Cappuccino Fudge Cheesecake

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

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.


    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


  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.


Holiday Treat Ideas

Whether you’re stuffing your treat packages, decorating the tree, heading to a cookie swap, or hopping from one holiday party to another, here are some fabulous homemade treat ideas for you!  I also pulled a few of our favorite cookies together last week for quick access in the sidebar column to the right so be sure to check ’em out.  Merry Merry!

Cakes, Pies & Tarts:

Vanilla Bean Eggnog Bundt Cake

Vanilla Bean Eggnog Bundt Cake

Black & White Cranberry Tarts

Black & White Cranberry Tarts

Chocolate Truffle Tart

Chocolate Truffle Tart

Grasshopper Pie

Grasshopper Pie

Cookies & Brownies:

Lofthouse Style Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies

Lofthouse-Style Soft Sugar Cookies

Orange Cranberry White Chocolate Biscotti

Orange Cranberry White Chocolate Biscotti

Peppermint Brownies

Peppermint Brownies

Chocolate Dipped Orange Butter Cookies

Chocolate-Dipped Orange Butter Cookies

Candy & Confections:
Baileys Marshmallows

Bailey’s Marshmallows

Homemade Peppermint Patties

Peppermint Patties



Sea Salt Caramel Corn

Sea Salt Caramel Corn


Cranberry Lime Champange Bellinis

Cranberry Lime Champagne Bellinis

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

The Packaging:

Treat Packaging Ideas

Putting it All Together

Peppermint Icebox Cupcakes

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.


  • 120 chocolate wafer cookies, [homemade||] 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


  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.


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

Homemade Chocolate Wafer Cookies

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 homemade chocolate wafer cookies 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.


  • 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


  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.


adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich via Smitten Kitchen

Vanilla-Spiced Poached Pears

I’m still mourning the end of summer fruit.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m in love with apples of all varieties but I desperately miss fresh cherries, Georgia peaches and juicy black plums.  So as we’re squarely in fall now and moving towards winter and as I try to get over my summer fruit grief, I’m trying to broaden our scope passed apples, bananas, and clementines (squee!!).

Pears are the perfect solution for this.  I’ve baked with them a couple of times in the past and I occasionally eat them fresh as a snack but we’ve got one not so little problem in our house with fresh pears: Kyle is allergic to them.  Actually, he’s allergic to quite a few uncooked fruits and vegetables (we think it has to do with pollen contamination on the food) so…Cooked = yay!  Uncooked = get the Epi pen ready.  And since he used to love eating pears pre-allergy onset, I decided to find a healthy way for him to be able to eat them now.

And really, these poached pears aren’t really any different than what you would buy canned at the store but hello!  They’re homemade!  Add whatever spices you’d like (an option you’ll never get in a can), cut out all of the preservatives, and say goodbye to the heavy syrup.  This recipe takes less than a half hour to make and it makes enough for both Kyle and I to snack on during the week.  We pack them up in re-useable containers for our lunches but I’m definitely sure that they would be stellar served warm over ice cream, perhaps with a caramel drizzle.  In case you want to go the sugar route with them…

Chocolate Truffle Tart

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

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

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 impossibly fudgy, impossibly chocolatey, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth cake stacked high, then 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.


    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


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

Blackberry Brown Sugar Buttermilk Ice Cream

Before last summer when I made these blackberry oatmeal pie bars, I didn’t think I liked blackberries.  And that was solely based on the fact that I wasn’t a fan of raspberries.  And that was based on the fact that I don’t really like the tough seeds that raspberries contain.  I’m slightly ashamed to admit to this picky way of thinking to you guys (though Kyle will tell you that I am actually a picky eater – ??) but I quickly found out that baking and puréeing fixes the tough seed issue.

