Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mumpkins (Halloween Pumpkin Muffins)

Since I, Nikki, clearly have not mastered the fine art of speech, I accidentally called this treat a mumpkin when offering it to a coworker. "Please, try my delicious mumpkins!" If you think about it, I somehow created a word only a dyslexic would say. At least I didn't lie - they were delicious. And they actually baked properly this time. It appears that smaller scale baked goods turn out much better in my oven.

I made these Halloween treats to bribe people to vote for the pumpkin the Marketing Department carved. This year we went all out to beat our second place showing from last year. Since the pictures aren't great, I'll share that we shoved a fishbowl in a pumpkin and made a fishy graveyard. Our entry wouldn't be complete without a live Betta fish. Our entry is aptly titled, "One Fish, Two Fish, Dead Fish, Blue Fish."

Halloween Pumpkin Muffins
Adapted from 500 Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. allpice
1 1/4 cups superfine sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 cup pumpkin puree

Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Place 12 paper baking cups in a cupcake/muffin pan.

In a medium bowl, mix the dry ingredients. In a large bowl, beat the oil, eggs, and millk. Stir in the pumpkin puree. Combine the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture, and spoon into the cups. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove pan and cool for at least 30 minutes before frosting.

I used Krissy's famous buttercream recipe for frosting. I wanted to use cream cheese frosting but realized I had no cream cheese right before whipping it up. So then I decided to make the buttercream, only I had no heavy whipping cream. Right before I was going to use buttermilk as a substitute, a carton of cream appeared right next to the milk. My frosting was saved. This recipe really is the very best. I used a little less than 3 cups of powdered sugar, and it was just the right balance of sweet for the mumpkins.

Anniversary Fondant Cake

I'm a proud, proud momma. It may have taken me 5 hours but this evening, I successfully baked and decorated a lovely little cake. Not just any cake, but a fancy-schmancy fondant cake!

This was a task I have been scared to re-attempt after a troubling incident with homemade marshmallow fondant. But second time around... welp, it didn't get any easier. Rolling fondant is hard work and coloring fondant proved to be even more of a challenge (looking down at my purple colored fingers). I made this cake for my parents who are celebrating 26 years of marriage today!
Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad!


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blueberry Scones

I never thought I liked scones until I moved across the street from Sweet Mandy's B's Bakery and enjoyed the most delicious chocolate chip scone EVER made. It was a day of both happiness and regret, I was hooked.

My addiction caused the onset of anonymous phone calls from my apartment asking if there were any scones left. Shamefully this occurred just about every Saturday and Sunday morning throughout my college career. As my downward spiral of addiction continued I developed feelings of dislike for a nice Lincoln Park pregnant woman. Let me explain... an inside source told us there was a pregnant lady who came to snatch all the scones every Sunday morning at the crack of dawn. And obviously my roommates and I were exhausted from all the umm... studying we had done the night before that we never made it before preggers and her unborn scone hording baby.

But, now I can now make my own scones and I have happily moved past this dark period. I opted to make blueberry scones mainly because my grandpa (potchie) hates chocolate and he claimed he had never tried a "schone" before. These were really, really delicious. I've tried another recipe that used buttermilk but this one tasted the most like the coveted SMB's scone.

Don't think I'm a freak, I just really enjoy breakfast pastries.

Blueberry Scones
adapted from The Kitchen Magpie Blog

-1 cup sour cream
-1 tsp baking soda
-4 cups all purpose flour
-1 cup white sugar
-2 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp salt
- 1 cup blueberries
-1 cup butter or margarine
-1 egg, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl add baking soda to sour cream and mix together, allow the baking soda to react. In a large mixing bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture (this will take a while to break up all the butter and to create and flaky dough). Once the flour/butter mixture is ready add in the sour cream and the egg. Mix well and then fold in the fruit. Divide the dough into three circles and then cut into six pieces. Bake the scones until the bottoms are golden brown.

Baker's Note*
My dough was a little dry so I added a touch of cream to make it more compact for circle forming. I also sprinkled sparkling sugar on top before I baked them.

Monday, October 26, 2009


I have been trying for quite some time now to perfect the art of granola-making, and I think I have finally done it.

