Checkerboard Cookies

I’d be lying to you guys if I said I wasn’t kinda ready for the summer to end. In the first place, I don’t much care for extreme heat and as I’ve said in a couple of recent posts, the heat here has been unnecessarily extreme to the point where I’ve retreated to whole different cities for the day because this desert valley we’re in feels too much like a…desert valley. In the second place, the sooner the summer ends, the sooner we can get to the autumn which is my favorite season. The sooner autumn comes around, the sooner we can get to December and my favorite holiday of Christmas.

Because yes, my thoughts are definitely already drifting towards Christmas.

To be honest, I usually start getting the ‘itch’ for Christmas in July. It’s like a Christmas in July effect takes over and suddenly I’m listening to my holiday playlist again and planning what new stuff I’m gonna try to cook and bake for my family and the blog. As some of my followers know, I do a yearly Christmas series of recipes and although it’s a heavy undertaking, it is one that I still look forward to doing. I’ve already got a few pegged in my mind for the series, but one of them in particular was one that I thought would be a good idea to practice with first, as it is one I’ve never done before and would require a little bit more effort.

When I was little, I loved checkerboard cookies. I thought they just had to be some kind of food wizardry that could only be done in a huge Keebler-Elf style factory with a fancy machine.How else could they arrange those two different colors/flavors in such perfect patterns? I also may as well as admit that until only recently I had no idea how it was done or that it COULD be done by a home cook/baker in their own kitchen.

But I learned. And then after studying the technique a bit, thought “Well, might as well try it out. What’s the worst that can happen?”

(Waste of dough and ingredients was the answer, but that’s kind of obvious.)

I knew going into it that it wouldn’t be necessarily easy and I will keep it one hundred with you guys: I wouldn’t recommend trying this recipe if you don’t genuinely like to bake, have some experience with working with cookie dough and are willing to be patient with yourself and the process. I’m a decent baker with quite a bit of experience working with cookie dough, I love doing it and (as you can see) my first try at checkerboard cookies still wasn’t exactly perfect.  Nevertheless, I’m still pleased with how these turned out and that I decided to do a test run before trying to make a ‘Christmas-themed’ version for the 12 Days of Christmas series.

I tried to make the directions for these as clear and detailed as possible. So, should you want to make these for yourself (and I do think you should), a few pointers: a ruler is a must here. You’re making two different cookies doughs and when you cut them, you want the portions to be as straight as possible so that when you arrange the strips, they actually look like squares. It doesn’t have to be fancy invested in a regular old blue plastic ruler that measures inches/centimeters that I bought from Target and use strictly for baking; it does the job just fine. Also, when you’re putting the doughs together to create the pattern, don’t beat yourself up if your squares don’t line up perfectly in a row. Mine don’t and I still think the integrity of the ‘checkerboard’ is preserved in the overall aesthetic of the cookie. I plan to get better the more I practice this and I’m sure you will too.

You don’t have to make the two outer ‘wrappings’ for the cookies. I just thought it looked prettier so I decided to go ahead and make some. All you’ll need to do after making the cookie recipe is halve the base recipe and use the two different doughs from the halved recipe to wrap the cookies. It sounds complicated, but it’s not. Just read the recipe closely ahead of time and you’ll do fine.

Finally, don’t you dare throw out those scraps after you trim your dough logs! Cut them into mini pieces like I did and bake them off so that you get ‘bite sized checkerboards’ like the ones you see in the picture above. Aren’t they just as cute?

The labor alone involved in making these cookies make the finished product worth it–but I gotta say, the taste wasn’t a letdown either. Checkerboards have a close texture that’s slightly crisp on the outside, then buttery melt-in-the-mouth tender on the inside. The real dilemma here is going to be deciding which flavor you like better: the one where the vanilla dough is dominant or the one where the chocolate one is. I think I’m partial to vanilla, but that could very well change by Christmas time. We’ll have to see.

Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #186, co-hosted this week by Colleen @ Faith, Hope, Love & Luck and Alex @ Turks Who Eat.

