Carrot Cake Muffins with Maple Icing + 5 Muffin Recipes for Spring!

Tess had just finished feeding her cat when a familiar face appeared in the window of the old wooden door that had kept her safe inside her home and the world safely outside for so many decades.  The face was framed by the molding on the door her father installed when she was a child, and backlit by the sun, making it hard for Tess to discern who was outside looking in.  Dark eyes, thick, unkempt eyebrows, long, messy hair pulled away from a woman’s face was all she could make out.

The face watched her. Tess hated being observed by anyone, especially by someone she couldn’t place in time, though certainly, this familiar face had existed in one moment or more, in one place or many, together they had gazed at each other briefly or for many hours. Tess now forgot.  She hated the forgetting that came with age, and even more, she detested unannounced visits.

A worried face, much like her own, and yet, she couldn’t place it. Was she hallucinating…again? And if she was? Good, Tess thought.  It was time for this miserable process of dying to get on with it.  The waiting had become unbearable, leaving her restless and angry.  Angry with cancer that took its time eating away at her; angry with her dead husband, envious of fast-moving cancer that took him away many years ago leaving her to deal with this alone, and angry with her remaining family for their visits and calls.  Their concern felt half-hearted, as she knew, as the almost dead do, the living just want you to go.  They are waiting, anticipating the tsunami of grief.  And like Tess, they wanted to get on with it.

If Tess were a dog, she would have walked to the woods that surrounded the back of her property, curled up on a pile of dead brown leaves under the black maple tree and stare at the bluebird sky.  Alone, free, ready.  Why is it so damn hard to die?  Tess thought as she reached for the doorknob.  She figured she would let the face in, see what she wanted.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Mom! I’m freezing out here.”

“Come in, come in.  Watch out for the cat.” Tess said.

“It’s time to put that cat down, Mom.”

“Like, hell.  When I’m gone, do what you want with it.”

Her daughter was back again, this time with muffins.  Carrot muffins.  Muffins Tess would thank her for, but not eat because eating did not make much sense anymore.  She never cared much for carrot muffins anyway.  Tess would keep this to herself.  The last thing she wanted was for daughter to feel useless.  And she certainly didn’t want another visit from the hospice nurse, poking at her or asking her stupid questions.  How are you feeling today? Are you in pain? On a scale of 1 to 10, one being no pain and ten being the worst pain where do say you are?  Assholes.  All of them.  I’m dying and I just want to forget it.  

Tess moved slowly to her favorite chair and sat down, grateful to be off her feet.  The walk to the door felt like a mile.  Her daughter sat in the chair next to her and grimaced when the matted cat jumped into Tess’ lap.

“I know he is pretty sad lookin’,”  Tess said.

Her daughter smiled, let out a small laugh.  Tess had forgotten her face at the door, misplaced it in time, let it dissipate from her memory in just a matter of days.  It must be part of the dying process, Tess thought.  How could she leave while still holding on so tightly?  Damn near impossible.  Tess loved her daughter’s smile, knowing laugh, dark eyes.  She was a good girl, always had been.  She would miss her.  Tess couldn’t say that about many people.

Tess’ eyes felt heavy.  “I’m so tired.”

“Rest, Mom.  I’ll stay for a while.  I need to pick up the kids in a couple of hours.”

As Tess dozed off, she watched her daughter holding on tightly to her little computer, tapping away a message to the outside world, a message to the rest of Tess’ family.  Soon Tess would be gone and maybe before she left, Tess would take a bite of the muffin.

Carrot Cake Muffins with Maple Icing

recipe adapted from My Recipes

makes 12 muffins

Ingredients for muffins:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

2 egg whites

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon maple extract

3 medium rainbow carrots or regular carrots, finely grated, about 2 cups

1/2 cup of golden raisins optional

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.  Lightly coat muffin pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt.   Make a well in the center of the dry mixture.  In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, eggs, egg whites, extracts and grated carrots.  Add wet mixture to dry mixture.  Stir until just combined. Do not overmix!

Spoon batter into baking cups, about 3/4 of the way full.  Bake until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 22 to 25 minutes.  Be sure to check the muffins at 22 minutes.  You do not want to over bake them.

Remove muffins from pan and allow to cool on a wire rack.  Spoon icing over muffins and serve.  Muffins taste best slightly warm the day they are made but will taste great for breakfast the next day as well.  Store at room temperature in an air-tight container.  Enjoy!

