Monday, April 6, 2015

Baking Monday – Almond Sugar Cookies

I love almond flavoring in baked goods! Not all the time, but every once in awhile, the idea of almond hits the spot. These were easy sugar cookies with almond flavoring ... yum!

Theo and I debated about what color the icing should be ... white would have been fine, but I was in a colorful mood. But so many colors made us think of flavoring (cherry, orange, lemon, mint, chocolate). Theo suggested blue, I ended up with purple. Not sure it was the best choice? Maybe white with some colored sprinkles would have been the way to go. Anyhow, these cookies were very good. Several of the people who tried them swear they tasted cherry. (I've done almond-cherry before ... a favorite!) Turns out, there's a chemical connection between almond and cherry. Interesting! 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Baking Monday – Birthday Cupcakes

Cupcakes this week for a friend's birthday! Sadly, she was under the weather and couldn't enjoy one until a couple of days later. These cupcakes were inspired by this chocolate layer cake ... that chocolate cake plus pink icing just looked like the perfect birthday combo.

I do have a go-to chocolate cake recipe, but am always happy to try something new, and this one was great! I wanted to do a gooey, soft icing but didn't have the ingredients for the cream cheese icing in the original post. After flipping through The Complete Book of Baking, I decided on Seven-Minute icing. It seemed so quaintly old-fashioned, like the kind of icing my grandma would have made. 

This icing is more time-consuming than buttercream, but SO satisfying! (BTW, I should clean the hand mixer, maybe?) It's smooth and glossy, and just when it seems like I've been mixing waaaaay too long ...

BAM! Peaks! We've got icing! This icing does look pretty and is very sweet, though not as flavorful as buttercream, and has an interesting bubbly texture. Even though it wasn't exactly the icing I was hoping for, I did enjoy trying something new. (And one recipe made more than enough for 26 cupcakes, so I may have to make another batch this week to use it all up.)

Here's the big question ... sprinkles or not? I preferred the look and taste of plain, but the kids voted for sprinkles. We ended up with some of each for everyone. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Baking Monday – Peanut Butter Toffee Bars

I've had this recipe saved for awhile, it was originally found in Family Fun magazine. Sometimes I plan ahead for Baking Monday and will purchase specific ingredients, sometimes I find a recipe that works with whatever is on hand. My pantry is usually pretty well stocked with the basics, but somehow I ran out of flour (FLOUR!) this week while the kids were home on break. Shocking, right?

I had bought a bag of toffee chips for last week's bar cookies, so decided to make this recipe with the leftovers. I assumed there were two cups of chips in the bag (like chocolate chips!) until I went to make these, and realized the bag only contained one and a third cups, one which I used up last week. Whoops, time to go through the baking chip bin (yes, I have a bin of baking chips) and find something else small and crunchy to fill in the gap ... mini M&M's!

Which, are admittedly not my favorite, but worked in this case. These bars have a really great peanut butter / shortbread with a little bit of oatmeal crust, spread with a thin layer of chocolate. I didn't measure out how many chocolate chips went on top, but it was way less than the three cups recommended in the recipe, I think that would be way too much. I sprinkled enough just to cover the surface once melted. The rest of the recipe is good as is! Bake in a parchment-lined pan for easier cutting.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Baking Monday – Little Bit of Everything Bars

This recipe is super yummy. I made a few alterations to the original recipe, including the name, because when the kids and Mr. Hotcakes asked, "What's in these?" I had to say ... a little bit of everything! Peanut butter, oatmeal, two kinds of chips, caramel, toffee in a blondie-like dough.

Spreading the top layer of dough can be tricky, but I've got several recipes in my usual rotation that involve placing sticky dough on top of gooey fillings! It works well to take little scoops of dough at a time, flatten with your fingers, and lay in place. Keep moving all around the pan and fill in spaces until all the dough is used up ... I find it kind of fun. The dough will puff up, so don't worry about covering every last spot. I also recommend lining the pan with parchment paper, letting it stick up just over the sides. The bars really need to completely cool several hours or even overnight before cutting to avoid a giant mess. Using parchment, the whole bar can be lifted out of the pan and onto a cutting board, using a Stainless Steel Scraper/Chopper for cutting.

Very rich and very delicious!

