Cowboy Cookies

After quite a few weeks of trying to meet pressing real estate and work deadlines, I finally crashed and spent most of today nursing a nasty headache. Once I felt well enough to crawl out of bed, I really wanted cookies.

Not wanting to have to drive anywhere, I scavanged around my kitchen, finding the remains of a bag of chocolate chips and my husband’s hidden stash of Reese’s Pieces. Those immediately gave me the idea for Cowboy Cookies.

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A quick Google search later, I found The Food Charlatan’s recipe to use as a base. It worked well, as I had pecans and old-fashioned oats in my pantry, as well. I made some personal changes to her recipe, primarily because I was too impatient to wait for the dough to chill.

Baking them immediately still worked; these turned out superbly! Easily one of the best cookies I’ve ever made. They’re a great balance of chewy in the middle and crunchy on the outside. They’re rich and buttery, combining the sweetness of the candies with the crunch of the pecans and texture of the oats. I will definitely keep this recipe on hand for future cravings, only next time, I will add the shredded coconut!

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Cowboy Cookies
(Original recipe: The Food Charlatan)

1 cup (8 oz) butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour, leveled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup old fashioned oats
3/4 cup pecans, roughly chopped
3/4 cup shredded coconut
1 cup Reese’s Pieces
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the butter until it is light and fluffy. Add both sugars and beat well, scraping sides and bottom. Add eggs and vanilla, beat well.

In a separate mixing bowl, sift flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients by hand slowly, and stop just before it’s fully incorporated. Add the oats, pecans, Reese’s Pieces, and chocolate chips to the bowl. Fold in gently. Don’t over mix, it will make your dough tough.

Place large spoonfuls (approx 1/4 cup) on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Leave at least a couple inches in between each ball of dough. Bake at 350 for 15-17 minutes, until the cookies are golden on the edges and they are not too shiny in the middle. (A little shine is okay.)

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Two kinds of cookies

Sometimes you just need a homemade chocolate cookie. Here are two recipes I’ve made in the last couple of weeks, perfect for those wicked chocolate cravings that I know absolutely nothing about. Obviously.

Cowboy Cookies
(Original recipe: Brown Eyed Baker)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
½ tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups granulated sugar
1½ cups packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups sweetened, flaked coconut
2 cups (8 ounces) chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Gradually beat in the sugars until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as necessary. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just combined. With a wooden spoon or large rubber spatula stir in the chocolate chips, oats, coconut and pecans.
For each cookie, drop ¼ cup dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing them about 3 inches apart. Bake until the edges are set but the middles still look light and puffy, about 15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through. Cool cookies on the baking sheets.

Double Chocolate Brownie Cookies
(Original recipe: Cafe Delites)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, white sugar, butter and vegetable oil. Beat in egg and vanilla until fully incorporated.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Fold dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until a dough forms; do not over beat. Fold in the chocolate chips. Scoop out 1-2 tablespoonful of dough with a cookie scoop and place onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Press them down as thick or thin as you want your cookies to come out.
Bake for 12 minutes. The cookies will come out soft from the oven but will harden up as
they cool. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool.

Bûche de Noël

Every Christmas, I challenge myself to at least one cooking/baking challenge. This year, I chose a Bûche de Noël, otherwise known as a Yule Log. It is a traditional French roulade (or jelly roll cake) filled with fruit and/or cream, covered in chocolate and decorated to look like a log. The most well-known in America is probably that of Julia Child, complete with meringue mushrooms.

After reading through many recipes, including Julia’s, I decided on the vanilla sponge cake and cream cheese filling from Natasha’s Kitchen, with the addition of strawberry jam. As this was my first attempt at a jelly roll, I allowed myself a few shortcuts, namely pre-made strawberry jam and chocolate frosting.

I gathered all my tips – including How to Cook by Julia Child and this helpful video from Sophia at My Great Challenge – and went for it. I used the damp towel trick for rolling the cake and used the fridge to cool it off whenever it got too warm to work with. I skipped the meringue mushrooms, opting instead for fresh cranberries and leaves for a holly decoration on top.

I was pleased enough with the exterior but didn’t know what to expect of the inside until we cut into it after Christmas dinner. Imagine my shock to find an almost-perfect – and rather delicious – spiral. I’m pretty darn proud of this first attempt! I’ll definitely try again next Christmas, only this time, I’ll make the fruit filling and chocolate ganache from scratch.

Bûche de Noël

Sponge cake:
6 large eggs, room temp
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp real vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat Oven to 400˚F. Line 15×21″ baking sheet with parchment.
In the bowl of your mixer, beat 6 eggs with whisk attachment on high speed 1 minute. With mixer on, gradually add 2/3 cup sugar and continue beating on high 5 minutes. Mixture will be thick and fluffy (very important since you’re relying on egg volume for the cake to rise).
Sift 1 cup flour in thirds into batter, folding with a spatula between each addition and scraping the bowl to ensure you don’t have pockets of flour hiding at the bottom. Drizzle in 1/2 tsp vanilla and gently mix just until blended (do not over-mix or you will deflate the batter). Spread batter into prepared baking pan and bake right away at 400˚F approximately 12-14 minutes or until top is golden.
Remove from the oven and quickly loosen the edges with a thin spatula. Right away remove it from the baking sheet, flipping the top over onto a damp towel. Remove the parchment paper from the back and gently roll cake into a log with the towel, starting from the narrow end. Leave the cake tightly wrapped in the towel to cool on the counter until room temp.