And so this blackberry brown sugar buttermilk ice cream was born in my head.  A perfect swirl of smooth and tart blackberry sauce ripples through sweet buttermilk ice cream and together, the two blend beautifully.  I’ve been looking forward to making buttermilk ice cream for ages and I finally came across a recipe that appealed to me: one with a good ratio of eggs to cream to buttermilk.  It’s suuuper creamy, thanks to its six egg yolks, and the brown sugar adds a bit of extra sweetness – it’s really lovely with the blackberry swirl!  Scooped into an old fashioned sundae glass and topped with a little hot fudge, could you ask for a more delightful late-summer ice cream treat?

Caramel Frappuccino Cupcakes

I made myself cupcakes.  Well, I shared them with Kyle too but really, I made them for myself.  And for good reason…my birthday was Sunday!  And as I approach my ::ahem:: mid-30s, I’m finding that I’m not nearly as fussy about what type of birthday dessert gets made for or by me.  Every single year growing up, my single birthday request was for a marbled cake with chocolate butter cream – no compromises.  Last year, I switched things up big time with this pink vanilla bean birthday cake.

This year, I decided to go with cupcakes that I had been dreaming up all summer.  My Friday afternoon treat this summer has been my old favorite Starbucks drink and very rarely ordered, a caramel frappuccino – with whipped cream, which I can justify having just once a week, can’t I?  Anyway, I read through probably 20 different recipes for caramel frappuccino cupcakes I found online and 95% of them had chocolate cupcakes as their base.  And that made no sense to me at all because the drink contains no chocolate!

So I made espresso-caramel cupcakes, topped them with whipped cream frosting, and drizzled on some vanilla bean caramel sauce.  And oh yeah, these cupcakes totally hit their mark.  The cupcakes, even without frosting, were outstanding – rich coffee flavor and a hint of buttery caramel with great structure and a really soft crumb.  For a caramel frappuccino cupcake, the whipped cream frosting is basically obligatory to stick to the theme of the drink, but it can definitely be swapped out for a coffee Swiss meringue butter cream if you so choose and I’m sure that was be completely amazing as well.  And the caramel?  It’s completely amazing and if you opt for a different caramel for these cupcakes…or ever…you’re totally missing out.  Perfect cupcake treat?  Check.  Deflect the anxiety of an almost-mid-30s birthday?  Definitely.

Caramel Frappuccino Cupcakes

Total Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: about 2 dozen cupcakes

A great tip for this multi-step recipe is that once the cupcakes go into the oven, immediately wash and dry the mixing bowl and stick it and the wire whisk attachment in the fridge to chill it before making the whipped cream frosting. A cold bowl keeps the whipped cream chilled better than a warm/room temperature one does. The caramel sauce can be make days (weeks!) in advance – just warm it ever so slightly in the microwave before drizzling it on to the cupcakes.


    For the cupcakes:
  • 1 ¾ cups sugar, divided
  • 1/3 cup very hot water
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp coarse salt
  • 1 tbsp espresso powder
  • ¾ cup (12 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup strongly brewed coffee, warm or at room temperature
  • For the whipped cream:
  • 2 ½ cups cold whipping cream
  • ½ cup + 2 tbsp powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract, clear if you have it
  • For the caramel drizzle:
  • ¼ cup vanilla bean caramel sauce


