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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.

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

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Homemade Chocolate Wafer Cookies
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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

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Chocolate Truffle Tart
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Last Thanksgiving I made this over-the-top, make-your-knees-weak salted caramel chocolate tart.  And did you see it here?  I had no such luck with getting photos as I brought it to a family member’s house for dessert and the poor thing never saw the light of day again.  This chocolate truffle tart, however, was made and eaten here when Annie stayed an extra day after our girls weekend last month.  It’s elegant enough to bring for any holiday dinner, rustic enough for a casual dinner at home, and is probably one of the most basic tarts you could ever make.  You’ll make a chocolate tart dough, bake it off, and pour in a silky and decadent ganache which is simply a mixture of melted chocolate, heavy cream, and butter…and a little booze if you so desire. ;)   That’s it!  When chilled, the warm ganache turns into a truly decadent truffle filling and even though Annie couldn’t take any on the plane home with her, we savored this rich tart for nearly a whole week after she left.  If you still stuck on what you’re going to bring to Aunt Ethel’s house on Thursday, this chocolate truffle tart may just be your answer!

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
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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

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Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Swirl Ice Cream
9

Every summer, you can find me standing in front of our local ice cream stand hemming and hawing.  I am the worst decision maker, especially when it comes to choosing an ice cream flavor so it’s a good thing it can sometimes take 20 or more minutes to make it to the front of line.  And surprisingly enough, peanut butter cup ice cream isn’t ever a flavor that I choose, despite how much I love all things peanut butter-chocolate.

I like to make it at home, to ensure that I’m going to love it…because when have I not loved homemade ice cream?  Right, never.  So when this particular recipe crossed my path – peanut butter ice cream made with eggs, unlike my usual recipe – I was all over it.  And I had a super fun afternoon teaching my mom how to make ice cream with this recipe to prepare her for her first batch with her Mother’s Day gift.  We added a [hot] fudge swirl and chopped up peanut butter cups to round out my idea of the perfect ice cream and she had a blast making ice cream from scratch – what an awesome feeling to teach my teacher!

Following our pulled pork dinner, this family of peanut butter lovers collectively sighed over this ice cream…it’s a good thing I skipped lunch that day!  The peanut butter is a bold flavor here and the addition of the fudge and peanut butter cups truly put this ice cream over the edge.  I had to beg Kyle before I left for Vermont on Sunday to save some for me to photograph after getting home…and he commented yesterday that it took every ounce of his will power to not finish it.  Good luck with your own will power after trying this – it won’t be easy!

Giant S’mores Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies
113

I swear I wasn’t going to do this.  I wasn’t going to stuff something inside of something else.  It was too trendy.  And then, not trendy at all.  (Neither of which I’m actually about, anyway.)

But I succumbed to the pressure of a college kid who just finished finals.  A college kid who squeaked with excitement when she exhaled the love she had for these s’mores stuffed chocolate chip cookies in a quick and breathless sentence.  I told her that the only conditions I had to making them was that the graham cracker and cookie dough had to be homemade.  And frankly, if we had put a little forethought into this, the marshmallows would have been too.  She had no issues with my conditions.

S’mores stuffed into thick and chewy chocolate chip cookies.  A total diet/healthy lifestyle buster.  But damn, it’s worth it.  I’ve gone on a few times about how magical my favorite cookie dough recipe is and it just stands to reason that I would have chosen it for these giant creations as well.  Yesterday I posted about homemade graham crackers and yup, we used that recipe too.  The deeply flavored brown sugar graham crackers were an outstanding choice to use here and they certainly didn’t get lost amid the gobs of cookie.  Of course, the marshmallows and Hershey’s chocolate bars (is there no better option for s’mores?) melted into everything and admittedly, there were a few nerve wracking minutes of watching the conversion from cookie brick to enormous cookie rounds as all of the components settled into each other in the oven.

But alas, perfection.  Gooey s’mores nestled into my favorite chocolate chip cookie.  At nearly 6 inches a piece, you’ll probably need a friend to help you finish off these monsters (and at least a couple glasses of milk) but since there is so much cookie to go around, sharing shouldn’t be an issue.  Or, I supposed you could just make them smaller for single servings, but where’s the fun in that?

So there.  I went there and now I’m sharing it with you.  It’s a holiday weekend – go celebrate!

