All the Rest of the Christmas Cookies.

I had this great idea.

I was going to write three posts featuring the 12 cookies I baked for Christmas this year. They were to feature 4 cookies each. It was a good idea. I even started it. I wrote one post featuring the first four cookies.

Then….life.

I was too busy working, preparing, visiting, baking, shopping, and celebrating. Not that I’m complaining about that. I loved doing all of those things. But now that it’s January 15th, my great idea is no longer relevant. No one is interested in baked goods in January. I made brownies the other day just because. No one wanted to eat them. Not because there was something wrong with them – they were perfectly tasty. They even had extra chocolate and caramel drizzled on top.

brownies

the brownies that nobody ate.

But January is not the time for brownies. Or cookies. Or cakes (unless it’s your birthday). It’s the time of year that the gym is packed, and the over-indulgence of December is weighing heavily on everyone’s mind and/or stomach.

I get it – I’m a huge proponent of eating right and treating your body with respect. I’m also a huge proponent of baked goods. So January, for me, stinks. Did I mention that I don’t like cold weather?

So, for everyone out there, who, like me, still wants to eat brownies, cookies and cakes, here’s a quick glimpse of all the rest of the 12 cookies I made for Christmas. If you just can’t look now, maybe by next December you’ll look at them and feel inspired. I’m certainly giving you plenty of time. 🙂

#5. Cream Cheese Cookies. (recipe here.)

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#6. Chocolate Cottage Cheese Cookies.

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#7. Marzipan Mice. 

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#8. Jeanine’s Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies. (recipe here.)

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#9. Peanut Butter Hershey Kiss Cookies. 

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#10. Peppermint Bark. (recipe here.)

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#11. Cornflake Christmas Wreaths.

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#12. Honey Whiskey Balls. (recipe here.)

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So there they are. Enjoy them at your leisure, whenever the time is right. You have all year….

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Zen and the Art of Grandfather Clock Maintenance.

This past weekend, my husband I inherited this Grandfather Clock from my Aunt. It was originally my Grandmother’s, and my mom says she remembers when she was little and hearing the chimes ringing throughout the night (in a good way). The clock is about 66 years old. It looks like it’s brand new.

Looks like no time has passed.

Like no time has passed.

It also still works. We got it to chime at 8pm the other night.

We still haven’t gotten it to continuously keep time – the pendulum eventually stops swinging. According to the manual that was still tucked inside the door of the clock, its trial and error – you just have to keep adjusting the pendulum until it works. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

But at some point, somebody did. 66 years ago, when this clock and others like it were brand new, somebody bought it, read the manual, and set it, trying over and over to get the screw on the pendulum adjusted exactly right so it would keep time. I tried three times. And decided I’d rather pay someone money to come out and set it rather than sit there and adjust the darn thing myself.

Had I been a single lady when I inherited this clock, I also would not have dusted the chimes and reattached them after stringing them with new strings, attached the weights (in proper order from heaviest to lightest), or even bothered to figure out the part of the pendulum and the screw at all. All these acts were meticulously performed by my husband. I did sit and read the manual so we could figure out how to set the time without breaking it. But honestly, I think I only did that because he was doing all these things and I felt like I needed to contribute.

I’m not sure what it is, but technical details such as these do not interest me. I love the clock. I love how it looks. I love how it sounds. I cannot pretend to care how it works or even want to learn. Is it because I’m lazy? I started to wonder.

When I have to figure something out, I can and I will. I know deep down inside that I could have set the time, and the chimes and the weights and even the pendulum if i keep trying. But I just don’t want to. I don’t want to know how things work sometimes. I just want them TO work. And to be beautiful and bright and perform with precision and grace.

I don’t think I would have given my lack of desire to study the inner workings of the clock any thought had I not recently also started reading this book:

zenbook

One of those books that changes how you think.

I’m not finished it yet, but I am intrigued by his idea of Romantic understanding vs. Classical understanding:

“A classical understanding sees the world primarily as underlying form itself. A romantic understanding sees it primarily in terms of immediate appearance.”