  1. To make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350° F. Line two 12 cup muffin pans with cupcake liners; set aside.
  2. Spread ½ cup of the sugar out in an even layer in the bottom of a small saucepan. Heat the pan to medium and when the sides of the sugar begin to liquify, start slowly stirring the sugar together until all of the sugar has melted and only liquid remains. (Lower the heat to low if the sugar or liquid sugar begins to brown too quickly. If the sugar clumps, turn the heat to low and let it melt – try not to stir it so it has a chance to heat up slowly.) Once the liquid reaches a deep amber color (you can check this by dropping a little onto a white plate), remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour in the hot water while whisking quickly to incorporate the water into the sugar. Once the caramel mixture is completely smooth, set it aside to cool.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, salt, and espresso powder together until well-combined; set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and the remaining 1 ¼ cups sugar together at medium-high until they are light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time until they incorporate fully before adding the next, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in the vanilla extract. Stir in the caramel. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions alternating with two equal additions of the coffee, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Allow the ingredients to just incorporate into the batter before adding the next. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all ingredients are fully mixed in. Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners. Bake for 18-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the center cupcakes comes out mostly clean, with just a few tiny crumbs clinging to it. Let the pans cool on wire racks for 5 minutes then remove the cupcakes and let them completely cool on the racks before frosting.
  5. To make the frosting: Pour the whipping cream into a chilled stand mixer bowl fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at medium-high speed until soft peaks are formed. Sprinkle in the powdered sugar and continue to beat the cream until stiff peaks form when you pull the cream up with the whisk. Beat in the vanilla extract until just incorporated. Be careful not to over beat the cream or it will be clumpy when you pipe it.
  6. To assemble the cupcakes: Using a large star tip (I used Ateco #828) fitted inside a pastry bag (or the snipped-off corner of a plastic zipper bag if you don’t have a pastry bag), pipe the whipped cream frosting onto the cupcakes. If the frosting becomes too soft (which can happen if you handle the bag too much), transfer the frosted cupcakes to the refrigerator for a few minutes until the frosting sets up a little. Using a small squeeze bottle or a spoon, drizzle the caramel sauce on top of the whipped cream frosting and serve. The cupcakes can be stored at room temperature for a couple of days (because the sugar stabilizes the cream) but the frosting will soften considerably so keeping them in the fridge (covered) is probably a better idea.


source: Smells Like Home original idea, cupcake recipe adapted from Annie’s Eats

Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce

Hide your spoons, people!  This vanilla bean caramel sauce is completely impossible to resist spooning over everything!  If it weren’t such a sacrilege to tempt children with sugar in exchange for eating their vegetables, this would be the ultimate temptation.  You may need to keep this stuff on the top shelf of the fridge tucked way in the back if you plan to actually use it for anything…otherwise you run the risk of it mysteriously disappearing.  I’m even having a hard time keeping it away from myself!

This sauce is no joke – it’s rich and smooth and hits on every single reason why you fell in love with caramel sauce as a kid in the first place.  When chilled, it’s a thick sauce that can be dolloped or swirled into brownie batter.  When slightly warmed, it’s pourable or spoonable for drizzling over ice cream (brownies a la mode anyone?) or a slab of warm apple pie and it can be added to frosting for genius creations like these.

If you’ve still never made homemade caramel sauce, what the heck are you waiting for?  Please make this your first attempt – it takes no more than 10 minutes to make and I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll never ever go back to buying jarred, store-bought caramel sauce again.  And wouldn’t it go just awesomely with some of that hot fudge sauce that you’re making at home now?

Blackberry Lime Crumb Bars

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 these blackberry lime crumb bars 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.


  • 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


  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: adapted from these strawberry crumb bars

Peach Cobbler

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


    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


  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: adapted from Martha Stewart

Classic Hot Fudge Sauce + Farm-Fresh Ice Cream of Connecticut {and a giveaway}

Trips home from the beach in the summer on Long Island growing up meant ice cream: Carvel, Friendly’s, or maybe even McDonald’s. However, here in western Connecticut, our summer excursions include trips to “the dairy”. We get in line and wait 20 minutes in the blazing summer sun (though sometimes under umbrellas in the rain too!) for a chance to indulge. But it’s not just any ice cream…it’s freshly made dairy farm ice cream using milk from the cows that are raised right there on the property.

It’s a pretty amazing concept and experience for this once-suburbanite – something you assume only happens in middle America, not in Connecticut. But dairy farms selling fresh ice cream in this New England state, known primarily for it’s affluent areas and gorgeous autumnal drives, truly abound. And just like homemade ice cream churned with your KitchenAid, there is absolutely no comparison in taste or quality of dairy farm ice cream to commercially produced ice cream – actually, it’s even better because the milk couldn’t be any fresher. Lucky for me, I recently had the chance to visit two local dairy farms that both are well-known and dearly-loved in this neck of the woods for their farm-fresh ice cream. Being a food blogger sure is a tough job, isn’t it?

