Vanilla Sugar Cookies

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Our current location is pretty convenient for several reasons. First, there’s a park nearby that me and my niece have gone to at least once a week since we moved out here. Second, we live a hop, skip and a jump away from a pretty dope children’s museum that my niece has become very fond of. Because the weather here’s been so hot and pretty much unbearable to play outside, we’ve been spending quite a bit of time at it. It’s a very nice museum, but it’s certainly not the biggest one that we’ve ever taken her to. You’d think that after going two or three times, a kid would get tired of it.

But…nope. Not ours.

The museum has the option to purchase what’s called a family membership where after paying one lump sum, you can go to the museum as many times as you like for an entire year. After our first two visits, her mother decided that she’d just go ahead and gift her with a membership. That way, on days when she doesn’t want to go to the park, or when stormy or hot weather doesn’t permit us to go (like nowadays) she still has a way to get out of the house and have some fun.

And boy, does she have fun. It’s become kind of amusing for me to see her go through the same exhibits, play with the same toys, see the exact same things and never seem to get tired of it–like, ever. Each time we go is like the first time for her.  In fact, she’s already asked me if we can go back there on Monday. I figure it beats standing out in the hot sun on a playground that has little to no trees for shade.

I said sure; why not?

Now that I think about it, I can’t really blame my niece for loving the museum that much. I can be like that in other ways about other things.

For instance, oh well…sugar cookies. I think my unending love and obsession for the sugar cookie has been well documented on this blog. There is no dessert or sweet that I love more. No matter how many different ones I’ve made, I’m always willing to try another recipe and try to either improve it or give it another creative twist.

Today’s recipe is kinda like yet another one of my niece’s visits to the museum: I’m showing up with yet another sugar cookie recipe. You all will not only deal, you will love it.

Ever since I bought my Springerle Cookie molds, I’ve developed a small obsession with making stamped/imprinted cookies.  They’re a really quick way to give your cookies a lift aesthetically and with some practice I’ve gotten pretty decent at getting the results that I want. The problem with Springerle molds is that because each one is hand carved, they’re not cheap. Right now I’ve only got two and because I wanted to widen my collection of cookie stamps, I knew I would have to try and find a cheaper alternative. A little digging on Amazon led me to some perfectly nice rubber ones from Tovolo. They came in a set of one plunger that fit three rubber stamps that could be switched out alternatively.

I used one of the stamps in the Tovolo set to make these very simple, but still sooooo delicious sugar cookies. Sugar cookies are one of the foods I love most. Baking itself is therapeutic for me, so I think that love just goes into it naturally. The stamp of choice just seemed appropriate. I would like to say though that although I used one for this recipe, these cookies DO NOT require you to use them for it to work. If you’re like me and are also obsessed with sugar cookies–especially ones heavily flavored with vanilla- but don’t have a cookie stamp, don’t worry about it. You can still make un-stamped but still perfectly fine vanilla sugar cookies. And I gotta say, in addition to being simple to put together, these ARE also pretty perfect.

Provided you roll the dough thick enough, these bake up soft and slightly chewy. The flavor I used was vanilla because that’s what I think works best with sugar cookies, but if there’s another flavor you’re fond of, like lemon or almond, I think that would work just as well.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #178.

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Vanilla Sugar Cookies

Recipe Adapted from Nordic Ware

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 2/ 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon salt

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the egg and vanilla and mix just until combined.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt with a fork. Add this in batches to the wet ingredients, mixing just until combined.

Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour and up to overnight. Take out for about 10-20 minutes to allow to soften a little.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Roll dough out on a clean and floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick. Dip your cookie stamps into powdered sugar, then tap to remove excess. Press firmly into the dough. Use a slightly larger round cookie cutter to cut out shape, then transfer to cookie sheets. Repeat until you’ve used up all of the dough.*

Freeze cut out cookie dough for 30-45 minutes. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes, just until bottoms start to turn golden brown. Allow to set on sheets for about 60 seconds before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

(Note: You don’t HAVE to use cookie stamps for this recipe. I think it would work just as well without it. Use whatever cookie cutters you have, or shape the dough into a log, freeze for about 30 minutes, then cut into slices and bake as directed. Also,  no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Double Ginger Sugar Cookies

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When I was a little girl, there was no food, (and I mean absolutely NO FOOD) that I loved more than sugar cookies.

