An edible souvenir

My family and I escaped to the Twin Cities for a few days last week. We didn’t plan on doing much, but managed to pack a lot into four days away, including a visit to Valley Fair, shopping, a Twins game and canoeing on a lake.

My husband grew up in a river town. The kids and I did not. It took four tries before we were finally able to maneuver the canoe under a bridge – and this was after we crashed into a wall. Twice.

I was freaked out the entire time that we would tip over, but we didn’t. Our victory made lunch at Lucia’s a few hours later that much sweeter, as did the most delicious strawberry shortcake I ever had. Organic strawberries, homemade whipped cream and a shortcake with the best strudel-type topping. Yum!

I wandered to Penzeys Spices afterward and bought a 3.4-ounce jar of vanilla sugar, determined to recreate the magic at home. I served the recipe below at dinner last night. Is it a spot on duplication? Not yet, but I’ll get there. It did take four tries for the canoe, after all.

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKEstrawberry shortcake

For the strawberries:

  • 1 quart strawberries, hulled and slightly mashed
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar

For the shortcake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

For the whipped cream:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix the strawberries with the sugar and vanilla sugar; set aside.

For the shortcake: Grease a round, 9-inch cake pan and set aside. In a large bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon. Blend in the butter and egg and mix well. Add enough milk to make a moist, slightly sticky dough. Start with 2 tablespoons and add more as needed. Sprinkle a generous amount of flour on the table, place the dough on top, and roll the dough gently into a 9-inch round. Place the round into the cake pan. Don’t worry if it isn’t a perfect fit. Brush with the melted butter. Bake at 425 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from the pan, let cool briefly and split apart carefully into two layers. We’ve found a bread knife works well.

Spread the strawberries between the layers and on top of the shortcake. Top with whipped cream or serve it on the side. To make the whipped cream, beat the heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla until it reaches your desired consistency. Putting the mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer for half an hour will give you successful whipped cream every time.

Recipe courtesy of Penzeys Spices (www.penzeys.com)

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Going bananas

I recently spent a weekend in Chicago with a friend from college. We shopped, listened to live music, ate pizza and ran a half marathon.

I admit I didn’t know what I was committing to when I registered for the race in February. I’ve completed multiple 5Ks, but I still didn’t consider myself a runner when I paid my registration fee. Yet as the weeks went by and my mileage grew, I started to enjoy the process. I’d walk in the house, dripping in sweat, eager to talk about splits and hills with my family as they nodded from a distance.

I swallowed several vitamins and supplements every morning. I learned to like sports drinks and suffered through strength training sessions. I didn’t give up Diet Mt. Dew completely, but I cut back quite a bit.

I napped for two hours after my first seven mile run. I completed eight miles in Arizona the weekend of my brother’s wedding (By the way, dry heat is a LIE!) and I finished my first 10 mile run at 11 p.m. on Mother’s Day.

With less than a week before the race, I set out for an easy five mile jog. I hobbled home without finishing, due to a tightening in my left calf. I’m still not sure if I heard something pop or just imagined it, but something was wrong. Forget running; I could barely walk!

Not willing to see 16 weeks of work be for nothing, I turned to Facebook for help and was overwhelmed with the advice: RICE (Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation.). Take magnesium supplements. Use a foam roller. Eat bananas.

That last one was the worst of the bunch. (See what I did there? Banana. Banana bunch. Ha!)

I hate bananas. I’d rather take a dozen ice baths than eat a banana, but I choked one down each day, hoping the potassium would do its job. Walking to Grant Park at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning, I told Val I’d never have to eat a banana again – and then I was handed one at the finish line.

Limping back to our hotel, shiny medals hanging around our necks, my friend and I rehashed the 13.1 miles of hills, sun and sweat. We were too tired at that point to even jog across the street to beat the traffic lights, but that didn’t stop either one of us from talking about our next race.

Bring on the bananas.

