My Best Holiday Cookie Recipes…

Ever since I can remember I’ve made cookies for the holidays. My mother started me out when I was in high school (I think she wanted to transition the job to someone else) and the rest is history. As you can imagine I’ve had many successes and failures over the years but I’ve also developed a short list of my all-time favorite cookie recipes. And that is what this blog is all about – sharing my favorites with you. Just click on the pictures and they will link you to my recipes. I hope you enjoy them and make all of them. I guarantee you, they will all be a big hit.

The first cookie I’ve made for as long as I can remember and it’s stayed tried and true through several decades – the Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. There is no better chocolate chip cookie recipe and I’ve tried a lot of them. I was having coffee with a friend the other day and we both agreed that if you’re going to make chocolate chip cookies this is the only recipe to use. And every year it has been my tradition to begin holiday baking by making these cookies. The cookie dough is divine (admit it, you eat this cookie dough), the cookie is to die for and they freeze beautifully so you can enjoy them for several weeks. I’m including the link to this recipe below the picture.  Making Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies means Christmas to me.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Here’s the link to the recipe: allrecipes.com/recipe/174864/original-nestle-toll-house-chocolate-chip-cookies/

I love all of the cookies in this blog but I definitely have my favorite. In my estimation nothing beats my iced cinnamon chip cookie. The tartness of the cinnamon combined with the sweetness of the cookie topped with a cinnamon cream cheese frosting is as good as it gets. The challenge with making these cookies is finding cinnamon chips. My local grocery stores used to carry them but not anymore, so I have to order them online. But they’re so good it’s totally worth it. If you try any of these recipes, try this one. It is my absolute favorite!

Cinnamon Chip Cookie

Iced Cinnamon Chip Cookie

The iced cinnamon cookie recipe displaced my next cookie recipe as my all time favorite. For many years it was my triple chocolate brownie cookie. If you love chocolate, this is definitely the cookie for you. The three kinds of chocolate, the brownie-like consistency of the cookie and the semi-sweet chocolate drizzle are simply to die for. I make this cookie every year and it’s alway a hit.

Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookie

I also love my iced cranberry orange walnut cookies. The combination of cranberry and orange just screams the holidays to me. I love the tartness of fresh cranberries combined with the flavor of orange and the sweetness of the cookie dough. Add some walnuts and you have a killer combo! These cookies look festive and are easy to make. Drizzle them with some glaze and you have a holiday delight!

Iced Cranberry Orange Walnut Cookies

No respectable holiday cookie compilation would be complete without something that looks and tastes like peppermint. These cookies fit the bill. My peppermint twist kisses cookies not only boast the holiday colors but also bring together that great holiday combination of peppermint and chocolate. These cookies tastes divine and dress up any holiday cookie tray.

Peppermint Twist Kisses Cookie

And my last favorite is technically not a cookie, it’s fudge. I tried making fudge last year and could not believe how easy it was. This fudge brings together the classic combination of chocolate and peanut butter for a delightful holiday treat.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge

Home made cookies make great holiday gifts. Just put a few of them into a holiday bag, tie with some festive ribbon, and you’ve got a gift that’s better than most anything you can buy. Enjoy making them, enjoy eating them, enjoy sharing them.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who checks out my blog. I hope the recipes are fun and the information helpful. I wish you, your family and all of your friends a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! And in the immortal words of Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us, Everyone!”

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Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake Pt 2…

This time of year with all of the Fall/Winter holidays approaching just screams to me cranberry and orange. As a matter of fact I love that flavor combination so much this is the second variety of cranberry orange coffee cake that I’ve posted on this site. To see the original post just click on “recipe”.

There are slight variations to the two of them and both are equally delicious. One you make in a spring form pan with the traditional leavening agents of baking powder and soda and that produces a taller, airier cake. This particular recipe does not use any type of leavening. Rather the eggs and sugars are beaten for an extensive period of time to create a mixture that doubles in size and provides the needed lift for the cake. This particular cake is denser and moister.

Both cakes are equally good, although my husband liked this particular recipe better. Whenever he monitors how much of a finished product I bring to work and how much I leave at home, I know the recipe is a hit. This time he made me bring much less of the cake to work than usual.

So let’s talk Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake Pt. 2…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be organized when you bake: I found the experience of baking much more pleasurable if I do it in an organized fashion. By that I first get out any ingredients that need to be room temperature in plenty of time for them to reach that desired state. Then I read the entire recipe to see what I’m up against. I preheat the oven and prep any pans that require prep. After that I figure out how to organize the assembly process (as in this recipe I recommend making the crumb topping first as you will read below). Then I get all my ingredients out and ready. That usually means getting the dry ingredients together and combined and then moving on to the wet ingredients. After that, everything seems to fall into place.

What you are trying to avoid is stopping to find things and taking time to mix things while other mixtures sit and wait for a long period of time. Think about how making the recipe can flow and organize yourself to make the process go that way.

Lesson Learned 2 – The importance of beating the eggs and sugar for a long time: As mentioned above this recipe does not use traditional leavening agents like baking powder or soda so you need something to provide the lift to the batter. That lift is produced by beating eggs and sugar into submission. By submission I mean you need to beat them for at least 5-7 minutes. That’s why I recommend using a stand mixer for this recipe so you’re not left with holding a hand mixer for that length of time.

I would also time the process and not leave it up to your memory. You will actually see the mixture double in size and become more thick when you beat it for that length of time. That’s what you’re looking for. Be careful. Don’t try to shortcut this part of the process. If you do you will be left with a somewhat flat coffee cake.

Lesson Learned 3 – This cake may need to bake for much longer than the recipe suggests: I was originally thinking this would take between 45-50 minutes. It actually took me 65 minutes, but then again I live in high altitude where everything takes longer to make. The key with this cake, as with all cakes, is having a toothpick inserted in the middle come out clean. If you have some redness from the cranberries on your toothpick that’s ok. But it should be clean of everything else.

Lesson Learned 4 – Make the crumb topping first: I found the entire process of making this cake went much more smoothly if you made the crumb topping first. Other than beating the eggs, this is the most labor intensive part of the recipe. If you make the topping first than everything else seems to go like clockwork.

As with making any type of crumb topping, use very cold butter and a pastry cutter to cut the butter into flour and sugar. The desired result is coarse crumbs as seen in the picture below.

The Desired Consistency Of The Crumb Topping

Lesson Learned 5 – The importance of room temperature eggs: In my baking recipes you will see that I always call for room temperature eggs. Why? The answer is simple. Room temperature eggs blend much more thoroughly into the batter. And that is the ideal. Quite often I hear the reason one doesn’t use room temperature eggs is they don’t have the time to get them to room temperature. Never fear, I have a quick and easy trick for you so you will always have room temperature eggs when you need them. Just click on “tips”.

Otherwise every other step of the process is what you normally expect when you make a cake. This cake, although delicious anytime, is a great recipe for the Holidays. And I guarantee you it won’t be around your kitchen for very long. Enjoy!

Cranberry Orange Cake Pt. 2...

  • Servings: 20-24
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

CRUMB TOPPING:

3/4 cup flour

6 Tbs. brown sugar, packed

6 Tbs. butter, unsalted and chilled

CAKE

3 eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3/4 cup butter, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups flour

1- 12oz. pkg. of fresh cranberries

Zest of 1 large orange, divided into 3/4 and 1/4 portions

GLAZE:

1 cup powdered sugar

Juice from 1 orange (approx. 4 Tbs)

1/4 of the orange zest already grated for the cake

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl combine all the topping ingredients. Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour and sugar until the mixture forms into coarse crumbs. Set aside.

In a stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugars for about 5-7 minutes until thick and doubled in size. Add the butter and vanilla and mix for an additional 2 minutes. Stir in the flour until just combined. Fold in the cranberries and the 3/4 portion of the orange zest.

Put the batter into a greased 13 x 9 pan. Spread the crumb topping on top of the batter.

Bake 45 – 50 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let cool completely.

Combine glaze ingredients and drizzle over the cake.

 

Strawberry Lemon Muffins

I know I haven’t published in a while. It just seems when Summer arrives I find so many things to do outside of the kitchen that I become a little lax in my posting goals. But even though I haven’t posted for some time I think this recipe is well worth the wait.

If you’ve never baked with strawberries before, you’re in for quite a treat. Strawberries have a wonderful light tartness to them when they’re baked that beautifully offsets the sugar in a recipe. Combine that with a hint of lemon zest and juice and you have an incredible balance of flavors.

These muffins require very little effort to make and are decadently delicious. You must try them. So let’s talk about strawberry lemon muffins…

Lesson Learned 1 – Don’t cut the strawberries in too large of chunks: Strawberries give off a lot of moisture when they’re baked so you don’t want large chunks of strawberries in your muffins. That will make the muffins soggy. I cut the strawberries in half and then in half again. After that I cut the remaining pieces in thirds. The picture below gives you somewhat of a perspective on size. Just to the right of center and near the bottom is a strawberry cut in half from top to bottom. You can see the other pieces are smaller by comparison. You want to cut the strawberries into these smaller sized pieces.

It is also very important to make sure the strawberries are evenly distributed in the batter at the very end. Otherwise you might have soggy pockets in your muffins. Take the time to fold them into the batter completely before filling your muffin cups.

Lesson Learned 2 – The batter will be thicker than you think: I was surprised at how thick the batter was in this recipe. But the combination of a thick batter and strawberries creates the perfect balance for a moist and flavorful muffin. All the magic happens in the oven, so don’t worry about how thick the batter is.

Lesson Learned 3 – Fill the muffin cups almost to the top: Many times, especially when making cupcakes, recipes will say to fill the cups about 3/4 full. With these muffins fill the cups almost to the top. The muffins will rise in the oven but not dramatically so don’t worry about spillover.

Lesson Learned 4 – Tips for glazing and storing the muffins: Make sure the muffins are completely cooled before glazing them. I used a “home-made” pastry piping bag to glaze my muffins. I simply put the glaze in a sealable sandwich bag, twist the bag to get all the glaze in one corner and snip the corner squeezing the glaze over the muffins. The result is very professional looking and the process could not be any easier. Below are pictures of my “home-made” pastry bag and the muffins after they’ve been glazed.

These muffins can be stored in an air tight container for up to 5 days. They also freeze nicely. Try them and let me know what you think!

Strawberry Lemon Muffins

  • Servings: 12-15 Muffins
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 cups flour

3/4 cups sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 large egg, room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

Zest and juice of one lemon

1 1/4 cup fresh strawberries, diced

GLAZE:

1 cup powdered sugar

Zest and juice of 1 medium sized lemon (2-3 Tbs. of juice)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with muffin cups and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Set aside.

Whisk together the egg, vanilla, vegetable oil, yogurt, lemon juice and zest. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Gently fold in the strawberries.

Fill the muffin cups almost to the top. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes then transfer the muffins to a cooling rack. Cool completely.

Mix the glaze ingredients together and drizzle over the cooled muffins. Store muffins in an airtight container or freeze them.

 

Glazed Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies…

Lately I seem to be on a “sweets” kick with my posted recipes and even though I do have some savory ones in the queue I moved this one to the top simply because it it just too good. Many of you know that I bake a variety of cookies at Christmas time so normally during the year I don’t venture a lot into cookie making. But I had to try this one and it was so good that my husband would not even let me give any away. I had to freeze them so he could eat them all.

When I make cookies over the holidays I have an unwritten rule that I try one new recipe every year and phase out one recipe. That way I always experiment and I keep the cookie making manageable. I am definitely adding this recipe to the 2017 list but will still have to find another recipe to be the “new” one since technically this one is no longer new. But I am really excited about the recipe.

The thing that I love the most about this cookie is how the tartness of the blueberries balances out the sweetness of the cookie. I also like how simple this recipe is to make, you can do it with a hand mixer and a wooden spoon. But there are some specific things you need to be aware of when you make them that will help you be successful so let’s get right into my lessons learned…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be gentle when mixing the blueberries into the dough: You don’t want the blueberries to break. If they do you will wind up with blue cookies. So be careful when folding them into the dough. Do that at the very end. I also suggest adding the blueberries in a couple of batches. The dough is pretty dense and if you pour the blueberries in all at once chances are you won’t get them incorporated into all of the dough and wind up with some cookies without blueberries. Fold them in carefully and in a couple of batches and you should be just fine.

The Cookie Dough

Lesson Learned 2 – These cookies really spread: Don’t roll the dough in too big of a ball as these cookies really spread. And make sure you have enough room between each one so they don’t bake on top of one another. I would roll them into about a 1 inch ball and put two inches between each ball on the baking sheet.

Give the cookies room to spread

Lesson Learned 3 – Remember blueberries stain: Blueberries are wonderful but they will stain and when they do it is virtually impossible to get rid of the stain. So here are a couple of tips to prevent any staining. First line your baking sheet with parchment paper. That helps in two ways. These cookies are very gooey and will stick to your baking sheet. Not a problem with parchment paper. Also when blueberries bake they pop and the parchment paper prevents them from staining your baking sheet.

Also be careful when you are cooling the cookies and the blueberries may still be “leaking”. I cooled mine on a wire rack and then transferred them to a paper plate. That way I didn’t have to worry about staining any dishes as well.

Lesson Learned 4 – These cookies take a long time to bake: On average these cookies take about 14 minutes to bake depending upon how big you make them. In my first batch I rolled the dough into somewhat larger balls and that batch took about 20 minutes to bake (keep in mind I also live in high altitude and everything takes longer to cook here). Once I got the size of the balls down pat it took anywhere from 14-16 minutes, which is a lot for a cookie. You know the cookie is done when you see it begin to lightly brown around the edges. The center of the cookie may still look pale, but that’s ok. Don’t over bake this cookie. If you do you the cookies will be way too crunchy.

Lesson Learned 5 – Let the cookies somewhat cool on the baking sheet: These cookies will be very loose when you take them out of the oven. If you immediately try to put them on a cooling rack the cookies will break apart. Give them about 4-5 minutes to cool on the baking sheet before you put them on the cooling rack. The cookies will need to set a little before you can move them. Don’t worry about doing this. Since your baking sheet will be lined with parchment paper the cookies won’t stick and will transfer easily to the cooling rack once they’ve had a chance to set.

I can’t say enough about how delicious these cookies are. I know if you make them they will become a household staple. You’ve got to try these cookies. And as always, please let me know how they turned out for you. Enjoy!

Glazed Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies...

  • Servings: 2 Dozen
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup light brown sugar

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla

3 cups quick cooking oats

1 cup blueberries

GLAZE:

1 cup powdered sugar

juice of one small lemon

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugars. Beat thoroughly until very creamy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in the vanilla.

With a wooden spoon add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir to combine. Add the oats and stir to combine. Last fold in the blueberries in a couple of batches being careful not to break the blueberries.

Roll the dough into one inch balls and place on the baking sheet, leaving approximately two inches between each ball.

Bake for 14 minutes or until the edges start to turn brown (the center of the cookie may still look light and that is ok). Remove the cookies from the oven and let them set on the baking sheet for 4-5 minutes. Remove the cookies from the baking sheet to a wire rack to finish the cooling process.

Combine the ingredients for the glaze. You may find you need a little more powdered sugar depending on how thick you want the glaze. If the glaze is too thick add a little more lemon juice until you get the desired consistency. Drizzle the glaze over completely cooled cookies and let the glaze harden. Store cookies in an air tight container or freeze them.

Glazed Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies

Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake…

One of the great things I love about the holidays is all the recipes you can make with cranberries. And when you pair them with orange juice, zest or both, well you have what I call a killer combo! But thanks to the frozen food isle, cranberries are not just for Christmas anymore. You can make great cranberry recipes all year long. And this is definitely one of them.

This recipe is a little time consuming as you basically have three separate components to prepare in order to assemble the coffee cake. But believe me, it’s worth it. Normally I give most of my baking to neighbors or co-workers, but this time my husband ate the bulk of it. He absolutely loved it, and so will you.

So let’s talk cranberry orange coffee cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – Prepare all three components first and then assemble the cake: I found this the easiest way to make this coffee cake and once all three components, the cake, the filling and the topping are made, assembling the cake is a breeze. I made the cake part first, then the topping and finished by making the cream cheese filling. I chose that order because both the cake and the topping take a little bit more time to assemble but the cream cheese filling can be made in a snap.

The cake mixture

The topping mixture

The cream cheese filling

Lesson Learned 2 – Cube the butter first and put it back into the refrigerator: The topping needs really cold butter to create the crumble and even if you start out cubing it when it’s cold it will start to warm up. I found that if you cube the butter and then put it back into the refrigerator until you need it you will have nice cold butter when it comes time to make the topping.

Lesson Learned 3 – Be patient when making the topping mixture: This is a traditional crumble topping mixture that requires you to cut cold butter into flour and sugar. I have a pastry cutter and I’m always struggling, at least initially, with the butter sticking to the pastry cutter. I find myself constantly scraping the butter off of the cutter. But don’t worry, as the butter starts to become more incorporated with the flour you will not have to do that anymore. It just takes a little time, so be patient and scrape the butter when necessary.

Lesson Learned 4 – All ovens are not created equal: I’ve said this many times but it bears repeating. For me living in a high altitude environment I find things always take longer to bake. That might not be the case for you. So normally I post sea-level cooking times, but keep in mind that this is just a gauge. Start looking at your cake at 70 – 75 minutes. The important thing is to make sure the cream cheese filling has set. If it is too jiggly the cake is not done. If you touch the center and it feels firm but slightly jiggly, you are good to go. (Do you love how technical this is?!)

Right Out Of The Oven

I think you will find this coffee cake is more than worth the work involved. And don’t let me scare you away from this, the work really isn’t that much or that complicated. Try it and let me know what you think…

Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake...

