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For my Baby Girl…

Baby Girl,

I’m sitting here, feet kicked up, TV on in the background, feeling a little Sunday night tired. I’m thinking about you. How can I not? You keep kicking me! 😉 I’m thinking about that afternoon a few weeks ago. We saw your tiny face reflected back at us from your little cocoon, your little hands waving, feet dancing to a song we couldn’t hear. When she told us to “think pink!” I almost fell off the table. A sweet baby girl. All ruffle bottoms and giggle fits and hugs. How lucky we are to be expecting you.

So, spoiler alert: I’m new to this whole mom thing. Forgive me for having absolutely no idea what I’m doing. There’s going to be missteps. Oops moments. I may be a novice mom, but I’ve got 30 years of being a girl under my belt. When I wised up and grew up, I actually learned a few things.

I hope you’ll always be kind, Sweet Girl. Never get caught up in a game of “everyone else is doing it,” especially when it comes to someone else’s feelings.

I hope you’ll go camping one day. Bait a hook, pee in the woods. Whine like hell while you’re doing it if you have to and never do it again if that’s how it ends up. But do it once. Be brave and try new things. Be proud of the little victories. Do the kinds of things I never did.

Don’t be surprised if you’re born without a shred of talent for music, art or athletics. But I hope you’ll learn to appreciate all three.

I hope you fall head over heels in love with books. Go ahead…dog-ear the pages, write in the margins. Read and reread your favorites. Let Judy Blume teach you everything want to know about being girl but are too embarrassed to ask your mom. She knows her stuff. Trust me.

I hope you don’t get too caught up in practicality. If, in your heart of hearts, you know you want to write children’s books, or lead safaris in Africa, or start a gourmet lollipop business out of your tiny kitchen with one copper pot, I hope you go for it. Don’t do what feels safe, do what feels right.

I hope you get a little (not too much!) barroom education when you go away to college (but NOT before that. Ahem.) There’s no better lesson in consequences than the morning after one too many vodka cranberries.

I hope you never lose touch with your childhood best friend. There’s no other sister, confidant or partner in crime like her. Keep it that way forever. Even if thousands of miles separate you.

I hope forgiveness comes easy to you. Grudges are too heavy a burden to carry over a lifetime that feels unbelievably short.

I hope you kiss a few frogs. Not too many though…this seems to lead to nothing but more frogs. But a few mistakes along the way is good for ya. Besides, it’s kinda fun!

I hope you fall in love with a man who turns out to be a lot like your dad. That sounds weird, I know. But trust me on this. You’ll know he’s a keeper. Is there any bigger hero in a girl’s life than her dad? I think not. You’ll know he’ll love you exactly how you are, your own unique brand of crazy and all. I did. And I do. 🙂

I hope you never let the corner-office, six-figure salary, high-powered career women *or* the six-kid, supermom, everything from scratch, homeschooling women make you feel bad about your choices. Just do what’s best for you and your family and know that’s okay to be happy with simple. It’s okay to be happy with good enough.

Baby Girl, I worry constantly about being good enough. Strong enough. Brave enough. For you. But more than anything, I hope you don’t ever worry about being good enough for me. Because you already are. You’re perfect in your smallness, your punchy little kicks. A constant, happy reminder of all the fun to come when my days are cloudy and dull with routine. As much as I love this little one on one time we have together, just the two of us, I can’t wait meet you. I can’t wait to see how quickly you wrap your dad around your tiny little finger. I know our world will never be the same. We love you now and always.

Until January,
Mom

* * * *

I made these simple lemon crinkle sugar cookies in one of those gotta-have-cookies-now emergencies. I made them pink because….well, I’m celebrating Team Pink style! These are light, tender, chewy and subtly lemony. These are the kind of cookies that you could seriously plow through five or six without blinking and then gape at the empty plate wondering who the heck ate them all. They’re that good. And look at that crinkly top! Is that just irresistible or what? Make these. Share them. The pink is optional, obviously, but sure does kick them up a notch. Enjoy!

(PINK) LEMON CRINKLE COOKIES (Recipe Source: As seen at Lauren’s Latest)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 stick of butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1-½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon baking soda
  • {1-2 drops red food coloring, optional}
  • ½ cup powdered sugar, for rolling

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line light-colored baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla, egg, lemon zest, juice and food coloring, if using, until combined, scraping down the sides of bowl as needed. Add the dry ingredients slowly and mix until just combined, scraping down the sides the bowl once during mixing.
  4. Roll about a tablespoon of dough into a ball and roll in powdered sugar. Place on baking sheet about three inches apart. Repeat with remaining dough.
  5. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until bottoms are barely brown and cookies look set, not shiny. Remove from oven and cool cookies about 3 minutes before transferring to cooling rack. Makes about 3 dozen.

ENJOY! 🙂

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Hello Again

Oh, hi! You’re still here? Nice to see ya! I’ve dropped off the face of the blog in past (Remember when I was homeless for two months? Or when our house was a 24×7 construction zone?) but never like this. Three posts in the last four months? Yeesh. That’s downright unacceptable!