Maple Icing

Ingredients:

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 or 2 tablespoons of milk, any kind

Directions:

Whisk together confectioners’ sugar and maple syrup.  Add 1 tablespoon of milk and whisk.  Add more milk to reach desired consistency.  Spoon icing over muffins.  Enjoy!

5 Spring Muffin Links

If you love berries in your muffins check out Baker’s Royale strawberry muffins recipe and Diethood’s raspberry muffins recipe.

Looking for a gluten-free muffin option for your next spring brunch?  Head to Dolly + Oatmeal for Lindsay’s strawberry, oat, cacao muffin recipe.

Chocolate muffins are always a good idea. Head to A Brown Table for a sea salt chocolate muffin recipe that is sure to make you smile.

Do you remember the department store, Jordan Marsh?  Me too.  I spent many weekends tagging along with my grandmother to Jordan Marsh, but I never did try their blueberry muffins.  NYT Cooking has the recipe for you.  Check it out!

Biscoff Cream Cheese Brownies + 5 Gotta Make Brownie Links

 

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Happy 2018! Another year, another chance, a gift, really, to try again.  I’m starting the year off with a simple brownie recipe slightly adapted from David Lebovitz.  I added a delicious Biscoff cream cheese swirl which pairs perfectly with the rich chocolate flavor of the brownie.  I hope you enjoy this brownie and welcome 2018 with big, open arms.

Biscoff Cream Cheese Brownies

Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz

Makes about 12-16 brownies

Ingredients for the brownie batter:

1/2 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/4 cup Dutch Process cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

a good pinch of kosher salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs at room temperature

1 egg white (save yolk for cream cheese swirl)

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

Directions for brownie batter:

Preheat the oven to 325F.  Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil.  Spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray or brush with melted butter.  Set aside.  Grab a small bowl and add the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk together until well-combined and no lumps remain.

Using a medium saucepan, melt the butter, semi-sweet chocolate and unsweetened chocolate over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth.  Remove from heat and whisk in 1 cup of sugar.  Add the eggs one at a time.  Next, add the egg white and vanilla extract.  Continue to mix until smooth.  Add dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Be careful not to overmix!

Spread half of the brownie batter into prepared pan.  Add dollops of the Biscoff cream cheese mixture.  (See recipe below.) You should use about half of the mixture.  Gently swirl with a butter knife.  Add remaining brownie batter to the pan and gently smooth the top.  Spoon large dollops of the remaining Biscoff cream cheese spread over the top.  Swirl gently with a butter knife.  Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.  Bake until center is almost set, about 50 minutes.  If you insert a toothpick into the center of the brownie it should come out mostly clean with a few moist crumbs attached.

Remove from oven.  Allow brownies to cool completely before cutting.  They can also be refrigerated overnight.  When ready to serve, lift the foil to remove brownies.  Use a sharp knife to cut the brownies.  In between each cut, wipe the blade clean for neater slices.

The brownies will last in an air-tight container, at room temperature for up to 4 days.  Enjoy!

Ingredients for Biscoff cream cheese swirl:

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

1 large egg yolk

1/2 cup Biscoff Cookie Spread

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch of kosher salt

Directions for Biscoff cream cheese swirl:

Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth.   Next add egg yolk, vanilla, salt and Biscoff Cookie Spread.  Continue to beat until smooth and creamy.  Set aside until ready to use.

5 Gotta Try Brownie Links for 2018

Dark chocolate brownies topped with creamy goat cheese and perfectly sweet raspberries are on my must make list.  Head to the Kitchn for the recipe.

If you love sweet and salty desserts check out The Brick Kitchen’s salted caramel pretzel brownies.  My mouth is watering!

Are you a s’mores lover?  If so, head to Seven Spoons for Tara’s triple layer s’mores brownies.

Looking to spice things up in 2018?  Try Tutti Dulci’s spicy chocolate brownies.  I’m intrigued!

Be sure to check out Food 52’s 12 ways to customize brownies for some unique twists on the beloved brownie.

 

 

Chocolate Dipped Ginger Snaps + 5 Ginger Cookie Links

After training for and completing my third marathon, my words and stories are struggling to emerge.  Heart to head to hand, muddled pathways and tired bones continue two weeks after crossing the finish line.  So, I bake a simple and delicious cookie to share with you…and wait for my words to return, the exhaustion to pass.  Until then, enjoy this cookie with others and a glass of cold milk.