I am definitely from the romantic school of understanding. I don’t think it’s because I was born that way or have something in my brain that makes me that way. No, I believe I chose to be that way. I remember taking the SATs in high school, and scoring higher on the math section then on the verbal section (this was back when there were only two sections). I considered myself and arts person, not a math person. I was angry that I scored higher on math. Math was boring. I did not want to be associated with it in anyway. So I chose not to be.

I chose poorly.

What I didn’t realize until reading this book and seeing the Grandfather Clock, is that math is just as beautiful as Art. And just as creative. I should have realized this when I was in pastry school. It was not the finished look of the dessert that most interested me – it was what made it happen: what reacted with what and in what amount to create that perfect chemical reaction of a dessert. I love baking because I LOVE chemistry.I always have. And I’m not ashamed to admit it anymore.

I’m not the best cake decorator. I’m not neatest pastry chef. I am, however, pretty darn good at creating new and delicious desserts.

Just another baking experiment gone right.

Just another baking experiment gone right.

And I WILL get that pendulum to swing again – I promise. But first, I have this great idea for a pink lemonade cake that I need to try out. 🙂

Kosher Brownies vs. Jewish Apple Cake: a Dessert Duel.

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So here’s a little story for you.

Last week, my fiance and I were invited to a Passover Seder. The hosts, knowing that I was a baker, asked us to bring a dessert. I of course jumped at the chance to make something for this special occasion, and I started going through some recipes, thinking of what I could bring. I settled on a Jewish Apple Cake, since not only do I love it, but I hadn’t made it in quite some time! The one thing I love about my recipe is that it always turns out perfect! I was so pumped to present it as our contribution at Seder.

Perfect for Passover.

Perfect for Passover.

It started off excellent. The batter was perfect, the apples were crisp and tasty. It looked great when I put it into the oven. As it was baking, it still looked great, but it seemed to be taking a long time to cook all the way through. I took it out, and had to put it back in the oven, because it wasn’t done yet. Finally, it was done, and it looked a little….flat. This wasn’t the end of the world, since it wasn’t supposed to be super fluffy – the apple cake is very dense. I let it cool in the pan for a bit, and then went to flip it out onto the cooling rack, and nothing. The cake did not come out. It was stuck in the pan, like REALLY stuck. I did what I normally do in this situation – I ran a knife along the sides and center. Bundt pans seem to be the worst at sticking, so I wasn’t too surprised at this. The knife usually does the trick. Not this time. After going around the perimeter multiple times, the cake still would not budge. Finally, after one more time around and practically digging the knife completely underneath the cake, it began to come loose. And then, boom! Half of the cake fell out. And then a bunch of crumbs. And then the other half (in pieces, I might add). And just like that, my perfect for Passover Apple Cake was ruined.

The good news – I had made the cake a day early, so I had time to try again. I really didn’t feel like making a whole new apple cake, though. So what should I do? I suddenly remembered seeing this box of cake mix in the kosher section at the grocery store, so I snagged it.

a quick mix fix.

a quick mix fix.

Now I knew this cake mix would not equate to the glory that is my scratch Apple Cake, but it looked good, and I was getting short on time. The next morning, I opened the box, ready to create an easy second cake for the dinner that evening.

Yes, it was easy.

Yes, it was tasty

Yes, it was way too small.

Not much bigger than an apple.

Not much bigger than an apple.

There was no way I could show up with this tiny cake! It would barely feed just me and my fiance! Now I was starting to panic. I had started becoming comfortable with the resignation that I would  have to actually purchase an already made dessert, when I had one last idea. Brownies. I don’t know where it came from, but there it was. I googled “Easy Kosher Brownies” and sure enough, found what I was looking for. And to top it off, I just so happened to already have all of the ingredients. I headed back into the kitchen for the third time, and hoped that three times really was the charm.

once, twice, three times the brownie.

once, twice, three times the brownie.

It was. The brownies cooked perfectly, were big enough, and when I cut them and removed them from the pan, they retained their shape perfectly.

redemption.

redemption.

