A few Christmases ago, my family and I spent an amazing week in Germany to take advantage of the outdoor Christmas markets– we had a fantastic time, indulging in innumerable sausages and mugs of mulled wine, and of course the traditional lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies). That being said, the traditional recipe wasn’t my favorite– the cookies were somewhat dry, and the flavor profile seemed to be missing something, at least to my American palate. I much preferred the less traditional confection that was being billed by one seller as “lebkuchen,” but which had a lot more “oomph” to it, being sandwiched with jam and marzipan, and coated in chocolate. I found out later that these were not technically lebkuchen, but were actually “Dominosteine,” which were popularized in the 1930s and which are basically gingerbread petits fours.
In any event, whatever they’re called they’re delicious– this recipe keeps the slightly dry lebkuchen layer (it moistens over time), but instead of sandwiching the jam and marzipan between two cookie layers, they’re both layered on top. I also simplified the process by dispensing with the whole “dipping in chocolate” step and simply using the chocolate as a thin top layer. The finished product is spicy, sweet, and Christmas-y– just tasting it takes me back to that lovely Christmas in Germany!
The recipe makes an entire 13×17″ half-sheet pan worth of cookies, which is a LOT when you’re cutting them into small squares, but which makes these perfect for gift-giving!
So if you remember my last post, you’ll recall that my daughter and I made peanut brittle just for kicks, and it was delicious. That being said, while the batch seemed reasonably-sized at the time, and we even gave away half of it to friends, there was still a rather generous amount of brittle left over after a day or two of snacking. My daughter– being mine and therefore prone to ideas like this– decided that we needed to use it up by making a cake. Of course.
While I’m usually happy to make a standard layer cake, I’m currently planning the menu for our upcoming holiday party, which will hopefully be fabulous since we had to skip last year’s due to COVID. As a dessert centerpiece, I’m going to make a Buche de Noel– I made one about six years ago but didn’t get photos of the process, and sadly have completely misplaced the recipe I used, so it’s time to try out another one! I wanted to make it a chocolate cake, and have been vacillating between a few different recipes, so this was the perfect opportunity to try one out.
This one is from Martha Stewart, and while I haven’t used her recipes very often I thought it looked reasonably good. Also it included flour, which I preferred over a flourless roulade just because it’s sturdier, and did not call for separating eggs, which i find to be a pain.
The cake itself went together easily, though I found a scary number of flour pockets in my batter despite folding it pretty thoroughly in the bowl (or so I thought). Next time I’ll sift the flour over the egg mixture instead of just spooning it in, just to keep things more evenly distributed. I will note that while the recipes called for letting the cake cool for a while before rolling it up in the sugared tea towel (a crucial step to help the rolling process), I did mine hot from the pan. It did make the towel slightly damp, but it worked out just fine.
I’ve got to say, this recipe is perfect for parties. Not fancy dinner parties, but the kind of party where everyone brings a dish and plops it on a big table, and people wander around and occasionally dig in. The kind where kids will sneak extra desserts when they think their parents aren’t watching, then run off to eat them, sans utensils, and come back with their faces covered in tell-tale chocolate smears. And believe me, this Texas Sheet Cake will prompt even the most well-behaved child to do just that.
Texas Sheet Cake is a thin, tender cake, and the boiled frosting– poured over the hot cake and left to set– forms a fudgy layer on top that’s simultaneously firm and gooey, and incredibly addictive. In fact, I only make this for parties, because otherwise it’ll sit in my fridge for days, slowly dwindling as I cut off sliver after sliver… I will actually note that while the cake is a little delicate to eat out of hand when it’s warm or room-temperature, it firms up nicely when refrigerated, and I actually like it best frozen– the chewy texture of the frosting is to die for, and the airiness of the cake makes it easier to bite into than most frozen cakes, so feel free to serve it chilled!
As an added bonus, it can be made with pantry staples and without specialty equipment of any kind. You’ll need a saucepan, a bowl, a whisk, and an 18×13″ half-sheet pan– that’s it. Talk about easy!
These macarons were the result of my seeing that recipe for sesame chess pie and noting that 1) it would require me to buy sesame seeds and tahini, and 2) it would result in extra egg whites. I figured that I could take advantage of both these facts and make sesame-flavored macarons, which turned out pretty well! I used my standard macaron recipe and technique, sprinkling sesame seeds on top of the batter before baking, but the filling was where the sesame really came out.
The filling is more complicated than a plain ganache– it’s actually a caramel sauce blended with melted chocolate, and then emulsified with butter for a smooth, creamy texture. I got the recipe from Cloudy Kitchen and split it in two so I could try a white chocolate variation on the milk chocolate original, and both turned out quite well (even if it did make a ton of filling– I’ll have to find something else to do with all of the extra!). I would recommend these if you want something a little different and don’t mind multi-step processes!
I’ve had my eye on this chocolate babka recipe from Smitten Kitchen for a while– it has so many elements I love in a baked good: a chocolate swirl, a fancy layered inside, and a burnished, sugary outside. When I accidentally seized some chocolate while melting it the other day, I knew I had the perfect excuse to break out the yeast and make some babka! (Yes, I could’ve made brownies like the praline cheesecake ones I made the last time I had seized chocolate, but where’s the fun in that?)
