Thursday, December 31, 2009

Flavor-of-the-Month: Cookies

  Santa would be pleased...

For me, the months of November and December mark a joyous, holiday-filled time of year.  It also signals the start of my favorite season: cookie baking season.  What holiday party would be complete without a platter overflowing with assorted cookies?  It's very fitting, then, that December's Flavor-of-the-Month theme is Cookies.  Selecting the handful of recipes I will make each year is no easy task, because there are always recipes I "have" to make, as well as those I feel bad for eliminating from the rotation.  See my Five below, then head on over to Bridget's Bake at 350 blog to check out cookie recipe round-up!  I'm almost scared to look at what everyone else made, because that will make next year's list even harder to whittle down!

Cinnamon Bears
  Recipe: Cinnamon Spice Cookies from
Yield: 3 dozen bears, rolled ¼" thick

All cookies were decorated and glazed using the Meringue Powder Buttercream recipe, also found at

This cookie was crisp and tasty, but spread a bit more than expected.  It's fine for this shape as the fattie bears are actually kinda cute, all snuggled up in their scarves.  

Eggnog Snowmen
 Recipe: Eggnog Cookies at The Baking Pan  
Yield: 2½ dozen , rolled ¼" thick & cut with 2½" cutters

These spread out.  A lot.  I'm glad I chose to make snowmen out of this recipe, because any shape other than round would've been hopelessly amoeba-like after baking.  On the bright side, they tasted great and were the first to disappear from the tray.

Gingerbread Boys
Recipe: Cook's Illustrated Thick and Chewy Gingerbread (recipe on

Yield: 2½ dozen 3" boys, rolled ¼" thick  

This recipe has been my go-to gingerbread for three years running now.  It's the first recipe I ever tried for gingerbread, and it's wonderful.  I recently conducted a side-by-side taste testing of this and three other recipes, and this one won by a landslide!  The cookies you see on the right were made much earlier in the month, and I ran into some problems the batch consistency being too sticky (even after an overnight chill), so I added more flour.  Mistake.  While still edible, they were definitely more chewy--in a pull-your-teeth-out-taffy-sort-of-way--than normal.  C'est la vie!  Luckily, the ones I made for the taste test came out perfect :)

Peppermint Candy Canes
Recipe: White Chocolate Sugar Cookies by
Yield: 4 dozen candy canes, rolled 3/16" thick (used roller guides)

I thought it would be fitting to make candy cane cookies that were minty, so I took the White Chocolate Sugar Cookie recipe and added 1 teaspoon peppermint extract to the recipe.  Fantastic!  Rolled a bit thinner than the other cookies, these cookies baked up a bit crisper--a perfect compliment to the mintyness.

 Sugar Snowflakes
Recipe: White Velvet Cut Outs
Yield: 3 dozen snowflakes, rolled ¼" thick

This is the same basic recipe I use for my cut-out cookies throughout the year, only on a smaller scale.  I've tried this cookie with all-vanilla, almond, Fiori di Silicia, but this time I opted for Princess Cake & Cookie Emulsion.  Yum!

My original intention was to have these colored the palest of blues...but as you can see I got a much more vibrant shade!  ONE DROP of Americolor Sky Blue food color gel gave me that color...that's some potent stuff.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


That Pioneer Woman sure knows her way around the kitchen.  Take her lasagna for example: hearty, meaty, cheesy and thoroughly comforting.  The flavor is so incredibly heavenly that you'll be shocked when you see the ingredients list--no fancy-pants foo-foo ingredients here!  It may not be 100% authentic Italian, but who cares?  In my house, it's 100% GONE whenever I make it!  You still have time to make this before we all make that "Lose xx pounds" New Year's resolution.  Go!  Hurry!

Recipe notes:
  1. This is one meaty lasagna.  One and half pounds of ground beef PLUS one pound of spicy sausage.  That's a lot... but keep in mind the Pioneer Woman is married to a cattle rancher!  I made the lasagna exactly as stated the first time, but have since reduced the amount of meat.  I've cut the ground beef down to 1 pound and have even used 1 pound of ground turkey (in a vain attempt to counteract all that cheese!) and the recipe came out just fine.  In fact, it could work with even less meat.
  2. Shredded mozzarella works fine too, if you'd rather not use sliced.  Honestly, I buy whatever is cheaper that week--which is usually the shredded.
  3. This recipe is less "noodley" than most lasagna recipes.  You only need 8 lasagna sheets for the whole recipe, which makes it perfect for using up all those half-used boxes of lasagna in your pantry.
  4. Small curd or creamed cottage cheese is the best for this recipe.  Don't tell anyone your secret ingredient!  Even people who "think" they hate cottage cheese will love it.  I have converted many a hater.  The trick:  don't tell them ahead of time  ;)   Promise you'll make it at least once with the cottage cheese and not ricotta, okay?  You won't be sorry.  This ain't no eye-talian lasagna, this here is Pioneer lasagna!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Call for Votes

It's that time again, guys: Cupcake Hero voting time!  Head on over to The Sweetest Kitchen to browse the entries (short list this month--December was super crazy busy for all of us!) and cast your vote.  I sure would appreciate any votes for me :)  My entry is the Vegan Coconut Rum Apricot Cupcake, which you can read all about here.

