Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Cookies!!!

Merry Christmas once again.  This time, the blog is devoted to the Christmas cookies!!  It is tradition that my grandmother and I bake the cookies that are eaten on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  I look forward to this time of year, every year.  The time I get to spend with my grandma and grandpa, the QC of the cookies ... I mean come on, do you really think we can wait until Christmas Eve???

Every year there are specific cookies that have to be made:  Candy Cane cookies, My Nana's Icebox Cookies, Biscotti, and Bourbon Balls.  Here are the recipes for the each cookie - passed down through the family and made with love every time.

The Bourbon Balls seem to get stronger every year.  The Candy Cookies are the best part about Christmas.  The Biscotti are perfect with coffee or tea any time of the day.  And the Icebox cookies are the best tribute to my Nana.

Enjoy and happy baking!!

Grandma’s Anise Biscotti

6 eggs
1 c. sugar
2 Tbsp Anise
¼ tsp yellow food coloring
1 heaping tbsp baking powder

batter after 10 minutes of beating (frothy)
Preheat oven to 350*.  Beat eggs, sugar, coloring, and Anise for 8-10 minutes (until frothy) on high speed.  Add flour and baking powder.

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper.  Pour the mixture on the sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.  Turn onto pastry board or hard surface (remove wax paper immediately).  Cut in ½ lengthwise and then into 1 ½” slices on the diagonal. 

Place back onto cookie sheet and return to oven for toasting (about 10 min.)

Heat chocolate in a double boiler with some karo syrup or butter and then dunk the cooled biscotti into the chocolate and let cool on a wire rack.

Gingerbread Men Cookies
(~ 21 doz. mini cookies or ~ 8 doz. regular size)

1 tsp salt
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp cloves
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp powdered ginger
1 c. sifted flour

1 c. shortening
1 ¼ c. brown sugar
1 large egg
1 c. molasses, slightly warm

1/3 c. hot water
1 1/8 tsp. baking soda

4 to 5 cups flour

Sift together in large bowl:

ground nutmeg
powdered ginger
sifted flour

Preheat oven to 350*.  Cream shortening and brown sugar in a mixing bowl.

Work flour mixture and shortening/sugar mixture with a pastry blender until light and fluffy.  Add egg, beaten, alternately with the slightly warmed molasses.  Blend thoroughly.

Now add the hot water with the baking soda. 

Stir in 4 or 5 cups of flour into the mixture (I used about 4 ½ c.).  Chill dough in fridge for 8 hours or stick in freezer for 2 hours until chilled.  Roll out a small portion at a time to 1/8 inch thick.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes on a cookie sheet.

Nana’s Ice Box Cookies

3 eggs
1 c. butter
1 c. sugar + 1 c. brown sugar
4 c. sifted flour
½ tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 c. chopped nuts (walnuts)

Cream butter and sugars.  Add eggs.  Add sifted dry ingredients.  Stir in nuts.  Roll out dough into a log form, wrap in seran wrap, and freeze for several hours (at least 3).  When firm, slice and bake in 400* oven for 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

Candy Cane Cookies

½ c. butter, softened
½ c. shortening
1 c. sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 egg
1 ½ tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 ½ c. flour sifted
1 tsp salt
Red food coloring (8 drops)

Preheat oven to 350*.  Cream butter, shortening, sugar, egg, and extracts.  Sift flour and salt together and add to the mixture.  Divide the dough in half and add the red food coloring to half the mixture. 

Take a small ball from each half and roll into strips, braid them into twists and shape into candy canes and place onto the cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with a little sugar.  Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until slightly golden brown on the edges.

Bourbon Balls

1 box of Nilla Wafers, crushed into very small bits
1 c. confectioners’ sugar
1 c. walnuts, frozen and crushed
3 Tbsp. light Karo syrup
½ c. Bourbon (can use ¼ - ⅓c.)

Combine all into a large mixing bowl and combine until incorporated.  Roll into small balls, then roll into confectioners’ sugar.  Store in a tin container.

