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Death by Brownie…and a special cause.

I would like to start off by saying that I have been given the amazing opportunity to team up with Share Our Strength South Florida! I am extremely excited to work with such an amazing organization and have the opportunity to join my passion with a very important cause. Not only that, but my readers can look forward to some fun features and opportunities in the coming weeks.

If you haven’t seen the PSAs usually shown on the Food Network, and you aren’t familiar with Share Our Strength, let me fill you in a bit. Share Our Strength® is the leading national organization working to end childhood hunger in America. They weave together a net of community groups, activists and food programs to catch every at-risk child and make sure no kid in America grows up hungry.

One of the many events that Share Our Strength hosts in order to raise funds for the nationwide program is Taste of the Nation. Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation® is the nation’s premier culinary benefit dedicated to making sure no kid in America grows up hungry. Each spring, the nation’s hottest chefs and mixologists donate their time, talent and passion at more than 40 Taste of the Nation events across the United States and Canada, with one goal in mind: to raise the critical funds needed to end childhood hunger.

I am lucky enough to have one of the events hosted in my local area, Fort Lauderdale, on May 13th. I am excited to have the opportunity to attend the event and can’t wait to share the experience with all of you.

If you live in South Florida (or want to pay a visit) and would rather experience this amazing event on your own, you can visit www.strengthsouthflorida.org to purchase tickets. Not only that, but I am offering my readers 10% off the ticket rate. Just enter discount code*: WEBFTL.

Okay, so what does all of this have to do with the blog you ask?? Well, in honor of the Fort Lauderdale Taste of the Nation, I am going to be doing a series of posts dedicated to the food served at past Taste of the Nation events, and the chefs who created it. So look for my weekly Taste of the Nation posts to see what dishes of the past have inspired me to make a version of my own.

To kick this series off, I was inspired by Chef Christine Najac, from Really Good Cookies in Boca Raton, FL.  What did she make??  Chocolate Fudge Brownies!  It’s a classic comfort food that most people can’t resist, especially kids.  We are doing this for the kids, right?

Since I don’t have Chef Christine’s personal recipe, I had to venture out to find a recipe of my own.  Thanks to the blog, The Piggly Wiggly, I didn’t have to venture too far.  She introduced me to a  brownie recipe that has been awarded best brownie honors from America’s Test Kitchen, The Today Show, and Oprah’s O Magazine.  I mean come on…Oprah wouldn’t lie!!  I must say that this was one incredible brownie.  If you have a chocolate craving, this will DEFINITELY fulfill it.  Richness….that would be the perfect word to describe it.

Okay, enough talking already!  You go check out Share Our Strength South Florida and Taste of the Nation, and I will get on with giving you this incredible recipe!

On second thought, jot down the recipe first and then go check out the sites while you wait for the brownies to bake in the oven.

*Discount code only good for the Fort Lauderdale  event.

Fudgy Brownies

courtesy of Baked: New Frontiers In Baking (Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito), via The Piggly Wiggly

1-1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoon dark cocoa powder
11-oz quality dark chocolate (60-72%), chopped coarsely (I used Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips)
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (I used instant coffee powder)
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light colored metal pan 9x13x2 pan. I prefer to line my pan with parchment paper for easy release.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, the salt, and cocoa powder.

Configure a large sized double boiler. Place the chocolate, the butter, and the instant espresso powder in the bowl of the double boiler and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined.

Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler and add both the granulated and brown sugars. Whisk the sugars until completely combined and remove the bowl from the pan. Mixture should be room temperature.

Add 3 eggs to the chocolate/butter mixture and whisk until just combined. Be sure NOT to over-mix! Add the remaining 2 eggs and whisk until just combined, but don’t over mix.

Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not over beat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour/cocoa/salt mix over the chocolate. Using a spatula (DO NOT USE A WHISK), fold the dry into the wet until there is just a trace amount of the flour/cocoa mix visible.

Pour the mixture into the pan and smooth the top with your spatula.

