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Cappuccino Fudge Cheesecake
9

In my neurotic holiday menu planning mind, no holiday celebration would be complete without a killer cheesecake.  Now, for the past 4 years, I have lived and breathed for the tall and creamy cheesecake.  For a “plain” cheesecake, there is no comparison whatsoever.  But I think I’ve scared Kyle this year.  I’ve taken away his security of the tall and creamy and replaced it with two other cheesecakes this holiday season.  There has been no inkling of disappointment though.

This cappuccino fudge cheesecake is completely over the top.  Its chocolate cookie crust is covered with a layer of fudgy ganache followed by a smooth cappuccino cheesecake filling and a sour cream topping, then finally some extra ganache and chocolate-covered espresso beans to pretty the whole thing up.  Rich, decadent, breathtaking.  Even with the thinnest of slices – I cut 1-inch slices – you’ll need plenty of extra room in your belly to handle this cheesecake.  If you’re a coffee- or cappuccino-anything lover like my entire family is, you cannot possibly go wrong with this dessert.

Cranberry Bliss Bars
11

cranberry bliss bars

I think my parents thought I was crazy when I was looking at colleges.  My “fall-back” was a small state school in upstate NY.  And by upstate, I mean way-the-hell-upstate, not just a little north of NYC, as many downstaters see the upper Hudson Valley.  Potsdam is north enough in New York that you could almost throw a stone over the Canadian border.  It was an 8 1/2 drive to see the school.  In March.  Where it still snowed like a mutha.  My first choice, however, was an even smaller lush private school in PA where snow was “meh”.  I had butterflies when I visited.  I’m sure my parents were terrified of the cost.

cranberry bliss bars

You’ve heard this story before.  You know what happens.  That following August, this south-shore-downstater packed her Bean Boots, silk long underwear (a much better baselayer than traditional long-johns, FTR), heaviest winter clothes (who knew what November would bring even before Thanksgiving was in sight?) and half of her childhood bedroom (my mom would say three quarters) and headed north to her new home away from home.

Included in the massive amount of winter clothing that filled my tiny dorm closet to the brim that August were a few pair of flannel lined jeans.  On the mornings where the average low temperature in January was nearly 0 degrees F, these jeans came in handy.  And sometimes, the long underwear went underneath the flannel lined jeans.  It was freaking cold.  But those jeans saved me that year – they were like a warm hug on a cold morning.

cranberry bliss bars

These cranberry bliss bars are similar.  They’ll wrap you up and warm your soul.  If you’ve been to Starbucks this time of year, you know the treats I’m talking about…and surprise, surprise – they’re super easy to make at home!  With a white chocolate, cranberry, and brown sugar blondie base, a lightly-flavored orange cream cheese frosting, and more cranberries and white chocolate drizzled on top, how could you possibly go wrong?  There is a little bit of ground cloves in the blondies which pulls the orange and cranberries together beautifully and adds to the general addictiveness.  Those mushy-base “bars” Starbucks sells that you have to eat with a fork are no comparison to these homemade treats.  Perhaps paired with a mug of warm spiced wine or cider, these bars are perfect for a cold winter night.

Cranberry Bliss Bars

Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Yield: 2-4 dozen bars (depending on the size you cut them)

In place of the chopped white chocolate, you could use white chocolate chips but I really love biting into a substantial piece of white chocolate in these bars. The chips will get a little lost so if you go that route, you’ll want want to increase the amount of chips to 8 oz.

Ingredients

    For the blondies:
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Scant 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) salted butter, cubed
  • 1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¾ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • 6 oz white chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • For the frosting:
  • 1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • ½ tsp grated orange zest
  • 4 oz white chocolate, melted
  • ½ cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 9×11-inch baking pan with cooking spray or butter. Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cloves together in a medium bowl; set aside.
  2. To make the blondies: Melt the butter and stir in all of the sugar until the butter has completely incorporated; let the mixture cool to room temperature. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat in the eggs and vanilla on medium speed until the eggs have incorporated. With the mixer on low, gradually stir in the dry ingredients until no evidence of flour remains. The batter will be very thick. Stir in the cranberries and white chocolate until they are dispersed.
  3. Dump the batter to the prepared baking pan and with your hands, flatten it out (without mashing it) into the pan. Baked for 18 to 20 minutes until the edges are just barely golden brown (mine took exactly 18 minutes). Let the pan cool on a wire rack until the blondies are completely cool.
  4. To make the frosting: Beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar together on medium speed in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until combined, about 30 seconds. Quickly mix in the orange zest.
  5. To assemble the bars: Remove the uncut blondies from the pan and place the whole piece on a large cutting board. Spread the frosting evenly over the blondies (an offset spatula works great here) right out to the edges. Sprinkle the cranberries over the frosting. Drizzle the white chocolate over the cranberries and frosting – don’t worry about being too neat in your drizzling here. Before cutting, transfer the blondies on the board to the refrigerator to allow the frosting to set up for 30 minutes. Cut the blondies lengthwise into thirds then cut each third into four squares. Cut each square diagonally in half into triangles. You can cut the triangles in half again if you want/need more bars. These bars can be kept at room temperature for a couple of days but they last better in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container. Serve right from the refrigerator or slightly warmed to room temperature.

