakes just a tad too much and had to rely on just using the outer edges. Fortunately I had made two cakes for the work potluck and I had enough of the second one, which I had baked properly, to round out my contribution to the potluck. But they were definitely not up to standard. The cake itself tasted good but the thick caramel was more like a grainy penuche covering over the pecans. Cringe.
My second attempt - this is how it should look
I had a second chance to redeem myself because one of my nieces was coming for a visit and she had requested this cake. This time I made a half batch of caramel for one recipe of cake and only heated and whisked the butter and brown sugar together until the brown sugar was melted and the mixture was combined. Then that puppy came off the stove before I could overcook it again.
Since I'm not a big fan of cranberries and only ever eat them when I make this cake, I made myself a little individual-sized cake in a ramekin with just the caramel and pecans on the bottom. When I baked the little cake and turned it over, it made a pretty dessert that I'm considering serving at my holiday dessert party (more to come on that). It was also freaking delicious because I got the caramel right this time. So note to self: make only a half batch of caramel for one cake recipe and only heat the butter and brown sugar, whisking until melted and combined but not a minute longer.
8 ounces (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 cups cranberries
4 ounces (1 cup) coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and whisk until smooth. Pour the brown sugar mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the cranberries and pecans. Place them in the pan over the brown sugar mixture.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, and oil. In another bowl, sift together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture. Carefully spread the batter over the cranberry pecan topping.
  5. Bake the cake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Place a large plate or platter on top of the cake. Invert the cake and plate together, then remove the pan. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.
  6. Let cool completely before serving.