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS

Coffee Cake:

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 egg, room temperature

1 Tbs. orange zest

3/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

1/4 cup melted unsalted butter

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

Cream Cheese Filling:

1 8 oz. package cream cheese, room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

Topping:

3/4 cup flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter cubed

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl whisk together the flour sugar baking powder and soda. Set aside. In another bowl whisk together the egg, orange zest, orange juice, melted butter and vanilla until blended. Pour this mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just moistened. Fold in the cranberries and set aside.

For the topping mix the flour and sugar in a small bowl. With a pastry cutter or two knives cut the butter into this mixture until the mixture looks crumbly. Set aside.

For the cream cheese layer, beat the cream cheese and sugar with a hand mixer until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on a low speed until just blended.

Transfer the coffee cake mixture into a greased or sprayed 9 inch springform pan. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the top and spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the toping mixture all over the top.

Place the pan on a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake for 70-75 minutes (in high altitude it can take up to 15 minutes more) or until the top is golden brown and the cream cheese mixture set.

Cool in the springform pan for 15 minutes before removing the coffee cake. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Sour Cream Apple Bites…

I had a few apples lying around and I wanted to use them. This recipe is a great way to use “older” apples.  The bites come out so moist and tender you’ll be hard pressed to eat just one. You make this recipe in a 9 x 13  pan and that is way too much for me and my husband so I brought them to work the next day. I couldn’t believe how many compliments I got on them although my husband maintains you can put cardboard in a break room where you work and people will devour it. Part of me knows that’s true, but when people go out of their way to say how delicious it was you know you have something special.

Yes, something special, that’s how I would categorize this. And a great way to use apples that are not all that fresh anymore but still very good. So let’s talk sour cream apple bites…

Lesson Learned 1 – This is a pretty straightforward crumble-type recipe: The crust you make for the  base is the same crumble you put on top. This recipe gives you an ample amount for a nice crust and a substantive crumble. Use half of the mixture as the crust and the other half as the topping. Make sure you use all of it, don’t waste a bit.

Lesson Learned 2 – The food processor is your friend on this one: Make sure you use the food processor to shred the apples. If you’ve never used a food processor it’s worth your while to spend a little time familiarizing yourself with one and learning how to use it. It can be a great time saver. There are a plethora of videos on YouTube that can show you all you need to know about a food processor. Here is a handy little video about how to shred food using a food processor:

Remember when you shred the apples for this recipe, all you need do is cut out the core and seeds. You don’t need to peel them. I used gala apples for this recipe and you can see the little red fleck in the  shredded apples in the pictures below. You won’t even notice the peel when eating the bites and the red from the apples gives a nice little pop of color to the sour cream filling.

What I like about this recipe is not only is it insanely delicious but it also is simple to make. I guarantee you that when you make these bites they will disappear quickly. Enjoy this one!

Sour Cream Apple Bites...

  • Servings: Approximately 30 Bites
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

Crust and Topping:

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup brown sugar, packed

2 cups quick cooking oats

1 cup flour

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. allspice

Filling:

1 cup sour cream

3/4 cup sugar

2 Tbs. flour

1 large egg

2 medium apples shredded

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the crust/topping first. Mix together butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix well. Take half of the mixture and press it into the bottom of an ungreased 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes or until the crust is a light golden brown.

While the crust is baking shred the apples in a food processor by removing the core and seeds but leaving on the skin. Combine all of the filling mixture ingredients together except the shredded apples until well blended. Fold in the shredded apples.

Pour the filling mixture over the crust (the crust can be still hot). Crumble the remaining crust/topping mixture over the filling and pat down lightly.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the center is set. Cool completely before cutting into bites. Store refrigerated.

Sour Cream and Apple Mixture

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Out Of The Oven

Sour Cream Apple Bites

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge…

I made this fudge over the holidays. Having never made fudge before I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It was unbelievably easy and so delicious. As a matter of fact it was so good that my husband jokingly gave strict orders as to how much of it I could give away as gifts.

Probably the hardest part of this recipe is mixing together the chocolate and peanut butter mixtures but for something so pleasing to the eye and so yummy this couldn’t be simpler. So let’s talk chocolate peanut butter fudge…

Lesson Learned 1 – Of the two mixtures, the peanut butter one is a little trickier to handle: The peanut butter chip and condensed milk mixture takes a little longer to prepare and it’s much thicker than the chocolate mixture.  As seen in the pictures below, the peanut butter part of the fudge gets quite thick before you even work to combine it with the chocolate. The key to working with the peanut butter mixture is to keep it as warm as possible when you combine it with the chocolate mixture and begin to swirl both together. The warmer that mixture the easier the swirling will be.

thickened peanut butter mixture

ingredients for peanut butter mixture

Lesson Learned 2 – The peanut butter mixture should act as your base: You will need to work with the peanut butter mixture first. Make sure the large dollops of the mixture cover most of the bottom of the pan. The chocolate mixture is not as thick and will not serve as a good base for the fudge. Below is an example of how you should distribute the mixtures in preparation for swirling them.

Peanut butter and chocolate dollops

The next time I make this fudge I will make sure the peanut butter mixture is a more equally distributed. As you can see I had more at the bottom of the pan than the top. I needed to make the spaces in between the peanut butter dollops a little tighter but even so, I am being a perfectionist here. My fudge turned out wonderfully even with the distribution of the mixtures the way it was in this picture.

Lesson Learned 3 – Lining your pan with parchment paper: When you are preparing the fudge the ingredients are messy and sticky. You need to put the ingredients in a pan that is lined with parchment paper both on the bottom and up the sides. That way the fudge won’t stick and can be removed from the pan easily when done. Let me clue you in. Parchment paper has a mind of its own and even though you may tear off enough to line the pan it won’t easily stay in place on its own. It needs a little encouragement. A little trick I learned is to take some cans you have in your pantry, like soup or veggies, and place them on top of the parchment paper while preparing the fudge ingredients (as pictured below)…

cans in the pan

The weight of the cans holds the parchment paper down in the shape you need it to be. By doing this, when it comes time to add the ingredients to the pan just remove the cans and the parchment paper will be hold the shape of the pan and be easy to handle.

Lesson Learned 4 – For the best looking results don’t over combine the two mixtures: This is a very tasty fudge and part of the fun is to make it look inviting as well. By not over combining you let the beauty of both ingredients compliment each other and clearly shine through.

This recipe is so easy and the end result is divine. I hope you enjoy it!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge

  • Servings: Approximately 25 Pieces
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk, divided

1/2 stick of butter cut into Tbs. size cubes

1 10 oz. bag of peanut butter chips

1/8 tsp. salt

DIRECTIONS:

Line an 8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate chips with 1/4 cup condensed milk and 1 Tbs. of butter over low heat stirring consistently until well combined, approximately 3 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover and keep warm.

In another pan melt the peanut butter chips, remaining condensed milk 3 Tbs. butter and salt. Stir constantly until smooth, approximately 5 minutes.

While still warm dollop large mounds of the peanut butter mixture all throughout the bottom of the prepared pan. Add small dollops of the chocolate mixture in several places on top. Combine both by swirling them together with a knife. Chill the fudge uncovered for at least an hour.

Take the fudge out of the pan by lifting up on the sides of the parchment paper and pulling it up. Peel away the parchment paper and cut the fudge into 1 inch squares.

Before Chilling The Fudge

Before Chilling The Fudge

 Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge

The Moistest Banana Cake You’ll Ever Make …

There’s nothing like a cake that is so moist it melts in your mouth. But baking a cake from scratch and getting it that moist can be a challenge, especially living in high altitude like I do. Well, fear no more. I stumbled upon a baking method that produced one of the moistest cakes I’ve ever made.

Now I have a couple of different recipes for banana bread on this site, but this one hands down is the most moist and flavorful. The difference between this recipe and the others is how you bake the cake. In this recipe you preheat the oven to 350 and once you put the cake in the oven you turn the temperature down to 300 for the remainder of the baking process. I never tried a process like this before and the result was my husband saying this was the moistest cake I ever made.

So let’s talk about the moistest banana cake you’ll ever make…

ripe bananasLesson Learned 1: Make sure your bananas are really ripe: and by really ripe I mean the peels are really dark, dark brown as in the picture to the right. You don’t want a lot of yellow on your banana skins and you definitely don’t want any green. Most of the time the bananas you buy in the store are under ripe, mainly green and yellow. Those bananas have not reached their full peak of flavor. The skins need to look pretty dark. As the banana ripens it releases more sugar and becomes more flavorful. And as they ripen the skins turn darker. If you want the best tasting cake you need to use bananas with dark skins.

Now if you want to make this cake today but only have yellow and green bananas, there’s a way to ripen them on the spot. Just click on this link for my banana bread recipe and you’ll find a neat little trick that gives you ripe bananas anytime you want them.

Lesson Learned 2 – Beat the butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla until velvety: The picture below shows the correct consistency for this standard blend of ingredients for many recipes. The more velvety these ingredients, the better the rest of the ingredients will combine with it. Most people err on doing this process way too fast. I say beat the living daylights out if it. You’ll be pleased with the end result if you do.

Creamed butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla

Lesson Learned 3 – With this recipe baking time will vary: The recipe that I based this on stated that it took 60 minutes for the cake to bake. It took my cake an hour and a half. Now I know a lot of that had to do with me living in high altitude, but this is definitely a cake you will need to keep your eye on. Not only is the atmosphere a factor in the cooking time, but also all ovens vary and your oven may take a shorter amount of time to bake this cake than mine. I started checking mine at 55 minutes and could tell right away it needed a much longer cooking time. In the end, the most sure fire way to determine if it is done is to insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. The picture below shows what the cake looks like when it is done.

completely cooked cake

Lesson Learned 4 – This recipe makes more than enough frosting: Next time I make it I’m planning on cutting the frosting amount to 75% of what I will list here. With what I list I was able to put a thick amount of frosting on the cake (as seen below) and I still had some left over. Some people don’t like a lot of frost on their cake, and you certainly don’t want to minimize the flavor of the cake by overpowering it with frosting. You need to make the frosting based on how you like a cake frosted. So use your judgement on this one.

frosted cake

I was really pleased with how this cake turned out. I shared some with my co-workers and also with my neighbors and the consensus was this recipe is a winner. So try it and let me know what you think. You betcha can make this!

The Moistest Banana Cake You'll Ever Make...

  • Servings: 20-24 Squares
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (3-4 bananas)

2 1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice, divided

1 1/2 cups whole milk

3 cups flour

1/2 Tbs. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

2/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

FROSTING:

8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

3 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

zest from 1 lemon

1 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour or use cooking spray and prepare a 9 x 13 pan.

Take 1 1/2 Tbs. of lemon juice and combine with the milk. Set aside.

Mash the bananas and mix with 1 Tbs. lemon juice. Set aside.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Whisk for a minute to combine. Set aside.

Beat together the butter and sugars until creamy. Beat in one egg at a time. Beat in the vanilla, until the entire mixture is smooth and velvety. Alternate adding the flour mixture and milk mixture beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Do not over mix but make sure everything is fully incorporated. Gently fold in the bananas. Pour mixture into the prepared 9 x 13 pan.

Put in oven and reduce the temperature to 300. Bake at least 55 minutes. (Do not open the oven for any reason during the first 55 minutes). At that point check the cake for doneness. If a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, it is done. If not, continue baking. The baking process could take as much as 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the cake from the oven and cool completely before frosting. To make the frosting place all of the ingredients in a medium size bowl and beat until creamy.

Banana Cake

Moist Banana Cake

Moist Banana Cake

Raspberry Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies…

If you have been following me for a while you know every holiday season I bake cookies, and I mean lots of cookies. I can do anywhere from 6-9 different kinds. My one promise to myself is that every year I will try a new cookie recipe. Well here’s this year’s pick. Now I know I’ve made thumbprint cookies in the past, but I couldn’t remember why I stopped making them. Well, I remember now. The thumbprint cookie is an excellent subject for this type of blog since there is one big lesson learned that they just don’t seem to tell you in recipes. So, if you want to be successful making thumbprint cookies, this is the blog for you.

So let’s not waste any time – let’s talk thumbprint cookies…

Lesson Learned 1 – NEVER FILL THE THUMB IMPRINT ALL THE WAY WITH JAM!!! – I had completely forgotten about this and had a rude awakening when I put my first batch of cookies in the oven. Although you may be really tempted, never completely fill the thumbprint indentation with jam. During the baking process the jam will bubble up and if you fill the imprint completely you will wind up with jam spilling all over the sides of the cookies and onto the baking sheet. I’m not sure why they don’t make a point of telling you this in recipes, but they don’t.

Fill the imprint halfway or slightly less. Then when the cookies come out of the oven fill in the imprint to make the cookie look full and lush. That way you will have great looking cookies and not have to worry about cleaning baked-on jam off the cookie sheet. If you do get some baked-on jam, clean the cookie sheet right away. The longer you wait the harder it will get until you feel like you are trying to remove rocks.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls

Lesson Learned 2 – I’m not sure why they call them thumbprints when you really should use your index finger: I found if I use my thumb to make the imprint in the cookie one side becomes lower than the other. But if I take my index finger and stick it into the middle of the cookie I get a nice even indentation. You can also use the butt end of a wooden spoon to achieve the same results. Just another trick that will help with potential “jam spill over” and will make the cookies look uniform.

Index finger indentations

Lesson Learned 3 – Let the cookies cool before you drizzle on the glaze: As with any type of glaze, if you want it to be noticeable on your cookie and not melt in, you need to make sure the cookies have cooled before drizzling it on top. Also the thicker the glaze the more visible it will be. My glaze was somewhat thinner and it was not quite as noticeable but still did the trick.

These are very tasty cookies and they were a great addition to my cadre of traditional holiday cookies. Try them and see what you think. But make sure you heed my lessons learned…

RASPBERRY THUMBPRINT SHORTBREAD COOKIES...

  • Servings: 3 1/2 Dozen
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS

1 cup butter, room temperatureRaspberry Shortbread Cookie

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. almond extract

2 cups flour

Seedless Raspberry Jam

Glaze:

1/2 tsp. orange zest

2 -3 Tbs. orange juice

1 cup powdered sugar

(You can also use the type of glaze listed below – I like the mixture of the orange and the raspberry)

1 cup powdered sugar

2-3 Tbs. of water

1/2 tsp. almond extract

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350. In a large mixing bowl cream together butter and sugar. Beat in the almond extract. Gradually add the flour and mix well until the dough forms a ball. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Using your index finger make an indentation in the center of the ball. Fill the indentation only part way with jam (filling in half the hole or slightly less).

Bake for 14 – 18 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are slightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool. Add additional jam into cookies if needed or desired. Let the cookies cool.

FOR THE GLAZE: Mix all the ingredients together. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cookies. Refrigerate or freeze cookies that will not be consumed right away.

Right out of the oven

Cooling on the rack

Raspberry Shortbread Cookie

Raspberry Thumbprint Shortbread Cookies

Cinnamon Roll Bread…

I was intrigued by the idea of a cinnamon roll-type bread and who doesn’t love the smell of cinnamon wafting through the house especially on a crisp cool Fall day? I have to admit, though, that I made this recipe twice with two very different ways of adding the cinnamon sugar filling. I definitely discovered my preference which I will share later in the blog.

The first time I did the filling I made it in a more liquid-type consistency combining the cinnamon and sugar mixture with water. The second time I used a stiffer consistency, added brown sugar instead of white sugar and mixed it with room temperature butter and a dash of flour.

Water based cinnamon sugar mixture

Water Based Cinnamon Sugar Mixture

Swirled Mixture

Swirled Mixture

Although both breads turned out perfectly fine, I have to say that I preferred the the butter blend to the water blend and here’s why. I don’t know about you, but every time I use the method of putting some sort of mixture on top of my batter and blending it into the batter with a knife it never gives me the deep kinds of swirls I want. When I used the water-based cinnamon sugar mixture it provided a nice concentration on the top of the bread but in the center it basically just blended with the bread. You could see the cinnamon but not the more distinct type of swirl that I wanted. (the pictures below show the differences between the two – the one on the left is the bread made with the water based cinnamon mixture and the one on the right represents the butter based cinnamon mixture)

Cinnamon Roll BreadCinnamon Roll Bread

The second time I made the bread I used the butter mixture and not only did I swirl it on top but I divided the batter and actually added it to the center as well. The end result was much better and really permeated the batter with the cinnamon sugar swirls as you can see from the picture on the right above. I can’t say that the water based mixture wouldn’t do the same thing as I did not use the divided batter method with it. But I think the consistency of the butter based filling gave more concentrated swirls versus just blending in with the batter. I would recommend the butter mixture but will put both mixtures in the recipe for you to try for yourself.

Butter Based Cinnamon Sugar Mixture

Butter Based Cinnamon Sugar Mixture

Applying The Mixture

Applying The Mixture

Swirled Mixture

Swirled Mixture

So let’s talk cinnamon roll bread…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be careful not to overcook this bread: The batter in this recipe has a very stiff consistency so it is important not to over mix or over bake the bread. If you do you will wind up with a very dry bread. Depending on your oven, I would check this bread about 5 minutes before the minimum baking time just to see how it is doing. It is very easy to over bake this bread.

Lesson Learned 2 – Regardless of what filling type you use, I would divide the batter and put some both in the middle and on the top: Doing it this way you will ensure more dense swirls throughout the bread and not just on top. Keep in mind there is not a lot of sugar in the batter so you want that cinnamon sugar mixture to permeate the bread as much as possible.

Lesson Learned 3 – If using the butter based cinnamon sugar mixture, use most if not all of it: When I first made it I thought, boy, this is a lot of filling. But if you want the richness of a healthy amount of cinnamon throughout the bread use it all, or most of it at least. You will need to eyeball it to determine when you’ve used enough but feel free to err on the side of more versus less. Although it looks like a lot you need a lot to get a generous amount spread throughout the bread.