Not french fries. Not chicken nuggets. Not chocolate. Not mac n cheese (which I never liked and still don’t actually…hush). Not even chocolate chip flavored cookies.

Sugar. Cookies.

To me they were just… the best thing ever.

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If I’m being completely honest, there’s a part of me that still thinks they are. The ingredients of the typical sugar cookie are deceptively simple, yet the recipe itself is still easy to miss the mark on. A poorly made sugar cookie can come in the form of one that’s dry, too crisp, bland, too thick, too crumbly and dozens of other ways that things can go wrong. To date, the worst excuse for a sugar cookie I’ve ever had came from those abominable premade break and bake refrigerated cookie dough. The cookie is just barely palatable in a precious window of time of about….10 minutes after you take them out of the oven. Then, well…they cool/dry into pretty much inedible, bland sawdust.

Blegh.

Stay away. Far, far away from break and bake dough when making sugar cookies, I implore you. Scratch really is the only way to go. I will take a well made, from-scratch sugar cookie over say, creme brulee or a slice of cake any day. I will fight you for the last sugar cookie on a dessert tray. (You think I’m playing. Heh. Go ahead and try me, Buttercup.)

A well made sugar cookie is a perfect dessert, whether eaten all on its own or say, dipped in ice cream or whipping cream or chocolate (try it sometime if you haven’t). Once you know how to make a good one all on its own, it might be a good idea to start branching out and experimenting with creative twists to it…like this one.

I made these as a result of still having an excess of ginger from my homemade ginger tea I was making to ease my stomach issues. I took the leftover ginger from the syrup I made and candied it by rolling the pieces in white sugar and letting them cool until they’d crystallized. It’s a MUCH easier alternative to buying the premade stuff in the spice aisle and it’s quite easy to do. I was VERY curious to see what the spicy, slightly sweet ginger would add to the base of a sugar cookie.

Textures abound in this here recipe. The cookie itself is slightly crisp at the edges, with just the right amount of softness in the center so that biting into it, you get a slight crunch & a chew at the same time that’s intensified by the texture of the candied ginger. I won’t lie, the ginger REALLY does pack a punch; there is both crystallized and ground ginger in the dough and it’s definitely noticeable. The cookies are both sweet and spicy, but I enjoyed the contrast of flavors. Sometimes sugar cookies are stuck between either being too sweet or too bland; the doubled use of ginger here ensures that these are neither. They’re the perfect balance.

As usual, I’m linking this post to the Fiesta Friday for this week, #166, co-hosted this week by Mollie @ Frugalhausfrau and Ginger @ Ginger and Bread.

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Double Ginger Sugar Cookies

Recipe Courtesy of Food and Wine

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Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (3 ounces)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks ( 1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Coarse turbinado sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

Directions

In a medium size bowl, combine the flour, crystallized ginger, ground ginger, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand held mixer) cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract, being sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl to evenly combine. Fold in the dry ingredients, about 1/3 a cup at a time. Mix just until dough comes together.

Shape dough into a long log and freeze log for about 1 1/2-2 hours, until very firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a bench scraper, cut off cookies about 1/8 inch thick and place them about 1 inch apart on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops with the coarse sugar if desired.

Bake the cookies in batches until golden and just barely set on top, 8-10 minutes.  Switch the top and bottom racks midway through baking. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on pan before moving to wire racks to cool completely.

Note: No one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Strawberry Supreme Birthday Cake

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It’s my niece’s 4th birthday tomorrow. I have no idea how this kid is four already. I swear it was just yesterday I was sitting in the hospital room when she was wheeled in from the delivery with her mom, swaddled in her little burrito blanket. Time really does fly when it comes to kids, even when you’re just helping raise them.

I know I’m biased, but she really is such a sweetheart. I love her to death and feel blessed to have been able to be a major part of her life.

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I’ve been making her cakes for her day for the past two years. Last years was this Funfetti Cake. This year when I asked her what kind she wanted, she didn’t hesitate to reply: “Strawberry Cake, Auntie.”

