Heavenly Candy Bar Cake

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Today’s post and recipe are going to be dedicated to several folks. So, shout out(s) to:

Will Smith, Avril Lavigne,  Serena Williams, Michael Buble, Gloria Estefan, Zendaya Coleman, Beyonce Knowles Carter, Alecia “Pink” Moore Hart, Avicii, Michelle Williams, Jennifer Hudson, Emmy Rossum, Barry White, Amy Winehouse, Tom Hardy, Tommy Lee Jones, BB King, Scott Hoying, Stephen King, Jason Derulo, Alfonso Ribeiro, Bruce Springsteen, Ray Charles, Anthony Mackie and Catherine Zeta Jones.

It’s quite a diverse list, but still: I’m sure most of you can guess what all these folks have in common, right?

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All of the above had the great privilege of being born in the month of September.

Just like yours truly.

My birthday is coming up again guys. On September 27th (at 9:01 a.m., to be exact) I’ll be twenty seven.

I don’t feel twenty seven (three years away from 30, yikes.) Being completely honest I sometimes forget how old I am. It’s a day that mostly passes with little fanfare or to-do. I’ve never had a birthday party and twenty seven seems like a little late to start up the practice. But that’s fine by me. I don’t much like parties anyway.

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There is however, one thing  that so far as the birthday tradition goes, even I am unwilling to do without: a fantastic birthday cake.

That’s something that EVERYONE is entitled to. That’s something that EVERYONE ought to get.

Not to blow my own horn too loud, but… baking fantastic cakes is something that I think I kiiiinda know a little something about. Especially this one. This one’s going up there with the best of the best cakes to come outta my kitchen.

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So, the inspiration for this recipe comes out of a Southern Cake cookbook that my mom bought for me a little ways back. From the minute I first saw it, I immediately put a bookmark on the page, determined to bake it for myself once just the right special occasion came around.

If my own birthday isn’t a special enough occasion, then I think it’s safe to say that the birthdays of all the above mentioned stars certainly does. You’ll be seeing stars after the first bite of this cake, I’ll tell you that.

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If you were to ask most people- not all, but MOST people- they’d tell you that their favorite candy car is a certain kind made with milk chocolate, caramel, chopped peanuts and nougat. One with huge block letters with the commercials that ask you if you’re hungry, then tell you to grab one.

You know which one I mean. That one. It’s certainly MY favorite. So, I kinda went ahead and made it the focal point of the cake along with another certain candy bar that consists of milk chocolate and almonds. If you prefer another kind of candy bar; say the one that’s made with milk chocolate, caramel and nougat, OR the one with just milk chocolate and nougat that’s named after the book by Alexandre Dumas then I think those would work just as well with this cake as well.

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The base is a standard vanilla and it actually has melted candy bars in it, giving just a hint of the chocolate flavor without quite being a marble cake. It comes out oh-so moist, fluffy and of course, rich. The original recipe called for a chocolate marshmallow icing to go in between the cake layers but personally, I thought that was a little bit TOO sweet so, I diverted to my go-to chocolate buttercream that I used for my Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake instead. After that, I took the leftover fun-size candy bars I had, chopped them into quarters and pressed the quarters into the sides of the cake to give it a ‘brickle’ kind of effect. The crumbs from the almond chocolate got sprinkled around the rim of the top.

Now c’mon guys tell me honestly: is this a cake, or is this a CAKE?

(Linking this post to Fiesta Friday #138, co-hosted this week by  Mollie @ The Frugal Hausfrau and Johanne @ French Gardener Dishes.)

Heavenly Candy Bar Cake

Recipe Adapted from The Southern Cake Book

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Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 9 fun-size or 21 mini chocolate-coated caramel and/or creamy nougat bars (I used Snickers minis and Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds Nuggets)
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Frosting

  • 20 tbsp. (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) confectioner’s sugar
  • 3/4 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder
  • Pinch table salt
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces milk chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
  • About 15-20 mini chocolate-coated caramel and/or creamy nougat bars (I used Snickers minis and Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds Nuggets), chopped

 Directions

For Cake:

Melt candy bars and butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat about 5 minutes, stirring until smooth. Set aside.

Beat sugar and shortening at medium speed with an electric mixer about 3 minutes or until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

Combine flour and salt. Stir together buttermilk and baking soda. Gradually add flour mixture to sugar mixture, alternately with buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in melted candy bar mixture and vanilla. Spoon batter into 3 greased and floured 9-inch cakepans.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick comes out clean. Cool in pans on a wire rack 10 minutes; remove cakes from pans, and let cool completely on wire rack. Spread half of Chocolate-Marshmallow Frosting evenly between cake layers. Spread remaining frosting evenly over top and sides of cake. Garnish, if desired.

For Frosting:

Using a standing or hand held mixer, cream the butter, confectioner’s sugar, cocoa and salt together until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and mix until just combined, about 5 to 10 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the chocolate and mix together until smooth and creamy, about 10-15-seconds.