Source

http://www.smells-like-home.com/2012/12/cranberry-bliss-bars/

Jalapeño Cheddar Hamburger Buns + A Giveaway!
8

I’m not going to lie to you.  As of a couple of years ago, I was a complete wuss when it came to just about any spicy food.  But somehow, somewhere along the way, my tastes have changed (Kyle loves this) and I’m all about spicy foods now.  If you were at our housewarming party a couple of weeks ago, you would have found me next to the antipasti platter popping hot cherry peppers stuffed with prosciutto and provolone into my mouth like they were candy.  Totally addicting.

When I decided to make those tex mex sloppy joes sandwiches a few weeks back, I knew I wanted homemade buns…but not any ol’ bun would do.  I’d had my eye on Shawnda’s jalapeño cheddar buns for months and since the buns aren’t really generalizable to the population foods you put on hamburger buns, because you know, they are made with jalapeños, I plucked this recipe as my first choice for the sloppy joes.  And it was the perfect choice indeed.  The buns are an adapted version of these rocket rolls (which I already adore) and with the addition of sharp cheddar cheese and chopped up spicy peppers, you honestly can’t go wrong.  They are unbelievably soft and plush yet sturdy enough for a messy dinner like sloppy joes and I’ve got a few leftover in the freezer for either another round of “joes” or another idea I’ve been cooking up.  Dare I say I’m excited?!

Before you check out the recipe, how about heading over to enter the first of my Holiday Giveaways 2012?  You’ve got the chance to win 5 of my favorite cookbooks, one of which is a signed copy!

 

Peppermint Icebox Cupcakes
6

peppermint icebox cupcakes

I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m a complete sucker for just about anything peppermint-flavored during this time of year.  I was the only one in my family who ever wanted candy canes for the tree and when I graduated up to the foot-long, 1-inch diameter candy cane sticks in junior high, I may have stockpiled a few through February.  This year, I’ve already used up more calories on peppermint hot chocolate from Starbucks than I care to admit since the week of Thanksgiving and I’ve been mopping up the Pinterest- and Foodgawker-induced drool daily.

peppermint icebox cupcakes

As you can imagine, these peppermint icebox cupcakes were a pretty natural step in my 2012 peppermint obsession.  Crispy chocolate wafer cookies are sandwiched between layers of fluffy peppermint whipped cream and as the stacks chill overnight, the cookies soften into deep chocolate cake-like layers.  I always feel like traditional cupcakes have a heavy cake:frosting ratio but these icebox cupcakes completely solve that problem, leaving with you just about equal parts of both…with some extra whipped cream on top for good measure.  They were quite the hit at our housewarming party this past weekend and my mom and I had quite a fun Friday night putting these guys together.  Needless to say, I fell for so hard for these cupcakes (surprised?) that I ended up sending most of the leftovers home with my parents – I couldn’t take the risk of being left to my own devices with them!

Peppermint Icebox Cupcakes

Yield: 24 cupcakes

This recipe is based on a traditional icebox cake but it elevates the cake to another level with homemade chocolate wafer cookies and peppermint whipped cream stacked in cupcake form. If you make your own cookies, form the dough into two logs of 1 ¼-inch diameter and cut the chilled dough into 1/8-inch slices so that they will fit inside the bottom of a cupcake liner after the cookies are baked. Store-bought cookies are too large to do this neatly so you’ll need to fuss with the liners a little as you assemble your stacks, but they will definitely work in a pinch. The liners will inevitably relax with the moisture from the cupcakes overnight anyway but I still highly recommend you make your own cookies for this recipe – a little extra effort makes a huge impact here.