PEANUT BUTTER AND BANANA MUFFINS
banana muffins
  • 1 ½ cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup mashed bananas, ripe
  • 6 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup low fat buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 350. Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners or lightly mist the muffin tin with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir together to combine.
In a separate large bowl, combine the applesauce, brown sugar, eggs, mashed bananas, peanut butter and buttermilk. Whisk together until thoroughly combined and smooth.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Spoon the batter evenly into the liners. Bake for 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Recipe courtesy of www.emilybites.com

Impulse buying for the win!

I decided to count my cookbook collection the other day. I stopped counting at 200.

I didn’t think that sounded like a huge number. The looks I’ve gotten from friends and colleagues suggest that they don’t agree. Apparently, in an informal poll of eight people, 10 is an acceptable number of cookbooks.

Acceptable is boring.

The following recipe comes from one of my newer cookbook purchases: Six Sisters’ Stuff: Family Recipes, Fun Crafts, and So Much More. It was recommended to me by the lovely folks at amazon.com and it’s one of those recommendations that has worked well.

(Unlike the side ponytail I tried in eighth grade. Yikes!)

The broadcast and print journalists recently moved to a new newsroom at work, so I made brownies to celebrate. The bathroom renovation may not be finished (I’m getting quite the workout running up to the second floor to use their bathroom), but we have treats!

Just don’t spill a crumb on the new carpet.

Mom’s Famous Chocolate Marshmallow Browniesbrownies

  • 1 cup margarine (2 sticks)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 (10-ounce) package of miniature marshmallows

Soften margarine and blend in sugar and cocoa. Beat together and add 4 eggs, one at a time, mixing after each one. Add flour, salt and vanilla and mix well.

Spread on large (10x15x1 inch) greased cookie sheet. Bake 22-25 minutes at 350. Remove from oven and cover entire top with 1 package of miniature marshmallows. Return to oven for 3 minutes, until marshmallows are soft and puffy. Cool and frost with chocolate frosting.

Mom’s Chocolate Frosting

  • 1 stick margarine (1/2 cup), softened
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla (depending on your taste)
  • 3 tablespoons of cocoa
  • 2 to 3 cups of powdered sugar

Mix all ingredients with a hand mixer until smooth. Add more powdered sugar or milk until you reach desired consistency and spread on top of bars.

Recipe courtesy of Six Sisters’ Stuff: Family Recipes, Fun Crafts, and So Much More by Six Sisters Stuff

All you “knead” to know about marriage

“What time was our wedding?”

I’m lucky Scott didn’t freak out when I asked him that this morning. He doesn’t know, either.

“5 p.m. maybe?”

It makes sense. We had a sit-down dinner after the ceremony. The cake was good. There was dancing. Before that, I tried to put Scott’s wedding ring on the wrong hand. And my brothers smeared Oreo cookie filling on the windshield of my car.

That is everything I remember from our wedding. We planned it in six weeks, after knowing each other for less than a year. Fourteen years, two kids, three newspapers and several moves later, we’re still going strong.

I’m not a mushy person. Neither is Scott. Both of our anniversary Facebook posts make jokes about our marriage being a high school freshman or being eligible for its learner’s permit. That’s who we are.

But I did give him the middle roll for breakfast this morning. That’s love.

ORANGE ROLLSorange roll

For the dough:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
  • 3¼ to 3½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 (.25 ounce) package instant or rapid rise yeast (about 2½ teaspoons)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg

For the filling:

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest

For the glaze:

  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • Enough orange juice to reach desired consistency

For the dough: Place milk and butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for 1 minute and 30 seconds on high. Butter should be at least partially melted. Stir and set aside.

Whisk together 2 cups flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. When milk mixture has cooled to warm (not hot; about 105-110 degrees), add it to the flour mixture along with the egg. Beat until well combined, using the paddle attachment – about 1 minute.

Switch to the dough hook. Add the remaining flour only until dough barely leaves the sides of the bowl. It should be very soft and slightly sticky. Continue to knead dough with mixer for 5 minutes or turn dough onto floured surface and knead for 5 minutes by hand. Allow to rest about 10 minutes while to make the filling.

