Sunday, December 30, 2012

Chocolate-Cherry Bonbons

I hope everyone had a great Christmas. A good number of cookies have been baked in the last two weeks, so I should have some good blog content for the next month or so. 

I'll start off my Christmas cookie wrap-up with a cookie I made in early December. It's a variation of Rachel Ray's Chocolate-Orange Bonbons. Since I had no candied orange peel around, I used dried cherries instead. Yummy! 

Chocolate-Cherry Bonbons 

1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1 egg 
1 teaspoon vanilla 
1 egg white 
1/2 cup cocoa powder 
1-1/4 cups flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 cup chopped dried cherries 
1/3 cup white chocolate chips 
1/4 cup powdered sugar 
4 ounces semisweet chocolate 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In mixer, cream sugar, butter, and salt until well blended. Add egg, vanilla, and egg white. Beat for one minute. 

Add cocoa powder and blend at medium speed. Add flour and baking powder. Blend until thoroughly combined. Stir in half of chopped dried cherries (save other half for topping) and white chocolate chips. 

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Shape dough into balls and roll in powdered sugar. Place on prepared pans. Bake one pan at a time. If you have a second pan ready, place it in the refrigerator until first pan is finished in oven. Bake 15 minutes. Cool two minutes before removing to wire rack. 

Melt semisweet chocolate in microwave-safe bowl, stirring occasionally until chocolate is smooth. Top cookies with melted chocolate and chopped dried cherries. Let set (about 1 hour) before storing.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake

I know that it's rather late in the season for pumpkin, but here's one more recipe. Maybe you can save it for next year. :)

The original recipe came from the Kraft web site. I adapted it slightly so that it would fit in a regular pie plate instead of a springform pan.

(P.S. Don't my friends have very elegant dinnerware? You can tell this classy photo wasn't taken at my house!)
Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake

1-1/3 cup finely crushed ginger snap cookies
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 can pumpkin
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Mix ginger snap crumbs, chopped pecans, and melted butter. Press into bottom and up sides of pie plate.

In large mixer bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar. Mix in pumpkin, spice, and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time. Mix on low speed until blended. Pour into crust.

Bake 35-40 minutes. If cheesecake starts to crack, take it out right away. Cool. Refrigerate about 3-4 hours before serving.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cookies of Christmas Past

I don't have a new recipe for this week yet, so I thought I'd post links to some of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes from past Christmases. Imagine you're Ebenezer Scrooge, and you've just been visited by . . .

Cookies of Christmas Past!

First up is Melting Snowman Oreo Balls.

Next is a recipe I've made several times in different variations: Candy Cane Snowballs.

The slightly difficult but definitely yummy Egg Nog Cups.

If you're Italian, you might enjoy some Cucidati.

Want something easy and simple? How about some Holiday Rice Krispie Treats?

And who could forget Mom's famous rum balls!

Stay tuned to see what I'm baking up this year!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Caramel Pumpkin Mousse Tart with Pecan Crumble

A few weeks ago, I posted an entry asking people to vote for what I should make for a special Thanksgiving dinner party with friends. After some fiercely close voting, the winner was . . . 

Caramel Pumpkin Mousse Tart 
with Pecan Crumble
I will not post the recipe here since you can easily find it on the Kraft website, and I didn't make any changes to it. Instead, here's a quick pictorial description of what I did. 

Step #1--Crush Nilla wafers. This is also called "Having fun with a rolling pin." 

Step #2--Press the crushed wafers and melted butter into the tart pan, and in a pie plate mix together the ingredients for the pecan crumble (basically: pecans, more crushed wafers, brown sugar, butter, pumpkin pie spice). Bake. 

Step #3--Beat pumpkin, cream cheese, more pumpkin pie spice, vanilla pudding and milk. Pour into tart pan and top with Cool Whip. Refrigerate. 