Lesson Learned 4 – Make the glaze with heavy cream: I don’t know about you but I can taste a significant difference when I make a glaze with heavy cream versus making it with milk. The heavy cream gives the glaze a thicker consistency and mellows out the flavor of the powdered sugar. But if you don’t have heavy cream lying around and only have milk you can certainly use that. I just think it tastes so much better and richer when you use heavy cream.

Lesson Learned 5 – Making glaze is full proof: There is no secret to making glaze. The biggest choice you will make is what consistency you want. Don’t worry if you think your glaze it too thick or too runny. If it is too thick, add a little more cream. If it is too runny, add a little more powdered sugar. It’s just that easy.

What I really like about this recipe is that you don’t need a stand mixture (I used a hand mixer to blend the butter based cinnamon sugar mixture) and in no time flat you have a fabulous sweet bread.

Be sure to let me know your thoughts regarding the cinnamon sugar mixture. Enjoy this great recipe!

CINNAMON ROLL BREAD...

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Cinnamon Roll BreadBatter:

2 cups flour, sifted

1 Tb. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup white sugar

1 large egg, room temperature & lightly beaten

1 cup whole milk

2 tsp. vanilla

1/3 cup sour cream (you can substitute plain greek yogurt)

#1 Swirl Ingredients:

1/3 cup white sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

2 Tbs. water

OR

#2 Swirl Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 Tbs. flour

2 Tbs. cinnamon

Glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2-3 Tbs. heavy cream (you may need more depending on the consistency desired)

1 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

Prepare the cinnamon sugar mixture (either choice #1 or 2) by combining all of the ingredients. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. In another bowl whisk together the egg, milk, vanilla and sour cream. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Be careful not to overmix.

Pour about 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan. Add half of the cinnamon sugar mixture. With a sharp knife swirl the mixture into the batter. Add the remaining batter and repeat the same process with the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Put the pan on a cooling rack. Take a rounded knife and run it along all of the edges of the pan. Let the bread cool for 15 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan and allow it to cool completely.

Mix together all of the glaze ingredients. Drizzle the glaze over the bread. If you do not serve immediately, cover the bread loosely with foil once the glaze has hardened.

Cinnamon Roll Bread

 

Cinnamon Roll Bread

 Cinnamon Roll Bread

Cinnamon Roll Bread

Cinnamon Roll Bread

Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake…

There’s a lot going on in my life right now so over the next few months I may not be able to meet my weekly goal of publishing a new recipe. I will try to publish as often as I can but rest assured I will get back to my weekly postings asap. I do have some time to post today and so I chose a recipe that my husband went bonkers over. When your husband turns to you and says, “Hon, this cake is really, REALLY good” you know you hit the jackpot!

I never tried making a coffee cake before so I was a little leery. But judging by the results I will certainly be making one again soon. There were a few tricks in getting this right and I’ll share them in my lessons learned. So let’s talk apple cinnamon coffee cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – The hardest part of the recipe is spreading the batter in the pan: The first layer of batter you spread over the bottom of a springform pan lined with parchment paper. It was an interesting trick trying to keep the parchment paper in place while spreading the batter. What I wound up doing was dolloping the batter in various spots over the parchment paper and spreading it with my right hand while holding the parchment paper down near one of the edges of the pan with my left index finger. After a while I got the hang of it but just be warned it may be an interesting journey starting out.

Then the next hardest part is spreading the second layer of batter over the apples and crumble. My advice is to make sure you dollop batter all around the pan versus putting all the batter in the center and then trying to spread it out. Remember on the second layer you will get part of the crumble mixed in with the batter. Don’t worry about that. You can’t avoid it.

Lesson Learned 2 – A little bit of batter goes a long way: This recipe does not have a lot of batter. When you spread the batter on the bottom it creates a very thin layer. But the combination of the batter, apples and crumble creates a substantive cake. Just be forewarned that the layer of batter on the bottom will be thin so don’t worry about that.

Slice the apples in small chunksLesson Learned 2 – Cut your apples into small pieces: You want to make sure that the apples cook and so you need to slice them in small pieces. I normally do this part of the recipe first. Then in order to prevent the apples from oxidizing while I get everything else ready, I squeeze just a little bit of fresh lemon juice over them and make sure all the apples are lightly coated with the juice. By doing this the apples will retain their color until you are ready to add them into the cake.

Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paperLesson Learned 4: Make sure you prepare the pan so the cake can be easily removed once it has cooled: You need to do a couple of things to prepare the springform pan. First you need to grease the sides and the bottom. Second you need to cover the bottom with parchment paper. I start out by opening the latch on the pan and removing the bottom. I normally take a piece of parchment paper, put it over the bottom part and trace the outline of it onto the paper. Then I just cut out the what I outlined. I do that first before greasing the pan. Then I reassemble the pan, grease the bottom and sides and then put the parchment paper in place to cover the bottom.

Lesson Learned 5 – The layering of the cake is a process: Let me show you that process in the pictures below…

The first layer with the batter and diced apples

The first layer with the batter and diced apples

The first layer completed with batter, apples and crumble

The first layer completed with batter, apples and crumble

The second layer of batter on top of the crumble

The second layer of batter on top of the crumble

Ready to go into the oven

Ready to go into the oven

The finished coffee cake

The finished coffee cake

Assembling this may be a little tricky but I guarantee you the end result is worth it. Try it and tell me what you think…

APPLE CINNAMON COFFEE CAKE

  • Servings: 16
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS

Crumble:

Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 cup butter, melted

1/2 tsp vanilla

2 small granny smith apples, peeled and diced small

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup sliced almonds for the very top (not added to the crumble mixture)

The Batter:

4 Tbs. unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 extra large egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup flour

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

The Glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1-2 Tbs. heavy cream (use the smaller amount for a thicker glaze)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of an 8 inch springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and set aside. Peel and dice the apples. Pour the lemon juice over the diced apples and stir until all the pieces of apple are coated. Set aside.

For the crumble, whisk together all of the dry ingredients except the sliced almonds. Add the melted butter and vanilla and stir until combined. Set aside.

For the batter, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until combined. Add the vanilla and sour cream and beat the mixture until well combined. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not over mix.

Dollop half the batter around the bottom of the springform pan and spread to evenly distribute. Distribute the apple chunks evenly over the batter and sprinkle about 1 cup of the crumble on top of the apples. Spread the remaining half of the batter over the top of the crumble (it will be easier if you dollop the batter around the pan before spreading). Spread the remaining crumble over the batter. Distribute the sliced almonds evenly over the crumble.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edges of the cake before unlocking the springform pan.

Let the cake cool completely before adding the glaze. To make the glaze combine all of the ingredients and whisk until smooth. Drizzle the glaze all over the cake. Slice and enjoy!

Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake

White Chocolate Strawberry Cookies

This time I wanted to do something a little different with my leftover strawberries. Normally I make some sort of loaf but I was intrigued by the thought of making strawberry cookies, something I’d never done before. I have to say it was a learning experience, and a very good one I might add.

I’ve always found strawberries to be tricky in the baking process. They add additional moisture when baking and that can play havoc on your end result especially if you live in high altitude like I do. But I’ve had enough disasters along the way that I say with great confidence that I think I’ve finally got baking with strawberries down pat. So lets talk white chocolate strawberry cookies…

cut strawberriesLesson Learned 1 – Follow these basic tips for baking with strawberries: Strawberries give off moisture when they bake and that can make the consistency of the batter too runny and result in a baking disaster. I’ve learned a few simple tips along the way that will help you be successful when baking with strawberries. First, prep the strawberries the very first thing. Cut them into smaller rather than larger pieces. Sprinkle the strawberries with a tiny, tiny bit of lemon juice, place them in a colander over a bowl and allow them to shed some excess moisture. Normally you add strawberries at the end of a recipe. Prepping them at the beginning gives them plenty of time to shed some of that excess moisture.

Before you add them to a batter sprinkle them with a little flour and make sure all of the berries are lightly coated. That way the flour will continue to absorb moisture and the berries will not all clump together in the baking process. If you are making a strawberry bread, sprinkling them with a little flour before adding them to the batter will prevent all the strawberries from sinking to the bottom of the bread. Try these few tips and you should be successful baking with strawberries.

Lesson Learned 2 – This is a very moist batter: The consistency of this batter is very moist. Once you make it I recommend you put it in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes. That way it will be a little easier to work with. Even after you refrigerate it the batter will still be moist as is evidenced by the picture below. Don’t worry, the cookies will not run. They will hold shape and turn out to be a delightful cookie!

Cookie dough before baking

Lesson Learned 3 – The consistency of this cookie is more like a cake than a cookie: Initially I wasn’t sure how these cookies would turn out based on the moistness of the batter. To my surprise and delight they were like small heavenly bites of cake. The cookies are soft and delightful, very different from the consistency of say a chocolate chip cookie. And the white chocolate chips divinely compliment the flavor of the cookie. I brought these to work and they disappeared within one hour.

White Chocolate Strawberry CookiesLesson Learned 4 – For extra decadence try drizzling some melted white chocolate over the top of the cookies: This time when I made these cookies I didn’t think to do this. The amount of white chocolate you use making this recipe does not use up the entire bag. Why not melt the remainder of the chocolate and drizzle it over the cookies after they cool? Next time I most certainly will do this. I can’t believe I didn’t think about doing this when I first made them. Oh well, live and learn…

This recipe is a delightful change to traditional cookies that are often hard and crunchy. The combination of strawberries and white chocolate is to die for. I also like the fact that this recipe only makes about two dozen cookies so it is a manageable amount for family and friends. And as always I recommend you try this recipe and tell me what you think…

WHITE CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY COOKIES...

  • Servings: 2 Dozen
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

White Chocolate Strawberry Cookies1 1/4 cups flour, sifted

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/8 tsp. table salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

3/4 chopped strawberries, drained

2 tsp. lemon juice (1/2 – 1 small lemon juiced)

1 – 2 Tbs. flour, for dusting the strawberries

5 oz. white chocolate chips, chopped (I recommend using a mini food processor to chop them)

White chocolate chips, melted –  to drizzle over the cooled cookies (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line your baking sheet(s) with parchment paper.  Chop the strawberries, place them in a colander and sprinkle them with the lemon juice. Set them aside and allow them to drain.

Whisk together the dry ingredients – the flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the cream cheese and beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla. Mix well. Gradually add the flour mixture and stir until combined. Do not over mix.

Stir in the chopped chocolate. Sprinkle the strawberries with flour and toss them so they all are coated with a thin layer of the flour. Carefully fold the strawberries into the batter.

Place the batter in the refrigerator for about 15-30 minutes.

Once slightly chilled, make the cookies by dropping a heaping tablespoon of the batter on the baking sheet leaving approximately an inch between each cookie. (I recommend no more than a dozen cookies per baking sheet). Bake for 15 minutes or until the edges become golden brown.

Let the cookies cool for a couple of minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool. Once the cookies are cooled, put the remaining white chocolate chips in a microwaveable dish and microwave  on high for about 10 – 15 seconds. Stir the chips until melted. (Microwave at 5 second intervals after this if the chips need to be heated through a little more. Be careful not to overheat the chocolate). Place the chocolate in a gallon size bag. Cut the end of the bag (make sure the cut is small) and use it as a pastry bag to drizzle the melted chocolate over the cookies.

White Chocolate Strawberry Cookies

White chocolate Strawberry Cookies

 

 

Cherry Pie Squares…

I was looking for a way to use a can of cherry pie filling I had in my pantry and I didn’t  want to make a traditional pie so I decided to make these instead. I love these because you satisfy your cherry pie craving with a tasty little morsel. These squares are easy to make and impressive looking. Your friends will think you are an accomplished baker when you make these.

So let’s talk cherry pie squares…

Lesson Learned 1: You need less batter on top than you think: Initially I only used 1 1/2 cups of batter for the bottom crust of he squares. That left me with quite a bit of batter for the top. I found in making this that a little batter goes a long way. It is better to dot the top with small dollops of batter far enough away from each other so they spread out but not necessarily touch. The pictures below show the amount of batter I put on top and my final product. Next time I make these I will use smaller amounts of dough to dot the top and probably set aside 1 3/4 cups for the bottom crust.  That way I will have a little more dough for the crust and the small dollops will still be more than enough for the top.

The batter on top of the pie filling

Cherry Pie Squares

Lesson Learned 2 – A little bit of baking spray goes a long way: The best way to insure that the squares don’t stick to the pan is to either spray the pan with baking spray or line it with parchment paper. This time I chose to use baking spray. Don’t overdo spraying the bottom of your pan with the spray. You don’t want to make the crust soggy. Just spray lightly. Next time I make these I am going to line the pan with parchment paper instead of spraying the bottom. I tend to prefer that method.

Lesson Learned 3 – The batter is very sticky: When spooning the crust batter into your baking dish you might want to take large spoonfuls and put them in various parts rather than taking the full amount and just putting it in the middle. You will need to pat the batter down with your hands to cover the entire bottom of the baking dish. I suggest spraying your hands with baking spray. It makes this job much less difficult. After I covered the entire bottom I smoothed the batter with an icing knife.

The bottom crust of the cherry pie squares

Lesson Learned 4 – Leave about an inch around edges when adding the cherry pie filling: The cherry pie filling will run during the baking process. Leaving some space around the edges will allow the batter to rise around the edges making it easier to remove the squares when the time comes.

Adding the cherry pie filling

Lesson Learned 5 – If you can use heavy cream when making the glaze: I found that if you use heavy cream in a glaze the consistency and flavor are much better. Don’t go out and buy heavy cream just for the glaze if you don’t already have it. But if you do I think you’ll find you’ll prefer glazes made with heavy cream to those that are not.

After I made these I gave some to my neighbors. Everyone of them asked for the recipe. I think you will enjoy these a lot! Try them and let me know what you think.

CHERRY PIE SQUARES…

  • Servings: 20 Squares
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature

Cherry Pie Squares1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

2 eggs, room temperature

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. almond extract

1 1/2 cups flour, sifted

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 can cherry pie filling, 21 ounces

Sliced almonds

GLAZE:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/4 tsp. almond extract

2-4 Tbs. of heavy cream

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350. Spray a 9 x 13 pan with baking spray or line with parchment paper. Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until completely combined. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat until well combined.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and mix until just combined. Do not over mix. Take 1 3/4 cup of the batter and smooth over the bottom of the baking dish. Spoon the cherry pie filling over the batter, leaving about an inch of batter around all the edges. Dollop the remaining batter on top of the pie filling. Sprinkle the top with sliced almonds.

Bake for 35 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Let cool completely. Mix all of the glaze ingredients together and drizzle over the top. Cut and serve.

Cherry Pie Squares

Cherry Pie Squares

Cherry Pie Squares

 

Apple Cinnamon Chip Blondies…

After being unsuccessful in locating cinnamon chips for the iced cinnamon chip cookies I usually make over the holidays, I wound up ordering a bunch of them online. Needless to say it is late March and because I ordered way too many of them I still have a couple of packages left. So my conundrum was what to do with the remaining cinnamon chips. And then I thought about this recipe.

I haven’t made blondies in a long time. As a matter of fact, I never really thought about what blondies actually are until just recently.  In my mind, they are the equivalent to a lighter color of brownies. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but I like to think of them that way.

So why make blondies now? Well, March weather here in Colorado can be turbulent  – not with rain but with snow. March and April are the snowiest months of the year here, so you can go from a feeling of Spring to a feeling of dead Winter in a heartbeat. And winter time is baking time in my mind. There’s nothing like the smell of something baking in the oven on a cold Winter’s day. It warms the heart. And the smell of apples and cinnamon baking, well that’s heaven! So the decision to make these on a snowy day was a no brainer.

So let’s talk apple cinnamon chip blondies…

Parchment Paper TipLesson Learned 1 – Make sure you use parchment paper and spray it with cooking spray before you put the batter into the pan: This batter is very dense and sticky. If you don’t line your baking pan with parchment paper and spray it with cooking spray you will never be able to remove the blondies from the pan in one piece. You only need to spray the paper LIGHTLY as there is a lot of butter in the recipe and you don’t want the blondies to turn out too greasy.

Parchment Paper Lined PanBAKING TIP:  Line the pan with the parchment paper at the very beginning before doing anything else. Once you tear off a large enough piece press the paper down in the pan and place some cans of anything on top of it to hold it down (as shown in the picture above). When it comes time to put the batter in the pan simply remove the cans and then spray the paper lightly with cooking spray. At that point, as you can see in the picture, the parchment paper will be much more cooperative when you’re putting the batter in the pan.

Lesson Learned 2 – The blondies are much easier to cut when they’re cool: Using the parchment paper as handles I lifted the blondies out of the pan after they had been on the cooling rack for 15 minutes. I left them to cool for a couple of hours and refrigerated them overnight. The next day they were much easier to cut. They smell so good you may be tempted to try to cut them sooner but it definitely is much easier once they have sufficiently cooled.

Lesson Learned 3 – You could also add some nuts to this recipe: If I were to add nuts, I would add chopped pecans, about 1/4 cup should do the trick. The next time I make these I’m going to try adding nuts.

What can I say other than these are very easy to make and super delicious (like eating an apple pie brownie). Try this and I know it will become one of your favorites!

APPLE CINNAMON CHIP BLONDIES…

  • Servings: 16-24
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Apple Cinnamon Chip Blondies1/2 cup butter (1 stick) + 2 Tbs.

1 cup light brown sugar + 2 Tbs.

1 large egg, room temperature and lightly beaten

1 Tbs. vanilla extract

1 cup flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1 medium apple peeled and cubed into 1/4 inch pieces

1/4 cup chopped pecans, optional

1/2 cup cinnamon chips

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350. Line an 8 inch square pan with parchment paper (see baking tip above) and set aside.