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Checkerboard Cookies

Recipe Adapted from “Classic German Baking” by Luisa Weiss

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Ingredients

  • 20 plus 1 tablespoons (300g) unsalted butter, softened to room temp
  • 18 tablespoons (150g) powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 1/3 cups, minus 2 tablespoons (400g) all purpose flour
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer or a large bowl using a handheld mixer, beat butter until it is light and creamy. Add the powdered sugar and salt and continue to beat about 1 minute more until creamy again. Add the vanilla extract and beat until just combined. Add the flour in 1/2 cup increments, until just combined. (Use a rubber spatula throughout mixing, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing)
Scrape out half of the dough, form into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Add the cocoa powder to the remaining dough in the bowl and mix until combined. Form the dough into another flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place both in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Remove dough from the fridge. Unwrap one of the discs, then place in between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. Use a rolling pin to roll out into a rectangle, about 8 x 5 inches long. Repeat with the second dough. In a small bowl, beat together the egg yolk and milk. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash over the bottom rectangle of dough. Place one rectangle on top of the other. Press to adhere them to each other. Trim the edges with a sharp knife and save the striped strips in the fridge. Divide the rectangle lengthwise in half. Refrigerate the halves for about 15-30 minutes to allow to get firm.
Divide each of the halves into fourths, lengthwise. (A ruler or bench scraper works GREAT for ensuring straight lines) Use the four layers to make TWO checkerboard logs: Brush the tops of two of the layers with the egg wash, then place the other two on top of them. Make sure that you flip the top layers upside down before adhering so as to create the checkerboard pattern. Use your fingers or a spatula to press the logs together and smooth out the edges/corners, try to make them as square as possible. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350°.

(If you would like to create the ‘outer wrapping’ for the cookies: halve the original cookie recipe and follow the same instructions, dividing the two colors, wrapping them in plastic wrap and placing in the refrigerator. After you’ve finished creating the two checkerboard logs, roll one of the reserved dough discs out between two pieces of plastic wrap or wax paper into a long rectangle. Place one of the chilled logs on the rectangle, on the edge closest to you. Wrap the dough around the log, press lightly on the bottom to seal and trim any excess. Repeat with the other color and log. Refrigerate both for about another 30 minutes to allow to firm up.)

Use a sharp knife or bench scraper to cut the log cross-wise into slices. Place sliced cookies on prepared baking sheets lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Bake in the preheated oven on the middle rack for 12-15 minutes, until just light golden brown. Allow to sit on baking sheet for about 60 seconds removing to wire racks to cool completely. Cut the reserved trimmings into bite sized nuggets and bake for about 13 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

(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.)

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.)

My Favorite Thick, Soft Cut Out Cookies

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I’m the kind of person who likes to learn to run before she learns to walk. I like trying the complicated way before trying the simpler way. I like doing more rather than doing less.

It’s a character flaw. But it’s just the way I am.

I remember before cooking became my sport, when just the effort of scrambling eggs and browning breakfast sausage in a skillet was a HUGE accomplishment for me, and I made the decision to begin to try to improve my cooking skills. There were a number of reasons why I wanted to give it a go and get better at the whole thing.

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One of the main ones was that I actually wanted to be able to bake my own desserts. I was under the HUGELY incorrect assumption that cooking was akin to baking. Cnce I figured out one, I would of course have the other one on lock as well. Tomato-Tomahto, right?

Heh.

Oh Jess. Sweet, simple, untried Jess. I had SO much to learn about the world and its ways. But honestly, that really was it. My mom had a pretty lit cookbook collection and I would peruse through them bookmarking a whole bunch of different dessert recipes that I would fantasize about being able to bake for and all by myself.

This was before I figured out that baking is a science and beginners in the kitchen should prooooobably try to become decent cooks before they dip heir toes in the baking pool. I actually know several outstanding cooks who are pretty “challenged” as bakers.

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But anyways, I started practicing my baking around the same time as I started cooking. It was a difficult learning curve with a LOT of trial and error but through it all I knew right from the beginning that if it was the last thing I did, there was if nothing else, one thing I was absolutely going to force myself to learn how to knock out of the park:

A bakery-style cut out cookie.