So! Let’s catch up. The last few months have flown by. I spent a lot of time trying to keep my eyes open past 7pm. I took a lot of naps, nursing a plummeting energy level. I’d rather not even remember the constant, nagging sour tummy, the aversion to all things cooking and food…

You guessed it – we’re having a baby! Eric and I thrilled to be expecting our own little bundle of joy in January. All things blogging are not conducive to early pregnancy what with the sight of everything except grilled cheese turning my stomach and everything. Now that I’m over that hump and the energy level is back (I’m going to clean out my closet! After that I’m going to clean YOUR closet!) I hope to get back in the swing of things here on the old blog (whose 4-year blogiversary slipped by completely unacknowledged back in May, we may need to have a belated celebration for that one!)

When I was down with turning, churning stomach one of the only things that tasted good to me was fruit. Cold, fresh, juicy fruit. Berries, oranges, apples basically sustained me for 10 weeks this spring. As soon as I felt like I could get back into the kitchen, I whipped up this fruit pizza.

What a refreshing summer treat! Straight from the fridge, this cold, creamy concoction really hit the spot. It’s easy to whip up and feeds a crowd, so it’s perfect for your summer gatherings and BBQs. I used a combo of raspberries, strawberries, kiwis and blueberries for the topping and the fruit held up surprisingly well. You could easily make this ahead of time. 🙂

I combined several recipes to come up with one that suited me. For some reason, I decided I was too lazy to make my own cookie crust (I used a sugar cookie mix) but not too lazy to make my own glaze (mainly because I wanted to be able to control the added sweetness it would add). Feel free to make this as homemade or as semi-homemade as you please! 😉 And it’s GREAT to be back!

FRUIT PIZZA (Recipe Source: Pieced together from recipes at Philadelphia and All Recipes)

INGREDIENTS:

Crust:

  • 1 (1lb. 1.5 oz) package sugar cookie mix

Toppings:

  • 1 8oz. package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 to 3 cups assorted sliced fruit

Glaze:

  • Scant1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Grease a 12-inch pizza pan. Preheat oven and prepare the cookie mix as directed on the package. Press the cookie dough into the pan, forming a lip at the edge. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until lightly browned and set. Set aside on a wire rack to cool completely.
  2. With an electric mixer beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until well combined. Spread over the cooled cookie. Arrange the fruit over the top.
  3. Make the glaze: Combine all the glaze ingredients except the orange zest in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and add the orange zest. Allow to cool slightly, but do not allow to set completely. Spread over the fruit. Chill the pizza for two hours before serving. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

ENJOY! 🙂

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Heart to Heart

I’ve never been the type to get really into Valentine’s Day. I don’t dress myself in head to toe red and pink or hand out foil-wrapped chocolate hearts to all my coworkers. It’s just another day. Another cold, wintery February day right smack dab in the middle of a busy work week. Our alarm will sound at 10 after 5 and there will be no breakfast in bed. We will both work all day. Eric will trudge home after 6 dog tired. There will be no fancy dinner. Just a couple of old marrieds, sitting on the same side of the kitchen table so they can both see the Seinfeld rerun on TV while they eat their taco casserole.

Wow. We sound lame. But honestly, it’s a special, cozy, wonderful kind of normal. After nine (NINE! What the what?!) Valentine’s Days together there may not be grand gestures and rose petals and frosty diamonds nestled in red velvet, but there is love. Pure and simple and true. The kind that only gets stronger as each year passes. Valentine’s Day is a good reminder of just how lucky I am to have my Snuggly-Wuggly-Pookie-Boo-Boo-Bear (is that gushy enough for ya?) in my life. 😉

Did you know my heart still flutters when I hear the garage door open and see his truck pull into the driveway every evening? After all this time, my favorite moment of the day is still the moment when he walks in. I’ll never tire of seeing him smile, hearing him laugh. He says thank you when I make him dinner. He helps me empty the dishwasher without me even asking! He brings home candy I like when he’s been at Menard’s buying screws or bolts and goes to pick up the pizza when it’s raining so I don’t have to go out. He’s so thoughtful. And kind. So smart. Like seriously brilliant. And funny! So funny. He makes me laugh every single day. Even when I don’t feel like laughing. Especially then.

He says he’s pretty much the luckiest guy ever to have me around but I say *I’m* the lucky one. How he puts up with all this crazy, I’ll never know. Maybe Valentine’s Day is just another day, but it’s another day in a pretty fantastic life together.

Eric was out of town this past weekend seeing his family so I decided to surprise him with some lovey-dovey cookies upon his return. These deep, dark chocolate hearts layered with sweet and succulent cherry preserves just scream “come on baby light my fire.” 😉 Deb at Smitten Kitchen calls these  Brownie Roll-Out Cookies which is a spot on description. They’re tender and sweet and surprisingly chocolately and fudgey-flavored. Chocolate cookies can be kind of flat and boring, in my opinion, but these hold their own. I munched on an insane number of the tiny hearts I cut out of the center of these to make the windows. They are the perfect all purpose chocolate cookie – sandwich them with a layer of peanut butter cream, dip them in white chocolate and sprinkle with colored sugar, top ’em with a generous smear of buttercream. You cannot go wrong. When stuffed with preserves and dusted with powdered sugar, they are a Valentine’s Day treat worthy of someone special.

