Cookie Quest

One of my friends is currently on a quest to find the best chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe.  She has collected 12 recipes and is working her way through them.

After an especially disappointing batch of cookies, I suggested that perhaps baking with friends would be a good way to move on past this incident.  So last night we got together to whip up the next three types of chocolate chip cookies on her list.  After some careful taste testing, we picked our favorite so far, and then looked at all of our mixing bowls.  We all had just a little dough leftover… but not enough for a whole tray.

The only logical next step was to combine all three cookie doughs, mix ’em up real good, and throw them in the oven.  While we waited for our cookies to bake, we talked about what they might taste like.  Will they be the next winning batch of cookies for the State Fair?

Um, NO.

They were the grossest chocolate chip cookies I have ever tasted.  They were a weird color, had an awful texture, tasted disgusting.  But perhaps the state fair judges will feel differently??

 

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Peppermintty Goodness.

A couple weeks ago, I was invited to a Valentine’s Day Cookie/Treat Exchange.  It was a really fun afternoon full of sugary goodness.  Jessica, I hope you don’t mind, I stole this picture off your facebook to show off everyone’s impressive baking skills!  What did I make?  Thanks for asking.  I conned my sister into making a quadruple batch of homemade peppermint patties.  They are totally delicious.  I even was tagged in facebook posts (ok, just one) by strangers (ok, my sister’s co-worker) who couldn’t get enough of this peppermintty goodness.

 If I were to make any baking recommendations to you, I would say:

  1. Make sure you actually count your cups of powdered sugar.  Otherwise the patties will be too sticky or too powdery to stick together.  Clearly we made mistakes on both ends.
  2. Do the math and buy the right amount of groceries.  Otherwise you will be forced to run to the grocery story mid-baking.  And then you will still run out of chocolate chips and be forced cover a couple dozen of these guys with dodgy melting chocolates from your pantry (dodgy because of the non-valentines-coloring, not because of anything else.  If you ate one, I promise I didn’t poison you).
  3. If you are a teacher or an auditor in busy season, don’t think it will be ok to make hundreds of these on Friday night.  You will look at each other with sad puppy eyes at 9:30 when you want to go to bed and realize you are only halfway done.
  4. Get a fun seasonally appropriate giant sprinkle to plop into the middle of the candy!  It is a real crowd-pleaser for sure.

Other than those little tips, they actually are pretty easy to make.  Click here for the recipe!

 

Banana Split Cupcakes

This year I am so lucky to teach Sunday School with Rebecca, Bethany, and Brieanne.  We have a crazy big class of kindergarten and first graders.  Fortunately they are awesome little genius children who are super fun to hang out with and don’t mind squishing around a table together.  

Here are some of the reasons these girls are awesome to teach with – if you have children you should probably recruit them to teach your kids Sunday school.

(p.s. I’ve had some great co-teachers in the past, so if you are one of them, please know that I like you too!) 

  1. They are all really easy to get along with.
  2. They are all hilarious.
  3. They are all GREAT with kids.  Seriously – our styles of teaching just mesh so well together.  And we all have the same standards we hold the kids to, so it is seamless transitions from week to week as we rotate the teaching schedule.
  4. They plan super fun lessons.  Things like making temples out of graham crackers and frosting when learning about King Solomon, and going into a small dark room and spritzing the air with water when learning about Jonah.
  5. They are so excited about teaching the little kiddos about Jesus.  Their joy is contagious.
  6. They are basically just generally all around awesome.

Naturally I decided that we should probably be friends outside of Sunday School, away from all the small children.  So I invited them over to bake!  

It was a great time.  I don’t know if there has ever been so much laughter in my kitchen (and I’ve baked with some pretty hilarious friends before).  

We tackled an insane looking recipe from Annie’s Eats: Banana Split Cupcakes.  I picked it for two reasons: it looked like a lot of work, so it seemed like a good team effort cupcake; and there was a general love of banana floating around our e-mail thread. 

What does this cupcake consist of, you ask?

A banana cupcake.

Filled with a strawberry and pineapple.

Topped with whipped cream.