For the filling: combine ingredients in a small bowl.

To assemble: Roll dough into a rectangle about 12-by-14 inches. Spread filling mixture over the surface and use your fingers or the back of a spoon to gently spread around. Roll up from the longer side of the rectangle and pinch edges closed. Use a piece of dental floss to score the rolls into 12 equal pieces and then slip the floss under the “log” and cinch off each piece with the floss to cut into rolls. Place in  9-by-13-inch baking pan that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Cover pan with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place about 30 minutes or until visibly increased in size. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

When the rolls have finished rising, bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a light golden brown.

For the glaze: Melt butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave. Add the powdered sugar and enough orange juice to reach a smooth pouring consistency. Drizzle over warm rolls.

Recipe courtesy of: Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites by Sara Wells & Kate Jones

Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger

My daughter’s birthday is tomorrow. She’ll be 12. The signs that she’s almost a teenager are everywhere.

The pile makeup in the bathroom.

The dings of her cell phone whenever a text arrives.

And her wish for a more grown-up-looking bedroom.

The newest hint happened last weekend. We were at Target, looking at shoes.

E: Mom, we wear the same size!

Me: Yes, we do.

E: Do you know what this means? More shoes!

Yes, she’s growing up.

Because this is the last year she’ll bring homemade birthday treats to school, we went all out and made 28 hamburger cupcakes. Walking down the hallway this morning with my cupcake containers filled with cupcakes, I had a taste (see what I did there?) of what it’s like to be a rock star.

It’s pretty awesome.

Happy birthday, Em!

HAMBURGER CUPCAKEShamburger cupcake

  • 1 box Duncan Hines Classic White Cake Mix
  • 1 box Duncan Hines Devil’s Food Cake
  • White frosting (store-bought or homemade)
  • Red, yellow and green food coloring
  • Sesame seeds, optional
  • Decorative toothpick, optional

Grease and flour cupcake tins. Do not use cupcake liners! Fill the tins two-thirds full with batter and bake as directed in the recipes.

After cupcakes have cooled, slice the white cupcakes in half. Slice off tops of the chocolate cupcakes and set aside. (You will not need the bases of chocolate cupcakes, so you can munch on them or use them for another project.)

Separate the frosting equally into three mixing bowls. With food coloring, make one bowl of green, one bowl of yellow and one bowl of red frosting.

Place one white cupcake bottom on a flat surface for the hamburger bun bottom. Frost it with the yellow frosting (this can be either the mustard or the cheese), then add one chocolate top (rounded side up) on top of the bottom half of the bun to make the burger.

Spread red frosting on top of the chocolate for the ketchup.

Frost one of the white cupcake tops with green to make the lettuce. Place it on stop of the burger. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and add a toothpick, if desired.

Continue with the rest of the cupcakes. You should have 24 cupcakes, unless you make bigger cupcakes, like I do.

Recipe adapted from the Duncan Hines website (www.duncanhines.com)

Happy food holiday times three!

Did you know that nearly every day on the calender is a food holiday?

Chocolate covered peanut day. Pie Day. Clam chowder day. I’m not kidding — nearly every day of the calendar is dedicated to a food.  It isn’t always clear who or what decided on these non-official-but-entertaining holidays, but seeing as this is more entertaining than scientific, it doesn’t really matter.

That being said, some food holidays days are more fun than others, depending on your culinary preferences. Feb. 27, however, just might be the greatest food day of all.

It’s National Chocolate Cake Day.

And National Strawberry Day.

And National Kahlua day.

To celebrate this most joyful of holidays, I made a chocolate Kahlua cake with a strawberry compote and Kahlua buttercream frosting.

Nothing like cake, and alcohol, to put you in the holiday spirit!

THE TRIFECTA OF FOOD HOLIDAYS CAKEchocolate cake

For the cake:

  • 1 chocolate cake mix
  • 1 package instant chocolate pudding
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup Kahlua
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 3/4 cup water

Preheat over to 345F

Combine all liquid ingredients in a bowl, then add the cake mix and chocolate pudding mix. Grease two 9-inch cake pans, or one 9-by-13 pan, and split the batter between the two pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes.

