December 19, 2019

2019 Holiday Cookie Box

I don't know about you, but I am utterly exhausted from all the holiday candy making and baking.  I blame this year's shortened time frame between Thanksgiving and Christmas.   For four weeks straight I was either making pounds and pounds of cashew toffee or various holiday cookies.  It was a frenzy of activity so you can't blame me for relishing some down time until 2020.

Here's what I gifted to my friends:

Chocolate Crinkle (America's Test Kitchen) - a classic that is always a crowd pleaser
Zimtsterne (The Daring Gourmet) - gluten free and dairy free
Ginger Molasses (Amanda Frederickson) - mine came out flatter than hers, but they still taste great!
Walnut Snowballs (America's Test Kitchen) - my all-time favorite Christmas cookie
Brownies (Bravetart) - the BEST recipe hands down and a guarantee of the shiny top crust
Pinwheel Icebox (America's Test Kitchen) - slice and bake are super easy and convenient
Clotted Cream Shortbread (Rodda's) - the best shortbread that holds it's shape beautifully

Paper Mart boxes.

Season's Treatings to All!!!

December 16, 2019

Zimtsterne (German Cinnamon Stars)

I've got several friends who are gluten and dairy intolerant so it can be challenging to find Christmas cookies that meet those criteria.  Fortunately for me these Zimtsterne (German Cinnamon Stars) fit the bill perfectly! 

After a google search I found this great recipe from Daring Gourmet.  The cookies are made with only a few ingredients but they pack a punch: almond flour, confectioners' sugar, egg whites, cinnamon, vanilla sugar and salt.  These German treats remind me a little of macarons, but are so much easier to make.   Plus, I love that you can easily tint the meringue topping any color you'd like.  

December 13, 2019

Pinwheel Icebox Cookies

Every holiday season I love to bake a variety of cookies to give as gifts to friends and family.  Baking is what you'd call my love language.  Certain cookies are on repeat every year, e.g., walnut snowballs and chocolate crinkles, because they are holiday classics and always delicious.  

This year the time frame between Thanksgiving and Christmas was so short, compared to years past, that I searched for recipes that could be made well in advance.  No point slaving away in the kitchen all at once when I could spread the work out, right?   

I was inspired to make these Pinwheel Icebox Cookies when I saw a picture of similar cookies on Baked By Rachel's Instagram account.  Cook's Illustrated has a great recipe for vanilla icebox cookies which I adapted slightly.  Trust me, it wasn't as complicated as it might sound.  I basically just took half the dough and colored it red, then I layered the two colors and rolled them up in to a long log.  A final roll in some red and green nonpareils was all that was needed.  A chill in the fridge and then just slice and bake.  As Ina Garten would say, "how easy is that?"


December 8, 2019

Iced Oatmeal Cookies

There are certain cookies that bring back fond memories of my childhood.   One of those Proustian madeleines would have to be Mother's Cookies Iced Oatmeal.  While chocolate chip  might top the cookie ranks for most, I was always team oatmeal.  There was something so attractive about these crunchy cookies with the pebbly white tops.  You can't imagine my joy when I saw a homemade version included in Shauna Sever's cookbook "Midwest Made."

Shauna's tribute to Midwestern baking has to be one of my favorite cookbooks of 2019.  As I was flipped through it there were so many delicious and nostalgic bakes that I had earmarked for future projects.  I previously made her Chocolate Bumpy Cake for this blog, with great success, so I knew her iced oatmeal cookies were going to be excellent.  Admittedly I was a bit skeptical about how authentic the cookies would turn out, but I stand corrected.  I couldn't believe how legit the finished cookies looked to the brand name.   

One of the best things about this recipe?  It's made entirely in the food processor!  How easy is that? These iced oatmeal cookies are definitely going to be added to my cookie arsenal.

