Chocolate Orange Olive Oil Cake + 5 Must Read 2020 Baking Books

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Starlings in Winter by Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

 

Anne looked for Tess in the everyday.  At first, it was the strong breeze at Tess’ funeral on an otherwise calm day.  How beautiful the cherry blossoms rained on them.  The grievers, the grief-stricken, the heart-broken, the lost.  Cherry blossoms floating, flying through the air, landing on their jackets, settling in their hair.

Are you the tenacious breeze Tess?  You made yourself known again.  It was a beautiful display of your all-encompassing presence. Bursts of lightning and hail at Red Rocks while Grace and Anne watched the Avett Brothers sing holding out hope the storm would pass.  And then it did pass.  You pushed out the weather and revealed the stars.  We sang and danced.

Months later an enormous dragonfly landed on Anne’s mailbox, her tiny head facing the house as if ignoring the world. She refused to leave.  Anne poked at it. Nothing but a slight movement in the wing.

What’s wrong with it, Mama? 

I’m not sure.  How do you explain a living thing desiring to stay when it knows it would be best to leave?  You don’t.  Some things are unexplainable.

Fall came and so did the dead bird.  The bird lay on the stone steps outside of Anne’s house, wings to the ground, its underbelly exposed to the sky, bright white, her tail feathers ombre shades of pale blue.  A single leaf-covered her head as if she were part of a crime scene.  Anne stared at it for a few seconds before the kids came out of the house, backpacks in hand ready to go to school.

Mama, what happened?

Gross!

Can we have a funeral for it? 

Not now.  Get in the car. We are late.  

Later that day they did have a funeral for the bird.  Not really.  The kids lost interest and just wanted Anne to get rid of it.  Except for her older son.  He handed Anne the shovel after a failed attempt at digging a hole into the semi-frozen ground.  Anne forced the shovel through the frosted ground, raising the handle above her head and coming down as hard as she could breaking through the ground.  Over and over again.  Anne’s heart pumped hard.  She could feel it.  Tears welled but never spilled over.  Anne gently placed the bird in the ground and covered her with the earth.

I’m glad we planted her there, Mama.  He walked into the house and closed the door.  If only we could plant the things we love and loose and eventually they come back in the spring blooming once again.

The last visitor was a ladybug.  She landed on Anne’s hand at some point without Anne noticing.  It wasn’t until Anne lifted the toilet brush out of the now clean toilet that Anne spotted her.  How strange.  Anne walked down the creaky old stairs.  The ladybug was still sitting on her hand.  She opened the front door and blew as if blowing out birthday candles.  She flew away.

Did you make a wish?

I forgot.

Anne didn’t forget.  She wished for peace.  Not world peace.  That won’t happen.  But peace in her crippled heart.  Peace in the heart she felt beating, once again, after a long silence, when she buried the bird.

 

Chocolate Orange Olive Oil Cake

Serves 8

Recipe adapted from Simple Cakes by Odette Williams

Ingredients:

1 + ½ cups of unbleached all-purpose flour

½ cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1 tablespoon of baking powder

½ teaspoon of kosher salt

½ teaspoon espresso powder

3 eggs, at room temperature

1 + 1/3 cups of sugar

¾ cup of mild extra virgin olive oil

½ cup of whole milk

½ cup of buttermilk

¼ cup of freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tablespoon of orange zest

Ingredients for glaze:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar,

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons of boiling water,

½ teaspoon of vanilla

Pinch of kosher salt

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Butter, flour, and line with parchment paper 1 8×3 inch cake pan.  Set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.  Set aside.

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium speed until very pale, about 3-5 minutes.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.  Next, add the oil, buttermilk, milk, orange juice, zest.  Beat on low speed until frothy, about 1 minute.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and whisk until well combined.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake until the cake springs back when touched or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Remove cake from pan and allow to cool completely.  While the cake is cooling, make the vanilla glaze.

 

Directions for the glaze:

Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a medium-size bowl.  Add the softened butter.  Pour boiling water over butter.  Whisk until the butter melts and the sugar and water come together to make a glaze.  Add vanilla and a pinch of salt.

Assembly:

Pour the glaze over the cooled cake, spreading gently with an offset spatula if necessary.  Decorate with sanding sugar or sprinkles if desired.  The cake can be stored at room temperature in an air-tight container until ready to serve.  Enjoy!

