Galaxy Whoopie Pies

Galaxy Whoopie PiesFor the past two years, I’ve participated in a recipe round-up of Oscar-inspired treats based on the films nominated for Best Picture; thanks to Haley who is so kind to invite me back time and time again! If you’re a dear friend/long-time reader (or maybe my mom? Hi, Mom!), you might remember the Lemon Chantilly Cream Puffs I made two years back for The Grand Budapest Hotel or the Chocolate Stout Cannoli I dreamt up for Brooklyn last year. For this award season, I was super excited to be paired with the film, Hidden Figures, which immediately inspired these Galaxy Whoopie Pies!

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at the galaxy-themed dessert trend for a while now, but I won’t lie – making homemade buttercream and tinting all those colors both felt a little intimidating and like a lot of work. While delicious work it is, indeed, making those gorgeous, nebulous swirls is easy peasy with the right supplies.

Jackson, Vaughan, & JacksonBut before we get into the merits of gel food coloring and what size and shape pastry tip to use, let’s talk about Hidden Figures for a sec. If you haven’t yet seen it, do – not only because the vintage wardrobe of pencil skirts and fitted cardigans will make your femme heart swoon, but because you need to know this history of Black women in the space program (or at the very least, the three women whose stories are featured: Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson). It’s a feel-good film, which I get sugarcoats a lot more of the racism and sexism these brilliant women, undoubtedly, faced in their careers at NASA. But it also served as a relevant story of strength and resistance for this presently fraught time. It’s definitely worth a watch even if it casts Kevin Costener as the white man savior who wasn’t even a real person in the lives of Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson. I’m eye-roll-emojiing all over that!

Galaxy Whoopie PiesThese whoopie pies are delicious, but also really smart texturally: they’re moist in the center, but ever-so-slightly dry throughout to accommodate all of the thick, luscious frosting you sandwich between them. The cake has a deep, chocolate flavor, though they’re only slightly sweet, which is important because that gorgeous filling? That’s Swiss meringue buttercream, the richest, most delicious frosting of all! Yes, it’s also a complete departure from the fluffy, marshmallowy fillings of regular whoopie pies, but stay with me. In this recipe, I made a caramel Swiss meringue buttercream that is out of this world and, well, isn’t that just the most appropriate thing considering these are Galactic Whoopie Pies?

Galaxy Whoopie PiesThe ingredients here are all ones you would likely have in your pantry and fridge – Dutch-processed cocoa powder, a few sticks of unsalted butter, brown sugar, eggs, and a few other things. Things really only get fancy when it comes to creating those beautiful swirls of pink, blue, purple, and black. To achieve these intense colors, you’ll need to invest in gel food coloring. You could probably get close with the trusty McCormick set of liquid dyes that are synonymous, for many, with Easter eggs, but because they’re liquid, they’ll change the consistency of your buttercream and may even cause it to separate. Gel food coloring isn’t particularly expensive and you can pick it up at most craft stores and, of course, online. I’ve used my Wilton set for eons and still have a bunch left – a little goes a long way!

Galaxy Whoopie PiesBecause I wanted a great swirl effect, I opted for a large open star tip (#1M by Wilton – I’m not sponsored by Wilton, but I did take a Tuesday night cake decorating class at my local Joann’s a billion years ago and still have a ton of the supplies!) for my pastry bag, thinking the grooves would add a lot of definition and make the most out of all of those beautiful colors. Really, the most difficult part was getting the colors where I wanted them with the food coloring in terms of their depth and intensity. When I was ready to pipe, I simply alternated tablespoons of each color into the bag, used the dull end of a skewer to gently poke through the colors to blend them a bit, and then piped a few test stars until multiple colors came out at once. If you’ve never piped icing before, this is a great way to learn technique and tension, since you’re just piping circles and swirls as opposed to anything too elaborate. Plus, worse comes to worse, you’re going to pop a lid on these anyway!

Galaxy Whoopie PiesTo hammer home these Galactic Whoopie Pies, I played around with some edible pearlescent dust for the lids, as well as some edible glitter stars. I think the dust, in particular, added some visual interest to the lids, causing them to look a little bit like moons and planets with their craggy surfaces. And the stars? Well, they’re just pretty and make this dessert the perfect centerpiece for your Oscars viewing party. Check out the full list of talented folks taking part in this year’s recipe round-up with me below and happy watching!

Galaxy Whoopie Pies
Yields 8 whoopie pie sandwiches; whoopie pie cake recipe borrowed from here

Ingredients

For the whoopie pies:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg

For the caramel buttercream:

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • small pinch of kosher salt
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Pearlescent dust (I used lilac) or edible glitter stars, optional

Directions:

For the whoopie pies:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl until combined. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in another small bowl and set aside. Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, then add egg, beating until well combined. The mixture should be pale and very, very shiny. Reduce speed to low and alternately mix in flour mixture and buttermilk mixture in batches, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, and mixing until smooth.

Spoon level, 1/4-cup mounds of batter about 2 inches apart onto 2 buttered large baking sheets. Gently smooth each mound and spread them slightly with an offset spatula. Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

For the caramel buttercream:

First, make the caramel by adding sugar into a small saucepan with enough water to give it the texture of wet sand. Cook the sugar and water mixture on low heat until it has dissolved, then raise the heat to high and let cook until it turns golden. Swirl the pan gently, intermittently, but do not stir or attempt to stir in crystalized bits of sugar on the sides of the pan, as it could cause the caramel to seize. Don’t walk away during this stage as the sugar can burn very quickly.