My Girl, Paula: Polynesian Chicken Wings

It's appertizer* week for us over at the My Girl, Paula! group.  With New Year's Eve and football parties still to come, now's the perfect time to start planning out your menus.  Chicken wings are always fun, and Paula Deen's Polynesian Chicken Wings are a welcome departure from the ever-present buffalo wings.  Don't be concerned about the sweetness level of this dish--there is enough soy sauce and garlic in there to make these plenty savory.  Also, the ginger seems quite pungent in the marinade, but it mellows out quite nicely once the wings are cooked.  The overall flavor is vaguely sweet, savory, Asian-y and thoroughly delicious!

*I've actually seen that typo in a cookbook!  :D

Polynesian Chicken Wings (serves 12-15)
From The Lady & Sons, Too! by Paula Deen

3 pounds chicken wings
1 cup pineapple preserves
½ cup sherry
½ cup frozen orange juice concentrate
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground ginger

Chop off the wing tips; discard them, or save them for making soup.  Cut each wing into 2 pieces.  Place the wings in a glass baking dish.  Combine the remaining ingredients and pour this mixture over the wings.  Marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Remove the chicken wings from the marinade and place them in a shallow pan (a jelly roll plan is perfect).  Pour 1 cup marinade liquid over (discard remainder). Bake for 1 hour.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Treats for Sharing

Baking and giving an assortment of treats to friends and family members is one of the highlights of my Christmas season.  This assortment usually includes gingerbread cookies, but my recent throwdown left me feeling a little gingerbreaded-out.  They didn't make this year's line-up, but they'll definitely make their comeback next year (especially since I received not one, but TWO footless gingerbread cutters this year.  Score!).  

This year's menu:
  • Peppermint Bark Popcorn* (recipe by Our Best Bites)
  • Red Velvet Cookies (recipe below)
  • Snowman Cookies (recipe by Ann Clark) decorated with Glacé Icing
  • Candy Cane Cookies (recipe by Mimi's Kitchen)  
*For less crunch in your peppermint bark popcorn, pulverize candy canes in food processor instead of crushing them.  It makes the popcorn much easier to eat!  If you plan to make this with microwave popcorn, seek out natural/non-buttered varieties.  Those uber-buttery flavors that have saturated our supermarket shelves just don't jive as well with peppermint and white chocolate coating.  I actually used kettle corn flavored, and it turned out fine.


Now's a good time to stock up on assorted sized tins at your local craft and hobby store.  If you're really lucky, you can still find graduated sizes of the same design to make cookie gift towers next year!

Red Velvet Cookies  (Makes about 3 dozen)

1 box Red Velvet cake mix
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
2 eggs
powdered sugar for rolling
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line cookie sheets with foil or parchment paper.
  2. Combine cake mix, cream cheese, and eggs in a medium mixing bowl.  Dough will be very thick and sticky.  Using two spoons (don't try a cookie scoop for this...), drop 1" balls of dough into a bowl of powdered sugar.  Toss dough around to cover with sugar, then use your hands to roll into a ball.  If you start rolling before the dough has been completely covered with sugar, you'll end up with a red sticky mess on your hands (literally)!  Not that I've done this... :D
  3. Place cookie dough balls about 2" apart on prepared cookie sheets.  Bake at 350°F for 10-14 minutes, or until puffed, crackly, and set.  When cookies come out of the oven, slide foil or parchment off cookie sheet and allow to cool completely before attempting to remove.

Blondie Points

Because I knew the week of Christmas would be a crazy baking marathon blur, I opted for an easy bar recipe to bring for our company's Christmas lunch. After some searching, I found the perfect high-yield, minimal effort recipe: White Chocolate Brownies (aka Blondies), posted by Ann Clark on the Make More Cookies! site.  They were a smashing success--rich, moist, and just sweet enough.  I'd recommend cutting them into small pieces though.  There were a few people who thought the bittersweet chocolate topping was a bit too intense, but that didn't stop anyone from devouring them.  Semisweet would work too, if your audience isn't too keen on dark chocolates.

 In the market for some new cutters to add to your collection?  Visit the Ann Clark Ltd.  shop, where you'll find lots of sweet old-fashioned cookie cutters.  Each one is handcrafted and comes with a recipe card, hand-tied to the cookie cutter with twine.  They're perfect for including along with a mason jar cookie mix, or as stuffing stockers.  With plenty of all-occasion cookie cutter shapes available, they're not just for Christmas!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, sweet readers!  I wish you and your loved ones all the peace and joy of this Christmas season.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's Swappin' Time

 Pictured above (starting top left and going clockwise): Chocolate Chip Cookies with Hershey Kisses, Decorated Sugar Cookies, Frosted Orange Cookies, Magic Cookie Bars, Orange-Cranberry Walnut Cookies, Peanut Butter Crisscrosses, Praline Cookies, Pumpkin Cookies

I had the good fortune of attending my first cookie exchange party this weekend.  Good company, Christmas music, red velvet cake, hot chocolate and a table overflowing with cookies were the order of the day.  Most of the ladies I knew, but I got a chance to meet a few new ones as well!  Each attendee brought in 5 dozen of their favorite cookie, and we left with approximately 5 dozen assorted cookies--there were 9 varieties to choose from, so we all got about 6 of each type to take home.  You'll see my "take" pictured in the collage above.  