5 Baking Books to Check Out in 2020

Midwest Made by Shauna Sever is on all the lists right now.  Her recipes come straight from the heart of America.  You can get your copy here.

Weeknight Baking by Michelle Lopez, the author of the blog Hummingbird High, is a must-read for any home baker with easy and delicious recipes, as well as, suggestions for riffs to make it your own.

Looking to try something new this year or up your pastry skills?  Check out Pastry School by Le Cordon Bleu.  This baking book is a step by step baking guide for beginners, as well as, professionals.  Check it out!

Joanne Chang is by far one of my favorite bakers.  Her latest book Pastry Love is on my must-purchase list.

New to baking?  Buy a copy of Beginner’s Baking Bible by Heather Perine you will become an expert in no time…or at least more capable in the world of butter, flour, and sugar.

Jerry’s Halfway Cookies + 5 Holiday or Anyday Cookie Links

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Anne stared at her mother’s battered and torn recipes and wished she wasn’t dead because she didn’t feel like making halfway cookies, they were Tess’s specialty.  She missed Tess.  Death is inconvenient especially around the holidays, thought Anne.  She felt much more than inconvenience since Tess’s miserable, drawn-out death.  In fact, most days she wasn’t entirely sure how she functioned.  Her children saved her, kept her occupied with their schedules and needs.  Their never-ending stories, sentences that began with “and” starting at one pick up, continuing to the next drop off allowed Anne to feel engaged but mostly sad and hollow all at the same god damn time.  Anne could forget, though, when the day mercifully allowed it.

Sort of.  When her mind didn’t ache from all she pushed through over the last two years. Ya, she could forget if she willed herself.  She forgot about holding Tess’s hand as she struggled to breathe and feeding her spoonfuls of water.  Watching her son and her husband feed, Tess teaspoons of water was especially awful.  Changing her diaper wasn’t as bad as Anne expected because there was nothing left to expel.  Everything was shutting down, something they mention in the helpful reading material hospice had left on their way out the door while Anne held Tess’s hand and watched her slowly transition from this world to the next.

Telling the nurse not to offer Tess any more food as she may choke was especially heartbreaking for Anne.  It was just so final.  Decisions were made without fully understanding that, yes, Tess would soon be gone.  Administering morphine and lorazepam to Tess as she begged for help, tiny squirts from a plastic syringe dribbling down her tongue, into her throat, smaller than a pea and so painful for Tess to swallow made Anne want to vomit.  A grimace on her mother’s face after each swallow, followed by relief until Tess saw Anne wasn’t done, not yet.  More morphine.

“Please help me, please help me,” Tess whispered.  Anne felt small.  “I don’t know what to do,” Anne cried.  “Yes. you do,” Tess said.  Hadn’t it always been this way? Anne a mess and Tess calm and knowing.  She hated and loved her for it.

Anne watched the hospice nurse change her mother’s bandages. Every time they asked Anne if she wanted to leave the room.  Anne never left.  Cancer on her mother’s breast now like a crater on the surface of the moon, devouring Tess, reaching for her collarbone.  Additional tumors were growing, making their presence known in the form of little mushroom heads and excruciating pain.  The smell was gone now. 

So many indignities for such a beautiful, refined woman.

The hospice nurse called Anne at two in the morning to let her know her mother had passed but Anne knew when she left her mother to pick up the kids from school just hours prior, she would not see Tess alive again.  She hugged and kissed her; told her it was ok to let go now.  The words flowed easily from Anne’s mouth to Tess’s ear as if someone else was speaking for her.  

How could you tell her to let go, Anne?

Anne hours before, holding her mother’s cold hand, watching her chest rise, her mouth ajar, teeth exposed as if drawn by a caricature artist, lips dry, crusted, and colorless.  The breathing pattern had changed as mentioned in the handy death pamphlet.  Anne studied that pamphlet like she was getting a graduate degree in end of life care as if it would somehow predict when Tess would leave this world and maybe, if Anne were lucky, she could escape the tsunami of grief that was headed her way if she was prepared and organized. 

The joke’s on you, Anne. 

She harassed her sister via text with the latest bodily changes Tess was undergoing during the transition, every time asking herself if it was necessary to share so much dying with her angry and already grieving sister who lived two thousand miles away.  Maybe the next text would go to her brother who had removed himself from the situation just enough that he could put off the grief until one day when Tess was gone and the grief brought him to his knees. 

And then the call. 