The cut out cookie is right at the top of my Favorite Foods of All Time. I mean, it’s even right up there with pizza, ice cream and pancakes (which are pretty much my Holy Trinity). Now when I say a cut out cookie, I’m NOT talking about something akin to the ones in clear plastic containers you can buy at Walmart with the pink frosting that tastes like sugary wax. Those are blegh and you deserve better things in your life. I’m talking about a real cut out cookie with a soft and tender crumb, a faint flavor of vanilla/almond and a smooth glossy icing on top that rounds out the mild sweetness of the cookie dough.

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Y’know…these.

Cookie baking is a learning process in and of itself that I’m totally willing to admit I’m still getting the hang of. You gotta practice. You gotta let your dough chill in the fridge. You MUST test-bake one cookie before the entire batch. And then, you can’t be afraid of sometimes just screwing up.  Because sooner or later you just will.

There is one recipe that I’ve become pretty awesome at though, and it’s this one.  I make absolutely DELICIOUS cut out cookies. These are probably some of the best cookies I’ve ever made/had, in general.

Cut Out Cookies2

These are a necessity for me and familiy now every year at Christmas but recently I also went ahead and made a huge batch to take to a baby shower, which is why they’re pretty in pink. The cookie itself is thick, soft and with a tender crumb on the inside. It’s versatile enough to where if you wanted these to have a different flavor than standard vanilla, you could easily swap in lemon, orange, lime or even cherry extract instead with wonderful results. I will strongly advise that you don’t swap out or exclude the almond extract; it’s the almond that gives the cookies that trademark “bakery-style” flavor in cut outs that you love but can’t ever quite pinpoint where it comes from.

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These would be just FANTASTIC for a kid’s birthday party where you have the cookies pre-baked and allow the kids to decorate them however they want. They’re also pretty thick and sturdy so they’ll travel VERY well. This recipe does bake a pretty huge batch, so if you’re wanting a smaller one you can feel free to cut it in half. But, I never do. Somehow, for some reason…the ones I make always end up being put to “good use”.

I’ll be taking my cookies to Fiesta Friday #125, co-hosted this week by Quinn @ dadwhats4dinner and Elaine @ Foodbod.

My Favorite Thick, Soft Cut Out Cookies

Recipe Adapted from Allrecipes.com

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Ingredients

For Cookies

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/8 cups white sugar
  • 7 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking power
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract

For Icing

  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • About 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon hot water, or more as needed
  • Food coloring, optional
  • Sprinkles, optional

Directions

For Cookies:

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs yolks, then the whole eggs, one at a time and mixing well after each.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; stir into the sugar mixture. Cover dough and chill for at least one hour. I usually let this dough sit overnight for best results.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets. On a floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/2 inch thick and cut into desired shapes using cookie cutters. Place 2 inches apart on to the prepared baking sheets. Refrigerate the cut out cookies on the baking sheets for about 10 minutes.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. (My ‘magic’ number is 8 minutes, 35 seconds.) Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

For Icing

Mix together the confectioners’ sugar, oil, vanilla and corn syrup until smooth. Add a few drops of food coloring to your desired hue. Gradually add enough hot water to achieve a spreadable consistency, but keep it thick enough so that it sticks on the spoon. Spread icing over tops of cookies, then decorate with sprinkles.

Allow cookies to remain uncovered on wire racks until icing it completely set and dried.

Vanilla Bean Whipped Sweet Potatoes

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Remember my post last year for when I made Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, where I mentioned that I bought myself a Ninja Blender?

Well, my Ninja went to Ninja Blender Heaven guys. At least, the pitcher and the lid did. Fortunately the actual base/machine part is fine.

Yeah, there’s a story to this one too.

We had ourselves a regular homicide here. Murder in the first degree…. by a dish washer.

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Before you guys call me an idiot, in my defense let me just say that I’d always been able to wash the pitcher and lid of my Ninja in our previous dish washer without any issues whatsoever. I wouldn’t say that they’re made of plastic, it felt much thicker than that and not the kind of thing that would easily melt or be destroyed in a dish washer.

