Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cinnamon Roll Cookies: Breakfast and Dessert

What do you do if there's no chocolate in the house and you want to bake cookies?
  1. Go out and buy chocolate chips.
  2. Ask your neighbors for some chocolate.
  3. Go buy cookies at the store.
  4. Find a recipe with the ingredients you have and try it out.
For once, I actually choose number four even though I really kind of wanted chocolatey cookies. It was kind of easy though when I found this recipe from Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice on Pinterest. So take a deep breath and find a new solution to chocolate-less cookies that's worth the time and the effort.

Cinnamon Roll Cookies
From Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice Cinnamon Bun Cookies
  • Dough:
    • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
    • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Filling:
    • 1 large egg white
    • 1 tablespoon water
    • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
    • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Icing:
    • 1 cup powdered sugar
    • 1/4 cup milk (or heavy cream)
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. In a medium-sized bowl beat together the sugar, butter, salt, and vanilla for the dough until light and fluffy. Add the flour and stir until the dough comes together.
  2. Flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper and refrigerate for about an hour.
  3. Flour wax paper or a piece of parchment and roll out the dough into a rectangle. About the size of a cookie sheet.
  4. In a bowl whisk together the egg white and the water for the filling until foamy.
  5. In another bowl mix the sugar and cinnamon together.
  6. Brush the egg white mixture over the dough and evenly sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the top.
  7. Starting with the long edge roll the dough carefully into a log. Seal the edge with any leftover egg white.
  8. Wrap this log in wax paper, plastic wrap, or parchment and freeze until firm. You can leave it for a few minutes in the freezer and/or the fridge.
  9. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease your cookie sheet.
  10. Use a sharp knife to cut the log into about 1/2-inch slices and transfer them to the baking sheets.
  11. Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly golden.
  12. Cool cookies before icing.
  13. Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl and whisk in the milk and vanilla until smooth. Drizzle over the cookies.
My cookies weren't exactly perfect because I used milk rather than heavy cream for the icing. I prefer to use milk though because while it may not be as thick, it's something that you'll probably have around the house and it'll be less fattening. If you want the nice, thick frosting that looks very much like a cinnamon roll then go for the heavy cream. My icing was just a nice layer to give it a little extra sweetness, but you can't really see it as much.

I also learned that wax paper is your friend when making any type of rolled cookie. While this one isn't as dramatic than others I've made, since there aren't multiple layers of dough, it's not as necessary, but it worked well for me for both keeping the dough in the freezer and rolling it out. Just be sure to use plenty of flour on the wax paper and on your hands while rolling it out. I also didn't keep the dough completely in the freezer for the bit that says to "freeze until firm." I added the bit about a few minutes in the freezer and/or the fridge, because that was a good solution for me. Tossed it into the freezer for a bit and then finished it's solidifying in the fridge. The whole time in the freezer might just live you with an impossible-to-cut log.

While it was originally my treat that I could bake without any chocolate, my boyfriend and I devoured these cookies faster than we thought. I couldn't resist them in the morning since they resembled my mom's cinnamon rolls that I loved as a kid. They're sweet, but not too sweet, so it's a great thing to share at parties that most people will enjoy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Is it a Cookie or a Fry?

In what was a tumultuous few weeks at work, I was comforted and given energy by a strange little treat that came to our office. The cookie fries arrived in a package with a cute little note at our office. Of course being the sweet-toothed fiend that I am, I was given the little package to try them out.

And honestly, how could you say no to a cute, little retro package like this one? I had never heard of a cookie fry before, but with hamburger cakes and cupcakes on the web, I shouldn't have been surprised. With the addition of the red and white diner checkered wrapping, it was an all too intriguing gift.

The cookie itself is a light, shortbread cookie. Not too strong in flavor and the crispy color makes it a great choice for the cookie fry. Unfortunately, the cookie was a little crumbly so it made it a little hard to take a bite out of the fry without making a mess at my desk. Luckily we had lots of paper towels.

The real kicker to this combination wasn't the cookie though, it was the dipping sauce. It came in a little container like you would take home ketchup or other sauces from a fast-food joint. We had both caramel and peanut butter dipping sauces.