I had been redeemed. My faith in my baking had once again been restored. As an added unexpected bonus, a few people wound up telling me these were the best brownies they ever had. So I guess it was meant to be in the end.

brownies for the win.

brownies for the win.

The brownies were the clear winner here, and I can honestly say that I’m glad the Apple Cake fell apart. Sometimes things fall apart for a reason. We just have to be patient and remember to never give up, because Good Things Come to Those Who Bake. 🙂

A Celebration of Pi (with Pie).

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Over the past weekend, on 3/14/15 to be exact. I went to a Pi Party. How does one celebrate Pi? With pie, of course! Everyone contributed a pie of some sort in honor of Pi. As you can imagine, there were so many pies there, I almost couldn’t handle the deliciousness. Almost.

My personal contribution was a Key Lime Pie. I started off with a cornmeal crust made from scratch, baked it for about 8 minutes, filled it with pie, and baked it for another 15 minutes. And although I absolutely love this particular Key Lime Pie recipe, I feel like it’s not green enough. So…I helped it reach maximum greeness with a couple drops of food coloring.

it's not easy being green.

it’s not easy being green.

I wanted to put some kind of topping on it, but I didn’t have any heavy cream. I did however, have all the ingredients to make a meringue, so I started whipping one up.

do the meringue.

do the meringue.

It was going really well, until my hand started getting really really tired. Then I remembered just how long it takes to whip meringue, and realized I should have used the stand mixer,  not the hand mixer. But it was too late to turn back now, so I whipped on, as best as I could. The result was not the best meringue I’ve ever made, looks-wise, but it sure was tasty.

beautiful on the inside.

beautiful on the inside.

I really really really wanted to add a slice of lime to the center, but at this point, I was crunched for time, so it would have to go lime-less. I brought it to the party, feeling sightly disappointed. I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my desserts, but there was no way I could redo the pie and still make it to the party in time. And showing up to a Pi Party without Pie was just unthinkable.

The party was a blast. The pies were all a huge hit, including mine. So much so, that by the end of the night, my faith in my desserts had been restored.

things are looking up.

things are looking up.

The best part about the pie party? We got to take home slices of all the pies, in what I affectionately dubbed a “Super Pie.”

the super pie.

best. pie. ever.

The moral of the story is no two pies are exactly alike. But that doesn’t make them any less delicious. Pie to infinity!

Recipe: Coconut Cake with Coconut Buttercream.

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I had a few requests for the recipe of the Coconut Birthday Cake I just made for my mom, using Vita Coco Pure Coconut Water. It may have been the best coconut cake I’ve ever had, and it was certainly the best one I’ve ever made! So, I’d be happy to share it with those who’d like to give it a try! Heck, I’ll even share the recipe for the frosting.

Coconut Cake.

What you’ll need:

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 egg

1 tbsp canola oil

1 tbsp baking powder

1 cup flour

1/4 cup half and half

1/4 cup Vita Coco Pure Coconut Water

What you’ll do:

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, egg, and oil. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Add the flour mixture, half and half, and Vita Coco to the original bowl, and beat until smooth. Grease one 8″ or 9″ pan (or a heart-shaped pan, like I did), and pour all of the batter in. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

 

Coconut Buttercream.

What you’ll need:

4 oz (1/2 stick) butter (melted)

2 oz shortening

10 oz confectioners sugar

1/4 tsp Madascar Bourbon Vanilla

3/4 oz Vita Coco Pure Coconut Water

What you’ll do:

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, shortening, and confectioners sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and Vita Coco, mix until smooth and shiny.

Don’t forget to cover the sides of your cake with fresh coconut!! 🙂

One Cake to Rule Them All: A Valentine Birthday Cake.


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My mom’s birthday is two days before Valentine’s Day. Every year, I make her a cake, and I try to make it exciting and different each year. Last, year, I did this one. This year, I decided to use these heart pans that my aunt gave me that I had yet to use, and was always hoping for a reason to use them. Well, what better reason than a birthday cake for my favorite lady, which also happens to be right around Valentine’s Day??