Step #4--Plate it. Before you serve it, top it with pecan crumble and drizzle with caramel sauce.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pumpkin Bars

I know it's getting toward the end of pumpkin season, but I'm going to have at least two more pumpkin recipes for you. This week I'm bringing you Pumpkin Bars. My version is a mixture of several online recipes I found.

Basically, it's just a pumpkin cake that you smother in cream cheese icing and cut into bars. I made it for a Thanksgiving pot luck lunch at work. Yummy! 

Pumpkin Bars

Ingredients for bars:

4 eggs
1-2/3 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
15 oz can pumpkin
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or use 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, and ¼ teaspoon ground clove)
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
(1 cup raisins, optional)

Ingredients for icing:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
½ cup butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 13x9 pan with cooking spray.

In a mixer, combine the eggs, sugar, oil, and pumpkin until light and fluffy. 

In a different bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, salt, and baking soda. Hand mix the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture. (Stir in raisins if desired.)

Spread into prepared 13x9 pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

When cake is cool, make the icing by beating the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Beat in the sugar, vanilla, and milk. Add more milk if the icing is too thick. Spread over cooled pumpkin bars.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sugar-Dusted Macaroon Trees (Take #1)

I found this recipe through Martha Stewart's Living magazine, but you can also find it online here. They tasted pretty yummy, but I'm thinking I can do even better. (Gasp! Did I just say I could improve on a Martha Stewart recipe?)

My changes would be basically decorative, not substantive. I'd love to try dying these green so they look more like evergreens and perhaps adding some candy decorations to look like Christmas tree ornaments. If I try this again, I'll post new photos.

Sugar-Dusted Macaroon Trees

2-1/2 cups shredded coconut
3/4 cup sugar
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
5 teaspoons vanilla
dash of salt
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine coconut, sugar, egg whites, vanilla, and salt. Using 2 tablespoons at a time, use your fingers to form mixture into trees. Place each tree on parchment-lined cookie sheets.

Bake 12-14 minutes. The edges should be golden and trees should be firm.

Cool on cookie sheet on wire rack at least 15 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Best if eaten within the first couple days.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Vote for a Thanksgiving Dessert!

Okay, kids, today's lesson requires some class participation.

Some friends and I are having a potluck type of Thanksgiving dinner in a couple weeks. I can't decide what to make for dessert! Help me by voting for one of the recipes below. Leave your vote in the comments section.

Click on each name to see the recipe. The first four are from the Kraft web site. The last one is from the Food Network. The photos are from the respective web sites. They are both great web sites if you're looking for dessert ideas.


Don't forget to leave your vote in the comment section. If you do not vote, you will receive an F for your homework grade and will be held after class.

And no, you may not do someone else's homework for them. (No voting twice!) Even though this is Chicago, you should only vote early but not often.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

How to Keep Cake Crumbs out of Your Icing

Having problems keeping your cake crumbs out of your icing? I always wondered how the pros did it. One day I stumbled on the "dirty ice" method by accident. Actually, I didn't even know it was called that until watching an episode of Cake Boss. Basically, in order to keep cake crumbs from showing through your icing, you need to ice the cake with a thin layer of icing to "catch" all the crumbs. 

Before putting on any icing, lightly brush any loose crumbs from the cake. Then take a small amount of your regular icing and thin it out a bit with a little extra water. Thin icing spreads easily. Thicker icing will drag across the surface of your cake and create more crumbs than necessary.

As demonstrated in this picture, you'll still see cake crumbs in the frosting, but this is only your first layer.

Next, let the "dirty" layer set. Depending on the humidity in your home, this may take an hour or two. The icing should "crust" a little so that the crumbs remain caught in it. Once it's set, you can smooth a second layer of icing on the cake.

See? Much smoother and you don't see all those chocolate cake crumbs. :)

If you want to see how this cake looked in the end, check out this post.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween Dessert: Orange Jell-o Dream

Last weekend a friend gave me a book of Halloween recipes. I quickly picked out this dessert for a family dinner. The kids loved it. To the chagrin of my sister-in-law, they chose my dessert over the leftover birthday cupcakes she brought.  Sorry! But who can resist Cool Whip and Halloween sprinkles?

