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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Cinnamon Rolls

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If there’s any cooking scent more delectable and homey than freshly-baked bread, it has to be warm cinnamon– so it’s no surprise that cinnamon rolls are the ultimate when it comes to comforting (and mouth-watering) odors. When I decided to make these I was only thinking about the gooey and delicious breakfast that awaited me, but let me just say, the smell of the baking rolls was almost as good!

The finished rolls were soft and delicious, though be careful about overbaking– I left them in a bit longer than I should have in hopes of getting more browning on top, but that made the bottoms caramelize in the sticky leaked-out sugar filling, leading to chewy caramel that stuck to my teeth. Other than that, though, they were excellent!

If you have any leftover from the initial devouring, be sure to microwave leftovers briefly to soften them up again– they’re so much better warm!

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Fruitcake Mooncakes

Growing up, a staple of my family’s holiday season was a fruitcake from the Collins Street Bakery. At the time, my mother was the only one who really liked it– for some reason the combination of sticky candied fruit and masses of pecans just didn’t do it for the rest of us– but as an adult I’ve actually grown to enjoy it. We don’t buy them anymore (they’ve gotten so expensive, particularly with shipping), but this past Christmas, inspired by a fruit-and-nut-heavy mooncake recipe, I decided to make a reasonable approximation in individually-sized servings.

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Cocoa Nib Pecan Shortbread Cookies

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.

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Pumpkin Brown Butter Layer Cake

For Thanksgiving this year I originally intended to make a marbled pumpkin cheesecake, but my seven-year-old responded with a firm “no,” insisting on cake. Since she’s been getting into baking lately, I figured I’d enlist her help to make this one, which has a lot of components (you saw a few of them already) but ends up looking and tasting really impressive. The pumpkin cake is lovely and moist, and the candied nuts add a wonderful textural contrast. The decorative garnishes were just icing on the cake!

That being said, I really like using brown butter in recipes, but I have to admit that while the batter smelled amazing I couldn’t really taste the flavor in the cake itself. The frosting had more brown butter flavor, but again it wasn’t prevalent enough to really make it worthwhile, particularly when the cream cheese kind of took over. In the future I’d probably use regular butter in the cake, at least.

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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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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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Easy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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** Wow, I just realized that this is my 250th post! It’s hard to believe I’ve done so much in a relatively short period of time! Thanks to all my readers, and I’m looking forward to more projects in the future!**

So I’ll admit right now that I already have a favorite recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (with salted pecans!) and that this isn’t it. However, that recipe calls for creaming butter, and some days you just don’t feel like breaking out the stand mixer, you know? And this recipe only needs you to melt the butter, which makes for chewier cookies anyway, so I decided to give it a shot.

The finished cookies were tasty– not mind-blowing, but pretty darned good. They didn’t spread out in the oven much at all, which surprised me, and the dough remained oddly dry the entire time, which was a bit odd… but they were still chock-full of chocolate and pecans, and it’s hard to go wrong with that combination. I would still prefer a cookie recipe that didn’t require chilling for 2 hours before baking (what a pain)– it’s possible that if I’d baked the dough right away I’d have gotten more spreading. I may try it the next time I have a craving for sweets.

In the meantime, here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

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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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