I went with an easy coconut cake, because that’s my mom’s favorite. I actually used Vita Coco Pure Coconut Water this time though, in both the cake and the icing – something I’d never done before, but it wound up working out fabulously.

coconut water

living la vita coco.

I baked the cake in the heart-shaped pan, and it just looked so cute, cooling on the rack, in all it’s heart-shapey-ness.

i heart this cake.

i heart this cake.

Next, I frosted it with the coconut water frosting. It was very….white.

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white iced.

Next, I added fresh coconut to the sides.

coconut siding.

coconut siding.

Then, I started decorating. First the border and the main flowers, all in pink, in honor of Valentine’s Day.

pretty in pink.

pretty in pink.

Then, I added the birthday wish, in dark chocolate.

they say it's  your birthday.

they say it’s your birthday.

And finally, I added a few more minor embellishments.

cake: complete.

cake: complete.

Once the cake was complete, I brought it over to my mom’s house to surprise her. She in turn, made me take half of it back home, like she always does. 🙂

one half of this will be mine.

one half of this will be mine.

Happy birthday and Happy Valentine’s Day, Mom. Hope you liked your (half of) cake! 😀

 

 

 

Recipe: Salted Caramel Hazelnut Cake Brownies.

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That’s a long name right there.

The recipe I started with was simply called “Nutella Cake.” But what I ended up with was so much more. It was snowing, and I really wanted to bake something, but I wasn’t about to go back out to get any missing ingredients. I found a recipe for Nutella Cake in my binder. It looked like something someone probably gave me, but it was very vague and it seemed to be missing some key details, like how to mix the ingredients together (did it matter in what order?) and what temperature to bake the thing at (when in doubt, go with 350). It also called for Nutella (obviously) which I thought I had, but it turns out all I had was this:

salted caramel hazelnut spread (not Nutella)

salted caramel hazelnut spread (not Nutella)

Although this was clearly not Nutella, I deemed it a suitable replacement, and marched onward with the cake. Upon further investigation, I realized that the recipe called for butter – a lot of it. I, alas, had only a little. Refusing to leave my house in the snow, I improvised, replacing most of the butter with shortening. The batter seemed awfully thick, more like brownies than cake, but I didn’t let that dissuade me from baking it. When it was done baking, it definitely looked more like brownies.

not nutella, not cake.

not nutella, not cake.

It smelled pretty good, and appeared to have baked properly, so I went with it, and waited for it to cool. When it finally cooled, I sliced into it, and sure it enough, it was definitely more brownie-like.

definitely brownies.

definitely brownies.

The next step was to eat one. And then another one. And then another one. They were THAT good. Two people even said they were the best brownies they ever had (wow!). Even though they were neither Nutella nor Cake like the original recipe claimed, the Salted Caramel Hazelnut Cake Brownies were definitely a major success, and will be made again. Maybe I’ll even make them for my own wedding this Spring….and now you can make them too!

wedding worthy.

wedding worthy.

Salted Caramel Hazelnut Cake Brownies.

What you’ll need:

1 box of chocolate cake mix

1 egg

4 oz of shortening

———–

1 8 oz package of cream cheese (softened)

2 oz butter (half a stick)

2 oz shortening

1 cup confectioners sugar

1 cup Jif salted caramel hazelnut spread

What you’ll do:

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, egg and shortening. The batter will be thick. Grease a 9×13 pan, and spread the batter across the bottom (using your hands makes it easier). Set aside. In a separate bowl, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and shortening until smooth. Mix in the sugar and salted caramel hazelnut spread until there are no lumps. Pour mixture evenly on top of the cake mixture in the pan. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the cake starts pulling away from the sides of the pan. Let cool completely, cut and serve.

Shoo-Fly Pie For the Win.

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I recently made a Shoo-Fly Pie for the first time. I had never made one before, and really didn’t even know where to begin, so I started with a basic recipe I found online, here. I did, however make one key change — I made my pie shell from scratch (find the recipe at the end of this post). After making the dough, rolling it, cutting it, and placing it into the pie pan, I began crafting the pie innards. I poured the mix into the crust, and it was so THIN I assumed I must have done something wrong.

not so shoo-re of this pie.

not so shoo-re of this pie.