But  the dish washer in our new place is much newer than the old one and I guess that means that they get a LOT more hotter.

You can tell where this story is going. I washed the pitcher and the lid in the dish washer and when I opened the door to take them out and put them away, I saw the ridge of the pitcher and the grooves of the lid had been melted so that they were…wavy.  Also, unusable.

I wasn’t a very happy camper.

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The good thing about these kinds of appliances is that it’s actually possible to purchase separate pieces of the whole thing. I went on the Ninja website and it turns out another pitcher won’t put be back anymore than about 40-50 bucks (plus shipping). This was significantly less than what I paid for the machine as a whole, so that was a huge relief to me.

Still, it didn’t solve a new problem that I had. I wanted to make scratch sweet potatoes and for the particular recipe I wanted to use, I had planned on using my blender. Yet another setback. But as with my Chicken and Biscuits snafu, I just diverted to plan B and decided to use my hand mixer. The potatoes probably wouldn’t be quite as smooth as they could be if they’d been pureed in a Ninja, but whatevs. Personally, I’m fine with a few lumps in my spuds.

Vanilla Bean Whipped Sweet Potatoes4

Okay, so I know this one may sound….weird.

Vanilla bean with sweet potato; at the least it sounds like something you’d eat with dessert, right?

Except, no. It isn’t really. I was even somewhat surprised myself at how well the vanilla works with the sparse other seasonings here to make this really work well for a savory side dish. There IS an obvious sweetness, but there’s still a pretty good balance with the salt, pepper and onion powder. This dish was RIDICULOUSLY easy to do, it just required a little bit more time for me to get the sweet potatoes to the consistency I wanted them at using my hand mixer. If you guys have a heavy duty blender like a Ninja or a food processor, I’d definitely recommend using it in lieu of the hand mixer if for nothing else, to be able to spar the strain on your wrists.

But regardless of whatever way you prepare them, I think you’ll like how these turn out.

Happy Fiesta Friday #105 where I’ll be linking this post up to. The party this week is co-hosted by Lily @ Little Sweet Baker andJulianna @ Foodie On Board.

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Vanilla Bean Whipped Sweet Potatoes


Recipe Adapted from Food and Wine

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Ingredients

  • 4 pounds medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, slit lengthwise, seeds scraped
  • Onion powder
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°. Poke the sweet potatoes several times with a fork and bake for about 35 minutes, or until tender. Let cool slightly, then peel and transfer them to a standing mixer or to a large bowl.

In a small saucepan, combine the cream with the butter and the vanilla bean and seeds. Bring to a simmer. Remove the vanilla bean.

With the stand mixer (or hand held mixer) running, carefully pour the vanilla cream into the sweet potatoes and beat with the paddle attachment (or the beaters on the handheld mixer) until smooth. Season the sweet potatoes with onion powder, salt and pepper, transfer to a bowl and serve.

Checkerboard Layer Cake

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One year ago today, I thought that I was absolutely crazy.

I had tried to talk myself out of it for months, giving all kinds of excuses as to why the idea in my head was a bad, terrible, even abysmal one that would never lead to anything.

I didn’t know anything about blogging. I mean ANYTHING.

WordPress or Blogroll? How should I know? Wait. What’s the difference between them anyway? (This was a serious, actual conversation I had with myself at the time, I kid you not.)

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I didn’t know anything about photography.  I got my first real digital camera for my 24th birthday, and I knew virtually nothing about operating it besides pressing the button that would actually take the pictures. Food styling? Natural Lighting? Props? What were those things? I sure as heck didn’t know.

There were literally millions of other food blogs out there; what reason did  I have to think that anyone out there would take any notice of it? Not a single one.

Despite all of those misgivings and factors working against me, a year ago today I pressed the ‘Publish’ button. A year ago today, I published the very first blog post on Cooking is My Sport.