In a small skillet melt 2 Tbs. of butter and 2 Tbs. of brown sugar together. Add the apple pieces and cook until the pieces start to soften, approximately 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Melt the stick of butter in the microwave (approximately 30 seconds). In a large bowl whisk together the butter and remaining brown sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl sift together the flour and salt. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir to combine. Do not over mix. Fold in the cinnamon chips and apples (and nuts if desired) until just combined.

Lightly spray the parchment paper with cooking spray. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the batter making sure it is evenly distributed throughout the pan.

Bake for 35-40 minutes (mine took 40 minutes). The blondies are done when the edges start to pull away from the side of the pan. Let cool for at least 2 hours before slicing (preferably after cooling for 2 hours cool in the refrigerator overnight before slicing). Slice and enjoy!

Blondie Batter

Blondie Batter

Batter In Parchment Paper Lined Pan

Batter In Parchment Paper Lined Pan

Apple Cinnamon Chip Blondies

Apple Cinnamon Chip Blondies

Apple Cinnamon Chip Blondies

Savory Profiteroles…

Now if you’re anything like me the first question you’re asking is what in the world is a profiterole? I had no idea. It never ceases to amaze me that I learn something new in the kitchen just about every day. Basically a profiterole is a pastry puff and usually accompanies some sweet concoction for a decadent dessert. But I decided to do a savory puff.

gruyere and havartiThis recipe has its roots from a video I saw on Facebook. Quite often on Facebook you see quick video bytes of various kinds of recipes. I enjoy them actually because they show how simple many recipes can be. Nothing is more powerful than a picture or video. I saw this video for french “cheese puffs”, shared it on my timeline and decided to make a version of it.  After I shared it I got a reply from a friend saying “I love profiteroles”, and I thought to myself what the heck is a profiterole. I googled it and found out. Another lesson learned in the kitchen.

The recipe on the video was fairly straightforward but I decided to add a couple of twists. The video only showed using gruyere cheese but chopped chivesI decided to use a combination of gruyere and havarti. And then to add some color as well as flavor I used a couple of tablespoons of chopped chives. The result was fabulous – they were delicious.

So let’s talk savory profiteroles…

Lesson Learned 1 – Make sure you line your baking sheet with parchment paper: This will keep these puffs from sticking to the pan. If you use parchment paper they easily lift off. During the baking process some of the cheese settles to the bottom of the puff. The parchment paper prevents the cheese from sticking to the pan. I would not advise using cooking spray as an alternative. I think the bottom of the puffs would get too greasy if you used cooking spray. The parchment paper has what you might call a “paper towel” affect. It absorbs some of the grease from the cheese and it prevents the puffs from sticking.

parchment paper lined baking sheet

Lesson Learned 2 – Let the butter and flour mixture cool before you start beating in the eggs:  Once you have the butter and flour mixture thoroughly combined it will be quite warm. Take the mixture out of the pot place it in a mixing bowl and let it cool for a couple of minutes. You don’t want the first egg to start to cook when you begin to beat it in.  The picture below shows what the mixture looks like when it comes out of the pot.

egg and flour mixture

Lesson Learned 2 – Mix the eggs in one at a time: This recipe calls for four eggs, which is a lot. When you first start beating the eggs in, the batter somewhat separates into smaller pieces. Continue mixing until the batter becomes smooth again. Then add the next egg and continue the same process until you’ve beaten in all the eggs.

beat eggs in one at a time

When you’ve finished beating in the eggs the batter should be nice and smooth as shown in the picture below.

the finished batter

Lesson Learned 4 – Use a heavy duty freezer bag when piping these on the baking sheet: The batter is heavy and a little thick. If you use a regular gallon size plastic bag it will probably split due to the weight and thickness of the batter. I used a heavy duty freezer bag and had no problem piping the batter onto the baking sheet.

Lesson Learned 5 – How to pipe the batter: First you need to get the batter into the freezer bag which can be quite tricky. I found the best way to do this is to get a large measuring cup (4 cups or larger), place the bag in the cup pushing the bottom of the bag down to the bottom of the cup and folding the sides of bag the over the sides of the cup. This gives you a fairly large supported opening so that you can use both hands to hold the bowl and transfer the batter into the bag. Once the batter is in the bag, seal the bag pressing out any air as you seal it. Cut a quarter inch slit in one corner of the bottom of the bag and twist the top to form a homemade pasty bag. Start piping the batter around the outer circumference of the circle you’re piping and continue to make smaller circles until you fill the inner part of the circle completely.

batter piped on to a baking sheet

These tasty little morsels are even good the next day. You can re-warm them in the microwave for a few seconds or in the oven wrapped in foil at 350 for about 10 minutes. But be careful. These taste so good you’ll want to eat them all up at once right out of the oven. Enjoy!

SAVORY PROFITEROLES...

  • Servings: 2 Dozen
  • Difficulty: Easy To Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

savory profiterole

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup water

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup flour

4 large eggs

1 cup gruyere cheese, shredded

1/2 cup havarti cheese, shredded

2 Tbs. chives, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Put the butter, water and salt in a sauce pan. Heat until the butter is completely melted. Keeping the heat on, add one cup of flour and stir continuously until the mixture becomes dough-like.

Take the mixture off the heat and transfer it into a mixing bowl. Let it cool for a couple of minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time until each one is thoroughly incorporated. Add the cheese and chives and stir until combined.

Transfer the mixture into a heavy duty freezer bag. Seal the bag, pressing out the air as you seal it. Cut a quarter inch slit in the corner of the bag. Pipe the batter in circles onto the baking sheet (see lesson learned 5 above).

Bake for 20-25 minutes (I needed to bake mine for 25 minutes). Serve immediately or keep warm until ready to serve.

savory profiterole

The Inside of the Profiterole

Savory Profiterole

Chocolate Sour Cream Cake…

Sometimes when you’re grumpy the only thing that will bring you out of it is chocolate. Such was the case with me this week. For some reason I’ve had a major grump on lately and so finally I decided to do something about it – hence this recipe.

I’m a big fan of chocolate cake but I’m not a big fan of overly sweet chocolate cake. I find the cake mixes you buy in the grocery stores are borderline sickeningly sweet so I prefer to make homemade. This cake is full of chocolate flavor and not overly sweet. The flavor and texture remind me of a flourless chocolate cake. This cake is so good that once my husband and I took a bite of it we both agreed I needed to bring it to work otherwise we knew we would devour the whole thing in short measure all by ourselves. Better to let my co-workers devour it. And devour it they did.

So let’s talk chocolate sour cream cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – I found a neat trick for flouring a bundt pan: I don’t know about you, but I’ve always struggled with flouring a bundt pan once I’ve greased it. And especially with bundt pans, you need to make sure that the grease and flour hug every curve of the pan otherwise you’ll never get your cake out. I used to put flour in the pan and then stand over the garbage can and rotate it while tapping the sides. I knew I had to get the flour all the way to the top of the pan and I didn’t want to get flour all over the floor.

Then I read somewhere  an easier way to flour a bundt pan. Once you grease the pan and add some flour to it, cover the pan with plastic wrap. Then you can tap away to your heart’s content, get all of the sides floured and not worry about making a big mess. It was so much easier flouring the pan this way.

Lesson Learned 2 – The chocolate mixture will be thin and runny: This recipe calls for cooking the butter, cocoa powder and salt with some water. This combination makes a very runny mixture as evidenced in the picture below. Don’t worry about that. I found that providing the chocolate component to the recipe this way resulted in a somewhat thinner batter but an extremely moist cake. People were gushing as to how moist this cake is.

IMG_0165

Lesson Learned 3 – This cake does not rise a lot so use a smaller bundt pan if you want a taller cake: I used a 12 cup bundt pan and the cake was a nice size but not as tall as some bundt cakes I’ve made in the past. The only leavening you use in this recipe is 1 teaspoon of baking soda so the cake does not rise very high. The cake was still super moist and I preferred this portion size, but if you’re a fan of a taller bundt cake you can use a 10 cup pan to achieve that effect.

IMG_0284

Lesson Learned 4 – The frosting in this recipe is to die for: I approached the frosting differently and was genuinely pleased in both the flavor and consistency. The frosting in not overly sweet and has a nice thick texture to it. This frosting does not contain any confectioners sugar. It is a combination of chocolate, corn syrup (I used an organic light corn syrup with organic vanilla flavor), heavy cream and a touch of sugar. It was fabulous!

IMG_0210

I think this will become my go-to chocolate cake recipe. My husband loved it and my co-workers devoured it. I hope it becomes your go-to chocolate cake recipe as well!

CHOCOLATE SOUR CREAM CAKE…

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
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CAKE INGREDIENTS Chocolate Sour Cream Cake

1 cup unsalted butter, plus butter to grease the pan

1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup water

2 cups flour, plus some for the pan

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 tsp. baking soda

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

FROSTING INGREDIENTS

2 ounces semi sweet chocolate, chopped

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 1/2 Tbs. corn syrup (I used organic light corn syrup with organic vanilla flavor)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 Tbs. sugar

1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate morsels, for decoration (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10 or 12 cup bundt cake pan and set aside.

In a small saucepan combine the butter, cocoa powder, salt and water and melt over medium heat. Continuously stir the mixture until everything is melted and combined. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar and baking soda. Add half the melted butter mixture to the flour mixture and whisk until blended. Add the remaining butter mixture and stir until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking until each is completely blended. Add the sour cream and vanilla and whisk until combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared bundt pan. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes (my cake was done at 42 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes and then invert the pan to remove the cake. Let the cake cool completely before frosting.

Put the chopped chocolates and the corn syrup in a bowl and set aside. Combine the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan and, over medium heat, stir until the cream is hot and the sugar has dissolved. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and whisk until smooth.

Pour the frosting over the cake. Decorate the cake with the chocolate morsels.

Chocolate Sour Cream Cake

Chocolate Sour Cream Cake

Chocolate Sour Cream Cake

Savory Scallion And Cheese Bread…

The other night I just wanted to try something different. I know I can always whip up an artisan bread loaf but I wanted to try a more savory type of bread and decided to make this one. I will admit I made it twice because the first time something just did not seem right and I’ll explain why in my lessons learned. The second time, with the adjustments I made, I nailed it!

I love this bread for a variety of reasons. It is not designed to be a sandwich bread that’s for sure. This bread is a great accompaniment to almost any dinner you serve and it is fabulous reheated. So let’s talk savory scallion and cheese bread and I’ll share what I learned making it…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be very picky about the olive oil you use: The first time I made this bread with off-the-shelf Bertoli extra virgin olive oil. Big mistake! Now I’ve got nothing against Bertoli’s olive oil and I use it on a regular basis for my basic cooking needs. But the olive oil used here is designed to help enhance the flavor of the bread and so a basic cooking olive oil does little for that. As a matter of fact I felt it gave an unusual, almost borderline bitter flavor to the bread.

The second time I used garlic infused olive oil that a I got from a specialty shop – what a difference! This oil enhanced the bread and made a big difference in the flavor. So make sure you are using a good flavorful olive oil when making this bread.

Pepper Jack Cheese

Pepper Jack Cheese Cubes

Lesson Learned 2 – Choose good melting cheese: The first time I made this I used gruyere. I like gruyere but I didn’t think it did much for the bread. The second time I made the bread I used emmenthaler cheese. Now what’s emmenthaler you ask. Same here, I had no idea what emmenthaler was before I made this bread. Emmenthaler is actually swiss cheese. It is savory but not overpowering and it melts divinely. It is quite often used in fondues.

I actually used a combination of cheeses – I used shredded emmenthaler and cubed pepper jack. The pepper jack and cayenne pepper give the bread a nice but not overpowering bite. So those are the cheeses I recommend when making this recipe.

Emmenthaler Cheese

Emmenthaler Cheese

chopped scallionsLesson Learned 3 – Learn how to adapt: The recipe I adapted this from called for 1/3 cup of whole milk. I did not have any whole milk in the house but I had heavy cream and 2% milk. I filled the measuring cup three quarters of the way up with heavy cream and then filled the rest in with the 2% milk. I loved the way it turned out and I think the heavy cream did a lot to enhance the flavor of the bread.

You could also use chives or other herbs to enhance the flavor of the bread. I had scallions in the refrigerator so I chose to use them and that added great depth of flavor!

Lesson Learned 4 – This bread is divine reheated: When I was getting ready to make dinner the other night I cut a few pieces of the bread and put them in aluminum foil. I set my toaster oven to 350 and put the bread in for 20 minutes. It was fabulous!

I don’t often make savory breads so I’m very pleased with how this one turned out. The only changes I would recommend when making this at sea level is to increase the amount of baking powder from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon and to perhaps shorten the cooking time by about five minutes or so.  Other than that, everything else remains the same. Enjoy this one!

Savory Scallion And Cheese Bread…

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 3/4 cups of flour, sifted

1 tsp. baking powder (use 1 Tbs. for sea level baking)

1 1/2 tsp. of salt

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

3 large eggs, room temperature

1/3 cup whole milk (I used a combination of heavy cream and 2%)

1/3 cup garlic infused olive oil (or your olive oil of choice – good flavorful olive oil)

1 1/4 cup grated emmenthaler cheese (swiss cheese)

2 ounces pepper jack cheese, diced in small pieces

1/2 cup minced scallions

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. In another bowl whisk the eggs until they are frothy. Combine the milk and olive oil with the eggs and whisk together.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients until just combined – do not over mix. Stir in the cheeses, scallions and walnuts and mix until combined.

Prepare an 8 x 4 loaf pan by either using butter or cooking spray. Put the batter into the pan and smooth out to the edges. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes (I baked to 45 minutes but I am at high altitude – I began checking the bread at 35 minutes) or until the bread is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Put the pan on a cooling rack and immediately run a knife along the edges to loosen the bread from the pan. After cooling in the pan for 5 minutes, remove the bread and let it cool on a wire rack (or once it has cooled slightly you can serve it warm).

Bread Ingredients

Savory Scallion And Cheese Bread

Savory Scallion And Cheese Bread

 Savory Scallion And Cheese Bread

Holiday Raspberry Walnut Bars…

Sorry I haven’t posted for a while. The holidays have been crazy and I haven’t had my usual time to experiment in the kitchen. But to keep in the tradition of trying to post at least once a week, I am going to share a cookie recipe from back in the day.

This is a reprint of a blog I did a couple of years ago. It is such a great holiday recipe that I wanted to give it some prime time, especially now that I have more readers and subscribers. I guarantee you, you cannot go wrong with this recipe. It will be a hit in your holiday cookie baking arsenal!

Raspberry Walnut Bars

Raspberry Walnut Bars

There’s a lot of reasons for this recipe being so popular. First, and probably foremost, it looks so darn delicious. Second, and not known by those requesting the recipe, it is sinfully easy to make. And third, the recipe turns out perfect first time, every time. I can’t take credit for the recipe, it was one I found a few years ago, I simply can’t remember where I found it. So up front I apologize to whomever I am not giving credit to for the actual recipe.

Lesson Learned 1: The hardest thing about this recipe is preparing the pan. The recipe calls for lining a 8 inch square pan with parchment paper allowing some overhang on both sides. Trying to keep parchment paper from popping back out of the pan when you allow for overhang can be tricky. I found the easiest way to make the parchment paper behave is to take two heavy cans of anything and weigh down the paper in the pan while making the dough. That way when it’s time to spread the dough out on the bottom the paper has been somewhat trained and doesn’t jump around as much.

Lesson Learned 2: It is important to follow the directions of using the parchment paper, having the overhang and spraying the parchment paper with cooking spray. I can’t image what you would wind up with if you didn’t. But if you take the time to do it, it comes out of the pan easily and absolutely nothing sticks to the parchment paper.

Lesson Learned 3: This recipe gives you plenty of dough so don’t worry about using it to fill up the bottom. It says to use two thirds of the dough for the crust and one third to dot the top. I found that gave me way too much dough for the top. You need a lot less dough to dot the top then you think, so don’t be afraid to use more than two thirds of the dough for the crust.

Lesson Learned 4: Avoid the temptation to use too much raspberry jam. A nice even thin coat is all you need. Stick to the amount called for in the recipe.

Lesson Learned 5: Depending on how many bars you want to give out, you may have to make this recipe a couple of times. You can make the bars big or small, but the most you’ll probably get out of this recipe is 24 small bars.

I guarantee these bars will be a hit with your family and friends. You simply must try them!

Raspberry Walnut Bars…

  • Servings: 24 Small Bars
  • Difficulty: Easy-Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

Non stick baking spray

1 3/4 cups flour

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 large egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla

2/3 cup raspberry jam

1 cup chopped walnuts

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper leaving an overhang on both sides. Spray the parchment paper with cooking spray. (I do this right before I am ready to put the dough into the pan).

In a medium bowl whisk the flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside. Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. (This does take a little time, most people do not do this thoroughly enough so make sure to take the time to make the mixture fluffy). Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture until combined. Do not over mix. Transfer two thirds of the dough into the prepared pan and press down evenly. Spread the jam on top. Crumble the remaining dough and dot it over the jam. Sprinkle the top with the walnuts. Bake until golden 35-45 minutes. Cool completely in the pan. (this is very important).

Holding both sides of the parchment paper, lift out of the pan, transfer to a cutting board and cut into rectangles. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Raspberry Walnut Bars

Maple Pear Walnut Skillet Cake

I have to admit I made this a few weeks ago, but it’s a pretty busy time of year and I made several recipes in one week so that I could keep up my goal of doing weekly posts on this blog. This is a great cake on a variety of levels. First, it’s a heck of lot easier to make than it looks, second it takes no time to put this together (most of the work involves pealing and slicing the pears) and third you wind up with a cake that looks professionally made.

So let’s talk maple pear walnut skillet cake…

PearsLesson Learned 1 – The right amount of pears to use is not an exact science: This recipe is made in a ten inch cast iron skillet. When I made it I used pears from my neighbor’s tree which were smaller than ones you buy in the store. I think I used about 6-8 pears for the decorative top. If using larger pears, I think you could get away with using no more than three. I would err on the side of too much rather than too little. If you have four pears on hand and you only need three you have one to enjoy later. And remember, if the pears look like they’re starting to oxidize and turn brown before you put them in the pan, just sprinkle a little lemon juice over them and that will help keep them looking good.