December 3, 2019

Cranberry-Sour Cream Pound Cake

One fruit that I rarely ever use in baking is the cranberry.  I thought I'd remedy that by giving Cook's Country recipe for Cranberry-Sour Cream Pound Cake a try.  I love how dots of ruby fruit contrast so nicely against a creamy backdrop of cake.   Don't you think it would make a great homemade gift for the holidays?

After the cake was cooled I helped myself to a slice and was very happy with the end result.  The bursts of tart cranberries were so delicious combined with the moist, tender and rich butter cake.  All that was needed was a light dusting of powdered sugar and the cake was want for nothing.  Well, maybe a cup of tea!

November 29, 2019

Pineapple Cream Cheese Kolaches

Happy Black Friday!  I, for one, will be avoiding brick and mortar stores at all costs today.  Having worked more than a decade in the retail industry I remember the mayhem that could ensue with those door buster deals.  And don't even get me started on the parking drama. Thanks, but I'll pass!  I'm much rather stay at home and bake.  

Kolaches have been on my baking bucket list for quite some time now, but life seemed to get in the way and it fell by the wayside.   No better time than the present to give them a try.  I first became aware of these Czech pastries on an episode of Cook's Country.  Apparently they are quite popular in Texas and some Midwestern states.  Who would have known? 

What really intrigued me about the kolaches was the combination of a soft, buttery bread filled in the center with cream cheese or fruit.  Normally you see that combination in a laminated dough, like a Danish.  I decided to make my kolaches with cream cheese and fruit because two fillings are obviously better than one, right?   For the cream cheese filling I used a recipe I found for cheese Danish from the NY Times.  For the fruit filling I had to go with my all-time favorite, pineapple! 

The kolache dough was a dream to work with, i.e., really pliable and easy to shape.   Creating the round indentations in the center of the dough balls was a snap with a greased 1/3 cup measuring cup.  To fill the kolaches with limited mess I used pastry decorating bags but you can easily substitute with Ziploc bags.  A brush of egg wash and a generous sprinkle of streusel and the kolaches were ready for the oven.

The smells emanating from the oven while the kolaches baked were absolutely intoxicating and I couldn't wait to see how they turned out.  While they looked great I was really hoping that they tasted even better.  I'm very happy to report I wasn't disappointed!  The buttery bread was so soft and light and the duo of cream cheese and pineapple fillings was perfect.  No need to fly to Texas, I'll definitely be baking these kolaches again.

October 26, 2019


If you've been inside a Mexican supermarket you've probably seen Conchas, a sweet brioche bread with a crunchy streusel topping, in the bakery section.   I'd never eaten them before but was always intrigued by the beautiful shell colors of the buns.  It wasn't until I saw Thida Bevington give A Cozy Kitchen's recipe a try did I feel compelled to make them myself. 

Admittedly, the first batch of conchas I made did not impress me at all.  Granted, they looked fantastic, and even authentic I would say, but the taste wasn't to my liking.  The bread itself was too dough-y and felt quite dry.  I was in search of the light and fluffy interior that you would get from breads made using tangzhong, a water roux.  

On my second attempt I swapped out the dough for the pineapple bun (bolo bao) recipe from Cook's Illustrated.  Eureka!  The conchas came out fantastic!  Purists, pardon this blasphemous variation but I challenge you to have a taste and tell me they buns aren't amazing!  

October 6, 2019

Pumpkin Swirl Bread

It's finally fall, y'all and I for one am elated!  It's one of my favorite seasons and really gets me inspired to bake.  Pumpkin bread is a classic autumn treat but this time around I decided to mix it up a bit by adding in a cheesecake swirl.  The creamy, rich filling pairs beautifully with the spice-enriched quick bread.  And I just love how the sliver of white stands out against the auburn background.  To finish it off I added a generous sprinkle of pumpkin seeds.  Delicious!