This is the book I received in case you're looking for more Halloween recipes. I made only slight changes to their directions.

Halloween Dessert:
Orange Jello Dream

2-1/2 cups of crushed Oreo cookies (I used the majority of a bag)
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine or butter, melted
8 oz. cream cheese, cubed and softened
1 tub Cool Whip
1-1/2 cups boiling water
1 large (8 serving size) package orange Jello
1/2 cup cold water
ice cubes
Halloween sprinkles or candy

Set aside 1/4 cup crushed Oreos. Mix remaining 2-1/4 cups crushed Oreos, 1/4 cup sugar, and melted margarine with fork. Press firmly into bottom of 9x13 glass pan. I used a buttered spatula to help press the cookie mixture down. Place pan in refrigerator.

Beat softened cream cheese and 1/4 cup sugar until smooth. With a wire whisk, blend in half of the Cool Whip. Spread evenly over cookie crust. Return to refrigerator.

Stir boiling water and orange gelatin mix until completely dissolved. 

Fill a large measuring cup with 1/2 cup cold water. Then add ice until you have about 1-1/2 cups total combined water and ice. Add to gelatin mixture and stir until slightly thickened. If any ice remains, remove it from the mixture. Spoon gelatin over cream cheese layer.

Refrigerate three hours or until firm. Spread remaining Cool Whip over Jell-o. 

 Sprinkle with remaining crushed Oreos and candy. The original recipe used candy corn and candy pumpkins. Then they decorated oval-shaped cookies to look like tombstones. I decided simply to use Halloween sprinkles with little pumpkins.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Muppet Baby Shower Cake for a Science Teacher

When I told one of my sisters-in-law my idea for this baby shower cake, she looked at me with a raised eyebrow as if I were crazy. 

However, cake baking is a lot like writing: you've got to know your audience. This would not have been the right baby shower cake for any of my sisters-in-law. However, this cake wasn't for them. It was for the male science teacher at my school. I'll admit I was a little worried about what his wife would think, but it turns out she's an elementary school teacher and enjoys the Muppets, too.

I got one of the best compliments ever on this cake. The day after the shower, the science teacher told me it reminded him of the cakes from Jarosch Bakery. If you're not familiar with this bakery, let's just say this is a high compliment indeed!

Muppet Baby Shower Cake
(Congratulations on your latest creation!)

To make this cake, I stacked two 9x13 chocolate cakes on top of one another and used a raspberry mouse filling (see basic recipe here).

Then I used the frozen buttercream transfer method for the design. Here's a quick recap.

First, find a picture of your chosen image. I find coloring books, greeting cards, and the internet very helpful.

Next, flip your picture over so that you're looking at the reverse side and trace over the pattern with a black marker. You'll want the reverse side because you'll be flipping it over onto your cake later.

Tape the picture onto a cookie sheet (or other flat surface). Tape a sheet of waxed paper over this. With black icing and a small decorating tip (#4 or #5 is fine), outline the entire picture.

Using colored icing and more small tips, fill in the outline until you've covered every bit of the image.

Fill a decorating bag with whatever color icing you will use for the background. In this case, I used white. Pipe a layer of this icing over the entire image.

Freeze for several hours or overnight. After you've baked, cooled, and iced your cake, take your decoration out of the freezer. Flip it onto the cake and carefully peel off the waxed paper.

I must have used some pretty strong colors on this cake because the icing left a nice ghostly image on the waxed paper after I pulled it off. Kind of cool, huh?

After you've moved your frozen buttercream transfer, you can add writing and borders to your cake. I also piped a series of small dots around the edge of the image to make it look a little like a picture frame.

My favorite part of this design is that it looks a little like Beaker is horrified at the idea of having a baby, and Bunsen is laughing over what the expecting couple has to look forward to. :) All in good fun, my friends, all in good Muppet fun.