Ingredients

  • 120 chocolate wafer cookies, [homemade||http://smells-like-home.com/2012/12/homemade-chocolate-wafer-cookies/] or store-bought
  • 2 cups (1 pint) heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar (add more or less depending on your desired level of sweetness)
  • ½ tsp peppermint extract
  • 1/8 tsp clear vanilla extract
  • Crushed candy canes or peppermint candies, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Chill a large bowl and whisk attachment for 20 minutes prior to starting this recipe.
  2. Set out 24 cupcake liners in a baking pan or on a tray where you can easily wrap them later (9×13-inch aluminum lasagna pans work great for this). Place a cookie in the bottom of each liner (the cookies should fit snugly). Don’t worry too much if they snap in half while doing this – you’ll never know the difference once they are fully assembled.
  3. Add the heavy cream to the chilled bowl and beat with the whisk attachment, starting on low speed and working up to medium-high once the cream starts to thicken. After the cream has slightly thickened, sprinkle the powdered sugar over the cream and continue to whip until stiff peaks have almost formed. Check for desired sweetness. Beat in the peppermint and vanilla extracts for about 5-8 seconds on medium-high until stiff peaks have formed and the whipped cream is thick and scoopable. Transfer some of the whipped cream to a piping bag or a zip-top bag with a hole cut in the corner.
  4. Pipe a thin layer of whipped cream onto each cookie (about the height of the cookie) and top with another cookie, pressing down ever so slightly. Repeat until you have 5 layers of cookies then top the 5th cookie with a swirl of the whipped cream, reloading your whipped cream bag as needed but keeping the bowl chilled in between refills. You can either sprinkle on some crushed candy cane at this point (it will melt into the whipped cream overnight and give the frosting a cool pink swirly effect) or wait until you’re ready to serve the cupcakes and top with candy cane then. Chill the icebox stacks for 30 minutes (uncovered) to allow the whipped cream to set up then cover the pans loosely with foil and chill overnight. An unheated garage works great for this if you are limited for space in your fridge.

Source

Smells Like Home original | inspired by Smitten Kitchen's Icebox Cupcakes

http://www.smells-like-home.com/2012/12/peppermint-icebox-cupcakes/

Homemade Chocolate Wafer Cookies
16

diy chocolate wafer cookies

Since scratch baking is such an important aspect of what I do in my kitchen, it’s really no surprise that I should find and fall head over heels in love with a homemade chocolate wafer cookie that perfectly mimics the packaged varieties.  You already know my feelings on packaged graham crackers, Wheat Thins, and Oreos to name a few so to that end, these light and crispy cookies don’t need much of an introduction.  They are made with dark unsweetened cocoa that lends to a richly flavored chocolate cookie that is even deeper and darker in color than I expected they could be.  Ground up for a cheesecake’s cookie crust or the base of a peanut butter pie, you won’t be sorry you spent a few extra minutes making these slice and bake chocolate gems.  I’ve made two batches in the past two weeks and foresee a few more happening before Christmas!

diy chocolate wafer cookies

Looking for a fun no-bake dessert to try with these cookies?  Try these peppermint icebox cupcakes.

Homemade Chocolate Wafer Cookies

Prep Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Cook Time: 12 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: about 6 dozen 1 ¼-inch (diameter) by 1/8-inch (thickness) cookies

If you plan to use these cookies in place of a certain brand of chocolate wafer cookies for a chocolate cheesecake or pie crust, cut out 1 to 2 tablespoons of the suggested amount of melted butter in the crust recipe; these cookies contain a fair amount of butter and too much added butter to the ground up cookies crumbs will yield an absurdly wet mass of crumbs. Trust me. Nine ounces of these cookies (or about 2/3 of the recipe) will yield as much as the packages of wafer cookies contain.

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups (6.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup (2.4 ounces) dark unsweetened cocoa powder (like Hershey’s or King Arthur Flour)
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 14 tbsp (1 ¾ sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 3 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, add the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Pulse the ingredients a few times to combine thoroughly. Dollop the butter around the dry ingredients and pulse a few more times until the butter starts to incorporate and large chunks begin to form. Mix the milk and vanilla together in a small bowl. With the mixer running, pour the milk mixture into the feeding tube in a slow and even stream until the cookie crumb mixture starts to form together and ball up on the sides of the bowl.
  2. Transfer the cookie dough to a work surface and knead it a couple of times to fully incorporate all of the ingredients. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a long and narrow log, about 1 ¼ inches to 1 ¾ inches in diameter. Depending on how large you want your wafer cookies to be will determine how thick to form the log. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to a week.
  3. Position the oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  4. Slice the dough logs into approximately 1/8-inch thick slices and lay the dough rounds on the baking sheets about 1 inch apart. I formed my dough into 1 ¼-inch diameter logs and was able to fit 24 cookies on each of my baking sheets.
  5. Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating pans from back to front and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. The cookies will be finished baking about 1 ½ minutes after the puffed-up dough deflates so try to keep an eye on them. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets on wire racks for 5 minutes then transfer the cookies to the racks to cool completely – they will crisp up as they cool. The cookies will keep for up to a week at room temperature if kept in an airtight container. Supposedly the freeze really well too but I haven’t tried it myself.