It's still not as good as Milk and Honey Cafe's granola, but it's pretty darn close.

The following granola recipe is amazing and easy to make. Enjoy, and please let me know if you have any feedback.

Cranberry Granola
3 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup raw cashews
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup honey
handful of brown sugar (you can be liberal with this)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 handfuls of dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil, making sure to wrap it around the outside edges.

Stir the oats, nuts, seeds, oil, honey, brown sugar and vanilla together in a large bowl. Make sure to evenly coat the dry mixture with the oil and honey.

Once the mixture is completely coated, spread the granola evenly across the aluminum foil on the baking sheet. Sprinkle brown sugar across the top of the granola before placing into the oven.

Bake the granola for 20 to 30 minutes, turning the granola every 10 minutes. Bake until the nuts are slightly browned.

After baking, allow the granola to cool completely on the baking sheet. Loosen the granola from the aluminum foil with a spatula, breaking it into small chunks as you go.

Once the granola is cooled and removed from the baking sheet, mix in dried cranberries, raisins, or whatever other candied fruits (or chocolate pieces) you prefer.

*If you like your granola to have a drier consistency, use less honey and brown sugar than listed above.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Spice Cake Caper

I'm a regular Nancy Drew. It all started out so innocently, a mother and a daughter baking and bonding. The spice cake itself was very "rustic" due to my increasingly fajangled oven, which burns the edges and doesn't cook the middle. We made a nice argument out of how much of the burnt edges to trim off, and the cake turned out a little lopsided, only accentuated by the drippy frosting which wouldn't stick to the cake. Never fear though, a nice coating of walnuts cleared all that right up. Below I provide a tried and true recipe for cream cheese frosting because I didn't really like the one that I used for this cake. Regardless of its "rustic" appearance, the cake turned out to be delicious...very moist.

Now, to the mystery. I bring in all of my newest delectables for my coworkers to weigh in on. This cake was clearly a success, because by the time I left the office at 7 that night, there was about 1/3 of a cake left. When I arrived the next morning, the cake had been eaten. Glowing with success, I cleaned up the plate and went about my day. During lunch, one of my coworkers, Kathy, walks into our workroom jonesing for another piece of cake. I tell her that it was cleaned off the night before, when she mentions how odd that is. She says that she left around 8:30 and there was still plenty of cake left. Dita also pipes up that there was definitely cake when she left after 9:30. So, where did the cake go? I interviewed a few others that would have been around at that time, and no one fessed up to taking the cake. At this point, I think the cleaning crew is the culprit. I mean, really, who takes the last piece of a cake that isn't yours? If you're going to be sneaky, why don't you take a small slice to enjoy in secret? Apparently, these cake robbers are not bashful. But that's ok; I have a little surprise in store for next time. Stay tuned....

Buttermilk Spice Cake
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse

- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1 stick butter, softened
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 2 cups all purpose-flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- Pinch salt
- 1 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly grease 2 (9-inch) cake pans. Cut 2 (9-inch) parchment paper rounds and line the pan bottoms. Grease and flour the parchment rounds.

In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, cream the brown sugar and butter. With the mixer running, add the oil in a steady stream. Add the egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt into a medium-size mixing bowl. Alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the batter, mixing well. With the electric mixer, in another large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then fold them into the cake batter. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans.

Bake until the center springs back when touched, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks. After the cakes have cooled, invert them onto sheets of parchment paper. Slice the top off one cake evenly, and set aside.

Cream Cheese Frosting

- 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 pound confectioners' sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup roasted walnuts

In a large bowl, cream the cream cheese and butter. Beat in confectioners' sugar until fluffy. Beat in vanilla. (Optional step - you can stir in the walnuts now, or frost the cake first, then sprinkle walnuts on top and sides of cake).