I went back and forth debating whether to use strawberry or cherry preserves here. I knew both would compliment the chocolate cookies well, but I wanted these to be special. Let’s face it, strawberry is sweet and innocent. Cherry is…so much more. Dark and passionate, cherries leave their mark. Strawberry is for your crush. Cherry is for your true love.

CHOCOLATE CHERRY HEARTS (Cookie recipe from: Smitten Kitchen)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup unsalted salted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (I used dutch-process)
  • 1 12-oz jar cherry preserves
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and cocoa to the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until fully combined and fluffy. Gradually add the flour mixture, beating until incorporated after each addition. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and wrap tightly. Refrigerate until firm, at least one hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly flour a work surface and rolling pin and roll out the the dough to a quarter inch thickness. Cut the dough into hearts using a medium size cookie cutter. Using a smaller heart cutter, cut a second heart out of the center of half the cookies. Bake on a parchment lined baking sheet for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
  3. Separate the solid cookies from the ones with the heart cutout. Dust the cutout cookies with powdered sugar. Spread a thin layer of preserves* on the flat side of a solid heart and top with a sugared cutout heart. Makes about 2 dozen sandwich cookies.

*Note: You may want to nuke the preserves for 10 to 15 seconds to loosen it a bit for easier spreading.

ENJOY! 🙂

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Cowboys like Us.

Oh, hey there. Hi.

The following story leans toward the 13 in PG-13. Parental guidance is suggested. The unsavory language has been censored but you’ll likely be able to figure it out. I’m warning you because I’m cool like that and I’m giving you a chance to quietly file out of here and find more appropriate reading elsewhere. I do not mean to offend, but apologies in advance if that happens. You know what they say…

Haters gonna hate.

Anyway. This story is based on actual events. Actually, it’s 100% true. I know. I was there. 😉

The 10 a.m. section of Principals of Accountancy 1 had to be, without a doubt, the most well-attended large lecture on campus. In the fall of 2001, it took all of about 3 weeks for about 750 cocky college sophomores to realize – skip lecture, FAIL Professor C’s exams. There was no all-nighter too exhausting, no hangover too brutal, no snooze button too tempting to keep us away from that lecture. Like a dangling a carrot on a string in front of a pony, my friends.

And so, every Tuesday and Thursday morning, we filed into Foellinger Auditorium to PACK the joint, main floor to balcony. We scribbled feverishly to keep up, bent over our tiny desks, pens flying. There was no time to even look up. Every class ended with a stiff neck and a hand cramp.

One sleepy morning closing in on midterms and deep in through of debits and credits and journals and ledgers, the sound of large, heavy doors banging open in the back of the auditorium caused a collective jump in every seat. Professor C. stopped mid-sentence. Pens halted. Every head turned, every neck stretched like a rubber band as a whooping and hollering stranger rushed down the center aisle.

An audible gasp rippled through the crowd, followed by low, muffled laughter. With his arms up and fists pumping in a blaze of enthusiastic victory, this sudden mid-class distraction was skinny, pale…and practically naked. He sported nothing but a cowboy hat, a red bandana and, wait for it, leopard print thong underwear. Every pair of eyes grew wide in surprise, mouths hung open in stunned silence. Everyone looked around in do-you-see what-I-see? disbelief.

The naked stranger jumped up on stage and shook his bare little bottom for his newly captive audience. All at once the crowd began to clap and cheer wildly. Whistles bounced off the towering ceiling, echoing and piercing through the room. A group in the balcony, no doubt the recently activated frat boys who put the poor pledge up to this, were on their feet, stomping and shouting like the entire thing was a spectator sport.

Suddenly, he turned to face us. He held up his hands and bowed his head to silence the crowd. Shhhhh. He’s gonna say something. A hush fell over the auditorium. He looked up, flashed a million dollar smile, raised his arms above his head once again and shouted to the rooftops at the top his lungs….

“I am Cowboy Dan and I am one bad- mother-!”

Cowboy Dan visiting my accounting lecture is about where my experience with cowboys ends. Now, I know a thing or two about farm boys, who really aren’t cowboys, and I happen to know they love cookies. Especially big, chunky cookies loaded with goodies. I don’t know if cowboys share the same affection, but I’m going to go ahead and say yes. Why not, ya know? And I gotta think a cowboy would love a cookie named especially for him.

These Cowboy Cookies from the Martha Stewart Cookies book are creeping up there as one of my favorite cookies to date. They’re loaded with chocolate chunks, toasted pecans, hearty oats and flaky coconut. They’re a little rugged, a little rough around the edges and probably aren’t going to win a beauty contest any time soon. They’re a bit unassuming, but strong in their silence. Very cowboy-like, if you ask me.

Oh, hey Coconut Haters? Fear not! These cookies are not at all coconut flavored, it’s just another pleasant textural profile to the final product. Try it, you’ll like it. Your cowboys will like them too.