I had my marching orders. A Strawberry Birthday Cake it was.

What first comes to y’all’s minds when you hear Strawberry Cake?

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If you’re like me, maybe you thought about strawberry shortcake–which is delicious, but I also knew wasn’t what my niece was talking about. There’s strawberry shortcake; a fluffy biscuit-y cake that’s served with whipped cream and strawberries. Then, there’s the Strawberry Cake; a pink colored cake that usually comes from a box mix. I loved it myself as a kid, and what little kid wouldn’t? It’s pink. It’s EXTREMELY sweet. 9 times out of 10 it’s spread with pink frosting.

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What’s the problem? Well, that cake is just so overly sweet  and artificial tasting. The ‘strawberry’ flavor and color often comes from the addition of a packet of strawberry jello packet. While this may not make a huge difference to a four year old little girl, it sure makes a difference to her 27 year old foodie and baker auntie who doesn’t like to have anything to do with box cake mixes.

I still wanted to give my baby what she wanted though: a yummy, pretty strawberry birthday cake. Guess what? I think I did, even sans cake mix.

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I won’t lie: layer cakes of any kind take patience and time. They can be a labor of love, and this cake is no exception. However, I’ve found that the work can be spread out over two days so that you’re not so rushed or in the kitchen for hours at a time by baking the cakes themselves on Day 1, refrigerating them overnight, then making the filling/frostings and assembling the whole thing on Day 2.

And I do have to say, the work is one hundred percent worth it. I don’t think this cake could be more of a Strawberry Cake if it tried: strawberries are literally in EVERY SINGLE part of it. There are pureed strawberries in the batter. The cake is filled with a fresh strawberry curd. The frosting is mixed with even more pureed strawberries.

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Strawberry on strawberry on strawberry.

The cake bakes up very moist and fluffy. The only downside was that the pureed strawberries in the batter did sink to the bottom of the pans. But that turned out okay too because they just melded together more with the strawberry curd. I’ve made lemon curd before, but never strawberry. This one was extremely easy to do and the result is a tart, smooth curd which gives a real punch of strawberry freshness to the overall taste of the cake. I think it might be the best part, to be honest. The frosting isn’t overly sweet thanks to the addition of the cream cheese to the butter and powdered sugar. And the scoop of the fresh strawberry puree gave it that pretty in pink tint that I knew my niece would love.

Linking this post with Fiesta Friday #161, co-hosted this week by Laura @ Feast Wisely.

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Strawberry Supreme Birthday Cake

Recipe Adapted from Taste of the South Magazine

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Ingredients

For Cake

  • 2 cups fresh strawberries
  • 2½ cups cake flour
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup ice water
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup butter shortening, at room temp
  • 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temp
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

For Strawberry Curd Filling

  • 1 (16-ounce) package frozen sliced strawberries in syrup, thawed and drained
  • 1⁄2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1⁄4 cup butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 teaspoon strawberry extract

For Strawberry Frosting

  • 1⁄2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1⁄2 cup reserved strawberry purée (from Strawberry Curd)
  • 1 teaspoon strawberry extract
  • 6 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 °. Flour, grease and line three round 8 or 9 inch cake pans with wax paper or parchment paper. Set aside.

Pulse strawberries in a food processor or blender until well blended, but still with some chunks inside. Set aside in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine the ice water, whole milk and buttermilk. In bowl of a standing mixer or using a handheld mixer, cream together the butter and shortening until creamy, about 3-4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla, mixing another 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat just until combined. Alternating adding the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the bowl, starting and ending with flour mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl with spatula to ensure it’s well mixed. Remove this mixture to another bowl, & wipe out thoroughly. Using clean beaters, place the egg whites and cream of tartar together in the bowl at medium speed, beating until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, fold the egg whites into the cake batter. Fold in the strawberries. Divide the batter evenly between the three pans, smoothing the tops with spatula. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted inside cakes comes out clean. Let cool in pans for 20 minutes before removing from pans and letting cool completely on wire racks.

