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>A Sweeter Taste of Kentucky’s Finest


Bourbon: the Spirit of Kentucky. Aged in new, charred oak barrels for a minimum of 2 years, the flavor of Bourbon Whiskey is one of the most authentic of spirits – no additional coloring or flavoring, merely corn mash and grain. It is this distinct taste that makes Bourbon an ideal match for any dessert. I’ve baked with Bourbon in the past (most notably in pies and cookies), and have come to appreciate the sweet, spicy profile it provides. With the University of Kentucky as her alma mater, my friend Beth knows good Bourbon. So when she asked me to bake desserts for a small gathering, I chose to bring out the sweeter side of  Kentucky’s finest by making Bourbon Balls and Bourbon Chocolate Chip Blondies

Bourbon balls were the creation of Kentucky native Ruth Hanly Booe. Hailing from Frankfurt, Ruth co-founded Rebecca Ruth Candy with here friend Rebecca Gooch in 1919, though it wasn’t until 1938 (after prohibition, naturally) that Bourbon Balls made their famous debut (according to Epicurious.com). She knew that chocolate and bourbon were a match made in heaven, and I wholeheartedly agree. 
Today, there are two different forms of the classic. The first is your Betty Crocker classic: crushed cookies, chopped nuts, corn syrup, cocoa powder (optional), and bourbon. This mixture is formed into balls and coated in confectioners’ sugar or cocoa powder to seal in the flavor. A variation of this recipe uses rum in place of bourbon (click here for my version – second recipe down). These should be made at least one day in advance to allow the flavors to fully develop.

The second type is plain and simple: crushed nuts, powdered sugar, butter and bourbon. I hadn’t heard of this variety until recently, but had to try it! The chocolate coating is what gives these confections a gorgeous finish. These took three days to make, so I recommend planning ahead. The result was a creamy filling coated in silky chocolate. Trust me, these are worth every second! 

Kentucky Bourbon Balls
Adapted from AllRecipes
Yields: 24-30 balls

   – 1 cup chopped nuts
   – 5 to 7 tablespoons Kentucky bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark®) 
   – 1/2 cup butter, softened
   – 1 (16 ounce) package confectioners’ sugar
   – 18 ounces semisweet chocolate
   – 1/4 cup heavy cream, or more if needed 

Place the nuts in a sealable jar. Pour the bourbon over the nuts. Seal and allow to soak overnight. 

Mix the butter and confectioners’ sugar; fold in the soaked nuts. Form into 3/4″ balls and place in a sealable container; refrigerate overnight.

Line a tray with waxed paper. Melt the chocolate with heavy cream in the top of a double boiler over just-barely simmering water, stirring frequently and scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula to avoid scorching. Using toothpicks, roll the balls in the melted chocolate to coat; arrange on the prepared tray. Carefully remove toothpicks. Store in refrigerator until serving.


A hybrid of bar and cookie, Blondies are notable for their rich texture and buttery taste.  Made from your everyday staples, Blondies leave room for creativity: coconut, chocolate chips, peanut butter – you name it, it’s possible. According to FoodTimeline.org, the appearance of Blondies predates that of brownies. The main ingredient is brown sugar, which was more readily available than cocoa powder (brownie’s main ingredient).

This recipe is from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything – a great book that provides an overview of the basics followed by a plethora of variations. These blondies have a moist crumb with a crunchy exterior, making them all too good to resist. The bourbon adds just the right level of spice, and I added chocolate chips, well…just because. Enjoy!  

Bourbon Chocolate Chip Blondies 

Yields: 16-20 squares

   – 8 tablespoons butter, melted

   – 1 cup brown sugar

   – 1 egg

   – 1 teaspoon vanilla or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

   – Pinch of salt

   – 1 cup all-purpose + 2 tablespoons flour
   – ¼ cup bourbon
   – 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Butter an 8×8 pan
Mix melted butter with brown sugar – beat until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla.
Add salt, stir in flour. Mix in bourbon, then fold in chocolate chips.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 350°F 20-25 minutes, or until set in the middle. I always err on the side of caution with baking times — nobody ever complained about a gooey-middled cookie. Cool on rack before cutting them.

Posted in Alcohol, Bars and Cookies | 1 Comment

>"There’s No Wrong Way to Bake a Reese’s"


There is something sacred in the simple tasks of measuring flour and cracking eggs, and I always find my best refuge in baking cookies. Granted, cakes always provide a challenge and new tiers of technique. But cookies, for me, are analogous to your local corner store: that familiar place where “everybody knows your name”. Whether of a classic or decorated variety, cookies are and always have been simple perfections. Yet when recently approached by a coworker to bake a batch, I was in more of the “challenge” mindset, and chocolate chip cookies just wouldn’t cut it. And then I remembered my pantry held a hidden treasure: an unopened bag of Reese’s® Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures…there was no stopping me now, and so I created Reese’s Peanut Butter Cookie Cups. Warning: these cookies are extremely addictive and may induce behavior akin to the capriciousness to Taz the Tasmanian Devil.
Reese’s® Peanut Butter Cups made their debut in 1928, when Harry Burnett Reese, a dairy farmer and shipping foreman for Milton S. Hershey, made “two great tastes that taste great together” a sweet reality (Wikipedia). Following his death, Reese’s® Peanut Butter Cups became a part of the Hershey®’s “Empire” and have since captured the hearts of candy lovers across the world. According to their website, Reese’s® creates enough peanut butter cups to provide every person living in the United States, Japan, Europe, Australia, China, Africa, and India with one cup per year! 
Note: I made the dough for these cookies ahead of time, knowing full-well they would be best freshly baked. I wrapped the dough in plastic wrap and stored it in the refrigerator overnight, then allowed it to thaw for 5 minutes the next morning prior to baking. These cookies were also my first run with my new cookie scoop (see photo above), and I loved it! I also refrigerated the peanut butter cups the night before, unwrapped, in an airtight container. While preparing the cookies the next morning, I transferred the tray of Reese’s to the freezer – this prevented the chocolate from melting while being pressed into the freshly baked cookies (but boy did they melt after…yummy!)    
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cookie Cups
Yields: 36 – 40 cookie cups