Bake the brownies for 30 minutes (rotate the pan half-way through baking) and check to make sure the brownies are completely done by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan. The brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Cool the brownies completely before cutting and serving.

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A Spring Twist on Cupcakes

I hope everyone had a very happy Easter, or at least a fabulous weekend. In the spirit of Easter and Spring I wanted to do something fun and festive, especially for the little ones that I knew would be present during the family gathering today. When I saw these little bird’s nest cupcakes I thought they would be the perfect sweet treat. After all, my only instructions were to bring dessert and to make sure there was chocolate involved! So that I did. I decided to rely on my favorite cupcake combination….yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Oh how I love thee!

In the end I not only had a tasty dessert (that included chocolate), but also an eye catching one. These were a crowd pleaser and really weren’t that difficult to make. The worst part was keeping the chocolate “nest” pieces from melting during the decorating process. Then again, who’s going to complain about a little melted chocolate on their fingers??

Bird’s Nest Cupcakes

idea courtesy of Bakers Royale

1. Prepare your preferred cupcake and frosting (see recipes below).
2. Use any egg shaped candy for the “eggs.” I used Hershey’s chocolate eggs.
3. For the nest look, melt some chocolate and spread it to a 1/8 of an inch on parchment. Cool in fridge for 5 minutes. Once removed, starting at one end of the parchment roll it to the other end. Your chocolate will crack in shreds. For 12 cupcakes I used around a half of a bag of mini chocolate chips for melting.
4. Work quickly as the chocolate tends to melt from the warmth of your hands. If it does, return the chocolate to the fridge for a few minutes.

Yellow Cupcakes
courtesy of Joy of Baking

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter and bake for about 18-20 minutes or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, frost with icing.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
adapted from Evan’s Kitchen Ramblings

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted
1 tablespoon milk

Whisk the butter in a mixing bowl for about 6-8 minutes, until pale and creamy.

Add the powdered sugar, cocoa powder and milk and whisk for another 6 minutes, until fluffy and creamy. Pipe or spread onto cooled cupcakes.

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An Update and a Romantic Treat

My blog, how I have missed it so! I feel like I haven’t cooked in forever, and I know I haven’t updated this poor blog in forever. I feel like my kitchen is almost a stranger to me at this point. We’ve even bought a few pieces of the cherished Le Creuset since I updated last, but the sad part is I haven’t even used it yet! Don’t worry, it has been broken in a few times, but unfortunately for me, it’s been by my husband.  I will get there though, eventually.

My absence is for good reason though; I got a job! Not only did I get a job, but I got a fabulous job that I am loving so much. The only downside is that my free time has been non-existent, which means my hobbies have been put on the back burner. The good news is that I have every intention of figuring out how to manage my time to where I can put my all into this fabulous new job and still have time to do the things I love, like cook and blog. So please hang in there with me because I promise there will be more fabulous stuff to come.

With that all said, it is now time to share with you a recipe that I have been holding on to now since December!  I think this is the perfect time to pass it along though because it would be a great choice for that little romantic holiday we have coming around the corner. It is something that I saw in a Food & Wine magazine and it intrigued me from the first moment I spotted it.  Red wine, chocolate and whipped cream; need I say more?? I think that has romance written all over it! Did I mention that those ingredients resulted in a cake? Yes, a divinely decadent cake. The best part about it is that it is very simple to make, but will wow a crowd (or just that someone special – whichever you choose).

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Chocolate Red Wine Cake

Courtesy of Epicurious and Food & Wine

2 cups (250 g/1/2 lb) flour
3/4 cup (100 g/3 1/4 oz) cocoa
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (175 g/6 oz) butter
1 3/4 cup (350 g/15 oz) sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups (300 ml/1/2 pt) well-rounded red wine
confectioners’ sugar (for dusting)

Wine Jelly
1/2 cup (125 g/4 oz) Concord grape jelly
2 to 3 tablespoons red wine

Heat the oven to 350°F (175°C/Gas 4). Butter the 9 inch cake pans, line each pan with a round of parchment paper, and brush again with butter. Sprinkle the pans with flour, discarding the excess.