While sugar is cooking, add cream to a microwaveable bowl or cup and microwave for 30 seconds, just until it begins to warm. When the sugar has turned golden brown, remove it from the heat and pour in the cream in a slow, steady stream, whisking to incorporate thoroughly. Add a very small pinch of kosher salt and whisk once or twice more. If any crystallization occurs, place the caramel back over medium heat to melt. When finished, caramel may appear thin, but it will thicken as it cools.

To make the buttercream, begin by combining the sugar and egg whites in a medium metal bowl and place over a pot of gently simmering water. Whisk the sugar mixture constantly until it becomes smooth and shiny. Continue whisking until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F, then remove the sugar mixture from the heat and pour into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled. You can test this by feeling the side of the bowl. Your egg whites should be smooth, shiny, and peaked.

Next, switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the room temperature butter one piece at a time, beating until smooth. Do not add too much butter too quickly, or beat the mixture at too high of a speed, or the buttercream may break. When all the butter has been added, switch back to the whisk attachment and beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth. If it appears to separate briefly, continue beating and it should come back together. If at any point you get true separation – you’ll know because it will look like a horrifying mess of watery liquid and big globules of fat from the butter, don’t panic. Scoop out about half the mixture and warm it in the microwave for a minute or so. Add it back to the mixer and beat on medium, graduating to high, and it should all reincorporate.

Once the buttercream is ready, stream the caramel into the buttercream and beat to combine. If the caramel has cooled too much in the meantime, or has solidified, just give it a gentle heat on the stovetop. The buttercream is now ready to go. If you’re not going to use it immediately, place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface until you are ready to use it, to prevent it from drying out.

When you’re ready to fill your whoopie pies, separate out the buttercream into four containers and tint each one to the desired hue of pink, blue, black, or purple. Fit a pastry bag with your tip of choice, then fill the bag with alternating tablespoons of each color. Once filled, I used the dull end of a skewer to push down inside the bag and gently blend the colors. Be especially careful if you’re using a plastic, disposable pastry bag, so you don’t risk puncturing it. Test your buttercream by piping a few stars and swirls on a paper plate or napkin. You’re ready to fill the whoopie pies when multiple colors emerge at the same time.

Fill each whoopie pie with a generous swirl of galaxy buttercream, then pop a lid on and decorate the top to your heart’s desire with pearlescent dust, edible glitter, or just leave them plain – they’re pretty as a peach no matter how you finish them.

Maple Cream Easter Eggs

Maple Cream Easter EggsEvery year when I was a kid, I could count on two things in my Easter basket – marshmallow eggs and maple cream eggs. Each served different purposes. The maple cream Easter eggs were my favorites and what I squealed over even more than finding plastic hidden eggs that held a dollar bill or a tiny toy. The marshmallow eggs were nothing I ever fancied and always found their way into the freezer for my parents to eat instead, transformed into cold little disks to snap between their teeth once I was out of sight. It was more a familial basket in that way.

Maple Cream Easter EggsBut maple cream Easter eggs aren’t always easy to find now, even at Easter. Russel Stover’s makes some yummy ones with a whipped center, but the ones of my childhood were filled with a dense maple filling that resembled a kind of almost nougat. Searches for recipes that might replicate these candies all included nuts in the filling, which sounds delicious, of course, but wasn’t what I was seeking. After getting some inspiration from recipes for what’s known as butter cream eggs and which are, apparently, a really big thing at Easter, I thought I’d try a modified maple variety – and they did not disappoint!

Maple Cream Easter EggsThese maple cream Easter eggs combine some of the very best things in life – sweetened condensed milk, butter, maple extract – along with confectioner’s sugar and a little bit of corn syrup to get a soft, pliable dough that can be easily shaped into eggs, balls, or rolled and cut out with a cookie cutter. I recommend going small on these. I made rather large eggs, I think, because I had Reese’s peanut butter eggs in mind and they’re about 2-3″. The filling in these is much sweeter, so when I make these again, I’ll probably halve the size of each egg because they can overwhelm you quickly. Keeping a small bowl or shaker of powdered sugar around as you handle the dough is essential to keep the dough from sticking to you and everything in its immediate vicinity.

Maple Cream Easter EggsWhen the eggs have had a chance to chill and firm up in the refrigerator, they get submerged in a bath of melted bittersweet chocolate and then garnished with whatever you can dream up. Bear and I decorated these together, which was a comedy of sorts because we’re both pretty messy cooks. We used toasted, chopped pecans, some tinted, unsweetened coconut, and a host of pastel sprinkles I had lying around from the Coconut Chocolate Peeps I made two years back. Needless to say that these toppings were all over the kitchen by the time we were done and I can’t begin to recount all of the weird places we found melted chocolate after. These maple cream Easter eggs came out pretty as a picture though and, more importantly, are a delicious Easter treat to share – or not!

Maple Cream Easter Eggs

Maple Cream Easter Eggs

Maple Cream Easter Eggs
Yields approximately 24 2-inch eggs; modified slightly from here.

Ingredients
1-1/2 lbs of confectioner’s sugar, plus more for dusting your hands as you roll
1/4 lb of butter, melted
7 ounces of sweetened condensed milk (half a regular sized can)
2 tablespoons of corn syrup
2 tablespoons of maple extract
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups of bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons of vegetable shortening, butter, or vegetable oil
Toppings of various kinds: sprinkles, chopped nuts, coconut, candies, etc.