September 19, 2019


I'm a big fan of Churros but never really thought to make them at home.  Why?  Because it requires deep frying and I prefer not to do that in my kitchen.  Plus, anytime you go to Costco you can easily buy one for $1 each.  But let's be honest, the Costco variety don't hold a candle to the best ones I've ever tasted which are the ones in Spain.    

When I found myself with some leftover frying oil I decided to bite the bullet and make some of these delicious pastries.  The dough is basically pâte à choux, very similar to what you'd use for cream puffs.  The only difference being you pipe the dough in to long strips and then deep fry.  Once they are nice and golden brown they are then rolled in a cinnamon sugar mixture.   My favorite way to eat them is dipped in a chocolate sauce like they do for breakfast in Spain, churros con chocolate.

For the recipe I turned to one I found from Cook's Country.  Once you pipe the logs of dough you let them sit in the fridge for a while to firm up.   I had no trouble with piping, except towards the end when the dough was so stiff the bag burst!   As the churros were frying all seemed fine until they all developed this strange little hump on one end, as if air was trying to escape.  I'm not sure why the humps formed but at least it was consistent across all my churros.  Once cooled and rolled in cinnamon sugar all they needed was a dip in the chocolate sauce.  I'm telling you nothing compares to homemade churros - crispy and delicious!

September 10, 2019

Rigó Jancsi

For someone who's traveled quite extensively throughout Europe I never managed to make it to Hungary.  Had I known earlier about their famous cake, Rigó Jancsi, I might have made it more of a priority to visit.   Named after a famous Hungarian violinist, the cake is composed of two layers of  chocolate sponge filled with a whipped chocolate cream then covered in chocolate ganache.  A true chocolate extravaganza!

I had no idea this classic dessert existed until I saw it included in the latest volume of Bake from Scratch.  To be honest I'm not the hugest fan of chocolate but there was something about the sharp, clean lines of this entremet that really stood out to me.  Plus, the fact that it didn't use too much sugar is always welcome in my book.  For any chocoholic in your life this dessert is right up their alley.  Light and creamy but still decadent it's the perfect companion to a cup of coffee or tea. 

For portioning the cake I started with long rectangular slices, but after having a taste of how rich the cake was I ended up cutting the rectangles in half.  This yielded 36 perfectly sized pieces that can easily feed a crowd. 

September 2, 2019

Beehive Cakelettes

At last count I have more than one dozen Nordicware pans in my possession, I kid you not.  Call me crazy but I seem to have become an inadvertent collector.  Whether it's the traditional Anniversary Bundt or the Pineapple Upside Down Mini Cake, I've got the whole gamut.  But I can't help myself, they truly are pieces of baking art.  So much so that when I remodel my pantry this fall I'm planning to display my abundant collection on the wall. 

When I saw this adorable Beehive Cakelette pan on sale at Williams-Sonoma I couldn't NOT buy it.  How could I pass on something that was so cute?  All I could picture in my head were the mini cakes on display at a bee-themed party.   They would have been amazing next to the  bee birthday cake I made earlier this year.

For cake recipes I recommend using one that is dense so that the beehive design will stay intact.  For these cakelettes I went with my favorite pound cake which also happens to be Elvis Presley's favorite!   The pan is nonstick and quick release but I sprayed it with some Bakers Joy for added insurance and the baked mini cakes released from the mold in a breeze.  Once cooled I poured a simple sugar and milk glaze over the top to define the beehive shape more clearly.  I just think the finished product is absolutely bee-utiful!

August 20, 2019

Chocolate Bumpy Cake

I almost stopped in my tracks when I saw a picture of Chocolate Bumpy Cake on Shauna Severs Instagram feed.  Never before had a seen a cake like this and I've seen a lot of them in my lifetime!  She's included the recipe in her upcoming baking cookbook "Midwest Made" but if you don't want to wait for the book's publication in October you can find it on TheKitchn.Com.  When I read the accompanying story about the cake's origins I was even more intrigued.  

