Vanilla Butter Cookies

I’ll admit, these are not my usual cookie.  Crisp and sandy are not the adjectives that pull me into a cookie recipe.  That being said–I’m glad I stepped out of my cookie-box.  These cookies are not only easy to make but also delicious.  Rich, buttery, and the slather of chocolate over the side makes these a cookie I can see me adding to my regular rotation.

 

I mixed these up after dinner the other night when the boy wasn’t quite ready to give up on the kitchen for the evening.  There are just a few ingredients (and no eggs!!) that were almost all already in my baking drawer within easy reach.

After an easy “cream the butter and sugars, then add the dry” type construction, these cookies are balled up and rolled in sugar–which is one of my favorite steps to have kids help out on.

 

After placing the sugar-rolled cookies on the sheet pan, you need to smoosh them a little.  The KAF website suggested the plunger of a food processor since it had a nice concentric design.  Mine was within reach, so why not?  You could easily use a drinking glass or, if you are a fancy, you could use a cookie stamp.  (hint hint to my husband…wouldn’t these make a great Christmas present for me??)

These didn’t spread much during cooking but don’t crowd the pan since they do need a little room.  While they are still warm, you’ll need to melt the chocolate chips with a splash of vegetable oil.  I do mine in the microwave in 20 second increments, stirring well in between.  The residual heat will melt the last of the chunky chips, so just keep stirring!

Dip the top of one side into the chocolate and put it back on the parchment to harden.  The chocolate on mine stayed a little gooey, so I stashed mine in the fridge between layers of parchment.  I’d like to say putting them in the fridge also kept them out of sight, out of mind but not so much because they are DELICIOUS cold.  If you need them to cool more quickly, you can try singing to them as my son did.  I don’t think it helped as much as the fridge though.

 

Vanilla Dreams

3 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used vanilla paste)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 cup unsalted butter

2 cups AP flour

coarse or granulated sugar for rolling

1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

 

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Add the dry ingredients in two parts, scraping the bowl down between additions.  Use a small disher to portion the dough, then roll in the sugar and place on the prepared baking dishes.  Press slightly to flatten with a cookie stamp, drinking glass, or the plunger of your food processor.  Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.

Mix the chocolate chips with 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.  Heat in the microwave in 15-20 second increments, stirring thoroughly to fully melt.  Dip the cookies into the melted chocolate so half of the top of the cookie is covered.  It is less messy if you manage to keep the bottom of the cookies clean.  Leave to cool on parchment or put directly into the fridge.

Makes 36-40 cookies.

 

 

Rainbow Cake–A food color review.

My son loves rainbows–in the sky, in My Little Pony form, but most of all in cake form.

He has asked me for a rainbow cake for a long time now.  I thought I had it covered when I made him a chocolate cake with rainbow frosting but, apparently, that wasn’t enough.  The other day, he asked again and I folded like a lawn chair.  Ok, kid.  We will make a real rainbow cake. I’ll even try to not complain about dirtying six bowls and spoon mixing all the colors.

I used the Vanilla Cake recipe from Cake Simple.  I changed it in a few ways to suit what I had on hand (why were all my vanilla beans so dry and sad??) so, despite this cake being seriously delicious, I want to make the recipe again before really going into the details.

Instead, I want to talk about the amazingness of these food colors I tried out.  They were just ok in the bowl while I mixed them up; the colors were solid but I still expected them to fade significantly while they baked.  The top layer of the cake was purple, so I couldn’t tell what the outcome was until I unmolded the bundt.

WHAT THE WHAT?  All hail Ateco gel food color, bringer of rainbows!  These colors were amazing! Red is always a problematic color and, even though I could have added a little more to the batter, this was leaps and bounds above any other color I’ve ever used.

I’m a convert.  Rainbow cakes forever.  Ateco food colors forever.  If you are the type that likes fun colored food, I cannot recommend these enough.