The caramel was sweet and classic, at first I thought it would be my favorite since it was the sweeter option. It was thick enough to feel like a real dipping sauce and gave a classic caramel dipped touch. But the real winner was the peanut butter. Typically peanut butter is only my choice with chocolate desserts, but this time it was just what I needed. Something about the crunchy, crumbly cookie fries in the smooth peanut butter made me feel like I was a four year old who will not touch anything unless it has peanut butter on it.

While it wasn't anything that made me race to the store to pick some up for my friends or family, it was a fun invention. They're made by The Cookie Joint if you want to check them out. The cookie fries come in original shortbread, chocolate chip, double chocolate chip, cinnamon spice, and chocolate toffee crunch. I'd love to try the double chocolate chip with peanut butter. But even better, there's more dipping sauces: salted caramel, marshmallow, hazelnut, peanut butter, chocolate, raspberry, and lemon.

It may not be something to grab for an after-dinner treat, but this would be a really fun addition to any retro styled party. They even have deep fryer baskets full of them. So even though they don't have me searching the bottom of the bag for any more fries, they're a fun treat that may or may not have acted as my lunch on a certain day of work.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Glazed and Infused Fall Menu Party

One day I was invited to an event on Facebook. Not a strange occurrence, but it was different this time. Glazed and Infused invited me to their Fall Menu Party. If there are two things I love in life, it's sweets and fall. So of course I was excited about it from that moment until I invited my friends to join me. Even better, their reaction was to make a night of it.

Photo via Glazed and Infused website
The event page didn't say much except for tasting the new Fall flavors before their launch on October 1. I figured a few samples, purchase a few, and just enjoy the beginning of Fall. Instead, we decided it was going to be an extended birthday celebration (since my birthday was on September 22).

Enter Glazed and Infused West Loop location. Add a selection of small sample doughnuts, a not-over-crowded space, and some of the friendliest staff members excited to tell us all about the flavors they have. If that wasn't good enough, a man then came up and gave us a free box to take home. Yes, free. Six of the doughnuts from their new fall collection.

If I wasn't in heaven already, the taste of the doughnuts sealed the deal. While my excitement did make me miss the coveted Chocolate4 and Red Velvet doughnuts, it was okay. It gives me another reason to come back.

Now on to the doughnuts, my top pick was the Pumpkin Chocolate Chip. It's a pumpkin cake doughnut with a vanilla bean glaze and cream cheese frosting topped with chocolate shavings. It says pumpkin without being pumpkin pie and gives you the right addition of sweet and smooth from the glaze and frosting. This little guy lit up my whole night alone.

While Glazed and Infused always has a fruit fritter, I was a huge fan of the peach fritter on their fall menu. I had tasted the bacon-pineapple before, but it felt like it was hard to find the actual bits of fruit on that one. The peach was integrated into a lot more of this fritter, giving it an extra burst of fruity flavor that I, for one, enjoyed.

I like to not think about Christmas until closer to Thanksgiving, so I was a little torn about the Gingerbread Old Fashioned they released. I always love Old Fashioned and it did remind me of Christmas. Most gingerbread cookies are too hard and crumby for my liking and this doughnut was spiced and moist with a nice touch of cinnamon-sugar to keep it sweet.

The Crunchy PB&J is a great touch on a classic for all ages. I mean, when you're stressed who doesn't love a good peanut butter and jelly? This is a Bismark filled with raspberry jam and topped with a crunchy peanut butter glaze. Not too peanut buttery, doesn't stick to your mouth, and has that great crunch. If you're a creamy person, it might be a little different, but give it a chance.

I'm still working through our box now, but it won't last long. I'll update with more reviews on other fall flavors, but until then check out Glazed and Infused fall menu.
From my friend ashdash113's Instagram

  • Chocolate4: Chocolate cake with chocolate glaze and milk chocolate shavings
  • Apple Caramel: Apple cake with chunks of granny smith apples, a cinnamon glaze, and peanuts
  • Red Velvet: Cocoa buttermilk cake with cream cheese glaze, and red velvet crumbles
  • Pumpkin Chocolate Chip: Pumpkin cake with vanilla bean glaze, cream cheese frosting, and chocolate shavings
  • Gingerbread Old Fashioned: Classic spiced buttermilk gingerbread cake with cinnamon sugar.
  • Crunchy PB&J: A homemade raspberry jam-filled Bismark with a crunchy peanut butter glaze
  • Fruit Fritter: Changes everyday, but the Peach is the newest

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Long Time No Coffee Cake

Okay, life has changed a lot since I last wrote. There are no excuses for not writing, especially about food, but to give you an idea, I've graduated, gotten a full time job, commuted from the suburbs into Chicago, apartment hunted in Chicago, found an apartment only to show up to move in and the unit wasn't open, moved into a different unit, settled in, celebrated with friends and baked a whole lot of things.