Source

adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich via Smitten Kitchen

http://www.smells-like-home.com/2012/12/homemade-chocolate-wafer-cookies/

Cheddar Swirl Buns
14

As we head into the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I’m throwing a wrench into our little Christmas process here.  Many of you know that we moved into a new home last winter and we’re finally ready to host our housewarming party!  Well, we’re almost at the point where we’re ready…but the invitations went out weeks ago so now we’re committed to a date in just less than two weeks from now.  This translates into a life of to-do lists, multiple trips to the hardware store, and lots of making nice after ruffled nerves give way to sharp tongues.  You get my point.

It also means menu planning (my favorite part, naturally) and even though I’ve been planning this party in my head for over a year, you’d think I’d have a better handle on the menu than I currently do.  For reals guys – this menu has been in the works since before this house had windows!  I’m still constantly adding and removing ideas but after a bout of insomnia baking hit me over the weekend and these cheddar swirl buns emerged from my oven after multiple proofs during the wee hours, I’m totally and completely sold on them being a part of our housewarming menu.

Soft and buttery dough envelops swirls of sharp cheddar cheese, grated onion and thyme and I still can’t stop thinking about them.  The onion melts away leaving a little tang behind and the only thing that could make these buns any better, if it’s possible, is maybe a little bacon.  These buns will make breakfast or brunch, cocktail hour, or dinnertime a magical event.  And surprisingly, they reheat beautifully wrapped in some foil in a 250 degree oven…so you don’t have to stand over the counter looking down at a dozen freshly baked cheese-oozing buns and fret that you might have to eat them all in one day.  Like me.  They are unexpectedly and decadently rich savory buns so they’ll be great for a crowd (say, at Thanksgiving) or you can just reheat them over the course of a few days.  We’re not complaining.

Cheddar Swirl Buns

Prep Time: 4 hours, 30 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 4 hours, 55 minutes

Yield: 12 buns

Give yourself some time to make this recipe; the inactive time for proofing is up to 4 hours total. Are they totally worth the wait? Absolutely. Is it feasible to start them in the morning to serve for breakfast? Likely not. But you can prep the dough up to the first rise and keep it in the fridge for up to 3 days before proceeding with the recipe. It's a great time saver that I'll definitely take advantage of for party prep or weekend guests.

Ingredients

    For the bun dough:
  • 3 cups (13 1/4 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp table salt
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp (1 packet) instant yeast
  • 1 cup of milk, slightly warmed
  • 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm plus 1 tbsp extra for brushing the rolls
  • For the filling:
  • 1/2 medium onion, grated (about 1/2 cup)
  • 6 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • A few grinds of black pepper

Instructions

  1. To make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, salt, black pepper, and sugar; stir together on low speed with the paddle attachment. In a 1 cup liquid measuring cup, whisk the yeast into the warmed milk until it dissolves then pour the milk mixture and the melted butter over the dry ingredients. Mix everything together on low speed until they form a shaggy mass of dough.
  2. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for 6 minutes on low speed, until the dough is smooth and slightly sticky. Alternatively, you can knead the dough by hand for about 8 minutes. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm spot (like a barely warm oven) until it doubles, about 2 hours. While the dough rises, make the filling; chill it until you're ready to use it.
  3. To form the buns: Transfer the dough from the bowl to a well-floured counter top or work surface, sprinkle the dough with a little more flour, and pat it down into a rough rectangular shape. With a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 12x16-inch rectangle. Spread the filling out evenly over the dough to within 1/2" of the edges of the dough. Starting at the short end (or the long end if it's 6 am and you're still half asleep like I was), roll the dough tightly up into a log. With a serrated knife, cut the dough into twelve 1-inch rolls (or 1 1/2-inch rolls if you rolled it from the long end).
  4. Line the bottom of two 9-inch round cake pans or a 13x9-inch baking dish with parchment paper and lightly grease the paper with baking spray. Arrange 6 buns evenly spaced apart in each pan or all 12 in the large dish. Melt the additional tablespoon of butter and brush the tops of the buns with it. Cover the pans with plastic wrap and let the buns rise in a warm place until the buns just about double in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. When the buns have almost doubled, preheat the oven to 350° F.
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes (remove the plastic wrap first) until the buns are golden brown and the cheese is bubbling up. Serve immediately. The buns will keep, covered, at room temperature for 2-3 days. Reheat any leftovers (ha!) in a 250° F wrapped in foil until they are just warmed through.

Source

source: barely adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman

http://www.smells-like-home.com/2012/11/cheddar-swirl-buns/

Homemade Wheat Thins
23

About once a month I take stock of my to-make list.  This usually means a pretty big overhaul is about to happen.  This last time I crossed a few things off that I was kind of iffy on from the start and moved a few things to the summer to-make list for next year (major sadness that summer tomatoes are long gone).  And since I’m putting together ideas for how I can top my Thanksgiving appetizers and desserts from last year (I’m not sure that I can), I had no reservations about putting these homemade wheat thins to the test.