  – 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  – 1/2 teaspoon salt
  – 1 teaspoon baking soda
  – 1/2 cup butter, softened
  – 1/2 cup white sugar
  – 1/2 cup peanut butter (I used chunky)
  – 1/2 cup packed brown sugar 
  – 1 large egg, beaten
  – 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  – 2 tablespoons milk  
  – 40 Reese’s® Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures, unwrapped (and frozen for at least 10 min)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray a mini muffin pan/two mini muffin pans with cooking spray. Stir together the flour, salt and baking soda; set aside.

Cream together the butter, sugar, peanut butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg, vanilla and milk. Add the flour mixture, mix well (if making ahead: shape the dough into a ball and wrap tightly in plastic wrap; store in the refrigerator – will keep for 1 day).

Shape into 40 balls and place each into the mini muffin pan(s). Bake for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately press a (frozen) peanut butter cup into each cookie. Let cool for at least 10 minutes, and carefully remove from pan.
Posted in Bars and Cookies, Peanut Butter/Peanuts | 1 Comment

>The Bearable Lightness of Cake Flour


I went against my own baking standards with this one – prior to this cake, I had never used Cake Flour when a recipe called for it. When I decided to make a Classic Genoise for a small dinner party I  was hosting, I thought I would give it a shot. Let’s just say the light, fluffy result of this cake made me a convert for the more delicate flour. This cake was fantastic! It was also a chance for me to use my new cookbook holder (basically a plexiglass stand with a splash guard – silly as it seems, it’s truly useful). The Joy of Cooking, for those of you don’t own it, is a fantastic cookbook, and helped me try out this beautiful cake: Genoise Cake with Grand Marnier Berries and Mascarpone Whipped Cream.  
Cake flour is different from all-purpose given its lower level of protein, or gluten: while regular flour has 10-12% protein, cake flour only has 6-8% (according to JoyofBaking.com). This lower level of gluten is achieved through chlorination, and results in a softer texture. There are two ways to substitute cake flour: one is to under-measure all-purpose flour (as I had always done with past recipes), or to measure ¾ cup all-purpose + 2 tbsp cornstarch for 1 cup cake flour. This recipe calls for sifting the flour twice – I don’t own a sifter, so I use a sieve (see above – also picture is my new cookbook holder!)
This recipe is a little tricky in the start: it calls for heating eggs over simmering water, then beating them with a hand mixer until they reach “au ruban”: a term used for describing the when the batter runs from the spoon in a broad, shining “ribbon”. Above shows the process – the batter will nearly triple in size. The result is a beautiful, light fluffy cake that is perfect with berries, hence my choice of berries macerated with Grand Marnier (Note: this process does not call for cooking the berries, so it will be boozy). Since I’ve also been on a mascarpone kick lately, I decided to include a Mascarpone Whipped Cream as well.  
Genoise Cake with Grand Marnier Berries and Mascarpone Whipped Cream
Adapted via Joy of Cooking
Yields: 8 to 10 servings

Genoise Cake:
  – 1 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
  – 1/4 cup sugar
  – 1/3 cup unsalted butter, preferably clarified
  – 6 large eggs
  – 3/4 cup sugar
  – 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
Grand Marnier Berries:
  – 1 (16-oz) package frozen mixed berries
  – 1/3 cup Grand Marnier®
Mascarpone Whipped Cream:
  – 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  – 1 (8-oz) package mascarpone
  – 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  – 2 teaspoons orange zest 

For cake: Grease and flour the bottom(s) of two 9×2-inch pans or one 9-inch springform pan; line with wax or parchment paper. Sift together cake flour and 1/4 cup sugar twice; set aside. Melt butter in a small saucepan; off the heat and let sit for 4 minutes. Once cooled, remove the film from the top; carefully pour into a heatproof bowl, leaving the solids behind – set aside. 

Whisk the eggs and 3/4 cup sugar in a large heatproof bowl; set over a pot of barely simmering water – whisk constantly until the mixture is warm to the touch (about 110 degrees F). Remove the bowl from the heat and beat on high speed until the mixture is lemony-colored, has tripled in volume, and has reached the stage known as au ruban (see photos above) – like a continuous flat ribbon when dropped from a spoon (5 minutes in a heavy-duty mixer with the whisk attachment, 10 – 15 minutes with a hand-held mixer). 