For Curd: Pour the drained strawberries into a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth. Remove and reserve 1/2 cup of t he puree for the Strawberry frosting. In a medium saucepan, add the strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, egg yolks and lemon juice over medium heat, whisking constantly until thickened; about 7-8 minutes., Remove from heat and add the butter in chunks, then the strawberry extract. Let mixture cool slightly, cover with a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours before using.

For Frosting: Cream together the butter and cream cheese in bowl of a standing mixer or using a handheld one until fluffy. Add the reserved strawberry puree and the extract and mix until just combined. Add the confectioner’s sugar one cup at a time and beat together until smooth and creamy.

To Assemble: Level the tops of each cake. Line the edges of a cake platter with strips of parchment paper to keep the platter clean while you assemble the cake. Place one cake layer on the platter. Pipe a border of frosting around the edges of the cake. Spread about half of the strawberry curd inside the border, smoothing with a spatula. Top with another cake layer and repeat process. Top with final cake layer. Spread entire cake with just frosting enough over the top and sides to make a crumb coat. (It should be thin).  Refrigerate cake for one hour until the crumb coat is firm. Finish spreading the remainder of the frosting on the cake, decorating with sprinkles if desired. Remove the parchment strips from the platter before serving.

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PB Sandwich Cookies (with Honey-Cinnamon Filling)

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I can’t think back to a time when there hasn’t been a big jar of chunky peanut butter in one of my cabinets or pantry. I’m crazy about the stuff.

I’m not hugely picky on the brand; Jif, Skippy and Peter Pan have ALL passed the test of my tastebuds–just so long as there’s some there whenever I want it. Even when I went through a ‘health nut’ phase, do you think I turned my back on peanut butter? Tuh. I just spend the extra buck or two and bought the natural chunky pb without the extra hydrogenated oils that you have to stir every once in a while. Wasn’t that much of a difference in taste (albeit it a little less sweet) and it did the trick until I finally caved & went back to the really good stuff. I was NOT going to live my life without peanut butter. No way, no how.

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Can I let you guys in on a little secret?

I never could, and still haven’t grown to like peanut butter and jelly as a combination on a sandwich. Who *needs* jelly when you could just slather more peanut butter on two slices of toasted bread? Jelly can take a hike so far as I’m concerned.

Just shut up, pass me the Skippy Chunky and a spoon, and no one will get hurt.

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Apart from just loving the stuff all on it’s own, I remember that I went through a phase as a kid when I was ka-razy about peanut butter cookies–especially the Nutter Butter sandwiches. I just wanted them all the time. I craved them: ALL.THE.TIME.

You know how when you went to the grocery store with your mom and if you were good (or if she was in a good mood and there was a little extra money) she’d let you pick something out to get? For a while, the ‘thing’ that I would always pick out were Nutter Butters.

At the time it didn’t matter because I had the metabolism of an Olympic athlete, but looking back (now that I definitely do not), I can admit that it was embarrassing how many I could put away.

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However. These are not Nutter Butters.

They are…dare I say it? Yeah, I will.

They’re better than Nutter Butters. Got your attention yet? Good.

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I decided to make these on a random whim, since #1, I felt like baking, #2, I had all the ingredients in the house at the time and #3, I was feeling guilty for not using my America’s Test Kitchen cookbook more often and this was in it. It’s a fabulous recipe that’s fairly easy to put together, and with my personal modifications, it just tasted even better.

I swapped out the recommended regular dry roasted peanuts for honey roasted ones that are lightly coated in sugar. I prefer the taste of honey roasteds, and I also think the ‘roasted’ flavor just comes out stronger in them for some reason. The cookies themselves remind me of the peanut butter cookies that can often be found in the bakery sections on cookie platters sold in Sam’s Club or Costco. They’re soft and chewy with the perfect contrast of texture from the crunch of the honey roasted peanuts that are chopped inside the dough.

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The filling was another modification. Whereas Nutter Butter cookies are just filled with a stiff peanut butter frosting, the filling in these cookies is smoother in texture. Second, the combination of peanut butter, honey and cinnamon makes it so that the overall sandwich isn’t too ‘one-note’ in flavor. Spoiler alert: it works. Really well.

