Swirled Peanut Butter Blondies

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“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.

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Striped Un-Party Cake!

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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.

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Cannoli Loaf Cake

Lately I’ve been searching for a favorite store-bought orange marmalade– one that’s got the perfect balance of bitterness, sweetness, and orange flavor. Of course, marmalades that don’t turn out to be perfect have to go somewhere, and rather than waste my buttered toast on sub-par marmalade, I’ve been trying to figure out creative uses for the extras.

This cake (made from Bonne Maman marmalade, which had too much jelly and not enough peel for me) combined the idea of a cake with jam swirled into the batter, with the ricotta/chocolate/orange flavor profile of my favorite cupcakes in the world. I was kind of going for a cannoli flavor– heavy on the ricotta with a kiss of chocolate and orange to make it interesting.

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Triple Dark Chocolate Cookies

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!

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Orange-Chocolate Macarons

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!

Look at those perfect feet!

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).

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Woodland Creature Cookies

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?

Tree Stump Cake and Meringue Mushrooms

For my daughter’s woodland creature birthday party, we decided to decorate it to look like a tree stump, with chocolate bark on the outside and a hidden “tree ring” effect on the inside.

For the batter I adapted a basic vanilla cake, and while it was delicious, it didn’t work particularly well for the tree-ring effect because the batter was too thick to spread out into thin rings. That being said, the texture of the cake was fine-grained and smooth– definitely worth making again as a regular cake! And we picked the best of the tree-ring layers for the top of the cake, which we left bare.

I used my favorite chocolate ganache frosting between the layers and as a coating on the sides, then melted some chocolate chips– a combination of milk and dark, swirled together with a few “knotholes” here and there– and spread it out on parchment to let it set in a thin layer. I’d anticipated that I would then break up the chocolate sheet to press into the frosting around the cake, but to my amazement, the chocolate had set into a flexible sheet that I could peel off the parchment and wrap carefully around the cake without too much breakage! The result was just perfect.

I accessorized the cake with meringue mushrooms, which I’d actually never made before but which were pretty easy– the tricky part was using a paring knife to make holes in the bottom of the mushroom caps to let me stick the point of the stems in. Make these the night before so they have time to dry out in the oven!

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