COWBOY COOKIES (Recipe Source: Martha Stewart Cookies)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3/4 cup pecans (3 ounces)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats (not instant or quick-cooking)
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch chunks
  • 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut (unsweetened coconut is a specialty product that I’ve never found at my regular grocery store, I went ahead and used sweetened and it was fine. I reduced the sugar by about tablespoon)
  • Cooking spray

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread pecans in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in oven, tossing occasionally, until darkened and fragrant, 10 to 13 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop. Into a bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder.
  2. With an electric mixer cream butter and both sugars until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
  3. With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour mixture, beating until just incorporated. Beat in oats, chocolate, pecans, and coconut until just combined. (Dough can be covered with plastic and refrigerated up to 3 days.)
  4. Coat baking sheets with cooking spray; line with parchment, and spray parchment. Using a 1 1/2-inch ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop dough onto prepared sheets, about 3 inches apart.
  5. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges of cookies begin to brown, 16 to 18 minutes. Transfer sheets to wire racks to cool 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks to cool completely. Makes about 5 dozen.

ENJOY! 🙂

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College Cookies

Things Inside my Husband’s College Apartment

  • Two extremely overworked, stressed out mechanical engineering majors.
  • A life sized tiki-bar fashioned out of empty Miller High Life boxes (for decorative purposes only – not suitable for actual beer slinging).
  • A bulletin board displaying a large collection of discrete snapshots of various mullet sightings.
  • A George Forman Grill that never (and I mean NEVER) got cleaned.
  • A handmade dining table featuring an empty keg as a pedestal.
  • A giant Dale Jr. banner
  • Mason jars from which we drank everything from water to beer to cheap champagne.
  • An industrial size can of nacho cheese sauce good on everything from pizza to hot dogs.
  • Hundreds of illegally downloaded Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings songs.
  • A beer making operation of questionable safety, including a rusty wire coat hanger for stirring.
  • More can koozies than a person could possibly need in seventeen lifetimes.
  • An overflowing trashcan in the bathroom.
  • A few extra items belonging to a certain someone’s girlfriend who was over all the time. 😉
  • The Ultimate Desk.
  • Every possible variety of generic crackers. (I still don’t really understand that one. How many open boxes of crackers does one need?)
  • An ever-changing rotation of those big, soft, store bought sugar cookies with the icing and sprinkles that got all dressed up for the seasons/holidays.

Thank goodness, most of these items have been retired. Except for those ME majors…we keep them around. 😉 And we may have most of those koozies in a box in our basement. The Ode to Mullets and processed cheese product got left behind and I think most of that moonshine beer got either A) pawned off on other students who would drink just about anything, or B) poured down the drain on move out day.

We’re definitely at the point in our lives now where we look back on our college days and wonder how in the world we lived that way. I mean, I’m surprised the toxic scum on that George Forman didn’t straight up kill Eric and his roommate and I’m pretty sure there were a couple months there where I ate nothing but mini corn dogs and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

A few things from college life, though, are kind of endearing – like those colorful sugar cookies. It’s Halloween! It’s Valentine’s Day! It’s St. Paddy’s Day! Everyday’s a party with those cookies! But why by buy them when you can make them? And make them taste BETTER than their store bought counterpart?

These soft sugar cookies embody all the things you love about the grocery store variety with none of the things you don’t. They are soft, rich and slightly cakey and slathered with a thick, sweet, buttery icing that’s just comfort food to the max. The dough is a snap to whip up and since there’s no rolling, cutting or piping icing, it makes for a pretty quick little project. If you want to feel like a (college) kid again, make these soon. Promise you won’t regret it the way you used to regret those 2 a.m. burrito runs.

SOFT FROSTED SUGAR COOKIES (Recipe Source: Originally adapted from Hostess with the Mostess, as seen at Annie’s Eats)

INGREDIENTS:

For the cookies:

  • 4½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 4½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 1½ cups (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 5 tsp. vanilla extract

For the frosting:

  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/3 cup (5 1/3 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 7-8 tbsp. milk (plus more, as needed)
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Sprinkles (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition to combine and scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed. Cover the dough and chill the dough for 1 hour.
  2. To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Scoop a scant quarter cup of dough and roll into a ball.  Flatten the ball slightly and place on the prepared baking sheet, spacing the cookies at least 2-3 inches apart. Bake about 10-12 minutes or just until set.  (Do not overbake. The edges should be just barely browned.) Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  3. To make the frosting, combine the confectioners’ sugar melted butter, vanilla and milk in a medium bowl and whisk until combined. Add additional milk as necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency.  Tint with food coloring if desired.  Use an offset spatula or spoon to frost the cooled cookies.  (If the frosting begins to thicken as you decorate, just continue to whisk in small amounts of milk to keep it workable.)  Top with sprinkles if desired.  Store in an airtight container. Makes about 2 dozen large cookies.

ENJOY!

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Firework

Does anyone else think a certain pop song whose name rhymes with, uh…Tire-Jerk….playing during fireworks displays is in fact becoming quite lame?

It’s so predictable. Yawn. I mean, surprise me during the fireworks, Whoever’s In Charge. Play Stars and Stripes Forever or something crazy like that.

