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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…

Toffee Bar Brownie Torte
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There are some things in life not worth sacrificing. Like this cake, for instance.  It was the recipe of the week for Project Pastry Queen last week and I passed on it because I had already made cupcakes, rice pudding, and cookie bars during the week.  And I regretted every bite of all of those things once I saw this cake posted by some of my fellow PPQers. So given the opportunity for a reprise with a Wildcard Week, I jumped at the chance to indulge.

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With a decadent espresso filling sandwiched between 3 layers of brownie, wrapped in a fluffy espresso whipped cream, and studded with Heath Bar bits, I’m sure I’ll have no problem passing on all other sweets this week so that this cake can take center stage.  The brownie layers aren’t as sweet as you would expect due to the [16oz!!] bittersweet chocolate in the recipe and they balance just perfectly with the sweet espresso-mascarpone filling.  As you could imagine, the cake as a whole is incredibly rich but it’s worth every single calorie each slice contains and small slices alongside a glass of ice cold milk are highly recommended.  And even though this is a gigundo cake, if you’ve got anyone around with a hollow leg and a sweet tooth (read: Kyle), I’m sure this cake won’t be around for long.

Sarah’s got the full recipe posted at 20something cupcakes and a few others made the cake last week so be sure to check out Project Pastry Queen for their links.  Next week we’re going Italian!

Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins
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Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins

Somethings are worth waiting for.  Like these muffins.  Perfect banana flavor balanced with semi-sweet chocolate chips that are totally enhanced by some instant espresso powder. Love, I tell you, love.

My interest was piqued months ago while tagging recipes to make in the Baked cookbook and then my interest took off after both The Pêche and Smith Bites blogs, my fellow Big Summer Potluckers, were gushing about these muffins on Twitter.  For whatever reason, the recipe got pushed down “the list” and I finally just took a few well-ripened bananas out of the freezer this week, only intending on using them in this recipe.  And boy, I can see what they were gushing about months ago!  These muffins are hands-down some of the best I’ve ever eaten!  I love the fact that they were so quickly whipped up (not literally) by hand rather than having to pull out the stand mixer…and I love the fact that even though I forgot to add the milk until after I mixed in the chocolate chips at the end, the muffins still turned out amazing!  They bake up with this funny shape, only what I picture to be a quintessentially quirky Baked trademark look, and when fresh out of the oven, the chips are gooey, the banana is prominent, and there is a slightest hint of crispiness around the top edges. Love, I tell you, love.