At the very basic level, these are wheat crackers from a dough that you’ll roll out reeeeally thinly.  And made with just 5 pantry ingredients, they are a pretty close match to what you’d buy boxed up.  I get the convenience of boxed crackers but again it goes back to me thinking that if I can make it at home, then why not just do it?  Why not cut out the ingredients I can’t pronounce and make something super fresh to enjoy?  These crackers took maybe 40 minutes to make from start to finish – maybe – and with a little salt sprinkled on top and baked up crisp, we enjoyed some late afternoon cheese and crackers with my homemade wheat thins.  How’s that for satisfying?  I don’t want to give away what I’m thinking about bringing to my brother’s house for Thanksgiving but if my appetizer idea makes it there, these crackers will for sure be right there by its side.

Apple and Cheddar Scones
9

My original intent for today’s post was going to be cider doughnuts.  With having an extra day off (and electricity, thank the heavens) after the wrath that was Sandy, I thought it would be the perfect time to finally make them.  But after boiling down the cider needed for the recipe to a blackened pot bottom, I decided to change gears and I went with these apple and cheddar scones instead.

And really, this wasn’t a consolation prize but rather a revolutionary kitchen experience.  Even though I’ve lived in New England for nearly 15 years, I’ve yet to try a slice of the region’s famous apple cheddar pie.  And it’s for no other reason than I’m a little chicken – cheddar cheese in an apple pie?  But I reintroduced myself to the idea of this combination when I was scrolling through Smitten Kitchen’s archives a few weeks back in anticipation of her very first cookbook.

The tart roasted apples and salty sharp cheddar cheese work so perfectly in these scones and I’m truly frightened now because I love the combination so much that I foresee either these scones or this apple and cheddar combination happening a lot in the future.  The scones themselves aren’t a quick-bam-boom sort of scone that I’m used to making.  Rather, with peeling, chopping, roasting, and chilling the apples, they do take a bit time to make but they are ever so worth it.  The recipe does only make 6 large scones so you may want to consider doubling it for a crowd – for just the two of us, 6 was perfect for breakfast on two days and a snack.

 

Coffeecake Muffins
13

Sometimes I wonder if there is no more perfect breakfast treat than the muffin.  Sure, cinnamon rolls are sinfully amazing and lord knows, I’ll never ever give up my bagels but they both seem to take forever to make, even if most of the prep is done the night before.  But muffins?  Who can refuse making a freshly baked breakfast treat in under 30 minutes?

These coffeecake muffins combine the best of two breakfast worlds – cake (always perfect for breakfast) and muffins with a streusel topping – and as a bonus, you’ll make them in the food processor!  The sour cream in the batter is the key to keeping the muffins moist, the dark brown sugar deepens the effect the crunchy streusel has on top, and part of the streusel is actually mixed right into the muffin batter.  Does it get any better than that??  They are seriously addictive and because this recipe only makes a dozen muffins, you may want to consider doubling it if you’re expecting company or bringing them to work.  These babies will go fast!

Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Muffins
11

It still remains to be seen if I’m ever going to make doughnuts.  I put off making them for years in our last house because I couldn’t take the lingering scent of oil in the house for days.  I figured I would wait until we moved in here because we now have a vent that actually vents outside the house.  Well, into the garage for now, but it’s a start.  (It’s on the “99% complete” list.)  But we’ve been here for almost 8 months and still no doughnuts.  It’s kind of sad because I really crave them sometimes and basically refuse to buy them because I know I could just make them myself.

These cinnamon sugar pumpkin muffins are kind of a compromise.  The recipe is actually for baked pumpkin doughnuts and if you have a doughnut pan, have at it – I don’t.  So I made them in mini muffin pans with the anxious hope that they would turn out like little poppable baked doughnuts.  They were really more like muffins.  And not that there’s anything wrong with that [insert brushing-away-the-guilt Jerry Seinfeld voice here] because they actually were the best baked goodie I’ve made in a while…heck, they’re dipped in cinnamon sugar when they are still warm from the oven, but I digress.  The pumpkin flavor here isn’t overwhelming or cloying like it can be in some recipes and served with some hot coffee, they are pretty much the best October breakfast or afternoon snack ever.  The doughnuts will come, I’m sure of it, but for now I have these muffins.

 

Cookie Dough Whoopie Pies
18

Maine is one of my very favorite states to visit.  There’s something about the intoxicating northern Atlantic sea air, the rocky and evergreen-studded coastline, the way the fog rolls in and engulfs the beach in the morning, watching a storm at sea roll by.  And don’t dare forget about all the lobster!