I mean, let's talk about accomplishments. And that's not mentioning the other things that get me really pumped up, like my nieces birthdays, meeting my pen pal since elementary school for the first time, visiting my boyfriend in Georgia, my birthday, etc.

But mainly, this job thing has given me a new outlet for unleashing all that is baked and yummy. I ended up being asked to put my recipes in our company newsletter that I'm in charge of. So I've been writing about food in a whole other form in my job as an editor at YouSwoop.com and in sharing sweets throughout the company. 

This recipe I made after a really rough change in the company that I felt and I knew everyone would need a little pick me up the next Monday. I mean, Mondays are hard enough, right? So what better way to start them than with coffee cake.

This recipe was a Pinterest find from Domesticated Academic and I'm just a big fan of it. You can do this to create a regular coffee cake style in the round cake pan, or I did them in cupcake pans to create coffee cake muffins. Enjoy!

Strawberry Greek Yogurt Coffee Cake Muffins
  • For the butter cake and crumb topping:
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1/2 cup butter, cold and cut into pieces
    • 1/2 tsp baking soda
    • 1/2 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 3/4 cup non-fat, plain Greek yogurt
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  •  Cream cheese filling
    • 4 ounces low-fat cream cheese
    • 1/2 cup non-fat Greek yogurt, plain
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 1 large egg
  • Strawberry filling
    • 1 1/2 cup fresh strawberries or frozen, cut into pieces or mashed if frozen
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare muffin pans with liners or heavy duty baking spray. You can also use an eight-inch spring form pan with parchment paper. 
  2. Make the cream cheese filling: Beat the cream cheese and 1/2 cup Greek yogurt on medium speed until smooth. Add in the 1/4 cup of sugar and 1 egg and beat until well combined. Set aside.
  3. Make the butter cake: In another bowl, combine the 2 cups of flour and sugar. Using a pastry cutter or two forks, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. This will take a while.
  4. Measure 3/4 cup of the butter cake mixture and set aside. Add the baking soda, baking powder and salt and mix well.
  5. In another bowl, beat the 3/4 cup Greek yogurt, 1 egg and vanilla extract until well blended. Using a hand whisk or a spoon, stir gently into the flour mixture until just incorporated.
  6. Spread the batter in your pan with about 1/2 inch up the sides, like making a well. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the batter, being careful not to go beyond the border. Spread the strawberry pieces on top of the cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup of cake crumbs over the strawberry filling.
  7. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes. Cool before removing from pan. Enjoy!

    The muffin forms are great to take to work, to a party, to friends or even for a bake sale. Feel free to share and eat them all up. You can even split the flour so it's half all purpose and half whole grain to make it a little bit more nutritious. Plus mix up the flavors of the fruit for different seasons. It's a great recipe to have on hand and enjoy all year long.

Monday, May 14, 2012

One Sweet Ride: The Whoopie Pie

After a long, sweaty work out a breath of cool fresh air is usually all I need to feel fresh and ready to face the rest of my day. But sometimes, just sometimes, you might need a little bit more. Lucky for me, that little bit more was sitting right across the street in a bright pink van with flaming sides. The back of the van even warned me that it would ruin my diet, but still - after running and lifting weights - I was willing to make that sacrifice.

This was my first in person encounter with Chicago's Mobile Bakery: Sweet Ride. Twitter recommended I should follow them, for my love of Flirty Cupcakes, but I was never able to make any of their stops before. I had practically given up checking up on their twitter and facebook accounts to see if our paths had crossed. Yet, this day they were right there in front of DePaul's student center in Lincoln Park. I couldn't pass up this opportunity - not with the bright pink colors and delicious cupcakes and treats to be had.