Lesson Learned 2 – Even with a seasoned cast iron pot a few pears might stick to the pot when it comes time to invert it: No worries here. Even though a couple of my pears stuck, they easily peeled off the bottom of the pan and I could place them back in the spots they’d vacated on the cake. Judging by the pictures you’d never know that happened. I just felt compelled to let you know that even the best of cooks have to make these types of adjustments from time to time. As Julia Child used to say, “Whose to know…”

Maple Pear Walnut Skillet CakeLesson Learned 3 – Always remember, cast iron retains heat for quite some time: When you go to invert the cake, the cast iron skillet will still be very hot! Remember to use oven mitts when you do this part of the process. You will not be able to handle the skillet without some type of protection from the heat at that point.

This cake couldn’t be easier, especially for how dramatic it looks. You layer the pears on the bottom of the pan, spoon the cake mixture over the pears and carefully spread it out to the sides of the pan making sure not to disturb the pears in the process. Then you bake it, flip it, (do any final fixes if you need to) and you’re done. Take a walk on the wild side and try this one. Even though it may look intimidating, it really is easy and oh so delicious!

Maple Pear Walnut Skillet Cake

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Pear Topping:

4 Tbs. unsalted butter

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup good maple syrup

Pears (3-4 large, 6-8 small)

1/2 – 3/4 cup walnut pieces (this will be your preference)

Cake:

1 1/4 cup flour, plus 1 Tbs. for high altitude

1 1/2-2 tsps. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup good maple syrup

2 extra large eggs, room temperature

DIRECTIONS:

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a seasoned ten inch cast iron skillet, melt the 4 Tbs. of butter. Spread the butter out to cover the skillet making sure to include the sides of the skillet. Add the brown sugar and maple syrup and whisk until dissolved. Remove from the heat and arrange the pears on top of the butter-sugar-syrup mixture. Sprinkle with walnuts and set aside.

In a large bowl sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In another bowl mix together the yogurt and vanilla. Set aside. Using a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add maple syrup and mix until combined. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until combined. Add the dry ingredients and the yogurt mixture, alternating between the two and beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Do not over mix.

Carefully drop the batter by large spoonfuls all over the pears. Spread batter out to the edges of the pan being careful not to disturb the pears.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out cleanly. Cool the cake for 10-15 minutes on a wire rack.

Run a knife along the edges of the skillet. Carefully invert the cake on to a plate. (Be careful, the cast iron skillet will still be very hot). If any pears stick to the bottom of the pan, peel them off and place them back on top of the cake.

The Pears And Walnuts At The Bottom Of The Skillet

Pears And Walnuts Arranged At The Bottom Of The Skillet

Drop The Batter In Large Balls On Top Of The Pear Mixture

Batter Dropped In Large Clumps Over The Pear Mixture

Spread The Mixture Over The Pears

Batter Spread Over The Pear Mixture

Right Out Of The Oven

Right Out Of The Oven

Maple Pear Walnut Skillet Cake

Maple Pear Walnut Skillet Cake

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake…

Just about everyone has their favorite chocolate cake recipe. I like to experiment with various recipes, give them a spin of my own, and this time I think I really hit the jackpot. If you want an easy to make, moist – and I do mean moist – dark, luscious and oh so chocolatey cake, this is the recipe for you. And it’s perfect for your holiday table!

I can’t take credit for the frosting. I stole it from Ina Garten and want to make sure she gets full credit for it. I wanted a buttercream frosting, but I can see this cake being equally delicious with a chocolate ganache.

So let’s talk about the ultimate chocolate cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – The batter will be thin: I am used to a somewhat thicker batter and so I was surprised that this batter was thin, almost runny. Don’t let that worry you. Just bake it until the top is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes.

The Cake Right Out Of The Oven...

The Cake Right Out Of The Oven…

Lesson Learned 2 – Using coffee to enhance the flavor of chocolate: I found out that just a little bit of coffee added to a chocolate recipe really enhances the flavor of the chocolate. Whether it be brewed coffee, espresso powder or instant coffee granules, using coffee as an ingredient kicks up the chocolatey flavor in baking. This recipe calls for 1/2 cup of brewed coffee. Just make sure that coffee is either just slightly warm or room temperature. If you add hot coffee to the batter you’ll scramble the egg and you don’t want to do that.

Lesson Learned 3 – Baking with cocoa powder: I don’t know about you but my cocoa powder always seems to have big lumps in it making it difficult to get a smooth batter once it is incorporated This time I sifted the cocoa powder before adding it in and that did the trick. It was a lot easier to get a smooth batter.

Good quality chocolateLesson Learned 4 – Thoughts on buttercream frosting: As I mentioned earlier, I used Ina Garten’s recipe for the frosting. Ina always says the better the ingredients you use, the better the flavor. It’s so true. If you use this particular frosting recipe, make sure you use good quality semi-sweet chocolate. I used Ghirardelli chocolate in the frosting. The frosting was divine.

Also, keep in mind that the main ingredient in buttercream frosting is butter. When you make it, the frosting will be soft and smooth. If you choose to refrigerate the frosted cake, the frosting will get harder, just like butter does when it’s put back into the refrigerator. And since there is so much butter in the frosting you’re going to want to refrigerate anything that doesn’t get eaten immediately. So, if you’re planning on serving cake that has been stored in the refrigerator, you can take it out and let the frosting soften up a little. Or you can serve the frosting cold. The frosting is so good it’s delicious either way.

The Frosting...

The Frosting…

 This recipe would make great cupcakes as well. You’ll never make a more moist or chocolatey cake. Try this recipe and see what you think. Enjoy!

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake…

  • Servings: 16
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Cake:

1 extra large egg, room temperature

1 cup sugar

6 ounces vanilla greek yogurt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup brewed coffee, warm or room temperature – not hot

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 cup flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

Frosting:

6 ounces good semisweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 pound unsalted butter, room temperature

1 large egg yolk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup + 1 Tbs. granulated sugar

1 Tbs. instant coffee granules (I used hazelnut granules)

2 tsp. hot water

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 9 x 9 baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl combine egg, sugar, yogurt and vanilla. Whisk until smooth and combined. Sift the cocoa powder and add it in along with the brewed coffee. Whisk until smooth and free from lumps.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Combine with the wet ingredients and whisk together until fully incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cake cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting: In a microwave safe bowl, heat the chocolate on high power in 30 minute intervals, stirring until the chocolate is melted. (The chocolate will probably come out of the microwave with a few softened pieces still intact, but stirring will get them to melt. You want to be careful not to overheat the chocolate, so make sure you try to make the stirring complete the process.) Set aside to cool a little.

In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment beat the butter until smooth and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat for an additional minute. (Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.) Add the confectioners sugar and slowly beat until combined. In a small bowl dissolve the instant coffee granules in the hot water. Slowly beat the coffee and chocolate into the butter mixture.

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake

Iced Cranberry Orange Walnut Cookies…

It’s cranberry season, my favorite time of year. I love cooking and baking with cranberries. Their tartness adds zip to both sweet and savory recipes. I especially like them in cookies. I think they balance out the sweetness in cookie recipes and add a festive flavor.

Now need I mention that it is also getting very close to holiday baking season, and every year I try out at least one new cookie recipe. I saw a version of this recipe in an Allrecipes magazine and tweaked it not only from an ingredient perspective but also to adapt it to high altitude baking.

High altitude baking can be tricky and unless you purchase a cookbook specifically written for high altitude baking you are most likely using ingredient amounts designed for sea level. The higher the altitude the lower the air pressure which makes it difficult for the baker. Baking depends on specific interactions of various ingredients such as flour, leavening, fats and liquid. Those interactions change with a change in air pressure. And to make matters worse, baking at 3,500 feet is different from baking at 5,000 feet and as you continue to rise in elevation the trickier it gets. I live at a 5,000 feet and have done a lot of research into how to adapt recipes for that elevation and still have some baking failures. But the more you do it, the better you get at it. The additions to this recipe are specifically designed for baking these cookies at 5,000 feet. I played around with the ingredients and I nailed it! But since many of you are probably at sea level I will use sea level amounts as the base and note what needs to be changed for high altitude.

IMG_8408Lesson Learned 1 – Use the juice from fresh oranges: Fresh ingredients are always the best. This recipe requires both orange zest and juice. Don’t take the easy way out and use bottled orange juice. Plus take a look at the amount of sugar in your orange juice. It’s crazy the amount of sugar there is a most juices. It can be anywhere from 10 to 30 grams. That’s a lot of sugar. Use fresh juice. Any small way that you can control the amount of sugar in anything you make is a good thing.

Cookie batter and scoopLesson Learned 2 – Use a cookie scoop to ensure even amounts of cookie dough: When I was growing up most cookie recipes would say drop the dough in rounded teaspoons or tablespoons onto the cookie sheet. That wasn’t very precise and you want to make sure you can, to the best of your ability, make each cookie the same size. That way every cookie will bake evenly versus having some baked and others raw or burnt.

These days you can purchase what looks like a small ice cream scoop to make the cookie dough virtually the same size on your baking sheet. Working with them can be a little tricky so here is a helpful hint: spray the inside of the scoop with baking spray before scooping any dough. That way the dough will release more easily. I found that even with using baking spray the scoop gets pretty gummed up after scooping out a dozen or so cookies. Once you’ve filled your baking sheet, put your dirty scoop into a glass of warm water. When you’re ready to scoop out more dough, take a paper towel, wipe the inside clean and spray it again. This may sound like a lot of work but the results are evenly sized, evenly baked cookies.

Cooking dough on the baking sheet

Lesson Learned 3 – How to glaze cookies: I’m not a professional baker nor do I have some of the tools that professional bakers have namely pastry bags and decorator nozzles. When I glaze cookies I put the glaze in a plastic bag, work it into one of the bottom corners, twist close the top of the bag and snip the corner where the glaze settled. Voila, a home made pastry bag! Here are a couple of helpful hints for glazing cookies and working with a homemade pastry bag:

  1. Open the plastic bag and put it in a tall drinking glass, spreading the bag open as widely as you can inside the glass. Now you have an easy way of pouring the glaze into the bag and both of your hands are free to do this.
  2. Snip only a very small portion off of one of the corners of the bottom of the bag. That way you’ll have a manageable stream of glaze when decorating your cookies.
  3. Put a sheet of wax paper under a cooling rack and put your cookies on the cooling rack before glazing. That way clean up will be a breeze.
  4. Just free flow the glaze over your cookies. You can do each cookie individually or do one long strip back and forth over a row of cookies. Have fun with it.
  5. Let the glaze set before storing them. Touch the glaze and if feels firm then you’re ready to store them.

These are fabulous cookies and perfect for a holiday get-together. You really should try these and let me know what you think. Enjoy!

Iced Cranberry Orange Walnut Cookies

  • Servings: 4 dozen cookies
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Cookie Dough:Iced Cranberry Orange Walnut Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar (minus 1 Tbs. for high altitude)

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar (minus 3/4 Tbs. for high altitude)

1 egg, room temperature

1 tsp. orange zest (1 large orange will give you the zest and juice you need)

2 Tbs. orange juice (plus 2 Tbs. for high altitude)

2 1/2 cups flour (plus 2 Tbs. for high altitude)

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 cups chopped fresh cranberries

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Glaze:

1/2 tsp. orange zest

3-4 Tbs. orange juice

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375. Cream together butter and sugars. Beat in egg until thoroughly combined. Add zest and juice and combine.

In a separate bowl sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Add in batches to the butter/sugar mixture and mix until combined. Stir in the cranberries and walnuts by hand.

Drop dough in rounded tablespoons (the cookie scoop will do this perfectly for you) two inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 – 14 minutes (mine baked in 13 minutes – sea level baking on average takes less time). Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

For the glaze: combine all ingredients together. Drizzle glaze onto the cookies. Let the cookies stand until the glaze has set and then store.

Iced Cranberry Orange Walnut Cookies

IMG_8456

Iced Cranberry Orange Walnut Cookies

Pumpkin Cranberry Nut Bread…

So after making my pumpkin cream cheese sweet bread I had some leftover pumpkin puree. Since  I didn’t want to waste it and the sweet bread was such a big hit I thought I’d try making another type of sweet bread using the leftovers.

What I like about this bread is it combines some of my favorite Fall flavors – pumpkin, cranberry and orange. Then you throw in a little chopped pecans and you’re in sweet bread heaven.

So let’s talk some pumpkin cranberry nut bread…

Cover the cranberries with orange juiceLesson Learned 1 –   Plump the dried cranberries for even more flavor: I had a bag of cooking and baking julienne sliced cranberries and I was able to give them an extra body and boost by soaking them in warm fresh orange juice. Yum!

In a microwavable bowl I just poured the juice of one large orange over a half cup of the cranberries, put plastic wrap over the bowl, slit the wrap to vent and heated the mixture for 45 seconds.  Then I let the mixture sit covered in the plastic wrap for at least 5 minutes and voila, plumped cranberries. You may have done this process before with raisins, and it works the same for dried cranberries. Plus it gives the cranberries an extra boost of orange flavor.

Lesson Learned 2 – I adapted this recipe from a muffin recipe: Almost any muffin recipe can be adapted into a sweet bread recipe. You just have to remember to bake it longer. I took the guess work out for you. I started checking the bread at 30 minutes and wound up baking it for an additional 15 minutes, checking the loaf every 5 minutes. My determination is, based on your oven and where you live, the bread should be baked for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dryLesson Learned 3 – You don’t need any mixer for this recipe:  Just combine the wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls, make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Mix until just combined – don’t over mix. It couldn’t be easier.

This bread is incredibly easy to make. So if you’re looking for a great Fall treat that’s full of flavor and requires hardly any effort on your part, this is the recipe for you! Enjoy!

Pumpkin Cranberry Nut Bread…

  • Servings: 14-16 slices
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup dried cranberries (I used cooking and baking cranberries, julienned)

The juice of one large orange

2 cups flour, plus 1 Tbs. for high altitude

2/3 cup granulated sugar, measure slightly less for high altitude

1 Tbs. pumpkin spice blend

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/2 tsp. salt

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup canned pumpkin

1/2 cup milk, you can used reduced fat milk

2 extra large eggs

The zest of one large orange

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat your oven to 350. Zest the orange. Cut the orange and juice it. Place the cranberries in a microwavable bowl and pour the orange juice over them. Take plastic wrap and cover the top of the bowl, cutting a small slit in the center to vent the steam. Microwave for 45 seconds. Set aside and let the cranberries steep for at least 5 minutes.

In a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, pumpkin spice blend, baking powder, and salt. Whisk in the chopped pecans. Drain the cranberries and put them in another large bowl. Add the somewhat cooled melted butter (you don’t want the eggs to scramble) the canned pumpkin, milk, eggs and orange zest. Stir until just combined.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the bowl. Mix with a spoon or spatula until just combined.

Spray the bottom and sides of a 9 x 4 loaf pan with cooking spray. Pour the batter into the pan. Smooth the top of the batter with a spatula making sure the batter has reached into all corners and the top is even.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the loaf rest in the loaf pan for 15 minutes then remove it to a wire rack. Cool completely.

Pumpkin Cranberry Nut Bread

 Pumpkin Cranberry Nut Bread

Pumpkin Cranberry Nut Bread

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Sweet Bread…

It’s that time of year, my favorite time of year – Fall. I love everything about Fall, the cooler crisp weather, the fabulous colors, the onset of professional football, but most of all I love the food of fall. Whether it be a good ole pot of chili, a pot roast filling the house with fabulous smells or just the thought of cranking up that oven and making something sweet or savory, Fall is definitely the best time of the year for food and fun in my opinion.

And when it comes to Fall, undeniably the most popular gourd of the season is the pumpkin. Not only is it great in recipes but it also serves as one of the primary decorations that signals the coming of Halloween. So as I was sitting on my deck the other day enjoying an early morning cup of coffee and enjoying the Fall weather, I decided to make something with pumpkin in it.

Breakfast Al Fresco

Now I am far from a purist. I had absolutely no intention of cutting up a pumpkin and processing it to get some pumpkin puree. I simply turned to the canned variety. The result was absolutely fabulous. This time I took my creation to work, and it was gone within 20 minutes, so I think you’re really going to like this one.

So let’s talk pumpkin cream cheese sweet bread…

Cream Cheese FillingLesson Learned 1 – Make the cream cheese filling first: With any recipe that has filling or an internal swirl, I find it easier to make the filling first. A lot of recipes have you make the batter and then the filling. I think once the batter’s done, it makes more sense to move on to assembling the bread versus making the filling and letting the batter sit. Just remember to make sure your cream cheese is room temperature before making the filling. That way you’ll have a silky smooth batter without lumps.

This recipe makes a generous amount for the filling. I really like that the cream cheese filling is a major part of the cake and the contrast between it and the dark pumpkin batter is pleasing to the eye. This sweet bread is not only delicious but delightful to look at as well.

The wet ingredientsLesson Learned 2 – You don’t need a stand mixer for this one: I made the pumpkin batter in a stand mixer and used a hand mixer for the filling. You really only need a hand mixer. The wet ingredients combine easily and you fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients by hand. So don’t pull out the stand mixer for this one.

Lesson Learned 3 – Dividing the batter: Normally recipes like this tell you to divide the batter into fourths or thirds with the larger percentage going on the bottom and the smaller on top of the filling. I think I divided it by three-quarters to one quarter and I was really nervous that I did not have enough batter to put on top of the filling. At one point I even pulled out a butter knife and meticulously kept moving batter from the center of the pan to the edges. I felt the amount of batter around the edges was dangerously thin and at one point I just thought, oh well, what will be will be.