Drizzled with chocolate ganache.

Sprinkled with sprinkles.

And with a cherry on top.

Can you say AMAZING??

And yes, we are quite proud of ourselves. 

Dessert in a Jar: Twix Trifles

We had a cousin’s dinner this past weekend.  I needed to drive 40 minutes to my cousin and his wife’s home, so keeping in mind my recent struggles in dessert transportation, I thought to myself, what is the easiest, most fool-proof way to transport a dessert?  Naturally, the conclusion I came to was to transport the desserts, ready to serve, in individual jars.

fool-proof dessert transportation, right??

I called my sister to confirm how many guests were going to be at the dinner.  The total was 11.  I had 12 jars.  Since I had an extra jar, I thought it made sense to throw the spare jar on the ground so it would shatter into millions of pieces.  Or I accidentally dropped it after washing the jars and it shattered and I was sad that I now needed to clean up broken glass.

Now on to the trifles. So cute, right?

I don’t know about you, but when I think trifle, I immediately think of the episode of Friends where Rachel is making a traditional English trifle for Thanksgiving dessert, and the pages of the recipe magazine she is using got stuck together and she is unknowingly combining two recipes.  One for trifle and one involving things such as beef and peas.  

I was hoping no one would pull a Chandler and say, “This is so good I need to go enjoy it on the balcony” when I served my Twix trifle.

Using instant pudding sounded too easy, so I made my pudding from scratch.  First though, I chopped up some twix.  Then I put a layer of twix choppings in the bottom of each jar.  Then I made homemade caramel pudding.  I was shocked at my baking abilities (let’s be honest, I really mean my recipe following abilities) and was excited that I actually made pudding!  After that chilled, I made the chocolate pudding (doubling the original recipe) and layered it on top.  I topped that with more twix pieces, then whipped cream, then put the lid on the jar.  Ready to go!  

It was delicious.  I would totally recommend this recipe.  The only thing that would have made it better was these cute little red bows.  But I ran out of time.  So we went bow-less to the party.  I would also recommend that you remember you have a cousin who is lactose intolerant before you serve a milk-based dessert at dinner.  Sorry again, Elizabeth!  Next time I will bring something dairy-free… And thanks Steve and Kaia for hosting and serving us a delicious dinner!  Cousin’s dinner success!

Click here for the Twix Trifle recipe

A Double Dessert Review

I feel the need to share with you about two most recent things I have baked.  I feel this way because I generally share my baking successes and failures with you all.  And good news: today I have two baking success stories to recommend to you.

First of all, I think we can all agree that nothing says Christmas like Toffee Crunch Cupcakes.  Ok, maybe I can think of a few things that might say Christmas a little bit better: gingerbread cupcakes, eggnog cupcakes, peppermint mocha cupcakes, etc.  However unfortunately I did not think of these things before I saw how amazing the Toffee Crunch Cupcakes looked.  And they looked delish.  They are a smidge time intensive, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Step 1: Bake the cupcakes.

Step 2: Make the chocolate ganache.  Chill the chocolate ganache.  Frost the outer ring of the cupcake with chocolate ganache.  Roll this in toffee chips.

Step 3: Make caramel merengue frosting.  Frost the cupcakes.

Click here for real directions/the recipe a’la Annie’s Eats as per usual. 

So easy, right?  I may have been a bit late to Christmas Eve because I didn’t factor in all the heating and chilling needed for these multiple frostings for one cupcake.  But it all worked out in the end.  Look how amazing they are!  And I cannot even tell you how tasty they are. Somehow the toffee does this magic trick where it creates a chocolate cupcake that isn’t so rich you want to die.  It is the perfect amount of not-too-rich that you just want to keep enjoying it.  And the frosting.  Mmm.  Delectable.  So block off a day on your calendar and then run, don’t walk, to this recipe.

Second up is the tuxedo NYE cake.  I know we’ve talked about this before.  We’ve talked about how transporting a 3 layer cake is a bit treacherous.  And we’ve talked about how it can be done with careful driving and a trusty cake-holder.  But I did realize that I never mentioned that the only way I deviated from the original recipe is that I put chopped up strawberries on the frosting in between each layer of cake.  And in my opinion, that totally made the cake.  LOVED.  And have we mentioned that this cake is so good that even your non-cake-loving friend will not only eat it, but also like it??