In 3 additions, sift the flour mixture over the top and fold in very gently with a rubber spatula. If the butter has become to solid, reheat briefly and transfer to a medium bowl. Fold about 1 1/2 cups of the egg mixture into the butter until completely incorporated, along with the vanilla extract. Bake until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan(s) and the top springs back when lightly pressed, about 15 minutes in cake pans, 30 minutes in a springform pan. Let cool in the pan(s) on a rack for 10 minutes. Slide a thin knife around the cake to detach it from the pan(s); remove the side of the springform pan, if using. Invert the cake and remove the paper liner(s). Let cool right side up on the rack. 

For berries: While the cake is baking, place all the frozen berries in a glass bowl and pour Grand Marnier on top. Allow 30 to 40 minutes for the berries to macerate and thaw. 

For the mascarpone whipped cream: whip the heavy cream in a large metal bowl, then (using the same hand mixer), whip the mascarpone, sugar and orange zest into a smaller separate bowl.  Fold the mascarpone into the whipped cream.

Slice the cake into wedges and place on individual cakes – spoon berries and sauce onto each slice, and serve with a dollop of the mascarpone whipped cream
Posted in Alcohol, Fruit, Mascarpone | Leave a comment

>"Two Birds with One Stone" – Desserts Find Their Match in Mascarpone


There’s cream cheese, and then there’s mascarpone – while the former is known for its versatility and texture, the latter is renowned as an Italian indulgence, both sweet and rich. Whether lending its velvety texture to cheesecake or  frosting, mascarpone is without a doubt. In order to showcase said miracle cheese, I have included two recipes: Mascarpone Cheesecake with Almond Crust and Tiramisu Cake
According to Wikipedia, mascarpone is “a triple-cream cheese made from crème fraîche, denatured with tartaric acid.”(Now I had never heard “denatured” before, so I had to look it up – denaturation: a process in which proteins or nucleic acids lose their tertiary structure and secondary structure by application of some external stress or compound, such as a strong acid or base, a concentrated inorganic salt, an organic solvent…or heat). Mascarpone’s main event is tiramisu, but it has a number of other uses outside of dessert as well: it can be used as a butter replacement in creamy dishes such as risotto or spread on slices of toast as an hors dœuvre. An alternative context is to simply place the cheese by itself in a bowl and serve with a sweet sauce, mascarpone is just that good. 
This first cake was cheesecake at its finest. The marriage of mascarpone and Nutella makes for an irresistible dessert. Having made this cheesecake once before, the second try proved just as successful as the first, and was just as well-received. I decided to garnish the cake with blackberries for the extra panache. This cheesecake was for Christmas Day – my parents invited a small group of friends over for lunch, and this delight was the grand finale. Enjoy! 

Mascarpone Cheesecake with Almond Crust
Yields: 12 to 16 servings

  – 1 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
  – 2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
  – 3 tablespoons sugar
  – 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  – 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
  – 2 (8-ounce) containers mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  – 1 1/4 cups sugar
  – 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  – 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  – 4 large eggs, room temperature
  – 1/2 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (recommended: Nutella)
  – 1/4 cup whipping cream
  – Whole blackberries, for garnish

For the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Tightly wrap the outside of a 9-inch diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides with 3 layers of heavy-duty foil. Finely grind the almonds, cracker crumbs, and sugar in a food processor. Add the butter and process until moist crumbs form. Press the almond mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan (not on the sides of the pan). Bake the crust until it is set and beginning to brown, about 12 minutes. Cool. Decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

For the filling: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, and sugar in a large bowl until smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

Pour the cheese mixture over the crust in the pan. Place the springform pan in a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake until the center of the cheesecake moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour 5 minutes (the cake will become firm when it is cold). Transfer the cake to a rack; cool for 1 hour. Refrigerate until the cheesecake is cold, at least 8 hours and up to 2 days.

For the topping: Combine the chocolate-hazelnut spread and cream in a small bowl. Heat in the microwave until warm, stirring every 20 seconds to blend, about 1 minute.

Cut the cake into wedges. Drizzle the chocolate sauce over the wedges and serve.
Mascarpone plays a key role in this next classic. I’ve made Tiramisu a number of times, and it is certainly one of my favorite desserts. This is likely due to my affection for combining espresso with chocolate. This recipe places a slight twist on the classic by substituting layers of genoise for the ladyfingers traditionally called for, as shown below: 
This cake was baked for a friend’s surprise birthday party. His favorite dessert is tiramisu, and considering this lovely gem had been anxiously waiting on my “to bake” list for quite some time, I felt it only appropriate to allow its debut. It’s also a Dorie Greenspan creation, which almost always guarantees greatness. 

Tiramisu Cake
Adapted via SmittenKitchen
Yields: 10 – 12 servings

Cake Layers:

  – 2 cups cake flour

  – 2 teaspoons baking powder

  – 1/8 teaspoon baking soda

  – 1/4 teaspoon salt

  – 1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

  – 1 cup sugar

  – 3 large eggs

  – 1 large egg yolk

  – 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  – 3/4 cup buttermilk
Espresso Extract:

  – 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder

  – 2 tablespoons boiling water
Espresso Syrup:

  – 1/2 cup water

  – 1/3 cup sugar

  – 1 tablespoon amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy (I used Kahlua)
Filling and Frosting:

  – 1 (8-ounce) container mascarpone

  – 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

  – 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  – 1 tablespoon amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy (I used Kahlua)

  – 1 cup cold heavy cream

  – 2 1/2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, or 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

  – Chocolate-covered espresso beans, for decoration (optional)

  – Cocoa powder, for dusting

Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9×2 inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess, and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

For the cake: Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, and then the yolk, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them, and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right-side up.

