Category Archives: sweets

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_1382My daughter and I eat oatmeal every morning for  breakfast — out of these blue striped bowls, which seem just perfect for porridge but might not be up to snuff when it comes to holding these delish Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. I should at least have to go to the work of lifting a lid, if not unlocking a padlock, to continue to treat myself. But it is Mother’s Day… The bowl stays.

File Oatmeal Cookies under things I could have been eating for years but for some reason thought I didn’t like. I’ll tell you what I don’t like — raisins. Sadly, many bakers introduce raisins (or, as I called them years ago, “dead flies”), to their Oatmeal Cookies and I’m done. But I said “See ‘ya Dead Flies, Hello Chocolate Chips,” and all was good. My daughter — to whom I inadvertently passed along my raisin issues, agrees. We’ve been munching on these things like we’ve got a bus to catch.

My guess is the cookies aren’t as healthy as our morning bowls of oatmeal, to which we add a sprinkle of brown sugar, along with some fruit or nuts or cinnamon. Perhaps it’s the two sticks of butter and two cups of brown and white sugar (that’s more sugar than Oatmeal, come to think of it).

The recipe is from my Baking Illustrated cookbook, which has never let me down. The original recipe calls for, yes, dead flies, (KIDDING – raisins), but instructions are given for a chocolate chip variation. There’s also a recipe for Ginger Oatmeal Cookies. Um, Yum?

I got two more baking cookbooks for Mothers Day and I’ll post about them soon. First I need to eat some Oatmeal Cookies.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Snickerdoodle Edition

img_7812In honor of the 40th anniversary of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I baked a Snickerdoodle Caterpillar.

OK, that’s complete fiction — the Snickerdoodle dough must have been a tiny bit too crowded on the cookie sheet going into the oven. But we are big fans of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, even years after it crawled out of our nightly reading list. Certainly we’re not alone, that book link above will take you to the 40th anniversary site, which includes a list of celebrations all over the world. Party Central is Amherst, Mass., home of the The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. I could go on and on about the exhibits and programs there, but if you’re not within driving distance you’ll just be jealous. If you are in New England, click on the link and plan a trip. You do not need a kid to go – although an appreciation of art, graphics, type and the like would be in order. If you are a textile junkie who loves printed fabric you might want to go soon. Turns out that Virginia Lee Burton’s talents went far beyond Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel.

Back to Snickerdoodles! Most of the cookies emerged from the oven solo (there was also a tall, slim snowman). I’ve always seen the name on cookies at bakeries and had no idea they were chewy sugar cookies with cinnamon on top. How many Snickerdoodles have I missed? This particular recipe came from Baking Illustrated and was, as usual, spot on. The only reason I cooked a caterpillar was because I wasn’t paying attention and started following the end of the sugar cookie recipe next door in the cookbook. (How many times do I have to tell you… blah blah blah. I’m beginning to know what my daughter feels like.)

I don’t need a reason to eat cookies, but Eric Carle turns 80 this year. Time to toast him and his caterpillar with a cup of hot tea, or a glass of cold milk, and a Snickerdoodle.

Devil’s Food Twilight Cake

img_7806No, this isn’t the Twilight Cake.

But, as anyone who has a daughter of a certain age probably knows, the Twilight DVD was released this weekend. That was cause for much celebration in my house, so I baked a little Devil’s Food Cake and put a “t” on it.

I turned to my mom’s old Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book, where I found not one, but three Devil’s Food recipes. I went for the darkest, which seemed appropriate. (And before any Twilight fanatics jump all over me, I know the Cullens are not Devils. But I’ve never heard of a Vampire Food Cake, so chillax.)

img_7804A few Devil’s Food Cake notes: I frosted it with Buttercream, colored black. Much tastier than the fondant for the real Twilight Cake, even though the fondant was good. Also, at Betty Crocker’s suggestion, instead of flouring the pan, I “cocoaed” the pan after buttering it so the cake would remain dark. Worked like a charm.

Speaking of the Twilight DVD, my own little Twilight fan watched the movie three times Saturday. I watched it once. It wasn’t half bad. It was better than Beverly Hills Chihuahua. The actors spent most of the movie speaking in near monotones, which I assume had some dramatic purpose but nearly put me to sleep. (OK, I think it did put me to sleep, but I was really tired from baking the cake.)

phot1Today we still had leftover Cake, and I introduced the girl to the delicious practice of mixing Devil’s Food Cake and vanilla ice cream on your fork. She approved. Speaking of cultural icons that will outlast all the Twilight vampires – you can see Betty and Archie in the background. Betty and Veronica are still best friends battling it out for Archie’s affections (why? I did not understand Archie’s appeal 30 years ago and I still don’t), but now they have cell phones.  Harriet and I have a fish named Betty and a dog named Veronica, not that we’re fans. Naturally, she has an aquarium in her room with fish named after every major character in Twilight.