To my surprise, and as is verified in the pictures, the amount I had on top was more than enough. I forgot the batter has leavening agents (baking powder and soda) and that made the batter on top rise higher than I ever expected.

My advice here is to be careful. I think I’d have felt more comfortable with a slightly larger amount of batter to spread on top. But if for some reason you find yourself in the same situation as I was, don’t worry. I probably had the least amount of batter you can have on top and the bread turned out beautifully.

Cream Cheese Pumpkin Sweet Bread

Lesson Learned 4 – The challenge of knowing when it is done: Because this sweet bread has a cream cheese layer, it can be difficult to determine when it is done. Inserting a toothpick and expecting it to come out clean can be misleading, since the cream cheese will not set in the same way as the batter.

Also, depending upon your oven, the top and the sides can cook faster than the center. So, here’s what I did. I checked the bread after 30 minutes. I felt that the top and sides were cooking faster and so I tented the bread with foil making sure the foil did not touch the batter. I baked it for another 20 minutes tented and then I took off the tent. The center still looked a little too jiggly for me and so I removed the foil and baked it for another 5 minutes and then took it out of the oven. The sweet bread turned out perfectly.

Remember everyone’s oven is different. I also live in high altitude and so things normally take a little longer to bake. Start your overall time at 50 minutes and go from there. If it looks too jiggly in the center, let it bake a little longer. It sounds harder than it actually is, but believe me the end result is worth it.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Sweet Bread…

  • Servings: 10-12 Quarter Inch Slices
  • Difficulty: Easy-Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

Cream Cheese Filling

1 extra large egg, room temperature

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup sugar

3 Tbs. flour

Sweet Bread

1 extra large egg, room temperature

1 cup canned pumpkin

1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

1/4 cup sugar (7/8 of a 1/4 cup for high altitude)

1/4 cup coconut oil (in its liquid state)

1/4 cup sour cream

2 tsp. vanilla

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 cup flour (plus 1 Tbs for high altitude)

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a hand mixer, mix all the cream cheese filling ingredients until smooth. Set aside.

For the batter: In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking soda and baking powder. In another large bowl mix together (using a hand mixer) the remaining ingredients. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and gently fold them in using a wooden spoon or spatula. Continue until just combined. Do no over mix.

Spray the bottom and sides of a 9 x 4 inch loaf pan with baking spray. Pour in 2/3 of the batter mixture. Using a spatula, smooth out the mixture making sure it has spread to all sides and corners.

Pour the filling mixture on top, smoothing it out to reach all sides and corners. Add the remaining batter mixture on top of the filling. With a round edge knife or frosting spreader, smooth the remaining batter over the filling, making sure it reaches all sides and corners and covers the filling.

Bake for 50-55 minutes until cake it set. Half way through the baking process if it appears the sides  and top are cooking faster than the center, tent the loaf pan for the remaining baking time.

Let the sweet bread cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before removing it. Let it cool completely before slicing.

The Layering Process

Fresh Out Of The Oven

Fresh Out Of The Oven

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Sweet Bread

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Sweet Bread

Cinnamon Roll Cake…

I like to dabble with baking, trying new and interesting ways of creating sweet delectable treats. And let me tell you, where that’s concerned this recipe takes the cake (pun intended)! Every bite of this cake tastes exactly like a cinnamon roll. It is unbelievably good. I took some of this to work and one of my co-workers said it was an absolutely wicked treat. You must try this one.

So let’s talk about making this cake..

Lesson Learned 1 – The ingredients for the cake are a bit untraditional: Most cake recipes use a combination of baking soda and baking powder, usually a teaspoonful or less of each, as leavening agents for the batter. This particular cake recipe uses 4 teaspoons of baking powder and no baking soda. It seems like a lot of baking powder, but what that amount actually does is create a yeasty bread-like quality for the cake. You can see in the picture below the bubbles created by using the large amount of baking powder. It was interesting to see its affect on the batter. And when you think about it, cinnamon rolls tend to have a texture that’s more like bread than cake, so using the larger amount of baking powder to create that consistency makes sense.

Bubbles In The Batter

Another somewhat non traditional aspect to making the batter is adding the melted butter. Once you’ve combined all the ingredients together, you slowly add the melted butter into the batter. It is important to add it slowly so that the butter fully incorporates. I poured a little in at a time, mixed it in, and repeated that process until all the melted butter was fully incorporated into the batter. It gave the batter the luxurious consistency you see below.

The Cake Batter

Before adding the melted butter the cake batter will look a little lumpy. As you slowly add the melted butter the lumps will disappear.

Lesson Learned 2 – The cinnamon topping will be thick in consistency: A lot of cinnamon cake recipes have more of a streusel-like mixture that you incorporate into cake batter. The topping for this cake is thicker and more frosting-like as you can see from the picture below.

The Cinnamon Topping

When preparing this mixture it’s very important the butter be as soft as possible without melting it. I put the butter in the microwave and kept nuking it in 10 second increments until it was slightly runny along the edges. You can see from the picture below how soft the butter was before I mixed it with the other topping ingredients.

The Topping Ingredients

Lesson Learned 3 – How to combine the cinnamon and cake batter: Many recipes similar to this require sprinkling the topping on the batter and using a knife to swirl it down into the cake. You don’t need to do that with this recipe. All you need to do is dollop the cinnamon mixture on top and use a knife and spread it around. The cinnamon will permeate the batter while it bakes. Try to spread the mixture as close to the edges as possible. That way the end pieces will have some cinnamon in them as well.
Swirled Cinnamon Mixture

Dollop The Cinnamon On Top Of The Batter

Lesson Learned 4 – Add the glaze when the cake is still warm: Most of the time you wait for a cake to cool before you add glaze. With this recipe you add the glaze while the cake is still slightly warm. That way it seeps into the cake as well as stays on top. I prefer to make thicker glazes for this type of recipe so I combine heavy cream and milk with the vanilla and powdered sugar to get a rich, thick glaze.

Thick Rich Glaze

I hope you decide to try this recipe. It is sinfully delicious and keeps well in an air tight container. I got two thumbs up on this on this one from my co-workers and my husband!

Cinnamon Roll Cake…

  • Servings: 20-24 Squares
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:
CAKE BATTER:

Cinnamon Roll Cake

3 cups flour (plus 2 Tbs. high altitude)

4 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup sugar (7/8 cup high altitude)

1 1/2 cups milk

3 tsp. vanilla extract

2 extra large eggs

1/2 cup butter, melted.

CINNAMON TOPPING MIXTURE:

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 Tbs. flour

2 heaping Tbs. cinnamon

1 cup very soft butter

GLAZE:

2 cups powdered sugar

5 Tbs. heavy cream

2-3 Tbs. Milk

1 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together all of the ingredients for the cinnamon topping and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together all of the cake batter ingredients except the melted butter. After everything is combined, slowly add the melted butter in small amounts making sure it is thoroughly combined before adding more. Continue with this process until all of the melted butter is incorporated into the batter.

Spray a 9 x 13 dish with cooking spray. Add the batter to the dish and smooth until evenly distributed. Dollop portions of the cinnamon mixture on top of the batter. Using a smooth edged knife, swirl the cinnamon mixture all over the top of the batter getting the mixture as close to the edges of the pan as possible.

Bake for 45-50 minutes.

Mix together all of the glaze ingredients. While the cake is still slightly warm, pour the glaze all over the top of the cake. The cake keeps best when stored in an airtight container.

The Cake Right Out Of The Oven

The Cake Right Out Of The Oven

Cinnamon Roll Cake

Cinnamon Roll Cake

Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Cake…

I’ve just been loving how plentiful the strawberries are this year. And the quality of them has been outstanding. I love to bake with strawberries, but they can be tricky. Strawberries, like blueberries, have what I call the exploding factor. They explode moisture during the baking process. So, if you use too many of them or if they overly ripe you cake will fall it on itself. After a few disasters I’ve learned out to outsmart the pesky fruit and now I bake with them quite frequently.

The flavor of strawberries in a cake like this is more subtle. A co-worker even asked me what kind of fruit was in this cake. Baking them this way gives them a slight tartness that compliments the sweetness of the cake batter – a great combination. So, let’s talk about fresh strawberry yogurt cake…

StrawberriesLesson Learned 1 – Ripe strawberries are not the best for baking: Because of the exploding factor I alluded to above, ripe strawberries are not the best to bake with simply because they hold more water. In baking it’s really best to use strawberries that are only somewhat ripe. That way they release less moisture, your cake will not fall in on itself and you’ll still get that great strawberry flavor. But if your strawberries are ripe, simply use less of them. Cut them in small pieces and discard any piece that may be overly soft. When I made this recipe my strawberries were pretty ripe so I only used about 8 ounces in the cake. If you have less ripe strawberries you can use as much as 12 ounces.

And don’t use frozen strawberries with this recipe. If you do, you can be sure your cake will be a gooey mess.

IMG_6028Lesson Learned 2 – Make sure your cake is completely cool before icing it: I don’t know about you but I’m always in a hurry to put the icing on the cake. I rationalize that if it’s only slightly warm it will be ok. Wrong – o! Even if the cake is slightly warm, the icing will melt into the cake. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you want your icing visible be patient and wait until the cake has cooled. The cake will taste great and you will be awarded visually as well!

I took this cake to work and the slices were gone in less than one half hour. This is a very moist and flavorful cake. Try it and let me know what you think.

Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Cake...

  • Servings: 16
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 1/4 cup flour, (add 1 Tbs. for high altitude)

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice (you’ll need 2 lemons for this recipe)

1/2 tsp. lemon zest

3 large eggs, room temperature

8 oz. vanilla Greek yogurt

8 – 12 oz. fresh strawberries, sliced small (use lesser amount if strawberries are ripe)

Vegetable shortening and flour to prepare the Bundt pan

ICING:

1 cup powdered sugar

1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. lemon zest (I used the zest of one small lemon)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a 12 cup Bundt pan. Set aside. Zest and juice the lemons. Set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Using a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Add the eggs one at a time until each is thoroughly incorporated. Add the lemon juice and zest and beat for another minute.

Add the dry ingredients and yogurt to the mixture, starting out and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. (Scrape the sides of the bowl and under the beater blade to make sure everything has been combined).

Gently fold in the strawberries. Pour into the prepared ban. Reduce the heat in the oven to 325 and bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes. Remove the cake from the Bundt pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice and zest. Drizzle over the cooled cake.

Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Cake

 Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Cake

Lemon Crumb Cake…

Sometimes you just want something quick and easy. This is that kind of recipe. I don’t know about you but there are days when I just don’t want to drag out all the paraphernalia in order to make something that looks and tastes good. This particular recipe requires no stand mixer, food processor, or blender. Just a bowl for the dry and wet ingredients and a small pan to melt butter.

Let’s talk Lemon Crumb Cake…

Perfect Crumble ConsistencyLesson Learned 1 – The crumb topping: Only three ingredients make the topping – flour sugar and melted butter. I found the best result for making the topping is to add 1 additional tablespoon of flour to the 1/3 cup called for in the recipe. That way you get a nice crumble without the mixture being too moist. The crumb topping is easy to do. Just melt the butter and combine it with the flour and sugar. If the mixture looks too dry, add a tiny bit more melted butter. Make sure nothing is dry in the crumble. The picture here shows the perfect consistency.

Add Wet Ingredients To Dry IngredientsLesson Learned 2 – Mixing wet and dry ingredients: The rule of thumb when making a batter you mix by hand is to add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Take a wooden spoon or a spoon/spatula and mix until just combined. Make sure to check at the bottom center of the bowl – that’s were unincorporated ingredients tend to hang out. Once everything is combined, STOP. Over mixing will create a tough cake.

Lesson Learned 3 – Watch the time on this cake carefully: Ok, I’ll admit it – I had to make this cake twice to get it right. This cake, depending on your oven and what part of the country you live in, can bake from 50 minutes to 1 hour and 10 minutes. And let me tell you, it can go from moist to dry rather quickly. So keep an eye on it. I use a professional grade loaf pan and so my cake baked in 50 minutes. The time you need will depend on your oven and the bakeware you use. Keep an eye on it starting at 50 minutes.

Right Out Of The Oven

Lemon Crumb Cake…

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Topping

1/3 cup plus 1 Tbs. Flour

1/3 cup sugar

2 Tbs. melted unsalted butter

Cake

1 1/2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 5 oz. can evaporated milk

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 tsp. lemon zest

2 large eggs

Glaze (optional)

1/2 cup powdered sugar

3 tsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. lemon zest

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour the bottom and sides of an 8 x 4 loaf pan (if using a nonstick pan you only need to prepare the bottom of the pan). In a small bowl mix together topping ingredients making sure all the flour is coated with the melted butter. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl whisk together the eggs, evaporated milk, oil and lemon zest. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle the top evenly with the crumb mixture. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Check the cake at 50 minutes. You do not want to over bake this cake.

Cool the cake for 15 minutes in the loaf pan. Remove from loaf pan and let cool completely on a wire rack. The glaze is optional. The cake is delicious with or without the glaze.

Lemon Crumb Cake

 Lemon Crumb Cake

Cheesecake With Strawberry Sauce…

I promise I haven’t gone all cheese-cakey on you but every once in a while I find a recipe that I post that is not my own, nor have I adapted that is absolutely fabulous. This is one of them. It is is so good and so easy that I just had to share and give credit where credit is due.

I’ve mentioned before that over the years I’ve become a Food Network junkie. I have to admit I was more enamored with the programming several years ago, but there are still some shows that I like to watch. Trisha Yearwood’s show is one of them. I’ve tried several of her recipes and enjoyed them, but this one is just over the top.

Cheesecake With Graham Cracker CrustI happened to be watching her show recently right after I made my Lemon Raspberry Cheesecake Bars. On the show she was making a cheesecake. It has been years since I made a cheesecake and for some reason I had it in my mind that it was labor intensive and hard to make. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. After I watched her show I decided try it again.

All I can say is that it was surprisingly easy and turned out perfectly the very first time. How often can you say that about the recipe? And if you look at my pictures and the pictures on the Food Network site, the cake looks exactly the same. Perfection!

I’ll write out the recipe for you here, but will also include a link to it on the Food Network site because I need to give credit where credit is due. But I did have a couple of good lessons learned while making this, and these I will share. Enjoy this one.

Line the outside of the pan with foilLesson Learned 1 – The importance of the water bath: What do I mean by a water bath? In order to avoid having cracks in the top of your cheesecake you need to bake it in a water bath. Once you prepare a springform pan, create a bed of foil around the bottom of the pan as shown in the picture to the right. After you’ve filled the spring form pan with the cheesecake mixture, place it either in a lipped jelly roll pan or any lipped pan that is bigger than the spring form pan. Carefully add about a half inch of water to the lipped pan and cook the cheese cake in that water bath. The foil will prevent any water from getting into the cheesecake and the water will prevent any cracks from occurring on the top of the cake.

The top of the cheesecake with no cracksI used a lipped jelly roll pan that I filled with water half way up the side and found that about three quarters of the way through the baking process process the water had entirely evaporated. I added a little more making sure the pan had water for the entire baking time. It worked beautifully.

I recently had a conversation with a woman who was bemoaning the fact that she could never make a cheese cake that wasn’t all cracked on the top. She’d never heard of a water bath. When I showed her pictures of my cake and told her this was the first time I made one in years she was sold. I promise the water bath does the trick, and my pictures prove it!

Strawberry Sauce Ingredients

Strawberry Sauce Ingredients

Lesson Learned 2 – Definitely make the strawberry sauce: The cheesecake on its own is divine but I think it needs a little extra added something. The strawberry sauce in this recipe is a perfect accompaniment to the cheese cake. I especially like using lime zest in the sauce. I felt it really brought out the flavor of the strawberries. Of course this is not the only thing you can use to add to the cake, but this sauce took very little effort and was divine, that’s why I like it.

I just used my mini food processor and mixed all the ingredients together. You don’t need to strain the sauce as you would if you were using raspberries. The sauce is best served cold so make sure you refrigerate it for at least an hour before serving.

Keep the cheesecake in a cooling oven for an hour

Lesson Learned 3 – Keep the cheesecake in the oven for an hour after it’s done baking: Once the cheesecake is done baking, turn off the heat and leave it in the oven for an hour with the oven door partially open. This helps to finish it off and is necessary for the cheesecake to set. So don’t be over anxious and take your beautiful cheesecake out of the oven right away.

As I mentioned earlier, I did not have to change a thing in this recipe nor did I have to adapt it to high altitude (and what a joy that was!). So here is the recipe and I’ve also provided a link to it on the Food Network site below. Enjoy!

Cheesecake With Fresh Strawberry Sauce...

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

Graham Cracker Crust

1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham cracker crumbs (about 9 sheets)

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup non-salted butter, melted

Cheesecake Filling

32 oz. (four 8 oz. packages) room temperature cream cheese

2 cups sour cream (you can use light sour cream)

4 large eggs, room temperature

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 1/2 Tbs. cornstarch

2 tsp. vanilla

Strawberry Sauce

1 1/4 cup fresh strawberries, halved

1/4 cup sugar

1 small lime, zested

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Make a parchment paper cutout for the bottom of a 10 inch round springform pan. Take foil and wrap it entirely around the base and slightly up the sides of the pan. Spray the bottom of the pan with cooking spray. Put the parchment paper in the pan and spray it as well. Set aside. (I did this at the very end and prepared the crust and filling and then put it all together at once).