For the extract: Stir the espresso powder and boiling water together in a small cup until blended. Set aside.

For the syrup: Stir the water and sugar together in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil. Pour the syrup into a small heatproof bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the espresso extract and the liqueur or brandy; set aside.

For the filling and frosting: Put the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, and liqueur in a large bowl and whisk just until blended and smooth.Working with the stand mixer with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, whip the heavy cream until it holds firm peaks. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir about one quarter of the whipped cream into the mascarpone. Fold in the rest of the whipped cream with a light touch.

For assembly: If the tops of the cake layers have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. Place one layer right-side up on a cardboard round or a cake plate protected with strips of wax or parchment paper. Using a pastry brush or a small spoon, soak the layer with about one third of the espresso syrup. Smooth some of the mascarpone cream over the layer – user about 1 1/4 cups – and gently press the chopped chocolate into the filling. Put the second cake layer on the counter and soak the top of it with half the remaining espresso syrup, then turn the layer over and position it, soaked side down, over the filling. Soak the top of the cake with the remaining syrup.

For the frosting: Whisk 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of the remaining espresso extract into the remaining mascarpone filling. Taste the frosting as you go to decide how much extract you want to add. If the frosting looks as if it might be a little too soft to spread over the cake, press a piece of plastic wrap against its surface and refrigerate it for 15 minutes or so. Refrigerate the cake too.

With a long metal icing spatula, smooth the frosting around the sides of the cake and over the top. If you want to decorate the cake with chocolate-covered espresso beans, press them into the filling, making concentric circles of beans or just putting some beans in the center of the cake. Refrigerate the cake for at least 3 hours (or for up to 1 day) before serving. 

Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with cocoa. I cut a star shape out of waxed paper and placed it lightly over the cake, and shaved a layer of chocolate over it with a microplane, before carefully removing the star to leave a stenciled shape.
Posted in Cheesecake, Dorie Greenspan, Holiday Sweets, Mascarpone | Leave a comment

>The Christmas Cookie Chronicles, Part II


Now for Part II of the the Christmas Cookie Chronicles. These three recipes were by far my favorites of the season. These three were so remarkable given how simple they are and yet oh so delicious! These three are proof that the right combination of flour and sugar in the right circumstances can make something wholly irresistible (words to “bake” by). I loved these holiday classics, and I hope you do to! Ps. Did I mention we had a white Christmas this year in Georgia? It was the first time Georgia has seen snow for Christmas since 1882!!! 
The first recipe here was a first for me: Mexican Wedding Cakes. My mother had told me about these delectable “cakes,” and I knew I just had to take a shot at baking a batch. If asked what my favorite cookie was from the season, this would undoubtedly be it! The family loved these treasures to! Especially my stepdad (see the end of the recipe) 
 Mexican Wedding Cakes
Adapted via Bon Appétit
Yields: 4 dozen 
– 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
– 2 cups powdered sugar
– 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
– 2 cups all purpose flour
– 1 cup pecans, toasted, coarsely ground
– 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. Beat in flour, then pecans. Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic; chill until cold, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and cinnamon in pie dish to blend. Set cinnamon sugar aside.
Working with half of chilled dough, roll dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between palms into balls. Arrange balls on heavy large baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 18 minutes. Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Gently toss warm cookies in cinnamon sugar to coat completely. Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool completely. 
Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough. (Cookies can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature; reserve remaining cinnamon sugar.) Sift remaining cinnamon sugar over cookies and serve. 
This second recipe are little treasures that are a true holiday classic: Rum Balls. They are enjoyed in a number of cultures and a number of ways! These cookies are different from other “cookies with booze” considering they are unbaked (meaning the alcohol’s flavor and kick isn’t cooked off). The following recipe is my way of making rum balls. I used Emeril’s recipe, but made quite a few changes – these turned out great! 
 Rum Balls, My Way!
Adapted via Emeril Lagasse
Yields: about 5 dozen 
– 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
– 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
– 1/3 cup Myer’s® dark rum
– 2 to 3 tablespoons Kahlua® liqueur
– 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
– 2 1/2 cups finely crushed cinnamon graham crackers
– 1 cup finely chopped, toasted pecans
Into a large bowl, sift together 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar, the cocoa powder and allspice. Stir in the rum, coffee liqueur and corn syrup. Stir in the cinnamon graham cracker crumbs and pecans, and mix well. Place in the refrigerator to firm up slightly, about 30 minutes. (The mixture may appear crumbly and dry; this is O.K.)
Place the remaining 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar in a shallow bowl or dish. Using a tablespoon, scoop out portions of the chocolate mixture and press into 1-inch balls. Using your hands, roll the balls in the confectioners’ sugar, coating evenly.
Place on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, placing waxed paper between the layers to prevent sticking
This last recipe is a Lund tradition: Raspberry Thumbprints. Straight from good ol’ Betty Crocker herself, my mom has made these year after year with amazing success. Thumbprints, whether filled with fruity jam or silky chocolate, are a gorgeous presentation and a must at any Christmas gathering. 
 Raspberry Thumbprints
Adapted via BettyCrocker Cookbook 
Yields: about 3 dozen cookies 
– 1/2 cup butter, softened
– 1/2 cup shortening
– 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
– 2 large eggs, separated
– 1 tsp vanilla 
– 2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
– raspberry jelly or preserves 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix thoroughly the butter, shortening, sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla. Work in the flour and salt until dough holds together, Shape in 1-inch balls.
Whisk egg whites slightly with whisk or fork. Place the egg whites into one bowl and the chopped nuts into another. Dip each ball into egg whites, then roll it into the chopped nuts. 
Place the balls on an ungreased baking sheet. Make “thumbprints” in the center of each dough round. Bake 10 minutes or until light brown. Remove from the baking sheet and let cool. Once cooled, fill the “thumbprints” with jelly or preserves.