For the record, no, I’ve never felt like a plastic bag. But I do kinda feel like putting one over my head every time that song comes on. Just saying.

Anyway, the 4th of July weekend is upon us! And it’s actually a long weekend this year. Score! Is there anything worse than when the 4th falls on a Wednesday and there’s this one random day off in the middle of the week? There’s no time for parties and the possibility of losing ones eyebrows in a freak firecracker incident if there’s only one day to celebrate! Not enough hours in the day, I tell ya.

This year…three whole days of pure summer perfection. Sleeping late. Sunsets after 9. Cold beer and hot grills. Now that’s more like it.

The best thing about the 4th falling on a Monday this year is you have plenty of time to whip up a batch of these to take to your pool parties and BBQs and gatherings and what not…you’ll be a true American hero…

Firework Cookies!

Colorful! Festive! You’ll be the envy of the neighborhood, I promise. Soak up the glory as people are as dazzled by your mad cookie skills as they will be by the actual fireworks. The best part? They’re actually really easy to do and super forgiving. Even for those of us with exactly zero artistic talent.

Oh, royal icing. What is there to say about it? That’s it’s a royal pain in the… Um. Never mind. But with this easy decorating method, you can look like a Royal Icing Rock Star. If you’ve never taken the plunge and given decorated sugar cookies a try, this is a great place to start.

I don’t know about you, but my decorated sugar cookies go from neat and tidy to toddler art project right about when it’s time to start piping additional details. Like dots. And lines. Dots and lines. Easy, right? WRONG. With this wet-on-wet technique, the need for piping additional details is completely eliminated – saving you a ton of time and much of your sanity.

This fun design is brought to you by that Perfectly Perfect Perfectionist and Expert Entertainer Ms. Martha Stewart. I happened to catch these over at The Dainty Chef and Krissy’s came out SO amazingly great, I just had to jump in and give them a try myself. Please be sure to click on over and take a little looky-lou a her’s as well. 🙂

So, you ready to do this? Come on, it’s easy! Just think bullseye. Yup. That’s all you need to know. Here’s the 411:

Gather up:

  • 1 batch of your favorite sugar cookie recipe, cut into desired shapes (circles for the firework cookies, then I threw in some stars for good measure, but you don’t have to.)
  • 1 batch royal icing (one batch makes about three cups, so plan accordingly if you plan to do a lot of cookies. You may need to double this. For the cookie recipe linked here, 3 cups is just the right amount.)
  • Gel food colorings in red and blue (Honestly, if you want really true, deep, jewel-toned color go for the AmeriColor in the little squeeze bottle. So much better than…that other brand.)
  • Pastry bags fitted with couplers and small round tips (Like Wilton #2 or #3.)
  • Plastic squeeze bottles (These really are a lifesaver. And they’re cheap. Pick some up at a craft store.)
  • Toothpicks

Then let the fun begin:

First you’ll need to get your royal icing all prepped (tinted and thinned to two different consistencies.) You’ll need to outline the cookies in a stiffer icing first and let that set. This is where you’ll use your pastry bag/tips. Then you’ll be ready to fill in to create your fireworks.

**Note: There are some wonderful tutorials out there for making, tinting, thinning, piping and flooding royal icing – check out this one at Annie’s Eats for step-by-step photos, or these great how-to videos from Bridget at Bake at 350 for some great tips. These ladies are experts and so much better at explaining the technical stuff than me, so head on over for an awesome lesson! 🙂

After you’ve outlined your cookies, fill your squeeze bottles with your thinned red, white and blue icing. Fill in your outline with the thinned white icing, and use a toothpick to push it all the way to the edge. Then quickly, don’t wait, grab your colors and start piping concentric circles of red and blue icing on top of the white. This is where the bullseye comes in.

Start with a dot in the center and then just pipe circles around it. You can go all the way to the edge…or not. Mix it up for different looks. Then take a clean toothpick and, starting at the center, go around the cookie and pull the icing out toward the edge of the circle.

Look! A gorgeous marble effect in no time flat! Because all of the icing needs to be wet to produce the desired outcome, do the cookies one at a time. That is, flood in white, make your colored circles, and marble on each before moving to the next cookie.

Now don’t freak out if you’re circles aren’t perfect (hello, that’s impossible anyway) that helps make each cookie it’s own unique creation. Just like snowflakes. 🙂 Considering you are using the same technique over and over, you’ll be amazed at how many unique looks you can create. Try varying the distance between your circles (closer vs. further apart.) Or vary the colors of your circles – alternate red and blue, or do two red then two blue, or all red until the last one and then BAM! blue. Things like that. Pull your toothpick straight out to the edge, or throw a little curve in there at the end. Pull just a little or pull a whole lot. The possibilities are endless and every cookie will come out perfect.

Lather, rinse, repeat with each cookie! Ta-da!

So there you have it! I hope you’ll consider giving these a try this holiday weekend. And to you and yours, I wish you the happiest of Happy 4th of July’s. Whatever you have planned from absolutely nothing to time with family and friends to driving across state lines to procure illegal goods, have fun and stay safe. I want to see you all back here next week with all your appendages still attached. Unlike this unfortunate little fella…

See, this is what happens when you’re careless with fireworks food blogging. 😉

(Sources: Decorating technique from Martha Stewart, as seen at The Dainty Chef. Royal icing from Wilton.)

