Tag Archives: chocolate

Cheering for Cherries!

Have you ever stumbled across a recipe you’re dying to try, only to realize the timing is completely off? Such a letdown, isn’t it? Pumpkin is not nearly as appealing in April as it is in October. The outrageously overpriced, hard, tasteless berries gracing your store shelves in January are in no way deserving of your dessert plate. It’s disappointing when the discovery of a recipe gem and the season in which to eat it just don’t match up. We live in a Google-induced, instant gratification kind of world these days…in all areas except for food.

Quick!  What’s the population of Terre Haute, Indiana? What’s the average lifespan of the common fruit fly? How many licks DOES it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?

I could probably come up with the answers to all these questions in about 5.3 seconds. Except for maybe the Tootsie Pop thing…the world may never know on that one. 😉

But the only instant gratification you’re going to get when you find a strawberry recipe in January is to Google WHEN the strawberries are best in your area…and then sit back and wait for that day to come.

It’s okay to throw a quick tantrum before bookmarking the recipe and saving it for a rainy day when the ingredients are more appropriate. That’s what I usually do.

::whining:: But I want it nnnnnnnnooooooooowwwwwwwww!

Hi! I’m 3! Have we met?

Anyway, this happened to me twice this past winter around Christmas, when I opened up two separate cookbooks I received as gifts only to be faced with two recipes I just couldn’t wait to try – neither of which would be gracing our table for at least another 6 months or so.

Awwww, Man! Waiting.is.hard.

One of these recipes involves fresh sweet corn. Yep. Still waiting on that one. Only 7 weeks (or so) until sweet corn season! Not that I’m counting. I don’t wake up every morning and think about how we’re one day closer to sweet corn season or anything like that. Nope. I’m not THAT crazy.

Or am I?

Hm. Wonder if Google can help answer that question. 😉 Let me know what you find out.

The other recipe involves cherries. And ice cream. Cherries and ice cream didn’t make a lot in sense in December when this recipe fell into my lap. But now….ah, the snow and cold are gone, the sky is blue and the sun is shining…cherries and ice cream make perfect, harmonious sense.

Well, now you’re going to laugh at me, because I jumped the gun on this one. If I could have held out just a few more weeks, I probably could have made this delectable frozen concoction with fresh, delicious Michigan cherries. But instead…I used frozen.

I’m a little embarrassed by my false start here. I waited so many long months with the intention of using fresh cherries. I was going to lovingly pit and chop each one by hand. What happened?

Two weeks ago, the price tag on the  cherries at the store was still pretty steep. I got scared. What if they weren’t that great? I knew a frozen cherry was going to be ripe and sweet. I also knew I wanted this ice cream and I didn’t want to wait anymore. Frozen was going to have to do. Of course, just today, I opened my mailbox to find my weekly grocery circular only to discover – in giant font and pretty pictures – that cherries are on sale for a GREAT price this week.

Isn’t that always the way?

So what could elicit such a hasty reaction? What could make me dash toward the prize before the whistle blows?

Toasted Almond and Candied Cherry ice cream. With chocolate truffles. Oh yes. It happened.

Let me tell you how much I love this ice cream – frozen cherries and all. This is a smooth, creamy, nutty indulgence that’s just bursting with flavors and textures. This is a sundae in one scoop. It’s so good, it’ll make your knees buckle. (Okay, that’s a little overdramatic, but it is very good!)

The recipe comes from David Lebovitz, and although there are a lot steps and components, the end result is well worth the work. Toasted almonds are steeped in the milk/cream/sugar mixture, strained through a sieve and then squeezed to get as much of the nut oil and flavor back into the ice cream base as possible. Then cherries are simmered on the stovetop with sugar until they are cooked down, tender and render a thick, tasty syrup. The truffles are optional, but why in the world would you SKIP chocolate?

That’s what I thought. 🙂

They are made from a simple ganache that is finished with a bit of liqueur. The end result is a smooth ball of rich chocolate that stays slightly soft when frozen in the ice cream, making them easy to scoop through when ready to serve.

The almond ice cream base is mixed up with more toasted almonds for some crunch, the cherries, drained of the syrup and chopped, and the truffles. Yum. Crunchy nuts, juicy bits of fruit, smooth, rich chocolate. Savor it, my dear friends, and remember this little taste of summer in December when your ass is frozen to the seat of your car and cherry season is just a memory. It may help you get through some tough times ahead.

TOASTED ALMOND AND CANDIED CHERRY ICE CREAM (Recipe Source: The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup well drained Candied Cherries, chopped (recipe follows)
  • Chocolate truffles (optional, recipe follows)
  1. Warm the milk, sugar, salt and 1 cup of the cream in a medium sauce-pan. Finely chop 1 cup of the almonds and add them to the warm milk. Cover, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.
  2. Strain the almond-infused milk into a separate medium saucepan. Press with a spatula or squeeze with your hands to extract as much flavor from the almonds as possible. Discard the almonds.
  3. Rewarm the almond-infused milk. Pour the remaining 1 cup cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly add the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
  4. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Stir in the almond extract and stir until cool over an ice bath.
  5. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the fridge, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to directions. During the last few minutes of the churning, add the remaining 1 cup of chopped almonds. When you remove the ice cream from the machine, fold in the chopped cherries and truffles. Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.

Candied Cherries (Recipe Source: The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)

Makes about 2 Cups

  • 1 pound cherries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 drop almond extract
  1. Remove the stems and pit the cherries. Heat the cherries, water, sugar and lemon juice in a large, nonreactive saucepan or skillet until the liquid starts to boil.
  2. Turn down the heat to a low boil ad cook the cherries for 25 minutes, stirring frequently during the last 10 minutes of cooking t make sure they are cooking evenly and not sticking.
  3. Once the syrup is reduced to the consistency of maple syrup, remove the pan from the the heat, add the almond extract, and let the cherries cool in their syrup.
  4. Before adding to ice cream mixture, drain for about 1 hour or until the cherries feel dry and sticky.