The next day I received a lovely thank you card from the science teacher. He even used a card created by his very talented mother. Isn't this a lovely fall card she made?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chocolate Raspberry Brownies

Warning! These turned out super rich. Consume in small quantities.

Chocolate Raspberry Brownies

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, divided
1/2 cup butter
1-1/3 cups sugar
2 eggs
2/3 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup flour
1 can raspberry cake and pastry filling
4 oz. semisweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 9x9 pan with foil, leaving enough to hang over the sides. Lightly coat the foil with cooking spray.

Microwave three ounces of the unsweetened chocolate with the butter about two minutes. Stir until smooth. Add sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Mix well. Add flour into mixture and pour into prepared pan.

Bake 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

Spread a thin layer of the raspberry cake and pastry filling over the cooled brownies.

Chop the remaining unsweetened chocolate and semisweet chocolate. In a small bowl, microwave the whipping cream until it boils. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until smooth. Spread over raspberry layer.

Refrigerate one hour. Place a few tablespoons of the remaining raspberry cake and pastry filling in a decorating bake with a small piping tip. Drizzle raspberry filling over brownies. Cut into small pieces.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Lemon Coconut Cake

I made this for a work party, and it turned out really yummy. Two of my coworkers said they dreamed about it afterwards. Definitely on the "keep this recipe" list.

Lemon Coconut Cake

Ingredients for cake:
one Duncan Hines Lemon Supreme cake mix
1-1/3 cups water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs

Ingredients for lemon filling:
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup water
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1-1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons butter
shredded coconut (optional)

Ingredients for icing:
1/2 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon zest
5 tablespoons lemon juice
about two cups shredded coconut

Bake the cake according to package directions. However, if you want to torte it into three layers as I did, you can either bake it in three eight-inch cake pans or use one 8x3-inch cake pan. I used an 8x3-inch cake pan that Wilton makes. The cake took about 55 minutes to bake, and then I used my cake leveler to split it into three layers.

As your cake cools, make the lemon filling. In a small bowl, blend two tablespoons cornstarch with 1/4 cup water until the cornstarch is dissolved. Whisk in 2 eggs until blended. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1-1/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup water, and 6 tablespoons butter. Bring to a boil. Whisk in the egg and cornstarch mixture and return to a boil. Continue whisking and boiling until mixture is thick. Remove from heat and cover with plastic wrap.

At this point, your cake should be cool enough to cut into layers if you chose to use the 8x3-inch pan instead of three separate eight-inch pans. When the filling has cooled, spread half of it onto the bottom layer. Sprinkle with some shredded coconut, if desired. 

 Place the middle layer on top, and spread it with the second half of the filling and more coconut. Add the final layer of cake on top.

To make the icing, beat 1/2 cup butter until smooth. Add two cups of powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest and 5 tablespoons lemon juice. Beat until smooth. Ice the cake and cover with a layer of shredded coconut.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Homemade Twix Bars

This recipe comes from the Kraft website. They called them Chocolate-Caramel Cookie Bars, but basically they are homemade Twix bars. Pretty simple and definitely yummy.

Homemade Twix Bars

1 box of Lorna Doone shortbread cookies
1 package of caramels (the kind you use for making caramel apples)
1 tablespoon milk
3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
3 oz. white chocolate

Line 9x13 pan with foil, leaving enough to hang over the sides for a handle later. Use the Reynolds non-stick foil if possible. If not, give the foil a light dusting of cooking spray.

Create a single layer of shortbread cookies on the foil. I had to break some cookies in half to make them fit.

Melt the caramel and the milk in the microwave for two minutes, stirring every thirty seconds. Pour over shortbread cookies and spread until even.

Microwave both types of chocolate in a small bowl for two minutes, again stirring every thirty seconds. When chocolate is smooth, pour it over the caramel layer.

Refrigerate for two hours. Before serving, take it out of the refrigerator and let it soften for fifteen minutes before cutting into bars.