Line the edges of a cake platter with strips of parchment paper to keep the platter clean while you assemble the cake. Place one (evenly leveled) cake layer on the platter. Spread about 1 cup of the frosting evenly across the top of the cake with a spatula. Place the second cake layer on top, then spread another cup of the frosting evenly over the top and sides of the cake. Place the third layer on top, then spread a very thin layer of frosting around the top and all sides in a crumb coat. Refrigerate cake for about 1 hour, then frost cake with remaining frosting.

Using the chopped candy bars, press into the sides of the cake gently. Refrigerate for about thirty minutes to set.

Remove the parchment strips from the platter before serving.

  

S’mores Sandwich Cookies

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There are suffice to say, more than a few people in the US who enjoy camping. During the summer and even into the late autumn they love packing up their RVs and/or trailers and making long drives to remote campsites or cabins in towns located on lakes or rivers and spending weekends or even long weeks just chilling in the great outdoors. They love swimming, fishing, kayaking, water skiing, hiking and all those other outdoorsy activities.

Let me just state one thing right up front:

I’m not one of them.

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Have I ever been camping before?

No. And that’s exactly how I would like to keep it, thanks.

Why? A lot of reasons. First, I hate extreme heat. The idea of having to stay in the outdoors where it’s probably going to be extremely hot or muggy or humid or even all the above is pure torture. I need my a/c or I’m going to get grouchy. My hair just wouldn’t make it through that trauma, fam. Can’t even do it.

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I can’t swim a stroke. I hate bugs. I’ll eat a cornmeal crusted crappy or bluegill, but don’t ask me to fish for one. Not having Wi-fi anywhere makes me anxious (I wish this weren’t true, but it is).  I’m perfectly willing to go on a hike or jog through the woods for the exercise; just as long as *after* the hike is over, I can go to a place with a/c and shower and be back in my comfy space. If I just have to go back to a non-air conditioned tent or RV, well…you get the point.

I’m pretty much like Wicked Stepmother Vicky from “The Parent Trap”. Don’t try and take me camping.

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It’s actually kinda ironic that despite my aversion to it, my sweet tooth is captive to one of the more iconic “camping desserts” out there: the S’more.

I absolutely love any food, ANY-FOOD, that is S’mores flavored. The combination of chocolate, graham cracker and marshmallow is my kryptonite. God knows it’s no good for me, but I just can’t say no.

I’ve already shared recipes on this blog that feature that Holy Trinity of ingredients: (S’mores Brownies and S’mores Popcorn), and today I’m glad to announce that I’ve found yet another dessert featuring the irresistible S’more: the sandwich cookie.

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My idea for this recipe came with a recipe on The Kitchn website for a “Graham Cookie”, where the ‘flour’ element for the dough actually comes from very fine and pulverized graham cracker crumbs. I thought that was very clever and my instincts got me to thinking on what more could be done with that cookie to….elevate it. At first I considered just frosting them with a marshmallow creme icing, but then I thought I could take it a step further.

If you’ve got an elevated graham cracker ‘base’ already, why not just make an elevated s’more out of it, right?

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So what I essentially ended up with, is an elevated version of the almighty S’more, guys. I swapped out the recipe’s regular honey graham crackers for Cinnamon-flavored ones because I thought the flavors were hold up more after baking. Then after the cookies were done, I smeared the insides with semisweet chocolate and crafted a VERY simple marshmallow filling from marshmallow creme/fluff to sandwich them between. More chocolate no top because, why the heck not?

Do these taste good at room temp and even cold? You bet your ass they do.

But listen. Listen:

Love yourself and heat these up for about 10-15 seconds in the microwave. That’s all it’ll take. 15 seconds. Take a bite. Let that gooey marshmallow and chocolate greet your tongue/tastebuds the way they actually want to.

OMGAAAAAAWD.

Long live S’mores. Amen.

(As always, I’m linking my post to the week’s Fiesta Friday #137, co-hosted this week by Loretta @ Safari of the Mind and Natalie @ Kitchen, Uncorked.)

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S'mores Sandwich Cookies

Recipe Adapted from The Kitchn

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Ingredients

For the Cookies:

  • 28 sheets cinnamon-flavored graham crackers (Honey flavored will work fine too)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For Marshmallow/Chocolate Filling:

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup marshmallow crème, such as Marshmallow Fluff
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar

 

Directions

Process the graham crackers in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment until they are completely broken down into crumbs and have a sandy texture. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add the sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt and whisk to combine. Add the butter, egg, and vanilla, then stir together with a rubber spatula until just combined into a soft dough. Refrigerate dough for at least one hour, or up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange rack in the middle of the oven and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using a spoon or cookie scoop, measure 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough from the bowl. Roll between the palms of your hands to form a ball, then place on the baking sheet. Repeat with forming the remaining dough, spacing the dough balls about 2 inches apart.