Unfortunately, most of us don't follow directions very well (myself included!) and didn't e-mail the host our recipes before the party, so our souvenir recipe booklets won't be assembled until later.  It was great fun, and hopefully our gracious host will plan another exchange next year.  This could be the start of a wonderful tradition!

I wanted to make peppermint polar bears (because I liked the name!), but decided against the peppermint flavoring because I wasn't sure how well it would be received.  I'm a big fan of a peppermint cookie, but of the assortment of sugar cookies I brought into work earlier this month the peppermint ones were the last to go (I even had plenty of them to take back home).  One problem:  I didn't have a polar bear cookie cutter.  I was going to use my regular teddy bear cutter, until an online search brought me to the Cookie Creations blog.  This creative lady trimmed down a hippo-shaped cookie to produce the polar bears!  Genius!  Luckily I had the hippo cutter (from my Wilton® Animal Pals set) so I followed suit:

 And here I go again with the cookie cosmetic surgery...

 Ta da!  She's a beaut!

The best part about decorating cookies with faces is seeing the different personalities that emerge:

A word about my recipe:  it's a big one.  I combined a double batch of the White Chocolate Sugar Cookies from Karen's Cookies with a half batch of the No Fail Sugar Cookie recipe to have enough dough to cut out 5 dozen shapes.  Sure, I could've rolled the dough thinner or opted for a smaller shape...but I was dead-set on making these polar bears!  If you don't need so many cookies, halve the recipe and use 1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk.  I'm not sure how well the unrolled dough will take to freezing (due to the white chocolate getting super hard), so if you're making ahead it might be best to cut out your shapes and freeze those instead.

White Chocolate Polar Bears   (5 dozen large 2.5 x 4.5"cookies)

7½ cups all-purpose flour
3½ tsp. baking powder
2 cups butter, softened
1 cups sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 eggs
12 oz. white chocolate, melted and cooled to room temperature
2 Tbl. vanilla extract
1½ tsp. Princess Cake & Cookie Emulsion (or desired flavoring)

  1. Whisk flour and baking powder in a very large bowl to evenly distribute; set aside.
  2. Cream butter, sugar and salt in large mixer bowl until light and fluffy.  With mixer running, add eggs one at a time, allowing egg to incorporate before adding the next one.  Beat in melted & cooled white chocolate at medium-low speed until fully combined.  Blend in vanilla extract and Princess Cake & Cookie Emulsion
  3. Pour creamed mixture over flour mixture and stir together by hand with a sturdy rubber spatula and/or wooden spoon.  I find that it's too messy (flour explosion, anyone?) to let the mixer combine these ingredients, but if you're only making a half batch you can add the flour mixture to the creamed ingredients and let the mixer do the work.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Divide dough into 4 portions.  Roll each portion ¼" thick between two sheets of waxed or parchment paper and refrigerate for about 15 minutes.  (Don't wait too long or the white chocolate will set up too much and make your dough too stiff to work with)
  5. Cut out your favorite shapes with cookie cutters.  Place 2" apart on cookie sheets and bake at 350°F for 8-15 minutes, or until edges are very light golden brown.  Time given varies widely based on the size of your cookie and how crisp you like them.  (I baked these rather large bears for 12 minutes)  Let cool for 2 minutes on cookie sheet before removing to wire racks to cool completely before glazing.

Cookie Glaze (enough to glaze 3-4 dozen cookies)

 1 pound confectioner's sugar, sifted if lumpy
5 Tbl. milk or water*
5 Tbl. corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla or other flavoring (use clear if you need a pure white glaze)
Food coloring

Mix sugar and milk together first (will be very thick).  Add corn syrup and stir in until smooth.  Blend in vanilla.  Divide into separate bowls and add food color if using.  Cover bowls tightly with plastic wrap and allow to sit for 15 minutes.  Bubbles will form and rise to the surface; slowly and gently stir them out before using.

* I normally use milk, but used water this time.  Water gives a more translucent finish; milk produces a whiter glaze.  My polar bears are off-white, but that's okay!

There are a few ways to glaze your cookies:

- Spread it on with an offset spatula
- Dip surface of cookie in glaze, allowing excess to drip off
- Cover cookie with glaze using a plastic squeeze bottle

Experiment and see which method you prefer.  I used to be a "spread it" girl but have recently switched to "dip it."  The only drawback to dipping is you can only use this method if you want a single color background.  Once cookies are glazed, allow to dry for at least 8 hours before stacking/packaging (at least for me in Louisiana's humidity).  If you plan on adding piped decorations, let the glaze set for at least 1 hour before decorating.  Just be careful about denting the cookies while adding eyes, noses, etc.  because the surface may seem dry, but the glaze might still be soft underneath.  

TIP:  Pick out your ugliest glazed cookie and keep that one to the side to touch-test for dryness.


ChocoMint Cupcakes

Chocolate and peppermint play very well together, so it's no wonder that peppermint bark is so popular during the Christmas season.  With this in mind, I decided to use that flavor combo for these cupcakes, which accompanied the red velvet cake (posted last week) that my co-worker commissioned for his holiday party.  Both items were a success, or to put it in his words: "The red velvet cake was a hit, and the cupcakes were even hittier!"  :D  I think we all just learned a new word there.