If there was any other state I could live, it would be Maine.  I could take the harsh and never-ending winters.  I could take the love the people of Maine have for the Red Sox (not that I could ever be converted).  And I could definitely take the nearly unlimited access to the whoopie pie.

Actually, since I can make them at home, unlimited access isn’t such a sticking point for me, especially when they turn out like these do.  But Kyle and I spent Labor Day weekend in Maine (as I mentioned yesterday) and I made it my mission to eat whoopie pies all weekend long…which of course didn’t happen.  We did, however, hit up a hidden gem in Freeport: Isamax Snacks.  It’s a whoopie pie shop!  Cupcakes be damned – this is Maine!  They offer over 20 different whoopie pies (including jumbo pies that serve 12-18 people) and ship nationwide.  I was somehow able to restrain myself and chose the classic and maple, both of which were seriously awesome.

That trip left me with whoopie pie withdrawl and since I didn’t have the chance to make a batch for our road trip (all of 3 hours lol), I pulled some together this past weekend.  I decided on a classic chocolate cake (pie? cookie? I never know what to call it.) with chocolate chip cookie dough filling.  For reals, how can you ever go wrong with cookie dough you can eat without the worry of getting sick?  The cake is perfectly soft, thanks to the buttermilk, with a deep chocolate flavor and it will definitely be my go-to choice for a classic whoopie pie cake.  I foresee many a-whoopie pie in my future this fall and winter, especially since I can’t get these out of my head!

Fudgy Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake
52

Over the years, I’ve made my fair share of chocolate cakes (and cupcakes).  But this one, my friends, is like no other.  And it really should come as no surprise to me that I keep finding recipes that are one better than the next but let’s be honest here: I’ve been sitting on this one for over 4 years.  I should have known it would be an amazingly great and over the top cake – look where I found the recipe.

Kyle, that lucky man…I pull no punches for his annual day of gaining a year.  He asked for a chocolate peanut butter cake this year and he sure as heck got one.  Three layers of fudgy impossibly chocolate stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth cake stacked high, filled and frosted with a light and fluffy peanut butter frosting.  And if that can’t put a smile on the birthday boy’s face, let’s just add a coating of chocolate peanut butter ganache on top.  Just for kicks.  The man deserves a cake like this one: he’s my rock, my world, my dishwasher. ;)

It may look like a difficult cake but you’ll make the cake batter in one bowl, people, one bowl!  No stand mixer required!  As the cakes cool, make the frosting.  A quick scratch coat to prevent crumbs and then a thick coat of the frosting is next.  And finally, as the frosting sets up in the fridge, you’ll make the ganache – which will take you less than 10 minutes.  Pour it over the cake, spread it out, and watch the magic happen as it drips down the sides…and just when you think the ganache is going to make a huge mess, the drips stop themselves.  It’s so fun to watch!

Make this cake.  Trust me.

[In case you want to know more about what Kyle does everyday, check out this post.]

Fudgy Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

Yield: 12-18 servings

This may seem like a daunting recipe, but I promise, it comes together in just a few steps. I strongly advise placing the cooled layers in the freezer right on the cooling racks for 30-40 minutes before assembling the cake - this small step will prevent the soft cake layers from cracking as you assemble. If you're limited for space in your fridge, assemble the cake on a cardboard cake round or large plate so that you can easily transfer it back and forth from counter to fridge in the final couple steps of the recipe - a cake stand plus this enormous cake will fit in few fridges.

Ingredients

    For the cake:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tbsp distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • For the peanut butter frosting:
  • 2 cups creamy peanut butter
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp plus 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • For the chocolate-peanut butter ganache:
  • 8 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tbsp smooth peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half

Instructions

  1. To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease (no flour is needed here) three 8-inch round cake pans with butter or baking spray. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper and lightly grease the paper.
  2. In a very large bowl, sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water - splashing may occur if you add it too quickly (trust me). Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and be sure the batter is well-mixed and no flour bits remain. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans - using a kitchen scale really helps to ensure the layers will be equal in size.
  3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes on the same rack, if possible, without the cake pans touching each other, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely.
  4. To make the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the peanut butter and butter. Sift the sugar into the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and salt. Starting on low and gradually increasing (to prevent the sugar from covering your kitchen) the speed to medium-high, beat the ingredients until light and fluffy, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed, about 3-4 minutes. Beat in the heavy whipping cream.
  5. To frost the cake: Place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand, cardboard cake round, or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup of the peanut butter frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with a scant amount of frosting to make a crumb coat to keep the crumbs from popping through the final frosting. You'll need just enough to lightly cover the cake - there's no need to be neat here. Let the cake chill for 15 to 30 minutes until firm, then use the remainder of the frosting to create a smooth final coating. Once the cake is fully frosted, chill the cake again and let it firm up before covering it with the ganache.
  6. To make the ganache: In the in a medium bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.
  7. To decorate with the ganache: Gently pour the ganache over the top of the cake, and using an offset spatula, spread it evenly over the top just to the edges so that it runs down the sides of the cake in long drips. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the ganache to set completely. Take the cake out of the fridge about 1 hour before serving - it will be difficult to cut through the ganache if it is too cold.