Tears struggled to come.  Anne steadied herself, threw her messy hair into a ponytail, and put on her glasses. She felt her husband’s hand on her back like an anchor reminding her of all the life that was still waiting for her.  The hand felt heavy as if it was asking too much of her to keep going, to keep pushing through when she was bone tired and heart-broken.  Anne kissed him goodbye, relieved the weight was gone if only briefly.

Anne drove in silence to her mother’s house.  The land looks different at two in the morning.  Twisting and turning in unexpected formations, shadows throwing off perspective.  So much unexpected life!  Random cars on the highway.  Where are you headed? Did you just lose the love of your life too?  The serpentine road that took Anne to Tess’s house was full of nocturnal animals, shocked by the car’s headlights, watching Anne pass, pausing to acknowledge her existence in their world, seeming to pay homage to Tess, as if they knew a good soul had passed.

Anne pulled into the driveway.  Tess’s house looked so alive with nearly every light on as if letting anyone who passed know something was amiss.  She steadied herself, walked in, said hello to the old cat purring by his water bowl, and the night nurse sitting in the rocking chair.  Anne’s father stood before her in a t-shirt and pajama pants looking older than he had a week prior.  They hugged briefly before Anne went into Tess’s room.  Tess looked beautiful with the covers up around her shoulders and the pink rosary beads Anne had just given her lying across her chest.  The giant seventies lamp cast a warm glow on the entire room making Tess look as if she was just resting, certainly not dead.  Anne collapsed on her mother’s bed and held Tess, crying like a wounded animal.  Tess’s forehead was still warm but her cheek was cool, almost waxy.  Anne gently rubbed Tess’s hair and cheek just as Tess had done so many times when Anne was a child.  She put her head on her mother’s chest.  The weight of Anne’s head pushed the remaining air out of Tess’s lungs making a ghoulish, cinematic sound and yet Anne felt nothing but comfort resting against her mother.  The last of Tess’s breath exiting and Anne breathing in all she could, taking some of Tess with her.  Internalizing her.  She closed her eyes and may have slept. 

Anne remembers the hospice nurse arriving, removing her stethoscope, and checking for a heartbeat that no longer existed.  I’m sorry for your loss.  God those words feel empty tonight. 

Anne remembers falling asleep next to Tess listening to the sounds of her father weeping upstairs.

Let’s wait until morning to call the funeral home. 

Try to sleep. 

Ok, Dad. 

Anne woke a couple hours later to find Tess very cold and pale.  Mouth firmly open, one eye half parted.  She was gone.  There is a difference Anne now understood in acknowledging the love of your life will soon be gone and living with their absence. 

After months of no tears, the tears came and Anne worried they may never stop.

Anne watched the funeral home director and his assistant place Tess’s body into a black, sterile body bag.  The sound of the zipper so decisive.  A folksy blanket placed over the bag, over Tess, so it didn’t look quite so unnerving.  Tess was wheeled out to hearse and that was it. 

It was over now. 

Something Anne had wished for repeatedly.  Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.  Anne drove home, stopping at Dunkin’ Donuts for a coffee and thinking how funny it was to do something so ordinary when something so life-altering and extraordinary had just occurred.  

The months that followed Tess’s death were foggy.  Anne could barely remember the details of those initial days.  She slept and cried.  Ate when she felt like it and drank too much.  Spring turned into summer and then into fall.  The kids went back to school.  Her husband checked in daily, tending, as best he could, to her grief.  The days passed and Tess was still gone.  The saying life goes on is so horribly true and gut-wrenching when you lose someone you love more than yourself.  The reality of so much life continuing without Tess, some days, just too much to shoulder.

Today Anne’s house was quiet except for their old dog snoring and farting in the hallway.  Christmas had passed and Anne somehow managed to push through it all.  Expectations remained intact.  Expectations are worthless, Anne believed, something she learned shortly after her mother died.  Keep your expectations of other people low and you won’t be disappointed.  Anne’s new mantra, if you want to call it that, brought a sense of peace to her.  She could let go of the raw hurt she felt from those who had disappointed her.  Those who didn’t show up.  How great it felt to be free of everything unnecessary.  Is this what Tess felt now? It was a relief for Anne to rid herself of that weight because there was just too much to carry.  The grief had changed her but into what she was unsure.

Anne made the halfway cookies.  An Avett Brothers song repeated in her head like a tripped record.  Like a prayer.  “No hard feelings, Lord knows they haven’t done much good for anyone.”