Posted in Bars and Cookies, Holiday Sweets | Leave a comment

>The Christmas Cookie Chronicles, Part I

>It’s that time of year again: strings of lights are aglow, carols are sung for the thousandth time, and of course, sugary goodness awaits you. Cookies and Christmas are as inseparable as Bert and Ernie – you can’t have one without the other. ‘Tis the season to be a baker, and I baked a LOT of cookies. Nothing can beat the smell of fresh-baked sweets on Christmas day. 

Cookies, in my opinion, are one of the most versatile of the dessert categories. You can alter flavors with simple add-ins, such as flavored extracts or dried fruit and nuts, and change the shapes with cookie cutters or by hand. These cookies made for one sweet holiday season!
I went out on a limb for this first recipe: Mint Chocolate Chip Brownies. I had purchased two bags of Nestle® Dark Chocolate and Mint Morsels, a seasonal variety, and began searching for dessert options. I couldn’t shake the idea of mint chocolate brownies, and thus chose to employ my favorite chocolate chip brownies recipe, substituting these chocolate chip and ½ tsp mint extract.
Mint Chocolate Chip Brownies
Adapted via Food.com
Yields: about 15 brownies 

– 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
– 1 cup butter or 1 cup margarine (2 sticks)
– 4 large eggs
– 1 1/2 cups sugar
– 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
– 1/2 teaspoon pure mint extract 
– 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1 (12 ounce) package Nestle® Dark Chocolate and Mint Morsels 

Place the semisweet chocolate chips and the butter in a saucepan on very low heat, and stir, until melted, being careful not to scorch. Allow melted chocolate to cool to room temperature.

Mix together eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl; stir in vanilla and salt. Sift flour, and add in small portions to egg, mixing well after each addition, until thoroughly blended. Stir in cooled chocolate and mix well; then fold in half the bag of Nestle Dark Chocolate and Mint Morsels.

Pour batter into a greased 9×11-inch pan and spread evenly; sprinkle the remainder of the chocolate and mint morsels on top. Bake at 325 degrees for approx 25-30 minutes, then allow brownies to cool in the pan on a wire rack.
The second recipe is the “original” Christmas cookie itself: Big Soft Ginger Cookies. While I chose to exempt the traditional shape of gingerbread men, they were too delicious for anyone to notice or care.
 Big Soft Ginger Cookies
Adapted from AllRecipes.com 
Yields: about 2 dozen cookies

– 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
– 2 teaspoons ground ginger
– 1 teaspoon baking soda
– 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 3/4 cup margarine, softened
– 1 cup white sugar
– 1 large egg
– 1 tablespoon water
– 1/4 cup molasses
– 2 tablespoons white sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, then stir in the water and molasses. 

Gradually stir the sifted ingredients into the molasses mixture. Shape dough into walnut sized balls, and roll them in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Place the cookies 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten slightly.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
If you’re baking lots cookies, then you have to make this third recipe: Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. These fail to “get old”, and one is never enough. I bought a bag of brown sugar and found this recipe on the back. If anyone knows how to make a good cookie, it would have to be the Domino® sugar company. Enjoy! 
 Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Adapted via Domino®Sugar
Yields: about 3 dozen cookies

– 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
– 1 cup firmly packed Domino® Light Brown Sugar
– 1/2 cup – butter or margarine, softened
– 1 large egg
– 1/2 teaspoon – vanilla
– 1/4 cup – milk
– 1 cup – rolled oats*
– 3/4 cup raisins
– 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped

* Old fashioned or quick-cooking rolled oats may be used

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In small bowl, combine flour, salt, cinnamon and baking soda; set aside. In large bowl, combine brown sugar and butter; beat until creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla until light and fluffy. Stir in milk. Add flour mixture and rolled oats separately to creamed mixture, blending well after each addition. Stir in raisins and nuts. 

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Posted in Bars and Cookies, Holiday Sweets | Leave a comment

>A Tale of Two Cheesecakes

>Cheesecake has and always will hold a certain sentimental value for me. To this day, it’s the one dessert that no one can make “better than mom”. The simplicity of her cake is unbeatable: a textured graham cracker crust with a thin layer of chocolate, filled with a creamy, beautifully balanced layer of cream cheese. No additional flavoring was ever needed, and the cake always came out of the oven absolutely perfect. This compelled me to perfect the cheesecake, and one might say it’s something of a specialty of mine now. I’ve baked a number of decadent cheesecakes, from creamy Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares to a realization of the Cheesecake Factory’s famous Red Velvet Cheesecake with Cream Cheese Frosting. As mentioned in my last post, I had mistaken the day for the actual December Birthday Celebration in my office and accidentally brought in two bundt cakes, so I needed to find two new recipes. What better way to celebrate my birthday month than to make a cheesecake? In honor of the holiday season, I settled on two luxuriously festive cheesecakes: Rich Kahlua Cheesecake with Chocolate Ganache Topping and Whipped Cream, and Spiked Eggnog Cheesecake with Sour Cream Topping and Caramel Sauce. This blog post is dedicated to my Mom considering she, to this day, is the queen of the simple cheesecake.