Spread a layer of the frosting over the bottom layer of the cake (the one that you evened off). Place the other layer of the cake on top. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Slice the cake into individual servings.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Root Beer Bundt Cake

I am the messiest baker. ever. I leave the cabinets open and use every bowl, pan and utensil I can reach. I rarely finish baking something without spilling on the floor or exploding flour all over the counter while shooting it into my hair at the same time. Today it was a tragic accident with melted chocolate and my favorite white t-shirt. Maybe it's about time I invest in an apron or learn to not wear favored clothing in the kitchen.
Not only am I messy but I may also be the most awkward baker ever. I manage to screw up whenever someone is watching, I look stupid, make bad decisions and I almost always choose the absolute worst time to bake something. For example, my aunt and uncle were over tonight and I decided to bake this lovely cake once they arrived. I ran out of powdered sugar and decided instead of going to buy some I would make my own. I had to leave the blender on for about 15 minutes- if the loud blaring noise wasn't bad enough the room started to smell like a burning motor as the blender was obviously being overworked. Woops. Awkwardness is my gift.

Anyway, this cake was a bit out of the ordinary, but the recipe came from the Baked cookbook which I feel can do no wrong. The root beer bundt cake uses dark chocolate cocoa and lots of root beer to make this cake super moist and rich. Collectively we decided that the root beer flavor was not very strong, in fact we barely tasted it at all - instead it tasted like a fabulously decadent chocolate cake.

Try not to drop the whisk of hot melted butter and chocolate onto your clothing or interrupt casual conversation with the obnoxious noise of a blender.

Root Beer Bundt Cake
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

For the Cake:

2 cups root beer (regular, no diet)
1 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs

Root Beer Fudge Frosting:

2 ounces dark chocolate (60% cacao), melted and cooled slightly
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup root beer
2/3 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spray inside of bundt pan with cooking spray. In a small saucepan, heat root beer, cocoa powder and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the sugars and whisk until dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. In a small bowl whisk the eggs until just beaten, then whisk them into the cooled cocoa mixture until combined. Gently fold the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture. The batter should be slightly lumpy, be careful not overmix as it may cause the cake to be tough. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and cake for 35-40 minutes. Allow cake to cool completely on wire rack before removing from the pan.

Fudge Frosting:
Put all the ingredients in a food processor. Pulse in short beats until the frosting in shiny and smooth. *I used a kitchen aid mixer, it worked fine.

Use a spatula to spread the frosting onto the crown of the bundt cake in a thick layer. The book suggests that this cake be served with ice cream to give it a root beer float taste.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Apple Pie Disaster and White Chocolate Cocoa Cookies

Yesterday was a bad baking day for me. I tried to make my first ever pie and not just any pie, my Grandma's Apple Pie. Attempt one, I followed the directions exactly and the crust would not come together. Attempt two, I used even more precise measuring and I was still unable to make a crust that rolled out. Pie crust is either the most challenging thing in the baking world or my Grandma was a God and pie genius.

In the end I smashed pieces of my failed pie dough into a pan forming the crust I was unable to achieve by rolling. I didn't have enough dough left over for the top, so I decided to make a crumble - nothing like my Grandma's recipe. Up until this point I've been doing really well with my baking endeavors. When I attempt something, most of the time it has worked. After this pie fiasco I am feeling very discouraged - I would appreciate any and all help from the pie makers in the family.

At least the apples tasted good...

The worst Apple Pie in Mack Family history.

On the upside, I know I can still make good cookies. Here is a recipe for cocoa cookies with white chocolate chips. They remind me of the Otis Spunkmeyer cookies I used to enjoy at lunch EVERYDAY in high school.

White Chocolate Cocoa Cookies

1/2 cup of butter
3/4 cup of brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup of flour
1/2 cup of cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 package of PC White Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk together dry ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Cream softened butter and brown sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla mixing until completely incorporated. Add the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in the white chocolate chips. Drop cookies onto a silpat or parchment paper and flatten with hand before baking. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool on baking sheet before removing.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Banana Crumb Muffins

It was a wake and bake morning here in Chicago. Enjoying some intelligentsia coffee we needed something warm to go with it. I just got some new muffin cups and have been dying to make something with them. I would've liked to make blueberry muffins but I didn't have any and I was definitely not interested in going out in the cool morning air.

The muffins turned out great, full of flavor with a wonderfully crunchy top. I should have cooked them a little longer to give them more crumbliness, noted for next time.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Saturday! Enjoy.

Banana Crumb Muffins
Adapted from

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cups sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup butter, melted

Crumb topping
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl combine sugar and melted butter. Add the egg and mashed bananas and mix until combined. Add in the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Fill muffin cups.

