Carrot Cake with Candied Carrot Curls

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This past Easter I was pondering what to bake– trying to decide between hot cross buns and cream-filled chocolate eggs– when I realized that I had a big bag of carrots languishing in the crisper drawer, leftovers from a delicious batch of bolognese sauce. I immediately discarded all other options in favor of carrot cake– a cake that I love, but rarely make for some reason. And I knew just the recipe– another Smitten Kitchen post that I’d bookmarked a while ago but never gotten around to trying, carrot cake with graham crackers.

That’s right, there are pulverized graham crackers in the batter, taking the place of some of the flour. Honestly, though, with all of the spices in the mix I couldn’t really taste the graham flavor, so I’m not sure how successful that element was in this case. But the rest of it was a very nice cake (a little heavy on the frosting, but some people like it that way), and since the top was looking a little plain once I assembled it, I made a batch of candied carrot curls to decorate!

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Black Pepper Sour Cream Rolls

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I was walking down the street around lunch time the other day and passed by a bakery/cafe– suddenly I was hit by the wonderful, buttery, unmistakable aroma of freshly-baked croissants. I had just eaten lunch so was able to resist buying one to devour right then and there, but the memory stayed with me and I was moved instead to bake something to satisfy the craving at dinner that night.

I decided to go with some soft, buttery dinner rolls– there was no time for croissants, but there were enough similarities between the overall flavor profiles (butter, yeast, golden outer crust) to make them a decent substitution. And when I found a recipe that promised to have pillowy rolls ready with zero kneading and minimal rising, I knew I had to try it. The added interest of black pepper just sealed the deal.

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Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

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I have to admit that peanut butter cookies are generally not my first choice when it comes to desserts. However, my husband is a HUGE fan of peanut butter in anything, so when I saw an old Smitten Kitchen post about these cookies– supposedly the ultimate peanut butter treat– I had to try my hand at them.

Interestingly, while they’ve been billed as soft and creamy and almost peanut-butter-cup-like in texture, with a domed shape that lends itself to soft centers and crisp outsides, I didn’t get that result at all. Instead, mine were flat and chewy– still very tasty and still devoured quickly by both my husband and daughter, but not what I was expecting.

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Cocoa Nib and Pecan Shortbread

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Slice and bake cookies are some of my favorites for gift-giving or other occasions that require large quantities of portable desserts. You can plan ahead, make a bunch of dough, shape it into cylinders (or in this case, squared-off logs), and freeze them until you’re ready– then just slice and bake!

I actually made these for last year’s holiday season, but never got around to posting about them until now. Never fear, though– these really are delicious, and they only improve with age! I got the recipe from the incomparable Alice Medrich, and her book (a must-read for any real chocolate lover) Bittersweet. It’s one of my very favorite chocolate recipe books, particularly as it gives specific instructions as to how to modify a recipe for use with different-percentage dark chocolates.

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No-Mixer Sugar Cookies

oil-cookies

I’m not sure I’d ever made traditional sugar cookies before this week. It’s mostly because I prefer chocolate in my cookies, but also because there are so many more exciting types of cookie to make– cookies with chunks, cookies with fillings, cookies with neat decorations– it’s hard enough to choose from those, so how could I settle for plain old sugar cookies?

I also admit that my mental picture of “sugar cookies” is probably skewed by memories of dry, overly-sweet supermarket sugar cookies, inevitably the last things to remain on dessert tables at parties and usually tossed at the end of the day. But sometimes you just have to go with the classics. And when I came across a recipe that promised I could make perfect sugar cookies without softening butter OR using a mixer, I knew I had to try it. Instead of butter these cookies use vegetable oil, which is easier to mix and also keeps the cookies nice and chewy. Additionally, it occurrs to me that these would work perfectly for ice cream sandwiches– without any butter in them to firm up in the freezer, they should stay chewy and bite-able even when cold!

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Chocolate Pear Cake, Take 1: Reasonably Good

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A friend of mine is currently forbidden to ingest dairy at all (which is a shame because she loves cheese), so I decided to bake her a cake. Ordinarily I would just go with my standard chocolate cake recipe (naturally dairy- and egg-free), but no dairy means no frosting, no ganache, no whipped cream, nothing! So the cake would have to have a little extra oomph to it to make up for the lack of topping.

I’d previously bookmarked a recipe for a chocolate cake with poached pears baked inside, which sounded delicious, but the cake part looked a lot moister and denser than my standard recipe, which usually requires butter to achieve. I decided, therefore, to try to enrich my usual recipe with the addition of two eggs. Also, instead of poaching my own pears (fussy, tedious, and ultimately the delicate flavors of the poached pears would be drowned in chocolate) I opted for canned pears.

Results? Not bad. Even with the eggs, though, the cake without frosting lacked richness, and the pears were too soft (and too sparse) to stand up well to the cake. I think next time I make a chocolate-pear cake I’ll use raw pears, probably whole and cored so they can stand up in the pan and aren’t confined to the bottom of the cake. And perhaps next time I’ll use a cake recipe that involves butter and just substitute margarine, so my friend can partake despite her dairy problems.

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Fast and Easy No-Knead Bread

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Due to a recent blizzard I had an unexpected day home from work. As I watched the snow fly outside my window, I was seized with the irresistible impulse to bake bread. But what kind? I thought about trying my Cinnamon Babka again so I could actually eat more than one slice, but it needed an overnight rise and I wasn’t feeling patient. My Hokkaido Milk Bread was okay, but it was never perfect and I was really in the mood for something more savory. As always, I turned to the internet, searching for a bread recipe (preferably no-knead) that could be out of the oven in a few hours.

I found this one. It’s fabulous. It’s so easy. It takes about 4.5 hours, start to finish, and my husband and I ate almost the whole loaf in one sitting. I actually like the flavor just as much as the famous no-knead bread recipe from the New York Times, probably because it’s essentially the same recipe only with hot water and a fraction of the rising time. And it still has a great interior structure, a nice crispy crust, and that fresh-from-the-oven texture that you just can’t replicate with storebought bread. I’ll be making it a lot this winter, I know.

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