Category Archives: Baking

Cherry, Chocolate & Pistachio Cookies

Cherry Chocolate and Pistachio Cookies

It’s that time of year again and it’s time to make cookies! This year I’m attending a friend’s cookie swap party. And this friend is a professionally trained baker. No pressure or anything!

I came across this cookie recipe in Self magazine’s December issue. The photography drew me in (my cookies in no way look like the magazine photos!) and then I read the recipe and I was sold.  It’s the perfect blend of salty and sweet. And it’s very easy to make—perfect for a cookie swap!

Cherry, Chocolate & Pistachio Cookies

Adapted from Self magazine, December 2013

Yields 40 cookies

Ingredients

  •  2-1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 oz dark chocolate (60-70% cacao), chopped
  • ¼ cup dried cherries
  • ½ cup pistachios, shelled and finely chopped

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Separately, using a standing mixer, combine butter, sugar and olive oil until well blended. Add eggs and vanilla extract. Slowly add flour mixture in small batches. Stir in chocolate and cherries.

 

Divide dough in half and roll into two logs, about 2” by 8” long. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for 45 minutes.

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Spread chopped pistachios on a cutting board and roll the chilled cookie dough. If the nuts do not stick to the dough, press the nuts into the dough.  Cut each log into 20 cookies and spread evenly the cookies sheets. If there is any left over chopped nuts, sprinkle them on the cookies. Gently press the cookies so they are flat and round. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and cool.

If you are making these cookies as gifts, I typed out the name of the cookies and printed them on 65# card stock. If you would like to print them out, you can download my PDF here. Then, using a 1.5″ circle punch, I punched out the tags and used a hole punch at the top. I ran out of ribbon so I used some yarn I had on hand for a rustic touch.

Once you and your friends taste these cookies, you will die and go to heaven. Happy Holidays!

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Key Lime Pie Squares

Lately, I’ve been mysteriously craving Key lime pie. Maybe it’s the recent Florida-like summer storms that remind me of tropical fruit, like limes, which inevitably leads my mind to thoughts of Key lime pie. Or maybe it doesn’t take much to get me thinking about Key lime pie!

The taste of limes is one of my favorite summertime flavors. Their taste quenches your thirst and eases the heat. Makes sense then that they’re used in margaritas! Whatever it is, I decided to embrace it yesterday and make Key lime pie squares.

Key lime pies also remind me of living in Florida when I was a kid.  It’s such a quintessential Florida dessert. So while I was baking the squares I couldn’t for the life of me get Kenny G’s “Songbird” out of my head—ugh! Let me explain…That song played on constant rotation at every South Florida shopping mall and Publix supermarket from 1986 to 1990. It was also heavily used on The Weather Channel’s Local Forecast, which my mother would keep on for hours for “ambient” noise. At least Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” was only on major airplay for about a year.

A lot of the key lime pie recipes I found online were pretty similar. However, I loved how the recipe on Sally’s’ Baking Addiction used cream cheese to give it more of a cheesecake consistency. I cannot begin to tell you how out of this world these key lime pie squares taste! Also, instead of a graham cracker crust, gingersnaps are used instead, which gives this dessert a layered flavor.

Photo by Shaw Girl, via Flickr

One note—you need to use key lime juice, like Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice (above), for this recipe. Regular lime juice will not work. I found key lime juice in the baking aisle at my supermarket. Fun fact–in 1965 a Florida State Representative introduced legislation calling for a $100 fine to be levied on anyone advertising Key lime pie not made with Key limes. Sadly, this did not pass.

Key Lime Pie Squares

Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction recipe

Serves 12

Ingredients

Crust

  • 2 cups finely crushed crunchy gingersnap cookies
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter, melted

Filling

  • 4 ounces low-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk (not fat-free)
  • ½ cup key lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons lime zest (1 lime)

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8×8 glass dish with aluminum foil, making sure to leave some foil hanging over the edges. This will make it easier to remove the squares from the dish later. Lightly spray foil with cooking spray.

In a food processor, grind the gingersnaps to the point that they have the consistency of sand. Then, pour the gingersnap crumbs into a medium-size bowl and mix with the melted putter. Pour gingersnap and butter mixture into the prepared glass dish, pressing the mixture down firmly. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. While the crust is baking, prepare the filling.

Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer beat the cream cheese until it is smooth and malleable. Beat in the egg yolks until thoroughly mixed. Then add the sweetened condensed milk, key lime juice and lime zest. Mix until blended and then pour into the crust.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges near the foil turn slightly brown. Cool the dish on a wire rack until the dish is room temperature. Then, chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Once chilled, pull up the edges of the foil and carefully remove the key lime pie from the dish to a cutting board. Cut into squares.

Enjoy and soak in the taste of summer. Word to your mother.

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Christmas Cookies, Part 2: Peanut Butter-Butterscotch

Welcome to Christmas Cookies, Part 2! I decided for the other batch of Christmas cookies, that I would bake a peanut butter recipe. Peanut butter cookies are verrrry popular with my family. And these cookies are simply divine. When my husband sampled one, I swear his eyes rolled into the back of his head! They are very easy to make–especially compared to the sugar cookies with royal icing. It’s also a great recipe to make with your kids. I remember being as young as 8-years old and making them for my Brownie troupe. They were good then and they are amazing now.

This recipe is a tad different in that it also has butterscotch morsels, which give an added richness and decadence to the cookies. Yum!

Peanut Butter-Butterscotch Cookies

Adapted from All You, August 2009

Yields about 2-1/2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1-1/2 cups chunky peanut butter (not “all natural”)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 11-oz. package butterscotch morsels

Directions

In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Separately, using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment set on medium, beat butter and peanut butter until smooth. Next, slowly add the sugar and mix until well-blended. Beat in egg and vanilla extract. Once thoroughly mixed, add the flour mixture and butterscotch morsels.

Remove batter from bowl and form into a large flat disc and wrap with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Carefully using your hands, roll dough into little balls, about 1-1/2″ in diameter. Place balls about 2″ apart on the cookie sheet. Then, carefully press a fork into the dough and create a criss-cross pattern (see above). Bake cookies for 15 minutes or until they are lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with any leftover dough.

These cookies are so good, they could have been used in that “Got Milk” ad from the 90’s. Do you remember it? Oh, I loved it! Let me refresh your memory below.

So, pour a big glass of milk, put on some elastic-waisted yoga pants and dig in!

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Christmas Cookies, Part 1: Sugar Lemon

This year, my husband, parents and I are traveling up to Boston to celebrate the holidays with my sister. Soooo excited! We haven’t been all together for the holidays in at least two years. Maybe we’ll have a viewing of White Christmas?

Or playing “Here We Come A-Caroling” multiple times? I sure hope so! By the way, I only just discovered the 1965 Ray Coniff Christmas Special. It’s just so epicly awesome in a campy way. Like, Lawrence Welk awesome. See below…

My husband and I can’t come empty-handed, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to make Christmas cookies and try out royal icing. Last year, when I made the Star Wars gingerbread cookies, I stayed far away from royal icing. But now that I’ve attempted macarons and fondant, I’ve been feeling a little more adventurous.

I’ll be honest–I should have researched a little more before attempting the icing. The icing turned out a little dull instead of shiny. But, they do taste really good! I will definitely try this again.

Sugar Lemon Cookies

adapted from All You, December 2006

Yields 4-5 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks (1/2 lb.) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1-2/3 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons, finely grated lemon zest

Directions

In a stand mixer on medium, combine butter and sugar until fluffy. Next, add vanilla, baking soda and salt. After that has been mixed in, add the eggs and beat thoroughly. Switch to a low-speed and add the flour and lemon zest. You may need to scrape the sides a couple of times.

Divide the dough into two flat discs and wrap each with plastic wrap. Chill dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to two days.

After dough has been chilled, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured cutting board, roll dough to about 1/8″-1/4″ thick. Chill any dough that is not being used. Using various cookie cutters, cut our shapes and transfer cookies to the cookie sheet. See any familiar shapes below? Hee hee!

Once the cookie sheets are filled with cookies, chill in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Bake cookies for about 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the cookies. You may want to rotate the cookie sheets halfway through. When the cookies have turned slightly golden, remove from the oven and cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack.  Continue process until all of the cookies have been baked.

For the royal icing, I relied on a couple of baking bloggers for their expertise–most notably Sugar Belle and Bee in Our Bonnet. They have a wealth of knowledge and lots of experience–definitely check them out.