Bake until the cookies have spread and the edges are lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then use a flat spatula to transfer to them to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the filling, place the chocolate chips in a glass measuring cup or other microwave-safe bowl. Microwa1 tsp ve and heat through until chocolate is smooth and melted, in about 25 second intervals and stirring in between. Using a small spoon or spatula, spread about  1 to 1 1/2 tsp of melted chocolate on the flat bottom inside of each cookie, spreading all the way to the ends and turning upside down and allowing to set on wire racks until chocolate hardens. (You can speed this process up by popping them into the refrigerator or freezer as well). You’re also going to have extra chocolate left over; set it aside, you’ll use it later.

While chocolate on cookies is setting, make the marshmallow filling: In a medium bowl, beat butter and marshmallow crème at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in vanilla. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar, beating until fluffy, approximately 3 minutes.

Once chocolate on inside of cookies has set, take the cookies and pair them up in twos. Using a tablespoon as your scoop, portion out a generous spoonful of the marshmallow creme and place in the center of your bottom cookie. Take the top on and gently press it down so that the filling distributes itself evenly between the two. Place the cookie sandwich on  wire rack. Repeat until all of your cookies are filled.

Taking a small spoon or fork, dip it into the reserved melted chocolate and drizzle it on the tops of your cookie sandwiches into decorative designs and/or scribbles. Allow the chocolate on top to set before serving.  Note: these cookies are best kept refrigerated when not being eaten.   

Chocolate Chip Cookie Icebox Cake

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Hey guys.

Greetings from the West Coast.

I made it to California on Sunday and have spent the last few days getting settled and doing some exploring of the area. I gotta say, Michigan this place is NOT. It’s sooooo different in so many ways.

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The first most obvious difference is the climate. It’s the beginning of September which for Michigan would mean that very soon (if not already)the temperature would begin to drop and give way to autumn.  We also see our fair share of rain in the Mitten.

Well, I may have only been here three and a half days but I’ve checked the forecast for the next 10 and so far The Weather Channel says that there’s nothing but sunny skies ahead with the temperature in the upper 70’s and 80’s. The ‘heat’ here is even different. You feel it, but unlike in Michigan, Calif heat as I’ve experienced it isn’t oppressive/humid/muggy. There’s usually a breeze that comes up to temper the heat from the sun. It’s nice.

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The city I’m living in was literally built in the middle of a desert valley, so at any moment, in just about any place you’re at, you can look off in the distance and see the tall, rolling mountains surrounding you. This may seem commonplace and un-extraordinary if you’re used to it, but I’m not, so I think it’s pretty awesome and beautiful.

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Perhaps most importantly…OMG, there are SO many different restaurants/food options out here! Back where I’m from in Michigan we really only had a handful of independently owned restaurants/joints besides the major chains. Not the case out here. I’ve had to add the Yelp app back onto my phone just to be able to pinpoint the highest rated places around where we are (and there are plenty). I’m excited to be able to try them out on the days when I don’t cook and/or have leftovers in the fridge.

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As for today’s post, this is actually a recipe that I made a couple weeks before I made the big move. I figured that I would be busy both right before I left and that I would also need some time to get settled in the new spot before I made my first meal in the new apartment and tried to put together new photoshoots and posts. My instincts were correct and although I plan to start cooking in the new spot tomorrow, I do have several back-up posts ready to share just in case I don’t get to take pics and write up recipes.

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An icebox ‘cake’ is probably the easiest type of cake to make there is (even easier than a box cake mix), since in most cases there is no baking involved at all. Really all it involves is the layering of cookies, ladyfingers, biscuits or pre-made cake in between whipped cream/custard or some other kind of filling. The mixture is allowed to rest overnight in the fridge and the filling softens the base carbs so that they become soft and chewy; like a ‘cake’.

It’s a stupid easy technique that can result in stupid delicious results. Like this one I’ve made for you guys today.

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If you’re new to icebox cakes, then let me make a staunch recommendation to you: start with a chocolate chip cookie one. Why?

Well #1, everyone loves chocolate chip cookies. Ev-ery-one. And if they don’t, well…maybe you shouldn’t know them. Number #2, this chocolate chip cookie recipe that I use is extremely simple to follow and tastes delicious; however, it’s also perfectly fine to use store-bought ones if you’re not in the mood for baking them beforehand. And CCCs are something that can be found in just about any grocery store. The flavors here are no-frills and pretty up front; chocolate chip cookies are sandwiched between layers of vanilla flavored whipped cream,then topped with more whipped cream, melted chocolate, sprinkles and crumbled chocolate chip cookies.

Guys. I mean…need I say more? Just *look* at it, will you? And yes, I guarantee it tastes every bit as delicious as it looks.

Happy Fiesta Friday #136, where I’ll be sharing this cake co-hosted this week by Judi @ CookingWithAuntJuJu.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Icebox Cake

Cookie Recipe Courtesy of Land O’ Lakes

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Ingredients

For the Cookies*:

  • 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups Butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (12-ounce) package (2 cups)real semi-sweet chocolate chunks or chocolate chips

(Note: You can completely bypass this step and buy storebought chocolate chip cookies if you prefer. I’d just make sure I had about 20-30 total to fill the entire pan.)