 

Chocolate Half Way Cookies

Makes 24 bars

Recipe slightly adapted from Evelyn Hamilton, my grandmother

Ingredients:

1 cup or 2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ cup of sugar

½ cup of brown sugar

2 egg yolks, slightly beaten with 2 tablespoons of water

1 teaspoon of vanilla

2 cups of all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon of kosher salt

½ teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 package of chocolate chips

Ingredients for meringue topping:

3 egg whites, beaten stiff

¾ cup brown sugar

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Lightly grease a 14×10 jelly roll pan and set aside.

Add the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder to a medium bowl.  Blend together using a whisk.  Set aside.

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides and the bottom once or twice.  Add the egg yolks (with the water), one at a time, until well blended.  Next, add the vanilla.  Beat for a few minutes until everything is blended.  Reduce the speed of your mixer and add the dry ingredients.  Mix on low speed until everything is well combined.  Add the dough to the prepared pan.  Spread it evenly across the pan using your fingertips until the dough covers the entire pan.  Spread the chocolate chips evenly over the dough.  Press the chips into the dough gently.  Set aside.

Beat the egg whites on medium speed until stiff peaks form.  Add the brown sugar.  Beat for an additional 2 minutes.  Spread the meringue across the prepared dough.  Bake until the meringue and cookie dough are golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack completely before cutting.  Once cool, cut into squares and serve.  Halfway cookies are best the day they are made but taste damn good the next day as well.  Enjoy!  Store any leftover cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

5 Cookie Links

Indulge a bit this holiday season and make The Vanilla Bean Blog’s holiday cheesecake cookies.  Yum!

Fudgy brownie crinkle cookies- yes they exist and they look divine!  Head to Mike Bakes NYC for the recipe.

Oatmeal lace cookies are a holiday classic and a sure winner.  Head to Julie Banner for the recipe.

If you love red velvet cake, why not make red velvet cookies?  Food 52 has the recipe for you.

Six years ago, I made these Italian lemon ricotta cookies and they were a huge hit.  Check them 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.

 

 

Snowflake Sandwich Cookies with Maple Buttercream Filling + 5 Fun Holiday Cookie Links

 

If Tess had known she would think of him as often as she did during her final days she may have made different choices many decades ago.  If she knew he would appear in her dreams, nightly, standing in the sunlight on a pathless mountainside under a blue sky while she struggled, step by step, over rocks and snow to reach him…she may have never said hello.  And yet so many years ago, she initiated a simple conversation without fully releasing she also made a choice to make a space for this strange man in her mind and heart.

Tess entered his life and he her’s, grateful for a providential connection.  She loved this man as she did her husband without ever really, fully knowing him.

[Boundaries remained intact.  Years later when middle age became old age, gray hair to white hair, wrinkles abundant, widowed, and often alone, but seldom unhappy, she smiled when she thought of him.  And when they ran into each other coming out of the library, both carrying a stack of large print books to occupy the endless quiet hours’ widowhood afforded them, Tess felt her fingertips tingle, and her eyes moisten.  How lucky after all these years that the connection she felt to this man remained intact!]

A nameless night later Tess finds herself awake at 4AM.   She carefully tiptoes through the house, her cotton nightgown grazes the hardwood floors and catches a white hair or two on its hem.  She pauses by the large window and watches the snowflakes falling outside.  Some stick to the window screen, others dance and swirl around each other, as if, communicating a long forgotten fable.  She opens the window.  The wooden frame slides up without much effort, odd, Tess thinks for such an old house.  She pops out the window screen and leans through the opening into the cold night air, her breath mingling with the snowflakes.  Tess sees the strange man she loved all these years standing at the end of the driveway next to the lamppost covered in boxwood and tiny white lights.  She gladly waves to him.  He waves back and turns away from her.  Wait! Tess calls.  Wait!

“Mom?”  Tess remains centered in the open window, her nightgown outlined in the moonlight, her wrinkled body shivering in the frigid wind.

“Mom?”  She turns to the familiar voice she cannot place.  [Time moves in a way Tess no longer understands.  People, too.  Once gone, now reappear.  Once an empty house, now her daughter is here.]

“Time to go back to bed, Mom.”  Tess’ daughter closes the window quickly, frustrated by her mother’s nightly wanderings, and guides her back to bed.  She tucks Tess into bed as she does her own children, brushes Tess’ long white hair away from her face and kisses her forehead.  Tess does not share with her daughter who she saw standing at the end of the driveway.   She would seem crazy after all.