Royal Icing

  • 3 tablespoons meringue powder (like Wilton’s, which you can find at most craft stores)
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/2-3/4 cup of warm water

Directions

Using the whisk attachment on the stand mixer, combine the meringue powder, sugar and cream of tartar. Once combined, add water and vanilla extract (or whatever flavoring you choose). Mix on medium for about 5-6 minutes, until the icing has the consistency of pudding. Scrape the sides with a rubber spatula if any sugar is sticking. Then, switch the setting to high and mix for 3-4 more minutes. At this point you should start to see stiff peaks forming. When you turn the mixer off, the icing should be so stiff, that it doesn’t come off the whisk (see below).

Next, plan out which cookies should be be iced which color. For my cookies, I planned on using green, blue, red and white icing. I’ll defer to Sweet Sugar Belle for her great tutorial on how to color the royal icing. Like her, I also used a Pyrex measuring cup to color my icing.

After you have dyed your icing the desired color and removed any bubbles, fill a pastry bag with the icing and use a #2-#4 round tip. Carefully outline each of your cookies. If you do not want the outline to stand out, directly proceed to the next step. Otherwise, wait until the outlines have dried before filling.

Add water to the dyed icing, a teaspoon at a time, and mix. You do not want this to be runny. Bee in Our Bonnet has great tips on this. If I had done more research before starting to ice the cookies, I would have bought some squirt bottles from the craft store. I ended up spooning icing on the cookies and spreading the icing to the edges using a toothpick. I don’t recommend this, though. The squirt bottle would have been more precise. This part of the icing process is called “flooding.”

I won’t lie— the entire process is very time-consuming! The drying time takes a long time as well. Most of my cookies dried overnight, but some were still a little sticky–especially if the icing was a little too thick.

My end result wasn’t exactly what I desired, but practice does make perfect. Next time, I’ll research how to make them dry shinier. Oh, and I’ll take my time icing them. You really can’t rush through it. After the second dozen, I was getting tired! There are some really great royal icing ideas out there–I’m inspired!

Stay tuned for Christmas Cookies, Part 2.

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Fall Foliage Hike and Pre-Sandy Baking

This weekend, my husband and I decided we better get a fall foliage hike in before that psycho superstorm, Sandy, hit our area. And I am so glad we did – especially since we’ve been cooped up in the apartment ever since!

The original idea was to drive up to Sleepy Hollow, NY and walk around since it’s so festive and Halloween-y. But, our dog, Jackie, looked at us so forlornly, we couldn’t possibly leave her at home (we are so doggie-whipped). So, Plan B— we drove to Dobbs Ferry, NY and packed up a picnic for a visit to the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park. Although it was a little overcast, it was such a beautiful day. We dined on an assortment of cheeses, meats and crackers.…a little red wine…possibly a little dog drool.

Old Croton Trail, near Dobbs Ferry, NY

To work off some of that good food, we hiked along the Old Croton Trail that runs for 26-miles along the Hudson River and Metro North’s Hudson line. We only hiked a small portion of it, but the trail is perfect for jogging and biking.

Our weekend was like something out of the first verse of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” substituting our little car for the bus!

 “Some folks like to get away
Take a holiday, from the neighborhood
Hop a flight to Miami Beach
Or to Hollywood
But I’m taking a Greyhound
On the Hudson River Line
I’m in a New York state of mind.”

Also on my to-do list this weekend was to bake pumpkin muffins in preparation for the hurricane. Oh, these are so good– both sweet and savory! This recipe is one of my go-to fall recipes.

Pumpkin Muffins

Adapted from recipe in Cooking Light’s November, 2006 issue

Yields 16-18 muffins

Ingredients

  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, ground ginger and salt. Mix with a whisk. Stir in raisins and then create a well in the center of the flour mixture

In a medium bowl, combine canned pumpkin, buttermilk, olive oil, molasses, vanilla extract and eggs. Mix well. Add pumpkin mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just moist.

Spray 2 muffin tins thoroughly with cooking spray. Gently spoon batter into muffin tins. Sprinkle granulated sugar on top.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Immediately remove muffins from tins and cool on a wire rack.

I had some canned pumpkin left over and I didn’t want to waste it. Then inspiration stuck— my sister had mentioned recently that pumpkin coffee creamer is all over PinterestThis low-fat version is adapted from The Jammie Girl.