My tiny blog baby is one year old, guys. I can’t believe it. When I first started this thing, it was purely an experiment- I told myself that if no one showed interest in my posts, I could always just quit and delete the whole thing, with the world being none the wiser. And for some strange, but wonderful reason, that didn’t happen.

And it’s all because of you people.

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I’ve said it before, but today on my blog’s anniversary I can’t help but say it once again: to every single person who has ever visited CIMS, liked a post, commented on one, or followed my blog- you have my immense gratitude.

Thank you. Thank you. And THANK YOU.

Most of all, thank you all to the wonderful new friends and buddies I’ve made through blogging. Thanks for sharing your wonderful blogs with me and always showing mad support ❤

This has been such a wild ride of a year. I feel like I’ve learned so much- not just about blogging, but photography as well. Check back to my first posts if you don’t believe me.

Wait no, don’t do that. My photography is horrifyingly God-awful on several dishes.

Eh, whatever.  You’re welcome to look if you’re brave enough. And regardless of poor pictures, the food is still spot on, so there’s that.

I knew I wanted to make a special cake to celebrate my blogs’s birthday, and this one certainly is special. The checkerboard layer cake is one of those things that for a lot of people that haven’t made it before, is a real mystery. They just can’t figure out how it gets done. I used to be one of them myself. Then, earlier this year, my grandma and grandpa remodeled their kitchen. While emptying it out for the contractor, my grandma decided to get rid of a good number of her old appliances and cookware- fortunately, most of them got passed on to yours truly. One of the things I got was her checkerboard cake pan set. When I was trying to think of what type of layer cake to make for the blog anniversary, I thought of the set and immediately decided that this would be the one.

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Now, if you don’t have a checkerboard cake pan set, have no fear: you can still make this cake. All you really need are 8″ or 9″ layer cake pans, and bowls/cookie cutters that measure 4-5″ and 2-3″ inches. You also don’t have to automatically go with white and chocolate cake as your flavors: as long as they’re different colors to create the checkerboard pattern, it’s fine. I will say this though: try to use cake recipes that aren’t overly moist. Since this cake requires multiple steps of assembly, super moist cakes can have the tendency to be really fragile and crack with too much handling. The cake shouldn’t be as dense as pound cake, but not as soft as a twinkie either- a perfect medium is what you’re looking for.

I didn’t think I would like this cake a much as I did. Chocolate cake isn’t my favorite, and I’m honestly more of a yellow cake lover than a straight white one. However, I found this to be VERY good. There’s just something about the blending of flavors that creates the perfect blend between the sweetness of the white cake and the slight bitterness of the chocolate cake that just really works together. The vanilla butter cream is delicious enough to eat by itself on a spoon- straight up.

So, I know what you’re thinking: there’s a crap load of frosting on this cake. I know. And I can explain. See the original plan was to use the butter cream to make these lovely, artistic peaks with a spoon, and  needed a rather thick layer of frosting to do so. I just forgot one thing:

I am not artistic by any stretch of the imagination. It took me about 5-7 minutes of attempting this elaborate, peak design to figure out that it just wasn’t going to work. I wasn’t making peaks- more like craters. And no one wants to see craters on a layer cake. So, I just smoothed it all out and called it a night. Yeah, it’s thick, but so what? You get extra vanilla butter cream to eat- who’s gonna complain about that? Not I, said the Jessica.

I guess this about wraps this post up. Once again guys: thank you SO much for all the support you’ve given Cooking is My Sport over the past year- I can’ wait to see what next year holds 😉

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Checkerboard Layer Cake

Recipe Adapted from Hershey & Melissa@My CakeSchool

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION: Page 1, Page 2

Ingredients

For Chocolate Layer:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup, plus 6 tbsp. flour
  • 6 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup veg. oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup boiling water

For White Cake Layer:

  • 6 tbsp. unsalted, soft butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 6 tbsp. milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream:

  • 2 lbs. powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups solid vegetable shortening
  • 2 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup milk

Directions

For Chocolate Layer:

1. Grease & flour 1 9-inch cake pans. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Mix sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add egg, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed in a stand mixer for 2 min.

