Texas Sheet Cake

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!

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Flourless Pecan Cake

Pecans are definitely my favorite nuts– they have this wonderfully caramel-y flavor that adds richness to any recipe they’re a part of. Almonds are more versatile, and walnuts are cheaper, but it’s always pecans for me. Which is why, when I saw Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for a cake featuring a full pound of toasted pecans, I had to try it.

The recipe uses finely ground pecans instead of flour, with browned butter to amp up the caramel notes, and boy, is it delicious! It’s soft and moist, and intensely flavorful; the pecans add a somewhat rustic texture, but the complex flavor makes it sophisticated. I served mine with whipped cream and berries, but it would be amazing all by itself– I’ll eat mine with a nice cup of tea, but it would go equally well with a glass of dark beer, I think.

If you want to make this yourself, the two steps to watch out for are the browning of the butter– you need to be careful not to let it burn– and the whipping/folding of the egg whites to avoid deflation. The result is totally worth it.

Thanks again, Deb, for an amazing recipe!

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Rolled Honey Florentines

Originally this post was going to be about honey macarons filled with honey buttercream, but once I made them I realized that while the buttercream was incredible, the macaron recipe needed more tweaking, so stay tuned for that later. In the meantime, I had leftover honey buttercream (so good!) and had to figure out what to do with it– I knew I wanted something else with honey, and nuts of some kind– and it had to be crispy to give some good texture contrast. Florentines seemed to fit the bill perfectly, so away I went!

Florentines are basically made of caramel with some nuts and maybe a bit of flour folded in for better texture– you cook the butter and sugar together (in this case, adding honey), add the dry ingredients, then bake teeny-tiny spoonfuls of batter until they spread, bubble, and get all nice and lacy. The finished cookies, when warm, can be molded into shapes that crisp up as they cool. I used walnuts in my cookies, but you could use almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, or even nothing at all– the lacy cookies will still be delicious.

There are only two tough parts, and both have to do with timing: first, you need to watch the cookies in the oven like a hawk, because they can go from toasty gold brown to burned in seconds. And second, if you’re shaping the cookies you need to get them off the sheet at just the right moment and mold them for just long enough that they hold their shape– I’m pretty good, but at six cookies per baking sheet, two sheets at a time it’s tough to mold them all before they start to get too stiff. I’ve found that both of these problems can be addressed by staggering the batches– total bake time is 8-10 minutes per sheet, so you put in one sheet, wait five minutes, then put in the other. While you’re cooling and molding the cookies on the first sheet, the second sheet is still baking, and ought to come out just as you finish the first set.

The crispy rolled cookies are then piped full of a creamy honey filling, which I made by taking my caramelized honey buttercream from my macaron attempt, and whipping in some heavy cream to lighten it up a bit. The contrast between the crunchy outside and light and creamy inside is heavenly, and the flavor divine.

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Candied Pecans

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Okay, so I admit that candied nuts are something I’ve long associated with the winter holidays– they’re so great for eating by the handful along with all of those rich, cheesy, sugary holiday foods– but there’s no reason to restrict one’s intake of these deliciously crunchy, sweet-savory snacks to the winter months! They go just as well with bright, crispy salads as they do with melty brie (mmm, brie…). Brown sugar gives them depth, while cinnamon gives them a hint of spice. I’ve been known to add 1/8 tsp. of cayenne pepper for an extra kick, but you don’t have to if you want something a bit milder.

I will note that I’ve tried different methods of getting a nice, crunchy coating on the pecans, and the egg white method is the only way to go. Works every time, and no hassle with trying to caramelize sugar!

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Honey-Cardamom Pear Tartlets

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Recently, I was trying to figure out what dessert to bring to a Lunar New Year party. More specifically, I was trying to figure out what dessert to bring that was not red bean cream puffs, because I didn’t want to go to the trouble of making the craquelin topping and I still needed something bite-sized and tasty. I was going through my old recipes when I came across my post about honey-cornflake crunchies and it occurred to me that they might make a neat base for a different kind of dessert combining honey with some other flavor components.