But get this, I didn't even get a cupcake. I know, right? I am such a cupcake girl. Of course that was my original intention, but I walked up and spoke to the woman running the truck. First off, she was sweet, friendly, helpful, and knew her sweet stuff very well. It was really great talking to someone like that and being able to ask what they would recommend and having that catered to what I wanted. She explained their options that included a very tempting sweet potato cupcake that was on Cupcake Wars and a red velvet whoopie pie. I've been a little bit skeptical about the whoopie pie craze that seems to be popping up in correlation to the love of cupcakes, but this one just seemed so tempting. Their red velvet is well known, she said, as well as was sold out in cupcake form. The whoopie pie was also heart shaped. I'm a sucker for anything heart shaped.

She also gave a great description of it having a cookie-like consistency with the cream cheese frosting in the center. It just seemed to be the perfect treat to grab before getting on the Metra train. I got one and took it to go. One of the great things about food trucks is how they're ready for you to take on the go, where ever you are and where ever you are going. The difficulty I had with this whoopie pie, though, is that I love to break cookies, muffins, and most baked things into pieces with my hands (if not large enough to eat with a fork). This idea did not work so well with the whoopie pie; it was something I should have guessed ahead of time. My fingers squished the red velvet top and bottom so that the frosting squished right out of the center.

Instead of continuing with my failed attempt, I decided to just dive right in. This bite brought me back to a great, childlike joy of going face first into food, not really caring how messy you might get and just purely enjoying what you're doing. It was wonderful too, since it really did remind me of a cookie. I ended up leaning onto a lot of child roots, and let's face it we still do it as adults, and twisted the top and bottom off like an Oreo. This way I could it the top, then the bottom, and get lots of cream cheese frosting in a higher ratio of taste per bite. Perhaps I might not have enjoyed the ratio (more red velvet cookie) if I had eaten it originally, but the fun of this whoopie pie is the childlike creativity you can have with it - that and the heart shape. While it was grainier than a typical cupcake, the whoopie pie had a great tradition red velvet taste that was rich and nicely blended. It made me even more tempted to go back and try their cupcakes.

The whoopie pies are a perfect treat for an on the go bite or for kids. I can see kids really loving twisting these open and licking them or being able to eat them in the stroller or the car. I believe the whoopie pie really does bring us back to a simple time where we can just enjoy something sweet without the stress of the world around us. Luckily, Sweet Ride is bringing this piece of joy around Chicago in a flaming pink van.

Let me know what you try via Sweet Ride and your favorite whoopie pies.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spring Break: Do You Fro-Yo?

Spring break has never been something for me where I've planned a long trip and I have to pack up and leave the moment finals are done. That is, until this year. I planned well ahead of time to visit my boyfriend in Athens, Georgia where he's going to the University of Georgia for graduate school.

Now, I love my boyfriend - obviously, I spent good money on a plane ticket to see him - but he is as picky as a five year old when it comes to food. He hates vegetables - will only eat corn, potatoes, and some peppers - and absolutely loathes onions with a fiery passion. I knew it would be a difficult trip eating wise, especially after getting so used to eating vegetables all the time by myself. But one of the best things about him is he will try new places to eat - which paid off when we saw Menchie's frozen yogurt.

In Georgetown square, which is the largest shopping center near him, we passed this brightly colored store. Stark white tables made the bright purple and kiwi green pop. It looked inviting with indoor and outdoor seating and a cute cartoon character as their logo. I wanted to try it. I couldn't help myself. I had heard and seen all of the frozen yogurt craze in Chicago, but the locations never looked as big or open or fun as this one did.

So one night for dinner we strolled in, grabbed a cup, and looked at the huge wall of selections for frozen yogurt flavors. Vanilla, chocolate, chocolate covered strawberry, Georgia peach, cake batter, Irish mint, blueberry, strawberry banana, there were so many that I had a hard time and could never pick just one. Luckily it's made for you to mix and match whatever you'd like. First time around I had cake batter swirled with strawberry banana. It's even more fun because flavors rotate and differ on the store, so it's an adventure every time!

The Boyfriend @ Menchie's

Then you stroll over to the long toppings counter. First are plastic bins like you'd see in a candy store, but in addition to candy they have cereal, sprinkles, nuts, pretzels, coconut, and any other dry toppings you might like to sprinkle on. Another lower set area of the toppings counter had fresh fruit, cookie dough pieces, cheesecake pieces, and cooler options to toss on. Then, of course, the end has silver containers where you can squeeze caramel, chocolate, fudge, or marshmallow toppings. Just the toppings bar made me feel like a child - wanting everything, but unable to choose. My strawberry banana cake batter was topped with fresh strawberries and cheesecake pieces. Besides the cake batter and cheesecake, this was a low-calorie and low-fat treat.