Minutes later, Tess falls into a deep sleep only to find herself on a sunlit mountainside next to a man she barely knew but loved just the same.

 

Snowflake Sandwich Cookies with Maple Buttercream Filling

Recipe adapted from Bake From Scratch Holiday Cookies Edition

makes about 24 sandwich cookies

Ingredients for cookie dough:

3/4 unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup vanilla sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

sanding sugar or nonpareils for decorating

Directions:

Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, on medium speed beat the butter, sugar and salt until creamy, about 5 minutes.  Be sure to stop the mixer and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Add the egg and vanilla.  Continue to beat until incorporated.  Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the flour.

Divide the dough in half.  Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.  Lightly flour a clean surface, remove dough from plastic wrap.  Roll the dough to 1/8 inch thickness.  (Be sure to leave other half of dough in the refrigerator until ready to use!)  Using a 3-inch snowflake cookie cutter dipped in flour, begin cutting out snowflake shapes.  Gather scraps,  reroll and cut again.  Place cookies about an inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.   Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

Maple Buttercream Filling

Recipe adapted from Bake From Scratch Holiday Cookies Edition

makes 2 cups

Ingredients:

1 cup or 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 teaspoon maple extract

3 cups confectioners’ sugar

pinch of kosher salt

Directions:

Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat the butter and maple extract until creamy.  Add the confectioners’ sugar and a pinch of salt.  Beat on medium speed until well combined and smooth.  Once the confectioners’ sugar is incorporated, increase speed to high and beat for another 5 minutes.   Set aside.

Assembly Time!

Spoon half of the maple buttercream filling into large pastry bag fitted with an open star pastry tip.  Pipe filling onto 1 cookie, starting at the tip of each snowflake point and moving to the center.  Place another cookie on top of the cookie with the filling and press gently until the cookies form a sandwich.  Repeat with remaining cookies.  Place the remaining filling in a large pastry bag fitted with a small decorating tip.  Decorate the cookies with the remaining filling making a snowflake pattern on one side of the sandwich.  Sprinkle with white sanding sugar or nonpareils.   Let the cookies set before stacking.  Store cookies in an air-tight container for up to 4 days.  Enjoy!

5 Fun Holiday Cookie Links

My grandmother always had a stash of Italian Rainbow cookies floating around her house during the holidays and I couldn’t eat them fast enough.  Check out Love and Olive Oil’s  modern take on these beloved cookies.

Salted caramel and dark chocolate is a perfect pairing.  Want it in cookie form?  Head to Sally’s Baking Addiction for the recipe.

Love a good shortbread cookie?  Head to Cooking Classy for a chocolate dipped toffee pecan shortbread cookie recipe.  My mouth is watering!

Add something new to your holiday cookie platter with my alfajores recipe.

This lemon cookie recipe is one of my most pinned recipes.  Check it out!

 

Chocolate Cake Pan Cake + 5 Lovely Cake Links for Mother’s Day

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I think of her most often when the lilac bushes bloom in May.  I inhale their sweet floral scent deeply and see her as she was: short, dark curly hair framing her square face, beautiful brown eyes shining below thick eyebrows; strong hips sitting wide, above long skinny legs.  Her easy smile.

I kneel on the damp ground, searching for a four-leaf clover while blades of grass, small stones and drying mud stamp petrified impressions on my bony knees.  Looking haphazardly for luck, searching, minute after minute, for a clover windfall.  She walks by, the white rubber soles of her navy Keds grass-stained, her khaki chino shorts a bit stained with the morning’s bacon grease spatters and long tan arms brushing past her hips as she moves towards the grape vines and lilac bushes.  She pops a grape into her mouth, smiles. She pulls a pair of shears out of her back pocket and cuts a few clusters of lilacs, gathering them in her tanned, slightly wrinkled hands.  I love her absolutely, as only a child is able to love.  She is the great love of my life.

“What are you looking for, Kel?”

“A lucky clover.”

“You won’t find any luck around here.”  She says with a quick laugh and a half hearted smile.  [Decades later I will understand the multiple meanings of that one powerful sentence.]

Thirty years later, hip to hip, we inch across the driveway to my father’s car.  I carefully hold her twiggy arms.  Veins, tendons, bones now evident underneath her bruised paper-thin skin.  The weight of her body leaning against mine is barely felt.

[Time passes.  Time is an unsparing critic.]  