To make these cupcakes, just bake up 24-28 of your favorite dark chocolate cupcakes.  I used Betty Crocker® Chocolate Fudge and swapped out buttermilk for the water.  No shame in using cake mix here, because the real star of the show is the billowy white chocolate peppermint frosting!  I garnished each cupcake with a sprinkling of chopped Peppermint Crunch Andes Mints (yum!).  These are a seasonal offering, so I might go hoard some before Christmas is over.  If you're lucky enough to find some already chopped up (usually near the chocolate chips or in the holiday baking section), go for it--you'll save yourself a bunch of chopping time!  I saw some last year at Super Target, but no luck finding any this year. :(

White Chocolate Peppermint Frosting  (Yield: 3½ cups)
Original recipe found on Recipezaar

1 cup unsalted butter, softened (no substitutions!)
2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted if lumpy
6 oz. white chocolate bar, melted and cooled (not chips, if you can help it)
3-5 Tbl. whipping cream or half-and-half
1½ tsp. peppermint extract 
Food coloring, if desired

In a large bowl, beat the butter and confectioner's sugar at low speed until fluffy.  Add in melted and cooled white chocolate and whipping cream (start with 3 Tablespoons and add in more to achieve desired consistency.  I only needed 3 Tbl).  Beat on high speed for 3-4 minutes, scraping bowl with a spatula once or twice.  Frosting will get very light and fluffy.  Add peppermint extract and food coloring if using, and beat until blended.

Use to frost cupcakes or layer cake.  I piped very generously onto 24 cupcakes, and still had enough for maybe 4-6 more.  If you spread instead of pipe, you'll probably have enough for about 4 dozen cupcakes.

Store leftovers refrigerated.  Frosting will become quite firm, but will regain its soft consistency at room temperature.

Monday, December 21, 2009

My Girl, Paula: Stewed Salmon & Asparagus Casserole

 Since this week's My Girl, Paula! theme is a member's choice, I decided to try out two of Paula Deen's savory dishes from The Lady and Sons, Too! cookbook: Stewed Salmon and Asparagus Casserole.  I didn't read the recipe instructions very well for the stewed salmon, so I didn't save the liquid from the canned salmon to add to the broth.  My natural instinct is to drain my canned goods as soon as I open them, especially tuna and the like!  Overall the dish was "okay."  A bit heavy on the butter, and the flavor could've used the boost that would've come from the broth.  Not sure if I'd make this one again; this recipe made my house smell like cat food  :(  I think I'll stick to fresh salmon!

It was another "miss" with the asparagus casserole (definitely glad I only made half the recipe!).  Something about the boiled eggs in there kinda weirded me out, and the bread crumb toppy was messy and distracting.  Maybe Paula Deen uses panko or fresh bread crumbs?  Or tosses them with butter before baking?  Better luck next time, I suppose.  Be sure to check out the My Girl, Paula! page to see what the other members cooked up this week!

*For all my fellow geeks out there: I almost filed this under "Fail"-- but it's not so much a recipe fail as a "Do not want."  I'm sure tons of people love these recipes...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

All Through the Year Cheer: Christmas

Of all the foods that come to mind when I think about the Christmas season, none are more representative of the joyous spirit of the holiday than Christmas cookies.  For the All Through the Year Cheer: Christmas event, I decided to make the quintessential Christmas cookie: the Gingerbread Boy.  The first recipe I ever tried for gingerbread cookies produced sweet, perfectly spiced, soft and chewy cookies.  Every time I baked them people would go nuts for them, and it was the only recipe I used...until now.  This year I decided to branch out a bit and see if I could find a better recipe.  May I present:

The 2009 Great Gingerbread Cookie Bake-Off Throwdown Extravaganza Spectacular!!!  (are you excited yet?!?!)

The first (and most daunting) task for this bake-off was recipe selection.  I had two very specific goals in mind during my search:

1.  The cookie should be soft.  Save the firm gingerbread for houses and ornaments!
2.  The cookie must hold its shape during baking.  There's nothing sadder than using your super-cute gingerbread boy cutter (see end of post) and ending up with bloated ginger amoebas.

Scouring my cookbooks, magazines and the internet, I narrowed it down to three recipes:

1. Cook's Illustrated's Thick and Chewy Gingerbread Cookies
3. Martha Stewart's Gingerbread Cookies

After baking up the the first two recipes, I noted how different they were in both flavor and texture.  Wanting to find a middle ground,  I went ahead and tossed a fourth recipe into the mix--a hybrid cookie, born of two very different but equally tasty recipes.  (The third recipe was similar to the first, but the spice level was quite different.)  It took an entire weekend to get them all rolled, cut and baked, but I happily chugged through my baking marathon.  All cookies were prepared as per recipe instructions, with the only substitution occuring in the Nauvoo recipe--I swapped out shortening for the lard (I didn't know people still used lard!)  For time reasons and because it wasn't that important for my test, I had to forgo decorating.  Here are the lovely contestants:'s what's on the inside that counts.  Here's how they stack up:

The next step was to set up a taste test with my co-workers and a friend outside of work.  Each cookie was cut into small pieces, which were placed in separate labeled (A-D only, no recipe names) tubs with a few whole specimens for sampling.  These were left in the upstairs break room at work for people to sample throughout the day and cast their vote.  Tasters were asked to try each cookie, then select their favorite by writing the corresponding letter on a slip of paper and dropping it in the "Votes Bag".  There were plenty of cookie pieces so tasters could try each cookie more than once if needed.  At the end of the day, I counted the votes and rounded up the empty tubs.