Also with this cake, there is some cooling time involved between steps, so plan your day accordingly.  People will be impressed by your fancy baking skills, and honestly it wasn’t that hard.  You can do it!

Click here for the recipe.

Now the two questions that remain are what should I bake for my church’s annual meeting and what should I bake for my cousins’ post-Christmas dinner.  Any suggestions?

A New Year’s Eve dilemma

When you think of dilemmas on NYE, you might think about what party to attend, what sparkly dress to wear etc.

This is why  I did not see this dilemma coming.

I made this cake.  No, it is not quite as pretty as the one pictured with the recipe.  But it looks decent.  The problem with a fancy NYE cake is how to get it to a NYE party.  Yes, I signed on to bring dessert to a pre-concert dinner at Amber’s.  I should have factored transport in and then decided to make cupcakes or a cheesecake.  But no, I had to pick a cake.  A tall cake.  A cake that is taller than the cake carrier lid. 

So please take note of this cake pre-travel.  It looks somewhat decent.  No promises for what it will look like after traveling to the other end of Minneapolis.

The plan: Tiffany, covered by a sheet or an apron or something to protect her cute outfit against the worst case scenario, will hold the cake while I drive at a snail’s pace toward Amber’s.  We will probably bring forks with just in case things go awry and we need to eat the cake out of the floor of my car, a’la Rachel, Chandler, and Joey on Friends with the world’s best cheesecake.

Alright, I’m off to a prayer meeting for smooth cake transportation.  I’ll let you know how it all goes…

Breakfast at Tiffany’s; versions 2 & 1.

Yesterday I had Rachel over for breakfast.  Because I am SUCH a fancy friend and gourmet chef, I made us baked oatmeal.  Now I understand that doesn’t sound like something you’d want to go to your friend’s house for.  I can see why the guy at the gas station wasn’t overly impressed.  But let’s review: it is not instant oatmeal.  It is a recipe that I have wanted to try for a long time and was already planning to make when I invited her over.  You start with a layer of banana and blueberries, then add the rolled oats+cinnamon+other dry ingredients that I can’t be bothered to remembered.  Then you pour milk+maple syrup+a lightly beaten egg+vanilla over the top, throw on a few more blueberries and chopped nuts, and throw it in the oven.  Then, have it with a cup of delicious coffee, and a toasted english muffin – one half with nutella and one half with homemade crabapple jam from an adorable Sunday school kiddo.  We’ve got ourselves a breakfast.  Yes, I probably could have made Rachel something a little fancier, but she was nice and didn’t complain.  (Click here for the recipe).

And let’s be honest, nothing will top our real Breakfast at Tiffany’s adventure.  (some could argue that we also had breakfast at Tiffany’s yesterday, since my roommate is Tiffany and we were in her/my home).

Let’s travel back to New York to relive the original Breakfast at Tiffany’s experience.

We got up real early, swung through Broadway Bagel, where they serve the best bagels with the best cream cheese, and took our breakfast to-go.  A few subway rides later, we walked along the edge of Central Park toward the shiny snowflake up ahead.  Then we saw it: Tiffany’s. 

We spent a few moments taking in the beautiful window displays, then quickly settled in for a pre-breakfast photoshoot to document our meal. 

Fortunately for us, a kindly older midwestern couple happened upon us, and in addition to being so happy for us that we were having breakfast at Tiffany’s, they also offered to take a picture of us together – something we weren’t sure would happen again since Claire headed back to NJ the evening before. 

Then we settled in for our meal, sitting on the steps in front of the giant vault door, wreath, and fancy lights.

After eating, we checked out the window displays – which were basically our favorite.  Carousels.  Love. 

There was something blissful about sitting outside of Tiffany’s, eating our breakfast, on a quiet Saturday morning.  If you want to experience the quiet side of NYC, head out to a normally busy area around 7:30 in the morning.  It is like the city is yours.  Occasionally a jogger will run by, heading toward Central Park, but otherwise you can just enjoy a peaceful side of the city that not many see.  Take some time to soak in the wonderment of it all.