I had come this far, and there was no turning back now. So I went ahead and sprinkled the crumbles on top, popped it in the oven, and hoped for the best. I opened the door to this:

if it looks like a pie....

if it looks like a pie….

In all appearances, one could assume this was a mighty fine pie. But I hadn’t tasted it yet, and wouldn’t actually be tasting it until dinner at my parents’ house. It smelled great, so that was another plus for this dessert-to-be.

I packed it up, put it in the car (and by put it in the car, I mean forced my fiancé to hold it precariously in his lap for the entire ride) and headed off to my parents’, hoping all the way that it didn’t suck.

it's a pie in a box.

it’s a pie in a box.

After what seemed like an eternity, the time of coffee and dessert finally arrived. I removed the pie from it’s protective vessel (i.e., the box) and placed it gingerly in the center of the table. Based on looks alone, my mom offered up the “fancy” dessert plates for serving. I went ahead and cut the first slice.

piece out.

piece out.

After we each had a piece in front of us, we simultaneously took the plunge. “We’re all in this together,” I thought, “in delicious bliss or nauseating horror.”

Delicious bliss, it was. The pie was a shoo-in all along! 😉

 

As promised (of course I didn’t forget!), here’s the recipe for my from-scratch pie dough, if you’d like to give it a whirl.

Pie Dough.

What you’ll need:

10 oz flour

7 oz shortening

3 oz cold water

1 tsp salt

1/2 oz sugar

What you’ll do:

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Cut in the shortening, until the mixture is the consistency of cornmeal. In a separate small bowl, dissolve the salt and sugar in the water. Add the water to the flour mixture, and mix gently by hand, until everything is combined. Do not overwork the dough! Roll the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least two hours before using. When it’s ready, remove the dough, roll it out until it’s 1/4″ thick, and cut a large enough circle to cover the bottom and sides of a 9″ aluminum pie (which is what I used). Bake as directed in the pie recipe. You should have extra dough for more pies!

Peppermint Bark: A Holiday Treat with Bite.

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I love peppermint bark.

I look forward to eating it every Christmas. I am not sure why I haven’t ever tried making it myself before now, especially knowing just how much I love it. Maybe I thought it wouldn’t hold up against all the other barks I’ve eaten over the years, and my baking ego would henceforth be crushed. Whatever the reason, I decided it was a dumb one, and I went ahead and made it this year.

A whole pan of peppermint.

A whole pan of peppermint.

I greased an 8×8 pan, and then covered it with wax paper. I melted up some semi-sweet milk chocolate, crushed a bunch of candy canes, and then topped it with melted white chocolate (and more crushed candy canes). Then I let it refrigerate until it set. Next, I broke it up into random-sized pieces, and served.

bark with bite.

bark with bite.

It was as delicious as any bark I’ve had before it. The problem now is that I have so much of it. Resistance is futile.

A Birthday Cake to Fall For.

I made a birthday cake last week, but this was no ordinary birthday cake. I was tasked with creating a “Fall” birthday cake – made up of the flavors and colors associated with this time of year. The only requirement was not too much orange. Sounded like something I could do (and enjoy very much, what with my fall baking obsession and all). The cake itself was to be pumpkin spice (yay!), the icing was to be pumpkin buttercream (DOUBLE yay!), and the decorations were to be in fall colors. It was a half sheet cake, so it’s not the smallest cake, but it’s not the biggest either. So, here’s what I came up with.

falling for cake.

i think that possibly maybe i’m falling for cake.

For the flowers, I started off with red, and then slowly mixed in yellow as I went along. It created a subtle and well-blended color shift.

color blend.

color blend.

I also tried a new recipe for the “rose icing” as it’s sometimes called. I found it to have a better consistency than what I was previously using. Good thing I wrote it down.

the rose knows.

the rose knows.

In the end, I was pleased with how the cake turned out both flavor-wise and decoration-wise. And who knows, you may find me teaching some decorating classes come next year….time will tell… 😉