Directions
In a mixing bowl, combine the first six ingredients and mix thoroughly. Chill the dough for a half hour then remove from fridge, scoop, and shape into eggs, placing them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. You can decide how big you’d like the eggs to be. Mine are about 2 inches long here, but moving forward I’d make them about half the size because of how sweet they are. Be sure to dust your hands with confectioner’s sugar as you roll to prevent the eggs from melting into your hands. When your eggs are rolled into shape, chill for an hour. You can roll your eggs 3-4 days in advance if need be and then dip once you’re ready.

Fit a cooling rack inside of a baking sheet and lightly spritz the rack with cooking spray or grease it lightly with a little vegetable oil on a paper towel. When ready to coat your eggs, add 1 tablespoon of shortening, butter, or vegetable oil to the bottom of a small, microwave-safe mixing bowl and then add 1-1/2 cups of chocolate chips, followed by the remaining tablespoon of fat. Microwave for 10 second intervals, stirring after each, until the chips are completely melted and smooth. Submerge each egg in the chocolate and then lift out gently with a fork. Tap the fork on the side of the bowl gently until excess chocolate drizzles off of your egg. Place egg on the greased cooling rack and immediately sprinkle with your desired topping. Repeat with remaining eggs.

Allow chocolate coating to cure for an hour or two or until the chocolate is no longer tacky. Store in an airtight container with layers of wax paper or parchment between layers of eggs and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Cookie Butter Buckeyes

Cookie Butter BuckeyesFall has just begun here in Minneapolis and with it comes the updating of the pantry and the cupboard. In our house, that means bagging up the excess charcoal and stowing it in the basement storage unit, securing the melon baller in its spot in the back of the utensil drawer, and switching out the deviled egg plates for the muffin tins in the cabinet above the refrigerator. It’s fall, y’all, and we have this reorganization ritual of mine to thank for these cookie butter buckeyes.

Had I not been doing the delicate dance of rehoming the barbecue tongs at the tip-top of the pantry, to make room for the slow cooker on a lower, more accessible shelf, I wouldn’t have peered in the deep recesses of my pantry a half-full jar of Biscoff spread wedged in the corner by the Thanksgiving platter. What? You don’t have a Thanksgiving platter? That’s neither here nor there, I suppose, what you serve your turkey on is  your business. Let’s get back to the Biscoff, yes?

Cookie Butter BuckeyesUsing a remaining cup and a third of cookie butter is hardly a nightmare – heck, on a Monday I could eat that after dinner straight out of the jar. The stuff, generally, doesn’t stand a fighting chance here between me and our most darling fat cat who likes to delicately lick it off the top of my finger while gently steading the back of my hand with his mighty paw. Bear said I couldn’t feed it all to Ollie, though, so here I was with a jar of cookie butter and I couldn’t remember when I had bought it, how long we’d had it, and this lit a fire in me to figure out a way to use it right away.

I’ll admit, it didn’t take a lot of imagination to follow a trusted peanut butter buckeye recipe and substitute cookie butter. I added a little extra cinnamon in these just to get more of that spiced Biscoff flavor to come through against the sweetness of the semi-sweet chocolate, but otherwise these are your familiar, creamy, cozy buckeyes with some, appropriately, fall flavors. A perfect treat for a drive through the foliage, a picnic in the leaves, or alongside a mug of hot, steamy tea after a long day. Wipe off that Thanksgiving platter and lace up your boots – cookie butter buckeyes are your new fall BFF!

Cookie Butter Buckeyes
Yields approximately 30 1-1/2″ buckeyes

Ingredients
1-1/3 cups of cookie butter/speculoos spread/Biscoff
2 sticks of salted, softened butter
1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
6 cups of confectioner’s sugar
4 cups of semi-sweet chocolate melted (use bars, not chips!)

Directions
Combine the cookie butter and softened butter in a medium sized bowl with an electric mixer until thoroughly incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and the ground cinnamon and mix to combine. Slowly add the confectioner’s sugar bit by bit with the mixer on low.

Once all of the confectioner’s sugar has been integrated, the mixture will resemble coarse crumbs, but will hold together when pressed together. Form 1-1/2″ balls with your hands and set on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon baking mat. Place the sheet tray into the refrigerator for a half hour to allow the balls to firm up.

In the meantime, slowly melt your chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave, checking it every 10-15 seconds. Use bar chocolate here, as chocolate chips have stabilizers in them to keep their shape and they don’t melt as smoothly; in my experience, they seize and burn faster too. Once the chocolate has melted, remove it from the double boiler or microwave and take the buckeyes out of the refrigerator. Insert a skewer or toothpick into the top of the ball and gently dip it into the chocolate, swirling as you go. This will cause the chocolate to come up the sides of the ball, forming the buckeye’s distinct exposed cookie butter center and perfectly coated sides.

Place the buckeye back onto the baking sheet and remove the skewer gently. Smooth over the remaining hole from the skewer over with the tip of a butter knife (optional) and continue. When all the buckeyes are coated in chocolate, return the buckeyes to the fridge to set. When the chocolate has hardened, store in an airtight container in the fridge up to two weeks.