I want a chocolate cake for my birthday,” she says out of the blue.  I kiss her on the cheek and breathe in her powdery scent, hoping some of her smell will latch onto my shirt.  

“Ok, I’ll make you a chocolate cake.” I say as I ease her into the passenger seat pulling the seat belt across her concave chest, buckling her in like I do with own my children.  She smiles, turns away from me and stares straight ahead through the bug splattered windshield.  I know she is moving away from me, letting go.  She knows I understand this.  And yet, come August, with some luck, I’ll make her a chocolate cake.

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Chocolate Cake Pan Cake with Whipped Chocolate Ganache Frosting

cake recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Original Cake Pan Cake

whipped ganache recipe barely adapted from allrecipes.com

serves 8-10

Cake Ingredients:

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

3/4 cup vanilla sugar

1/4 unsweetened natural cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon espresso powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 cup milk ( I used 2%)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease an 8 inch square pan and set aside.  (You may also use a 9 inch round pan.)

Place dry ingredients in a medium size bowl and whisk together.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla extract, vinegar, oil and milk.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until well combined.  Pour the  batter into your prepared pan.

Bake the cake for about 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean with just a few moist crumbs.  Begin checking the cake around 22 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan sitting on a wire rack.

While the cake cools make the whipped chocolate ganache frosting.

Fluffy Whipped Ganache Ingredients:

9 ounces of semisweet  chocolate, chopped or use chips

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon dark rum

Directions:

Place the chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside.  Heat the heavy cream in a sauce over medium heat until it just begins to boil.  Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes.  Add the rum and whisk until completely smooth and shiny.  Cool the ganache until thick.  (I let it sit on our counter at room temperature for a couple of hours.)  Once cool whip the ganache using a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment until very light and fluffy.  Spread evenly over cake.  Slice the cake and serve with a cold glass of milk.  Enjoy!  (Cake will last up to two days stored in air-tight container at room temperature.)

5 Lovely Cake Links for Mother’s Day

Treat your crazy mom to a crazy cake: strawberry pazzo cake with herbed creme fraiche. Pazzo means crazy in Italian which describes this cake well; balsamic vinegar drizzled over a sweet strawberry cake.  I’m intrigued!

Speaking of strawberries, check out my recipe for a cold oven strawberry pound cake mom is sure to love.  Or head to My Name Is Yeh for Molly’s cardamom vanilla cake with strawberry filling and cream cheese frosting.  I’m drooling.

Looking for a simple yet delicious cake recipe?  Head to Food 52 for their olive oil cake recipe.

Don’t feel like baking? Check out Baker’s Royale lemon ice box cake.  Yum!

Baileys Butterscotch Pudding Pie + 5 Unique Pudding Pie Links

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She drove home from the hospital in silence, headlights of passing cars illuminating her briefly before disappearing into the night.  If she hadn’t been alone, one might have noticed the smeared mascara underneath her tired, blue eyes.  Or maybe they would have noticed her wrinkled blue scrubs, a bit of blood splatter on the right leg from a man, or rather, a boy she attempted to save just hours before.

[“Please don’t let me die!” He pleaded while grabbing her shirt, yanking her stethoscope.  She, now, a metaphysical lifeline to a boy nearly gone.  When his grip on her softened, she removed his hand from her shirtsleeve and placed it across his heart.  Stupid kid, she thought.  Look what you have done.  No, she wasn’t cold, but removed.  After all, how could one carry the pain of so many? Damn near impossible.  She had tried.]

The headlights of her station wagon grazed the moonlit snow as pulled into the driveway of her picturesque, yet, modest colonial standing dark and peaceful at midnight.

[Tonight the kids would be asleep.  And her husband?  Passed out in their loveless bed, entangled in the sheets, snoring, farting, reeking of beer.  At least he was in bed.  A welcome change, really, to the nights when he chose to pass out on the living room floor among the toys that were never picked up and the dog hair that blew around the matted carpet like tumbleweeds.]

She sat in her car inside their cluttered garage (bikes, broken toys, Costco bags of toilet paper and paper towels, trash cans permeating the bitter night air) and thought briefly about not going inside.  Is that really an option?  Of course not.

The house-keys slid easily into the lock, reminding her she was home.  She placed her jacket on the overcrowded coat hat rack, someday I’ll organize this, and walked into the kitchen.  Dirty dishes were piled high in the sink, dried ketchup smears decorated their kitchen island, beer cans acted as cairns, marking where his latest, desperate internal battle took place. 