Dark Chocolate Truffles (Recipe Source: The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)

*Note: This is the full recipe for the truffles, which makes about 40 1/2 inch diameter truffles. I knew that would be way too much for one batch of ice cream, so I halved it and it was STILL too many truffles. I have half left in the freezer for another batch of ice cream (not that that’s a bad thing, I’m just saying!) The moral of the story, feel free to adjust this recipe to your needs.

  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Congnac, rum or other liquor or liqueur
  1. Heat the cream with the corn syrup in a small saucepan until it just begins to boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until it’s melted and the mixture is smooth. Mix in liquor. Scrape the mixture into a small bowl and freeze until firm, about 1 hour.
  2. Line a dinner plate with plastic wrap. Form little 1/2 inch truffles using two small spoons. Scoop up a teaspoonful of truffle mixture, then scrape it off with the off with the other spoon onto the plate. Repeat, using all the truffle mix. Freeze the truffles until ready to mix in.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: I came home with a load of goodies from the Wilton Tent Sale
Two Years Ago: Grilled Polish Sausage with BBQ Grilled Onions

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Filed under chocolate, fruit, ice cream

I’m (Not) Lovin’ It.

In the interest of being totally and completely honest, I’m about to post a recipe I’m not in love with. If there were some ominous watchful eye that would strike down anyone that tried to modify recipes from the original, I would not be making these again. They’re not worth being stuck down, that’s for sure!

Since that is clearly not the case, I’m blogging this recipe for two reasons. 1. Others might like it. Just because I don’t love it, doesn’t mean others feel the same way. And 2. I do believe certain modification could improve the final result.

The recipe: Banana Whoopie Pies. The reason I don’t love them: Well, the texture and the flavor to start out. Hm. Isn’t that what food is? Texture and flavor?

Let’s start with the flavor. Holy Rot Your Teeth Out, Batman! These are insanely sweet. Between the cookie part, the chocolate chips, the nuts and the filling, it’s just too rich for my blood. A little TOO delightful. TOO much of a good thing. I used my tablespoon cookie scoop to shape the pies and found even that size to be far too large. I could hardly finish one they were so rich. And the recipe suggests using a large scoop for the pies – whoa. I can’t even imagine.

And the texture. Now, I’ve never made or had a whoopie pie before so I’m not sure what I was expecting. I guess something a bit more cakey? Lighter than a cookie maybe? Obviously, I have no idea what I’m talking about. These were pretty dense and chewy – like making a frosting sandwich out of banana bread. The recipe calls for two cups of either whole wheat, white whole wheat or all-purpose flour. I used one cup whole wheat and one cup all purpose so I’m sure that attributed to the textural properties of the cookie as whole wheat flour does tend to make things denser. Then with the huge chocolate chips and the nuts, I just couldn’t fall in love with the final product. It was all too much.

Improvements. I think they can be made here. First, I’d nix the whole wheat flour. Maybe whole wheat flour and whoopie pies aren’t meant to be friends. That’s okay. A whoopie pie isn’t supposed to be a shining beacon of nutritional merit anyway.

Second, I’d cut back significantly on the amount of chocolate and use mini-chips instead.  I think minis would disperse more evenly throughout the batter and provide just a hint of chocolate –not overpowering chunks. I’d probably eliminate the walnuts too. I’ve never been huge fan of walnuts, but I thought I’d give it a try and see if I’ve changed my mind.

Upon further review, the answer is no. I have not changed my mind.

Walnuts, meet Cilantro. You two go stand over there and don’t touch any of the other foodstuffs. Thanks.

If you decide to give these a try, let me know! I’d be curious to see what others think. If you make any other changes, I’d like to hear about those too! One of these days, I’ll try these again with the changes I mentioned, but not today. I just can’t eat anymore whoopie pies. For now.

So there here it is, without further ado: A Recipe I Don’t Love.

But you might love it. 😉 You’ll have to let me know if I’m the crazy one! It’s entirely possible. Oh yes.

BANANA WHOOPIE PIES (Recipe Source: King Arthur Flour)

INGREDIENTS:

For the Cookies:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 medium to large) mashed bananas
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups Whole Wheat Flour, white whole wheat or all-purpose
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

For the Filling:

  • 1/2 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons milk as needed
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional) – I omitted

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two baking sheets, or line with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugars, and salt until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, then the bananas. Beat until mixture looks curdled. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  3. Whisk together the flour and baking soda; add to the banana mixture, mixing until evenly combined. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, then mix for 1 minute more. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.
  4. Scoop the dough by the quarter cup for large cookies, and by the tablespoon for small cookies. Allow plenty of space between them.
  5. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until the tops spring back when lightly touched with your finger, and the edges are a very light golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring the cookies to a rack to finish cooling completely before filling.
  6. To make the filling: Beat together the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Add just enough milk to make the mixture a spreadable consistency. Stir in the walnuts (if using).
  7. Spread the bottom of one of the cookies with the filling. Place another cookie on top of the filling, bottom side down. Press until the filling just reaches the edges. Makes 10 large or 20 small whoopie pies.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago:
Mushroom Rigatoni Bake – One of my favorites!
Soda Shop Cupcakes – How does a rich chocolate cake smothered in swirls of malted milk buttercream sound? Good, huh?

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Donut Stop Believin’

Raise your hand if you grew up in the Chicago area and vacationed on a lake in Wisconsin as a kid. Yep. Me too.

Is that a requirement for a proper Chicagoland upbringing or something? Is it written in stone somewhere? I’m thinking yes, because it seems like every family had a spot in Wisconsin they returned to year after a year. As a child of the greater Chicagoland metro area, thou shall:

  • Enjoy assorted field trips to the aquarium, planetarium and Art Institute.
  • Stop putting ketchup on your hot dogs by the age of 10.
  • Spend at least a week every summer “Up North”

See, it is written. 🙂

For as long as I can remember, my family went up to Northern Wisconsin for a week every summer to stay on Plum Lake.  At 4, at 11, at 18 there are pictures of me standing on the shore, smiling my wide “school’s out” smile. I look different in each one, but the background is frozen in time. My mom stayed on that very same lake every summer when she was a girl. The beach, the pier, the slanty, rugged cottages – everything looks exactly the same, whether it be 1960, 1990 or beyond. It’s pretty near and dear to our hearts to say the very least!