Chocolate bumpy cake was created in 1913 in Detroit, Michigan by the Sanders Candy company.  It's basically a devil's food cake topped with rows of buttercream "bumps" which are then covered in fudge frosting.  While the cake components are pretty basic, visually I find it absolutely stunning.  The stark contrast of the white buttercream bumps against the dark cake and glossy icing are so beautiful.   

What I can't understand is how this bumpy cake escaped my notice all these years.  Given that I know at least five people with ties to Michigan I'm very surprised that I'd never heard of it before.  I blame them for keeping me in the dark!

As expected the cake tasted great and was super moist and chocolate-y.  My only disappointment with the one I made for this blog post was that the fudge frosting wasn't as glossy and shiny as I would have liked.  Perhaps I let it cool too much before pouring it over the cake so the signature "bumps" were lost?  I think I was concerned that the warm fudge frosting would melt the cold buttercream bumps.   Guess I'll have to make it again to course correct!  :-)

August 15, 2019

Viennese Swirls

One of my favorite bakers to follow on Instagram is Thida Bevington.   I don't remember how I came upon her account but I'm so glad I did.  She is an unbelievable talent and I am constantly inspired by all of her bakes.  The breads, cakes, cookies and tarts she makes are absolutely stunning!    Check out her feed and you'll see what I mean.

Out of all of her amazing creations it was the Viennese Swirls that I had to attempt.   These biscuits (Thida is English, btw) are right up my alley and everything I love in a cookie - buttery and not too sweet.   I'd also seen something similar on The Great British Bake Off so that was extra motivation to give them a try.

After watching the step-by-step instructions on Thida's Instagram highlights more than a few times I had no trouble mixing the dough.  The most important thing is for your butter to be very soft, otherwise the finished dough will be difficult to pipe. 

When the first tray came out of the oven I couldn't help myself and had to have a little sample.  Mmmmm...the texture is so short (i.e., very tender) and buttery.  Absolute heaven in a bite I tell you.  To finish them off I dipped the swirls in some tempered milk chocolate which sent these cookies to another stratosphere!  

August 10, 2019

Tomato Galette

My co-worker Coltin brought in a bounty of tomatoes he'd grown in his garden.  Never one to pass up on lovely produce I grabbed a few of the big, beefy ones.  First thing that popped in to my mind was to use them in a Tomato Galette.  I'd bookmarked a recipe from Cook's Country but didn't have all the ingredients so I improvised a bit and it still turned out delicious.    

I had plans to use up some leftover roasted vegetables by making a quiche.   Not wanting to make two different crusts for the quiche and the galette I saved myself some time and just doubled the quiche crust recipe.  It's super buttery and flaky and bakes up beautifully.

The galette itself couldn't have been easier to throw together.  Slice up the tomatoes, lightly salt them and then drain in a colander for at least 30 minutes.  This extracts most of the excess juice that otherwise would be the bane of any flaky pastry.   No soggy bottoms over here!  Add some cheese, shallots, garlic and thyme and you've got a gorgeous looking galette.

This is a fantastic option for a vegetarian but meat eaters will love it too!  Add a salad and you've got yourself a delicious meal.  

August 5, 2019

Piña Colada Cake

When I was a kid my favorite ice cream flavor of all time was Thrifty's Coconut Pineapple.  Truth be told it's still my number one, even in adulthood.  I'd been meaning to make a cake version of this ice cream flavor and I finally got around to it after being inspired by Baking With Blondie's Mango Coconut cake.  Swap out the mango for pineapple and I present to you my Piña Colada Cake


I used Baking with Blondie's coconut cake recipe and Cook's Illustrated recipes for the pineapple filling and coconut buttercream frosting.  The cake recipe actually uses a Duncan Hines cake mix as its base.  Yes, this is a bit controversial in a world of "from scratch" baking but one that I welcome to be honest.  I grew up eating cakes made from a mix so this brings back a lot of nostalgia for me.   There's nothing wrong with taking shortcuts if it doesn't compromise the taste.