Chocolate Cake with Burnt Oranges

Chocolate Cake with Burnt OrangesThis recipe is inspired by an old friend of my dad’s, Charlie, who used to visit us regularly for a weekend here and there when I was very small. While I’m not sure I could pick Charlie out of a line-up today if you put 6 elderly, white gentlemen in front of me with strong noses and spotted hands, my memories of time spent together are much clearer: Charlie quizzing me on my first grade vocabulary words and giving me a Tic-Tac for each one I managed to spell correctly. My father teasing him about his love for freshly grond black pepper noting that, “Charlie puts pepper on everything!” and me, my eyes wide, asking Charlie, “Even on apple pie?!” But most clearly, Charlie, coming through the door with an overnight bag in one hand and a paper bag in the other, filled with his wife, Charlene’s, chocolate cake with burnt oranges.

Chocolate Cake with Burnt OrangesCharlene’s cake was the perfect marriage of both their heritages – first generation Irish-Americans whose families lived on the same block in the Bronx growing up, making their courtship one that started in the 8th grade and lasted until they were both well into their 90s. While looking through old photographs on a visit home recently, I came across a photo from the ’70s of my young, stocky, mutton-chopped father sandwiched between Charlie and Charlene, a grocery bag at his feet with what I can only imagine is a chocolate cake with burnt oranges for him to carry home to my mother and me.

Chocolate Cake with Burnt OrangesChocolate cake with burnt oranges isn’t actually a “thing,” such as peanut butter and jelly or bagels and lox. In Ireland, burnt oranges are their own dessert, a sweet and bitter compote, spiked with whiskey, that caramelizes in the oven with butter and sugar and are then eaten, cooled, with cream or custard. Somewhere along the way, though, Charlene rather brilliantly decided to pair this golden-hued sauce with a dark chocolate cake and, well, she should be properly canonized for it. The oranges add the perfect bit of bitterness to offset the richness and sweetness from both the cake itself and the orange-caramel syrup produced by the oranges while roasting. Spooned over an already moist cake, the oranges and their amber juices turn the cake’s texture into one, almost, like a steamed pudding – soft and treacly.

Chocolate Cake with Burnt OrangesSadly, Charlene’s exact recipe is lost to history, as both she and Charlie passed on long ago, well beyond I became consciously interested in cooking and baking. I remember it enough to think, though, that this recipe is fairly close and, if my memory does fail me at all, well, this is awfully good too. What this recipe lacks in visual appeal (in addition to this weird set of half-cropped photos I’ve, somehow, managed here!), it makes up for in flavor – of which it has a lot! Share this with your favorite chocolate-orange lover or after your St. Patrick’s day dinner. With a swirl of whipped cream and a cup of tea or, better yet, an Irish coffee, this cake is sure to leave you returning for seconds.

Chocolate Cake with Burnt Oranges
Cake is Ina Garten’s recipe. Oranges adapted from here & here.

Ingredients
For the cake
Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
Powdered sugar for garnish

For the burnt oranges
3 large navel oranges, scrubbed clean
7 tablespoons of butter, softened and separated
3-1/2 cups of granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1-1/2 tablespoons of Irish whiskey (brandy may also be substituted)
1/2 cup of orange juice, fresh-squeezed or bottled
1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Directions
For the cake
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter and flour one 10″ bundt pan and set aside.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl and blend by hand or on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With a hand blender on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. The batter will be very, very loose after the coffee – don’t fret! Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack and cool completely. Once cool, dust with powdered sugar.

For the burnt oranges
Preheat your oven to 450° F. Pour 1/2 cup of sugar onto a large plate. Next, smear the oranges with 6 tablespoons of the softened butter and roll them in the sugar, being sure to cover them as fully as possible. Pour the remaining 3 cups of sugar and whatever sugar remains on the plate into the bottom of an 8″ square cake pan and shake it gently to evenly distribute it over the bottom. Place the butter and sugar coated oranges into the pan and bake for 20 minutes; you may need to give the pan a little swirl halfway through to break up any unmelted sugar. After 20 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and transfer the oranges to a stable work surface where they can cool for 15 minutes. Do not turn your oven off, but do turn it down to 425° F. After the oranges have cooled enough where you can touch them, carefully cut each of them into quarters and place them skin side up back into the pan. Bake for another 15 minutes, or until the skins have browned.

Remove the oranges from the oven once more, but leave it on. Put oranges back on your work surface and in the hot pan, immediately add a tiny pinch of salt, the whiskey, and the orange juice. Return to oven for 10 minutes or until the liquid has become a bit thicker and is bubbling. In the meantime, remove the pulp from the oranges carefully avoiding any of the white pith, which will make your mixture very bitter. You only want to remove the flesh. After the liquid has thickened, remove from the oven (you can finally shut your oven off now), and add the vanilla and remaining tablespoon of butter. Stir in the orange pieces. Serve warm over slices of cake and add a dollop of homemade whipped cream.

Guinness Fudgesicles

Guinness Fudgesicles[Note: I made these fudgesicles and wrote this post last week when we received another 6 or so inches of snow. I’m pleased to report that, mere days later, I’m publishing it with the promise of it reaching 70°F today! Welcome back, Spring! Please be here to stay. My sun dresses have missed you!]

I can’t believe I have to write a post about ice cream while the snow is falling outside with abandon and several inches are already under foot with more to come. Scratch that. I can believe it because I just remembered recently that on the first week of May last year, I wrote and told you all about the coconut ice cream with graham cracker swirl I was making amidst a blizzard. Oh, Minnesota, never change!