I decided to flavor my filling with cardamom, since it’s often paired with honey. I’d originally planned to make a simple stabilized whipped cream filling, but concluded that it would be too light in comparison to the crunchy base and opted instead to give it a richer mouthfeel by combining two concepts– stabilized whipped cream and cooked-flour frosting. Both involve beating a thickened pudding-like mixture into the dairy– it’s just that the frosting uses butter instead of liquid cream. My experimental recipe worked beautifully, and I’ll definitely be using it in the future.

Of course, once I’d settled on cream-filled tartlets, I felt that they needed something more, for texture, and flavor. After a false start (persimmons apparently just went out of season, boo!) I settled on pears and pistachios, both classic pairings with cardamom.

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Pumpkin Pecan Fudge

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So remember how I made Frosting Fudge with chocolate frosting and semisweet chocolate chips? It’s still my favorite, but now that it’s fall and the ubiquitous pumpkin spice flavoring is invading every food item in sight, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and try another fudge variation– Pumpkin Pecan Fudge. (Okay, it’s not really fudge since there’s no chocolate in it, but it’s a better descriptor for the texture than just calling it Pumpkin Pecan Squares)

I was really just winging it when it came to ingredients, but the finished product is smooth, creamy, and tastes just like fall! I admit there’s very little pumpkin in there, but that’s probably the case with most “pumpkin spice” flavored things– it’s really the spice mixture that defines the flavor profile. Anyway, give it a try!

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Teddy Bear Mugs n’ Hugs Cookies

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I was inspired to make these by a video one of my friends posted on my Facebook page, showing adorable teddy bear cookies that you can hang off the side of a mug.

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Knowing my daughter’s love for both hot cocoa and animal-shaped food, I knew that these would be appearing in my kitchen at some point. I also couldn’t help but notice that the teddy bears would be perfect for making these bear-shaped cookies hugging almonds, which I’ve also seen around and coveted, so it would be like killing two birds with one stone, right?

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I went on Amazon and bought the Rilakkuma cutter set (which would also come in handy for cute bento lunches), and I was off!

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Pineapple-Nut Tea Bread

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I usually try to avoid making “intermediate” desserts like loaf cakes, because they’re not sweet or gooey enough to count as a dessert or invoke my “don’t eat too much sugar!” defense mechanism– instead they sit on the counter and gradually get eroded by tiny slices every time I walk by, and before I know it I’ve eaten half a loaf without even noticing. This is not a good thing.
But in going through my pantry I discovered a mostly-full container of candied pineapple bits that I had no future plans for, and after thinking about possible uses I kept coming back to the idea of a dense, not-too-sweet loaf cake, studded with pineapple and nuts, that could be served with tea or possibly toasted. So I compared a few recipes for “tea bread” online and came up with this amalgamation, which I freely adapted to include all of the components I wanted.

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Baklava

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After using two cups of walnuts in my hedgehog cookies, I still had a lot left. I could’ve made more cookies, I suppose, but I was out of chocolate sprinkles and plain cookies didn’t seem nearly as interesting. I was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my walnuts when I saw the half-package of phyllo in my freezer (left over from a strudel adventure) and knew immediately that I had to make baklava.

Baklava is apparently a dessert that you either love (because of the delicious honey-soaked crispy layers and toothsome nuts and general awesomeness) or hate (because you’re a heathen). Can you tell which side I’m on?

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Hedgehog Cookies

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So remember that office ice cream party I mentioned, where I took home a ton of rainbow sprinkles? Well, there were also chocolate sprinkles. And chopped walnuts. And rather than let perfectly good toppings go to waste, I decided to make something else out of them. I was trying to figure out what I could possibly do with brown, only vaguely chocolate-tasting sprinkles, when it struck me that brown sprinkles looked kind of like hedgehog fur. And an idea was born… Continue reading