How it works is you put as much or as little of all the flavors and toppings into a bowl or a cone bowl and then, when you're done, you weigh it and pay around 42 cents per ounce. Let me tell you, it's more fun and cheaper than most ice cream shops. Brandon even loved it because he could avoid the fruits he thought were nasty and mix together a mint and chocolate treat with cookie dough pieces and caramel. He was just as giddy as I was picking out his flavors.

When I looked Menchie's up online I saw they have a smileage club. It's a rewards program you can join online or in store and use a rewards card or your phone number to get points for every dollar you spend. If you spend $6.78 you would get 6.78 points - they do everything down to the penny. Then when you reach 50 points you get $5 free. But for signing up you get 25 smile points and if you use your card within the first week of signing up you get another 10 points free. Of course, I did both those things to get 35 free smiles. Plus, I'm looking forward to my free frozen yogurt on my birthday.

The smileage club sent us back two more times to stock up on points and get our $5 free. I tried vanilla and georgia peach the next time - which was wonderful - and got georgia peach the next time too but with blueberry and marshmallow topping. It was always fun picking what flavors I wanted and what kind of dessert or treat I wanted. It could be fruity, healthy, dairy-free, or a thick tasty dessert.

For those of you who love options, trying new things, or have picky eaters that like to pick and choose, I'd recommend Menchie's frozen yogurt. While there's a lot of fro-yo out there, this place is friendly, well designed and just too cute.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Better than the Bahamas: Golden Rum Cake

St. Patrick's Day is known for it's drunken debauchery, but I am just not a fan of beer. I'd much rather spend the holiday trying out new boozy baking, so that's exactly what I did.

After having a rum cake at La Palma in Chicago, I desperately wanted to bake my own rum cake. I couldn't get enough about the sweet rum that keeps the whole cake moist, sweet and a little kick to it. I found this Golden Rum Cake Recipe at AllRecipes and convinced my boyfriend to let me make it when I visited him in Georgia. Truthfully, it wasn't that hard. Boozy cake on St. Patty's will always be welcomed.

Golden Rum Cake
via Allrecipe and Jackie Smith

    For Cake
 -  about 1 cup chopped walnuts
  - 1 package of yellow cake mix
  - 1 3.4 oz package instant vanilla pudding mix (I used the no sugar one)
  - 4 eggs
  - 1/2 cup water
  - 1/2 cup oil (vegetable is what is listed, I used a Smart Balance which is a blend of canola, soy and olive)
  - 1/2 cup dark rum (Got a little captain in ya?)

   For Glaze
  - 1/2 cup butter
  - 1/4 cup water
  - 1 cup white sugar
  - 1/2 cup dark rum

 1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour your Bundt pan - make sure it's thoroughly coated, I had problems with a part of mine sticking and breaking.
 2. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts over the bottom of the pan. You can use more/less walnuts depending on how much your pan can hold or how much you'd like.
 3. In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup rum. Blend well.
 4. Pour the batter into your pan over the chopped nuts.
 5. Bake for 60 minutes (checking periodically) on center rack until a toothpick or knife stuck in comes out clean. It'll be a nice light golden brown.
 6. Let the cake sit in the pan for 10 minutes, then flip onto a serving plate. Here's where you'll find out if you greased the pan enough. Mine stuck and I had to use a knife to loosen the edges up - and I still had it fall apart a bit.
 7. While the cake is cooking in the pan or on the serving plate, make the glaze. In a sauce pan, combine the 1/2 cup butter, 1/4 cup water and 1 cup of sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, continue boiling it for 5 minutes while stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the 1/2 cup of rum.
 8. Brush glaze over the top and sides of the cake. Allow the cake to absorb the glaze so it gets moist and boozy. Continue glazing the cake until you use it all up or it's so glazey that it might fall apart. If any parts broke, use the glaze to help it stick together and get the glaze into the center of the cake
 9. Serve and Enjoy!

I made this cake in the afternoon and had it ready for late that night when my friend's came over. They had just been on a cruise to the Bahamas and were stopping by on their drive home. Even though they had rum cake in their bags, they wanted to try mine. In fact, they said it was better than the Bahamas' rum cake. This was probably one of the greatest compliments I've gotten.