For the strawberry compote:

  • 1 pound strawberries, sliced
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Vodka, to taste (I used about 1/8 cup)

Put sliced strawberries in a bowl and mix the sugar into it. Let sit for about half an hour to release all the juices.

Strain the strawberries and put the juice in a saucepan. Bring it to a simmer with the lemon juice and vodka, and keep on a low simmer for about 20 minutes until it is reduced to a syrup. Pour the syrup back on the strawberries and put in the fridge to cool until you need it.

For the frosting:

  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons Kahlua
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee
  • 1 tablespoon hot water

In small bowl dissolve instant coffee in hot water.

Beat butter at medium speed in a mixing bowl until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar, Kahlua and hot coffee mixture. You can add more Kahlua if you want a stronger coffee flavor frosting.

This recipe makes enough frosting for a 9-by-13 cake.

Recipes to create this cake came from www.food.com, tiffanyhu.com/blog, and www.epicurious.com

Cake for breakfast? Heck, yeah!

I made my first-ever Bundt cake in October, in the middle of the 2012 Apple Challenge.

It was a stressful experience and my brand-new Bundt pan has since been banished to my pantry, stored on the bottom shelf behind a stack of cooking magazine so I can’t see it.

That’s why it took me a few minutes to find it yesterday, but I was a girl on a mission.

It was a snow day.

I was working from home.

I needed to update this blog.

I had to bake something.

I had everything I needed to make Chocolate Chip Cappuccino Coffee Cake, so that’s what I chose – even though it used a Bundt pan.

(Cue dramatic music.)

I’m happy to report my second attempt with this baking dish went well. I didn’t even have to watch a YouTube video on the proper way to grease and flour a Bundt pan.

That’s progress.

CHOCOLATE CHIP CAPPUCINNO COFFEE CAKEChocolate Chip Cappuccino Coffee Cake

For the chocolate chip streusel:

  • 1 lightly packed cup of light brown sugar
  • ¾ cup finely chopped pecans (I chose not to include these)
  • ½ cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted

For the cake:

  • Vegetable oil spray, for misting the pan
  • Flour, for dusting the pan
  • 1 package (18.25 ounces) plain yellow or vanilla cake mix
  • 1 package (3.4 ounces) vanilla instant pudding mix
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ½ cup strong brewed coffee or water
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the topping:

  • 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Make the streusel: Place the brown sugar, pecans, chocolate chips, flour, cinnamon, 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder and the melted butter in a large bowl, and stir to combine. Set the streusel aside.

Make the cake: Lightly mist a 12-cup Bundt pan with vegetable oil spray, then dust it with flour. Shake out the excess flour and set the pan aside.

Place the cake mix, pudding mix, sour cream, coffee or water, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until the ingredients just come together, about 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the batter is thick and smooth, 1½ to 2 minutes longer, scraping down the side of the bowl again if needed. Pour two thirds of the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and sprinkle half of the streusel mixture on top of the batter. Pour the remaining batter on top of the streusel and, using a rubber spatula, spread the batter to reach the side of the pan. Sprinkle the remaining streusel on top. Place the pan in the oven.

Bake the cake until the top springs back when lightly pressed with a finger, 45 to 50 minutes. Transfer the Bundt pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Run a long, sharp knife around the edges of the cake, shake the pan gently and invert the cake onto a serving plate so that the streusel stays on the bottom of the cake. Let the cake cool completely, 25 to 30 minutes.

Make the topping: Place the confectioners’ sugar and 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder in a small bowl and stir to combine. Sift the mixture on top of the cake, and slice and serve.

Recipe courtesy of The Cake Mix Doctor Returns!: With 160 All-New Recipes by Anne Byrn

Will 2013 be the year of the pony?

For as long as I can remember, whenever someone asks me what I want for a present, my answer is a pony. Birthday. Christmas. Flag Day. A pony is an ideal gift for any occasion.