Giant S’mores Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: PT20-24M

Total Time: PT40-45M

Yield: 4 gigantic cookies

I made my own graham crackers for these s'mores stuffed cookies, but you can certainly use store-bought crackers if you're pressed for time or you know, not crazy like me. You'll need 4 approximately 1 1/2" by 3" pieces which for store-bought graham crackers means half of a graham square. If you decide to make your own graham crackers (go for it!), cut them to fit. This recipe yields 4 gigantic cookies. Feel free to double the recipe or make smaller cookies by using smaller graham crackers and just half of a marshmallow for each cookie.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 12 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • For assembly:
  • 1 cookie dough recipe, at room temperature
  • 8 graham cracker squares, broken into halves (see header note above)
  • 4 marshmallows, snipped in half lengthwise
  • 1 full-size Hershey's bar, divided between each of the prospective cookies

Instructions

  1. To make the cookie dough: Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or by hand, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly combined. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add dry ingredients and beat at low-speed just until combined - the batter should look a little lumpy. Stir in chocolate chips.
  2. Preheat oven to 325° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. To assemble and bake: Lay half of the graham crackers out on the baking sheets - two crackers per sheet. Top each cracker with 3-4 pieces of chocolate then top the chocolate with two marshmallow halves, laying them side-by-side. Lay the remaining graham crackers on top of the assemble s'mores. Sandwich the s'mores between two large spoonfuls of cookie dough and using the remaining dough to wrap around each of the s'mores; the result should resemble a small cookie brick.
  4. Space the cookies at least 4 inches apart on the two baking sheets. Bake for 20-24 minutes or until the tops and edges are lightly browned and the edges just lift off the pan with a spatula. (While baking, the s'mores will press down under the weight of the cookie dough and will sink further while cooling. Don't worry if the cookies don't end up completely covering the s'mores - it only adds to the charm here.) Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and cool the cookies on the sheets for at least 5 minutes. Transfer the cookies to the wire racks and cool for another 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Source

source: idea and method inspired by Picky Palate

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Salted Caramel Brownies
10

IMG_0455

Is there not a more amazing combination of flavors than in salted caramel?  Don’t agree with me?  Uhh, have you tried these salted caramel brownies yet??  Like these sweet and salty cupcakes and these turbo-charged brownies, this brownie recipe brings together rich chocolate and salted caramel, a topping I don’t ever see myself tiring of.  And rather than being sandwiched within the brownies (like this recipe), the caramel seeps into the batter, distributing the goodness throughout and keeping the brownies perfectly fudgy.  After adding a sprinkle of fleur de sel and coarse sugar which melt onto the warm brownies after baking, this dessert is elevated to another level.  As my first official baked goodie in the new kitchen, these brownies were a smash hit and whether you top them with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a glorious drizzle of the leftover caramel sauce (or both!), you will not be disappointed – we certainly weren’t!

Salted Caramel Brownies

Yield: 9-12 brownies

Ingredients

  • ¼ ½ ¾ °
  • For the salted caramel sauce:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 ¼ tsp fleur de sel
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • For the brownies:
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 11 oz good quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (preferably 60 to 72%), coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • splash of Kahlua (optional)
  • 1 tsp fleur de sel
  • 1 tsp coarse sugar

Instructions

  1. To make the caramel: Combine the sugar and corn syrup with 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan. Carefully stir them together, trying not to splash the sides of the pan. Cook over high heat, stirring often, until the mixture reaches 350° F, about 6 to 8 minutes. It should be dark amber in color, but keep a close eye on it, as caramel goes from perfect to burnt and ruined in no time flat. Remove the caramel from heat, and carefully stir in the cream. It will bubble up, so be ready! Whisk in the sour cream or Greek yogurt, and set aside to cool.
  2. To make the brownies: Preheat the oven to 350° F and grease a 9×13 inch baking dish. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder; set aside.
  3. Combine the butter and chocolate in a large microwave safe bowl and cook at 30 second intervals, stirring well in between, until the chocolate and butter have melted. Add both sugars and whisk until combined. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Add three of the eggs and whisk until just combined. Whisk in the remaining two eggs, vanilla, and Kahlua (if using), and whisk just until combined. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the brownies and use a spatula to fold it into the wet ingredients, until there are just small traces of the flour visible.
  4. To assemble the brownies: Pour half the batter into the prepared baking dish. Drizzle 3/4 cup of the caramel over the brownie batter, being careful not to let the sauce come into contact with the edge of dish. Use and offset spatula to gently spread the caramel evenly over the brownie layer, then drop the remaining brownie batter over the caramel by the spoonful. Again, use the offset spatula to gently spread it in an even layer.
  5. Bake the brownies for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. The brownies are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached.
  6. Remove the brownies from the oven and sprinkle with the salt and sugar Cool completely before cutting and serving.