A closet nerd, I thought I would share the when and where of cheesecake. According to Wikipedia, it was served to the athletes of the first Olympic Games of Greece in 776 B.C, yet cheese molds have been discovered dating back to as far as 2000 B.C! Written accounts of these times describe cakes with similar results to those of modern cheesecakes. Talk about a traditional dessert! Cream cheese itself came into creation through the infallible method of innovation: by accident. A New York dairyman named William Lawrence accidentally created cream cheese in a failed attempt of making French Neufchâtel: a soft, unripened cheese from Normandy. Lawrence’s “invention” was distributed in tin foil wrapping under what would become a household name: Philadelphia Cream Cheese.

So enough on the history lesson, let’s talk about these cakes! The idea stemmed from my desire to use the Kahlua I have left over from a Big Lebowski night I hosted (White Russians, a classic from the film, use very little). When it comes to sweeter liquors, I tend to lean towards cheesecake given both the flavor and texture it can lend to the final product. Bailey’s is a classic, but coffee liquor is a close second when it comes to dessert contexts. I found one extremely decadent recipe (which will eventually find its way to this blog), but considering I needed two cheesecakes, I knew I wouldn’t have the time needed for that beauty. But this cake was still absolutely delicious!

The ganache was an addition on my part: I felt the cake could use a little extra “oomph” in presentation. I used my new cheesecake pan for this one, and I admit it’s not as good as my old pan (which I used in the next recipe). The new pan has an all-metal frame, whereas my old one has a glass bottom. The consistency and baking time was right on target with the old pan, whereas the new pan had a narrower, taller result; not quite my style for a classic cheesecake (as seen below). 

Rich Kahlua Cheesecake with Dark Chocolate Ganache and Whipped CreamAdapted via AllRecipes
Yields: 10 – 12 servings

Chocolate Graham Cracker Crust:
– 1 cup chocolate cookie crumbs
– 1/4 cup butter, softened
– 2 tablespoons white sugar
– 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Chocolate Cappuccino Cheesecake:
– 3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
– 1 cup white sugar
– 3 eggs
– 8 (1 ounce) squares semisweet chocolate (I used Baker’s Chocolate)
– 2 tablespoons whipping cream
– 1 cup sour cream
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water
– 1/4 cup coffee flavored liqueur (I used Kahlua)
– 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Dark Chocolate Ganache:
– ½ cup heavy whipping cream
– 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
– 2 tsp instant coffee granules

For Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Butter one 9 or 10 inch springform pan. Set a 9×11 baking pan filled halfway with water onto the bottom rack of the oven. Combine the chocolate wafer crumbs, softened butter, 2 tablespoons white sugar, and the cinnamon. Mix well and press mixture into the buttered springform pan. Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool.

For Cake: Melt the 8 ounces semisweet chocolate with 2 tablespoons whipping cream in a pan or bowl set over boiling water, stir until smooth. Set aside. 

In a medium sized bowl beat the softened cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add 1 cup white sugar mixing until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat at low speed until very smooth. Add the chocolate mixture to the cream cheese mixture and blend well. Stir in sour cream, salt, coffee, 1/4 cup coffee liqueur, and vanilla; beat until smooth.

Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Bake in the center of oven at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 45-60 minutes (will vary based on your oven and pan size/shape – this new pan took over an hour given its depth). Center will be soft but will firm up when chilled. Do not over bake. Leave cake in oven with the heat turned off and the door ajar for 45 minutes. Remove cake from oven and allow to cool for an additional 30 minutes. 

For Ganache: place semisweet chocolate chips and espresso powder in a glass bowl, and set aside. Heat heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat, and remove once at a boil – pour over the chocolate chips and allow to sit for at least 1 minute. Slowly begin whisking the mixture from the center, and gradually work outwards (this, by the way, is one of my FAVORITE ways of working with chocolate – the transformation is always so gorgeous). Once fully incorporated, allow to cool for 10 minutes, then pour over the cheesecake. Cool the cake for 8 hours or up to overnight. Serve with whipped cream. 


I’d made this eggnog cheesecake once before, and remembered it being a huge hit. There’s something beautiful in the way cream cheese and eggnog complement one another, and creates a cake with a silky texture yet complex flavor profile. In addition to nutmeg, a splash of dark rum and cloves created the dessert likeness of a cup of eggnog, and was without a doubt the favorite of the two cakes (I also credit this to the difference between the pans).

Inspired by a different Bon Appétit recipe I’ve been eyeing for quite some time, I chose to add a sour cream topping with a quick caramel sauce that became super dark (I was doing dishes, lost track of time, and poured in the heavy cream just before the sugar’s burning point – phew!) The overall result was gorgeous, and has convinced me to buy a second of my original pan. The new one won’t go to waste, naturally, but the old one will be my go-to nonetheless. Oh, and did I mention this cake was unbelievably delicious? Enjoy!