For the filling it was important that it contain fresh pineapple and was sturdy enough to hold up between the cake layers.   Ground instant tapioca did the job of thickening the pureed pineapple while still retaining it's fresh fruit flavor.   As for the frosting I went for an American buttercream which is easier to pull together than Swiss meringue, my normal go to.  To finish the cake off I had to recreate these amazing buttercream pineapples I saw from @makefabulouscakes...are they not the cutest things you've ever seen?

When I had a taste of the finished cake I was blown away by how delicious it was.  The tender coconut infused cake with the fresh pineapple filling is a taste home run!  I will definitely be making this cake again.

July 18, 2019

Triple Berry Cake

Full disclosure: I totally and completely copied the idea for this Triple Berry Cake from Sweet Lady Jane Bakery in Southern California.  I'd seen this particular  layer cake countless times in magazines and the internet because it seemed to be the birthday cake of choice by the likes of Taylor Swift and Gigi Hadid.  Celebrities aside, I was mainly drawn to the cake for its aesthetics.  I just love the beautiful fruit flowers and leaves set against the whipped cream background.  Absolutely gorgeous!

I did a google search and found a few YouTube videos that showed how the cake is made. What I especially loved was that it wasn't too sweet since the frosting was whipped cream.  Unfortunately Sweet Lady Jane's hasn't disclosed the cake recipe but if you break it down to its components it didn't seem that difficult: yellow cake, whipped cream and lots of fresh berries (strawberries, blackberries and raspberries).

Here's what I made my cake with:

Classic Yellow Cake from Stella Parks
Cream Cheese Whipped Cream from Cook's Illustrated  

Tips for next time: 
  1. Make at least 6 cups of sweetened whipped cream (using about 3 cups heavy cream) because I ran out at the end, thus the "naked" look on the sides of my cake.
  2. When applying the fresh berries between each cake layer fill the entire surface with tightly packed fruit!  I left gaps and when you cut in to the cake you have gaps...not pretty.

July 12, 2019

Animal Crackers

I saw these animal crackers cookie cutters on Amazon and had to buy them because they were so darn cute.  They reminded me so much of one of my childhood favorite cookies, Barnum's Animals Crackers, that come packaged in the little red box.  

Plunger style cookie cutters are perfect for intricate designs like these animals have.  The best cookie recipe I've used that really holds the detailed design of the cookie cutter is Rodda's clotted cream shortbread.  I've had success every time I've used it so I knew it was the perfect recipe for these animals.  Lucky for me I still had some of the clotted cream I brought back from London.

Aren't they the most adorable cookies?  The shortbread is crispy and not too sweet, just the way I like them.  If you're hosting an animal themed baby shower or kid's birthday party they would be a very fitting dessert to serve.

July 5, 2019

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Brown-Sugar Pecan Streusel

I'm probably in the minority when I confess that I've never ever had a Starbucks Frappucino. What can I say?  Those blended drinks heaped with whipped cream have never appealed to me. Maybe it's also because I'm not much of a coffee drinker so my visits to the ubiquitous coffee chain are few and far between.   However, one thing that definitely will get me through a Starbucks door is their classic coffee cake

Imagine my absolute delight when I discovered that Cook's Illustrated Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Brown-Sugar Pecan Streusel is the baking doppelgänger to that beloved Starbucks cake.  The cake itself is the real star of the show.  Super moist with such a fantastic crumb.  Add to that a caramelized cinnamon sugar swirl and you've got yourself a slice of heaven.   Even better, since it's homemade you know exactly what it's made of, none of those additives or preservatives nonsense.  

Hosting a brunch?  You'll gain fans if you serve this coffee cake, trust me.  It can keep for several days so it's perfectly fine to make it in advance.  In fact, I'd venture to say it tastes even better a few days later.   

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