To make the crumb topping add all the dry ingredients in a small bowl. Cut the cold butter into the mixture until a crumbly consistency forms. Sprinkle on top of the muffins and bake for 18-25 minutes.

Bakers Note:
I added a sprinkling of nutmeg and cinnamon in my flour mixture, I would have added vanilla extract but ran out yesterday making cake and buttercream frosting.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Yellow Butter Cake and Buttercream

Yellow Butter Cake and Buttercream.
Everyone has to have their favorite go-to recipes. I've searched to find a cake recipe that is moist and fluffy without being too dense. There were two recipes I tried, each one claiming to be "the one". After making both recipes I found that neither gave me the perfect cake I was looking for. So, I decided to play around with the two recipes and see what happened... in the end the cake was buttery, fluffy and moist - it was a success. This will be my go-to recipe for now until I find one that's even better.

I almost forgot to mention the buttercream. This is my favorite buttercream recipe, it takes time but its sooo worth it.


Yellow Butter Cake

4 cups sifted Cake Flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, shaken
1/2 tsp butter flavoring,

Preheat to 350 degrees F. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl before each addition. Be sure there that each egg is fully incorporated. Add the buttermilk on low speed just until combined. The batter should have a curdled appearance at this point. Add the flour mixture in three parts. Mix just until all the flour has been incorporated. Pour batter into greased and floured pans (2 - 9x9 inch round pans) or lined cupcake tins (makes about 24).

Bake the cakes for 35-40 minutes. Cupcakes will bake for 20-30 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack for about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool completely before frosting.

Buttercream Frosting:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (*I don't like a lot of shortening but you could swap 1/4 cup of shortening in for butter, if you are looking for a stiffer frosting)
a pinch of salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
4-5 cups of powdered sugar, sifted
2-5 tbsp heavy whipping cream

Beat the butter and salt until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and 2 tbsp of heavy whipping cream. Sift the sugar and then add cup by cup until you have reached the desired sweetness. Beat the frosting 15-20 minutes. The amount of time you spend beating the mixture truly makes a difference in consistency and fluffiness. Add more cream as needed.

These measurements are always exact, I usually go by taste and texture, adjusting for sweetness, creaminess and consistency. This is a good base recipe, adjust for your own taste.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

October is my favorite month of the year. The leaves changing colors, the temperatures dropping, the leather boots coming out of the closet... it seriously doesn't get any better.

On a typical October day, I usually try to go out and enjoy the last few bearable days in the city, but today was a rainy, cold mess. Craving a warm meal and comfort food, my mind was drawn to the flavors of fall. Although apple was definitely the first thing that came to mind, I decided to make something with pumpkin instead. Pie was too big of an undertaking, so I decided to stick to my favorite thing in the world: cookies.

This Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe is easy, fast and delicious. The cookies are meant to be big in size and have a cake-like consistency... perfect for dunking in a cup of hot coffee in the morning. How I wish there was an Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters down the street... Krissy, get out here now- and bring some coffee!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (I didn't include this and they taste delicious)
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Start by preheating the oven to 325 degrees.

Next, stir the flour, baking soda, salt and spices together in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together with a mixer until they become smooth and light in color. Next, on a low speed, mix in the butter, pumpkin and vanilla until blended. Lastly, mix in the dry ingredients. Once completed blended, stir in the chocolate chips by hand.

Scoop the dough in large mounds onto the cookie sheet. I used a 1/4 cup measuring cup to do this. Bake for about 16 minutes, or until a toothpick can be inserted in the center and comes out dry.

Personally, I think these cookies taste the best when they are still warm. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Georgia Peach Tart... a beautiful disaster

I spent this past weekend in Atlanta with Nikki and we decided we would bake something together to post. We emailed ideas like Boston cream pie, a thirteen layer cake or possibly an apple pie. I arrived Friday morning and we had breakfast at a restaurant called The Flying Biscuit where we ate the BEST homemade southern biscuits, grits and pancakes with peach compote. The peach pancakes were amazing and gave us the idea to make something using the delicious Georgia peach.