Apple Butter Muffnuts

oh, muffnuts. Let me sing your sugary praises. So donutty. So muffiny.  I’ve been thinking about these since the first time I made them about a month ago.  They were amazing but, as I pondered what to do with a big batch of apple butter I’d made, I thought maybe the two were meant for each other.

 

 

As before, the dough came together in a snap and was thick and amazing.  With the extra heavy application of cooking spray, they baked up with a great looking crust and slightly darker than the original version–probably because of the added apple butter.
Then it was time to brush with butter and roll in the cinnamon and sugar.  I didn’t change anything about this step from the original recipe.  My son could barely contain his little muffnut-stealing hands.

 

When I first tried them when they were warm, I was sadly underwhelmed.  The cinnamon and sugar overwhelmed the little bit of apple flavor from the apple butter.  However, they improved as they cooled and the apple started to shine even up against the heavy coating.  If you ever had the great north-midwestern experience of having cinnamon cake donuts with fresh apple cider, these will taste very familiar.

I’m not going to say I’ll never make the plain version again but, if I have my apple butter laying around, I’ll probably opt for this version.

I made just a couple of substitutions to accommodate the apple butter in the recipe:

 

Makes 12

2 3/4 cups (13 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour

1 cup (7 ounces) sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 cup of Apple Butter

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs

COATING

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 12-cup muffin tin with vegetable oil spray. Whisk flour, sugar, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg together in bowl. Whisk buttermilk, melted butter, apple butter and eggs together in separate bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula until just combined.

Scoop batter into prepared tin. Bake until doughnuts are lightly browned and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 19 to 22 minutes. Let doughnuts cool in tin for 5 minutes.

Whisk sugar and cinnamon together in bowl. Remove doughnuts from tin. Working with 1 doughnut at a time, brush all over with melted butter, then roll in cinnamon sugar, pressing lightly to adhere. Transfer to wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Serve.

Italian Crackers

After making sourdough crackers a while ago, I thought they were just pretty good. Not amazing or so incredibly easy that they basically make themselves or so different than anything you can buy in the store.  They were just good.  They were also a pain to bake since they baked unevenly and had to be checked constantly.
Then I chatted with a friend of mine who had one of those comments that made so much sense. “Why don’t you spread them out a little?”  DUH.  Why don’t I do that??? Have I even baked before???

So I did, this time with italian seasoning instead of herbs de provence.  It didn’t even take 30 seconds to rearrange them on the sheet pan after cutting. Then I put them in the oven and walked away. No prodding. No taking the outer ring of crackers off. No fussing. Just a quick pan rotation halfway through.

Tada! Perfect crackers. They were…delicious. I can see a homemade cracker problem developing in my future.

I also ended up making yet another batch of these and turning them into breadsticks to go along with a pasta meal. 

  

Apple Butter

It is FINALLY fall–more specifically, October. October–the best month of the year! Cool weather, Halloween, changing leaves, and MY BIRTHDAY! Its also time for amazing apples! I grabbed a large bag last time I was at the store and, true to type, came home to find a large drawer of them still in my fridge. I was up early one day anyway so I broke out the slow cooker and started up a batch of Apple Butter.

6.5 pounds of apples: peeled, cored, and sliced.

Combine with cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar and white sugar in your slow cooker.  Set to low for 10 hours.

Wait.  That doesn’t look like apple butter.  You’ll need to use a stick blender or (like I did) work this in batches through your blender.  Then, put it back in the slow cooker and continue to cook with the lid ajar for several more hours (or you can do this on the stove top) until the apple butter is the consistency you like.  This could take 1-2 hours or another 6 like mine did.

Eat with everything.  Muffins, biscuits, pretzels.  Or just a spoon.

Apple Butter

6.5 pounds of apples–variety of your choice.  I used honeycrisp and a couple of fujis.

1 cup of sugar

1 cup of dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

Peel and core the apples and combine with the spices in the slow cooker.  Cook on high for 10 hours, puree, then return to a pot (either the slow cooker with the lid ajar or a large pot on the stovetop).  Simmer until you reach the consistency you like.

