Remember how I used half a box of vanilla cake mix to make a small batch of cupcake sliders? Well, since I had the other half on hand, I went looking for a recipe to use it in– it was just kismet that we also had several jars of our Juneberry Jam in the refrigerator, which inspired me to make jam-oatmeal bars!
This recipe couldn’t be easier, and it’s very kid-friendly since there’s no special equipment needed! My daughter and I had it mixed up and in the pan in five minutes flat, and they turned out fine– a bit sweeter than I generally like due to the sugar in the cake mix, but the kids liked them. Definitely something that’s easy to whip up on short notice from pantry staples– you can double it to use up a whole box of cake mix and make a 9×13″ pan of bars!
I love miniature versions of things, especially desserts. So when I decided one morning to whip up some sweet treats for a playdate, and saw that I had a whole bunch of mini chocolate chips (as opposed to regular-sized chocolate chips), I knew exactly what I wanted to make: bite-sized chocolate chip cookies!
Since I was a bit short on time I knew that I wouldn’t be able to soften butter to room temperature, so I found a recipe using melted butter instead. To keep things simple I mixed up the dough by hand rather than using any kind of mixer. The resulting dough was a bit too soft, so I popped the bowl into the freezer for 10 minutes to firm it up a bit (smearing the dough up the sides of the metal bowl to give it maximum surface area to chill).
Let me just say from the beginning that these are the chocolatiest (most chocolate-y?) cookies that I’ve ever baked. That alone should get you excited. But they’re also easy to make (no creaming butter required) and– for me at least– use standard pantry ingredients. And did I mention they use three kinds of chocolate?
I adapted the recipe slightly from Smitten Kitchen, just because I never have unsweetened chocolate on hand but *always* have a Trader Joe’s Pound Plus bar of 72% bittersweet chocolate. Also, because my cookie scoop was slightly larger than her recommended cookie size, mine ended up bigger than hers– something I can only approve of!
These are rich, delicious, and packed full of chocolate– perfect for eating with a cold glass of milk. I am absolutely adding them to my “make again whenever possible” list!
This past Christmas I received something I’ve had on my wish list for a while– a silicone baking mat specially made for macarons. It has raised circles all over it that you pipe your batter into, and the tiny ridge around the edge helps contain the batter and direct it upwards to make perfect “feet” on your identical circular macarons. I admit to being a little skeptical at how well it would work, but it ended up being amazing! I was able to pipe 48 small (okay, maybe just a tiny bit smaller than I’d ordinarily want) macarons onto a single baking sheet without worrying about them oozing into each other, and they turned out beautifully!
I’m absolutely going to get a second mat so I can bake up a 4-egg-white batch of macarons all at once (I had exactly enough batter to fill the sheet twice).
Yet another treat I served at my daughter’s woodland creature party was a selection of woodland creature cookies– foxes, hedgehogs, and squirrels. I used my classic chocolate cutout recipe for the cookies, and frosted them with a 3/4-sized batch of a hybrid glaze/royal icing that I picked up online from Baking Sweet Hope. It’s a nice combination of the best of both icing worlds, and I had just about the right amount of icing to cover my cookies in several different colors without worrying about running short.
The original icing tutorial and recipe are both so good that I’m not going to try to summarize them here– just go check out her page!
I did make a few mistakes in the icing process– first, I think I thinned the icing too much, which prevented me from getting quite the amount of detail I’d wanted. I also tried to do too many cookies at once (at least on the foxes), assembly-line style, which messed with my details a bit as well. But in general I think the animals turned out well, and they tasted great! I admit that the hedgehogs were my favorite of the lot– which ones are your favorites?
Since I’m always paranoid while prepping for parties that there will not be enough cake (spoiler: there is ALWAYS more than enough cake), I decided to make some extra cupcakes to supplement the tree stump cake. I used a dairy-free box mix (many Duncan Hines mixes are dairy-free), which had the added benefit of providing cake for the party guest who I knew was allergic to dairy and who otherwise would have had to make do with some of the other random sweets on the table.
I decided to make moss a component of my edible dessert table, so in addition to adding some green food coloring to a double batch of my no-mixer sugar cookies, I topped my cupcakes in “moss” made of crushed graham crackers.
Note– it’s not as simple as just squirting food coloring into a bag of graham cracker crumbs and mushing them around to combine; the dye immediately gets absorbed into just a few surrounding crumbs and doesn’t do much good. Instead, the trick is to dilute your food coloring in a few tablespoons of water, pour that into your crumbs, and mix until it distributes evenly. Don’t worry if your crumbs seem wet and mushy– the next step is to spread them onto a baking sheet and bake for about 10-15 minutes at 300 degrees F, until they dry out. Crush one more time to ensure that there are no clumps, and they’re ready to use!