All you have to do is combine all of the ingredients above in a jar— I upcycled a Classico tomato sauce jar. Then, shake the jar to mix the contents and heat, uncovered, in a microwave for 2 minutes. Let cool until mixture is room temperature, shaking occasionally. Then, cover with a lid and store creamer in the refrigerator.

So between the muffins, coffee creamer and something a little more alcoholic (hello Dark ‘n Stormies!), we were prepared, like Boy Scouts, for the storm.

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Sports Ball-Themed Cookies (with Fondant!)

Last month, I proudly made a foray into fondant!  My in-laws hosted Father’s Day and since my parents were coming, I thought it would be fun to make cookies for the dads.

I was inspired by the shirt-and-tie cookies from Munchkin Munchies (so cute!), but I then found these sports ball-themed cookie cutters on Amazon. Learned a lot, but what a production! In this case, I don’t feel that the effort matched the result, but it was a learning process all the same. Better yet – I now don’t feel intimidated by some of the ultra-fancy cookies I pinned on Pinterest over the last couple months. OK, I lied – I’m totally still a little intimidated, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought.

A couple of things I learned…

Make sure to get a good cookie recipe  

I know this is obvious, but I’m a novice baker and I don’t have any tried-and-true sugar cookie recipes, so I used the recipe that came with the cookie cutters. Awful choice. The cookies were way too bland. Next time, I’ll find a better-tasting cookie recipe. On the upside, they turned out solid and not soft or wimpy.

Have a plan

The cookie cutter set came with so many options and it could have become an expensive project. Instead, I narrowed down the cookie shapes to sports balls that were white (golf, volleyball, baseball), brown (football) or black (billiard ball). I bought a big box of ready-to-use rolled, white fondant and a small-assorted box that included black and brown fondant.

Rolling fondant is an arm toner

Holy cow! My arms were sore the next day! I really had to put everything into the rolling-pin to roll out the fondant. Talk about elbow grease…And even then, I didn’t roll it thin enough. In order to avoid having fondant overpower the cookie’s taste, you need to roll it to a 1/8” thickness or less. Maybe using a regular rolling-pin would have helped. I used a little weenie wooden roller I bought at AC Moore in the baking aisle.

Sports Ball Cookies

I’ll skip past the recipe for the sugar cookies. Just be sure to use a recipe that yields a sturdy cookie so that it won’t break or fall apart when you lay the fondant on top. You can make the cookies the night before so they are cool. Also, you’ll need buttercream to seal the fondant to the cookie. I used Pillsbury buttercream frosting, but I think next time I’d make it from scratch.

Directions

After cookies have cooled, using a rolling-pin, roll out fondant on a clean surface or cutting board. Roll it out so that the thickness is between 1/16” and 1/8”.

Place the plastic impression on top of the fondant. Then, roll the rolling-pin over the plastic a couple of times.

Gently remove the plastic. There should be a decent indentation. Then take the cookie cutter and cut out the pattern. You may need to twist the cutter to remove the fondant.

Spread a thin layer of buttercream on the cookie.

Then, carefully place the fondant on top of the buttercream.   Decorate as needed.

Overall, it was a really fun project. I also used an edible marker for the first time – doesn’t the baseball look cool?? My favorite cookie overall was the billiard ball though. I can see that this could be a fun family project with older kids or as an activity at a kid’s birthday party.

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Breakfast on the Go: Morning Glory Muffins

These muffins are simply scrumptious! I made them for the first time a couple of weeks ago and they were quite the hit at home.

I came across the Morning Glory muffins on Cooking Light’s website when I was looking for a healthy and quick breakfast recipe. I was getting a little bored with my usual yogurt parfait breakfast and wanted to mix things up a little bit.  Also a muffin is the perfect thing to grab when I’m running a little behind in the morning!

 

Usually, I gravitate to blueberry-type muffin recipes, but this one definitely popped out with the dates and dried fruit. Yum! I chose to use dried apricots, but you can use any dried fruit you like.

Plus, this recipe is really healthy with the whole-wheat flour, oats, fat-free yogurt and ground flaxseed. At only 186 calories per muffin and a Weight Watchers PointsPlus value of 5, this recipe is a total keeper.

For the recipe, please click here.

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St. Patty’s Day Macarons

French macarons are for me like heaven on Earth. The airy consistency and the strong flavors combine to make the ultimate confection.

For a while I was too intimidated to bake macarons. But after researching techniques online and reading various blogs, I finally had the confidence to give it a go. Continue reading

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