Guinness Fudgesicles are the perfect treat for those among us who love a rich, chocolatey dessert, but one that is punched up a bit by the bitter creaminess of a good stout beer. They are everything you remember about fudgesicles as a kid, but upgraded a bit because we’re all adults here and deserve a little something sophisticated with our desserts from time-to-time.

Guinness FudgesiclesIt might seem, upon first glance, that there’s not a lot to these, but in a way, that’s what makes them perfect. They’re not loaded up with a lot of superfluous ingredients, nor do they require a lot of technique. There’s just a bit of melting, some whisking, a pour or eight and they’re off to set up in the frozen recesses of your freezer. For full disclosure, if you have to go and buy a bag of chocolate chips to make these, or a bottle of Guinness, you’re going to have some leftovers.

Sorry about that not-a-problem. I have faith that you can handle it.

Guinness Fudgesicles
Yields 8 2.5oz pops

Ingredients
1 cup of milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1-1/2 Tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup of sugar
1/3 cup + 1Tablespoon of Guinness, divided
1 Tablespoon of cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1 cup of half and half
1/2 cup of 2% or whole milk
1 Tablespoon of butter

Directions
In a small, heavy-bottomed pot melt the chocolate chips over low heat. While waiting for them to melt, prepare the other ingredients, checking on the chocolate every minute or so to avoid burning. When the chips have melted, add the half and half, milk, salt, cocoa powder, sugar, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup of Guinness. Stir to combine. Raise the heat to medium and cook for 5-10 minutes or until it begins to thicken. You may want to switch out your spoon for a whisk in order to make sure your mixture is free of any lumps. When it has thickened slightly, remove from the heat and add the butter. Stir in and allow to melt fully, incorporating it completely. At this point, taste the chocolate and see if the taste of the Guinness suits you. I wanted a little extra oomph, so I added 1 Tablespoon after cooking and the Guinness flavor really blossomed.

Pour mixture into 8 popsicle molds and freeze for 30 minutes. Then, insert the popsicle sticks and allow to continue freezing until they are solid. Before serving, you may need to dip your molds in warm water to loosen them. If they seem a little too soft after this process, lay them gently on a baking sheet lined with wax paper and return to freezer for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps

Coconut Chocolate Dipped PeepsAt this point in my 30s, every holiday I host feels like the most special of days. I iron tablecloths, set out cloth napkins, plan a menu weeks in advance; all things my early-20s self would have scoffed at. But making home – and holidays always feeling like an important part of that process – means throwing myself into them fully, striving to make it a really special day for those who choose to share it with me.

While Easter has no religious significance to me, it’s still as good an excuse as any to gather with friends and welcome in spring over good food and drinks. What this means for Easter 2014 is a menu set, with a grocery list already growing alongside it, and place cards being prepped this very weekend. It feels extra loving to dedicate these efforts to loved ones even if it winds up being quite a bit of work.

Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps

Dipping them in chocolate is yet another step in the right direction, but coconut & chocolate? Divinity! I dipped these little jewels into white or semi-sweet chips that have been melted down with a little dot of coconut oil. The oil thins out the chocolate for easier, smoother dipping and adds the additional flavor of fresh coconut. What’s not to like? A few sprinkles or unsweetened coconut flakes (they were gone before I even got to taking pictures!) and you have a satisfying and festive treat absolutely worthy of spring and a houseful of your favorite peeps.

…See what I did there?

Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps
Yields 12 Peeps

Ingredients
12 Peeps
4 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 ounces of white chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon of solid coconut oil, divided in half
Sprinkles
Unsweetened coconut flakes

Directions
Line a baking sheet or cutting board with waxed paper or a silicone baking mat. In two separate bowls add the white chips and the semi-sweet chips and half a tablespoon of coconut oil each. Put each bowl in the microwave and cook for 30 second intervals until chocolate is melted. Stir the contents of each bowl really well to thoroughly combine the oil and the chocolate. Dip each Peep halfway  in the chocolate, allow to drip off into the bowl and then place on the lined surface. For the white chocolate, you may want to do a double dip to get a more opaque finish. Immediately after dipping, shake sprinkles onto the chocolate portion of the Peeps or dust with coconut flakes. When finished decorating, pop the Peeps into the refrigerator for about 30 minutes and when time has passed, check to see if the chocolate has hardened. If not, given them another 10 minutes or so. Once the chocolate has solidified, they’re ready to eat or be stored in the refrigerator for about 7-10 days. The Peeps will be a bit firm when they come out of the refrigerator after a few hours or overnight, so you may want to give them a few minutes to soften before consuming.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeThough I’ve never marched in a parade for it, nor have I ever drank green beer, I still like to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day every year in some capacity. While there’s no Irish ancestry on either side of my family, my mom always made a corned beef on March 17th along with boiled potatoes and cabbage. We all looked forward to that meal each year, as if corned beef couldn’t be found and made for dinner the other 364 days!