After breakfast we ventured to a store called Cake Art which turned out to be a mecca for baking and decorating supplies. It was overwhelmingly wonderful, Nikki and I perused every aisle and bought things we needed (tart pans and cookie cutters) and things we definitely didn't need (rolled fondant).

With our newly purchased tart pans we decided to make a Peach tart. To make a long story short... we bought peaches, peeled and sliced them, made the tart, baked the tart and... woops it came out horrible. It was not set in the middle, burnt to a crisp on the outside and the peaches turned a very strange purple color. Sadly our joint baking effort was a disaster! Although, I think in its early stages it looked pretty good..

Oh well. You can't win them all.

Nikki- please upload a picture of the final disaster if you have it!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Original Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookies

What can I say? I always enjoy a classic. Especially one that I feel I'm close to mastering. Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies are my fallback, and as my coworkers can tell you, I bring them in to share on a pretty regular basis. This is one recipe that I don't ever put any new flair into because I think it is quite perfect just the way it is.

That being said, I've always wondered if it would taste just as delicious without the chocolate chips. Almost sugar cookie-ish, only better. I'm not a huge fan of the sugar cookie, and I absolutely love this batter. In fact, sometimes I don't even want to eat the finished product, just enjoying the leftover batter off of the beaters and bowl is enough for me. It is by far the best part.

Cheers to a glass of milk!

Original Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat your oven 375 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixing bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop a rounded tablespoon of batter onto ungreased baking sheet.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dulce de Leche Apple Cake

Blustery fall days call for... APPLE DELIGHT! I am not usually an apple dessert fan; I don't love apple pie or apple crisp but yesterday I was inspired by the changing leaves, cool breeze and my mom's homemade apple sauce. This recipe caught my eye not only because of the fall flavors but because it also used dulce de leche.

I've been wanting to try to make dulce de leche for a while but never found a recipe that called for it. I will never make it again for fear that I may eat the whole bowl before being able to use it for anything..... it's that good.

Anyway, this cake was fabulous! Tons of apple-cinnamon flavor, creaminess from the dulce de leche, not to mention the brown butter icing it's topped with. I will admit, it didn't come out the most visually appealing, but once you tasted it that didn't matter.

One last thing... I bought Nixon a Halloween costume. I thought it would be funny and ironic to make him the animal he hates most... a squirrel. Boy, is he handsome and he sure LOVES to wear it! If that's not the face of a happy dog then I don't know what is!?

Dulce de Leche Apple Cake with Browned Butter Icing
Adapted from

- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ tsp baking powder
- ¾ tsp baking soda
- ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup butter (1 stick), softened
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1½ cups chopped, peeled apples
- ½ cup dulce de leche*

- 2 tbsp butter
- 1½ cups powdered sugar
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- 1½ to 2 tbsp half and half cream**

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9 inch round baking pan. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until fluffy. Stir flour mixture into sugar mixture, just until combined. Carefully stir in apples (sprinkled the apples with a little cinnamon sugar before incorporating them into the cake mix). Spoon 2/3 of the batter into the prepared pan. Drop dulce de leche by heaping tablespoons over batter. Drag a butter knife through dulce de leche to swirl through the batter. Drop remaining batter over dulce de leche. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until browned and firm to touch. Let cool completely.

Prepare icing: In a small saucepan, heat butter over medium until it begins to brown. Remove from heat. Add to a bowl with powdered sugar, vanilla and half/half. Beat on high speed with electric mixer until creamy. Drizzle and spread over bars, and chill until icing is set

Baking Notes:

*Find the recipe I used to make dulce de leche here.

** I used heavy whipping cream for the the icing because I didn't have half/half. The icing was too thick and didn't glaze the way I wanted. I will definitely use half/half next time.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Homemade Pretzels

I keep trying to improve my dough skills, working with yeast and trying to figure out the right way to prepare and knead a successful dough. This time I tried Pretzels. The recipe was simple and quick to mix together. However, there were a couple problems...
1. I was severely challenged when it came to rolling out even ropes of dough. My first pretzel looked massively over-sized and deformed. Luckily my mom came to the rescue with her fantastic rolling skills.
2. The "pretzels" tasted great, however they tasted more like a roll then a pretzel. I still haven't figured out where I went wrong with that.