Source

source: cake and ganache adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes via Smitten Kitchen, frosting is a Smells Like Home original

http://www.smells-like-home.com/2012/09/fudgy-chocolate-peanut-butter-cake/

Blackberry Lime Crumb Bars
4

blackberry lime crumb bars

Well, we missed picking blueberries again this summer.  I seriously don’t know how we’ve managed to do this for the third summer in a row but somehow, July and early August just sneak by without a spare Saturday to hit up the local blueberry patches.

blackberry lime crumb bars

We did, however, stumble upon a blackberry u-pick field while we were cruising around the north shore of my old stomping grounds early last week.  What a day it was!  The night before was filled with a fun family wedding at an aquarium (such a great place!) and we took Monday off to get in some sun and relaxation before heading home.  Windows down.  Music up.  Long Island’s farm and wine country.  Sea air creating those never-ceasing and uncontrollable ringlets with my not-tightly-enough pony-tailed hair.  We had an inkling of what vacation feels like.

blackberry lime crumb bars

Our intention was to pick blueberries but we filled up 3 pint baskets with gorgeous blackberries instead.  No complaints here, especially considering we got this dessert out of the deal.  A quick stir together of blackberries, sugar, cornstarch, and lime juice (to help the blackberries break down) is sandwiched between a crumb mixture that acts as both the bar base and topping.   So simple.  So amazing.  And yep, so versatile too – strawberries, peaches, blueberries, apples, raspberries (you get the point) all work beautifully here so you can’t possibly choose the wrong fruit!

Blackberry Lime Crumb Bars

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 50 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Yield: 12 bars

The original recipe calls for lemon zest and juice but lime seems to be a more natural choice to use with blackberries. If you use other fruits, choose your citrus according to what works best with that fruit.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided into 1/2 and 1/4 cups
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • Zest of 1/2 lime
  • 1 stick (8 oz or 1/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 cups fresh blackberries
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • Juice of 1/2 lime

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Grease a 8x8-inch pan with butter or cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the sugar with the baking powder and flour. Lightly whisk in the salt and the lemon zest. Cut in the butter and half of the beaten egg with a pastry blender (or two knives or your fingers) until the butter is about pea-sized - the mixture should be crumbly without much loose flour. Spread a little more than half of the dough mixture in an even layer over the bottom of the prepared pan and press down firmly to form the bottom crust.
  3. In another medium bowl, stir the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, cornstarch and lime juice together. Gently mix in the blackberries with a rubber spatula until combined. Spread the berry mixture evenly over the bottom crust. Crumble the remaining dough over the top of the berries. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the top is slightly golden brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares and serving. These bars keep well refrigerated for 2-3 days.

Source

source: adapted from these strawberry crumb bars

http://www.smells-like-home.com/2012/08/blackberry-limecrumb-bars/

Peach Cobbler
6

Late in the summers of my teenage years, my mom would proudly and excited arrive home with a box of fresh-off-the-tree peaches from the peach tree my pop-pop nurtured outside my grandparent’s house.  I honestly don’t know how the tree survived the conditions it grew in: the sandiest of soils, 200 yards from the Great South Bay, bogged down with a near constant salty sea breeze, and an occasional tidal surge that lapped at the base of the trunk.  And every year it was a race to pick the peaches before the deer, raccoons, and random number of incredibly dishonest people found the perfectly ripened peaches first.  (In some years, Pop-Pop didn’t win that race.)

The tree no longer stands outside the house (my grandmother had it hastily cut down the year after my grandfather passed away) but my memories of his love and pure joy for those peaches will never fade.  And neither will my memory of making my first cobbler with some of his peaches when I was 16.  It was my first true from-scratch baking project (aside from chocolate chip cookies) and I was so nervous.

I shooed the fruit flies away from the nearly past-peak peaches, followed the recipe from my mom’s Women’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery books (which I now have my own antiqued set of) and stumbled through every single step; my biggest fear being that the cobbler would be too watery.  Also, there was this other thing: I had never even eaten peach cobbler before so I made it completely blindly, not knowing what to expect at all.  And in the end, it turned out pretty great, a summer dessert my 16-year-old self was beamingly proud of.