Sift flour with the cocoa, baking soda, and salt into a bowl; set aside. Cream the butter in an electric mixer, beat in the sugar, and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one by one, and then the vanilla, and continue beating 1 to 2 minutes. Sift a third of the flour over the butter mixture and fold them together, using a spoon. Fold in a third of the wine. Add the remaining flour and wine alternately in two batches.

Spread batter in the prepared pans and bake in the oven until the cakes start to shrink from the sides of the pan, 30 to 35 minutes; a metal skewer inserted in the center should come out clean. Let the cakes cool 10 minutes in the pans, then turn them out on a rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile make the wine jelly: Melt the jelly with the wine over low heat, stirring gently until combined. Let it cool.

Shortly before serving, sandwich the cake with the cooled jelly. Sprinkle the top with confectioners’ sugar and transfer the cake to a plate to serve. Top with whipped cream and and a little drizzle of wine jelly if you desire!

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Back with a sweet treat!

I want to begin by saying thank you to anyone who contacted me, wondering where I was. I really appreciate your concern. I am back now and I apologize for my absence over the past month. I took a little break so I could put some extra concentration into my ongoing job hunt. I needed some time to work on writing samples, track down previous work samples and revamp some things. I am thrilled there has been some interest shown, so now I will just hope that good things are coming my way. My wish is to start the new year out with a new job, so please send the job dust my way!

Okay, on to the task at hand. It’s time to get back in the kitchen and do what I love. You are all obviously not here to listen to my job woes, you are here for that stuff that satisfies our taste-buds and fills our bellies with goodness. Well my friends, I have a good one for you today. I have to give you something great to make up for my absence, right? I don’t think this will disappoint.

Hands down, chocolate chip cookies have always been my favorite of the cookie family; that is until my husband influenced me. He loves oatmeal cookies. Not just oatmeal cookies, but oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies! Now, I am usually trying to find healthier versions of recipes, but when my husband’s birthday rolled around I knew I had to give him the good stuff. He isn’t really a fan of cake, but I knew a great cookie would win his heart over. So, of course I turned to my trusty Cook’s Illustrated book; which never disappoints. That is where I found, in my opinion, the best oatmeal cookie recipe. A plump, soft center with slightly crispy edges, and full of raisin and chocolate chip goodness. Not only did they win his heart over, but they won mine too. I think this cookie has taken the position as my new favorite cookie.

Enjoy the treat, and I will be back soon with an amazing appetizer recipe; just in time for the holidays!

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Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies

adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, The New Best Recipe

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 cup packed (7 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Adjust the oven racks to the low and middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.

Either by hand or with an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugars; beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Stir the dry ingredients into the butter-sugar mixture with a wooden spoon or large rubber spatula. Stir in the oats, raisins and chocolate chips.

Working with a generous 2 tablespoons of dough each time, roll the dough into 2-inch balls. Place the balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them at least 2 inches apart.

Bake until the cookie edges turn golden brown, 22 to 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 2 minutes. Transfer the cookies with a wide metal spatula to a wire rack. Let cool at least 30 minutes.

Yields: approximately 2 dozen cookies.

*In the case that you don’t want to overindulge too much, these cookies freeze well too!

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An Apple a Day…

Back in June, I decided to take a Wilton course at my local Michael’s in hopes of learning some nice decorating techniques for cakes. After taking Course 1, I quickly learned that you can’t do much great decorating without using butter cream icing; which works best for decorating purposes when it is made with vegetable shortening (GAG!).  I decided that I wasn’t a big fan. I would much rather decorate a cake with things that actually taste good. I still use some of the techniques that I learned, but I try to avoid using the dreaded butter cream as much as possible. I tend to try and decorate with fruit, chocolate shavings, etc. I also sometimes choose to ice cakes in my preferred icing and then make a small batch of butter cream for the decorating.