Reese's Cupcakes


The best time of year has officially arrived.  It has been a long time since I have posted, but I have been baking and saving up pictures to bombard the site.  My sister's birthday is December 21st and I was in charge of the cake.  She had a birthday party the 20th with 14 of her friends and I decided to make cupcakes.  Not cupcakes that I have made before, but a new recipe ... sort of.  I made my chocolate cupcakes and made a peanut butter frosting, topped with a mini reese's cup.  They were adorable and gobbled up!!

The frosting was creamy and peanut buttery, without overpowering the rich chocolate flavor of the cupcake.  It is a must try frosting - I promise, you will not be disappointed.

On another note, for her birthday cake, I made the same chocolate cake recipe with a white chocolate buttercream frosting.  It was a two layer chocolate cake with a ganache filling.  It was moist and rich from the ganache with a slightly sweet frosting that balanced the not so sweet cake.  The first attempt I made on the frosting did not work out at all.  For some reason the consistency was more gooey than fluffy.  I had to run to the grocery store with like an hour before we had to leave for the restaurant.  Thankfully, the second time around was a success!!  Unfortunately, since I was rushed, I do not have a picture of the cake.  But everyone loved it ... even the servers at the restaurant ... there was a little left over so we gave them the rest.

Enjoy these recipes and happy baking!!!

Chocolate Cake/Cupcakes
(adapted from Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Cake)
2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water + 2 tsp. instant espresso granules

Heat oven to 350°F. Line muffin cups with paper bake cups. Set aside.

Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. 
Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla in another bowl; beat with a mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes. 
In a liquid measuring cup, pour the hot water and add the instant espresso to the hot water, stir to dissolve.  Pour the water/espresso mixture into the batter and stir to combine.  The batter will be very thin. 

Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely.  

* For a 2 layered cake: grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.  Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely

Peanut Butter Frosting

(adapted from Ina Garten)
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup milk (a little less or more depending on consistency)
Mix the confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the milk and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

It has been so long since I have posted a new recipe and it saddens me.  However, I have a good excuse ... excuses.  First, we are redoing our kitchen so I cannot bake a lot.  Second, I have been going on job interviews, which has taken up a lot of my time.  But I managed to bake last night ... FINALLY!!!

The occasion for this cake is bittersweet because we had a going away lunch for a co-worker.  Sad to see her go, but she is moving on, so it was a little celebration, too.  I wanted to make her something because I appreciate everything that she has done for me during my internship and she is an awesome person!  What kind of cake should I bake for the occasion?  I had no idea.  Then I came across a great blog, The Pastry Affair, which featured a Red Wine Chocolate Cake ... umm, yes please!

I really wanted to try this recipe because it sounded so delicious.  She baked the cake in a loaf pan, but I decided to bake it in a 9" spring form pan and it worked out perfectly.  The cake is everything that she said it would be and I am so happy that I made it.  Everyone really enjoyed it, too, and yet was surprised by the red wine flavor/aroma.

The cake is so moist and soft and fluffy.  It is rich in both chocolate flavor and red wine.  You smell the red wine and taste it right away, but then it quickly disappears and leaves you with the rich chocolate flavor that lingers in your mouth.  You really don't need to frost it, actually I think that it might take away from the cake.  I served it with a light sprinkle of confectioners' sugar and it was perfect.  It is not sweet at all, which is great because I think it would conflict with the richness of the wine and chocolate.

It was hard for me to think of a "celebration"/"good bye" cake, but when I came across this recipe I knew it was the right one.  You have the wine and the chocolate in one bite, no need for a glass of wine or bubbly .... but you might want to have a glass of milk :)

I encourage you to make this cake, enjoy it, and happy baking!

Red Wine Chocolate Cake
(adapted from The Pastry Affair)

½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
¾ cup red wine
¼ cup light sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
¾ cup cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325*F and prepare a 9” circular pan (I used a 9” spring form pan).
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until smooth. Beat in the wine and sour cream (It might looked curdled, that is OK).