For Assembly:

  • 4 cups cold heavy cream
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
  • funfetti sprinkles, optional

Directions

 Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in bowl; set aside.

 Combine butter, sugar and brown sugar in another bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy.

Add eggs and vanilla. Continue beating, scraping bowl often, until well mixed.

Gradually add flour mixture, beating at low speed until well mixed. Stir in chocolate chunks.

Refrigerate dough for at least four hours, but preferably overnight.

Heat oven to 375°F.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoons, 2 inches apart, onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8-11 minutes or until light golden brown. (Do not overbake.) Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to cooling rack.

Whisk the heavy cream and cream cheese together in a standing mixer using the wire attachment until soft peaks form. Add the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla bean paste/vanilla extract and continue to whisk until medium-stiff peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to use. (Note: make sure the cookies are COMPLETELY cool before beginning to assemble cake.)

Spray the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray. (You can use a regular 9 inch pan, you just won’t be able to remove the whole cake and will have to cut it out piece by piece when ready to eat)

Place one layer of chocolate chip cookies down in the bottom of the pan, breaking apart into pieces to fill in the gaps if need be. Spread a thick layer of the whipped cream (about 1 cup) over the cookies using a spatula to spread smoothly and evenly. Repeat to form about 3-4 more layers, ending with a layer of whipped cream on top. (You’re probably going to have leftover cookies; that’s totally fine.)

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Take 1-2 of the leftover cookies and crumble between your fingers. Spread the chunks of cookie over the top center of the cake in a small pile.

Microwave the semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips in a glass measuring cup or microwave-safe bowl. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the cookie crumbs, then add the funfetti sprinkles if desired.

Refrigerate one more time, 30-minutes to an hour, just until chocolate/whipped cream has set and hardened. Unclasp the spring from the pan and gently lift out. Cut into slices and serve.

Pane Bianco

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You guys ever take a look at where your life is at and think back to what it was like a year ago? I can’t be the only person who does that, right?

It’s nearing the end of August and more than once I’ve stopped and thought about what was going on in my life a year or so ago. This time last year, life was somewhat hectic as we were just on the cusp of my twin sister’s wedding. She was hella stressed out and me and my older sister (as joint maids of honor) were doing everything that we could to keep her as calm and ‘together’ as possible….which at times seemed like Mission Impossible.

(Sorry Jas. But you know I’m speaking truth.)

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Fortunately, everything with the wedding turned out just fine. It was a great day and honestly all of us are kinda amazed that one full year has already went by since it happened. Hectic, stressful situations can seem like a handful when you’re in them and a trick I always try to do for myself to make things easier is to just imagine myself on the other side of them a year in advance, looking back on it and thinking, “Yeah. I guess that wasn’t so bad. It all turned out fine.  (and hopefully, even great).”

This is relevant to the here and now because I’ve actually been running around like a chicken without a head for the past few weeks, which is a huge reason why I didn’t get the time to put up a post last week. Last year’s hectic/stressful/big to-do was my twin’s wedding. And this year, it’s the hectic/stressful/big process of a move. A rather big move.

2.361 miles, to be exact.

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I’m moving to California, y’all.

I’m moving to California. I’m moving to California. I’m moving to–

Sorry. I keep having to say it to myself more than once because (despite the fact that my flight leaves in less than ten days) it still just does not feel real to me. Excepting the first eight months of my life (when I lived on an Army base in Montana and I really don’t think that counts) I’ve never lived *anywhere* else but the Mitten State. And now, in typical Jess-fashion of extremes, the second place I’m going to live in in my entire life is clear across the country and a polar opposite place/climate/vibe. It’s pretty typical of my life.

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Newsflash you guys: moving across the country is a very trying and at times, exhausting undertaking. There’s a LOT of t’s to cross, even more i’s to dot and still more loose ends to tie up. Packing. Shipping boxes of stuff through the US postal service. Packing. Transporting a car. Packing. Pinning down just the right flight to take for traveling with a toddler (which is more complicated than it sounds.)

Oh yeah, and still more packing.

Needless to say in the midst of all the bustle and running around, I’ve needed to find effective means of staying calm, chilling out and avoiding the much less practical alternative of ripping all my hair out. Baking is a practical and effective alternative, I’ve found.

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I’m subscribed to King Arthur Flour’s email mailing list and towards the beginning of the month, they announced a series of Baking Challenges that they would do every month and share through a blog post. I knew from the time that I got the email and gave the recipe a look over that I would try it out for myself and I’ve already seen lots of you take up the challenge with outstanding results. Plus, baking is wildly therapeutic to me. It was good to take a time out in between cleaning out an apartment, and packing and shipping boxes to get in the kitchen for a few hours and do some DIY therapy.