Chocolate Dipped Ginger Snaps

A soft-baked gingersnap cookie, covered in raw sugar and dipped in semi-sweet chocolate. 

Recipe barely adapted from Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

Makes about 24 cookies

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 + 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 stick + 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup of sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup molasses

1 egg, at room temperature

1/2 cup raw sugar

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted (I used Guittard chocolate chips.)

Directions:

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, cinnamon, and ginger.  Set aside.  Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment beat the butter until light and fluffy.  Add the sugar and continue mixing, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl once or twice.  Next, add the vanilla extract, molasses, and egg.  Beat until combined.  Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients.  Continue mixing on low-speed until just combined.

Pre-heat your oven to 350F.  While the oven is preheating, chill the dough.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Pour raw sugar into a bowl.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop the cookie dough into rounded balls.   Dip cookie dough balls into raw sugar, covering completely and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Using the palm of your hand, flatten the dough slightly, until the ball looks like a 2-inch circle.  Bake until set, about 10 minutes, one cookie sheet at a time.  Allow cookies to cool for 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.  While the cookies cool, melt the chocolate.  Once the cookies are cooled completely, dip half of the cookie into the melted chocolate.  Allow the cookies to set completely before packaging.  Enjoy!

5 Ginger Cookie Links

Ginger infused caramel and bittersweet chocolate come together in this delightful chocolate caramel cookie.  Head to I am Baker for the recipe.

Looking for an easy, go to cookie for the holidays?  Head to Not Without Salt for a brown butter ginger cookie with mascarpone cream.  This recipe is now on my must-try list!

Bon Appetempt’s ginger cookies with chocolate and dried apricots is a cookie that cannot be missed this holiday season!

If you are a fan of white chocolate, check out Cooking Classy’s white chocolate dipped ginger cookies.

Prefer crispy gingersnap cookies over soft?  Head to A Thought For Food for Brian’s recipe.

Meyer Lemon Upside Down Poppy Seed Cake + 5 Must Try Upside Down Cakes!

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I nearly missed these smooth skinned beauties neatly stacked like a pyramid of little suns, nestled between the overpriced organic lemons and limes.  I blame my 3-year-old for the near miss.  Grocery shopping with him is like wrestling a bear while trying to maintain some composure and getting everything on my list.  A nearly impossible feat! And yet somehow, out of the corner of my eye or the eyes that exist on the back of my head, I noticed the plump, canary yellow orbs.  I grabbed one, rubbed my thumb across its glossy skin and held it to my nose.  Sweet, floral, bright; a perfect contrast to the heavy, cheese and meat laced comfort food coming out of my kitchen this time of year.

Unsure of what to do with them or the $2.99 a pound price tag, I placed a few in my cart anyway; picked up my 3-year-old who was elbow deep in the organic (oh c’mon) chocolate malt balls candy bin, which, by the way, is oddly placed in between the produce and fancy cheese, (another WTF moment in a long month of WTF moments); and carried on.

I admired the little lemons sitting in our fruit bowl on our sometimes sticky, sometimes clean, kitchen island for a few days before deciding to make an upside down cake.  Sexier recipes for a lemon curd, preserved lemons, cupcakes and pastry cream enticed me briefly before I settled on this 1920s throwback.  Something about taking an old-fashion dessert and modernizing it with Meyer lemons and poppy seeds appealed to me post inauguration.

So I got to work thinly slicing a few lemons, melting butter and sugar together to create a syrupy, caramel like topping and carefully placing the lemons on top of the delicious goo. Next, I made a butter cake batter adding Meyer lemon zest and poppy seeds which made it taste exactly like my Mom’s famous lemon poppy-seed tea cake.  Fifty-five minutes later I had a tender, sweet, subtly tart and modern upside down cake.  I hope this cake brightens your January as much as it did ours.

Meyer Lemon Upside Down Poppy Seed Cake

recipe adapted from Baking Illustrated Fresh Fruit Upside Down Cake

Serves 8 -10

Ingredients for topping:

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

3 Meyer lemons, sliced 1/4 inch thick, seeds removed

Directions:

Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 inch round pan thoroughly.  Set aside.  Using a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add both brown sugars , stir and cook until the mixture foams, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Pour the butter/sugar mixture into your prepared pan and spread evenly across the bottom of the pan with a spatula.  Arrange the lemon slices in concentric circles.  Set aside.