I don’t know if there are words that can adequately describe what this tastes like when it’s warmed up in the microwave. You know, where the cookies are just on the verge of falling apart from softness of the crumb, and the filling is gooey and sticky so that the whole thing just kinda melts together in your mouth and–

Yeah, let me just stop now.

My twin sister pronounced these as some of “the best PB cookies” she’s ever had, and I really can’t say that she’s too far off on that assesment.

Guess that means I’ve got Nutter Butters beat, huh? Rah rah sis boom bah.

Linking up this post to Fiesta Friday #156.

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PB Sandwich Cookies (with Honey-Cinnamon Filling)

Recipe Adapted from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook

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Ingredients

For the Cookies:

  • 1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) honey roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 cup (3 3/4 ounces) all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter,melted
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed (3 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 large egg

For the Filling

  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 5 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pulse peanuts in food processor until finely chopped, about 8 pulses.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in bowl. Whisk melted butter, peanut butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, milk and egg together in second bowl. Stir flour mixture into peanut butter mixture with rubber spatula until combined. Stir in peanuts until evenly distributed.

Using a tablespoon measure, place 12 mounds, evenly spaced on each prepared baking sheet. Using dampened hand, flatten mounds until about 2 inches in diameter.

Bake until deep golden brown and firm to touch, 15 to 18 minutes, switching and rotating baking sheets halfway through baking. Let cookies cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack and let cool completely, about 30 minutes. Repeat portioning and baking remaining dough.

For the Filling:

Microwave peanut butter until melted and warm, about 40 seconds. Stir honey and ground cinnamon into the warm peanut butter before using a rubber spatula to stir in the confectioner’s sugar.

Place 24 cookies upside down on counter. Place 1 level tablespoon of warm filling in the center of each cookie. Place second cookie on top of filling, right side up, pressing gently until filling spreads to edges. Allow filling to set for 1 hour before serving. Assembled cookies can be stored at room temp for up to 3 days.

   

Hot Chocolate Marble Pound Cake

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So, in my Dulce de Leche Hot Chocolate post, I think I may have been a little harsh in my critique of the ‘just add water’ hot cocoa mix as an ingredient. I may have given you the impression that I think it completely useless and something to avoided at all times.

Not so. Not at all.

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Do I prefer to have my hot chocolate straight from real melted chocolate and milk: yes.  Do I still think the sky blue colored name brand hot chocolate with the ‘Sound of Music’ inspired mascot is nasty and should be avoided at all costs? Absolutely.

However, there’s a time and place for everything, and this absolutely extends to hot cocoa mix–especially when it comes to my favorite of activities: baking. There are still other name brands that I think produce perfectly fine powdered cocoa mixes, both for drinking and baking.

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….You guys DID know you could bake with hot cocoa mix with great results right? You totally can. You just have to make sure that (just like with booe) you pick and use a product that you would want to drink all on its own….which is exactly why I stand by my assertion that the Alps Girl hot chocolate should be avoided at all costs. It’s crap and I don’t think it would translate well in this recipe; stay away from it.

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At this time of year, I’ve seen the Land O’ Lakes gift baskets floating around with the HUGE variety of hot chocolate mixes. I’ve had several of those before and I think they’re pretty tasty all on their own and would be just fine to use. I opted used Nestle Abuelita Mexican Hot Chocolate mix in this recipe, as personally I prefer the flavors of Mexican hot chocolate to regular. Plus, the mix produces pretty tasty hot cocoa all on it’s own. If you have another gourmet brand of hot chocolate you want to use, have at it. Like I said: just make it something you’d want to drink.

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I’ve only made marble cake once before and to be honest, it wasn’t very successful. The marbling effect didn’t work out the way I wanted to and it ended up sinking to the bottom of the pan so that it wasn’t pretty and…yeah. Just a bad kitchen memory. But as the saying goes: if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.

I gotta say, I think my second attempt at marble cake came out not just pretty, but pretty damn tasty too if I may say so myself. What’s more, it’s pretty easy to do.

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Pound cake is the perfect vehicle for a marble cake because everyone loves a pound cake all on its own anyway. Once you take a standard vanilla pound cake batter and swirl it with a Mexican Hot Chocolate flavored one, you’re really just improving on a classic dessert that you’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t going to want a slice.