Especially if said therapy involves carbs. That, I’m always down for.

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I’ll be honest: this isn’t the kind of recipe that I would’ve chosen to make by myself right off rip. I think it’s the first cheese bread I’ve *ever* made before, and the first time I’ve baked with sundried tomatoes, ever for sure.

I made very little modifications to this recipe. It really is just about perfect and easy to follow all on its own. My only change was to add one tablespoon of Italian seasoning to the dough to give it that extra ‘oomf’ of flavor, and the aroma that it creates while baking and even proofing is very reminiscent of an Italian restaurant or pizzeria. The flavors here are outstanding, even better than I’d expected. The basil perfumes throughout the entire loaf, giving it a mild kind of sweetness even though there’s no sugar, while the cheese that pokes through the top of the swirls forms a lovely brown crust on the top of the bread while the cheese tucked on the inside forms these lovely, meltey, ooey gooey pockets of yum. (And this is coming from someone that doesn’t even like cheese that much usually. That’s how good this is.)

So, am I glad that I took the KAF August Baking challenge? You betcha I am.

Happy Fiesta Friday #134. Now let’s all break Pane Biano together and have a great weekend.

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Pane Bianco

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

For the Dough

  • 3 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour*
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1/3 cup lukewarm water’
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning blend

For the Filling

  • 3/4 cup shredded Italian-blend cheese or the cheese of your choice
  • 1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes or your own oven-roasted tomatoes
  • 3 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil

Directions

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the lukewarm water, then sprinkle the white sugar on top of that. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, until the yeast is proofed and frothy.

In the meanwhile, combine the milk, egg, and olive oil together in the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the yeast mixture, then the flour, Italian seasoning and the salt. Knead using the dough hook attachment until you have a smooth and slightly sticky dough.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 45 to 60 minutes, or until it’s doubled in size.

Meanwhile, thoroughly drain the tomatoes, patting them dry. Use kitchen shears to cut them into smaller bits.

Gently deflate the dough. Flatten and pat it into a 22″ x 8 1/2″ rectangle. Spread with the cheese, tomatoes, garlic, and basil.

Starting with one long edge, roll the dough into a log the long way. Pinch the edges to seal. Place the log seam-side down on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.

Using kitchen shears, start 1/2″ from one end and cut the log lengthwise down the center about 1″ deep, to within 1/2″ of the other end.

Keeping the cut side up, form an “S” shape. Tuck both ends under the center of the “S” to form a “figure 8;” pinch the ends together to seal.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, 45 to 60 minutes.

While the loaf is rising, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Uncover the bread, and bake it for 35 to 40 minutes, tenting it with foil after 20 to 25 minutes to prevent over-browning.

Remove the bread from the oven, and transfer it to a rack to cool. Enjoy warm or at room temperature. Store, well-wrapped, at room temperature for a couple of days; freeze for longer storage.

  

Chicken Parmesan Sandwiches

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I’m really not a huge fan of authentic Italian food.

I don’t like lasagna. I don’t like carbonara. I don’t care for the white heavy cream based sauces that can be found in a lot of Italian dishes at all. I’m not one for using lemon in savory applications. I’m actually not even a huge fan of cheese in general. If it weren’t for pizza, I could probably live without eating it entirely.

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My love for Italian food can basically be summed up in a plate of pasta (preferably spaghetti, rotini or ziti) and a mess of meaty marinara sauce dumped on top of it. If I’m feeling really “adventurous” there’ll be Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

And that just about does it.

Everything else I’m probably going to want to pass on.

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All of the above is what makes today’s recipe somewhat special.  I count it as me daring to be ‘adventurous’ and cook then eat something Italian that isn’t just pasta and meat sauce.

I needed to cook something that would last for the week but I didn’t really know what. I looked through the sale ads and didn’t seem any meat that was on sale except for pork chops and pork loin (neither of which I really felt like cooking or eating). So then, I went digging through my freezer to see if I’d bought any meat a while back then saved for later and just forgot about it.  Turns out, I had. I found two packs of chicken cutlets (chicken that’s thinly sliced and/or pounded thin by the butcher ahead of time).

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Most times meat that’s been prepared into cutlets is for the purpose of sandwich making. The protein is thinner, so it cooks relatively quickly and can fit on pieces of bread without much hassle. I’ve already made chicken schnitzel before on the blog with great results, but I wanted to make something new that I could post and share.  I’d also made shredded chicken into tacos just a couple weeks ago, so using the cutlets for that for that seemed kinda redundant.

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As a cook and eater with Southern roots, I’m of the opinion that it’s pretty tough to go wrong with chicken that you bread and fry, no matter what cuisine we’re talking about. Then, because a good red sauce is one part of Italian food that I like, I figured throwing them together couldn’t result in too shabby a meal. It also wouldn’t take a very long time to make, So for all those reasons, I decided to go ahead and make Chicken Parmesan for the first time, ever.

I really, REALLY liked the results.