 

 

Bacon Wrapped Chicken Breasts

What? Something savory? Other than pizza? Its crazy, I know but I do actually both make and eat things that do not contain sugar.  Sometimes.  Usually every day.

The problem is that I find a lot of savory food kind of boring.  Skinless boneless chicken breasts?  Again? Ugh.  I’d rather have a muffin.  I’m always up for a more interesting way to prepare those things I make for dinner; adding bacon is almost always a no brainer way to accomplish this.

 

 

 

This chicken recipe uses a basic rub–brown sugar, spices, salt, etc on brined chicken breasts.  Then, you wrap them in a few slices of bacon and cook them up!  I had every intention of putting these on my smoker but ran out of time in the day and ended up putting them in the oven.

 

Even with this cop out, they were still delicious!  Dinner guest worthy even!   The chicken was moist and flavorful thanks to the brine and spice rub (and being basted in rendering bacon fat doesn’t hurt!).  I served them with green beans and some garlic toast made from my favorite easy sourdough loaf.

 

The Brine:

4 cups of cold water

1/4 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup brown sugar

 

The Rub (makes enough for 4 chicken breasts but make a double or triple batch while you have everything out.  It stores well):

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons brown sugar

The Assembly:

regular sliced bacon (3-4 slices per breast)

toothpicks

 

Brine the chicken for at least 1 hour but preferably closer to 4.  Remove from brine and rub with the spice mixture.  Lay 3-4 strips of bacon next to each other (depending on the side of your chicken breasts).  Roll the chicken, wrapping the bacon strips around as you go.  Secure with toothpicks if necessary.

Arrange on a metal rack on a sheet pan and roast at 350 until the chicken registers 165 and the bacon is crisp.

 

The search for sourdough part 2

My first attempt at sourdough was less than amazing.  It was flat and not as sourdough-y as I wanted.  This time, I wanted a nice crusty loaf with a soft interior that could be used for a solid sandwich bread.  Packaged along with my replacement sourdough starter was a small pamphlet with feeding instructions and a few basic recipes.  The first one was Rustic Sourdough Bread and looked like a super basic loaf and a good place to start.

One of my biggest problems with I first started baking bread was adding too much flour to the dough in order to make it “workable”–whatever that meant.  I’ve since learned that dough will become less sticky as it is kneaded and adding more flour at the beginning will only lead to sadness and a dry loaf.


I added only a touch of flour to this dough and it came together despite being a fairly wet dough.  Just keep working on the dough and trust in the gluten development.  And commit to having nasty dough covered hands by the end of the experience.  Your hands are washable.

After  a couple of rises and a bake, the bread was perfect.  I made these two freeformish loaves but I’ve since made this a few times and am now usually baking it in a 8×4 loaf pan to give myself nice sandwich slices for lunches.

I’ve also been halving the recipe since this bread does not keep for long.  Its kind of a shame but its so delicious we usually end up finishing a loaf in the few days we have with it.  This is also a super easy dough and has become a standard twice a week bake here the last few weeks.

bread

 

The One Loaf Sourdough Option

1/2 cup fed sourdough.  You’ll probably end up discarding another 1/2 cup from your feeding but I find its easier to dump 1/2 cup of starter than an entire loaf of bread.

3/4 cups lukewarm water

1 teaspoon instant yeast

1 1/2 teaspoon sugar

generous 1 teaspoon salt

300 grams AP flour

Combine all ingredients and knead until the dough comes together and forms a smooth ball.  Place in an oiled bowl to rise until doubled (about 90 minutes).  Turn out and fold a few times to gently deflate.  Shape into a loaf and place in an 8×4 loaf pan.  Cover and allow to rise for about an hour (it won’t double but it will rise a bit). Preheat oven to 425 near the end of the second rise.  Slash tops and bake for 20-25 minutes until nicely golden brown.  Remove from oven and turn out of loaf pan and allow to fully cool.

Chocolate Monster Cookies


Sometimes you need a really big cookie. Really big and chocolate. With M&Ms. And peanut butter.  I had that kind of day today.