Spiked Eggnog Cheesecake with Sour Cream Topping and Caramel Sauce
Adapted via AllRecipes
Yields: 8 – 10 servings

Graham Cracker Crust
– 1 cup cinnamon graham cracker crumbs (Cinnamon was my preference, but plain works fine)
– 2 tablespoons white sugar
– 3 tablespoons melted butter

Eggnog Cheesecake:
– 3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
– 1 cup white sugar
– 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I omitted this, and it made little difference)
– 3/4 cup eggnog
– 2 eggs
– 2 tablespoons rum (I used Myer’s Rum)
– 1 pinch ground nutmeg
– 1 pinch ground cloves

Sour Cream Topping:
– 1 (16-oz) container sour cream
– 2 – 3 tbsp sugar
– 1 pinch ground nutmeg

Caramel Sauce:
– ½ cup granulated sugar
– ¼ cup water
– 1 tbsp light corn syrup
-1/2 cup heavy cream

For Crust: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). In a medium bowl combine graham cracker crumbs, 2 tablespoons sugar and butter. Press into the bottom of a 9 inch spring form pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool.

For Cake: In a stand mixer, combine cream cheese, 1 cup sugar, flour and eggnog; beat until smooth. Blend in the eggs one at a time, then add the rum and nutmeg. Pour mixture into cooled crust. Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes (will vary based on your over and pan size/shape), or until center of cake is barely firm to the touch. 

For Sour Cream Topping: While the cake is baking, whisk together the sour cream, sugar and nutmeg. Pour the mixture over the top of the baked cheesecake and bake it for another 10 minutes. The top layer should look set. Turn the oven off and let the cheesecake to cool in the oven for 45 minutes to an 1 hour with the door ajar. Chill for 8 hours or up to overnight. 

For the Caramel Sauce: The day you plan to serve the cake, make the sauce. Bring the first three ingredients to a boil over medium heat, then let boil until the mixture begins to turn a golden amber, about 8 to 10 minutes (this time can vary, so be sure not to walk too far away from the stove). As soon as it becomes amber, pour in the heavy cream – it will bubble vigorously. Once settled, whisk the caramel until fully incorporated and smooth. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then drizzle over the top of cake (try not to eat the caramel before doing so, and trust me – this is a difficult temptation). 

Posted in Alcohol, Caramel, Cheesecake, Chocolate Cake, Ganache | Leave a comment

>The Disaster Chronicles: The Art of Improvising

>I confess: I have been neglecting my blogging duties for quite some time now. Yet while the month of November seems to have been “dessert-less”, the baker in me never sleeps. I still baked things here and there, such as cookies and sweet breads, but the main reason for my absence from blogging was due to two disappointing creations. I almost chose to omit these entirely from the record and pretend they never happened, but then realized sharing these disappointments is crucial to my own development as a baker as well as to my readers’ credible interest. As such, I am starting a new blog series called: “The Disaster Chronicles…” to show that no matter what your level of expertise, we are all still human. There are two specific desserts I plan to showcase for this entry. 

The first was for my roommate Jenn’s oboe recital mid-November (which she played beautifully for, by the way!). This cake, a Coffee-Chocolate Layer Cake with Mocha Mascarpone Frosting, was supposed to look like this. The result of my own cake can be compared to ordering a red dress online and receiving a glaring orange dress of poor material in the mail. Basically, my cake’s final look was nowhere close to what the photo implies! Instead of a thick, dark chocolate look I ended up with a light, smooth frosting that had a whipped cream consistency. I don’t have a photo of the final product given my own distress at its lack of similarity to the intended product. Nonetheless, the cake tasted delicious and my roommate’s recital was hours away, so I had two choices: attempt constructing the layer cake with a frosting that may or may not survive transport, or improvise. Here’s the key to this post – improvisation in baking is a powerful tool, especially given how many times I as a baker have had to defer from the original recipe.

In this case, I chose the following presentation: the two layers on two separate plates, and each topped with a layer of the creamy mascarpone frosting and a sprinkling of shaved chocolate. In other words, rather than creating a Coffee-Chocolate Layer Cake with Mocha-Mascarpone Frosting, I created two Mocha-Cappuccino Tortes topped with Chocolate Mascarpone Whipped Cream. Needless to say, they were devoured at the recital reception.

Having read a number of reviews on Epicurious, it seems my “lighter-than-expected” frosting was a common occurrence with others who had tried this recipe. As such, my only recommendation can be to use a dark chocolate cocoa powder in the frosting, such as Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder or Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder. The cake recipe, though, is amazing! 

The second disaster was more of a disappointment in presentation than I was read to handle. I planned to make two bundt cakes for my office’s December birthday celebration party. Sadly, I was off by an entire WEEK and ended up bringing in the two cakes just because (they were still eaten, of course). Here’s the other downside – I had just returned from Thanksgiving break, so I a) was extremely tired and b) had to bake both cakes the day I got back (Sunday) since the “birthday celebration” (or so I thought) was the following day (Monday). You can imagine that, after returning from a 4 day vacation, my ability to devote an entire day to baking two cakes was the last thing I could do given my list of post-vacation chores: laundry, groceries, cleaning, checking email, etc. The basic moral of the story is the first cake I baked was under comfortable conditions, while the second was under nervous anxiety. The first cake turned out beautifully: a chocolate cinnamon cake with simple glaze. The texture, look, and taste all measured up to my standards, and I couldn’t have been happier. It was the second cake that made it to my disaster chronicles: the Apple Bundt Cake with Caramel Glaze