3. Stir in boiling water and pour batter into pan (it’ll be thin). Bake for 30– 35 min, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool 10min, then remove to wire rack.

For White Layer:

1. Keep oven at 350°. Grease/flour 9-inch cake pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Combine the egg whites, milk and vanilla extract.

2. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, then add half of the milk mixture. Add the rest of both, continue to alternate beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

3. Pour batter into pan and bake for 25-30 min, until cake passes toothpick test. Cool in pan for 10 min, then move to wire rack.

For Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream

1. Cream shortening, butter & vanilla until smooth. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time and milk. Mix on medium speed for 8 min, scraping bowl sides & decreasing speed to slow on last two minutes.

Banana Yogurt Popsicles

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Whenever summer comes around, I get really nostalgic for my childhood. I know I’m probably not the only one to feel this way, but I feel like summer time was just so much more awesome when I was younger.

Of course, this may have something to do with the fact that it was at a time when I was still in elementary school (and thus on summer vacation), and also was too young to have a job (that has no summer vacation). Still, childhood summertime nostalgia is the best. Here are just a few memories that I have:

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Back when Will Smith was still rapping (and also The Fresh Prince of Bel Air), he came out with a song called “Summertime”. Yes, I still listen to it now every summer. It’s a classic. It never gets old.

Please tell me there’s someone out there that remembers when this commercial used to come on The Disney Channel. It was  back when The Disney Channel was actually good to watch.

I remember when Nick at Nite used to come on after Nickeldeon shows were over late at night. During the summer, there was this special marathon of shows that came on called the Nick at Nite Block Party Summer. Each night featured a different show; the Munsters were on Mondays, I Love Lucy was on Tuesdays, Bewitched was on Wednesdays, I Dream of Jeannie was on Thursdays (I didn’t watch Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie, but I still remember them), and Friday was for The Brady Bunch. It may have seemed weird for a 9 year old to like watching shows that old, but for some reason I was just addicted to the Nick at Nite Block Party Summer.

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Summertime meant that my grandpa would go and buy watermelons from the grocery store at least once a week that we could all eat. I can’t even think of how much watermelon I used to eat. It was a lot, suffice to say.

I remember playing outside when it was hot. Me and my sisters would turn our frisbees upside down and fill them up with grass, weeds, dandelions and other yard waste. We chopped them up together and pretended we were cooking some kind of food dish (no, we didn’t eat it). Then when the sun set and it became cool, we caught fireflies and ate popsicles.

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The popsicles I ate when I was younger were mostly the red, white, and blue Turbo Rocket ones that were mostly just made of sugar and water and turned your tongue and lips different colors. Now that I’m older, I find that my popsicle palate (if that’s even a real thing) has become somewhat more ‘refined’…or just pickier. I still get cravings for popsicles- I just want them to be a little more complex than the ones I was glad to settle for when I was younger.

I’d been meaning to buy popsicle molds for a while now, but they’re just one of those things that you continually walk past in the store telling yourself, “One of these days, I’ll getcha.”

And then you never do. Except this time, I did, if for nothing else, than to make me come up with recipes to use them for this summer. Today’s post is the first of what I hope will be a nice, delicious collection of popsicle recipes.

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This recipe was inspired by one of my favorite recipes: Southern Banana Pudding. I hope to God you guys have had at least one good Southern Banana Pudding in your life. If you haven’t, then you’re really missing out  and I really do feel sorry for you- cause it is that serious. Rest assured, I will be sharing my grandma’s banana pudding recipe on the blog, but for now let’s just stick with these popsicles.

I think that the one thing that turns me off about most standard issue popsicles today is just that they’re either really, really, really, sweet or just really, really, really watered down and bland. I wanted to alleviate both of these problems in my popsicles, especially given that they’re inspired by banana pudding, which shouldn’t be too sweet or watery in and of itself. The yogurt base really gives these a smooth, but robust and creamy taste that’s further enhanced by the mashed bananas. I added the vanilla wafers to the recipe to give them even more texture to compliment the smoothness of the yogurt base and to add to the banana pudding inspiration.