I included a recipe for the pretty icing drizzle, but I would ALSO highly recommend eating this with a scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate drizzled on top. Or, a scoop of chocolate ice cream with MORE chocolate drizzled on top for you chocaholics.

Oh! And maybe even eating a slice with a warm cup of hot cocoa on the side. Heh. See what I did there?

Happy Fiesta Friday #150, co-hosted this week by Caroline @ Caroline’s Cooking and Tânia @ Iwanttobeacook.

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Stuffing Bread

Day 2: Pumpkin Crunch Tart

Day 3: Cinnamon Roll Cookies

Day 4: Dulce de Leche Hot Chocolate

Day 5: Almond Stamped Cookies

Day 6: Spiced Cookie Bark

Day 7: Demerara Sugar Buns

Day 8: Sugared Shortbread

Day 9: Hot Chocolate Marble Pound Cake

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Hot Chocolate Marble Pound Cake

Recipe Adapted from Food Network

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Ingredients

  • 2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream (you can substitute buttermilk if you don’t have the sour cream; it’ll be fine)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup hot chocolate or cocoa mix (I used Nestle Abuelita Authentic Mexican Hot Chocolate Drink Mix)

For Icing

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • Milk
  • About 2 tablespoons melted chocolate chips
  • Sprinkles (optional)

 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl combine the flour and salt together and set aside. In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, sour cream or milk and vanilla extract and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer and using the wire attachment (or you can use a handheld mixer), cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Alternately add in the flour (about 1/3 a cup at a time) and the egg mixture, starting and ending with the flour until just combined; don’t overmix.

Transfer about 1/3 of the batter to the small bowl you mixed the eggs/sour cream or milk in. Stir in the hot chocolate mix.

Take the greased loaf pan and spoon in a layer of the vanilla batter, using the butt end of the spoon or a rubber spatula to smooth it out to all four corners. Take about three rounded tablespoons of the chocolate batter and dollop it on top of the vanilla. Use the pointed end of the knife to swirl the chocolate batter into the vanilla. Repeat, spooning another layer of vanilla batter on top followed by 3 more dollops of chocolate. When you’ve used all the batter, insert the knife down to the bottom of the pan and give it a few more swirls; not too many or you’ll ruin the marble effect.

Give the pan 2 or 3 taps on the counter, place on a baking sheet and bake for 90 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean and the inner temp of the cake reaches 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the icing: Place the powdered sugar in a small bowl and add enough milk to make a thick icing, 1 tablespoon at a time. Using the tines of a fork, drizzle it on top of the cooled cake. Take the leftover frosting and stir in the melted chocolate chips. Once the white icing has cooled, take the chocolate icing and drizzle a second layer of icing on top of that. Top with sprinkles if desired. Allow icing to set before cutting and serving, about 30-45 minutes.

Cinnamon Roll Cookies

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Its funny; I’ve made hundreds of holiday cookies, but I don’t think I’ve ever participated in an actual cookie swap. Not a single one.

You guys know what those are, right? Cookie swaps are sugar overload get-togethers where each of the attendants bakes up a large batch of cookies and brings them to share & ‘swap’ everyone else who’s brought their own recipe of cookies to the party. Everyone is supposed to bring a different type so that there’s as much variety as possible. Sometimes there will be recipe exchanges along with the cookies. Sometimes people will vote on which cookie at the swap is the best tasting.

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It’s probably just in my competitive nature but if I did actually go to a cookie swap, I would want MY cookies to be the favorite. If all of the cookies were laid out together on a platter, I’d want MINE to look the prettiest. I’d definitely have to win, which means that the cookies I took with me would A) Not only have to be delicious, but B) also be just as great to look at.

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Having said all of that, I can guarantee that of all the cookies I’ve baked–and there have been many–if I had to choose one recipe to bake and bring to a cookie swap, this one right here would be it. No question.

It more than delivers in the taste department, the details of which we’ll get to in a second. But first, can we talk about the presentation?

I mean, come on. They just LOOK like the perfect Christmas cookie, right?