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeWhile I’ll be making this same treat-of-a-supper for Bear and I this St. Patrick’s Day, we’ll end our meal with this totally decadent Irish-inspired fudge. Obviously, this recipe was developed after we recently had a conversation about Irish car bombs, the drinks, and how they’re a curdled nightmare if you don’t chug them quickly enough; hi, my early 20s! Because we’re socially conscious killjoys on occasion, Bear schooled me on how the name “Irish car bomb,” is actually really culturally insensitive, pointing to the violence that erupted in Northern Ireland – including the deadly use of car bombs – in the 1970s-1990s. Rather than perpetuate this kind of wackness, we made a decision right then and there that if I was going to try and make us a fudge that incorporated similar flavors, we’d leave that name in the dust.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeNow that your history lesson is out of the way, let’s talk about fudge and how there are, generally, two basic approaches to it. The one I’m most familiar with includes chocolate melted alongside a can of sweetened condensed milk , later folded together with marshmallow creme and nuts. It’s easy and often can be done in the microwave. The other contains evaporated milk in place of the sweetened condensed milk and requires some boiling, a candy thermometer, and confectioner’s sugar. It’s a bit more involved and seems to yield a softer, albeit still delicious, fudge.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeI had planned on making this via the former method, but when I started to organize my mise en place I noticed I had mistakenly picked up evaporated milk instead of sweetened condensed. Zut alors! While this version did require the stove (whoa!) and keeping a close eye on the fudge’s rising temperature, it still came together in about 10 minutes. After a good, long chill in the fridge overnight, followed by a blanket of glossy ganache, and another nap to cool down again, it formed into this smooth, creamy confection. The fudge itself actually tastes like Irish Cream, which I’m very happy about, and while it’s certainly sweet from the confectioner’s sugar the bitterness of the Guinness in the ganache creates a very sophisticated flavor pairing – one that should, like my mother’s corned beef, be enjoyed throughout the year and not just on St. Patrick’s Day.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeAs a final note about the fudge, I’m storing mine in the freezer because the booze in the fudge makes it especially soft. Coming cold out of the freezer, I can slice it easier and eat it without fear of it getting too messy. It never actually freezes and rather stays a typical fudge consistency housed in the freezer. In the fridge, it is almost the consistency of a cookie dough, so fairly soft.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache
Yields one 8×8 pan; This recipe should be made at least a day in advance of serving so that it has enough time to chill and firm up.

Ingredients:
For the fudge:
1/2 cup of evaporated milk
1 cup of light brown sugar, packed
1 cup of white sugar
1-1/2 sticks of butter
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/3 cup of Irish Cream liqueur
2-1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/2 cup of chopped pecans

For the ganache:
1-1/2 cups of semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon of Guinness stout
Pinch of salt

Directions:
First, line an 8″x8″ pan with foil or parchment, allowing several inches to hang over the sides, and grease the lining lightly with butter or a non-flavored cooking spray. In a pot, over medium heat, stir together the evaporated milk, brown sugar, white sugar, butter and salt. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring often, and cook until your candy thermometer reads 236°F; this temperature is called the “soft ball stage.” Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and the liqueur. Pour into a mixing bowl and using either a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, slowly, on low speed, add the confectioner’s sugar in 2-3 increments. When thoroughly combined, stir in pecans until incorporated, and then spoon fudge into the prepared pan evenly. Next, cover the pan with foil and place in the refrigerator until firm. If you’re not adding the ganache, allow to harden for at least 6-8 hours. If you are going ahead with the ganache, check the fudge after 3 hours. It should be firm enough by then to continue.

For the ganache, add chocolate, cream, salt, and 1/4 cup of Guinness to a pot over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the chocolate melts completely and the mixture is smooth. A whisk will help remove any residual lumps. Remove the ganache from the heat and taste it. If you’re happy with it, leave as is; if you prefer more of a Guinness flavor add 1 Tablespoon of Guinness, stir well, and check flavor again. When the ganache has reached the flavor you desire, allow the mixture to cool by either putting the pot into a bowl of ice or by filling your sink with several inches of cold water and allowing the pot to sit there for 20 minutes; stir or whisk occasionally. When the mixture is no longer hot and has cooled, remove your fudge from the refrigerator and pour the ganache over it. Use a rubber spatula to smooth the ganache over the entire top surface of the fudge. Cover the fudge with foil and allow to set up in the refrigerator or freezer for another 6-8 hours.

When the fudge and the ganache have set, remove the fudge from the pan by grasping the overhanging foil or parchment and lifting out the block. Peel off the liner and place the square of fudge onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut the fudge into squares. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 2 weeks.

Neapolitan Coconut Sundae Candies

Neapolitan Coconut Sundae CandiesRemember being a kid and going to the grocery store and there were those big bins of loose, wrapped candies? They were 5¢ and on the honor system, so you’d toss your nickel into the tin collection box and then mull over the ten or so different options. Strawberry hard candy wrapped in its metallic strawberry-print wrapper? Yes. Caramel logs flavored with raspberry, vanilla, and maple? My weakness. Root beer barrels? Come on! So nostalgic! Sadly, you don’t see many of these around anymore (I recognize that I totally sound 125 years old right now) and a quick Google search recently led me to a hard and true fact: some of these tiny treats are gone for good.

Neapolitan Coconut Sundae CandiesSo what’s a girl to do when her boo thang waxes poetic about the sweet coconut flavors of a Brach’s Neapolitan Coconut Sundae and your jaunt down Memory Lane ends in the word “discontinued?” Well, you get resourceful and you turn to Aunt Martha, and she (though I imagine really it’s some underpaid sous chef somewhere) figures out a recipe to recreate these candies of yore. Soon, you’re on your way! Thanks, Internet.