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The best marinara sauce I’ve had to date is the one I made for my Pizza Hut-style breadsticks and Pan-Pizza that I made a while back on the blog, so that’s what I decided I would use for this recipe. I did a double batch because I love my sauce and wanted to have plenty to eat during the week for leftovers, but you can always cut it in half if you’re a less is more kind of a person.

Anytime you let chicken soak in an overnight buttermilk bath, you know that you’re going to have chicken that cooks up very moist and tender. I let mine chill for the whole 24, and once again I proved to myself that chicken breast haters are just doing their chicken breast wrong in how they treat it. The cutlets came out VERY moist and juicy on the inside. Chicken breading can sometimes run the risk of being bland and tasteless, but the method of including cheese with the actual breadcrumbs that the chicken is fried in gives it a GREAT flavor and texture. The crust came out perfectly crisp and golden when fresh and even when reheating the leftovers throughout the week, I found that I liked it even after it had gone soft.

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If you’re not a fan of Ciabatta bread, or you can’t find a grocery store or bakery in your area that carries it, that’s totally fine. Pepperidge Farm bread slices have also worked for me. I will say though, that for these sandwiches you want to use a bread that when toasted is big and sturdy enough to support the weight of the hot chicken and won’t get flat and soggy when you pile on the cheese and warm sauce. So please don’t sell yourself short; go for the good stuff.

The verdict is in and…Chicken Parmesan can sit with us. Finis.

Happy Fiesta Friday #132, co-hosted this week by Sandhya @ Indfused and Nancy @ Feasting With Friends.

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Chicken Parmesan Sandwiches

Recipe Adapted from Serious Eats

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Ingredients

For the Tomato Sauce:

  • 2 (15oz) cans tomato sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp dry oregano
  • 1 tsp dry basil
  • 1 tsp dry marjoram
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the Chicken:

  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk, divided
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 loaf crusty italian bread, crust removed, sliced into 1/2-inch slices
  • 5 ounces grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 quart Tomato Sauce  (see above recipe)
  • 10 ounces shredded mozzarella or Italian blended cheese
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, basil, or a mix
  • 1 loaf of Ciabatta bread or another sturdy crusty bread for sandwiches

Directions

Split chicken breasts in half horizontally. Working one piece at a time, place inside a plastic zipper-lock bag and pound with a meat pounder or the bottom of a skillet to an even 1/4-inch thickness. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add 1 1/2 cups buttermilk and minced garlic to bowl. Season with 2 tablespoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Turn chicken with hands until salt, pepper, and garlic are evenly incorporated and all the chicken is coated in buttermilk mixture. Transfer to a large zipper-lock bag, press out the air, and seal. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Meanwhile, place bread slices on a rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Leave out on counter for at least 4 hours and up to overnight until mostly dried.The next day, break bread into rough pieces (leave the wire rack in the rimmed baking sheet) and combine with 4 ounces Parmesan cheese in the food processor. Season with black pepper. Process until bread is finely ground, about 20 seconds. Transfer mixture to a large shallow bowl or pie plate.

Place flour in a second shallow bowl or pie plate. Whisk eggs, 2 tablespoons buttermilk, and 1 tablespoon of the flour in a third pie plate. Drizzle remaining 2 tablespoons buttermilk over the breadcrumb/Parmesan mixture and incorporate with your fingertips. The mixture should be mealy, but hold together in clumps if you squeeze it together with your hands.

Working one piece of chicken at a time, remove from the bag and add to flour. Turn to coat, shake off excess, and add to egg mixture. Turn to coat, letting excess drip off, and add to breadcrumb mixture. Turn to coat, piling crumbs on top and pressing down firmly so a thick layer adheres. Transfer coated chicken to the wire rack and repeat with remaining chicken breasts.

Adjust broiler rack to 8 inches below the heat source and preheat broiler to high. Place ciabatta cut-side-up on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Place under broiler and cook until well browned and crisp, about 2 minutes.

Transfer top bun to a large cutting board. Spread bottom bun with extra sauce and top with chicken cutlets, shingling them so they all fit in a single layer covering the bread (cutlets should already have sauce and some cheese on them). Top with more cheese. Return to broiler and cook until cheese is fully melted and starting to bubble and brown.

Remove from oven and immediately close sandwich, pressing down firmly to seal. Let rest for 1 minute. Slice into 6 to 8 single-serving pieces and serve. 

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Like many other folks,  there’s a list of things in life that I’ve always REALLY wanted to do, but just haven’t  been able to for various reasons.

Living in a big city (at least for a short period of time). Skating in Rockefeller Center at Christmas.  Flying first class on an air plane. Going zip-lining and living to tell the tale afterwards. Having a book on the NYT Best-Seller list. Remodel and live in a three to four story brownstone house.

Those are some of my more “extreme” ones that are proooobably going to have to wait until circumstances in my life adjust– most notably the financial ones.

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On the other hand, I’ve got other less major ones that would probably be extremely do-able and realistic.