I frosted my cupcakes with a relatively small amount of frosting, then dipped them into the container of mossy crumbs to get a nice, even coat. For a few, I added meringue mushrooms as decoration– for others, some flowers piped with my new Russian floral tips!
Have I mentioned before that Alice Medrich is one of my favorite cookbook authors? She focuses on desserts– chocolate specifically– and her book “Bittersweet” was one of the first cookbooks I ever made a point of buying. It’s full of great recipes for both standard and unorthodox uses of chocolate, and introduced me to cocoa nibs.
What are cocoa nibs? They’re roasted cacao beans– the base ingredient of chocolate– so they have a toasty chocolate flavor, but none of the sweetness of processed chocolate. They’re kind of like a cross between chocolate and nuts when used in cookies. This shortbread recipe combines cocoa nibs with pecans, both of which make for a subtle but flavorful cookie.
I admit that I gilded the lily a bit and sandwiched my cookies with a ring of chocolate ganache and a salted butter caramel center. The ganache actually overpowered the caramel a bit, but overall the effect was decadent.
Despite my penchant for making decorative desserts, for some reason I’d never made tuiles before! This past Thanksgiving I figured it was time to remedy that, so to top a cake I decided to make a set of autumn-leaf tuiles. They turned out beautifully, so here’s the recipe. They’re not only beautiful, but they’re delicious as well!
One thing I noticed was that in order to get them really crisp, you need to let them bake long enough to brown slightly– otherwise they stay a bit soft and that’s not what you’re going for. Plus, the browning helped make my otherwise bright colors into more autumnal shades. At the end, I traced veins with edible paint made from gold highlighter dust and vodka, but you could use melted chocolate, or a mixture of cocoa and water, or really anything you like.
I was looking at recipes the other day when I came across a recipe for tahini-oatmeal cookies– it billed itself as being vegan, gluten-free, and whole-grain, which ordinarily wouldn’t be in its favor, but it occurred to me that I probably had some leftover tahini in the fridge, so I decided to give it a shot. Sure enough, I had about an inch of tahini left in my jar– just enough to eke out the 1/3 cup necessary for the recipe– plus a few spoonfuls of almond flour leftover from my aquafaba macarons, so it was clearly fate!
Since there was no additional fat in the recipe the dough went together quickly, though it didn’t spread at all in the oven so the resulting cookies ended up a bit too doughy to qualify as “cookies” in my book. I think next time I’ll flatten them out a bit more and hope they crisp up around the edges. I do appreciate the tahini flavor, though, which (as I’ve said before) goes excellently with dark chocolate, and is helped along by a healthy dose of salt. Oddly enough, the combination of tahini and oats reminds me a bit of walnuts, which would also go excellently in these cookies if you so desired.
I love macarons. They’re beautiful, delicious, and lend themselves to all kinds of flavor combinations. Unfortunately they also take a bunch of egg whites, which I rarely have available without wasting yolks, and I hate waste. Which is why, after I made a chickpea dish the other night, I saved the chickpea brine to make something out of.
What do macarons have to do with chickpea brine, you ask? Everything. Because apparently (and this is something I only recently discovered, though it’s been a thing for a while) you can treat chickpea brine like egg white and it will whip up into a meringue! Amazing! You do have to reduce the brine by 50% first to get it to fluff up properly, but that part is easy.
I will note right now that to make the macarons with my aquafaba, I used my standard macaron recipe, which you can find here.
Anyway, I reduced my brine, chilled it, and it whipped up beautifully, making a perfect meringue.
It also made a lovely magma-like macaron batter.
That being said, when I followed the directions of several tutorials and baked my macarons at a very low temperature (250 degrees F) to avoid making the tops crack (apparently a danger with aquafaba macarons), the macarons themselves turned out rather flat. No feet!
I tried my last pan at my usual macaron temperature (350 for 2 minutes, then crack the oven door and bake for another 8-10 minutes) and they got feet, but they also rose unevenly and cracked, so I guess the correct temperature is something around 300.
I’ll have to try again at some point, but for now you can at least be assured that these will be smooth on top at the lower temperature.
Once they were baked and cooled, I sandwiched the shells with my latest chocolate fudge frosting and a dollop of Nutella, then let my daughter roll the sides in sprinkles and paint the tops with food coloring.
Okay, I admit that I kept a few to paint myself so they’d be extra-pretty, but I always do that when I have little helpers in the kitchen! The results were delicious– just like normal macarons!– so I will definitely be trying these again the next time I make something with chickpeas in it!