My wish for a pony of my own is well-known among my family and friends. My mom even considered having a pony at my high school graduation party – my school counselor owned several – but thought pony rides would be too messy for our guests.

Clearly I was hanging with the wrong crowd at that time.

As far as I can tell, the only good thing to come from my broken hand was that it happened four days before Christmas. If there was ever a year to expect a pony under the tree this was it. Sadly no pony materialized – that day. A week later a large box arrived in the mail. Inside was a pony Pillow Pet; a “Get well soon” present from my parents.

I named him Herbert Hoofer.

It sounds silly, but Herbert is the perfect arm rest for my cast. True, he isn’t a real pony, but my doctor probably doesn’t want me riding a pony right now. That’s why I was OK when my birthday rolled around last week and my family assumed Herbert was enough pony for one year.

Rather than dwell the lack of a living pony at my house, and the extra candle on my birthday cake, I made birthday treats for my colleagues.

I am getting better at maneuvering my kitchen one-handed.

COOKIES AND CREAM CHEESECAKEScookies and cream cheesecake

  • 42 cream-filled sandwich cookies, such as Oreos, 30 left whole, and 12 coarsely chopped
  • 2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature (4 8-ounce packages)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Place 1 whole cookie in the bottom of each lined cup.

With an electric mixer on medium high speed, beat cream cheese until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Gradually add sugar, and beat until combined. Beat in vanilla.

Drizzle in eggs, a bit at a time, beating to combine and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in sour cream and salt. Stir in chopped cookies by hand.

Divide batter evenly among cookie-lined cups, filling each almost to the top. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until filling is set, about 22 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Refrigerate at least 4 hours (or up to overnight). Remove from tins just before serving.

Makes 30.

Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone’s Favorite Treat by Martha Stewart

Happy birthday to me!

birthday treats

Today is my birthday! To celebrate, I made cupcakes for my colleagues.

Who says birthday treats have to end after elementary school?

I spent most of last night baking and woke up early today to make the frosting. I have not had this many cupcakes in my kitchen since last year when I was in charge of making cupcakes for a baby shower.

(I made 99 miniature cupcakes that day in two flavors – chocolate mint and strawberry cream. I may have gone a little overboard.)

If you are ever looking for a fun, easy cupcake cookbook, I highly recommend Ann Byrn’s Cupcakes: From the Cake Doctor. I’ve made at least 25 cupcakes from this book and they always get great reviews. My daughter’s Girl Scout troop and huge fans of the s’mores cupcakes. They’ve never had the chance to make s’mores on a camping trip, yet, as it is either raining or there’s a burn ban. The cupcakes are an excellent consolation treat.

CAPPUCCINO CHIP CUPCAKES

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 4 teaspoons instant coffee granules
  • 1 package (18.25 ounces) plain yellow cake mix
  • 1 package (3.4 ounces) vanilla instant pudding – I didn’t have any, so I used chocolate
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
  • Mocha Buttercream (recipe below)
  • 1/3 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips, for garnish

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 cupcake cups with paper lines and set aside.

Place the water and instant coffee in a small glass liquid measuring cup and microwave on high power for 40 seconds. Remove and stir until the coffee is dissolved. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

Place the cake mix, pudding mix, milk, oil, eggs and coffee in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixture on low for 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixture speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping down the sides again if needed. The batter should look thick and well combined. Fold in 1 cup of the chocolate chips. Spoon or scoop 1/3 cup batter into each lined cupcake cup, filling it three quarters of the way full. You will get between 22 and 24 cupcakes.

Place the pans in the oven and bake until the cupcakes spring back when lightly touched with your fingers, about 18 to 20 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and place on wire racks to cool for 5 minutes. Then remove the cupcakes from the pans and cool for another 15 minutes before frosting. Meanwhile, make the frosting.

MOCHA BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of instant coffee granules
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of butter, at room temperature
  • 2 ounces (1/2 bar) German’s sweet chocolate, grated
  • 3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon water, if needed

Place the milk and instant coffee in a small glass liquid measuring cup and microwave on high power until the milk is hot enough to dissolve the coffee, about 30 to 40 seconds. Remove and stir until the coffee is dissolved. Set aside to cool.