Anyway, since I love to bake and most people (mainly family) know I took that course, I am the first they come to when it is birthday cake time. So, when the Jewish holidays rolled around, my mother-in-law asked if I would mind making a birthday cake for her father instead of making a dessert for one of the holiday dinners. Of course I agreed. So now I needed to find a tasty cake that I thought everyone would love, but would also look like a birthday cake and allow for writing (without having to use the butter cream). It was also getting into the fall season, so I figured I would take that into mind as well.

After doing a bit of searching I finally found a three layer apple cake by Martha Stewart. It would look like a birthday cake, have fall flavors that I was sure most people would enjoy and I would top it with my favorite cream cheese icing that could still be used for some decorating purposes. I think I hit all of my goals! Most importantly avoiding the BC!

The cake was moist and delicious; and everyone raved over how great it tasted. The only downfall I found was that it was a little hard to work with. The outside of the cake is quite sticky and the centers seemed to fall a bit, which makes it a bit difficult to stack without it all sticking to your hands and it requires a bit more frosting in the middle of each layer to compensate for the fallen centers. Overall though, I would make it again because it tasted great and had that homey, rustic feel to it. I think the cream cheese icing paired very nicely with it as well.

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Three-Layer Apple Cake

Courtesy of MarthaStewart.com

Cake
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pans
2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pans
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, two coarsely grated and two diced

Icing
Vanilla Cream Cheese icing (from the Banana Bars recipe)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 8-inch-round cake pans (I used 9-inch b/c that is what I had); line bottoms with parchment paper. Butter, then flour paper and sides (tapping out excess); set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together butter, sugar, and eggs until well combined; fold in grated and diced apples. Add flour mixture; mix just until combined. Divide batter among prepared pans; smooth tops.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 20 minutes, then invert onto wire racks; peel off parchment. Invert cakes again, and let cool completely on racks.

Assemble cake to your liking with Vanilla Cream Cheese Icing.  Refrigerate at least 1 hour (or up to 4 days). To serve, bring cake to room temperature; slice with a serrated knife.

Yields: 12 servings

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Oh, those college days!

As a mentioned in a previous post, I decided to make my husband’s cousin a little care package and send it off to her in college. This is her freshman year and of course she is living in the dorms and having the time of her life. It seems like just yesterday I was moving into my dorm and starting college, but it has actually been 8 years since that big move! It is crazy how time flies. I do remember though how nice it was to get packages of goodies from my mom and my Nana. I mean if she is anything like I was, I lived off of ramen noodles and rice, unless I ventured off to have some of the less than spectacular cafeteria food. Of course I had my occasional Subway, Taco Bell and Wendy’s, which is a splurge on a college budget, but there was nothing like getting that package of homemade goodies. I had suite-mates, but no roommate, so I didn’t have to share either.

Okay, enough reminiscing of days past, back to my care package for Juliann. I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be to come up with the contents of the package. The main problem being, the temperatures down here in Florida are well into the 90’s and I knew anything that contained too much chocolate was going to melt. So I needed things that weren’t only sturdy (to make it through the shipping process), but that would also get to her without being a complete and utter mess. So I decided on the Apple Cinnamon Scones I mentioned in a previous post and also went with a Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Blondie. I figured since the blondies were much more dense than a cookie the chocolate chips should hold up fairly well. I think my conclusion was correct, but Juliann will have to confirm that for me. Just an FYI, the scones didn’t do as well getting to her as I would have liked. They were more of a muffin consistency than a typical scone consistency, so by the time they got to her they were a bit on the soggy side. Once again, I believe the blondies were okay though, but Juliann will have to confirm.