Neapolitan Coconut Sundae CandiesWhile mine aren’t quite as pretty as hers – I have a heavy hand when it comes to anything pink – I think these are just the cutest little bites and would bring cheer to anyone that met them. They have such a pleasant coconut taste that, while sweet, is not cloying thanks to their combination of unsweetened and sweetened coconut flakes and not all of the latter. They have a slight chew to them and a buttery richness from the white chocolate, which makes up the pink and white layers; milk chocolate composes the majority of the bottom layer.

Neapolitan Coconut Sundae CandiesThe hardest part of this whole recipe is splitting the candy evenly enough to spread and form three distinct layers and, really, that just requires some measuring and some patience; two things my thick, pink layer could have benefited a little more from. Seriously, though, these are a cinch of a confection and they don’t even require a candy thermometer!  Neapolitan Coconut Sundae Candies are an easy, tasty reproduction of a classic that is undoubtedly missed, but not nearly as badly now that I have the recipe for these in my back pocket. I love when things work out like that!

Neapolitan Coconut Sundae Candies
Yields approximately 160 candies; recipe here.

Ingredients:
12 ounces of white chocolate; I used chips
1 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups of shredded, unsweetened coconut flakes
1-1/3 cups of shredded, sweetened coconut flakes
1 ounce of milk chocolate chips, melted
Pink or red gel-paste food coloring, as needed; start with the tiniest bit, it goes a long way!

Directions:
Line an 8-inch square cake pan with plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 sides. In a medium sized pot, combine the white chocolate, the sweetened condensed milk, butter, salt, and vanilla extract and melt over medium heat. Stir until completely smooth. Remove mixture from heat and incorporate both kinds of coconut. Next, divide the mixture evenly among 3 bowls. Stir milk chocolate into one of the 3 bowls until combined. Add the food coloring gel into another one of the 3 bowls, stir to combine, and set aside. Leave remaining bowl plain. Spread milk chocolate layer into the bottom of the square pan. Next, add the plain coconut layer in large dollops before spreading gently over the milk chocolate coconut layer. Be careful not to blend the middle and bottom layers. Follow this same process for the top pink layer, covering the white layer completely. When finished assembling, place in fridge for 2-4 hours or until firm. If you need to give it more time to firm up, or want to stop there overnight, be sure to cover the top gently with another piece of parchment paper, so that it doesn’t absorb refrigerator smells. When ready to slice, unmold the coconut square using the overhang and discard the plastic wrap, parchment, or foil. Trim all sides about 1/2-inch to create a clean, smooth surface. Cut slices off the block about 1/4″ thick and 1-1/2″ long. Wrap individual pieces in parchment or store in a candy jar in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Peanut Butter & Pretzel Cake Bars

Peanut Butter & Pretzel Cake BarsWhile I love a sweet treat, these days I’m baking more in an attempt to warm up the house than I am in order to have dessert for later on. I know the polar vortex has many of us experiencing single and below-zero temperatures, but as I told my dear mother just recently, “-3°F and -37°F are two different animals, at two different zoos, on two different continents!” Just yesterday, my eyelashes froze together. Like, to the point where I actually couldn’t fully open my right eye. What life is this??

The kitchen has been getting some extra steady use lately then in an attempt to feed, warm, and occasionally defrost, us simultaneously. Most recently, I made these totally decadent peanut butter & pretzel cake bars, which were the result of a literal dream I had after perusing Pinterest too close to bedtime. In a dormant state, my brain mixed the memory of a recipe I had seen pinned from Better Homes & Garden with the recent, whimsy food trend to add pretzels to all sweet things.

Peanut Butter & Pretzel Cake BarsA self-identified sweet-and-salty-aholic, I wholeheartedly support this move – even in my subconscious. So that’s how we got here, to Peanut Butter & Pretzel Cake Bars, which doesn’t sound like a terrible place to be, does it? The layers here are what’s important and I think you’ll find them pretty agreeable too. While the BH&G recipe has the base as a chocolate cake, I went with vanilla out of personal preference and layered on top of it this peanut butter cream that is both smooth and airy, almost whipped. Above the peanut butter is a thick, glossy blanket of chocolate ganache topped with the crunch and salt of your favorite pretzels.

Peanut Butter & Pretzel Cake BarsThey’re a perfect little treat for potlucks, lunch boxes, and birthday parties alike. And, honestly, I think you can actually make these look awfully pretty with a little skill in terms of pretzel placement and design – a dirty job that somebody has to do. I was attempting a chevron pattern here, but that went off the rails quickly and yet, I still think whatever this turned into is rather nice to look at. You know, before it got cut into squares and devoured! I can also imagine these looking awfully sweet punched out with a heart-shaped cookie cutter for Valentine’s Day, a sprinkle of crushed pretzels then dusted across the top. Or heart-shaped with white chocolate ganache and red & pink nonpareils! Adorable. Deliciously so, and sure to help snag a valentine or two.

Peanut Butter & Pretzel Cake Bars
Peanut Butter & Pretzel Cake
Bars

Yields 9-12 bars; Adapted from here.

Note: The original recipe calls for making this in a 15″x10″ pan. I wanted to halve the amount, but also have a thicker, denser base, so I adjusted this to accommodate an 8″x8″ square pan, but used the original amount of cake base . Do what makes sense for you and yours.