All in all, I am impressed with the appearance of my first batch of pretzels, we ate them with my mom's homemade chicken noodle soup. Delicious.

Homemade Pretzels
Adapted from

Makes about 12 pretzels

- 1 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 1/8 tsp active yeast
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 cup bread flour
- 3 cups all-purpose flour

- 2 cups warm water
- 2 tbsp baking soda

-kosher salt
- 2-4 tbsp butter, melted

Sprinkle yeast into warm water and stir to dissolve. Add sugar and salt and stir to dissolve. Add flour and knead dough until smooth and elastic. Let dough rise for at least 30 minutes.

While dough rises prepare a water bath, whisking the baking soda into 2 cups warm water. Be sure to stir often.

After dough has risen, pinch off bits of the dough and roll into a long rope (about 1/2 inch thick or less) and then shape. Dip pretzel into soda water solution and place on a greased baking sheet. Allow the pretzels to rise once more. Bake on 450 degrees F for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Brush pretzels with melted butter and sprinkle with salt.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pastéis de Nata

I love Lisbon.

Anybody who has spoken with me since I returned from Europe would already know that. My heart was stolen by the narrow winding streets, rattling cable cars, sunny views of the coast, friendly locals and the pastry... the amazing, life-changing Portuguese pastry. It seemed that on every street corner there was a pastelaria displaying the perfectly crafted variations of puff pastry, custard, almond and egg fillings and flaky crusts.

Feeling ambitious on this beautifully brisk Sunday morning in Chicago I decided to give these pastries a try. I think it was more an attempt to relive the moments of pure happiness as I laid in a park, eating Pasteis de Belem, savoring the days of travel.

Anyway, they tasted good, a little heavy, NOTHING compared to the original but I would say a successful first effort. Check out the recipe I used and read more about the history of the Portuguese custard pastry here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Classic Madeleines- Oo La La!

In my mind, the French can do no wrong. French fashion, French food, French culture- I love it all. On a recent trip to Once Upon a Tart, the wonderful little bakery in SoHo, I was reminded of how much I also love French desserts. Upon entering the bakery, my eye was immediately drawn to the tray of Madeleines behind the counter. I ordered one of the delicious little cake-cookies along with my morning coffee, and was blown away by the mini treat! Light, lemony and fresh, this little Madeleine had it all.

Based on the simplicity of the cookie, Madeleines seemed the ideal dessert to bake for my first post. While the cookie was easy to make, I must let you know that there is a little extra work involved in making these treats. First of all, you must own, buy or borrow a Madeleine baking tray, as the cookie would be nothing without its iconic shape. And second of all, you need to be patient enough to wait at least 24 hours to eat one, as the dough needs to set in the fridge overnight. Although this may seem like a lot to ask for a batch of cookies, it is well worth the wait. Bon apetit!

Classic Madeleines
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup sugar
grated zest of one lemon
2 large eggs at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 stick (6 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
powdered sugar (for dusting)

1. Begin by whisking together the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl.
2. In a separate mixer bowl, rub sugar and lemon zest together with fingers.
3. Add eggs with whisk attachment, beating at medium/high speed until the mixture is pale, thick and light. This should take 2-3 minutes.
4. Beat vanilla extract into the sugar/egg/lemon mixture.
5. Gently fold in dry ingredients and melted butter with spatula. Continue to mix until the dough is moist and thick (see picture below). Refrigerate dough for up to two days.

6. After your dough has been in the fridge for a day or two, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
7. If you do not have a non-stick Madeleine tray, be sure to thoroughly grease the molds. Butter is the best way to do this. *As you can see from my first photo, I did not butter my molds well enough, as the shape of the cookies is imperfect.
8. Fill each Madeleine mold about 2/3 of the way with dough. Do not worry about making sure they are all filled evenly; the baking process takes care of this naturally.
9. Set the Madeleine tray on a baking sheet and place into the oven. Bake for 8-10 minutes for mini Madeleines and 11-13 minutes for large Madeleines.
10. Remove from oven, let cookies set until cooled, and gently tap the tray onto the counter until the cookies slide out of the molds.
11. Lightly dust with powdered sugar, and voila! Your Madeleines are ready to serve.