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add to wine mixture slowly, mixing until just incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared baking pan and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake bounces back slightly (begin to check around 40 minutes). Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Serve with a whipped frosting or sprinkle with a little confectioners’ sugar.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Is it a Chocolate Flourless Cake or a Fudgey Brownie?

That is the ultimate question.  It is supposed to be a chocolate flourless cake, but the end result is like a fudge cake ... I don't know how it works but I know that it tastes divine!

The cake is flourless and rich and dense and enveloped with a decadent ganache that, when set and slightly chilled, becomes a melt in your mouth, may i please have more piece of fudgey cake!!!

This recipe comes from Aaron McCargo on the Food Network.  I always try to change recipes to make it my own, but I have not messed with this recipe.  I would not know where to begin, nor would I want to try because it is perfect.

I will give you some pointers, though:

1.  make sure you have a spring form pan
2.  prepare the spring form pan by spraying it well and placing a piece of parchment paper on the bottom
3.  let it cool before turning it out onto another tray
4.  be patient when turning it out - the cake is finicky and will break if not careful

If you like rich, decadent, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate then PLEASE try this cake.  I cannot explain how good this cake is.  I make it at the restaurant and for catering events, too.  It is a winner!!!

Enjoy and happy baking!

Chocolate Flourless Cake
(makes one 8" circle cake)
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 stick cold butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces hazelnut liqueur (Frangelico)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • Chocolate Ganache, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray an 8-inch round spring form cake pan with nonstick butter spray and line bottom with parchment.
Put the chocolate, butter, vanilla and hazelnut liqueur in a large bowl on top of a double boiler. Stir the mixture frequently until combined and smooth. Remove the chocolate from heat and put the bowl into an "ice bath" to cool the chocolate. *Don't let the chocolate get hard, just cool enough.
Mix in the sugar and cocoa powder. Stir in the eggs and pour into the prepared cake pan. Put the cake pan on a sheet tray and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove the cake from the oven and let cool completely.  Remove from spring form pan onto your serving tray and remove the parchment paper.  Pour the ganache over the cake. 

Chocolate Ganache:
Put the chocolate into a large bowl. Heat the cream in a small pot, over low heat, until hot to the touch. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Mix well with a rubber spatula until the chocolate melts.

The BEST Banana Bars EVER!

Today was a gorgeous day outside, perfect fall weather - sun shining, slight breeze, cool enough for a sweatshirt, just perfect.  Of course, to me, that meant I should bake something because I was in such a good mood.  Today was all about bananas ....

My mother brought home some over ripe bananas last week and I immediately put them in the freezer for a later baking date.  Her one request:  bake something for everyone at work.  OK, not a problem, I knew exactly what to make.  My grandmother's banana bars!  This is a no-fail, delicious, addictive recipe.

I grew up eating these bars and helping my grandmother make them is a very fond memory.  I can still picture them cut into bars and stacked on the oven, dusted with powdered sugar, waiting to be eaten ....

The aroma in the kitchen ... in the house ... is enough to get your taste buds watering.  There is nothing more homey then the smell of banana and vanilla wafting from the stove.  My kitchen still has that intoxicating smell from hours ago.  It has taken me all my strength to not eat it all!

These are traditionally dusted with powdered sugar.  However, for my mom's coworkers, I decided that a very thin cream cheese frosting layer would be a perfect mid-morning treat.

Without further yapping, here is the best banana bars recipe.

My Grandma's Best Banana Bars
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
2 cup scant flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
2-3 mashed bananas (over ripe the better)

Preheat oven to 350*F and prepare a cookie sheet.  Cream the butter and sugar.  Add eggs, sour cream, and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda.  Add to the wet mixture until just combined.  Add in the mashed bananas.  

Bake on a cookie sheet for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

Serve with either powdered sugar or cream cheese frosting*.