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What we have here is a cream cheese buttery cookie dough that gets rolled out flat, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar then rolled up in a tight cylinder, cinnamon-roll style. Individual cookies are cut from the cylinders then baked until golden brown. The cookie’s texture is tender and slightly crisp; think somewhere in between a sandie and one of those butter cookies that come out of the blue tins. The orange zest in the dough gives a slight but pleasant citrusy after-taste to them that complements the cinnamon inside beautifully.

They’re really very delicious guys. They remind me of something that the Keebler company would mass produce and sell at Christmas.

Except Keebler didn’t make them. I did. And now you can too.

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Before I even made this recipe, I knew that I was going to have a trial-error experience with it. They were just too pretty NOT to run into some technical difficulties. Fortunately for you guys, you get to find out how to make them without having to make the same mistakes I did. Following my clear and pretty straight forward instructions should make it so that there’s no reason why your cinnamon roll cookies won’t turn out exactly like the ones you see in the pictures.

I’d say that the most important step to nailing this recipe is making sure that your dough is the right temperature, especially before rolling it up into the cylinders that you cut into the individual cookies. When I first made these, my dough was still too soft; I didn’t give it enough time to chill in the freezer so it tore and broke apart AFTER I had already sprinkled with the cinnamon sugar and was attempting to roll it.

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Not pretty. Not fun.

Don’t do that.

Let your dough chill out in the freezer long enough so that it can be rolled up just as easily as cinnamon roll dough can. If you use the freezer rather than the refrigerator, it shouldn’t take too long. Roll the cylinders up as tightly as you can; loose rolls make the swirls in the cookies spread wide and cause some of the filling to spill out. Let the rolled up cylinders chill out in the freezer long enough so that when you cut them into individual cookies, the rolls don’t deflate.

If you keep this dough as chilled and firm as possible, it’ll be good to you. Promise. And, you’ll be the star of any cookie swap party, that’s for sure.

(Still more to come in our 12 Days of Christmas baking series. Stay tuned.)

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Day 1: Stuffing Bread

Day 2: Pumpkin Crunch Tart

Day 3: Cinnamon Roll Cookies

 

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Cinnamon Roll Cookies

Recipe Adapted from Taste of Home

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1-1/4 cups butter, softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
  • 4-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

 

Directions

In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon and set aside.

In a  medium bowl or container, mix the flour together with the baking powder, yeast and salt.

In a large bowl of a standing mixer, use the whisk attachment to cream the butter, cream cheese and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, then add the vanilla extract and grated orange peel.

Gently add the flour mixture, about 1 cup at a time. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula periodically to ensure it’s mixed thoroughly.

Divide the dough into four portions. Freeze them for about 2o-minutes, until they are relatively firm.

Sprinkle a sheet of wax or parchment paper with flour. Using a rolling pin (or your hands) roll or pat each dough portion into an 8 x 6 rectangle. Sprinkle with two heaping tablespoons of the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture. Roll up as tightly as you can, jelly-roll style (it was easier for me to roll it up by the short side rather than the long one). Wrap each roll in plastic wrap and place back in the freezer for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the dough crosswise in about 3/8 inch slices. Place them about 1 inch apart on greased baking sheets (or lined with parchment paper). Bake 8-10 minutes or until light brown on the bottoms. Allow to set on the baking sheet for about 60 seconds before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

(Note: No one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Pumpkin Crunch Tart

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For the second day of our Christmas series, I thought I’d start out this post with a small confession: I had never once tried a pumpkin pie until one year ago, at Thanksgiving.

I dunno why exactly. It could be because our family has ALWAYS been sweet potato pie eaters and although the two aren’t the same, it is typically a kind of  thing that most between choose between rather than having both. Most pumpkin pie also has a different flavor profile than sweet potato pie;  not only does it have a different texture, the spices also tend to pack more of a punch.

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For a while, the latter was the reason that I never really tried or thought it was even worth my while to try pumpkin pie. For most of my life, I was used to the sweeter, less spicy flavor of my grandmother’s sweet potato pie. Although I’d been using pumpkin spice in other baked goods,  pumpkin pie remained the final frontier that I hadn’t tried. It’s not like I thought I would HATE it, I just had the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mindset and stuck to my tried and true sweet potato pie.