Print recipe

Little Bit of Everything Bars

Brownie Dough
12 tablespoons butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup oats
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup Reese's peanut butter chips
1 cup Heath toffee bits

Caramel Filling
8-9 oz (about 30) unwrapped caramel squares
14 oz sweetened condensed milk

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees
• Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper
• Cream sugar with butter and peanut butter in a mixer
• Add eggs and vanilla, mix well
• Add flour, oats, baking powder, and salt; mix to combine
• Stir in chocolate and pb chips and toffee
• Melt caramels and milk in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring often, until smooth
• Press 2/3 of the dough into the bottom of a pan, pour melted caramel over the dough
• Flatten out small pieces of remaining dough with fingers and place on top of caramel until mostly covered
• Bake about 30 minutes until lightly browned
• Cool completely before cutting into bars

Monday, February 16, 2015

Baking Monday – Peanut Butter Cup Brownies (Again!)

Going through photos this weekend, and I found pictures of these brownies from way back in November, when we still had some Halloween candy to use up. The kids got a whole bunch of Reese pumpkins from Grandpa that needed to leave the house, so I smuggled them out in a brownie.

Arranging the candy on top of the brownie mix was fun. This recipe is great – super gooey and peanut buttery.

I've done peanut butter brownies before, but am always up for a new chocolate peanut butter combination! I'm guessing these would be great with any kind of chocolate candy bar surprise inside. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Valentines 2015 (and a Parenting Oops)

This is the note that went in Clark's lunch box this morning. One problem ... the party was TODAY. After my walk this morning, I came home to an email from his (wonderful) teacher:

Hi! I just wanted to check in and see how Clark’s morning went… Something seems to be on his mind. When we talked about the party today, he appeared sad, almost teary. I approached him and he wasn’t willing to talk about what was bothering him. Just wanted to let you know. 

OH NO!!! Of course he was upset. He worked so hard on on his valentines, and I did not send them to school, because I assumed the party would be on Friday. As I was quickly writing back that I'd run them over, this message popped up:

Hi again! With prompting and some time, Clark was able to share what was on his mind. He is concerned that he doesn’t have his Valentine cards at school and students will be passing them out later today. With assistance and time he did an EXCELLENT job of sharing his thoughts. I observed him working through his frustration without having an outburst or shutting down. We talked about a few solutions to the problem (asking you to bring them in, passing them out tomorrow). He is still thinking about what solution he is most comfortable with. Just wanted to keep you updated! 

Really, could she be more amazing? She was so committed from the beginning of the year to making a good connection with Clark and figuring out all his quirks. We still have bumps in the road, but she has done such a great job of getting the best out of him and helping him navigate through the day. I was able to catch them right before leaving for lunch. He was SO pleased and relieved to see me. He was able to quickly sign his name to the back of each one and bring them back to the classroom. WHEW!!!

Very happy we had the extra time to finish the painting on Wednesday night. They were going to go in red envelopes addressed to each student tonight, but the card itself will do just fine! He wanted to make the same valentines as last year, agreeing to a few modifications after I pestered him about changing them up just a little bit. Last year's experience was quite a challenge for him. Happily, he remembers the positive outcome, so of course he wanted to do them exactly the same.

"Mom. They were SO good last year. Everyone loved them."

Monday, February 9, 2015

Baking Monday – Double Chocolate Cookies

Okay, get ready. Big announcement today!

This is THE best chocolate cookie EVER. Seriously. These cookies were SO good that I ate five the day they were baked (plus the equivalent of two more when they were still dough). You must know: chocolate chips are just fine and lovely, but I have a special affection for chocolate chunks. My very favorite ice cream is double chocolate with chocolate chunks, which is not easy to find. (There's only one ice cream stand by us that has it, and it's amazing! Ben & Jerry's New York Superfudge Chunk is also delightful.) I had chocolate chunks on the brain and picked up a bag of at the grocery store, then had to search for just the right chocolatey recipe in which to use them.

No unusual ingredients or techniques, but everything came together to make the best cookie I've had in a long time! I cut back slightly on the butter (eliminated the two tablespoons), and of course used chunks instead of chips. Make sure to bake these until set. They turned out soft and shortbread-like with an amazing chocolate flavor. The recipe also makes a bunch ... about five dozen when mini-scooped. These were so good that I made them TWICE in one week. Enjoy!!