So if you need a little boozy baking, or want to pretend you're in the Bahamas, try out this rum cake for a moist, sweet treat.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

How you say... motivation: Berry Streusel Bars

I often go through fits of saving recipes, e-mailing them to myself, or bookmarking the links to go back and bake them. Often, I forget about them or can't find what I want. This time, I purposefully went back in between studying to make a list of my top three low-calorie treats to try.

The winner of this batch was... Recipe.com's Streusel Strawberry Bars.

- 2 cups butter, softened
- 2 cups sugar (I used 1 cup of Splenda sugar blend)
- 2 eggs
- 4 cups of flour (I used whole wheat, but you can use all purpose)
- 1 cup of pecans
- 2 cups of preserves

1.  In a large bowl beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until combined.
     Note: Due to our failure at having a mixer right now, I tried using a blender. This was tough. And we had to slowly let it into the blades to mix it together. This is why you need a mixer. You'll need to scrape the sides of either way you mix though to get it all together.
2. Beat in eggs.
3. You can either beat in some of the flour with the mixer, or do as I did and mix together the flour and pecans by hand. The note here is the mixture will be crumbly. I didn't notice this and mine was not crumbly, possibly due to a lack of flour. This isn't awful, but makes it difficult to set aside 2 cups of this mixture to crumble on top to make the layers.
4. Press the mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 13x9x2 inch pan or two different sized pans. I used a round cake pan and a longer oval pan so I could try using two different preserves.
5. Spread your preserves on top of the mixture to within 1/2 inch of the edges.
    If you listened to the directions to get the crumbly mixture, then you can sprinkle reserved mixture on top of the preserves to make the layers. If you failed, like I did, you can just go onto the next step and pray for the best.
6. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.
7. Either drizzle on top icing, or just put some powdered sugar on top, and cut into bars.

The oval strawberry one pre-baking
Their powdered sugar icing recipe:
   Combine 1 cup sifted powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon milk, and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in additional milk, about a teaspoon at a time, until you get a drizzle consistency - so it's creamy, but able to let slowly drop from your spoon/fork/spatula.

I had a hard time with the consistency of the powdered sugar icing and the thicker mixture early on. Mine was more like a dough, which ended up being extremely tasty, but wasn't crumbly like before. Although it worried me at first, it was still really delicious, so don't be too worried if it isn't crumbly and you can't make that top layer.
Blueberry one pre-baking

I also may have had a delicious turn out because I used the best preserves I have ever had. The Thelen family farm in Wisconsin does the best jams and I used their strawberry and blueberry. They sell them on the road during the warmer weather as well as at Farmer's markets. I'm lucky enough to be related to them - so I can go picking strawberries with my aunt and watch as the jam making happens. A lot of hard work goes into them and it is the best. Smucker's ain't got nothing on the Thelens.

But if you need motivation, or just a sweet and fruity treat, these Berry Streusel Bars are a great treat that can feed a crowd or last all week.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Touchdown! Baking and Football.

The talk about bounties, draft picks, and Peyton Manning leaving all make me miss football season. There is nothing better than screaming your heart out as you try to coach your team through the television. I love everything about football and, as we all know, I love baking. This is why my baking adventures with my friend Ashley for the Super Bowl were some of the best.

This past year we created a collection of hand pies, sugar cookies, and brownies to keep the crowd fueled for cheering on the Giants. It seemed to do the trick. I mean, I couldn't stop eating them and from how quick they went I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one.

The hand pies we were determined to do after Ashley texted me a picture of heart shaped ones. We thought it would be fun to do football shapes (with her new football cookie cutter set) and fill them with blue and red berry fillings. One set, our first attempt, was with canned cherry filling. I kept just eating the filling by itself, but it tasted even better in tiny crusts (despite the fact that the cherries were much bigger and the filling wanted to spill out). The hand pies are really easy to make with any kind of filling, canned or homemade. Ashley made a mixed berry one for our other batch that was heavenly.
via Foodista: similar to the ones that Inspired ours.

To make your hand pies just take premade pie dough and lay it out on top of wax paper and cut out whatever shapes you want. Make sure the shape you use has enough of a center to it to actually fit a good amount of filling though, or what's the point? This was difficult when we closed them up, because we wanted more filling than some of the football shapes could handle. Don't worry, I cleaned up the extra filling so it didn't go to waste. The best method to closing them that we found was to put one of the shapes on top of the other one after putting the filling on the lower one, then press down at the edges with your fingertips. Once they look sealed, use the tines of a fork to create the sealed pie edge look. It also looks nicer and gets crispier if you do a light egg wash over the top before tossing them in the oven.