In a food processor, combine the the graham crackers and sugar. Pulse and then process until thoroughly combined and the crackers have a consistency of fine crumbs. Pour in a bowl and set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat the room temperature cream cheese and sour cream for about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and beat each time until thoroughly combined. (Make sure you check the bottom of the bowl occasionally to scrape up anything that may have collected down at the bottom to make sure it is all combined). Add the sugar, cornstarch and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Melt the butter. Add the melted butter to the graham cracker crumbs and mix until the crumbs take on the consistency of wet sand. Press the graham cracker mixture firmly into the bottom of the pan and up the sides.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Set the foil wrapped pan into a large lipped pan and carefully pour about 1/2 inch warm water into the large pan to create the water bath. Place in the oven and bake for one hour. Turn off the oven, open the door and let the cheesecake stand in the opened oven for one hour. Remove from the oven and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight. (I refrigerated mine overnight).

For the sauce, put the strawberries, sugar and lime zest into a small food processor and process until smooth. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

Here is the link to the recipe on the Food Network site: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/trisha-yearwood/joes-say-cheese-cheesecake-with-fresh-strawberry-sauce.html

The Graham Cracker Crust

The Graham Cracker Crust

Pour In The Filling

Pour In The Filling

The Cheesecake

The Cheesecake

The Inside of the Cheesecake

The Inside Of The Cheesecake

Cheesecake With Fresh Strawberry Sauce

Cheesecake With Fresh Strawberry Sauce

Lemon Raspberry Cheesecake Bars…

If you want a truly delicious and decadent sweet treat, this one’s for you. I haven’t made anything like a cheesecake for a long time, and I didn’t want to do the full blown thing, so I decided to make cheesecake bars and and am I ever glad I did. Plain and simple, this recipe is divine! There are few recipes I have on this blog that I think outshine the rest. For example, my recipe for Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza, or my Best Ever Meatballs, or my Iced Cinnamon Chip Cookies… (actually there are many more, but I don’t want to bore you with a long list). But this one goes straight to the top!

Not only is this insanely delicious, it is gorgeous to look at and simple to make. You can’t beat that. And so, without further adieu, here are a few lessons learned and the recipe.

IMG_5396Lesson Learned 1: Tips about the raspberry swirl: It couldn’t be easier to make the swirl. Just pop the raspberries and sugar in a food processor and voila, you have it. Be aware that you don’t need a lot for the top of the cheesecake. Less is more in creating a beautiful design. You can easily get away with only a 1/3 cup raspberries to create the design on top. I used 1/2 cup so I would have some extra to drizzle on the plate when I served the cheesecake.

IMG_5418Since you only need a small amount, don’t use a blender for this. If you have a mini blender or food processor, use that. Also you will want to strain the raspberry sauce.  There are tons of seeds that you will not want to have in your cheese cake. Use a spatula and press the juice through the strainer. It is a little bit of work but you get an incredibly smooth glistening sauce that you can use not only for the top of the bars but for serving as well.

Once you’ve made the cheesecake filling, all you have to do is dot the top with a little of the raspberry sauce as shown in the picture below. Take a sharp knife and gently swirl the sauce into the cheesecake mixture. It’s that simple. You can easily create a gorgeous design with no effort at all.

IMG_5421

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Lesson Learned 2 – Line your pan with parchment paper: I am not a big fan of using cooking spray on my good pans. I find it leaves a residue that bakes on the pan and after a while can ruin the finish. I prefer greasing and flouring pans or using parchment paper. This time I chose parchment paper. I lined the bottom and left some hanging over the side. Doing that gave me handles to pull out the cheesecake once it set. (I had to use a knife on the sides that did not have parchment paper to loosen them slightly before I lifted the cheesecake out of the pan).

IMG_5380Lesson Learned 3 – Graham Cracker Crusts: They couldn’t be easier to make. The consistency of the crust should look like wet sand as seen in the picture. Spread it evenly on the bottom of the pan and press it down flat. Also, after it is baked, make sure it’s cooled completely before pouring the cheesecake mixture on top of it.

Lesson Learned 4 – The cream cheese must be at room temperature and beat it longer than you think: You will get a lumpy cheesecake if the cream cheese is not room temperature when you beat it. And beat it for a long time. I beat the cream cheese for at least five minutes. And after that as I added each individual ingredient I beat it some more. That’s the only way you’ll get a smooth consistency to the batter.

That’s it! The hardest part of making this is the clean up. I used both my small and large food processors as well as my stand mixer so that wound up being most of the work. But was the work ever worth it. I still can’t get over how good this one is. My husband says this recipe is insanely good. Enjoy!

Raspberry Lemon Cheesecake Bars…

  • Servings: 12-14
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

IMG_5449INGREDIENTS:

Crust:

9 graham cracker sheets (1 – 1 1/4 cups)

4 Tbs. butter, melted

2 Tbs. sugar

The Filling:

2 eight ounce packages of cream cheese, room temperature

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 small lemons, juiced and zested

Raspberry Swirl

1/2 cup fresh raspberries

1 Tbs. sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line bottom of 8 x 8 pan with parchment paper, using enough paper so it can hang over the sides. (You can also use baking spray). Set aside.

Put graham crackers into a food processor. Process until you have fine crumbs. Add the sugar to the cracker crumbs. Melt the butter and add it to the mixture, stirring until the mixture resembles coarse wet sand. Take the crumbs and spread them out evenly across the bottom of the pan. Press firmly. Bake for 10 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

Place the raspberries and sugar into a small processor and beat until smooth. Put mixture into a strainer and strain until the raspberry seeds are removed from the juice. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth, at least 5 minutes. Add in the sugar and beat until combined. Add in one egg at a time and beat until completely incorporated. Add the lemon juice and zest and continue to beat until completely incorporated.

Pour the cheesecake filling on top of the cooled graham cracker crust. Using a spatula, make sure it is spread evenly over the crust. (You might even want to take the pan and, raising it up slightly, drop it back down on a hard surface to ensure the batter is evenly distributed). Spoon the raspberry mixture in dots over the top of the cheesecake mixture. Use a sharp knife to make swirls all over the top of the batter.

Bake for 35 minutes. Let the cake cool completely and refrigerate for at least three hours or over night. Cut into squares and serve.

IMG_5437

The Desired Texture Of The Cheesecake…

IMG_5462

Apple Cream Cheese Cake…

I know it’s not apple season but I had the desire to bake something with apples in it and decided to make this cake. It has a combination of some warm spices, namely nutmeg and allspice, and a heavenly cream cheese filling that compliments the flavor of the cake. And if that isn’t enough for you, once the cake is cooled you drizzle on a thick and luscious praline frosting. That’s more than enough to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth!

Cake ingredients...

Cake ingredients…

Lesson Learned 1 – Make sure the eggs are room temperature: This recipe produces a very thick batter that is mixed by hand. You can use a mixer for the cream cheese filling but I highly recommend mixing the batter by hand. That way you are less likely to over mix and wind up with a tough cake. Room temperature eggs incorporate themselves more completely into a batter and you’ll want to ensure that when mixing by hand. Also for ease of mixing, the eggs should also be slightly beaten before putting them into the batter.

Lesson Learned 2 – After you chop the apples sprinkle a little lemon juice on them to avoid browning: I am amazed how many recipes I come across that require chopped apples and don’t address what can happen to an apple once it’s peeled and cut. When an apple is cut open, an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase is released from the cells of the apple and reacts with the oxygen in the air causing the fruit to brown. Lemon juice helps keep apples from browning because it’s full of ascorbic acid and it has a low pH level. Ascorbic acid works because oxygen will react with it before it will react with the polyphenol oxidase. I know this may sound like chemistry class but it helps to explain why you need to used a little lemon juice to keep the chopped apples looking fresh until you add them into the batter. If you chop the apples right before adding them to the batter you may not need lemon juice, but I would err on the side of caution.

I used two gala apples in this recipe. That produced 3 cups of chopped apples. It takes some time to peel, core and chop the apples. Even if you plan on adding them immediately, the first pieces you chopped may still start to turn brown. The browning process can happen rather quickly. Better to sprinkle a little lemon juice over the apples so you don’t have to worry. Besides lemon juice, lime juice or cranberry juice can also generally be used to stop browning. But be aware of the flavors you might be adding into your cake. For this recipe lemon juice is the best flavor choice.

Also be aware that sprinkling lemon juice on apples will not eliminate the browning process completely. Once the lemon juice has evaporated, the apples will begin to brown as the oxygen will then begin to work on the enzymes the apple produces once it is cut. Adding a little lemon juice is designed to be a short term but very effective fix. (I used about half the juice from half a small lemon on the chopped apples).

cakecollage

Lesson Learned 3 – Do not make the frosting until the cake is completely cooled: I have to admit this is very delicious frosting. It’s really more of a thick glaze. The downside is the frosting sets very quickly. So, don’t make the frosting until you are ready to immediately drizzle it over the cooled cake. That way the frosting won’t set and too quickly you’ll get the results you see in the picture below.

IMG_5250

Lesson Learned 4 – For more flavor, you can toast the pecans before adding them to the batter and on top of the cake: Just place them in a non stick pan on the stove and heat them. Remember, nuts can burn quickly so as soon as you smell them take them off of the heat.

My husband almost single handedly ate this entire cake. He loved this one. Try it and let me know what you think…

Apple Cream Cheese Cake…

  • Servings: 12=14
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:IMG_5284

Cream Cheese Filling

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg, room temperature

2 Tbs. flour

1 tsp. vanilla

Cake

1 cup finely chopped pecans, plus some for garnish

3 cups flour, plus 2-3 Tbs. to dust the pan

1 cup sugar

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 tsp. allspice

3 large eggs, room temperature and slightly beaten

3/4 cup canola oil

3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 tsp. vanilla

3 cups finely chopped apples (gala or granny smith)

1 tsp shortening to grease the pan

1/2 lemon squeezed for its juice to put on the chopped apple pieces

Praline Frosting

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter

3 Tbs. milk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 12 cup bundt pan. Set aside. Peel core and chop the apples into small pieces. Squeeze the lemon juice over the apples as you put them in a bowl. Stir to redistribute the lemon juice every time you add more chopped apples to the bowl. Set aside.

Using a non stick pan, heat the pecans on the stove until they become fragrant. Take off the heat and set aside.

To make the filling: Beat together the cream cheese, butter and sugar until well combined. Add the egg, flour and vanilla and beat until just combined. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, nutmeg and allspice. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the eggs, oil, applesauce and vanilla. Stir just until combined (the batter will be thick). Fold in the pecans and apples.

Spoon half the batter into the prepared bundt pan, evenly distributing the batter around the pan. Top with the cream cheese filling, leaving an inch border around the edge of the pan. Top with the remaining batter.

Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, invert the cake onto the wire rack and allow to cool completely.

To make the frosting: Combine the brown sugar, butter and milk in a saucepan. Over medium heat bring the mixture to a boil whisking continuously. Boil for 1 minute (keep whisking). Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Whisk the powdered sugar in a little at a time until the frosting is smooth. Immediately drizzle over cooled cake. Garnish with pecans.

IMG_5284

IMG_5317

Blueberry Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake…

I needed something quick and easy that would use the blueberries I recently purchased. How about a coffee cake? I looked through various recipes in search of what I could adapt and found one that used ingredients I already had in the house. As with most baking recipes, I had to adapt the ingredients for high altitude (and I will include that in the recipe) but I also decided to add a cinnamon streusel topping to the coffee cake, and I can tell you that was the best accompaniment to the recipe. This coffee cake takes no time to put together and judging by how it was devoured when I took it to work, it’s a great way to have something homemade, sweet and delicious without a lot of fuss.

Here are my lessons learned when making this:

The correct consistency of the batter...

The correct consistency of the batter…

Lesson Learned 1 – Don’t be afraid to trust your gut: As I mentioned earlier, I adapted this from a recipe I found in a Taste Of Home magazine. I new I would have to adapt the recipe for high altitude, but I also think there may have been a misprint in the recipe as it did not, in my estimation, include enough milk. The original recipe called for 1/2 cup of milk. When I added that, along with the butter and egg mixture, the batter was still very dry and even slightly powdery. I knew that wasn’t right. So I began adding more milk and testing the consistency of the batter. I suggest at sea level you start with 3/4 cup of milk and check the consistency of the batter. You can always add a little more but you can’t take it away.

Because I added 4 additional tablespoons of flour (2 for each cup, a standard high altitude adjustment) I knew I might have to add a little more milk. As it was I had to double the amount of milk (I used 1 cup) and that shouldn’t be the case. So I am writing the recipe with the suggestion of using 3/4 – 1 cup of milk. As you can see the cake turned out beautifully, but would not have if I didn’t make the adjustment and trust my gut. So don’t be afraid to adjust the milk if you think the batter doesn’t look right.

IMG_5071

The butter, sugar and egg mixture…

Lesson Learned 2 – The egg, milk and butter mixture will look lumpy, and that’s ok: I am including a picture of what the egg, milk and butter mixture looks like before you add it to the dry ingredients. It looks lumpy and that’s the butter. Don’t let that bother you. It is supposed to look that way. If you don’t want to drag out your hand mixer, you can actually combine all of these ingredients at one time by hand using a whisk, which is what I did. Just make sure the butter is at room temperature before you combine all of them. It won’t work if the butter is not soft. If you choose to use a hand mixer, beat the butter and egg together first and then add the milk. Either process will work.

The consistency of the streusel

The consistency of the streusel…

Lesson Learned 3 – Making a streusel: I’ve always struggled with making a streusel. Most recipes say to either use a pastry cutter and cut the cold butter into the flour, or use two knives and do the same thing. I’ve never mastered it with knives and it seemed that every time I used the pastry cutter the butter would just stick to the blades. What I learned this time is, with patience, (what a concept) the pastry cutter actually works. The first few times I had to scrape the butter off the blades, but after a short while the butter became more incorporated into the flour and soon I was cutting the butter into the flour and got the desired pea-sized consistency necessary for a good streusel. So be patient. It actually works.

If you want something sweet that is quick and easy to make this is the recipe for you. Enjoy!

Blueberry Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS: 

2 cups flour (plus 4 Tbs. for high altitude)

3/4 cup sugar (2/3 cup for high altitude)

2 Tbs. baking powder (1 Tbs. for high altitude)

1/4 tsp. salt

1 extra large or jumbo egg, room temperature

3/4 – 1 cup milk (start with smaller amount and add more if needed)

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

2/3 cup fresh blueberries (if using frozen add to batter frozen)

2/3 cup pecans, chopped

Vegetable shortening to grease the pan

1/2 tsp. flour for dusting the blueberries (if using fresh blueberries)

CINNAMON STREUSEL TOPPING:

1/2 cup sugar

2 Tbs. ground cinnamon

1/3 cup flour

1/4 cup cold butter, cubed.

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. Grease a 9 x 9 baking pan with shortening. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, egg and butter. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and stir to combine. Slowly add small portions of additional milk to the batter if the the consistency of the batter appears too dry.

Dust the fresh blueberries with a small amount of flour and stir until the berries are slightly coated. Fold the blueberries and pecans into the batter. Spread batter into the prepared pan.

For the streusel, combine sugar, flour and cinnamon into a bowl. Cube the cold butter and cut it into the flour/sugar mixture until the mixture reaches a pea-sized consistency. Sprinkle the streusel over the batter.

Bake 35 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for at least one half hour. Cut and serve.

Coming out of the oven...

Coming out of the oven…

Blueberry Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake...

Blueberry Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake…

Servings suggestion: With a dollop of whipped cream dusted with cinnamon sugar...

Servings suggestion: With a dollop of whipped cream dusted with cinnamon sugar…

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake…

Ok, I promise I won’t inundate you with bundt cake recipes, but since I’ve not had a bundt cake pan for years and just recently bought one I simply had to have one more go at it right away. This time I tried to make a chocolate cake, not only to test the pan again but to also foray into the world of making chocolate ganache. I learned some really interesting things along the way making this recipe and I want to share them with you.

Bundt pan dusted with cocoa powder...

Bundt pan dusted with cocoa powder…

Lesson Learned 1: Dusting the bundt pan with cocoa powder instead of flour: As I mentioned in a previous post, it is imperative to take the time to grease and flour a bundt cake pan in order for the cake to come out cleanly and beautifully. You cannot skimp on this step. When I grease a bundt pan I use unsalted vegetable shortening but this time instead of dusting it with flour I dusted the pan with cocoa powder. To be honest, I’m not sure I would do it again for a couple of reasons.  First, I found it very difficult to remove the excess cocoa powder from the pan much more so than removing excess flour. It seemed like not matter how hard I tapped the pan or slightly dropped it on my butcher block the cocoa powder would not dislodge to the degree I wanted. It definitely left a heavier coating in the pan. That’s not necessarily bad, but remember cocoa powder on its own has a bitter taste and that dusting will somewhat remain on the outside of the baked cake. If you dust the pan with cocoa powder you should frost the cake. That way none of the taste of raw cocoa powder will come through. If you decide to finish off your cake by sprinkling the top with powdered sugar then dust the bundt pan with flour.

Baked cake from pan dusted with cocoa powder...

Baked cake from pan dusted with cocoa powder…

Second, I’m not sure I liked the look of the cake when I removed it from a pan dusted with cocoa powder. As you can see from the picture, the cake had, at least it seemed to me, an odd sort of matted look. I’m thinking that if I dusted the pan with flour, the cake would have looked more chocolatey brown versus looking like it had been sprayed with a light dulling lacquer. Also when I touched the cake, a darkish film would come off on my finger – I’m thinking that was a result of the combination of shortening and cocoa powder. I was not too fond of that. But, don’t get me wrong, none of this affected the tasted of the cake. The frosted cake was delicious and you could not taste the cocoa powder in anyway. I just thought I would try something a little more out of the ordinary, and though I was not 100% delighted with dusting the pan with cocoa powder, I still think this was one of the best chocolate bundt cakes I ever made!