Lest anyone think we had a couch potato weekend of cake, comic books and repeated viewings of Twilight, my girl used the first decent weekend in months to repeatedly hit the road on her new bicycle. So only one of us was a couch potato.

Whoopie Pies in the Limelight

Whoopie Pies Took the Cake

I had never heard of Whoopie Pies before I moved to Maine in the early 1990s. But now I’m used to seeing them at the supermarket, not to mention next to the cash register at nearly every convenience store or gas station I’ve ever entered here.

I forgot that this ubiquitous snack is pretty much a Maine thing (and a Pennsylvania thing, it turns out). Not any more, according to the New York Times, Whoopie Pies are having their day. Whoopie Pies are joining fancy cupcakes in the cases at high-end bakeries, they’re even in the Williams-Sonoma catalog (those are heart-shaped, baked in Maine and called Sweetie Pies).

The Times includes a recipe for Whoopie Pies, adapted from Zingerman’s Bakehouse in Michigan, for those of you not lucky enough to trip over Whoopie Pies every day. If you live in Ann Arbor, Zingerman’s has a teaching bakery with all kinds of classes, including one that covers Whoopie Pies.

My daughter loves Whoopie Pies. Me? Not so much – too much filling. And too often that filling is reminiscent of grocery store cake frosting or Oreo “white stuff.”  But some Whoopie Pies have a buttercreamier filling.  A few years ago – before I started learning to bake – I used a pile of Whoopie Pies as a birthday cake that was happily devoured by all the guests. (And was so easy to serve!) You can see the reaction in the photo. This year’s Twilight Cake was probably a bigger hit (not to mention about 199 times more work), but back when there were 9 candles instead of 12 on my girl’s cake, Twilight-mania had not yet taken hold.

The photo that tops the Times article shows Whoopie Pies with beautifully piped filling – the filling looks like a decorative cord peeping out the sides. But, as the photo above proves, real Maine Whoopie Pies are assembled with much less attention to aesthetics.

I’m putting Whoopie Pies on my “might try baking those some day” list. But when they’re so easy to grab when I buy gas, gum or lottery tickets (Note to self: you must start buying Megabucks tickets. No point in fantasizing about spending the jackpot when you don’t have a ticket.) I’m not really motivated. I doubt my kid would like mine any better than the $1.50 corner store version. And, as I’ve mentioned, life is too short to bake things you don’t like to eat.

But if you are not lucky enough to live here in Maine (amazing what above-zero temps will do to my attitude) bake some yourself. Especially if you’ve got a sweet tooth or a kid to share them with.

The Twilight Cake

cakeThe Tween Tsunami known as a slumber party swept through the house, leaving puddles of eye shadow, a defaced wall of posters of the no-longer-crushworthy Jonas Brothers, more unfamiliar socks than party guests, and one sleep-deprived but very happy birthday girl. Oh, and an exhausted mom who has already agreed to do it again soon. (Momnesia, we call this state.)

The highlight for me was showing my girl the promised Twilight Cake. She was speechless — I suspect she doubted my ability to pull this off, and honestly, that made two of us. (Some of you may recall that my two practice runs at the Twilight Birthday Cake ended in the Tectonic Plate Cake disaster and the Collapsing Chocolate Cake disaster. But I had the pressure of an Impending Slumber Party behind me, not to mention the lesson learned over and over – read the directions! While it was not as perfecto as some of the truly impressive Twilight Cakes out there, I think for my first actual cake and my first cake with any sort of decoration on it… Well, I impressed myself and, more importantly, the Twilight-obsessed party guests.

The Twilight Cake Details:

The cake was a yummy 9-inch chocolate layer cake, using a recipe from Baking Illustrated. I followed the directions. I even remembered the eggs.

We made a black fondant to cover it. I’d read that some of the fondant you buy ready-made doesn’t taste good and is meant to be peeled off like orange skin or cheese wax. Then I found a really helpful site with instructions on making marshmallow fondant. Fortunately we did this a couple of weeks ahead of time (Harriet did the sticky kneading) because we made black fondant and red fondant.  (Warning: this stuff is really sticky. It helps to have a child on hand to do the kneading.) While the black fondant was (to me) edible and (to the girl) delicious, the red fondant tasted awful. Like run-to-the-sink-and-spit awful. Red food coloring, at least in the shade I selected for its bloodiness, tastes horrible. I later discovered that there is a red food coloring that has no taste, but we never got around to making another round of red fondant. The black fondant was perfect, though, and stayed in the fridge for two weeks.