There is one way that this recipe differs from both regular popsicles and Southern Banana Pudding, and that’s that these popsicles are actually healthy so far as ingredients go. They make for a really light, cold and satisfying snack or dessert for the hot summer days that are upon most of us nowadays. They’e also my contribution to this week’s Fiesta Friday #22 hosted by  Prudy@Butter, Basil and Breadcrumbs and Elaine@foodbod. Enjoy , guys 🙂

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Banana Yogurt Popsicles

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups vanilla yogurt
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 tsp banana extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup finely crushed vanilla wafers, plus 3 tbsp, divided

Directions

1. Combine all ingredients except for 3 tbsp of crushed vanilla wafers in a bowl.

2. Sprinkle 2 tsp of crushed wafers into the bottom of your popsicle molds.

3. Pour in yogurt and banana mix, leaving a little bit of space in the top of the molds. Sprinkle the remainder of the crushed wafers over the top of the molds. Insert popsicle sticks and cover each mold with aluminum foil.

4. Place in freezer until hardened, a few hours. Remove and enjoy!

(Tip to remove popsicles from plastic molds: run molds underneath hot water or place molds into a bowl of hot water for about a minute. Gently tug on popsicles sticks, the popsicles should come out.)

 

 

Vanilla White Chocolate Blondies

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Game of Thrones Series Week 8

Well, here we are at the end of another season of Game of Thrones that feels like it came and went far too quickly. This I think has been the strongest season yet, with something jaw dropping and shocking happening in just about every episode. I say ‘just about’ because of last week’s episode “The Watchers on the Wall”. If you guys have been following the GoT I’ve been doing on the blog so far, then you’ll know that I’m not as interested in the Jon Snow/Sam and Gilly/Castle Black storyline as I am in some of the other ones in the series. Of course, Jon Snow and his curly black hair make it pretty interesting to look at, if nothing else. (Random fact: I read in an interview with Kit Harrington that it’s literally written in his contract for the show that he is not allowed to cut his hair. Clearly, the producers are thinking of us ladies in that stipulation and for that, I say bravo to them.) However, I’ll still recap some of my thoughts from last week’s episode, as it did have some pretty important plot twists happen.

  • I know I’m not the only one who was glad to see Sir Alliser Thorne humbled when he realized that Jon had been right all along in his pushes to strengthen the defenses at the wall and that the hazing Throne’s been subjecting him to have really placed all of his men and their fortress in danger against nearly insurmountable odds. However, I will say that the speech that he gave him about feeling the need to defend his leadership against every snot nosed kid who dares to challenge him did resonate with me. Under any other circumstances, it’s fair to say that Thorne would be right in what he did; he’s older with more experience. Jon Snow just happens to be one of those young people who seem to have ‘old souls’, if that makes any sense. Such are the benefits to being raised by Nedd Stark, I guess. I also felt like Thorne’s speech did seem like a subtle apology to Jon, or at least the closest to an apology as someone as proud as him can get. If nothing else, Thorne did prove himself to be a leader in the strong, fearless fight he put on with Tormund. True he was wounded and forced to be pulled out of the battle, but he went down fighting well.
  • Well color me happy, Sam finally got his first kiss with his beloved Gilly. He also had “The Talk” with Jon. Coincidence? I think not. I don’t sense very much chemistry between the actors playing Sam and Gilly (at least not on her part),but I’ve seen enough GoT episodes to know where this is going.