Lesson Learned 2 – This recipe makes a lot of batter: This recipe is designed for a 15 cup bundt pan so be prepared for that. If you don’t have that large of a pan (mine is a 12 cup pan) then you will need to think of other ways to use the remaining batter. Because this recipe uses 5 eggs it rises a lot, so don’t fill your pan more than three quarters full or the batter will drip over the sides. You can do a couple of things with the rest of the batter. You can make cupcakes or you can make a small loaf cake. I chose to make a small loaf cake putting the remaining batter in a 5 x 3 x 1 mini loaf pan. I just sprayed that pan with baking spray and baked it with the bundt cake. The cake took 70 minutes to bake (remember I am at high altitude so it takes longer sometimes – at sea level you can probably bake it for 60-65 minutes) and the loaf pan took 45 minutes.

IMG_4871Lesson Learned 3 – Making chocolate ganache: This was my first attempt ever at making chocolate ganache and I have to admit I should have researched it a little more before I made it. I found a process in one recipe and used it. And although the ganache turned out ok, it was not as silky as I would have wanted it. Then someone suggested I check out YouTube and I found a process I thought was better. I made my ganache over a double boiler, melting the chocolate and butter together and then adding heavy cream that has almost come to a boil and then combining the ingredients. The result is what you see in the pictures.

The Ganache...

The Ganache…

Next time I make ganache I will use the process I learned on YouTube. It is very simple. Just put your chocolate in a bowl and heat heavy cream until it’s just about ready to boil. Pour the heavy cream over the chocolate and let the chocolate and cream sit for two minutes. Do not touch it. After 2 minutes stir to combine. Then add about a tablespoon of butter and a pinch of salt. Stir and then frost. I think the texture will be smoother and silkier making the ganache that way.  I think my ganache was a little too thick but considering it was the first time I ever made it I think I did ok. It tasted wonderful, I just wanted it to be more glaze-like and smooth. And if you have any ideas on how to make the perfect ganache, I am all ears!

Lesson Learned 4 – Never quit trying: I almost didn’t post this recipe because I was not pleased with the way the ganache turned out. And then I thought, wait a minute, isn’t this blog not only about recipe successes but also things I learned along the way while making recipes? From my experience, the only way you learn is by trying. I don’t know of any cook or baker who has not had failures in the kitchen. And although the ganache wasn’t exactly a failure, it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. But hopefully what I am sharing when I post recipes will help minimize any slips ups you have when trying them and get you to success a lot quicker. To me, that is the purpose of this blog – to help those, like me, who never had anyone to mentor them and had to learn many things in the kitchen the hard way. And I have a feeling there are a lot of people like us out there, but just afraid to admit it.

Since I made two bundt cakes within the timeframe of one week I had a lot of cake around the house. So I brought most of this cake to work yesterday. Within a couple of hours it was gone. Only a few chocolate crumbs remained on the plate in the break room. So no matter if your ganache is beautiful or not, in the end the only thing that really matters is the taste. And I’ll clue you in on a little secret – this cake tastes divine!

Here is the recipe as well as the adjustments I had to make for high altitude. Enjoy!

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake…

  • Servings: 12-16
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Cake:

1 cup cocoa powder, (more if you dust the pan with it – otherwise use 1 Tbs. of flour)

1 Tbs. unsalted vegetable shortening for greasing the cake pan

7 ounces semisweet baking chocolate, chopped finely

1 cup boiling water

2 1/4 cups flour (plus 4 Tbs. for high altitude)

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda (1 tsp. for high altitude)

1 1/4 tsp kosher salt

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

2 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar (2 1/8 cups for high altitude)

5 eggs, room temperature and slightly beaten

1 Tbs. prepared coffee, room temperature

4 tsp. vanilla

1 1/2 cups sour cream

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (1 cup high altitude)

1/8 cup flour for coating the chocolate chips

Ganache:

6 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

1 Tbs. butter

1/2 cup heavy cream

A pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour the bundt pan. Set aside.

Combine the cocoa powder and chocolate. Add the boiling water and whisk until blended and smooth. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy (at least one minute). Add the brown sugar and beat until blended. Increase the mixer speed and beat until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time and beat until each is incorporated. Add the vanilla and coffee and beat until combined.

Reduce the speed of the mixer and add the flour and sour cream in three additions beginning and ending with the flour. Pour in the chocolate, cocoa mixture and beat until the there is no light color in the batter. Combine the flour and chocolate chips and, by hand, fold the chocolate chips into the batter.

Pour the batter into the pan being careful not to fill it more than 3/4 full. Bake for 60-70 minutes (70 minutes high altitude) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 15 – 20 minutes (I cooled mine for 20 minutes). Invert the pan onto the wire rack and lift off the pan.

Let the cake cool for at least 1 hour before frosting.

FROSTING:

Put the chocolate chips into a heat resistant bowl. Heat the heavy cream until almost boiling. Pour the heavy cream over the chips and let that mixture stand without touching it for two minutes. After two minutes stir the mixture until the chocolate and cream are combined and smooth. Add the butter and salt and stir to combine. Immediately pour over the cooled cake.

The cake batter...

The cake batter…

The cake right out of the oven...

The cake right out of the oven…

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake...

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake…

Cherry Vanilla Yogurt Bundt Cake…

I haven’t made a bundt cake in a long, long time. Every time I think of a bundt cake, I remember the scene from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” when the Millers bring a bundt cake to the Portocalus family dinner and Toula’s mother Maria doesn’t have a clue what “bundt” means. That was some pretty funny stuff.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPvO53JHnmY

IMG_4659What I like about bundt cake molds are their artistry. They give a professional look to any recipe with very little effort. In recent years they’ve gotten fancy with bundt molds, from rose designs to vertical swirls, to picture cut outs that can define the top of the cake. I personally prefer the traditional bundt mold as its designed to allow glaze to fall down the sides of the cake in beautiful uniformity. With the newer molds if you glaze them you basically cover up the design. So all you can put on them and still see the design is powdered sugar. Dusting a cake with powdered sugar is fine, but I like to have a couple of options for decorating rather than being held to just one. 

This recipe is adapted from one I found on Pinterest. I had to adapt it to high altitude (and I’ll include both sea level and high altitude instructions). I also used frozen cherries instead of fresh (as cherries are not in season yet) and will explain what I discovered about doing that in my lessons learned. I have to admit I was surprised at how beautiful the cake turned out. I haven’t made a bundt cake in a long time. But I will definitely be making more in the future. Try this one, I think you will really enjoy it!

IMG_4577Lesson Learned 1 – What to think about when using frozen fruit: I’ve used frozen fruit before in recipes and normally if they’re smaller in size, like blueberries, I add them frozen. That way you don’t have to mix them with flour to ensure they will evenly distribute throughout the batter. But this particular recipe originally called for fresh cherries pitted and diced. Cherries are not in season now so all I had to work with were frozen ones. If you use frozen cherries, dice thaw and drain them first. Otherwise you will have huge pieces in the cake. Make sure you drain them well as they give off a lot of moisture. I would do this about an hour or so before making the cake to ensure you are getting out as much moisture as possible before putting them into the batter. Dice them while they are frozen and let them drain after that. It worked great as you can see by the pictures.

Lesson Learned 2 – Adapting for high altitude: This may not apply to many of you, but living in an area over 5,000 feet I’ve learned a few tricks, out of necessity, to make sure baked goods turn out as intended. In high altitude the air pressure is lower. The lower pressure causes baked goods to rise more easily and liquids to evaporate more quickly. If adjustments are not made to recipes, cakes can turn out dry or fall in on themselves due to the cell walls of the cake stretching (due to the lower pressure) until they burst. I can tell you from experience, I’ve had many, many disasters related to baking in high altitude.

In high altitude, flour acts as a strengthener in cakes. So I normally use only high altitude flour and add 1 – 2 tablespoons of additional flour per cup. In this recipe I only had to use 2 additional tablespoons of flour total. Sugars and fats act as tenderizers and need to be slightly reduced in recipes. Normally I reduce sugar by 1 – 2 tablespoons per cup, which I did in this case. And I always use extra large to jumbo sized eggs as they add strength to the batter. Sounds complicated I know, but once you’re faced with doing it on a regular basis you get use to it and to the point where you can eyeball a good batter consistency.  This particular cake turned out beautifully by adding 2 additional tablespoons of flour and reducing the sugar by 2 tablespoons per cup.

IMG_4601Lesson Learned 3 – The importance of greasing and flouring the bundt pan: Take the time needed to thoroughly grease and flour the bundt pan. This is a little more time consuming than it might look as there are more nooks and crannies than you may think. But take the time, make sure every area is well coated with grease (I used unsalted vegetable shortening), wipe away the excess and flour the bottom, walls and inside flute completely (as seen in the picture). Once I finished I took the pan and held it about an inch over my butcher block and dropped it. I repeated this process a couple of times. By doing this I was able to dislodge and discard any large amounts of flour remaining resulting in a nice even coating of shortening and flour. The cake dislodged beautifully (and easily) as you can see. This is a very important step so don’t skimp on this process.

Lesson Learned 4 – Using heavy cream in a glaze: Many glaze recipes are made with milk, water or juice. I like to add some heavy cream to the glaze. I find it gives the glaze a richer consistency. With this glaze I used 2 tablespoons of heavy cream and 2 tablespoons of milk. That may sound like a lot, but the heavy cream does not dilute the sugar in the same way as milk. I needed to add a little more milk the get the consistency I desired. Start out by using only 1 tablespoon of milk and check the consistency of the glaze before you add more.

I was so pleased with how this cake turned out. It not only tasted good but looked like it had been made by a professional baker. So if you want a great cake and want to impress your friends as well, this is definitely the one to make!

IMG_4695

Cherry Vanilla Yogurt Bundt Cake…

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 1/2 cups of flour, divided (add 2 additional Tbs. for high altitude)

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

3 cups sugar (reduce by 2 Tbs. per cup for high altitude)

3 extra large to jumbo eggs, room temperature

1 Tbs. vanilla

8 ounces vanilla Greek yogurt

8 ounces frozen cherries, diced, thawed and drained

ALMOND TOPPING:

1/2 cup sliced almonds

2 tsp. sugar

1 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted

GLAZE:

1 cup confectioners sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

2 Tbs. heavy cream

1 Tbs. milk (may need more depending on consistency)


DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Generously grease and flour a 10-12 cup bundt cake pan. Set aside.

Sift together 2 1/2 cup flour, baking soda and salt. Using a stand mixer beat together the butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs one at a time and incorporate completely. Beat in the vanilla.

Alternate adding the flour and yogurt to the butter mixture, starting and ending with adding flour. Do not over mix. Take cherries and toss with 1/4 cup flour. Gently fold the cherries into the cake batter until evenly distributed.

In another small bowl, stir together the almonds, sugar and melted butter. Scatter this mixture evenly on the bottom of the bundt pan. Pour the cake batter over the almond mixture dispersing it evenly in the pan. Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool the cake for 15 minutes. Transfer the cake to a wire rack and cool completely.

Mix together the glaze ingredients until smooth and drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake.

The Consistency Of The Batter With The Frozen Cherries Incorporated...

The Consistency Of The Batter With The Frozen Cherries Incorporated…

Put The Almond Mixture Evenly In The Bottom Of The Pan...

Put The Almond Mixture Evenly In The Bottom Of The Pan…

Distribute The Batter Evenly In The Cake Pan...

Distribute The Batter Evenly In The Cake Pan…

Cool Completely Before Glazing...

Cool Completely Before Glazing…

design

Strawberry & Raspberry Crumb Cake…

I am loving the fact that I’m at the point where I’m not afraid to experiment with recipes or afraid to make changes in them if something just doesn’t look right. And that is the story of this recipe.

I had some strawberries that were in my refrigerator for a while and I wanted to use them before they went bad. So I started researching recipes and found one for strawberry crumb bars. I basically had all of the ingredients so I decided to try the recipe.

The original recipe called for 4 cups of chopped strawberries. After chopping up what I had I found I only had 3 cups. My initial thought was to go to the store to get more strawberries. Then I remembered I had a container of raspberries in the refrigerator as well. So I thought, maybe I’ll just chop those up and combine the two berries.

Image

Now this may sound silly, but this was a big leap for me. In the past I’ve not been one to stray from recipes or tweak them in any way. But I thought, what the heck. I cooked with raspberries before. What harm could it do to combine the two. And so I did.

The original recipe also called for only one beaten egg when making the crust/crumble. When I added one beaten egg, the dry mixture still resembled dry dusty flour. I knew the consistency of crust/crumbles should be dough-like and should somewhat hold together when you squeeze it in your hand. No such luck with only using one egg. So I added another beaten egg and the consistency still wasn’t right. I added a third and finally got the correct consistency. Doing this was huge for me. In the past I would just have gone along with the recipe and wound up with a baking disaster. This time I followed my gut and my baking knowledge and wound up with a great result. So here are my lessons learned on this fabulous recipe:

Lesson Learned 1 – Trust Your Gut: As I mentioned earlier I would always follow recipes to the letter and never deviate even if something did not look right. Now I have to put in a big caveat here. Baking is very different from cooking. Your chances of making a mistake when playing around with the ingredients when baking are much higher but in this case, especially with the crust/crumble, I knew that if the dough did not somewhat stick together when I squeezed it, it would not produce the desired results. But I was also careful. I only added in one beaten egg at a time and with the third egg I put it in a little at a time just to make sure that I wasn’t adding too much. My advice on this recipe is to use two extra large to jumbo sized eggs or three regular sized eggs. Don’t dump them in all together. Put them in one at a time and check the consistency of the dough before you add more. Once the dough somewhat sticks together when you squeeze it, you’re done.

Lesson Learned 2 – This Recipe Can Be Made With Various Berry Combinations: In my case it was strawberries and raspberries but you can make this with raspberries and blueberries or strawberries and blueberries or blackberries and strawberries or whatever combination of berries you have on hand that can be baked. Just make sure you have four cups of berries because you’ll need that amount to adequately cover the top of the cake. Also make sure to try to cut the berries into equal sized pieces. And use caution when combining them with the sugar and cornstarch. Use a folding technique rather than a stirring technique so you don’t overly bruise or rip apart the berries.

IMG_4480Lesson Learned 3 – The Importance of Using Cold Butter: In order to get a flaky crumb crust/crumble the butter needs to be very cold when mixing it with the dry ingredients. Many recipes will tell you to use a pastry cutter or two knives and cut the butter into the dry mixture until the butter is a pea-shaped size. I never seem to have any luck with that process so what I did was put the dry ingredients in a food processor add the cold butter pieces and pulse all of it together to get the consistency you see in the picture to the right. Two things to keep in mind – 1: Cut the butter the very first thing and put it back into the refrigerator while you prepare the berries and dry ingredients. That way the butter will be as cold as it can possibly be when you cut it into the dry ingredients. 2: If using a food processor to incorporate the butter, hold a towel over the opening so that as you pulse you don’t get a cloud of flour coming out the top of your food processor.

Other than these few lessons learned this recipe couldn’t be easier to make and the end result is one truly delicious crumb cake. Enjoy!

Strawberry & Raspberry Crumb Cake…

  • Servings: 16
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup sugar for the dough

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

3 cups all purpose flour

1 cup cold butter cut into pieces

2-3 beaten eggs (extra large or jumbo size start with 2)

4 cups berries cut in evenly sized pieces (I used 3 cups strawberries & 1 cup raspberries)

1/3 cup sugar for berries

4 tsp. corn starch

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. Grease  9 x 13 pan and set aside. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a food processor. Hold a towel over the opening of the processor and pulse to combine. Add the cold butter pieces and pulse the mixture until the butter is the size of peas. Remove the mixture from the food processor and put into a large bowl. Add a beaten egg one at a time and stir it into the mixture. (If the consistency is correct after adding two eggs, don’t add a third). The dough is of the right consistency if it sticks together when you take a handful and squeeze it.

Take half of the dough and put it in the bottom of the prepared pan and pat it down. Carefully fold together the berries, sugar and cornstarch. Spread berries on top of the dough. Crumble the remaining dough on top of the berries.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes. Let cake cool before slicing.

Cut The Berries Into Evenly Sized Pieces...

Cut The Berries Into Evenly Sized Pieces…

Press Dough Into The Bottom Of The Pan...

Press Dough Into The Bottom Of The Pan…

Spread The Berry Mixture Over The Dough...

Spread The Berry Mixture Over The Dough…

Crumble The Remaining Dough Over The Berries...

Crumble The Remaining Dough Over The Berries…

Bake And Enjoy...

Bake And Enjoy…

Banana Bread With Cream Cheese Frosting…

There’s nothing as comforting as the smell of banana bread baking in the oven. I love banana bread and have tried various recipes that produced marginal results. But now I think I’ve found my go-to recipe and I want to share it.

One of the problems I’ve had with banana bread is wanting to make it but not planning on having ripe bananas on hand to do so. C’mon, how many of you actually plan on having ripe bananas on hand? Quite often banana bread is an after thought when you have ripe bananas and don’t know what to do with them. Personally I am not a big banana fan. I’ll eat them in banana bread or a banana split but that’s about it. So normally I do not intentionally have bananas around the house.

But I’ve discovered over many years of making banana bread that ripe bananas actually make a huge difference in the flavor of the bread. When bananas get ripe, they release their natural sugars which intensifies their flavor. It’s actually amazing. Try making this recipe with unripe bananas and then with ripe bananas. You will be amazed at the difference! But what do you do when you want to make banana bread but can’t find ripe bananas at the store (and I’ll clue you in, you probably never will). I solved that dilemma in a very simple way which I will share in my lessons learned.

IMG_4103Lesson Learned 1 – You can always have ripe bananas on hand: It’s really rather simple. Just preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place the bananas on a baking sheet and keep them in the oven for 5-10 minutes. Start checking them after 5 minutes. You want the skins to be nice and dark like in the picture to the left. I checked my bananas at 5 minutes and they just had a couple of brown spots on them. I checked them again 3 minutes later and they were almost there and finally after an additional 2 minutes they were the perfect dark color. The amount of time you’ll need to get the bananas to brown as shown in these pictures will depend on your oven and altitude.