Out of 26 votes (including myself), the winner is...

Cookie 'A'! (The Cook's Illustrated recipe)  This has been my standby since 2006, and not without good reason.  I set out to find that one perfect recipe to make my specialty, but it turns out I didn't need a new recipe after all--I'd been making it all along!

Comments from the taste test and a few of my notes:

Cookie 'A': The Cook's Illustrated Recipe (link)
- Softest/moistest of the four cookies
- Deepest color
- Sweetest
- Most difficult dough to work with due to softness/stickiness
- Least shape retention

Cookie 'B': Nauvoo Gingerbread Recipe (link)
- Cakey; puffiest of the four.
- "Would be better with milk"
- Less spiced than the others (called "bland" and "boring")
- Held its shape the best
- Very easy to roll
- Driest of the 4 doughs

 Cookie 'C': A Cook's Illustrated/Nauvoo hybrid
- A 50:50 hybrid
- Well-liked (received second place finish)
- Ranked #2 for sweetness
- My second favorite

Cookie 'D': Martha Stewart Recipe (link)
- Deemed too spicy (it contains black pepper)
- "Tasted like crab boil" (Ouch.  That one was below the belt.)
- My personal favorite-- and my pick to win (boy was I ever wrong!)
- Good shape retention
- Second puffiest cookie

 One person voted for 'E'.  This could mean one of three things: (1) someone is being a Mr. Smarty Pants (very likely), (2) it was an attempt to vote for "all of the above", or (3) they wanted to vote "none of the above" (I hope that's not true!).  I guess we'll never know, because no one will 'fess up to it!

My co-workers mentioned there might be some bias towards Cookie 'A' because it was the first one tasted, thereby leaving the remaining three to be compared to the standard of  'A'.  However, several of them also informed me that they tasted out of order, so I will dismiss that so-called bias :)  Also, milk or some other palate cleanser would've been helpful.  Several tasters "complained" that they all tasted the same because the spice level was distracting their taste buds.  

Regarding voting methods, I probably should have asked my tasters to rank the cookies instead of selecting their one favorite.  That way I could give each cookie an average score, with the lowest score being the winner.  Oh well, there's always next time!  A fun time was had by all, so I'm sure this will not be the last taste-off I conduct :)

Please visit the All Through Year Cheer page to check out great recipes from our hosts, Faith and Nutmeg Nanny.  The Christmas recipe round-up will be posted in a few days, along with the winner for this event.  Good luck to all!  (Thank you for bearing with me during my longest blog post ever!  Don't worry, almost done...)

Oh yeah...this is the debut of my new gingerbread boy cutter!  How could I forget?  He's been sitting very patiently in my cookie cutter tub for 11 months now.  For those of you who don't know me, I'm very particular about my gingerbread cookie shapes.  Very particular.  Most cutters I've seen have heads that are too small, arms too small, legs wrong shape, too fat, too skinny, weird shape...I could go on and on.  I'd just make do with the standard Wilton® shape, guiltily cutting the feet off and shaping the legs to my liking.  But the good folks over at The Little Fox Factory finally solved my dilemma!  To quote my own post from January '09:

I am deeply indebted to the Little Fox Factory for finally ending my 3-year long search for the classic, foot-free gingerbread boy cookie cutter! (you know, like "Gingey" from Shrek? ) I was so happy when I saw it for sale online that I stared at the computer screen in disbelief for a few minutes, but I was even more delighted when he arrived in my mail box. So cute! Straight legs AND a big head? Perfection. I can die in peace now. And stop lopping off the feet from the cookies made using my usual cutter.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Imagine the most perfect snickerdoodle cookie you've ever eaten--soft, sweet, with just a touch of crunch from the sparkly cinnamon sugar coating.  Now imagine them in deep chocolate.  With the gentle warmth of cayenne.  And they're vegan.  Wait...are we dreaming? No sir--these cookies are real, and they're from the Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar cookbook.  As of this blog posting, Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles are one of the four recipes from the book featured on the Post Punk Kitchen's website.

The geniuses behind one of my favorite cookbooks are at it again, this time bringing you 100 mouth-watering recipes for vegan cookies.  Whether you're a vegan, vegetarian or a ferocious T-Rex at the table, the recipes in this book are sure to please.  Aside from being vegan there are other benefits too. People with dairy or egg allergies can enjoy cookies again!  Think about it: no waiting for butter to soften, no wondering if you have eggs in the fridge or if said eggs are still fresh.  You can have cookies in your mouth in less than 30 minutes (in most cases)!  And... no eggs means you can chomp away to your heart's delight on the raw dough.  Take THAT, Salmonella!

Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles  (makes 24)
From Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar; recipe found on PPK

For the topping:
cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

For the cookies:
½ cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
¼ cup pure maple syrup
3 Tbl. almond milk or your preferred non-dairy milk (I used chocolate soy milk)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. chocolate extract (or more vanilla if you have no chocolate)
1 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder (I used half regular, half Hershey's Special Dark) 
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. cayenne
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Mix the topping ingredients together on a flat plate.  Set aside.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, use a fork to vigorously mix together oil, sugar, syrup, and milk.  Mix in extracts.
  4. Sift in remaining ingredients, stirring as you add them.  Once all ingredients are added mix until you've got a pliable dough.
  5. Roll dough into walnut sized balls.  Pat into the sugar topping to flatten to roughly 2 inch discs.  Transfer to baking sheet, sugar side up, at least 2 inches apart (they do spread).  This should be easy as the bottom of the cookies should just stick to your fingers so you can just flip them over onto the baking sheet. 
  6. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, they should be a bit spread and crackly on top.  (Don't forget to set your timer and over bake like I did!)  Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
These are goooood.  If you're worried about the heat or plan on serving these to children, use half the amount of cayenne.  These aren't tongue-on-fire-give-me-that-water-quick kinda hot, but they do have a pleasantly warm finish.  I would compare it to how your mouth feels after eating some cinnamon gum or candy--NOT a super intense cinnamon Altoid®, but something regular like Big Red® or original Dentyne® gum.  Does that make sense?

Feeling less adventurous?  Try some variations: 

- Swap out the cayenne for some espresso powder.  
- Skip the cinnamon & cayenne and make a peppermint variation with peppermint extract.  Roll the dough in a mixture of sugar and pulverized candy canes.  <--maybe next on my list!
- Skip the spices and roll dough in finely shredded coconut
- Roll in powdered sugar for snow-tops

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Happy 61st Birthday, Daddy!

*Yes, I am 27 years old and still call him "Daddy."  :)

My dad is a boring cake eater.  Of all the possible cake types and flavors to choose from, he goes and selects "White. Not too sweet" (his exact words, honest!).  *Sigh*  So I set out to recreate one of his favorite grocery store cakes:  white layers, lemon filling, and whipped icing.  I used a white cake mix, store-bought lemon curd and whipped icing mix (Wilton® brand--you only need half the box) to assemble this three layered beauty. Not quite from scratch but still made with love, he heartily approved of the final product.  In fact, my mom has requested I make another one of these to send home with my aunts for Christmas, proving once again that you don't have to make everything from scratch or be a perfect "Martha" in order to put something tasty on the dessert table or make your family happy!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cupcake Hero::December (Coconut)

[Vegan Coconut Rum Apricot Cupcakes]
Sweet apricots, infused with coconut rum, speckle the inside of this vegan coconut cupcake.  It's all topped off with an apricot glaze, coconut flakes and a glacéed apricot.

My entry for December's Cupcake Hero::[Coconut] event (guest-hosted by Jamieanne of The Sweetest Kitchen, co-winner of November's Cupcake Hero) was inspired by three recipes from the Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World cookbook.  Taking elements from the Coconut Lime, Apricot-Glazed Almond and Rum Raisin cupcakes, this yummy vegan cupcake is bursting with sweet coconut and apricot goodness.  There's a tiniest hint of saltiness to enhance the coconut flavor and just enough of the coconut rummy taste in there to round it off-- without making you feel like you've just bitten into a cocktail.  

These would be great for an April Fool's Day meal too, since the tops kinda look like sunny-side up eggs?  But they're cupcakes? Vegan cupcakes???  :)

Vegan Coconut Rum Apricot Cupcakes  (Makes 12)
cup diced apricots 
2 Tbl. coconut rum 
cup vegetable shortening (or coconut oil, if you can find it) --melted
¾ cup sugar
1 cup coconut milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. coconut extract
1 cup + 2 Tbl. all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt

cup apricot preserves or jam
2 tsp. coconut rum

½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes*
12 dried apricots

  1. Combine diced apricots with 2 Tbl. coconut rum in a small bowl or cup.  Cover and let soak for at least 30 minutes, stirring every now and then.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F and place baking liners into 12 wells of a muffin pan.  These are on the sticky side, so you may want to spray your liners as well.
  3. Combine melted shortening, sugar, and coconut milk in a medium bowl. (I like to use a glass bowl and microwave the shortening until melted, then add the other ingredients.)  Whisk until smooth. 
  4. Add vanilla and coconut extracts, and whisk again.
  5. Stir in apricots and any residual rum soaking liquid.
  6. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Stir to evenly distribute.  Add to liquid mixture and stir just until smooth (don't over mix).
  7. Portion batter into prepared muffin cups (cups will seem full), and bake at 350°F for 20-23 minutes, or until cupcakes test done.  These cupcakes do not rise very much, and the outsides will bake to a beautiful golden caramel color.  Cool completely before glazing.
  8. Make Glaze:  Heat apricot preserves/jam with coconut rum in a small saucepan until boiling, stirring constantly.  Let boil for one minute, continuing to stir the mixture.  Remove from heat and stir for another 30 seconds.  Use a pastry brush to apply a double layer of glaze to tops of cupcakes (brush all 12, then go back to first one and begin brushing again).  There will be extra glaze; save this to glacée the apricots.
  9. Sprinkle each cupcake with 2 teaspoons of coconut flakes.
  10. Working one at a time, dip a whole dried apricot into the leftover glaze (toothpicks work great for this!), then place on top of coconut-capped cupcake.  Allow to set before serving.
*You can usually find this type of coconut in the organic section, although I've also seen it near the produce section with the other packaged nuts & dried fruits at Albertson's.  You may also use sweetened flake coconut and pulse it in the food processor, but the taste will be sweeter and it will be stickier to work with.