For the cream cheese filling:
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, very cold
8 oz pkg cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Additional ingredients:
Fruit spread, 4-6 ounces (I used strawberry jam)
Chocolate frosting, 1 can

While the cake is cooling, combine all ingredients to make the cream cheese filling.
When the cake has cooled, unroll and gently spread a thin layer of fruit spread over the entire cake, followed by a layer of cream cheese filling. Re-roll the cake tightly, making sure the seam is on the bottom. Place it in the refrigerator to cool completely.
Once cooled, trim the ends of the cake. Frost it with chocolate frosting, using the back of the knife or the tines of a fork to make the cake look like a log. The cake can be kept in the fridge in plastic wrap for up to 4 days, if needed. Before serving, sift powdered cocoa around the bottom to look like dirt, and dust confectioner’s sugar on top to look like snow.

Thanksgiving 2017

An overdue handful of shots from this year’s Thanksgiving:

Pumpkin pie A

Making pumpkin pie

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Experimenting with leaf cutters and a braided crust

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Simple tablescape with menus and name cards created on PicMonkey

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This year’s 16 lb herb turkey

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A new side this year: pear, Roquefort, and candied pecan salad

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Beverage station: coffee, apple cider, tea, cocoa

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Cheese, fruit, and nut board; served alongside creamy pumpkin soup

Apple crisp cookie cups

Apple crisp cookies A

It’s officially autumn, which means it’s baking season around here! ((squeal of delight))

I knew I wanted to make something with apples. Since my husband loves apple crisp and cookies, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with this Pinterest recipe. The base cookie is slightly different than the oatmeal cookies I’m accustomed to, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s perfectly sweet and strong against the apples. I also recommend using a mixture of honeycrisp and Granny Smiths for the filling.

Tip: While you need to press a well into each cookie immediately out of the oven, do so in the muffin tin and keep them there until they’re fully cooled. Otherwise, the sides will break.

Apple crisp cookies D

Apple crisp cookie cups
(Original recipe: Delish)

1 1/4 c. brown sugar (divided)
3/4 c. granulated sugar (divided)
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened (plus more for cooking apples)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 3/4 c. old fashioned oats
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3 large or 6 small apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
2 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup brown sugar. Beat with mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until evenly combined. Add flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, and stir until just combined.
Cover 2 regular-sized muffin tins with butter. Using a medium ice cream scoop, scoop dough into muffin tins, press down with a spoon to create cups. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cookie cups are golden brown and set. (Don’t worry if the cookie cup centers rise.)
While the cookies are still warm, make the cups. Spray the bottom of a small shot glass with cooking spray and press it down into the center of each cookie to create cups. Let cool, then transfer to wire cooling racks.
Meanwhile, melt about 2 tablespoons butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples and sauté until beginning to soften. Add the remaining sugars, nutmeg, cinnamon and cornstarch and cook until soft and caramelized.
Spoon the apple filling into the cups. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Apple crisp cookies BApple crisp cookies C

Lemon Cheesecake with Mascarpone Cream and Candied Lemons

Summer is coming, which means citrus! If you like lemon desserts, this one is sublime. The flavor is delicate; not too sweet, not too tart. The cheesecake itself bakes in a bain-marie, or water bath, a trick for assuring it is evenly baked and doesn’t crack.

Candying lemon slices to use as decoration is optional, but if you decide to attempt it, they need to dry overnight, so plan accordingly.

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Candied lemon slices

3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 cup water
1 large lemon, sliced 1/4″ thick, seeds removed

In a skillet, bring water and confectioner’s sugar to a low simmer over medium heat. Do not let it boil and brown; you want to create a simple syrup, not a caramel.
Once the sugar water is simmering, submerge the lemon slices. Let the whole mixture simmer slowly for 20-25 minutes.
Remove lemons onto a candy or drying rack with parchment paper underneath to catch the drips. The lemon slices should be pliable, but still intact.
Leave the rack of lemon slices out on a counter for at least 12 hours to dry completely.

Tip: Don’t throw out the lemon-infused simple syrup that remains in the pan after you remove the lemon slices. It is especially delicious in tea.

Lemon cheesecake A

Lemon cheesecake with a graham cracker crust

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1-1/4 cups sugar, divided
6 Tbsp. butter, melted
4-8 oz. packages of cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
Zest and juice from 1 lemon
4 eggs

Heat oven to 325°F
Mix crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar, and butter. Press onto bottom of 13×9-inch pan.
Beat cream cheese and remaining 1 cup of sugar in large bowl with mixer until well blended. Add sour cream, zest and juice; mix well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low after each just until blended. Do not over mix. Pour mixture over crust.
Put the cheesecake pan in the center of a roasting pan and carefully pour hot water into the roasting pan until the water reaches halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan.
Bake at 325°F for 40-50 minutes or until the center is almost set. It should have a slight jiggle to it.
Cool completely. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before adding the mascarpone cream layer.