One Year Ago: I got nothin’. I must have been busy. 😉
Two Years Ago: Rosemary Lemon Sandwich Cookies
Three Years Ago: Asian-inspired Macaroni Salad with Chopped Cashews

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Spring into Action

Spring, we’re dying over here. We need you, man. It’s rough out here!

Usually I just suck it up and deal. With winter, that is. In my almost 30 years every single one of them has contained a winter. SURPRISE! By the end I’m usually itching for flip flops and summer dresses but I know good things come to those who wait. I just put on my coat, my mittens, my scarf and go about business as usual.

Not this year. This year, I need spring like I need air. The cold and wind are like a constant gray cloud hovering over us. It cuts to the bone. I cant’s stand the sight of these bare trees. Long, twisted branches reach toward the sky like cold, thin fingers shivering in the breeze. I’m sick of my salt-covered car. I’m tired of tall boots. I’m done with dark days. If the sunshine and warm weather doesn’t come soon. I might lose it. LOSE IT.

Give me beer and baseball. Pink toenails and the scent of sunscreen. Bare shoulders and beachy hair. Give me a seat belt that burns my fingers and a steering wheel that’s too hot to touch. Let me roll my windows down and turn my radio up. Bring on the fireworks. The sweet summer berries bursting with juice. The red geraniums in clay pots.

Give me a cackle of thunder and a dance of lightening across a late afternoon western sky, then give me clearing just in time for a spectacular sunset. Give me that glorious day when the stifling humidity breaks. I want to dig into something deep fried at a small town festival, spend lazy Saturday mornings wandering the Farmer’s Market, and drink my margaritas al fresco.

Bring on the lemonade, the ice cream cones, the cricket’s nightly song. Shady spots, sprinklers, and sweet corn. Cool cotton nighties, fireflies, and tiki torches to keep the mosquitoes away. Muscle cars and classic rock and a husband that look oh-so-cute mowing the lawn in a t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off.

Please hurry, Sunshine! Get over here, Warm Days! Don’t leave us hanging!

Here’s a sweet bite to tide us over. A raspberry filled, lemon-kissed butter cookie with just a touch of creamy frosting.

Light, tender and with just a hint of chew, this recipe for Gâteu Bonbons hails from France. The bonbons are traditionally filled with a touch of orange marmalade but, oddly enough, I’m not a big fan. I had some raspberry jam on hand and it was the perfect substitute. The sweetness of the filling was a great contrast to the tartness of the cookie and frosting. The icing provides just the right amount of creaminess to tie it all together.

Is it just me or do filled cookies always take about 87 times longer than you think they will? Sooo…Spoiler alert: Plan accordingly! 🙂 A basic butter and cream cheese dough is mixed up and then chilled. To make them extra bonbon-like and thus perfect for popping into one’s mouth in insane quantities perhaps while in the bathtub, roll out the dough and cut into 1-inch rounds. If you’re like me and your 1-inch biscuit cutter has disappeared into a cardboard box with your television remote and iron, a 1.5-inch cutter or a small juice glass will work too. 😉

When filling the cookies, use what looks like not quite enough. If there’s too much jam in the middle, it will ooze out the sides and the prettiness factor will be compromised greatly. And that’s not good for anyone. I think these would be a great addition to any bridal shower lunch, Mother’s Day brunch, or Easter gathering. Or pretty much any time you want a little something sweet but just aren’t feeling a Triple Fudge Toffee Caramel Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Brownie Cheesecake with Whipped Cream and Ganache. 😉

Enjoy. Until summer comes.

GÂTEAU BONBONS (Recipe Source: Betty Crocker 1963 Cooky Book)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2/3 cup butter (about 12 tablespoons), softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. baking soda
  • Jam or marmalade of your choice
  • Easy Creamy Icing (recipe follows)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter, sugar, egg, cream cheese, lemon juice and zest until light and fluffy. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until combined.
  2. Form the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Flatten into a disk and chill about one hour, or until firm.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpat. Using a quarter of the dough (keep the rest refrigerated until ready to use), roll into 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured service. Cut into 1-inch rounds.
  4. Place half the rounds on cookie sheets and spoon about 1/4 teaspoon of jam or marmalade into the center of each. Cover with remaining rounds and seal the edges with a floured finger.
  5. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges are slightly browned. When cool, frost with tinted icing and sprinkle with sanding sugar or sprinkles, if desired. Makes about 7 dozen 1-inch bonbons.

EASY CREAMY ICING

  • 2 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 4 to 8 tablespoons cream, milk or water
  • Food coloring, if desired

Stir together sugar, salt, and lemon juice. Add liquid, one tablespoon at a time until it reaches desired consistency. Tint with food coloring, if desired. Spread on cookies with a small offset spatula. Makes enough icing for 6 to 10 dozen cookies, depending on size.