This cookie is made with a Devils food cake mix, one of my favorite easy cookie shortcuts. Cake mix cookies usually only require a couple of ingredients and only need a single bowl.   This one uses peanut butter as one of the major binding ingredients and the flavor really comes through in the final cookie. If you could add M&Ms to a peanut butter cup, you’d get close to this cookie.

Like most cake mix cookies, this batter is THICK. Soldier on though and fold in the candies as best you can. If you wanted some extra amazingness, you could add both chocolate chips and M&Ms. Or, if you are a terrible person, I suppose you could add nuts. But I don’t because yuck.

This batter is so thick I managed to break my large ice cream scoop dishing it. Insert the saddest of faces here.  Thankfully, the cookies soothed my soul and a new scoop can be had on Amazon before my next muffin emergency.  These are best formed by your hands–about 5 tablespoons or a decent size handful.

I love these cookies and, if you are a chocolate & peanut butter lover, you will as well.

 

Chocolate Monster Cookies

Makes 12 giant cookies

 

1 devils food cake mix

2 eggs

3/4 cup peanut butter (I used creamy but I’ve made this with crunchy with good results)

3 tblsp milk

1 1/2 cup m&m’s

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the cake mix, eggs, peanut butter and milk together.  The batter will be very thick! Fold in the m&ms as well as you can, then form the cookies into balls.  Bake for 11 minutes or until just set.  They cookies will be soft and will need to firm up while cooling on the sheet pans for a few minutes.  After about 5 minutes, move to a cooling rack to cool completely.

 

 

Battle Pizza Crust: Smitten Kitchen’s Rushed Crust

I know what you are thinking–does this girl make anything other than pizza and baked goods?  I do–really–but dinner is often a rushed affair after school and work. Midday baking is so much more luxurious and blog worthy…  I promise though–I do feed my children things other than muffins and cookies.

Most nights are busy but sometimes they are extra busy.  We had parent teacher conferences at 5:30 and someone (me) forgot to make a pizza dough ahead of time. Oops.  Smitten kitchen to the rescue!  I’d seen her two doughs in her book last time I flipped through it. A rushed dinner seemed the perfect opportunity for the rushed dough recipe. With just 30 minutes of rise time, I could have dinner done in under an hour.

The dough was perfect–I made it in about 3 minutes as my mom and I chatted before she left. Just a few basic ingredients in this one.

After the rise, I was able to stretch this dough out into an amazingly thin crust. There weren’t any breaks though I did have some very thin spots that I patched a little.  Mine was a little on the wet side but I didn’t want to add any flour and gave a sad dry crust, so I just let it be.

Top and bake!  I always bake my pizzas on the cast iron pizza pan I keep in my oven. I use it for breads and pizzas to help give them a nice crust on the bottom.

This pizza was…amazing. Chewy, super thin, crispy in the right places. And fast!  If you are in the mood for a thin crust pizza–this is your dough.   Now I’m super curious to try out her other crust option that allows for a longer, less rushed rise time.

 

Rushed Pizza Crust

From Smitten Kitchen’s Cookbook

 

1/2 cup warm water

1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast

1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for rolling

1 tsp salt

olive oil, for coating bowl (I used cooking spray)

 

Turn your oven up to 200 degrees (or a warm setting if you have it) for 5 minutes. Then, turn it off.

Add water to large mixing bowl and sprinkle yeast over the top. Let sit for 5 minutes or until foamy. Add flour, followed by the salt, and stir with a wooden spoon until dough begins to come together. It will look sort of shaggy and rough but that is ok.

Turn dough and any loose bits out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it comes together and forms a smooth dough.  It will only take a few minutes.

Coat the inside of a large mixing bowl with olive oil or cooking spray and then place dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and place in your oven (which you heated in step 1) and let rise for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Once doubled, take it out of the oven and start preheating for your pizza baking temperature (I like 450).  Remove the dough from bowl and roll dough out into your desired shape, top and bake.