My Girl Paula: Red Velvet Cake

This week's My Girl, Paula! is "Holiday Baking," so I made one of Paula Deen's red velvet cake recipes.  Instead of cupcakes, I poured the batter into three 8" round pans for a nicer presentation.  Don't you love cutting into a cake and finding three layers instead of three?  'Cause I sure do!  Sorry there's no picture of the inside-- this cake was made for a co-worker.  I don't think he would've appreciated it if I had cut into the cake before he brought it to his party.  Had I the forsight, there would be pictures of the cake while I was stacking and frosting it.  With its vivid red layers sandwiched between thick layers of creamy white frosting, it's a showstopper!  Head on over to the My Girl, Paula! site to check out the other delicious Paula Deen desserts made by our members this week!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

All Through the Year Cheer: Chanukah

Chanukah. Hanukkah. Either way, that's one holiday I don't know much about. So...I headed over to, which contained tons of very helpful information about Chanukah and other Jewish holidays. Fried foods (particularly latkes and doughnuts/fritters) and rich dairy dishes popped up most often during my search for Chanukah recipes, but since I'm skittish about frying (vats of bubbling hot oil are scary, no?) I decided to focus on dairy dishes.  

Enter The Kugel.  Rich, comforting, and chock-full of dairy goodness, it's comfort food at its finest.  You can make potato kugels, vegetable kugels, rice kugels, or go all-out with a Noodle Kugel.  When it comes to noodle kugels, there seems to be two types: sweet (most popular, often with raisins and/or apples) or savory.  Since this is my first venture into kugel making and I wasn't sure which I'd like better, I decided to make both.  The recipes below are based on Smitten Kitchen's wonderful (sweet) kugel, scaled down by one-fourth.  All in all, it was great delicious fun!  I'd definitely make both kinds of kugel again! 

 These recipes are being entered into the All Through the Year Cheer: Chanukah event, graciously hosted by the lovely Chaya of Sweet and Savory Says it All.  Please visit Chaya's blog to peruse her vast collection of recipes, and while you're there check out the Chanukah recipe round-up.  

Raisin Noodle Kugel  (makes 2 mini loaf pans)
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

4 oz. medium egg noodles
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 oz. creamed or small curd cottage cheese (not low-fat!)
¼ cup + 2 Tbl. sugar
2 Tbl. butter, melted
2 eggs
½ tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¼ cup raisins (could've used more!)

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Lightly grease two mini foil loaf pans (3¼ x 5¾ x 2").

Boil the noodles for 5 to 7 minutes (don't cook all the way), then drain.  In large bowl, combine cream cheese, cottage cheese, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and cinnamon.  Beat until well mixed.  Stir in raisins and drained noodles.

Divide mixture into the two prepared pans and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until center is set.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Savory Noodle Kugel  (makes 2 mini loaf pans)
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

4 oz. medium egg noodles
4 oz. chive & onion cream cheese (from a tub), softened
4 oz. creamed or small curd cottage cheese (not low-fat!)
2 Tbl. butter, melted
2 eggs
¼ tsp. onion powder
¼ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. black pepper

 Preheat oven to 350°F.  Lightly grease two mini foil loaf pans (3¼ x 5¾ x 2").

Boil the noodles for 5 to 7 minutes (don't cook all the way), then drain.  In large bowl, combine cream cheese, cottage cheese, butter, eggs, onion powder, garlic powder and pepper.  Beat until well mixed.  Stir in drained noodles.

Divide mixture into the two prepared pans and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until center is set.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bread For Your Holiday Table

The holidays are a special time of the year, so indulge your family with the mouth-watering aroma of bread baking the oven.  For a simple, guaranteed delicious dinner roll, try the Soft White Dinner Rolls recipe from King Arthur Flour.  I made them for Thanksgiving along with a batch of Honey Wheat Rolls (also KAF Guaranteed), and both varieties were a success!  The Soft White Dinner Rolls are pictured above, but I didn't get a chance to snap a photo of the wheat rolls.  For you eagle-eyed readers out there who will surely notice I have 7 rolls in the pan instead of 8, don't fret-- I put 7 rolls in an 8-inch round pan and 9 in a 9-inch square pan (instead of 8 rolls in each of two 9-inch round pans) and it worked out fine.

Now if you really want to impress your guests, whip up some homemade crescent rolls.  The canned ones are great alongside your weekday meals, but when only the best will do, try your hand at these beauties. With a delicate, blistery crust and rich tender interior, these rolls are sure to please.  It will take some planning though, as the dough requires quite a bit of chill time (once overnight, and a second chill for 2 hours or up to 3 days).  I recommend following the instructions for making these ahead of time and freezing the partially baked rolls.   

They only look like angry little crabs!