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  • Whoa, GIANTS. Giants that go crazy when you kill one of their friends. And elephants. The Wildlings just pulled out all the stops. They really wanted to win this thing.
  • And yet, they didn’t. At least not that night. Bravo to the Crows for holding that Wall at any cost- and it cost them a lot. I’m pumped at Jon’s plan to go and (try to) kill Mance Ryder because it means we’ll be seeing Ciaran Hinds again. He’s one of my favorite, most underrated actors and I love watching him perform.
  • Finally, the most important moment of the episode: Ygritte finally confronts Jon. Ah Ygritte, you made the classic, same mistake as our beloved Prince Oberyn last week: YOU FRIGGIN HESITATED. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVERRRR hesitate before killing your enemy if you are a character in a GoT book. It will (literally) be the nail in your coffin. However, Oberyn’s and Ygritte’s reasons for hesitation were different from each other. Oberyn hesitated before finishing off The Mountain because he wanted vengeance and a confession. Ygritte hesitated out of love that she still felt for Jon. Now even though she hesitated, I’m still not sure she wouldn’t have pulled the trigger, so to speak. There was love in her eyes as they looked at each other, but there was also a lot of anger and pain. Ygritte’s one of those women that I think would rather kill the guy that hurt them rather than let him live and perceive her as weakened by love. However, we’ll never know for sure, will we? I knew that “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” would be her last words to him. They felt like a subtle, but even more poignant way of saying “I love you.”

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I knew that the last recipe for the series would have to be a big one. I was trying to go out with a bang with this thing. And guys, whoa. Whoa, whoa, WHOA did I ever.  This is one of those foods that make you feel as though you’re literally committing a crime for even making. The first thing that passed through my mind was something along the lines of: “Ummm, food like this just shouldn’t be legal.

Keeping all of that in mind, today’s  final post for the GoT series on the blog is dedicated to the entire Lannister clan. First, the name itself should say it all since one of the chief physical traits of the Lannisters is their golden hair. Second, these blondies are some of the most decadent, rich things I’ve ever made- and as we know, decadence and richness is what the Lannisters are known for. Third, the blondies taste just as ‘bad’ and scandalous as they look, and no one does bad and scandal like the Lannisters. So yeah, these are Lannister Blondies to T. Now onto the taste: you guys may think you’ll be ready for how a blondie is supposed to taste. But you.are.not.ready.for.these. I’ll say it right up front: there’s a crazy amount of sugar in them. In-sane. I think the amount of sugar does a lot to make these extra gooey and soft in the middle, while the outer edges are juuuuust enough to have a little but of chew. The brown sugar gives the blondies a rich, molasses flavor. The white chocolate chips and toffee bits give the perfect amount texture to contrast with the softness of the blondies themselves.

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My thoughts after that first bite of the blondie. Seriously.

Word of warning: these are NOT your average ‘cookie’ like blondies. I myself could probably only handle a couple of bites of these, so feel free to make them for a large crowd, then cut into tiny pieces. It’ll be plenty enough, trust me.

Last week of GoT for a whole year-WHAT?! Are you telling me I won’t be making a GoT recipe next week to share? How did this happen? What I am supposed to do with myself now?!  (I suppose the answer would be to find another focus for another series of themed recipes.)

Anyway, I hope you guys have enjoyed the Game of Thrones series that I’ve done on the blog for the past 8 weeks. I know I’ve had a blast making and testing new foods, and linking them back to one of my favorite shows. I’ll post all of the recipes one more time below for all those who wanted to catch up or remember what’s come already. Thanks guys- until next season!

Game of Thrones Series

Week 1: Pigeon {Chicken} Pies

Week 2: Winterfell Brown Bread

Week 3: Southron Spinach & Plum Salad

Week 4: Baratheon Smothered Pork Chops & Apple Gravy

Week 5: Lemon Cakes

Week 6: Dothraki Flat Bread

Week 7: Dornish Garlic Strata

Week 8: Vanilla White Chocolate Blondies

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Vanilla White Chocolate Blondies

Recipe Adapted from Bobby Flay

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the pan
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons toffee chips

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and line a 9-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan with parchment paper, allowing a 2-inch overhang. Butter the lining too.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

3. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan; add both sugars and whisk until combined and the sugar is melted, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and let cool slightly.

4. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla extract until combined. Add the flour mixture and whisk until just incorporated.
Fold in the chocolate chips, almonds and toffee chips and transfer the mixture to the prepared pan.

5. Bake until the top cracks slightly and is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the center comes out with moist pieces clinging to it, 24 to 27 minutes. Remove to a wire rack and let cool completely. Remove the bars from the pan using the parchment handles, transfer to a cutting board and cut into 2-inch squares