[She sighed.  12:15 AM .  Instead of tackling the mess in the kitchen and the one sleeping in her bed, she would have a drink, ring in the new year with a cold glass of Baileys. ]

The family dog slept curled up against the over-stuffed, milk stained Lazy Boy chair.  She lowered herself into the chair, careful not to wake the dog or spill her drink.  [Did it matter?]  She muted the TV , watched the lovers and strangers in Times Square kiss, desirous for an imagined fresh start.  She understood that craving.

The blue glow from the TV lit her scrubs just enough for the blood splatter to reappear. She rubbed a single finger across it.  The blood soaked in and dry now.  [For a moment she thought of licking  her finger.  A single lick of his blood: water, salt, red and white blood cells, microscopic bits of him dissolving on her tongue and living for as long as she lived.]  She held the glass to her mouth, let the ice cubes hit her lips and took a long sip of the creamy, sweet Baileys.  This year she would save the only life she could save: her own.

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Baileys Butterscotch Pudding Pie

pudding recipe adapted from Aida Mollenkamp’s Keys to the Kitchen

chocolate wafer crust adapted from Williams Sonoma

Serves 6

Ingredients for Pudding:

5 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup of water

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups of milk (not fat-free)

2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2-3 tablespoons Baileys Irish Crème

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

whipped cream for topping (optional)

chocolate shavings or crushed chocolate wafer cookies for topping (optional)

Directions:

Grab a medium bowl and whisk the egg yolks and cornstarch until well combined.  Set aside.

Add the brown sugar, salt, and water to a medium saucepan placing the pan over medium-low heat.  Stir until the sugar dissolves and begins to bubble.

Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, without stirring, until the mixture becomes thick and dark, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Add the milk and heavy cream.  (Be careful! It will bubble.)  Whisk until all butterscotch bits at the bottom of the pan dissolve.

Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a boil.  Do not step away, the mixture could boil over!  Once it reaches a rapid boil, decrease the heat and slowly pour half of the butterscotch mixture to the egg yolks, whisking well to combine.  Now add the custard to the remaining half of the butterscotch mixture.

Whisk over medium heat until the custards just begins to gently boil and coats the back of your spoon, about 3 minutes. ( The custard is ready when it coats the back of spoon.  To be sure, draw your finger across the back of the spoon.  Your finger should leave a mark through the custard and not run back together.)  Remove from the heat.  Add butter, Baileys and vanilla.  Stir until butter is completely melted and the custard is smooth.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve.  Pour custard into a bowl and chill, uncovered, until very cold and pudding like, about 4 hours.   I chilled it overnight.  Transfer to air-tight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

The pudding can be made two days ahead.

Chocolate Wafer Crust

Ingredients:

1 + 1/4 cups crushed chocolate wafers

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon sugar

Directions:

Pre-heat your oven to 350F.

Place chocolate wafer cookies in a Ziploc bag and crush with a rolling pin until they resemble crumbs.

Stir together cookie crumbs, melted butter and sugar in a bowl until the crumbs are moist.  Pat mixture firmly and evenly into a 9 inch pie pan.  Be sure to cover both the bottom and sides of the pan.

Bake for 10 minutes.  Cool completely before filling.

Crust will last, unfilled, for several days well covered and at room temperature.

Assembly!

Add pudding to pie crust, filling it to the top.  (You will have leftover pudding.)  Top with fresh whipped cream, shaved chocolate and/or cookie crumbs.  Chill until ready to serve.  Enjoy!

**Add the pudding to the crust no more than a day before serving it.  The crust will start to get soggy after a couple of days**

5 Unique Pudding Pie Links

Looking for a unexpected spice in your life?  Head to A Cozy Kitchen and make green chili chocolate pudding pie.  Sounds weird but I bet it is delicious.  Embrace the weird.

Vegans rejoice! Ambitious Kitchen has a recipe for vegan chocolate avocado pie that sounds amazing!

A fudgey layer of chocolate pudding covers a sweet chocolate cookie crust and is topped with a light and airy vanilla pudding.  Intrigued? Want the recipe?  Head to Mel’s Kitchen Cafe for the recipe.

Butterscotch pudding meets cheesecake and makes this amazing pie by Bake or Break. Check it out!

Dreaming of peach season in January?  Check out my peach ricotta pudding cream pie recipe.  Swap out the fresh peaches for frozen and you’ll have a bit of summer in January.

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.