Source

source: adapted from Baked: Explorations via Pink Parsley

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Sweet & Salty Cupcakes for a Virtual Baby Shower
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Sweet & Salty Cupcakes for a Virtual Baby Shower

One of my absolute favorite flavor combinations is sweet and salty.  Sit me down with some potato chips and a handful of M&Ms or chocolate-covered popcorn and I’m in trouble!  So you could imagine the level of my excitement when I flipped through Baked: New Frontiers in Baking for the first time and saw my nemesis flavor combo in a cake.  Add some salted caramel to a chocolate cake and I’m pretty much done for.

Now admittedly, I’ve had this cookbook on my shelf for well over a year and I’ve yet to make the cake.   It’s hard to justify making a whole cake for only two people just for the heck of it so the cake has ended up sitting on my list for what seems like forever.  And then came Courtney’s Virtual Baby Shower.  Among the many reasons why Courtney and I are such great friends (real-life friends, not just blogging friends!), I firmly believe that our love for Baked’s cookbooks links us together.  And while I’ve never visited the famous bakery in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Courtney and her awesome husband, Eric, did a few years ago during a trip to NYC and they had a blast.  (For the record, I’m jealous.)  This cake is perfect for Courtney.  She is seriously one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met and would go to any length to help a friend, but she’s also got this “salty” side, a sense of sarcasm, dry humor, and frankness that I adore.  I was lucky enough to be able to spend a whole weekend with Courtney this past weekend with Josie and Annie in Richmond when we surprised her with a visit for a real-life baby shower.  It was an insanely fun girls weekend filled with soothing Southern comfort food, a chocolate shop that blew us all away, tons of laughs, and so many memories I have to cherish with some of my best friends.

Sweet & Salty Cupcakes for a Virtual Baby Shower

These sweet and salty cupcakes are truly an outstanding creation.  I used Baked’s sweet chocolate cake recipe (next time I’ll use my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe as I miss the domed cupcakes) and merged it with Sweetopolita’s recommendation of a salted caramel Swiss buttercream.  Need I say anything else?  Rich, sweet, salty, dreamy.  Perfect for my dear friend Courtney as she prepares for baby C’s arrival in the next few weeks.  Courtney, pour yourself a glass of milk, put up your feet, and enjoy!

Josie from Pink Parsley is hosting Courtney’s shower to be sure to head over there (and to Courtney’s blog as well!) to catch up on all of the other amazing treats nearly 15 other fabulous food bloggers have contributed to the shower!

Chocolate Chip Toffee Bars
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Anyone will tell you that the process of creating your own baking recipes is a difficult one.  There’s this “science” to baking that we bakers know about and live by…how just the right amount of yeast, baking powder, or egg whites will make sandwich bread, fluffy biscuits, or a soufflé rise perfectly…how flour packed into the measuring cup is actually a different amount than flour fluffed into the cup…even how soft the butter is affects how the water and fat molecules in butter react in a recipe.  The science of baking is often the reason so many of us home bakers leave the recipe creation and testing up to the pros – let them figure out the nuances and tell us how to overcome them.  I’m totally fine with that!

So when I came across the idea for these chocolate chip toffee bars, a) I knew I would need extra time at the gym this week, and b) I knew the America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe was the only recipe that I would want for these bars.  It is by far my go-t0, most beloved chocolate chip cookie recipe and if I were to combine toffee (uh yes please!) with any chocolate chip recipe, there was no question which one it would be.  And when I tell you that the toffee bits melt into the cookie dough and that the two blend into a rich caramel-milk chocolate cookie bar, I’m not lying.  I swear, this cookie bar was heaven.  Soft centers with a little crunch on top and the occasional nibble of a toffee bit that survived the oven temperature.  Seriously, go make these now and don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that the ATK/CI recipe is anything but perfection (both for cookies and bars like this one).  And, I can’t stress this enough – when you’re looking for a fabulous recipe, be sure you know who really created it – it makes all the difference in the world to have a truly credible recipe to work with.