I’m not going to go through the entire recipe here– Deb does a great job on her own page, and besides I didn’t take many photos of the process. But here are my own notes on the recipe:
I let my dough rise on the counter for three hours, rather than overnight in the fridge– since it was significantly warmer on the counter, I got a decent rise out of the dough, which was nice to see. I also followed her instructions about chilling the dough before trying to roll it out, and the chilled dough really did roll out like a dream– no sticking, no cracking, just perfect.
While the filling does start off pretty soupy when you first mix it, I let mine rest on the counter at room temperature for about an hour (not on purpose, it was just a timing error), and it firmed up nicely. If it gets too firm you can always give it a few seconds in the microwave and it’ll soften up a bit.
Once filled, rolled, cut, and twisted, I expected my dough to rise in the pan during the 90 minutes it sat on the counter. It did not– possibly because it was still kind of cold from being chilled prior to slicing. And while I did get some oven spring, it wasn’t a huge amount, so keep that in mind when you’re filling your loaf pans.
You know, sometimes the classics are just the best. I do love making fabulous, multi-component desserts– both for the challenge and the layers of flavor and texture– but every now and then it’s great to go back to basics. Especially when you’re running around frantically to cook your first solo Thanksgiving dinner and you JUST need something good for dessert and your family insists that they HATE pumpkin pie and can’t agree on whether to have apple pie or custard pie and and you’re ready to commit the heresy of getting STORE-BOUGHT just to get it over with–
In any event, we eventually decided on this pie, and boy is it a keeper. As is so frequently the case, it’s from the incomparable Deb at Smitten Kitchen, and having had my first slice I’m fairly sure I could make one of these every week and never get tired of it. The cornstarch pudding is simple to put together and practically foolproof– a for flavor, it’s perfectly rich, not too sweet, and light enough to not weigh you down, even after a holiday dinner. I even used a pre-made crust and it still turned out fantastically… though homemade whipped cream is a must here, I have to insist on it.
As you may have noticed, every year for my husband’s birthday I try out another recipe featuring peanut butter and chocolate– his favorite flavor combination! This year is no exception! Not content with a simple cake with frosting, I decided to go in a slightly different direction and make a chocolate-peanut-butter cheesecake– but not just any cheesecake! A layered cheesecake, with a chocolate wafer crust and a shiny ganache glaze, adapted from my favorite food blogger, Deb at Smitten Kitchen.
Granted, her recipe was a chocolate/coffee cheesecake, but it was simple to adapt by replacing the espresso with a few tablespoons of peanut butter, making for rich and decadent dessert. Annoyingly, my layers tended to separate at one or two spots when sliced– I’m betting my filling was just slightly overbaked, making it too dry to adhere easily– but the finished cake was still very impressive, and very delicious! Warning: the cake looks small on a serving platter, but even very thin slices can be tough to finish due to their richness!
Having made one fancy entremet, I was eager to try another one– this time, I decided to forego the silicone mold and restrict myself to a plain round shape, which would hopefully lend itself well to a dark chocolate mirror glaze. Finding myself with an extra jar of marmalade, I thought I’d combine it with dark chocolate and some chocolate-hazelnut spread.
This entremet has a base layer of chocolate brownie (cakey, not fudgy, to keep the dessert from being too dense), a thin layer of Nutella-coated cornflakes (a substitute for feutilline), and a layer of orange marmalade, all encased in a chocolate-hazelnut mousse and covered in chocolate mirror glaze. I decorated with some candied orange slices, chocolate ganache truffles, and some edible paint made from gold luster dust and vodka.
The finished dessert was excellent– the mousse was light yet rich, the cornflakes added some much-appreciated crunch (though the chilled nutella was slightly hard to cut through– next time I might add a tablespoon of vegetable oil to soften it a bit), and the marmalade was a nice contrast in flavor. And of course, it was one of the most gorgeous desserts I’ve ever made, so there’s that…
“Didn’t you already make peanut butter blondies?” you might ask. Why, yes… yes, I did. But I forgot about that until I’d already started melting the butter for these, and figured that you can never have too many peanut butter blondie recipes, so I proceeded on.
These blondies are slightly different from my previous recipe– you melt the butter and sugar instead of creaming it, there’s a bit less butter and sugar, and it doesn’t need the extra egg yolk. Plus there’s the added bonus of a peanut butter swirl right through the middle, which– come on– can only be a good thing!
I underbaked these, which made them very soft at room temperature but amazing when frozen, so I highly recommend that you do the same. And be generous with the sprinkling of salt on top– it really pops.
This cake (I call it my Un-Party Cake because I didn’t have a specific occasion to make it for) is the result of a bunch of different situations– first (of course), we’re stuck inside due to coronavirus, so grocery shopping isn’t as easy as it used to be.
Second, the other day I was making egg salad and realized that we were out of mayonnaise, so I made some from scratch (fun!). However, that left me with a bunch of extra mayo on hand that I had no immediate use for, and to keep it from going bad I decided to use it to make a cake. It had to be chocolate, because I’d used a touch of mustard in making the mayonnaise to help it emulsify, and I was worried that the flavor might come through in a vanilla cake.
Third, I had plenty of random stuff available to garnish this cake– half a can of chocolate frosting left in the refrigerator that I could use as the base for a larger batch, some seedless raspberry jam I wanted to use up (because I prefer the flavor of the seeded kind), and the dregs of various packages of cookies and candy that had been pushed to the back of our pantry over time. So we got to work.