One Year Ago: Oat Applesauce Muffins
Two Years Ago: Peanut Butter Banana Bread

 

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The BIG News

Hi. I’m here. And I have news.

Maybe you’ve noticed a decrease in post quantity as of late. Maybe you’ve noticed fewer tweets, fewer Facebook posts, and a general absence from the interwebs on my part. Oh, and I fully admit to totally falling off the Blog Comment Wagon. I may or may not have busted my face I’ve fallen so hard. As I was gathering my teeth from the side of the road, the Blog Comment Wagon kept right on movin’ and left me behind.

I’m sorry. If you could see me now, you’d see a toothless head hung in shame. I have an excuse.

Notice I didn’t say GOOD excuse because, really, there’s no such thing. But I do hope to catch up soon.

Now. The news. Yes. It is the most newsworthy piece of information to cross the wire in my world in a long, long time. It’s BIG. It’s HUGE. It’s EPIC.

Before we go any further, allow me to share what the news is NOT.

I am NOT, repeat, NOT pregnant. Okay? That’s NOT the news. No babies!*

*Yet.

The news is….drum roll please….

We’re moving! WOO!

I know, big deal, right? You’re rolling your eyes thinking THAT’S the news?! Yawn.

Hear me out. We’re not just moving across town or to a new house nearby…we’re moving BACK HOME! After six years here in Iowa, we have the opportunity to return to Illinois. Eric got a new job (same company, just a different location) and we snatched it up. Had to. Although we’re not returning to my suburban Chicago stomping grounds or  to his rural Southern Illinois homestead, we’re going to be a heck of a lot closer to both. A LOT closer.

And we are thrilled. HOME. I’m giddy just thinking about it. We are biggest bunch of homebodies you’ve ever met. We just feel like we belong there. Being closer to our families is so important to us. I can’t believe it’s finally happening.

So. There ya have it. The reason for my absence. I haven’t been cooking much because I’ve been tip-toeing around our house trying not the touch anything in case we need to vacate for a last minute showing. My usual weekend baking activities have been interrupted by house hunting and trips to explore our new area. We don’t know when for sure we’ll move permanently to our new home (turns out the holidays aren’t a great time to try to sell a house. Gee, I can’t imagine why that would be! 😉 ), but it should be sooner rather than later.

We’re new to this whole house selling thing. It’s kinda hard. I have to make my bed and put the cap back on the toothpaste tube when I’m done. This is tough stuff, I tell ya! I decided to do the only thing I could think of to get people excited about buying our home.

Bake cookies.

I have STUFFED my freezer full cookie dough. It’s embarrassing. But also brilliant. See, every time there’s a showing, I pop a couple dough balls in the oven before we leave. Not only does it fill the house with the most enticing aroma of butter, sugar and chocolate, it also provides a sweet treat for our lookers to remember us by. How could you NOT want to buy a house that comes with cookies?*

*Cookies are non-transferable. Once the baker (ahem, me) leaves the premises the cookie responsibilities fall solely on the buyer. Sorry, no refunds.

Especially these cookies. Friends, we have a new contender in the race for Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever. This prestigious title, previously held by Alton Brown’s Chewy in this house, now goes to the Cooks Illustrated Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie.

Don’t get me wrong, both are good, but the CI version eeks out Alton in the texture arena. Where Alton’s are softer, CI’s are truly chewy. The edges are perfectly crisp while inside keeps a great bite. I also think the CI version has a greater depth of flavor, a bit caramely with hints of vanilla and salt and the perfect chocolate compliment. I don’t think the flavor of the cookie part is as strong in The Chewy. Warm from the oven or from the cookie jar a couple days later, these really are the perfect chocolate chip cookies.

Make ’em. They may sell your house one day.

THICK AND CHEWY CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES (Recipe Source: Cooks Illustrated, January 1996)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 
1/8

 cups
 
all‐purpose
 flour
 (about
 10 
1/2 
ounces)
  • 1/2

 teaspoon 
table 
salt
  • 1/2

 teaspoon
 baking 
soda
  • 12

    tablespoons
 unsalted
 butter
 (1 
1/2
 sticks),
 melted
 and
 cooled 
slightly
  • 1

    cup 
brown
 sugar
 (light 
or 
dark),
 7
ounces
  • 1/2

 cup 
granulated 
sugar 
(3 
1/2
ounces)
  • 1

    large
 egg
  • 1

    large
 egg
 yolk
  • 2

    teaspoons 
vanilla
 extract
  • 1
‐
2

 cups
 chocolate
 chips
 or
 chunks 
(semi 
or
 bittersweet)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Adjust oven racks to  upper – and lower middle positions. Mix flour, salt, and baking soda together in a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. Beat butter and sugars together with an electric mixer until thoroughly combined. Mix in egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Slowly add dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Stir in chips.
  3. To shape the cookies: form scant 1/4 cup dough into a smooth ball. (I made mine a bit smaller than that, just a personal preference). Holding the ball in the fingertips of both hands, gently pull the ball into two equal halves. Rotate the halves 90 degrees and jam the dough back together at the base, leaving the jagged edges exposed on top. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheets.
  4. Bake, rotating the cookie sheets positions half way through baking, for 15 to 18 minutes (start checking after 13 minutes), until the edges start to harden but the middles are still soft and puffy. Cool completely on cookie sheets. Makes about 3 dozen.