I originally found this recipe on Martha Stewart’s website, but I did some modifications because honestly, they sounded a bit bland in their original form. The final product came out quite nice. My husband absolutely loved them! It’s a good thing he went out of town the day after I made them or else they probably would have never made it to you Julianne! This is a very simple recipe that is perfect for having around the house. With school just starting back this is a great treat for an after school snack or for the lunch boxes too. Not that I have children to test this theory on, but I am assuming. One day though, one day.

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Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Blondies

adapated from MarthaStewart.com

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet minis)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush an 8-inch (or 9 inch) square baking pan with butter. Line bottom and two sides with a strip of parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on both sides. Butter paper, and set pan aside.

Using a mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, and beat until combined. With mixer on low, gradually add the flour, granulated sugar and baking powder; mix just until combined. Mix in 3/4 cup oats. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Using a spatula or table knife, smooth batter evenly. Sprinkle with remaining oats, pressing gently to adhere. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, *30 to 35 minutes (see note below). Let cool in pan 30 minutes.

Using overhang, transfer blondie (still on paper) to a wire rack to cool completely. Place on a cutting board (peel off paper); using a serrated knife, cut into 16 squares. Store blondies in an airtight container at room temperature.

*Notes:

-If you are using a 9 inch pan, I suggest checking the blondies at 20-25 minutes (depending on your oven), otherwise they may get too dry.  I completely forgot that I used a larger pan than directed and left them in the full time; they were good but I would have liked them a bit more moist.

-According to Martha Stewart’s website, these will freeze for up to 2 months.

Yields: 16 bars

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A Last Summer Treat

That last couple weeks of summer are upon us and with them brings mixed emotions for all. People like me, who live in Florida, are suffering through the most brutal days of the summer and begging fall to get here as quickly as possible in hopes of seeing 70’s in the forecast. Our friends to the north are looking forward to the apple picking and beautiful foliage but are savoring the last few warm days of the year. On the other hand we are also battling with our cooking desires. We are counting down the days until we have the scents of pumpkin, cinnamon, apple and cranberry slithering through our homes, as well as pots of soups and stews simmering on the stove. At the same time we are also trying to fit in those last few summer dishes we haven’t gotten around to yet. Needless to say, our menus are probably a bit of a mix mosh these days.

Labor Day was probably the last of the big summer get togethers and barbecues for most. So while I was thinking of sweet treats to bring to the BBQ I attended, I kept the traditions of summer in mind. I knew I had to make the banana bars I had found a recipe for, but I wanted one more thing. What is more of a summer treat than s’mores?? We weren’t going to have a campfire handy, so I needed to think along other lines. I decided to go with a s’mores brownie. That is a combination that most wouldn’t turn down!

I went to work looking to see if I could find a tried and true recipe, but to my dismay they all came back with mixed reviews. I really didn’t want to take the chance of them coming out sub-par. So I decided to take a brownie recipe that I knew was a winner and then add the s’more elements on my own. While trying to decide on what brownie recipe I wanted to go with, I remembered that I had bookmarked a Cook’s Illustrated version that Annie from Annie’s Eats had made recently and raved about. It was simple and chocolatey, so I went with that one.

I added a graham cracker crust and “roasted” some marshmallows on top. In the end I had a yummy s’more-like concoction without the campfire and flaming marshmallows. They were a perfect end of summer treat!

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S’mores Brownies

brownies adapted from Baking Illustrated as seen on Annie’s Eat’s
crust courtesy of The Bon Appetit Cookbook

Crust:
6 whole graham crackers, broken into small pieces
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces

Brownies:
5 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used chocolate chips)
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into quarters
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1¼ cups (8¾ oz.) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (5 oz.) all-purpose flour

Topping:
1/2 bag mini-marshmallows

Position oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a 8×8 or 9×9 inch pan with parchment paper (allowing edges to extend over sides). Blend graham crackers, sugar, and butter in a food processor until moist crumbs form. Press crumbs evenly onto the parchment paper in the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake crust until light golden brown, about 7-10 minutes. Place to the side.

Move the oven rack to the lower-middle position.