Giant Double Chocolate Cookies
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Giant Double Chocolate Cookies

When I set out to make a new cookie, it’s never an easy task.  SO many recipes touted as “the best”, so little time.  And so few calories to sacrifice.  But I’ve had my eye on these giant double chocolate cookies for almost exactly a year now and I finally gave in.  It was time to tackle a giant cookie and I was ready for it.

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The long-awaited verdict?  An extra 1/2 hour on the treadmill was well worth the work for these cookies.  Dense, chocolatey, and gigantic, these cookies are best served slightly warm to take advantage of the gooey chocolate chips.  I feel like they could have been just slightly sweeter since the dark cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Dark) really takes center stage and is altogether unsweetened to begin with; I’ve adjusted the recipe below to reflect this.  Whether you weigh the dough into 4oz portions (this will yield 11 cookies) or divide the dough manually into 12 cookies, be prepared for a decadent bakery-sized cookie.  I’ve never had cookies from Levain Bakery in NYC but if this cookie is any indication of what they are like, other copycat recipes that are floating around the web may just be in my future as well.

Top 9 Favorites of 2011
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Here’s to a fabulous 2011 and even better 2012!  Thank you all of your love and support this year – it’s been a great one for me and as Kyle and I transition into our new home in the next few weeks, I’m looking forward to sharing all kinds of great recipes that I’ve been holding out on until I have more space to work with.  Until then, enjoy a few of your favorites from this year…the Top 9 most popular posts, to be exact!

1. Red Velvet Brownies with White Chocolate Frosting

2. DIY: Ranch Dressing

3. Baked Fontina

4. DIY: Taco Seasoning

5. Chunky Hubby Cupcakes

6. Take Out Fake Out: Orange Chicken

7. NY-Style Crumb Cake

8. Pizza Bites

9. Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake

Butter Cookie Sandwiches with Dulce de Leche Cream Filling
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When I set out to make my list of goodies to make this Christmas season, I vowed to not make a ton of cookies.  I had planned early on to put together treat packages for everyone this year and I wanted to focus my attention on getting them squared away early so that I could actually relax on Christmas Eve day, something I never seem to be able to do.  But then my cousin and I came across this recipe for butter cookie sandwiches.  And goodness knows, I’m a sucker for butter cookies!  The original recipe called for the filling to include chestnut cream (crème de marron) but because of Kyle’s allergies, that wouldn’t work so I swapped dulce de leche in place of the original ingredient.  And umm…genius?  Rich butter cookies sandwiched with dulce de leche cream filling might just be one of the better ideas I’ve had lately.  I did feel like the chocolate slightly overpowered the flavor of the dulce de leche so I think next time I’ll skip the chocolate (the horror!) because the filling needs to shine through.  But overall, adding these cookies to you cookie platter will not disappoint anyone and you’ve still got plenty of time to work them into your schedule!

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix
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Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

With the bustling and chronically insane holiday season upon us, sometimes all I want to do is curl up on the couch with a cozy blanket (which usually involves a fight with the cat for usage rights), a book I can get lost in, and a steaming mug of hot chocolate.  OK, maybe it’s more like that’s all I want to do this time of year but life always seems to get in the way of these things.

Regardless of your crazy schedules, I urge you to take a few minutes in the kitchen to whip up this homemade hot chocolate mix and treat yourself to a divine mug of it.  I can guarantee that this homemade mix surpasses any of the higher quality mixes you can buy and what’s even better is that you control what goes into it.  Not a huge fan of bittersweet chocolate?  Replace some or all of it, if you’re feeling adventurous, with milk chocolate.  I added a few tablespoons of instant espresso powder because I love a shot of espresso in my hot chocolate but I don’t have an espresso maker at home.  If you’ve made enough chocolate recipes, you’ll know that coffee in one form or another amplifies the chocolate flavor and that’s what I was going for here.  This is also the time to consider making a big batch of vanilla sugar in advance of making the mix since you can use it quickly rather than having to wait 24hrs as this recipe instructs.  The recipe makes a huge amount of hot chocolate mix (almost 2 quarts, dry) and because it lasts up to 6 months, it will make the perfect addition to my Christmas gift packages this year.  I love my cocoa with a heaping spoonful of whipped cream but perhaps some homemade marshmallows are in my future as well…