Here we are! Mom at Plum Lake circa 1962 and me around 1989. The best parts of these photos? Mom’s bathing cap. That.is.Awesome! Gotta keep that nasty lake water out of your hair! And my life jacket. Like I’m going to drown there in three inches of water. That whale is the best! I forgot about that thing… Thanks for pics, Mom and Dad!

Plum Lake is miles and miles from the hustle and bustle of the big city – under a dark, cool canopy of lush, green forests. Nestled among the trees is a beautiful, clear, sandy bottom lake and clusters of tiny cottages straight out of days gone by. A week at the lake was a week full of casting a line off the pier, boat rides and skipping rocks. A week full of sand in your bed, swing sets and drippy ice cream cones. Slamming screen doors, supper clubs, and small town shops. Salt water taffy, buckets of minnows and belly laughs.

And donuts for breakfast. Every.single.day. The best part of all! Hey, it’s okay on vacation, right? Waking up in the morning, watching the sun toss millions of tiny sparkles across the lake, and sinking my teeth into a soft, fresh donut was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

A tiny bakery in St. Germain was the source of this delicious bounty. Every couple days, I’d get up early and head to town with my mom. Once inside, I’d breathe in the heavenly aroma of sugar, butter and frying dough. Marveling at the piles of treats in the glass case, my stomach would begin to grumble. Choosing was always the hardest part! These were some seriously good donuts. Me personally? I was partial to the cake donut with chocolate icing (they slathered it on nice and thick too. No wimpy, tasteless, crumbly glaze here. There were TEETH MARKS in the icing after you took a bite. Now that’s what I’m talking about!) and the apple fritters bursting with juicy bits of real apples and drenched in glaze that stuck to your fingers and lips.

Up North. What a great place to be a kid. And eat donuts.

It’s been about 10 years since I’ve visited Plum Lake but I’d really like to get back there someday to carry on the tradition with my own kids. Maybe I’ll even have a donut or two while I’m there, considering I can’t even remember the last time I had one.

See, donuts are just not real high on my list of acceptable foods to eat. Apples, broccoli, brown rice. Acceptable for every day. Fried dough covered in sugar? Not acceptable for every day.  Personally, I think it’s kind of hard to find a good donut – not to mention all the unnecessary calories – so that’s why I tend to avoid them. And since I don’t fry at home, I don’t see homemade donuts in my future any time soon.

Instead, I’ll just rely on these baked donut muffins to curb any fried dough cravings. I spotted this recipe over at Elly Says Opa! and have had it saved for a while just waiting for that donut craving to hit. Not saying these are healthy by any means, but baked usually beats fried. It’s like scissors to paper, if you will. These are so easy to make and really do mimic the flavor profile of a cake donut – soft, moist with just a hint of spice. The chocolate glaze makes them just a little bit naughty while still remaining mostly nice. 😉 And who can resist colored sprinkles?? Not me! They may not be the same as the real thing I remember so fondly from my childhood, but they’re a good grown-up stand in. 🙂 Eric had a hard time deciding if they were breakfast or dessert. I told him, it’s okay to swing both ways. 😉

CHOCOLATE GLAZED DONUT MUFFINS (Recipe Source: Originally adapted from: Elle’s New England Kitchen, as seen at Elly Says Opa!)

INGREDIENTS:

For the Muffins

  • 2 cups AP flour
  • scant 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. allspice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1-1/4  tsp. vanilla extract

For the Glaze

  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp. corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • sprinkles (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a standard muffin tin.
  2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt cinnamon, nutmeg and all spice in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the egg with the canola oil, butter, milk and vanilla with an electric mixer until well blended. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, combining gently by hand until just moistened.
  3. Spoon the batter in the prepared muffin tins and bake for about 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely.
  4. To make the glaze, combine the chocolate chips, butter, corn syrup and vanilla extract in a double boiler (or in a stainless steel or glass bowl over some simmering water). Stir until the chocolate is melted and everything is incorporated.
  5. Dip the tops of the muffins into the glaze and immediately top with sprinkles, if using. Makes 12 muffins

ENJOY! 🙂

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Happy (Official) St. Patrick’s Day!

As I was making these Guinness Cupcakes, I couldn’t help but think of St. Patrick’s Days gone by.

See, I never think of March 17 as the day for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. The parties, the shamrocks, the green beer – all that happened well before the actual day on a charming little holiday known as Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day. Or more simply: Unofficial.

One word. One day. One extremely bad idea.

It all started back in the 90s when a tavern owner in the University town of Champaign, IL decided his establishments were missing out on a lot revenue when the drinking holiday to end all drinking holidays fell over spring break when the students were away from campus and spending their beer money in tropical paradises instead (or if you’re like me, you didn’t have any beer money, let alone tropical paradise money, so you likely spent your St. Paddy’s Day marking down clearance fleece at Old Navy.) So, he came up with a little event he dubbed Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day. The Friday before Spring Break (not the Friday everyone left campus for break, the Friday before that) he would open his bars at 8:00 a.m., dye his kegs green, encourage everyone to put their Irish game faces on, and come party.all.day.long.

Needless to say, the students liked this idea. A lot. So did the other bar owners. They joined in the fun, also opening their doors bright and early and slinging green beer. And so, Unofficial became the highlight of the UIUC social calendar. A full day of drinking, fighting, vandalism, property destruction, emergency room visits and stomach pumping! YES!

Where do I sign up?

In all seriousness though, I liked to have a good time as much as the next person in college, and I’m not saying I never did anything kinda stupid – sure I did! Who hasn’t? But I never actually participated in the Unofficial festivities in all their glory. My freshman year, I wasn’t old enough (have to be 19 to get in the bars in Champaign, I was still 18 at the time.) Sophomore year, I think I went home that weekend for some reason.