ENJOY!

One Year Ago: Butternut Squash and Sausage Lasagna
Two Years Ago: Texas Chili – My favorite chili recipe and the only one I make! LOVE.

 

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I Got My Mind Set On…Cookies…

I was in the dentist’s office the other day (Where I have spent entirely too much time lately. Seriously. Oh my goodness, NO MORE DENTIST. PLEASE!) and as I picked up an outdated, dog-eared People magazine (What’s this about Tiger Woods? I hadn’t heard…EYEROLL!) I immediately started humming along with the radio being pumped into the waiting room.

Ah, yes, the music in the dentist office. It’s special, isn’t it?

“This is DJ DDS spinning your mellow but upbeat 70s, 80s and 90s soft rock hits here on 102.7 THE TOOTH FM. We just heard the Goo Goo Dolls with Iris, and before that, the Paul McCartney/Stevie Wonder classic Ebony & Ivory. Special shout out to all the folks out there in Dental-land rapidly losing all feeling in an entire half of their face. Sit back, relax and let that awkwardly placed blue paper towel around your neck catch the drool while you swing to sounds of one of my personal favorites – hold on to your spit suckers, friends – this is Peabo Bryson with A Whole New World comin’ at ya next!”

ANYWAY.

The song that got my foot a-tappin’ that afternoon was an old George Harrison song that I hadn’t heard in like 10 years. You know the one. It’s the one that gets insanely stuck in your head. The minute you see it, you’ll be singing it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Got my Mind Set on You.

Oh, you’re singing it already, aren’t you. HA! It doesn’t help that it’s pretty much JUST that one line over and over and over again set to crazy catchy melody that just plays over and over inside your brain – slowly driving you mad.

Well, needless to say, that song pretty much cemented itself into my brain for the next week. So when I decided to get in a little royal icing practice, one line from that song continued to play as I meticulously outlined, filled and piped on cookies.

Sing it loud and proud if you know it!

“It’s gonna take tiii-me/A whole lotta precious time/it’s gonna take patience and time. To do it/to do it/to do it/to do it/to do it/to do it right, child!”


Maybe old Georgey boy there had his mind set on pretty cookies. Okay, probably not, but this old 80s tune provides a pretty good lesson when it comes to decorating cookies.

See, I had my mind set on cookies. Beautiful, flawless cookies. I’ve actually never tried to do it/to do it/to do it/to do it/to do it/to do it right and really set aside the time needed to successfully decorate with royal icing. I admit to rushing it in the past. What did I get for rushing it? So-so results. See: Here. Also: Here. Not this time.

Now, I don’t know if my attempt was SUCCESSFUL in a “You’re a rock star, quit your day job and decorate cookies full time” kind of way and I can’t call them flawless, but these are probably my most successful cookies to date. For someone whose hand is so unsteady, she literally cannot cut a straight line with scissors (um. That’s me, in case you were wondering) I think these came out pretty good.

I made the majority of the batch into ice cream cones.

Fun for spring! What do you think my flavors are? Hm. I’m gonna go with strawberry and peach. Two of my personal favorites.

So while I was absent-mindedly singing 80s hits under my breath and making cookies, I learned a few things along the way:

If you’re a beginner/amateur like me, the fewer icing colors you deal with, the better. In the past I have tried to work with 5 or 6 colors at once – this time I stuck to 3. I can’t even tell you how much stress this alleviated from the whole process. Less = more. As in less cursing and more smiles.

Simple shapes are best. The less detailed the shape, the less likely it is to look messy. Take these hearts, for example. One easy shape and two icing colors. Wa-la! Fairly attractive.

You can’t rush the flooded icing drying time. It takes how long it takes. This time I waited until I was 100% sure they flooded icing was dry before proceeding (I hadn’t in the past) and I was 100% more pleased with my final result.

“It’s gonna take time/a whole lotta precious time/It’s gonna take patience and time…”

Oops. See? Still in my head.

Thanks for baking lesson, Mr. Harrison!

Source notes: Sugar cookie recipes and tips and tricks for dealing with royal icing are plentiful on the interwebs! For the cookies, this time I used the Roll Out Sugar Cookie Recipe recipe from this GREAT comparison post by Bridget at The Way Cookie Crumbles. Bridget’s comparison posts are SO helpful and wonderful! These cookies are quite good and probably my favorite I’ve tried so far. I’m not a huge sugar cookie fan to begin with but even I found these pretty irresistible. 🙂 Big thank you to Bridget for the awesome recipe!!  The basic royal icing recipe is available here at the Wilton website.

For more inspiration or to learn from the REAL experts who are far superior to me in art of cookie decorating – check out: Bake at 350, Annie’s Eats and Good Things Catered.

One Year Ago: Everything Bagels

On a side note – I dare you to check out the video to Got My Mind Set on You and NOT tell me that dance is awesome to eleventy-billinoth degree. I’ll make it easy. Here ya go. Enjoy. 😉

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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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