For the decor, I used symbols from three of the four Twilight book jackets. (I have no idea if these things appear in the books. As I’ve previously confessed, as the not-always-so-involved-in-my-kid’s-interests-when-they-look-not-only-um-uninteresting-but-very-time-consuming mother that I am, I have not yet read any of these Vampire books, even though the girl devoured them.) So there’s an apple, pink and white flowers (those are candles and they are so freaking cute but nearly impossible tophoto light) and a broken red ribbon. The ribbon went on first with store-bought red decorating icing. I did that first and thought for someone who can’t draw worth a lick that I’d done a damn good rendition of the torn ribbon from the book jacket.

By the time all the symbols got on board, there was no room for any writing. Just as well. I know from experience that I stink at writing on cake. (I have tried in the past with store-bought sheet cakes, and recall being offended when even pre-schoolers mocked my efforts.) I had downloaded a Twilight Font  (I would give you the link, but I can’t reach the twilighters.org site today) and thought I’d try and make a stencil or something. But time ran out. (Have I mentioned the actual decorating occurred as the girls were loading up at our Taco Bar in the next room?) Besides, there really wasn’t a spare inch. And it didn’t matter – the cake was a success.

I did make a few mistakes that fortunately had no huge ramifications. You are supposed to use buttercream under the fondant. I knew that, I made buttercream and had it sitting there. But I forgot to put it on the cake top. I did buttercream the sides. Also, the fondant should go on smooth as glass (I think), and mine had lots of dings from me trying to park the top while I buttercreamed the sides. That didn’t matter a whit since the cake’s entire surface was covered by Twilight symbolism by the time it hit the dining room table.

Also, Saturday was warm and super sunny and the cake, wearing just its fondant, sat in my new thrift-shop cake holder on the kitchen table, safe from inquiring feline and canine noses but not from the sun’s glare. I lifted the lid to admire my black cake and discovered that the fondant was starting to melt, I guess, because while it still nicely covered the cake, there was a quarter-inch ring of black around the cake’s base. You’re not supposed to refrigerate a fondant-covered cake, so I put it, under the lid, in my chilly mudroom. All was well and no one but me noticed the cake had a little hat brim.

Next time (ha!) I would make chocolate buttercream or at least color the buttercream so I could put it between the layers. I gave myself an extra step by making chocolate frosting to cushion the layers. No reason the buttercream couldn’t do double-duty.

Oh – and finally — the cake was delicious. Rich, fudgy and really tasty. I’m not a marshmallow fan, so the frosting/fondant wasn’t my favorite, but the party guests ate it right along with the cake. Half the cake was left after dinner, and my plan was to take some nice photos of the cake interior on Sunday. Sunday morning I discovered an empty cake plate on the counter and several forks in the sink. No better review than that, I guess!

Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate-Cherry Cupcakes

I don’t like – and I mean really do not like chocolate and cherry together, but I will probably bake Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes from cookstr.com.

Why? They look relatively do-able and Nigella reports they were a hit at a school bake sale. So I don’t have to like them to give them to a bake sale. Besides, I trust Nigella. And the cupcakes are awfully cute with the cherry on top.

This was my first visit to cookstr.com, which looks like it has a bunch of good recipes and chef profiles. Today I learned that Nigella Lawson and I have something in common. I also have more than 100 cookie cutters. I’m guessing Nigella has actually used hers.

Amended to add: also, Nigella and I are both freelance journalists and domestic godesses. Hee.

Gingerbread v2

img_6949We love Gingerbread, so a new recipe — this one featuring sauteed fresh ginger, bittersweet chocolate and ground pepper — was enough to send me running to the oven.

This delish Chocolate Gingerbread recipe was in Better Homes and Gardens and also features simmered oranges, which sounds great. I left that part out this time (no oranges). Like the recipe-writer, I baked mine in a 12-inch cast iron skillet after I used the skillet to saute the slivered ginger. One key difference: My skillet has two spouts. The skillet pictured with the recipe has none. This created a minor problem. I smelled burning when the Gingerbread should not have been anywhere near done, much less burnt. That’s when I discovered Gingerbread batter dripping out of both spouts onto my oven floor. I scraped up the mess that I could and put an old cookie pan on the lower rack. I’ll definitely be doing a little more oven cleaning.

However, this particular Gingerbread was worth cleaning the oven for. (And if you knew me, you’d know that must mean it is very, very good.) It’s not just the freshly ground black pepper; it’s not just the ginger sauteed in butter; it’s not just the bittersweet chocolate. It’s all of them mixing together to make this Gingerbread something to, well, blog about.

(Incidentally, my guess is the recipe writer’s Gingerbread looked better than mine – in the magazine it’s covered with oranges. But taste over beauty when we are going to dig into it very soon. Have I mentioned that Gingerbread is one of my favorite breakfasts?)

From now on, I think I’ll add a few twists of black pepper to all my Gingerbread. Oh, my.