Attend an All-White Party AND a Black Tie Gala. Sing Karaoke (in public). Slow-dance to “The Way You Look Tonight” in the dark. Become completely fluent in conversational Arabic and Spanish. Take a salsa dancing class. Get tatted.

Those are all things I COULD do, but… procrastination+nervousness+introversion= unaccomplished goals for Jess.

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I think I’ve mentioned it before on the blog but apart from my general Bucket List, I’ve also created a separate one that’s solely dedicated to recipes, techniques and ingredients in the kitchen that I’ve yet to practice and try. That list is actually getting gradually shorter and shorter as cooking is not something that I’m particularly limited in by lack of cash, or something that I have to swallow huge amounts of fear or anxiety to do. Cooking and baking are my form of personal therapy so I actually try to do them as much as possible, even when it’s trying out new things.

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It’s  pretty wonderful feeling when you actually get to accomplish something you’ve always wondered, thought or dreamed about, and an even better one when it’s every bit as satisfying as you always hoped it would be. Today’s post is actually me ticking off one of the things on my baking Bucket List: making something with browned butter.

Browned butter baked goods is one of those things I’ve heard RAVE reviews about, but just never got around to trying for myself. I think I did have a small paranoia that in the process of trying to ‘brown’ the butter I would accidentally burn it. However, that was a silly fear. Browning butter is very simple, and so long as you don’t leave it alone on the stove to go take a shower or clean the house, then it’s pretty safe to say, you’re not going to let it burn. This is my first and only time using it, and prior to now I didn’t think there was anything else you could do to elevate the simple but classic chocolate chip cookie.

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Guys.

I WAS WRONG.

If there is anyway to make a chocolate chip cookie reach the level of pure nirvana, it isn’t nuts. It isn’t coconut. It’s isn’t dark chocolate chips or caramel. Nuh uh.

It’s brown friggin butter.

What makes browned butter different from regular? Well the first thing you’re going to notice after you’ve prepared it here, is that it has a particular smell. A nutty, ‘caramely’ rich aroma that almost reminds you of what the Nestle Tollhouse booths in the mall give off when they’re baking fresh batches of goodies. Or even, what the Keebler  Elf Treehouse would smell like inside if it were a real thing. At least that’s what came to MY mind when I took the saucepan off the stove to let the butter cool and stuck my nose down into it to get a whiff.

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Chocolate chip cookies usually come down to two things when it comes to stand out flavors: the chocolate chips and the texture of  the cookie itself. Some people prefer dark chocolate as opposed to milk, while others want chocolate along with other mix-ins like nuts and coconut. Some people prefer cakey chocolate chip cookies while others prefer them thin and crispy. I think what the browned butter mainly does to elevate these cookies is that, it makes the actual flavor of the COOKIE DOUGH itself the star of the cookie. It has a unmistakably rich, nutty flavor that marries well with the flavor of the chocolate, balancing out the sweetness.

I wouldn’t call the texture of the cookie cakey, but it’s also not crispy either. It’s a perfect balance between the two; crisp edges and soft chewy centers (provided you stick with a middling bake time, of course.)

Also, Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches. Just throwing that out there.

Happy Fiesta Friday #131, co-hosted this week by Su @ Su’s Healthy Living and Laura @ Feast Wisely.

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe Courtesy of Serious Eats

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Ingredients

  • 8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 standard ice cube (about 2 tablespoons of frozen water)
  • 10 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 5 ounces granulated sugar (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 ounces dark brown sugar (about 1/2 tightly packed cup plus 2 tablespoons)
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped with a knife into 1/2- to 1/4-inch chunks

Directions

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, gently swirling pan constantly, until particles begin to turn golden brown and butter smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and continue swirling the pan until the butter is a rich brown, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to a medium bowl, whisk in ice cube, transfer to refrigerator, and allow to cool completely, about 20 minutes, whisking occasionally. (Alternatively, whisk over an ice bath to hasten the process.)

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Place granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium-high speed until mixture is pale brownish-yellow and falls off the whisk in thick ribbons when lifted, about 5 minutes.

Fit paddle attachment onto mixer. When brown butter mixture has cooled (it should be just starting to turn opaque again and firm around the edges), add brown sugar and cooled brown butter to egg mixture in stand mixer. Mix on medium speed to combine, about 15 seconds. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until just barely combined, with some dry flour still remaining, about 15 seconds. Add chocolate and mix on low speed until dough comes together, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate dough at least overnight and up to 3 days.

When ready to bake, adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and preheat oven to 325°F. Using a 1-ounce ice cream scoop or a spoon, place scoops of cookie dough onto a nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheet. Tear each ball in half to reveal a rougher surface, then stick them back together with the rough sides facing outward. Transfer to oven and bake until golden brown around edges but still soft, 13 to 16 minutes, rotating pans back to front and top to bottom halfway through baking.