Ingredients for cake:

1 + 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons cornmeal

1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

zest of 1 Meyer lemon

2/3 cup of milk

Directions for cake:

Place oven rack in the lower middle position and pre-heat your oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds.  Set aside.

Using a stand mixer, cream the butter at medium speed.  Slowly add the sugar followed by the lemon zest.  Beat until pale and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the egg yolks and vanilla, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula once or twice.  Next, reduce the speed to the lowest setting and add the dry ingredients and the milk, alternating until both are incorporated into the batter.  Mix until the batter just becomes smooth.

In a separate large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold in one-quarter of the egg whites to lighten the batter.  Then fold in the remaining egg whites until they are completely incorporated.  Pour the batter into your prepared pan, spreading evenly with a spatula.  Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 55-60 minutes.

Allow cake to cool on a wire rack for a few minutes.  Run a paring knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan.  Place a serving plate over the pan, hold in place and flip so the cake is now sitting on the platter.  Remove cake pan.  If some lemon slices stick to the bottom of the cake pan, remove them and place on top of the cake.  Serve at room temperature.  Enjoy!

**Cake will last two days stored in an air-tight container, at room temperature.**

5 Must Check Our Upside Down Cakes

Craving  more citrus in your life?  Head to Broma Bakery for an upside down winter citrus cake that is sure to brighten any January day.

Before pear season is gone, make Fix Feast Flair’s cardamom pear upside down cake.

Love grapefruit?  Check out Food on Fifth’s recipe for a grapefruit upside down cake.

Spring will come and when it does make Martha’s plum-blueberry upside down cake.  This is on my must make list.

I love all things banana flavored so I need to make David Lebovitz’s banana upside down cake, knowing my picky nine-year old will refuse to eat it.  Banana hater.

Rum Caramel Apple Cheesecake + 5 Comforting Dessert Links

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A letter to my daughter post 2016 Election

Dear Charlotte,

A few days before the election you asked me to make a cheesecake.  I agreed, deciding on an apple cheesecake that felt both celebratory and as American, as… well, apple pie.  [Your big, beautiful green eyes sparkled with anticipation as you watched me drizzle caramel sauce all over the cheesecake.  Do you know how much I love your eyes, sweet girl?]  The eve before the election while we were eating dinner you excitedly told me your school held a mock election and…

Guess what, Mama?

Before I can say: what?

She won! Hillary Clinton won!  Those eyes, again, so excited, so hopeful.

Do you think she will win Mama?  Yes, goose, I think she will win.  You seemed satisfied with my answer.   And then asked: Can I have the last piece cheesecake?

Like a huntress enjoying every bite of her prey, you devoured the remaining piece of cheesecake, a smile spreading across your face.  You will remember this cheesecake, I thought.

You voted with Daddy on Election Day, which now, more than ever, seems appropriate. You watched a man, a good, kind, intelligent, tolerant man, vote for the first nominated female presidential candidate.

Later that night, we put the three of you to bed, reassuring you and your brothers: yes she will win.  I promised you, no matter how late, I would wake you, so you could watch the celebration.  See the glass ceiling shatter.  See progress.

I felt hopeful watching the returns comes in.  [She can do this, she will do this!]  And then my stomach tightened.  What is happening?  I wanted to scream, cry, throw something at the TV.  I did none of those things.  I went to bed, dismayed by the country I love.

We never fell asleep.  We never woke you.

This can not be happening. 

When I went into your room the next morning to wake you for school, I stumbled over my words.  No she didn’t win.  Yes I am sad, I am angry.  But.  But, it is time to get out of bed and start the day.  [What the hell am I saying?  You can’t run from this one.]

With wild hair and sleep still in your eyes you asked: Mamawhy do they think a girl can’t do the job?   I looked into your pensive, sea green eyes and said: I’m not sure.  I wish I had better words for you.  I’m sorry.  I’m at a loss.   [I hate at just nine years old, you understand some people think girls and women are not as capable.  I will tell you this later.]

The thing is Charlotte there are many reasons why she didn’t win.  Right now, everyone is pointing fingers at one group or another.  I blame myself.  I was lazy and complacent. I should have fought harder, donated, volunteered.  Never again.  Someday there will be a female president.  Maybe it will be you? Or a friend? Or a complete stranger.  She is coming, it is just a matter of time.