* Cream Cheese Frosting:
3/4 stick of Neufchatel cheese
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup confectioners' sugar

Cream together the cream cheese and vanilla with a hand mixer.  Slowly incorporate the powdered sugar 1/4 cup at a time.  Spread evenly on the banana bars.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Chocolate Mint Layer Cake

If you love chocolate and mint ... why not make a chocolate mint layer cake covered in rich chocolate ganache?  Go ahead ... I know you want to ... I did.

I made this cake for my sister's 14th birthday.  It is so rich and decadent and delicious.  The only thing that didn't turn out as perfect as I wanted was the filling.  I don't think I whipped the heavy cream into stiff peaks - that was actually my first time whipping cream.

The recipe comes from Taste of Home.  However, instead of the frosting in the recipe, I made a chocolate ganache.  I mean, what is better than ganache?  Not much.

I have been meaning to make this cake again and messing around with the filling some more.  I hope that you give it a try and happy baking!

Chocolate Mint Layer Cake
(from Taste of Home)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1-3/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (use a double boiler)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract
3 to 4 drops green food coloring

2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350*.  Grease and flour 2 – 9” cake pans.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in chocolate and vanilla. Combine milk and water in a measuring cup. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk mixture, beating well after each addition.

Pour into prepared pans. Bake for 24-28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

For the filling: in a small bowl, beat the heavy cream until it begins to thicken. Add the sifted confectioners' sugar and peppermint extract; beat until stiff peaks form. Beat in food coloring. Place one cake layer on a serving plate; spread with filling. Top with second layer.

For the icing:  heat the heavy cream in a small sauce pan until the edges slightly start to bubble.  Pour over the chocolate chips and stir until all the chips are melted.  Let sit for a few minutes until the mixture starts to thicken.  Then pour over the cake

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Carrot Cake ... veggies in a dessert?  Umm, actually yes, please!  I had never had carrot cake before my grandfather's birthday (his favorite) - but of course, I was up to the challenge.  Some recipes call for pineapple (eww) and walnuts (eww) and some don't.  Thankfully, my grandfather likes straight up carrot cake, no pineapple and no walnuts!!

You would think that a carrot cake would be healthy ... well healthier than other cakes ... but with the amount of oil, I think not.  After reviewing recipes, I decided to cut the oil in half because there is enough moisture from the carrots and it worked perfectly fine!

*One tip that I can give you is:  Grate the carrots very fine onto a towel and wring it out to get rid of the excess water in the carrots.  Too much water from the carrots + all the oil = soggy cake.

The cream cheese frosting is the same frosting I used on the Red Velvet cake for my sister's graduation.

My grandfather was my biggest critic and he really liked it.  It came out very moist and the carrots were grated so fine you couldn't tell they were in it.  Honestly, I'm not the biggest nutmeg fan, but it is essential in this recipe.

I hope that you try this recipe and happy baking!

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients     (Cake adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
¾ cup canola oil
3 large eggs
3 cups finely grated carrots (make sure to drain the excess water)

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Spray and flour two 9-inch cake pans.

Grate the carrots over paper towels, cheese cloth, or kitchen towel.  Once grated, wring out the excess water from the carrots.  Or, put the carrots in a mesh strainer for at least 30 minutes (or overnight, if you have the time) or so to drain more water from the carrots. 

In a medium size bowl, sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  In stand mixer bowl, beat sugars and oil until blended.  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Add flour mixture to the wet mixture and stir to combine.  Stir in the carrots.

Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for about 35-40 minutes (start checking around 35 minutes) or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn onto the racks and let cool completely before icing.

Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Alton Brown)

16 oz. Neufchatel cream cheese
3 Tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted (roughly 9 oz)

Sift the confectioners’ sugar and set aside.  Cream the butter and cream cheese together until combined, then add the vanilla.  Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar a cup at a time – sifting each cup into the mixer – and beat between each addition.