In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt; whisk until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the warm chocolate mixture until incorporated. Then stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until just combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread with a spatula to make an even layer. Bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a small amount of sticky crumbs clinging to it, 35-40 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven. Carefully move the rack to about 6 inches from the broiler and preheat to broil. Top the brownies with the marshmallows, making an even layer. Place the pan on the rack and watch carefully with the oven door cracked. Make sure to stay by the oven and watch because the marshmallows will smoke a bit and brown VERY quickly (if you aren’t careful they could potentially catch on fire). As soon as the marshmallows have a nice brown crust, remove them from the oven. Let cool completely before attempting to remove from pan and cutting. You may want to butter your knife a bit to prevent the marshmallow from sticking.

Cut to your desired serving size.

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Heavenly Banana Bars

I try and pull inspiration for recipes and cooking techniques from all different sources. I watch my fair share of Food Network, subscribe to a ton of magazines, own quite a few cook books and frequent some cooking boards online. Those are the places that I probably get most of my inspiration from. Although those are all wonderful resources, I am always looking for something new to change things up a bit. I recently started visiting Tastespotting and Food Gawker, and they have become wonderful resources. Not only do you get to look at beautiful food photography, but all of those photos are linked to great recipes and ideas. I love these sites too because there is such a variety of information.

During one of my recent visits I saw a photo of delicious looking cake slices. They looked yummy enough for me to click and see where they led to. The photo took me to an adorable blog called My Baking Addiction, which is put out by Jamie. Not only did I find a fabulous sounding recipe, but I also found a wonderful new site for sweet treats! After reading over the recipe and seeing that I had two sad looking bananas hanging in my kitchen, I knew I had to make this for the Labor Day get together we would be attending.

Oh, and did I mention that this cake is topped with cream cheese icing?? This little recipe was just winning my heart over more and more by the minute. And win my heart over it did! Not only my heart, but the hearts of just about everyone who tried it. My uncle, who never eats desserts, came over and took three pieces on a plate to hide away for himself for later. Thank goodness I made the last minute decision to cut the larger pieces I made in half in order to create more, haha.

I should also mention that this is a very easy, fuss free recipe. How could you go wrong with an amazingly delicious cake that that doesn’t take a whole lot of effort? I suggest you go out and make this as soon as possible!

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Banana Bars with Vanilla Cream Cheese Icing

adapted from My Baking Addiction, originally seen on allrecipes.com

Cake:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I actually mixed a little plain with a bit of vanilla flavored that I had on hand)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large bananas)

Icing:
2 (8) ounce package cream cheese, softened (I used 1/3 less fat)
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 lbs. confectioners’ sugar ( adjust sugar for desired thickness and sweetness)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 inch pan.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the yogurt and vanilla.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon; stir into the batter. Finally, mix in the mashed banana. Spread evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes in the preheated oven, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow bars to cool completely before frosting with the cream cheese icing.

In the bowl of your mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix cream cheese and butter until smooth. Gradually add in the confectioners’ sugar and mix until smooth and creamy. Stir in vanilla extract. Spread on cooled cake.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

*This recipe creates a large amount of icing.  You could probably get away with making half of the recipe to ice this cake.  Although, there is nothing wrong with having leftover cream cheese icing hanging out in your refrigerator!

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You can have your cake, and your truffle too!

One thing I have learned since I started cooking and baking is that in many cases, the recipes that are the most impressive in looks are sometimes the simplest to make. Although this recipe has been shared on many a food blog and cooking board, I almost don’t want to out it to my family and friends because of the simplicity. These little guys can be made so many different ways, and are so pleasing to the eye, but they couldn’t be any easier to make.

I originally found this recipe on Katie’s blog, Good Things Catered. By the way, she is a domestic goddess and you should check out her blog if you haven’t already. She made them into these cute little flower pops that she actually used as centerpieces. Since I was making these as part of a gift, I wanted to go in a different direction with them. I decided to go for more of a truffle look. In my experience of making these, I have also found that they can be difficult in the dipping process. Instead of dipping this batch, I decided to use wax paper, place a dollop of chocolate on the paper, place the cake ball down on the circle of chocolate and then, using a spoon, pouring the chocolate over the top of the ball. After placing them in the refrigerator to cool and harden, you can peel the truffles right off of the wax paper. The result, a pretty little truffle with an interesting look.