Junior year, I had a particularly difficult exam scheduled that day. Partying before exam = FAIL. Just ask the people who were kicked out of the test and given a zero. They’ll tell you ALL about it. Then senior year, I had a job interview. In St. Louis. So, needless to say, I missed out on most of what many UIUC students would say is the best day ever. Meh. My junior and senior year, I got to go have a green beer or two in the evening and that was all the Unofficial fun I needed, really. Those nights usually ended up pretty low key, as the people that had been at since 8 a.m. were no longer upright and/or conscious. Made for a nice evening with friends! 🙂

My green beer days have been replaced by days of cleaning and cupcakes. And that’s okay. I’m all old and responsible now so I can deal. Somewhere along the lines I just naturally transitioned from bars to bleach and from pints of beer to cups of cake. HA! It was so effortless, so seamless and quick, I didn’t even notice! How can that be?

I can still have a rockin’ good time though. Oh yes. And I still enjoy a few libations every now and then – nothin’ wrong with that! I’ve already declared my love for booze in cooking and baking – so St. Patrick’s Day is the perfect time to reminisce about those crazy college days, reach behind the bar and make a loaded cupcake.

These Chocolate Whiskey and Beer cupcakes from Smitten Kitchen would certainly fill the void left by the spilled green beer and wayward cigarette burns of party days gone by. And do a much better job at it too! I ended up taking a few shortcuts to make the process a bit quicker without sacrificing the flavor. Or the alcohol.

I decided to skip the whiskey ganache filling. As delicious as that sounded, I just wasn’t feeling the extra steps and extra ingredients. So instead, I made the Guinness chocolate cupcakes and piped on a chocolate Bailey’s Irish Cream frosting instead of the Bailey’s buttercream. All the taste, but a lot less prep! They turned out great! The cake was super moist and had a great warm, almost malty flavor we really enjoyed. The frosting was to-die-for! LOVED it. Chocolate and Bailey’s is a match made in heaven! All in all a great St. Patrick’s Day treat!

CHEERS! 🙂

GUINNESS CUPCAKES WITH CHOCOLATE BAILEY’S FROSTING (Cake Recipe from: Smitten Kitchen. Frosting inspired by Smitten Kitchen but adapted from Hershey’s.com)

INGREDIENTS:

For the Cake:

  • 1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream

For the Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
  • 2/3 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Bailey’s Irish Cream
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons of milk (more or less as needed)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners.
  2. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
  3. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 17 minutes.Rotate the pans front to back once halfway through baking.  Cool cupcakes on a rack completely. Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes.
  4. Make the frosting: Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and Irish Cream/milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. Makes about 2 cups frosting.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Pineapple Butterscotch Bars – a different combination that’s surprisingly delightful!

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Black Bottom Cupcakes…

You make the rockin’ world go round!

I channeled Freddie Mercury making these cupcakes. 🙂 All afternoon, I was singing about taking them home tonight and enjoying them beside the red firelight and how these sweet treats make the rockin’ world go round. Maybe we should just call these the QUEEN of all cupcakes.

ANYWAY. Black bottom cupcakes that make the rockin’ world go round. What are they and why should you care? Well, maybe they should make whoever came up this idea QUEEN for a day because it is GENIUS. Rich and tender chocolate cake surrounds a sweet, creamy, chocolate-studded cream cheese center.

Um. I’m listening. You had me at cake.

I kind of found this recipe by accident. It was meant to be! Last weekend, I grabbed a different cookbook out of the cabinet where I keep them in a jumbled, messy pile super neat and organized and my Jack Daniel’s book fell out. On my foot, actually. But that’s a different story. After I was done cursing, I looked down to see that the book had fallen open and this recipe for Black Bottom Cupcakes appeared. I picked it up and started reading. Turns out, I had everything I needed to make them on hand, including a bottle of Uncle Jack’s special sauce. Ah! I knew what I was baking that afternoon!

These are super easy to make and a chocolate lovers dream. I loved the warmth and spice the JD adds. The cake part is not overly sweet, so the cupcakes don’t seem super rich with the addition of chocolate chips. My only beef with the recipe is that it says it makes 18 and I only got 13. Yes, I baked one lonely cupcake all by itself in a big old pan. LOL. I probably over-filled my cups, which I tend to do. What can I say, I’m a giver when it comes to cupcake batter. I would not recommend filling the cups three-quarters of the way full…half may be a good place to start.

BLACK BOTTOM CUPCAKES (Recipe Source: Jack Daniel’s Spirit of Tennessee Cookbook)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 8-oz package of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup Jack Daniel’s Whiskey
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tbs. vinegar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper cupcake liners.
  2. Beat together first 4 ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together remaining dry ingredients in a separate bowl. In another bowl, stir together whiskey, water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and beat with an electric mixer until combined.
  4. Fill cupcake liners 3/4 (or maybe half…) full with batter. Drop 1 tablespoon cream cheese mixture into the center of each.
  5. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until tester inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Makes 18 cupcakes (if you’re lucky. ;))
  6. Store leftovers in the fridge, but bring to room temp before serving. Or just eat ’em cold. They’re good like that too! 🙂

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Later: Apple Peanut Butter Crumble Bars – I INVENTED these. Yes. Really. I was going to work with this recipe a bit more to work out some kinks but I haven’t yet. I need to get to that!

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New Decade, New Directions

Hello 2010! Wow! I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since we wondered if Y2K was going to wipe out life as we know it.

My computer will think its 1900! There were no computers in 1900! Will my computer blow up because it thinks it doesn’t exist?! Oh no! I’m playing MYST and halfway through! My life’s ruined!

More shockingly, of course, is that 2010 marks 10 years since high school. Whoa. There will probably be some kind of Class of 2000 reunion this summer. Wonder if I’ll go… Last time I got an alumni newsletter (Yes, my high school sends out an alumni newsletter. And I fully elected to let them find me so I get one. LOL.) no one had stepped up spearhead the dang thing. Hm. Knowing my class, that does not surprise me in the very least. Ha.

Plan the 10 year reunion? Eh. I’ll let someone else handle that. Hand me another beer.