This peach cobbler recipe isn’t that first recipe that I made all those years ago – I actually had forgotten that I still had that recipe until I sat down to write this post!  But this one is pretty darn spectacular, elevating gorgeous summer peaches to another level by stirring in a little sugar and topping them with a fluffy and beautifully browned biscuit topping.  If you’ve chosen the right peaches, they won’t need a lot of sugar to shine through and you’ll find that the biscuit topping doesn’t need to be overly sweet either.  Basically, the topping is there to complement the peaches, not take them over.  It’s an insanely simple recipe to throw together (I didn’t even bother to peel the peaches) and one that I can see myself making again and again.  And hopefully, if we’re able to get our own peach tree to grow and produce here in the coming years, there will be lots more peach cobbler to reminisce over.

Peach Cobbler

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 60 minutes

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

    For the peach filling:
  • 10 ripe peaches, halved, pitted, and each half sliced into 8 slices (about 2 quarts)
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp dark-brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • For the biscuit topping:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp course or sparkling sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Set a 2-quart baking dish aside.
  2. To make the peach filling: Place the peaches, cornstarch, both sugars, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Toss until well combined and set the bowl aside, stirring every so often while you make the biscuit topping.
  3. To make the biscuit topping: In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together until well-combined. Gently toss in the butter pieces and coat them with the flour mixture. Rub the butter in with your fingers (use your thumbs and first two fingers) until the mixture becomes a little crumbly and the butter forms small clumps (coarse meal with the flour) – you’ll need to use a little pressure to get the cold butter to break up so don’t be afraid to “get dirty”.
  4. Whisk the egg and cream together in a liquid-measuring cup. Slowly add this mixture to dry ingredients, mixing with a fork until the dough just comes together - it will be wet and sticky.
  5. Pour the peach filling into the baking dish. Using a large ice cream scoop or a 1/4 cup measuring cup drop clumps of biscuit dough (about 1/2 cup each) over the top of the peaches, gently flattening them out slightly with your fingertips. Sprinkle the biscuit dough with the coarse sugar. Bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Transfer pan to a rack and let cool slightly. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Source

source: adapted from Martha Stewart

http://www.smells-like-home.com/2012/08/peach-cobbler/

Apricot and Strawberry Tart
8

I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten fresh apricots.  I realize this sounds completely ridiculous but it’s true.  Actually, it was true up until a few weeks ago when I made this apricot and strawberry tart…which was supposed to be an apple galette but since apples are out of season and the King Arthur Flour kitchens ended up with a crate full of the most luscious apricots ever, we made apricot and strawberry tarts instead.  And boy, after scones, jammy bits muffins, pain au chocolate, sweet potato gnocchi, endless amounts of Vermont cheddar cheese, and so much more fabulous food than I can describe, a perfectly ripened apricot hit the spot for all of us.

Well, I guess I should preface that by saying that whatever was leftover after we made these tarts with more butter, sugar, and flour really hit the spot.  The tarts though, are pretty spectacular pieces of work.  We did actually make our own puff pastry dough which I’m sure took them to another level (and I do plan on sharing this recipe after I make it again because I didn’t get very many photos when I made it at Blog and Bake, thank you floured hands) but I know frozen puff pastry will work just as well here.  Baking this tart at 400 degrees allows for the apricots and strawberries to break down, soften, and intensify in flavor and this was, aside from the homemade puff pastry dough, what makes this tart so special.  It’s the contrast between juicy fruit and flaky crust that I love so much and I’m so thrilled to have been able to share my proud achievement with Kyle the night I returned home.  Though, I’m sure he only took it as being anything homemade after 3 days of grubbing from the fridge and pantry on his own. :)

Apricot and Strawberry Tart

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet puff pastry dough, thawed
  • 2 apricots, washed, pitted and sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup sliced strawberries
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • Ground cinnamon (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. On a lightly floured board, roll out the puff pastry dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Trim the edges to form a 14x14-inch square, reserving the scraps to create an extra-tall border on the tart, if desired. You can also twist the scraps into spirals and roll them in cinnamon-sugar before baking on the same baking sheet as the tart.
  3. Transfer the square to the baking sheet and layer the apricots and strawberries out over the dough, in any design you choose, leaving a 1/2-inch border on all sides. Sprinkle on all of the sugar then lightly sprinkle the cinnamon over the fruit. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the edges are nicely browned and the fruit is well-softened. Serve warm or at room temperature with a scoop of ice cream, a dollop of whipped cream, or by itself because it's so good that you really don't need any accompaniments for it.

Source

source: a loose adaptation of the King Arthur Flour Apple Galette (published with permission)

http://www.smells-like-home.com/2012/06/apricot-and-strawberry-tart/