Let begin this story in saying that I had been worrying about finding the second bundt recipe for a LONG time before finally settling on Apple. Pear, Cappuccino, Spice Cake, Sweet Potato – you name, I probably Googled it. So you can imagine my dismay when my research was foiled by this cake’s disappointment. I wanted a beautiful, golden bundt filled with chunks of soft apple and tinged with cinnamon and nutmeg. Instead, I ended up with a bundt that had a crispy outer shell and a sponge-like filling, that was then drenched in an extremely messy caramel sauce. The result was a cake I could hardly imagine carrying beyond my front door for fear of trailing caramel sauce across Boston. The smell emanating throughout my apartment was to die for, but this recipe is one that is literally a “home-style” recipe (a.k.a. not meant for delivery beyond residence – see the photo below) 

My improvisation: a new bundt cake – I had to come up with something to bring in (considering one cake would never be enough for my office). I deferred to my previous post: pumpkin bundt cake. I baked it the morning of, and my coworkers loved that the cake was still warm. Regardless of my oversight on the birthday celebration, these two cakes were duly enjoyed (below). 

A suggestion for the Apple Caramel Bundt: if you ever encounter such a strange mess as this that’s still utterly delicious, do what our mother’s used to: casserole it! By that I mean crumble the bundt cake, throw it into a casserole dish, top with some nuts or cranberries, and bake it for 10 to 15 minutes to reheat. Serve in small bowls with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and call it a day.

So to make a long story short, I learned a few lessons from these two cakes. Never overestimate a source, regardless of how prestigious their reputation may seem, and always consider the delivery aspect of said cake before drenching it in a sauce that is likely to get onto everything you encounter en route. I hope these disaster chronicles will save you a similar fate.

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>Pumpkinadoola in Cakeroola Bippity Boppity Boo!!!


Nothing announces the onset of fall quite like the sudden appearance of autumnal squash in stores everywhere, especially pumpkin. The pumpkin has become a seasonal staple, from jack-o-lanterns to old-fashioned pumpkin pie. While it’s been years since I’ve carved a pumpkin, I have certainly made my share of pumpkin pies, and have explored a number of variations as well (including a Bourbon Pumpkin Pie for a dear Kentucky friend). Yet one context for pumpkin that is often overlooked is cake, where the spiced flavors of the classic meet a whole new realm of texture, not to mention the option of luscious cream cheese frosting! I needed to bake a cake for a Murder Mystery Dinner party I was hosting, and wanted a real show-stopper. Picture this: it’s the 1940s, a terrible blizzard is raging outside, the guests are enjoying lavish hors d’oeuvres and drinks, and…oh, did I mention a valet was found dead in the kitchen? Basically it was one HUGE catering/hosting event for me, and the stress meter was at code red! Nonetheless, it was a GREAT party and everyone loved it! The cake HAD to be a centerpiece, naturally, so I chose to employ a decorating technique I had seen a while back in a Taste of Home Halloween special issue – a (literal) Pumpkin Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.
A hardy plant, pumpkins can be grown on every continent except Antarctica (who’d have thought?). The United States is one of the world’s largest producers, harvesting over 1.5 BILLION pounds of pumpkin every year!!! Halloween and Thanksgiving have made the squash an extremely popular product for the Fall season. Given its versatility, we see the pumpkin as the focus for a number of festival competitions: carving contests, pie competitions, and giant pumpkin weigh-offs (the world record holds at 1,725 pounds!!! Imagine trying to make a jack-o-lantern of that!) All the above according to Wikipedia.
That all being said – this cake was DELICIOUS! I doubled the recipe in order to make the “pumpkin” shape. I omitted the walnuts, and needed a LOT of yellow food coloring to achieve the appropriate hue of “pumpkin” (I had run out of red food coloring thanks to all the red velvet cakes I’ve made the past 2 years). The best part about this cake is that both the presentation AND the decadent flavor will leave your guests “dying” for more 😉 

(Literal) Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted via AllRecipes.com
serves 15-20 


  • Cake: 
  •    – 4 cups white sugar
  •    – 2 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  •    – 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  •    – 2 (15-oz cans) canned pumpkin
  •    – 8 large eggs
  •    – 4 cups all-purpose flour
  •    – 6 teaspoons baking powder
  •    – 4 teaspoons baking soda
  •    – 1/2 teaspoon salt
  •    – 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  •    – 2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

Cream Cheese Frosting:
   – 4 (8-0z) packages cream cheese frosting
   – 1 cup butter, softened
   – 4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
   – 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For cakePreheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour two 12×18 inch pans. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a large bowl combine sugar and oil. Blend in vanilla and pumpkin, then beat in eggs one at a time. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in nuts. Spread batter into prepared 12×18 inch pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool.

For frosting: In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners’ sugar. Remove 1/2 cup of frosting, and dye the remaining frosting orange. The reserved portion should be dyed green. Store in the refrigerator after use.

For assembly: level the bottoms of the cake to make them flat; set aside the extra cake. Place one half, top side down, onto a cake platter – spread 3/4 cup to 1 cup orange frosting across the half. Top with the second half, and spread with the remaining orange frosting. Stuff the cut cake into the stem, ad shape part of it into a stem – frost the stem with the reserved green frosting. 

Posted in Bundt Cake, Cream Cheese Frosting, Holiday Sweets | Leave a comment