I can see one problem with this decade already. Raise your hand if you’ve already uttered the word “Oh-Ten.” You know, ’08, ’09, Oh-10. I totally have. Can you say embarrassing? Also, will you say Twenty-Ten or Two-Thousand-Ten. I’ve already found myself saying two-thousand-ten, but when you think about it, that really makes no sense. I mean, I don’t say I was born in the year one-thousand-nine-hundred-eighty-two. So by default, to say two-thousand-ten is wrong, correct? But on the other hand, how many people would have looked at you funny if you went around saying twenty-one in two-thousand-one? That’s what I thought. (10 year) Old habits die hard. So yeah.

ANYWAY! Looking back at the last 10 years, I almost can’t believe all the stuff that’s happened. This decade, I think, has defined me as a person more so than any other of my life so far. Obviously, in the 1980s, I was just a wee babe and toddling tot and whiny kid. In the 1990s, I was a scrawny, skinny, stringy-haired, knobby-kneed preteen with coke bottle glasses. (Can Mom swoop in with the photo proof here too? LOL. On second thought, just take my word for it.) Then I was a shy, insecure high school student with a fondness for chunky shoes and zits.

At the start of the 21st century, I was 17, about to graduate, and really looking forward to the next stage of my life. Armed with an acceptance letter to UIUC, a 9 month supply of Accutane and new outlook on life, I decided to throw caution to the wind and STOP worrying so much about what other people thought. New millennium, new me.

And now, 10 years later, I can see how far I’ve come. I still have a long way to go, obviously. Still learning, still growing. Every single day without fail. I like it that way. Keeps thing interesting. But in the last decade, I went off to college. College is scary. And hard. I met some of the very best friends a girl could ever have. I watched with millions as the world changed forever on 9/11. I had the best time of my life, struggled harder than I ever had before, and had my heart shattered for the first time.

Then I met this boy. THE boy. This adorable, sweet, amazing, farm-raised Mechanical Engineering student from a tiny town I had never heard of. And I fell – head.over.heels. in love with him. We spent a year dating, having a crazy, amazing time with all our friends, and falling madly in love. Graduation came quickly. The real world was calling like Grim Reaper ready to zap the fun out of everything.

So I did something a little crazy. I followed him to Iowa. Was I super-duper excited to move from the bustling metropolis that is the greater Chicagoland area to a small city in Iowa? Hm. What do you think? But it didn’t matter. His real world (ahem, job) had brought him here, and, gosh darnit, I wanted to go to! So, five years ago this very week, we packed up a U-Haul full of hand-me-down furniture and headed west.

These years here in Iowa have been a test for sure. I was jobless and broke when we got here. Took a job selling clothes in the Junior’s department at a department store. When I got burned out on that, I moved on to the next crap job I could find – telemarketing. Yes, I was ONE OF THEM. That lasted about 4 months before every hang up and expletive I received felt like a dagger in my poor, soft, sensitive heart (I cried a lot. True story.) In the midst of all that, he put a ring on it! Ah! Our wedding was by far one of the best days of my life so far. Picture perfect spring day in Chicago. All our family and friends there. One helluva party. People talk about it to this day!

And we bought a house! A small, ranch-style starter home of our very own. We learned about radon and how it must be mitigated…less sucking down carcinogens is your bag, baby. 😉  And we learned how much a new roof costs. And that seashell and birdhouse and southwest wallpaper borders are really hard to scrap off. And that if you stuff a half a pound of old taco meat down the garbage disposal and the kitchen sink overflows, it’s YOUR responsibility to call a plumber, put your life on hold while you wait for him to come and, of course, PAY THE MAN. Kinda miss that landlord after that first bought of the dreaded “unexpected home repair,” huh?

Not that I ever did that or anything….

Um. Moving on!

Toward the end of the decade, having gotten that pesky getting-married-buying-a-home part of adulthood all taken care of in my early twenties, I was FINALLY ready to get a Big Girl job. Farewell, Folding T-Shirts. Too-da-loo, Telemarketing. Ta-ta, Temping! And I did. In the end, it didn’t work out. Although it was difficult, I am eternally grateful to have even had the opportunity to work side-by-side with the folks I did. I learned so much and grew so much from that experience, I don’t regret a single second of it. A new job came relatively quickly, and I found myself settling comfortably into a perfect work/life balance.

And now, here we are, at the dawn of a new decade! I’ve got my hubby by my side who still gives me butterflies just like he did when we first met. We’re still having a blast every single day. Still learning from each other and growing with each other every day. I’ve got this humble little blog which is quickly becoming one of my favorite things. It’s the perfect place to share recipes, swap stories and just be me. This blog certainly wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for the adventures of the last 10 years! Thank you, thank you for sticking with me! I can’t wait to see what the next year brings. I have a few things in mind, a few adventures up my sleeve, but you’ll have to stay tuned to find out what they are!

So, what triggered all this nostalgia? Besides, the obvious new year, of course. Believe it or not, it was these super cute Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecakes! We were headed to a New Year’s Eve gathering and I wanted to make a sweet treat to take along. I figured everyone would be tired of cookies (I’ve still got holiday cookies to blog! I’ll get to them soon!) so I went in search of something else. Bite-sized is always best for big groups, so I made the cheesecakes in mini-muffin tins.

I had to find something to press my crusts into the pan and I grabbed an one of our old college shot glasses. It totally made me laugh when I realized how I had repurposed an item used almost exclusively for college parties to fit into my Suzie Homemaker lifestyle. Shot glass? Nope. Cheesecake crust press? YES! Perfect!

So. The cheesecakes. These are a peanut butter batter dotted with chocolate ganache. And the crusts? How about a bit of a salty bite with some crushed pretzels? Mmmm. Really, just about anything that can be crushed into fine crumbs and mixed with melted butter can be a cheesecake crust, so get creative.

I really liked the salty/sweet combo here! And they were a hit at the party. Rich, chocolaty with just the right kick of saltiness. YUM! These were a bit denser than other cheesecakes I made, probably because of the peanut butter, but since they are just one little bite, I didn’t mind that here. I used regular peanut butter because that’s what I had on hand, but the original recipe uses natural. That may help improve the consistency of the cakes, so I’d use that if you’ve got it.

The one thing to note is to be careful not to overbake the crusts their first go-round in the oven. Be especially careful if your pan is darker. One of my mini-muffin pans has a darker coating on it and my crusts got way too dark after only five minutes in the oven…so heads up!

PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKES (Recipe adapted from: Amazing Dessert Recipes)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup finely crushed pretzels
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs, room temperature (add 1 more yolk if you like a lighter cheesecake)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 mini-muffin tins with paper liners.
  2. Combine pretzels, sugar and melted butter in a bowl. Mix to moisten the crumbs. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the pretzel mixture into each cup. Press each crust into the bottom with a shot glass. (Bonus points if the glass has your Alma Mater on it!)
  3. Bake the crusts for 4 to 6 minutes, just to make sure they hold together and get a tiny bit of color on them. Set aside to cool.
  4. Meanwhile, make the filling. Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a large mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Scrape down the bowl and beat a bit more. Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined after each addition.
  5. Spoon cheesecake batter onto prepared crusts, filling about three quarters of the way full. Bake in preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until set. (Note: Mine did crack a bit, but since you’ll be covering the tops…no worries. No one has to know!) Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. Heat cream in a small saucepan until small bubbles form along the edges. Do not boil. Remove from heat and add chopped chocolate. Stir until smooth.
  7. Spoon about a teaspoon of ganache onto each cheesecake. Refigerate for at least two hours before serving. Garnish with a pretzel piece just before serving, if desired.

ENJOY! 🙂

One year ago: After I published these Chicken Parmesan Calzones, I saw my first real “spike” in hits on my blog. Aw, memories. 🙂

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Upon Further Review…

How do you feel about recipe reviews? All the major online recipe sources offer a place for home cooks everywhere to share their experiences with a particular recipe. It’s like a great big kitchen table for all of us to talk shop about food. They can be helpful and enlightening.

But how much can you really conclude from recipe reviews? If it has a whole bunch of glowing, positive reviews with maybe just one or two stinkers thrown in – do you assume the people that didn’t like it must just lack the skills to do it up right? You do, don’t you? Ha. I totally do. If 683 people think the recipe is awesome and one person doesn’t…well, you gotta wonder about that odd man out.

Or what about those reviewers who change just about everything before deciding the recipe sucks? Don’t you hate those? I do. They kind of make me want to reach through the computer screen and give the writer a virtual throat punch. “I didn’t have flour or sugar,” reads a one-star review, “so I subbed pencil shavings and grass clippings. It tasted terrible. This recipe stinks, don’t waste your time.”

Wow. That’s very helpful. Thank so much, Oh Sultan of the Substitution. Thank goodness we all have your infinite wisdom to save us from this the Recipe of Doom. ::eye roll::

But what if a recipe has an equal number of positive and negative reviews? What to do? How to proceed? Make the recipe? Move on? It’s a pickle, I tell ya!

When I was deciding on what to make for my holiday treat trays this year, I decided I wanted to do three old standby recipes and two new ones. When I saw these citrus butter cookies from Melissa d’Arabian show up in my inbox thanks to Food Network’s 12 Day of Cookies, I was immediately smitten. Love citrus. Love butter. What’s not to like?!

The problem? The reviews were mixed – like total 50/50. Some people loved ’em and some not so much. Hm.

Perhaps in my younger, less confident days I would have shied away from this recipe based on the reviews. But I decided I was a slave to the reviews NO MORE. If I wanted to try something, then by all means, I should try it…and NOT let a couple of Negative Nancys spoil it for me. I was making these cookies.

With a few minor adjustments, of course. Ha. Adjustments I knew would work. First, I made all my cookies orange instead of separating the dough and doing orange, lemon and lime. I did this to: A) save time and B) because I like orange. 🙂 And since I was giving all of the cookies away, I dipped each one in chocolate (some semi-sweet, some white) instead of making the chocolate sauce.

Now, I can see where people may have had difficulties with this recipe. First and foremost, these cookies spread. A lot. I tried everything to keep them from spreading. I chilled my cookie sheets (per the recipe instructions), I chilled my dough. I chilled the dough after piping it on the cookie sheet. No luck. Still spread. It’s okay though…because they are really, really good! And all you have to do to keep from getting large, misshapen cookies is to cut a smaller hole in your baggie before piping. If the piped dough looks too thin, it’s probably just right to get a nice shape on your cookie.

Also, it’s essential that you do not overbake these babies. As customary with butter cookies, overbaking leads to a dried out, crumbly mess. Keep a close eye on them…they’ll go from not quite done to over done in a blink of an eye. Get them out of the oven at the right time and you’ll have a delicate, tender, slightly crisp cookie with just the right kick of citrus. Heavenly.

For the record, if you’re still on the fence, I had a couple of recipients tell me these were their favorite out of the whole bunch. So take that Negative Nancys. HA!

CHOCOLATE-DIPPED ORANGE BUTTER COOKIES (Recipe adapted from: Melissa d’Arabian – FoodNetwork.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, slightly softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Dash of salt
  • Finely grated zest from 1 large orange
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 ounces white chocolate, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Beat butter, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together with an electric mixer until creamy.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and beat until just blended. Stir in orange zest.
  4. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch tip, or a sturdy plastic bag with the corner snipped off. Pipe the dough in 2-inch long strips, about 2 inches apart, on a cold unlined baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until golden brown. Repeat with remaining dough.
  5. Let cool on baking sheet for a few minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack and cool completely.
  6. Melt both chocolates in either the microwave or over a double boiler. Dip half the cookies in the semi-sweet chocolate and half in the white. Place each dipped cookie on a sheet of wax paper. Allow chocolate to set completely before storing. Yield: About 60 cookies.

One Year Ago: We rang in 2009 with Alton’s Baked Mac and Cheese. Mmm. Cheesy New Year…

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This Blizzard is Brought to You By…

The words HOLY and CRAP.

Winter. Apparently he has arrived. And he wasn’t real gentle about it this time around either. Sometimes, winter kind of slinks in quietly. He hangs out in the back corner for a while and waits to be noticed. We  might wake up one morning in December and there’s this light dusting of snow on the grass and trees and for a split second we all think, oh, how nice. How pretty. We may even find ourselves whistling Jingle Bells as we scrape the nice, light dusting off our cars and driveways. We think, wow, maybe this Winter character isn’t so bad after all.