Lemon cheesecake D

Mascarpone whipped cream
Original recipe: Stress Baking

4 ounces mascarpone cheese
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream

Chill a large mixing bowl in the fridge.
In your chilled bowl, combine mascarpone cheese and sugar on a high speed until completely combined.
Add vanilla and heavy cream, and mix on a low setting until it is mostly combined. Increase speed to high and whip until stiff peaks form.
Spread all the whipped cream evenly over the top of the cooled cheesecake; place candied lemons on top for decoration. Return your beautiful dessert to the fridge to keep cool until serving.

Hot Cakes Cakery

Most visitors to Seattle head to straight to the Starbucks Roastery & Tasting Room. Tip from a local: walk a few more blocks to Hot Cakes Cakery and order a Dark Decadence molten chocolate cake. The S’mores cake is also an experience, including house made graham crackers, marshmallow, and liquid smoke. The shop also sells milkshakes, bread pudding, and much more. WARNING: these cakes are rich, so a single cake can easily serve two. Can’t make it to the Pacific Northwest? They have an online shop.

 

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Good ole lemon bars

There seems to be a distinction between cooks and bakers. Many who cook don’t bake much and vice versa. For me, this is because baking is much more of a science. Inaccurate measurements can be fixed or faked while cooking, while that isn’t so much the case in baking. The smaller margin of error can feel intimidating. However, I want to learn to bake, especially after binge-watching way too many episodes of The Great British Bake Off.

So when a friend specially requested lemon bars, I was eager to give them a shot. This is a standard lemon bar recipe, and I was too intimidated to make any fancy adjustments. However, they were deliciously successful, meaning it’s a great recipe for beginner bakers. It’s definitely going in my rotation for future use! (Though I will admit ignorance was bliss not realizing how much of a lemon bar was pure white sugar…)

Lemon bars BLemon bars A

Lemon bars
(Original recipe: Allrecipes)

For the shortbread crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the lemon layer:
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar

Place an oven rack into middle position in oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter an 8×8-inch baking dish.
Place 1 cup flour and room temperature butter in a mixing bowl and mash with a fork until thoroughly combined. Mix in 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract, and salt; mix mixture together until it looks like a slightly crumbly cookie dough.
Moisten your fingers with a little water and press dough into bottom of prepared baking dish. Use a fork to prick holes all over the crust.
Bake crust on center rack in the preheated oven until crust edges are barely golden brown, 22 minutes.
Beat eggs and egg yolks together in a bowl; whisk in white sugar and 2 tablespoons flour until smooth. Add lemon juice and lemon zest; whisk for 2 minutes. Pour lemon custard over crust.
Bake on center rack until custard is set, about 25 minutes. Let the whole dish cool completely. To cut into bars, dip a sharp knife into hot water, run around the edge, and cut into 16 squares. Dust bars with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

Chocolate mint crinkle cookies

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These little gems taste like little brownie bites with a delicate hint of mint, and they taste even better than they look. They’re perfect for the holidays, or pretty much any other day, really, since the dough freezes well. The next time I make them, I plan to add semisweet chocolate chips, just for fun. If you don’t like mint, simply leave out the peppermint extract.

Chocolate mint crinkle cookies
Original recipe: Betty Crocker

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar

In medium bowl, mix flour, baking cocoa, baking powder and salt; set aside.
In large bowl, beat granulated sugar, oil and eggs with whisk until well mixed. Beat in vanilla and peppermint extract.
Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients just until combined. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Heat oven to 350°F. Line cookie sheets with cooking parchment paper. Place powdered sugar in small bowl. Shape dough into tablespoon-size balls; roll in powdered sugar. Place on cookie sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until cookies crackle and dough doesn’t look raw. Cool on cookie sheet 2 minutes. Remove to cooling rack; cool completely until candy is set.

Pumpkin pie with mascarpone whipped cream

As I usually do, the filling of my first scratch-made pumpkin pie is the result of researching multiple highly-rated recipes online and coming up with my own final version. Mine doesn’t include cloves and substitutes a bit of brown sugar for the traditional white. My favorite part? Doing the leaf design on top! To make them, I cut shapes out of thinly rolled crust dough with cookie cutters and added vein details with a knife. (Premade crust dough from Grand Central Bakery.) Don’t forget the killer mascarpone whipped cream; it’s to die for!

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My pumpkin pie filling

2 cups mashed pumpkin*
12 oz evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

* If using fresh pumpkin, wring the additional moisture out in cheesecloth first.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). In a large bowl, mix all ingredients until well blended. Pour into a prepared crust of your choosing. Bake 40-50 minutes or until the center jiggles only slightly.

 

Mascarpone whipped cream
Original recipe: Stress Baking

4 ounces mascarpone cheese
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream

Chill a large mixing bowl in the fridge.
In your chilled bowl, combine mascarpone cheese and sugar on a high speed until completely combined.
Add vanilla and heavy cream, and mix on a low setting until it is mostly combined. Now increase speed to high and whip until stiff peaks form.