Ingredients:
1 box of yellow cake mix
1/3 cup of butter, melted
1 egg
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons of creamy peanut butter
1-1/2 cups of powdered sugar
1/2 cup salted peanuts, chopped
3 Tablespoons of whipping cream for peanut butter filling, 2 Tablespoons of whipping cream for ganache
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
Pretzel sticks or about 3/4 cup of crushed pretzel pieces

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line an 8″x8″ pan with parchment paper and set aside. In a bowl, combine the cake mix and melted butter and stir until combined. Beat egg in a separate bowl, add to cake batter mixture and incorporate. Pour mixture into the cake pan and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown along edges. Allow to cool completely. In the meantime, use a hand-mixer or stand mixer to blend the peanut butter, 2 Tablespoons of whipping cream and then add the powdered sugar. If mixture is very thick or dry, thin out with the additional tablespoon of whipping cream or milk. Whip until thoroughly combined and a bit fluffy. Pour over cooled cake base and spread out with an angled cake spatula. Place pan in the refrigerator for at least one hour or until peanut butter layer has firmed up a bit. When it has done so, but before removing from the refrigerator, microwave the chocolate chips and 2 Tablespoons of whipping cream for 30 seconds and stir. If the chips are not yet soft enough to stir until smooth, repeat microwaving at 15 second intervals until melted. Remove pan from refrigerator and pour ganache over top, spreading to cover the surface. Be gentle here, so as not to pull the peanut butter up into the ganache. Top with pretzels in the design or scattering of your choice and return to refrigerator for at least 1 additional hour. Slice into bars when firm, but allow the chill to dissipate before eating, about 15 minutes.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Peanut butter and chocolate. Such a tried and true pair. Familiar, but somehow always still exciting because it’s jut such a perfect match. I was looking for something delicious to send in my Valentine’s Day packages to friends, but was worried about making anything too buttery knowing they would be traveling to either coast in non-refrigerated boxes for two to three days. My search took me around the usual online haunts, through the dessert archive of Pinterest, and then to one of my recipe notebooks where I clip and paste recipes that pique my interest from various magazines and newspapers. Call it antiquated, but it’s tactile and I like that in a hobby after spending so much time reading online all day. These notebooks of mine are pretty meticulous and organized, probably a lot like the famed fastidious journalings of Lewis and Clark…only minus the colonialism.

While looking through my dessert journal, I came across a recipe for flourless peanut butter cookie and while I was sure they’d be delicious, I worried they’d be too soft to mail. Note: if you’ve never made or consumed a flourless cookie or cake, the result is usually that the main flavor is much bolder and richer, while the texture of the food is more delicate, moist and chewy. Meaning, flourless desserts are amazing, they’re just not the most conducive to being handled by the USPS.

To combat the problem, I kept the cookies flourless as written, but added bulk to them with large chunks of dark and bittersweet chocolate. I also made them fairly large and avoided flattening them much in order to keep the cookies sturdy enough to travel, but still soft and chewy enough that they feel luscious and over-the-top. It also helps to not cook these for long. Mine were in and out of the oven in 8 minutes exactly and while that might seem like a short time for such big cookies, you don’t want to go further or the texture will get too crispy and you won’t get that dense, gooey bite you’re looking for when making something flourless. Use a timer, for sure.

While these cookies certainly aren’t any kind of “health food,” they are gluten-free (so long as your peanut butter is unopened or has never seen a knife that just spread jelly on bread containing flour) and use no butter or white sugar. I’ll admit that I normally wouldn’t bother making a dessert that met all three of these qualifications simultaneously, but my faith in peanut butter and chocolate convinced me this was the path to go and I’m one awesome recipe better for it. These are total keepers.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Yields approximately 30 cookies

Ingredients:
2 cups of chunky peanut butter
2 cups of light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
12 ounces of dark and/or bittersweet chocolate bar, chopped
Note: You can certainly use chips here, but you won’t get that streaky pattern in the cookies or the melty blobs from the bar. The stabilizers in chocolate chips prevent this. Also, I chopped and threw in a few Hershey’s miniatures “Special Dark” bars because they were the last to go in our bag from Valentine’s Day. Someone – not me – ate all of the Mr. Goodbar and Krackle leaving only the bland stuff behind. Ahem.

Directions:
With a handmixer, beat the peanut butter and the brown sugar together until the mixture is smooth. Add the eggs, the baking soda, the salt, and the vanilla extract and mix to combine. Stir in chopped chocolate by hand with a spoon, so as to not pulverize the chunks. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and refrigerate dough for at least 2 hours. You can make this dough up to 3 days in advance, so long as it’s wrapped well. At this point, it’s also freezable.

When you’re ready to bake off your cookies, preheat the oven to 350° and line or grease two cookie sheets. Using a 2-inch cookie scoop or 2 Tablespoons of dough per cookie, drop rounded balls of dough onto the sheets leaving approximately 2 inches between cookies. Fill the baking sheets and then go back and gently flatten the top of each mound with your fingers. This will help the cookies level off, but keep their structure. Bake for 8 minutes – no more than 10 if you want a slightly crispier edge – or until the edges are lightly browned and the center is barely set. The chocolate in the center of the cookie might seem only barely melted, depending on the size of the chunks. This is ok, as they will continue to melt a little as they sit. Allow cookie to sit on baking sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 more minutes.

When cooled, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about a week. You can freeze the baked cookies, too. When eating cooled and stored cookies, feel free to bring them back to “just baked” stage with a quick 5-10 second zap in the microwave.