Well. Not this year. There was no easing into it this time. Winter is a December wallflower no more. He decided NOT to stand in the back corner and wait to be noticed, he was going to make his presence known. In a big, huge, downright shocking way. Especially since, just over a week ago, we had temps around here in the 50s. Nay a snowflake to be seen.

And then today, we wake up to this:

And this:

Blizzard 2009. This is going to be one of THOSE storms. One of those media hyped “Remember when? Where were you?” kind of storms. I predict by the weekend, we’ll start hearing the stories of blizzard babies nearly born in cars. And paramedics trying to reach the guy who keeled over in his driveway trying to shovel snow. Big, shocking snow stories like that.We all love those, don’t we. Yeah. Right.

In other words, people will be talking about this one for a long, long time. Not necessarily because of the AMOUNT of snow (we’ve had this much snow before) but just because we’re pretty early in the season here and this bad boy has really packed a punch. The wind! The drifts! Oh my gosh, the drifts! We are snowbound in our neighborhood because of the drifts in the streets. In a nutshell, it’s bad.

Why, Winter, why?? Ugh.

The plus side to all of this is, of course, the snow day. My office closed today. Eric had big plans to get to work but after attempting to clear off the driveway (and having the wind blow everything he cleared right back into his face) and watching our neighbor (who works for the same company) get hung up in a huge drift in front of our house, he decided not to be the hero and worked from home. It turns out none of his employees got in either. We had no choice but stay home.

So, what to do when the weather outside is frightful? Why, bake of course! Needless to say, only with things already in the house. And bake I did…but not the cookies you’ll find below. I made these over the weekend. PSYCH! Ha. Stay tuned for what I made today, coming soon to a blog near you.:)

To tide you over, I give you Chocolate Hazelnut Thumbprints! YUM. These are are really easy to make and super chocolatey and rich. Believe it or not, these cookies were my first experience with Nutella! Nutella and I…we are now in love. It’s serious. We didn’t even hold hand first, I just took that jar home with me the very first day. 😉

Anyway, I really loved these cookies. Chewy (chocolate cookie), crunchy (crushed hazelnuts), creamy(Nuetlla) – all rolled into one tasty little bite. The only thing to be aware of – really punch your thumb down hard in the middle. I didn’t intent enough on my first batch so I didn’t really have a cute little home for my Nutella. Other than that, these are a simple and delicious treat. The perfect addition to any holiday goodie tray.

Special shoutout to my wonderful husband Eric who assisted me greatly with this particular recipe by painstakingly cracking dozens of hazelnuts out of their shell with a hammer and a kitchen towel. That is love, people. LOVE! I love a man who’s handy (in the kitchen). 😉

CHOCOLATE HAZELNUT THUMBPRINTS (Recipe Source: Cooking Light, December 2009)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4.5  ounces  all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
  • 1  cup  powdered sugar
  • 1/3  cup  unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  cup  butter, softened
  • 2  large egg yolks
  • 1  teaspoon  instant espresso (optional)
  • 1/2  teaspoon  vanilla extract
  • 2/3  cup  finely chopped hazelnuts, toasted
  • 1/3  cup  hazelnut-chocolate spread (such as Nutella)

DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, cocoa, and salt; stir with a whisk. Beat butter with a mixer until light and fluffy. Whisk egg yolks together with espresso powder (if using). Add the yolk mixture and vanilla to butter; beat well. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; beat at low speed just until combined.

3. Turn dough out onto a sheet of wax paper; knead 6 times or until smooth and shiny. Roll the dough into  1-inch balls. Roll the balls in nuts, pressing gently to make sure they stick. Arrange balls 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Press thumb into center of each cookie, leaving an indentation. Bake, 1 batch at a time, at 350° for 10 minutes. Remove cookies from pans; cool completely on wire racks. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon hazelnut-chocolate spread into center of each cookie.

Makes about 28 cookies.

ENJOY! 🙂

One year ago: Eggnog Muffins with Nutmeg Streusel Topping. Such a great holiday treat!

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Love that Babka!

Would you believe me if I said my husband has had a bit of a Babka Obsession for at least the last six months? It’s true. The man has been bugging me about babka since last spring!

A while back, (quite a while, if I’m being honest), Eric and I were enjoying a quiet evening at home with our favorite show – Seinfeld! If you’re a fan, then you remember the infamous “Dinner Party” episode. The gang stops off a cake and bottle of wine before heading to a dinner party for the evening. Hilarity ensues.

Elaine insists on getting a chocolate babka – only to find she misses the last one because she didn’t take a number before getting in line at the bakery. She’s stuck with the “lesser babka.” The cinnamon. There’s a hair involved.

In other words, it’s hilarious.

So Eric looks over at me and says: You should make babka.
Me: Okay.
Pause, pause. Blink, blink.
Eric: What’s a babka?
Me: Um. I’m not sure.

Commence scratching of head.

Luckily there was a laptop nearby. Google to the rescue! We learned that babka was a cross between a yeast bread and sweet cake. A sweet, buttery yeast dough is folded around a sweet filling (such as chocolate or cinnamon).We also learned that this delicious bread is a favorite of Jewish families at Hanukkah.

His eyes went wide – like a little kid in a candy store. “I want that!” He declared. YUM. I was intreguied too. I love trying new things and learning about other’s traditions. And it’s always and honor and pleasure to try them in my own home, even if I’m not all that familiar. I love expanding my knowledge and my palate. I made a mental note to make Eric a babka.

And so began the Great Babka Obession of 2009. He’s been asking and asking me to make one. And asking. Again and again and again. I kept telling him I would but I just never got around to it. When I opened my December issue of Cooking Light and it fell right to a chocolate babka recipe, I figured it was a sign – time to make my husband his babka. And since the holidays are just around the corner, I decided this was the perfect time to try it!

Two words: Oh. My. Delicious! Absolutely delicious. Eric watched with excitement as I sliced into the buttery, golden brown exterior…

To reveal the swirls of chocolately goodness inside. Oh, it’s just so good. Perfect for dessert or a decadent holiday breakfast. A loaf of this along with some specialty coffee or tea would make a delightful and special homemade gift this season.