This year however, I was feeling a bit more adventurous.

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If I had to give one qualm I have with not only pumpkin pie, but (yes) even sweet potato pie and smooth custard/cream pies in general, it’s that they often lack a textural component to break up that ‘smoothness’ and not have it be so one note. I don’t really go for those super thick and high cream pies that make you bite through two inches of cream and still you’re not really end up ‘chewing’ anything. I could go for something crunchy or a least with a small amount of texture to contrast it. It’s really that idea of wanting to try pumpkin pie with texture that inspired this recipe. I found and used a pumpkin pie recipe that I trusted (Bobby Flay has never let me down yet) and modified it to suit my purposes.

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Altogether this a SOLID dessert guys. The crust is an easy and far less labor intensive one than typical homemade pie crust and it will taste much better than a pre-made one you bought at a store. Use a good gingersnap though; one you would want to eat all on it’s own. If gingersnaps aren’t your thing, you can definitely use graham crackers too though. The filling is what I think a good pumpkin pie should be; there’s a good balance of deep caramel flavor from the molasses and brown sugar and spiciness of the seasoning. What’s more, letting it chill in the fridge overnight gives the spices enough time to really soak into the pumpkin puree so that the flavor is as pronounced as possible. I think the thing that makes this pie really special is the addition of the cinnamon crunch topping that gets sprinkled on top just before eating. It reminds me of a crunchy, spicy oatmeal cookie and it provides the perfect textural contrast that I think these kind of pies so desperately need so that you’re not eating soft and mushy on soft and mushy.

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Another thing, I said this in the recipe itself, but I’ll go ahead and say it again here. I know that most people don’t have rectangle tart pans (or any tart pans at all) just sitting around their kitchen–not unless you’re a baking fiend with an addiction to bakeware (like someone I know). That’s fine. This recipe will absolutely work in a 9 or 10 inch pie dish, you’ll probably just have an excess of crust that you don’t have to use, and you’ll need to increase your baking time in the oven.

Look y’all, when I took my first bite of this pie warmed up with a smattering of whipped cream, I just had to sigh and give The Head Shake. You know which one I mean. The one you give when what you’re eating is almost TOO delicious. It was absurdly good.

(And yes, in case you were wondering). Just as good as sweet potato pie.

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Day 1: Stuffing Bread

Day 2: Pumpkin Crunch Tart

Pumpkin Crunch Tart

Recipe Adapted from Bobby Flay

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Ingredients

For Cinnamon Crunch

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, cold

For Crust

  • 3 cups ginger snap crumbs (I used Trader Joe’s gingersnaps)
  • 10 tablespoons (1 stick, plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

For Pie Filling

  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree (NOT the mix)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, plus more for the top
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Whipped cream, for serving

Directions

For Cinnamon Crunch: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a food processor, and process a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until combined. Pat the mixture evenly into a 4-inch square on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and crisp, about 15-20 minutes. Remove and let cool. Transfer to a cutting board and chop into small pieces. Set aside.

For Filling: Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, both sugars, and molasses together in a medium bowl. Mix in pumpkin puree, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Whisk in the heavy cream, milk, and vanilla extract. Either strain the mixture through a coarse strainer into a bowl, or give it a good blending in your blender, about 7-5 seconds. Whisk in the butter. Chill overnight in the refrigerator to allow flavors and spices to properly meld.

For Crust: Grease an 8 x 11 1/2 rectangular  tart pan*. combine the ginger snap crumbs, butter, and cinnamon in a bowl and mix until combined. Press evenly onto the bottom and sides of tart pan. Brush with the beaten egg. Bake until light golden brown and firm, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

For Assembly: Place the tart pan on a baking sheet, pour the pumpkin mixture into the shell, (don’t overfill, it’s ok if you have some leftover) and sprinkle additional cinnamon over the top. Bake until the filling is set around edges but the center still jiggles slightly when shaken, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

Cut tart into slices and top with cinnamon crunch and whipped cream. Refrigerate leftover slices.

(*This recipe can also be made in a 9 inch and 10 inch pie dish. The tart pan was just my preference. Also, using a tart pan will almost definitely guarantee you’ll have leftover filling.)