Please remember…you matter, you matter, you matter. Kind, capable, brave and smart, you are what this world needs…always.

Love,

Mama

Rum Caramel Apple Cheesecake

recipe adapted from Bobby Flay

Serves 8

Ingredients for crust:

12 whole graham crackers

2 tablespoons sugar

5 tablespoons melted butter

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Add graham crackers and brown sugar to a food processor fitted with a blade attachment.  Pulse until finely ground.  While the motor is running add the melted butter and process until the mixture just comes together.  Spray the bottom and sides on a 9-inch spring form pan with cooking spray.  Pat the mixture evenly across the bottom of the pan.  Place on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.  Once cool, wrap your spring form pan in foil, covering the sides.   (The foil will keep the water bath you create later from seeping into the cheesecake.)

Ingredients for cheesecake filling:

zest of 1 lemon

3 (8 ounce) packages of cream cheese, at room temperature

1/4 cup lemon sugar (see directions)

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 large vanilla bean, seeds scraped

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions:

Zest 1 lemon.  Combine 1/4 cup of sugar with lemon zest.  Mix with your fingers until wet and well combined.  Using a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, add the cream cheese and beat until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add the lemon sugar, remaining granulated sugar and brown sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, only 1 at a time, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition.  Add the vanilla seeds and vanilla extract and beat until combined.  Add the salt and heavy cream and mix until just incorporated.

Pour the mixture over the prepared crust.  Place the spring form pan in a large roasting pan.  Pour hot water into the roasting pan until the water is halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan.   Place in the oven and bake until the cheesecake is puffed and the center still jiggles, about 55 minutes.

Turn off the heat and prop open the oven door with a wooden spoon.  Allow the cake to cook like this for 60 minutes.  Remove cake and allow to cool for 2 hours.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Next make apple mixture and rum caramel sauce!  Keep going it is worth it!

Ingredients for Apple Mixture:

2 cups apple juice (unsweetened)

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 vanilla bean (leftover from cheesecake)

1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter

3 Granny Smith apple, peeled and thinly sliced

3 Fuji apples, peeled, thinly sliced

1/4 cup rum

Directions:

Combine apple juice, sugar and vanilla bean in a large sauté pan.  Bring to a boil.  Add butter and stir until melted.  Add the apple slices and cook until soft and caramelized, about 10 minutes.  Add the rum and continue to cook over medium heat until reduced by 1/2.  Using a slotted spoon remove the apples, place in a bowl and allow to cool a bit.  Set aside.

Ingredients for Rum Caramel Sauce:

1 + 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup water

3/4 cup heavy cream

generous pinch of salt

3 tablespoons of rum

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat without stirring.  Swirl the pot once or twice and continue to cook until it turns amber, about 12 minutes.

When the caramel is a rich amber, remove from heat.  Slowly and carefully whisk in the heavy cream.  Add the salt and whisk until smooth.  Stir in the rum and vanilla extract.  Keep warm until ready to use or gently reheat on the stove, if necessary.

Assembly!

Remove the ring of the spring form pan surrounding the cheesecake.  Top the cheesecake with the warm apple mixture, drizzle with rum caramel sauce.  Save extra sauce and serve on the side.  Enjoy!

**The cheesecake can be made two days ahead.  Keep covered and refrigerated.  The apple mixture and rum caramel sauce can be made one day ahead.  Cover and refrigerate.  When ready to use, gently reheat in the microwave or on the stove.**

5 Comforting Dessert Links

A warm, gooey, freshly baked chocolate chip helps mend a broken heart.  Head to Smitten Kitchen for Deb’s consummate chocolate chip cookie recipe.

A pan of brownies and a glass of milk will aid in curing whatever ails you.  Head to the Crepes of Wrath for Ina Garten’s outrageous brownies with 2 kinds of chocolate.

Chocolate not your thing? How about a crisp pate a choux shell filled with a silky vanilla rum custard.  Eats Well With Others has the recipe for you.

A warm citrus pudding cake may add a little brightness even on the darkest days.  Food 52 has the recipe for you.

Is cheesecake your go to when your not sure where to go from here?  Check out my recipe for blueberry cheesecake bars.