The best part of all, is it’s pretty easy to make. A little time consuming, but really, this is an easy to dough to make and even easier to work with! It rolled like a dream. The chocolate filling isn’t overly sweet and I loved the subtle hint of spiciness from the cinnamon. And it’s oh-so pretty.

Don’t wait months and months to try this like I did….you will not be disappointed!

CHOCOLATE BABKA (Recipe Source: Cooking Light, December 2009)

**Note** When rolling the dough around the filling, really roll it and pinch it tight. As tight as you can. I don’t think I rolled mine quite tight enough (see the gaps in the photo…) Also, if you want clean, nice slices where you can really see the swirl inside, it is essential you let the bread cool completely before cutting into it. It’s so soft and delicious, it will smoosh and turn to mush if you try to cut it when it’s warm. Just try to resit the warm, chocolatey goodness. It will be hard. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Dough:

  • 1  teaspoon  granulated sugar
  • 1  package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 3/4  cup  warm 1% low-fat milk (105° to 110°)
  • 6  tablespoons  granulated sugar
  • 1/2  teaspoon  vanilla extract
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1  large egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 7.5  ounces  all-purpose flour (about 1 2/3 cups), divided
  • 5.85  ounces  bread flour (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 5  tablespoons  butter, cut into pieces and softened
  • Cooking spray

Filling:

  • 1/2  cup  granulated sugar
  • 3  tablespoons  unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 4  ounces  semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Streusel:

  • 2  tablespoons  powdered sugar
  • 1  tablespoon  all-purpose flour
  • 1  tablespoon  butter, softened

DIRECTIONS:

1. Dissolve 1 teaspoon granulated sugar and yeast in warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer; let proof for 5 minutes. Stir in 6 tablespoons granulated sugar, vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and egg yolk. Weigh or lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 6 ounces (about 1 1/3 cups) all-purpose flour and bread flour to milk ; beat with dough hook at medium speed until well blended (about 2 minutes). Add 5 tablespoons butter, beating until well blended. Scrape dough out onto a floured surface (dough will be very sticky). Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes); add 1.5 ounces (about 1/3 cup) all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will be very soft).

2. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft free place for about 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down; cover and let dough rest 5 minutes.

3. Line the bottom of a 9 x 5–inch loaf pan with parchment paper; coat sides of pan with cooking spray.

4. For the filling, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, salt, and chocolate in a  bowl; set aside.

5. Place dough on a heavily floured surface; roll dough out into a 16-inch square. Sprinkle filling over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border around edges. Roll up dough tightly, jelly-roll fashion; pinch seam and ends to seal. Holding dough by ends, twist dough 4 times as if wringing out a towel. Fit dough into prepared pan. Cover and let rise 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

6. Preheat oven to 350°.

7.  For the streusel, combine powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, and 1 tablespoon softened butter, stirring with a fork until mixture is crumbly; sprinkle streusel evenly over dough. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until loaf is browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool bread in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; the remove. Cool bread completely on wire rack before serving.

ENJOY! 🙂

One year ago: I was baking up a storm for an event at work. Click to see all the holiday goodies I made – all the recipes are linked there!

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Beat Cancer!

As you all know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. All month long, people show support for family, friends and survivors by sporting all things PINK!

It seems just about everyone knows someone personally who has been affected by breast cancer. I know I do. From family to friends to co-workers I have seen people fight and BEAT this disease. There is a wonderful, amazing sisterhood amongst survivors and it’s important that we all do our part to make sure there is a cure for all that are affected. Encourage you family and friends to do their monthly self exams and get regular mammograms. As they say – SAVE SECOND BASE! 🙂

I decided to make a pink treat to show my support. I’ll be entering these in the Power of Pink challenge hosted by Jen over at Beantown Baker. Thanks for raising awareness of this important cause, Jen! 🙂

Sometimes on quiet evenings when there’s not much going on, I’ll drag out cookbooks I’ve looked at million times and flip through them, just to remind myself what’s in there. I was glancing through my Hershey’s cookbook the other day and came upon adorable, pink-frosted mini cupcakes. Perfect for the month of October!

What intrigued me about these cupcakes was the addition of a stiffly beaten egg white to the chocolate cake batter. Different, eh? I thought so too. The end result was a light and almost spongy cake. Not bad – just not what you would expect. The interesting cake texture, coupled with the smooth creamy (PINK) frosting and the richness and crunch of chopped Hershey’s chocolate bars with almonds almost made me forget that these were actually cupcakes. They were pushed into the realm of…something other than cake! I’m not sure how to explain it, other than to say they are very interesting and delicious!

CHOCOLATE PINKS (Recipe Source: Hershey’s 1934 Cookbook)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons Hershey’s cocoa
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg white, beaten to stiff peaks
  • 2 Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars with Almonds (1.05 ounces each), chopped into small chunks

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cream butter and sugar together; add the egg yolk and vanilla, and beat well.
  2. Sift together flour, baking soda and cocoa; add with milk to other ingredients.
  3. Add stiffly beaten egg white.
  4. Bake in a very small buttered tins (1 3/4 inch muffin pan) in a 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Ice with Pink Butter Icing (recipe follows). Scatter candy over the cakes while icing is still soft. Makes 24 cakes.

PINK BUTTER ICING

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon of milk
  • 4 drops red food coloring (I actually used pink gel food coloring. And too much of it at that. Pepto cakes, anyone?)

Beat butter and sugar; stir in vanilla and milk. Beat until icing is smooth and of spreading consistency. Makes about 1 cup.

A couple notes about the frosting:

  • You can use any vanilla buttercream recipe you like here. I found this particular recipe to be quite sweet. But since the cakes aren’t that sweet and there’s some texture with the almonds in the candy, I think it works here. I probably wouldn’t use this particular recipe on it’s own.
  • You may need to add a splash more milk. I found the frosting to be a bit stiff when I went to spread. I knew more milk would solve the problem, but I was already 4 or 5 in – wasn’t gonna turn back! I just kept on…silently cursing myself for not paying better attention the first place. Ha. 🙂

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago:

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