Rich Farm Ice Cream Shop on Rt. 67 in Oxford, CT is a hidden gem you’d fly past if you didn’t know to look for it. Located about 4 miles off of Exit 15 on Interstate 84 (you know, the smarter alternative to driving on I-95 through CT…), Rich Farm Ice Cream Shop is, hands down, our favorite haunt for local ice cream. And yes, we have waited 20+ minutes for ice cream in lines 25+ people deep. It’s a simple summer tradition strengthened by the fact that we know source of this treat’s main ingredient – heck, sometimes I even see the cows grazing as I drive by on my way to work in the mornings. This farm isn’t only a Dairy Farm of Distinction, bestowed by the dairy industry for high quality milk (and yes, they also sell raw milk), but it’s long-time family run business that has also been recognized as “Best Ice Cream Shop in CT 2010” in Connecticut Magazine and has 4+ star ratings on Trip Advisor, Yelp, and

With over 30 flavors daily, how could you possibly choose just one? And how could you possibly choose a favorite at that? (I have two: butter crunch made with sweet cream ice cream and pumpkin-gingerbread.) And toppings? Sundae vs. milkshake vs. sandwich? Cone vs. cup? Honestly, you’d be foolish to not ask for your flavor of choice in a [yes, also] freshly made waffle cone and I challenge you to turn one of these cones down after smelling them cook from through the window. And at a little over $4 for a waffle cone the size of your head, how could you possibly turn that down? The only thing to remember before hitting up Rich Farm Ice Cream Shop, aside from wearing your fat pants that day, is to bring cash – no cards or checks are accepted. But since there is a bank about 1 1/2 miles away, you should have no excuse not to make your way to here…and maybe even bring a pint with you.

A short trip a little further west from Oxford in to Fairfield County will bring you to Ferris Acres Creamery, located on Rt. 302 (aka Sugar Street – appropriate, no?) in Newtown, CT. Much like Rich Farm Ice Cream Shop, Ferris Acres Creamery brings freshly-made ice cream to its devoted following, which seems to be just as strongly devoted as we are to “our” dairy. A ridiculously hot and humid May afternoon brought us to this off the beaten path dairy farm and again, we waited patiently in line for what promised to be the best in the area. The blueberry cheesecake special of the day ice cream made it into my waffle cone and we sat under a shady tree probably too close to the cows for most people’s comfort. Yeah…blueberry cheesecake ice cream? Sweet cream ice cream (I’m a sucker) with fresh blueberries and chunks of cheesecake mixed in: hot summer day perfection.

Aside from these two stellar choices in western CT, eastern CT is truly well-known for their dairy farms. The Connecticut Ice Cream Trail has been dubbed as a great day trip off the shoreline, a short drive from Mystic or the two casinos (Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun). If we lived any closer to the eastern CT dairy farms serving fresh ice cream, we be all over them but as it is, we live well over an hour from many of them – not ideal for a quick trip for ice cream.

In the interest of keeping Smells Like Home a food blog, I couldn’t pass up sharing one of our very favorite ice cream-related recipes. This classic hot fudge sauce is one we’ve made many times before and because it takes all of 10 minutes to whip up, it’s an optimal topping choice for homemade ice cream or whatever may make it into your cart at the grocery store. I’ve tried a few other homemade hot fudge sauces but this one blows them all away. And as the name indicates, it’s a classic. Deep, rich chocolate flavor and a perfectly thick consistency make it our favorite and because it lasts a few weeks in the fridge, it has the potential to top off a variety of different flavors.

And now, how about a giveaway?? Which Connecticut destination would you like to visit? Leave a comment below and you will be entered into a sweepstakes from BlogHer to win $1,000 to help you plan your trip!Advertisement

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