 

 

Twix Bars with a Twist + 5 DIY Sweet Treat Links

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Halloween night I will walk our leaf covered sidewalks [crunch, shuffle, crunch…God I love that sound] with a warrior, Robin Hood and a jovial [fingers crossed, two is tough] ghost. Cold little hands resting in my hand, momentarily, before breaking free in a frantic scamper for more candy.  A warrior, headstrong and fierce will lead the way, while brave Robin Hood and a charming ghost shuffle along.

Robin Hood’s Epi-pens stored in one coat-pocket while a bag of “trade” candy sits in the other pocket…waiting.  Please no ER trips, not tonight.

Charleston Chews, Tootsie Rolls, Swedish Fish, Twizzlers, filling their orange plastic pumpkin buckets, while I hand off Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Snickers to Bubba quickly, efficiently, much like a bomb squad taking care of a situation before someone gets hurt.

Our boy, our prince of thieves, safe for now. 

House after house, we will trek along, until the air is just too chilly, our feet weary, the sugar high becoming a low.  When we reach our front door, the candy basket we left out will be nearly empty.  Robin Hood will steal the remaining safe candy, as he should.  With a tired ghost resting against him, snuggled in his neck, sticky cheeks touching coarse stubble, Bubba will open the front door.  The heat from the house will escape out the front door, warming our cold faces, reminding us we are home.  Safe.  Happy.

Happy Halloween.

Twix Bars with a Twist

A shortbread cookie topped with caramel, Sunbutter and a dark chocolate glaze

adapted from Not Without Salt’s Homemade Twix Bars

Makes 12 large bars or 24 small bars

Ingredients for shortbread:

1 stick + 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/4 sugar

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350F.  Spray 9×13 baking pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper, leaving a bit of an overhang.  (This will make it easier to remove the bars later.)

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or a handheld electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Slowly add the flour and salt.  Mix until the dough comes together.  The dough will be crumbly but should hold together when pressed in between your fingers.

Press the dough evenly into the prepared baking pan.  Bake for 12 minutes.  Rotate pan and bake for another 12 minutes or until the shortbread is golden brown.  Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Next prepare the Sunbutter layer.

Ingredients for the Sunbutter layer:

1 cup, all natural, no sugar added Sunbutter

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

4 + 1/2 teaspoons unsalted butter

Directions: 

Place Sunbutter, sugar and butter in a medium size bowl and mix together with a wooden spoon until completely smooth.  Set aside.

Now prepare the caramel.

Ingredients for caramel:

2 cups sugar

3/4 light corn syrup

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup sweetened condensed milk

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Sea Salt for sprinkling

Directions:

Combine sugar, corn syrup, water and lemon juice in a large saucepan.  Using your hand or a pastry brush, wipe down any sugar crystals on the side of the pan with water.  Over medium-high heat bring the mixture to a boil.  Again wipe down any stray sugar crystals.  Do not stir the caramel from this point on.  The mixture will bubble vigorously.  When the syrup begins to turn golden brown, insert a candy thermometer.  When it reaches 300F, remove the pan from the heat.  Allow to rest for 1 minute.  Add heavy cream and stir until smooth, then whisk in the condensed milk.  Next, add the salt.  Whisk until smooth.

Return the pan to the heat and stir constantly until the caramel reaches 240F.  Remove from heat and pour over cooled shortbread.  Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.  Place in the refrigerator and allow to set for 2 hours.  While the caramel layer sets prepare the chocolate glaze.

Ingredients for chocolate glaze:

6 ounces of dark chocolate- chocolate chips are fine

3 tablespoons of butter

Directions:

Slowly, melt the butter and the chocolate in the microwave.  (I checked it every 20 seconds.)  Stir well until completely melted and smooth.

Spread Sunbutter mixture evenly over caramel  layer.  Pour the melted chocolate over the Sunbutter layer.  Smooth with an offset spatula.  Decorate with holiday sprinkles, if desired.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.  They are easiest to cut when cold.  Cut into squares, big or small and serve.  Enjoy!

**If taking to a party, cut into squares when cold.  Store in an air-tight container in between layers of parchment paper.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.**

5 DIY Sweet Treat Links

If you love chocolate turtles check out Creme de la Crumb’s 3 ingredient caramel cashew clusters.  My mouth is watering!

One of my favorite sweet treats is chocolate covered almonds.  Sally’s Baking Addiction has a recipe for sea salt dark chocolate almond clusters that is now on my  must make soon list.

Love truffles?  Make your own!  Head to Alexandra’s Kitchen for her boozy Grand Marnier chocolate truffles recipe.