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl and add the coffee and grated chocolate. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until the mixture has softened, about 30 seconds. Stop the machine and add the confectioners’ sugar. Blend with the mixture on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute more. Blend up to 1 tablespoon of water if the frosting seems stiff.

Frost the cupcakes. Garnish with miniature semisweet chocolate chips and serve.

NOTE: These cupcakes can be stored in a cake serve or under a glass dome, at room temperature, for up to 3 days – if they last that long. They can also be stored in a container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Recipe courtesy of Cupcakes: From the Cake Mix Doctor by Ann Byrn

On the fifth and sixth day of the Christmas Cookie Challenge …

I got tired of unwrapping candy and tried a new cookie.

Cookie #5

Baking with candy is great.

We never have candy in the house.

Unless it’s Halloween.

Or my birthday.

Or I had a rough day at work.

Or I need to bribe the kids.

Or we’re making popcorn (because we always add M&Ms to popcorn at my house).

OK, we have some type of candy in the house most of the time, but rarely to we have Hershey’s® Kisses because I have been known to grab “Just one” and wake up hours later surrounded by little piles of foil, reeking of chocolate and guilt.

But I had to make Peanut Butter Sealed with a Kiss as part of the cookie challenge, partly because that’s what Kristi always made when we had our Christmas baking day in St. Joseph, but also because I really wanted chocolate and baking chocolate wasn’t going to cut it.

(Side note: I let Emma try some unsweetened baking chocolate. She’s still mad at me. I probably shouldn’t have laughed that long.)

My kids continued their “We’re the best kids ever” campaign by taking on the task of unwrapping dozens of Hershey’s® Kisses – “testing” only a few the entire time.

They have a lot more restraint than I do.

PEANUT BUTTER SEALED WITH A KISSpeanut butter blossoms

½ cup peanut butter
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar, plus extra for rolling
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¾ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 9-ounce package of Hershey’s® Kisses, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream with peanut butter, butter and sugars. Add the egg and vanilla. Sift the flour, salt and baking soda together. Combine with the peanut butter mixture.

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and roll in the extra white sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8 minutes, remove from the oven, and press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie. Return to the oven and bake for another 3 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack.

Recipe courtesy of Family Fun’s Cookies for Christmas by Deanna F. Cook

Cookie #6

Baking Christmas cookies is a tradition, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add a new recipe to the mix. I try a new cookie recipe every year. Some recipes are awesome and are now part of my cookie rotation. Others were a one-time-only cookie, but that’s OK. Trying new things is how traditions begin.

This year I decided to try a savory cookie. I chose the following recipe with two colleagues in mind. As expected, they liked it.

CORNMEAL COOKIES with ROSEMARYCornmeal Cookies

¾ cup salted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Dried rosemary (optional)

Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat well. Mix in the vanilla.

Stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Add them a third at a time to the butter mixture and beat until incorporated. Form the dough into a ball, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and stick in the fridge until firm, about 1 hour.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured board to ¼-inch thick. Cut out cookies (any cookie cutter works; I went with a simple flower cookies cutter) and place them an inch apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Sprinkle each top with a few pieces of rosemary, lightly pressing the herb to adhere.

Bake at 350 degrees until the edges start to turn golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. (Less if you use a small cookie cutter shape. I also did miniature Christmas trees and they were ready in about 8 to 10 minutes.)

You can add a citrus twist to these cookies in several ways:

Orange: Add the grated zest of one orange into the butter while mixing. The rosemary is optional. (I chose this option and the result is crisp, light cookie; perfect with tea.)

Lemon: Add the grated zest of ½ a lemon into the butter while mixing.

Lime: Add the grated zest of ½ a lime into the butter while mixing, and skip the rosemary garnish.

Recipe courtesy of The Cookiepedia: Mixing Baking, and Reinventing the Classics by Stacy Adimando