If I were a different me…

If I were a different me, I would live in New York City in a neighborhood like this. 

And I would work in a bakery like this. 

Pretty much this would be my dream job – making beautiful and delicious treats for people to enjoy all day long, surrounded by walls that are my favorite color: fancy antique blue. (special thanks to the Leberts for teaching me the name of this color!)  Magnolia Bakery’s website says, “With its vintage American desserts and decor, customers often remark that walking into the Bakery is like taking a step back in time.”  Combine that with fancy sweets, and it is pretty much perfect – vintage with a splash of fancy happens to be my favorite.  I love the clean feel, the cozy sweet scent in the air, and the antique baking supplies decorating the walls. 

I would make seasonal delights like this: a gingerbread cupcake with a vanilla bean meringue frosting (I decided that maybe I bake too much when Rachel asked me what kind of frosting was on my cupcake, and I could tell just by looking at it that it was a meringue.) 

And I would make things that aren’t my favorite, such as carrot cake cupcakes, for others, because not everyone has the same favorite tastes. 

After work, I will sit in the window seat and drink my peppermint tea while gazing out at the bustle of the city.  It will be bliss. 

But I am not a different me.  So even though I think that life would be perfectly lovely, I would miss my sweet kiddos who cry when they apologize for kicking me, and who tell me every day that I still look like Princess Peach.  I guess I will stick with the teaching gig, but it is fun to dream.  I will stick with baking in my own little kitchen, and gazing at fancy antique blue objects at my friend’s house.  It is almost the same, right? 

Well done, Magnolia Bakery.  I will do my best to visit you again one day. Good job on opening and running the bakery of my dreams.   Slow clap for you. 

Back on the Kitchen Road Paved with Happiness and Sprinkles

Over breakfast one morning at a women’s church event, I was chatting with Michelle, and decided she is pretty great and that we should probably be friends.  She said if I ever was looking for a baking mentee, she would be interested, and I said, “I love baking dates with friends!  Let’s get something on the calendar!”  and she said, “Ok!”  and we went to our calendars and cookbooks (aka the internet) and decided to make a delicious fall cupcake.  Well, she said fall and I said cupcake.  I’d been eyeing the Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcake from Annie’s Eats for a while now, so it worked out perfectly.  I’d say our baking ventures were a smashing success.  Here is a photo of the incredibly delicious finished product.  (Seriously, so good.  I can’t recommend this recipe highly enough!) 

At one point in the morning, we made an grocery emergency run to the store.  It is not my favorite grocery store, as the lines are often real slow.  This morning though, the lines weren’t the problem, but rather, the lady in front of me was.  I didn’t really appreciate her turning around, insulting me, and then doing impressions of me that sound like a Valley Girl.  If you think that is the way to win friends and influence people, you have some learning to do.  I might suggest starting here.  Suffice it to say, me and Mean Grocery Lady are never going to be besties.  I chose not to kick her in the shins, but on the way home, Michelle did point out that if you are wearing green velour pants, you probably should not be dispensing unsolicited (or solicited) advice.

Part of her spiel had to do with being unprofessional and teenager-like.  I about died laughing yesterday when we were playing sight word memory in kindergarten, and a little girl looked at me and said, “how come you can play the game with us even though you are a teenager?”  to which another child responded incredulously, “You are a teenager?”  Clearly Mean Grocery Lady’s influence is spreading…. 

I digress.  Back to the cupcakes.  In summary, they were delicious, Michelle is awesome, and you should bake these cupcakes.  You could even invite Michelle and Mean Grocery Lady over if you want to recreate the full baking experience.  At the very least, I would recommend reading her re-cap of the morning.  She talks about the actual baking experience, including how to find your baking best friend (BBF) and highlights fun steps like, “paint the top of the cupcake with freshly brewed coffee”  (this is perhaps my favorite baking step ever.  Like, totally.)

Click here for a link to Michelle’s fun post

Click here for a link to the original recipe