These are so tasty and you can make them to please just about anyone’s palette. So, I send you off now to be creative and create your own little masterpiece of a truffle. Of course feel free to use the recipe verbatim too!

Truffles

truffles 2

Chocolate Almond Cake Truffles

adapted from Good Things Catered, originally from Bakerella

1 box of yellow cake mix (or any recipe or flavor you choose)
1 can of chocolate frosting (or flavor of your choice)
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 bag of dark chocolate morsels
crushed almonds for sprinkling on top

Prepare a 9×13 baking pan and bake your cake according to directions and let cool completely.

Slightly crumble your baked and cooled cake into a large mixer bowl, add the frosting and almond extract, stir to combine completely.

Take small amounts of cake mixture and roll into 1-inch balls, placing onto a parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet.

When all cake balls are rolled, place baking sheet into fridge overnight (this will form a crust around the edges and make the cake mixture much easier to work with)

In a double boiler, heat the chocolate morsels until they are completely melted and smooth.

Line a backing sheet with parchment or wax paper. For each truffle place a small dollop of the melted chocolate on the paper, place the cake ball on top of the chocolate and then spoon more chocolate over the top of the ball so it drizzles down the sides. Sprinkle crushed almonds over the top. Continue this process with each cake ball.

When finished, place the pan in the refrigerator until the the chocolate is completely cooled and set. You can then remove them from the paper and serve.

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Cheesecake + Cookies= A Great Light Bite

I mentioned in my last post that I had made goodies for a barbeque we attended. I also mentioned that when I bake for gatherings I like to try and make an array of things in hopes of pleasing everyone’s palates. For that same barbeque I decided to make some Cheesecake Thumbprint Cookies in addition to the Oatmeal Fudge Bars. About a year ago I purchased Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook. I am usually not a huge fan of hers, but this book seemed like it had a great variety of baked goods as well as some wonderful information on techniques, equipment, etc. So far it has been a great purchase and hasn’t steered me wrong.

The Cheesecake Thumbprint Cookie recipe sounded like a winner, oh and a winner it was! Everyone raved over them, especially my grandmother. It is a fairly simple recipe and it is a treat that is easy for transport. The cookies are light and have the perfect amount of sweetness. This would be a wonderful recipe if you are looking for something that isn’t incredibly rich and decadent.

cheesecake cookies 2

cheesecake cookies

Cheesecake Thumbprints

Courtesy of Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook

4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ tsp. salt, plus a pinch
2 large egg yolks
1½ tsp. sour cream
1/8 tsp. vanilla extract
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour

In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add ¼ cup sugar and a pinch of salt, and beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add 1 egg yolk, sour cream, and vanilla; beat until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and remaining ¼ cup sugar on medium speed until well combined, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and egg yolk; beat to combine. With mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour, mixing until just combined.

Shape level tablespoons of dough into balls, and place on prepared baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Using the lightly floured end of a thick wooden spoon handle (or your thumb), make an indentation in the center of each ball.

Bake 10 minutes; remove from oven and make indentations again. Rotate sheets, return to oven, and bake until edges of cookies begin to turn golden, 7 to 9 minutes more. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Using a small teaspoon, fill the center of each cookie with about 1 teaspoon cream cheese filling, mounding it slightly. Return cookies to the oven, and bake until the filling is firm, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Refrigerate in an airtight container, layered between waxed or parchment paper, at least 4 hours before serving (cookies can be refrigerated overnight).

Note: This recipe makes about 30 cookies. These cookies are best eaten after they have been refrigerated overnight. Allow them to sit at room temperature for twenty minutes before serving.

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