Remove baking sheets from oven. Let cool for 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Repeat steps 3 through 5 for remaining cookie dough. Allow cookies to cool completely before storing in an airtight container, plastic bag, or cookie jar at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Strawberries and Cream Cupcakes

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Back in the late 90’s early 2000s the Wrigley/Lifesavers candy company came out with this line of candy that they called Creame Savers.

You guys (at least those of you in the U.S.) remember those?

For those that don’t know about/or remember them, the Creme Saver was similar to a Life Saver in that it was a fruit based hard candy except that the fruit flavor was combined with a cream that gave it a distinctive, rich/thicker texture when you sucked/bit on it. The first flavor that they put out was Strawberries and Creame, but it didn’t take very long before they became HUGELY popular, resulting in a rapid succession of other flavors: Oranges & Creame, Raspberries & Creame, even Chocolate & Creame. There was Creame Savers hard candy, Creame Savers soft chew candy, Creame Savers jello, and even Creame Savers flavored yogurt.

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For a while, it seemed like Cream Savers were just everywhere.

Then all of a sudden…they weren’t anymore. From what I understand Wrigly has recently started selling the Strawberry flavor in a new limited release in certain locations, but the Creme Saver craze has definitely died down from what it used to be. I’m not a huge candy fan, but I did like Creme Savers. When I was making today’s recipe, I thought about them and how much the combination of strawberries and cream is just always so much win.

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It’s one that was just made for summer. In summers like this when me and my sisters were younger we used to get cans of Reddi Whip whipped cream along with a carton of strawberries from the grocery store. We would wash/hull the berries, get out forks and take turns passing around the can of whipped cream, filling the berry cavities with whipped cream and eating them raw, just like that.

(I maaaaay or may not *still* do this myself sometimes. Maybe. I couldn’t possibly confirm at this time.)

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I may have lost my taste for Strawberries  and Creame candy, but I’ll never lose my love for strawberries and cream in shortcake or just all on their own.

Also, strawberries and cream in cupcakes. I will probably nevereverever lose my taste for cupcakes.

And if I ever do, somebody give me two tight slaps and ask me if I’ve lost my mind; the answer in that case would probably be a most definite “yes”. If there are some of you who may unfortunately think you’ve lost or never really had a taste for cupcakes, then don’t worry. I’m not going to give you two tight slaps and ask if you’ve lost your minds; I mean, I could. But I think a much better, more effective solution would be to just present you with these: Strawberries and Cream cupcakes.

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These cupcakes are very simple, no-frills and little fuss… but then, good things in life oftentimes are.

I will say one thing about this recipe though, and that I found that it made slightly more batter than I think is suitable for a 12 muffin cup pan. I tried containing it to just 12 cupcakes and what ended up happening was that before baking, the liners were fuller than what I was comfortable with. As a result, I had some spillage which is why the finished cupcakes settled a little flat rather than having domed tops. While that definitely didn’t affect the taste, it is a detail I think is worth pointing out. I think maybe just using 2 or 3 extra more muffin cups would produce the best results

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So, as I said before, this a very simple recipe. You can make these from start to finish in the space of about 1.5 hours. However, don’t let you think that that means the taste is simple.

It’s not.

The secret weapon in this recipe is the use of the fresh strawberry puree. It adds that tart strawberry flavor to the vanilla based-batter while also balancing the sweetness of the frosting beautifully, somehow managing to make it taste light and airy–the texture is actually very similar to whipped cream. Plus, doesn’t it make them look so pretty-in-pink?

I’ll be at the Fiesta Friday #130 party this week with these cupcakes. You should come out and get one while I’ve still got ’em.

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Strawberries and Cream Cupcakes

Recipe Adapted from Food Network Magazine

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Ingredients

For Cupcakes:

  • 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick softened butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup strawberries, hulled
  • 1/2 cup milk

For Frosting

  • 1 1/2 sticks softened butter
  • 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 cup Strawberry puree (see recipe)
  • About 6-8 Whole strawberries, sliced into quarters, optional
  • Strawberry rock candy (or sprinkles), optional

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a 12-cup muffin pan with liners.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium size bowl with a whisk or a fork and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy in a standing mixer on medium high speed. Add the eggs (one at a time) and the vanilla.

Puree the strawberries until smooth. Add all EXCEPT 1/4 cup to the cupcake batter. Set aside the 1/4 cup in small bowl.

Carefully add the flour mixture to  the batter in medium increments until fully incorporated, alternating with the 1/2 cup of milk. (It’s best to start and end with the flour) Don’t over-mix.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake until tops spring back, 20-25 minutes. Transfer to baking rack and let cool 5 minutes in the pan before removing the cupcakes and letting them cool completely.

Beat the butter, confectioner’s sugar and salt with a mixer on medium speed  until just combined. Add the vanilla and beat on medium high until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the milk and 1/4 cup of strawberry puree beat for about 1 minute more until fluffy.

Spread frosting on top of cooled cupcakes. Top with sliced strawberries and strawberry rock candy/sprinkles if desired.