The sugar cookies and brownies were boxed mixes that were spiced up by a few substitutions - such as the brownies had cola in them. The best part about that, though, was frosting our mini-jerseys. They were adorable and the butter cream frosting popped when we added the food coloring. It's kind of a fun, childish joy to frost the cookies with your friend, giggling as you lick your red (or blue) finger tips... and then the bowl.

Football and baking might not seem like your typical combination, but trust me, everyone enjoys something sweet and watching the game doesn't change that.

- Mollie

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Browning Bananas and a Craving for Cookies

It's that time of the year when the snow begins to thaw, it starts to rain more, and we throw out that old pair of snow boots. Jackets get lighter. The sun shines more often. And the Girl Scouts set up their stands around town to sell cookies of all flavors. Sadly, I wasn't able to buy my Girl Scout cookies before Lent - where I gave up chocolate and candy. Now all I can do is drool over samoas and tagalongs from afar. This drooling has led me to craving cookies like the cookie monster.

This morning I discovered that our last two bananas were starting to turn brown. This is usually the key sign to make banana bread, but it didn't interest me as a baking adventure. I wanted something new. And I still desperately wanted cookies. This meant in between classes I would scour the internet for recipes (on cooking light, all recipes, real simple, and my recipes). I found a lot of awesome recipes, but this idea I fell in love with: Banana Oatmeal Cookies.

An episode of Good Eats got me into using Oats, especially for their health benefits. Plus I could make a healthier snack that didn't break my lenten promise - or hopefully my waistband. I set out later that night on a fun baking adventure adapted from this original recipe at all recipes.com.

Banana Oatmeal Cookies

 - 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
 - 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
 - 1 teaspoon salt
 - 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
 - 3/4 teaspoon (generous) ground cinnamon
 - 1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
 - 1 teaspoon cornstarch
 - 1 cup sugar (I used splenda half and half blend, meaning I only used 1/2 cup)
 - 1 egg
 - 2 medium mashed bananas
 - 1 3/4 cups cooking oats
 - 1/2 cup pecans (or your favorite nuts, preferably chopped)

 1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease baking sheets.
         Since we actually don't have any cookie sheets here right now (go figure), I used a mini cupcake pan and a pizza brick to hold my dough. The mini cupcake can made adorable little muffin shaped cookies. My sister called them muffins, but they're softer inside with a nice crunch outside.

2. In a medium bowl, add flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

3. Cream together the greek yogurt, cornstarch, and sugar.
          I decided to use greek yogurt instead of the 1 cup of shortening, to cut down on fat and give it a moist and soft texture inside. I found out that it's good to add cornstarch to your recipes from the Livestrong website for tips on baking with Greek yogurt. It keeps the yogurt soft and from clumping or really mixing up the texture of the baked goods. They also recommend keeping some of the original, such as butter or oil, but I just avoided that all together and went with all Greek yogurt. This is okay with cookies, but might not work as well for cakes.

4. Add egg, banana, oatmeal, and nuts to the mixture and mix well.
         This step was interesting since I don't have a stand mixer or a hand mixer. I started off doing step 3 in a small food processor. This worked fine until all this stuff was supposed to get tossed in. The egg and banana were more important to get really blended - so I added them into the food processor and got that mixed in while I added the oatmeal and nuts to the dry mixture.

5. Mix together the wet and dry ingredients.
        This is where it was fine for me using the small food processor. It all gets put together. Of course, it may have taken me longer to get everything incorporated, it works if you would like to focus on the egg and banana in the wet mixture and the oatmeal and nuts in the dry. They are combined very quickly.

6. Drop by teaspoon fulls onto cookie sheet - or into a mini cupcake pan. Or whatever way you feel like mixing up this recipe.

7. Bake at 400 for around 15 minutes, or until they just start to brown. For smaller cookies (or muffins) they end at 10 minutes, but the larger are about 15. Let them cool completely and store in a closed container to keep that moist banana flavor.

Trust me, this is a sweet treat you can keep coming back to and not feel bad about - either for a Lenten promise, your waistline, or your heart health.

- Mollie