Crescent Rolls  (Makes 16)
Cooks Illustrated Holiday Baking 2006

When you bake the crescent rolls, make sure the light in the oven is switched off.  If the light is on after you shut the oven door, the burst of steam may cause the bulb to crack.  You can make the dough up to 4 days ahead of time or even partially bake the rolls and freeze them for up to 1 month.  To do this, begin baking the rolls as instructed, but let them bake at 350 degrees for only 4 minutes.  Remove them from the oven and let cool.  Place the partially baked rolls in a single layer inside a zipper-lock bag and freeze.  When you're ready to serve them, defrost at room temperature and place them in a preheated 350-degree oven for 12 to 16 minutes.

¾ cup skim milk
16 Tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
¼ cup sugar
3 large eggs
3½ cups (17½ ounces) unbleached high-protein all-purpose flour (such as King Arthur)  OR  4 cups (20 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour (such as Pillsbury or Gold Medal), plus extra for work surface
1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1½ teaspoons table salt

Egg Wash
1 egg white beaten with 1 teaspoon water

1.  Microwave milk, butter, and sugar in 4-cup microwave-safe measuring cup until butter is mostly melted and mixture is warm (about 110 degrees on instant-read thermometer), about 1½ minutes.  Whisk to dissolve and blend in sugar.  Beat eggs lightly in medium bowl; add about one-third of warm milk mixture, whisking to combine.  When bottom of bowl feels warm, add remaining milk mixture, whisking to combine.

2.  Combine flour and yeast in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment; mix on lowest speed to blend, about 15 seconds.  With mixer running, add milk and egg mixture in steady stream; mix on low speed until loose, shiny dough forms (you may also see satiny webs as dough moves in bowl), about 1 minute.  Increase speed to medium and beat 1 minute; add salt slowly and continue beating until stronger webs form, about 3 minutes longer.  (Dough will remain loose rather than forming a neat, cohesive mass.)  Transfer dough to large bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and place in warm, draft-free spot until dough doubles in bulk and surface feels tacky, about 3 hours.

3.  Line rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap.  Sprinkle dough with flour (no more than 2 Tablespoons) to prevent sticking, and punch down.  Turn dough onto floured work surface and form into rough rectangle shape.  Transfer rectangle to lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

4.  Turn dough rectangle onto lightly floured work surface.  Roll dough to a 20 by 13-inch rectangle; use a pizza wheel to trim the edges.  Cut the dough in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 8 triangles.  Before rolling the crescents, elongate each triangle of dough, stretching it an additional 2 to 3 inches in length.  Starting at the wide end, gently roll up each crescent, ending with the pointed tip on the bottom, and push the ends toward each other to form a crescent shape.  Arrange crescents in four rows on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet; wrap baking sheet with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 3 days. 

5.  Remove baking sheet with chilled rolls from refrigerator, unwrap, and cover with overturned large disposable roasting pan.  (Alternatively, place sheet pan inside large garbage bag.)  Let rise until crescents feel slightly tacky and soft and have lost their chill, 45 to 60 minutes.  Meanwhile, turn oven light off, place rimmed baking sheet on lowest rack, adust second rack to lower-middle position, and heat oven to 425 degrees.

6.  With pastry brush, lightly dab risen crescent rolls with egg wash.  Transfer baking sheet with rolls to lower-middle rack and, working quickly, pour 1 cup hot tap water onto hot baking sheet on lowest rack.  Close door immediately and bake 10 minutes; reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking until tops and bottoms of rolls are deep golden brown, 12 to 16 minutes longer.  Transfer rolls to wire rack, cool for 5 minutes, and serve warm.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

That's a Creative Way to Spell it

Brandy of Nutmeg Nanny has awarded me the "Kreativ Blogger" Award!  :)  Thanks, Brandy!  These types of blog memes are great (though some would disagree) because they can introduce readers to some very interesting and creative blogs they would've never found otherwise.  There are so many great blogs out there waiting to be discovered, and word-of-mouth advertising through blog awards is one way of getting the word out.  Huzzah for networking!  The rules for this award are to: reveal seven things about yourself, then pass the award on to seven other blogs you feel are deserving of the title "Kreativ Blog" (and hope they continue to pay it forward).  Easy!

So here are my seven:
  1. I am a proud Catholic.
  2. Singing in the Church choir is the highlight of my week.  
  3. I wanted to go to culinary school and study to be a pastry chef.  Instead, I geeked out and majored in chemistry with a math minor, settling to play pastry chef during my off time.
  4. I think being a lunch lady in an elementary school cafeteria would be a very cool job.
  5. I started crocheting 14 years ago, before it turned mainstream.  My yarn stash is under my bed.
  6. I work for the oil industry.  Men make up the majority of my co-workers, and there are many days when I don't even SEE one of my female co-workers.
  7. I enjoy living in South Louisiana because of its warm, generous people, culture, and food. And because of #1 (above). Acadiana can't be beat when it comes to its strong Catholic communities!
And now, to pass the Kreativ Blogger Award on to seven others: 
  1. Amanda of Is This Thing On?
  2. Jen of Beantown Baker
  3. Karin of This Wife Bakes.
  4. Michelle of Something New is Cooking
  5. Molly of Duchess of Fork
  6. Sara of The Piggly-Wiggly
  7. Xiaolu of 6 Bittersweets