Screw moderation.  Make  I Am Baker’s Halloween saltine toffee candy and eat every last bite.  You deserve it!

Dealing with nut-allergies?  We are too.  I feel your anxiety especially around Halloween. Head to The Kitchn  and check out 5 nut-free Halloween treats that are sure to make your kids smile.

Chocolate Chip Granola Cookies + 5 Bake Sale Hits For the School Year

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My sister took refuge in baking long before I joined her.  While I retreated from our volatile family life with a book in hand, she baked.  Chocolate chip cookies, dozens at a time, made in our grandmother’s no frills kitchen.  And when my grandmother chirped “chocolate chip cookies again?!”, both a question and a criticism, she remained intent on producing another dozen of warm, gooey, crisp chocolate chip cookies.  Unwavering and focused at just 10 years of age.

Flour, baking soda, salt set aside in a small, banged up metal bowl.  Butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla mixed in a large, partially chipped glass bowl until fluffy, while a timeworn  hand-held mixer rested on a white and gold-speckled Formica countertop.  Ten year old hands eager to the add the chocolate chips and sample the raw dough.

She immersed herself in a simple formula, soothed by nearly the same, pleasing results every time.  Her quiet, almost mechanical process allowed for an escape from our uncertain reality.  Just three years her senior, I admired her peaceful focus from a distance, unable (or unwilling) to fully understand it.  And though I enjoyed every sweet bite, dozens after dozens, I never asked “chocolate chip cookies again?”  Unspoken air and a smile were enough.

Twenty-five years later and I bake for the same reasons she began baking: a refuge from that which we cannot control.  I should thank her.  And yet, once again, unspoken air and a smile seem to be enough.

Chocolate Chip Granola Cookies

A crisp and light chocolate chip cookie with the addition of a nut-free granola makes for a fun twist on a classic combo!

recipe adapted from Brown Eyed Baker Levain Chocolate Chip Cookies

makes 2 dozen

Ingredients:

3 cups of bread flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup or 2 sticks, unsalted butter, cold and cut into chunks

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1/2 sugar

2 eggs, cold

1 tablespoon of milk (any kind)

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 + 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips

1 cup of granola (Your favorite recipe, store-bought or the recipe listed below)

Directions:

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Grab a medium bowl and whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or a hand-held electric mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until it comes together as one.  Add brown sugar and granulated sugar and beat for an additional 5 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula after each addition.  Add the vanilla.  Reduce the speed to low and add the flour and 1 tablespoon of milk.  Do not over mix!  Stir in granola and chocolate chips.  Place dough in an air-tight container and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 375F.  Scoop out a 1/4 cup of cookie dough with your hands and roughly shape it into a ball. Place on prepared baking sheet, leaving about an inch between each cookie.  Continue with remaining dough.  Bake until a light golden brown, about 18-20 minutes.  Cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and then place on a wire rack to cool completely.  Cookies stored in an air-tight container will last up to 2 days.  I think these cookies are best the day they are made.  Serve with a cold glass of milk.  Enjoy!

Nut-free Granola

recipe adapted from Cookie + Kate’s Healthy Granola

makes about 6 cups

Ingredients:

4 cups old fashion oats

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 cup millet, rinsed

1/2 wheat germ

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup maple syrup or honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven 350F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a large bowl combine, oats, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, millet and wheat germ.  Add the oil, maple syrup and vanilla.  Stir until every oat is covered in the oil and maple syrup.

Spread granola evenly across prepared baking sheet.  Bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.  Allow the granola to cool completely, undisturbed,  on the sheet pan.  Break into chunks and store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.  Enjoy!

5 Bake Sale Hits You Should Check Out!

Looking for a gluten-free cookie option for your next bake-sale?  Head to My Gluten-Free Kitchen for a chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe that will win the hearts of all kids.

Brownies are always a hit.  Head to Alexandra’s Kitchen for Fine Cooking’s rich, fudgy brownies recipe.

Cupcakes make people smile.  Head to Sweetest Kitchen for a chocolate cupcakes with fudge frosting recipe that is sure to pull in some fast cash!

Sugar cookie bars with lemon cream cheese frosting.  Just make them.  Head to Two Peas and Their Pod for the recipe.

Check out Baked By Rachel’s snickerdoodle blondie bars.  They are on my must make list!