Monday, December 28, 2015

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

In another quest to find the best of the best, we did a peanut butter cookie sandwich tasting with my entire family. The test included two peanut butter cookie recipes and two filling recipes. One cookie was brown sugar based and used shortening. The other recipe had brown sugar and white sugar, and used rolled oats. For the fillings, one was peanut butter and powdered sugar based, while the other used marshmallow creme and cinnamon. 

We mix and matched the cookies with the fillings and even added raspberry jam to some. In my opinion, there was one clear winner, but the vote was actually quite split between the group. Half the group liked the brown sugar based cookie with the powdered sugar based filling. For me, that was too sweet. 

The other half of the group, myself included, liked the brown sugar, white sugar and oats cookie paired with the marshmallow creme based filling. The oats and the crunchy peanut butter added nice texture, while the cookie itself was still soft in the center. And I am in love the marshmallow creme filling with cinnamon. Like, I could eat the stuff by the spoonful! 


I've also made a couple other peanut butter cookie sandwich recipes in the past and would say this recipe beats those too. 

Let me know what you think! 

The Best Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookie

Yield: 2 dozen cookie sandwiches 

Ingredients

For the Peanut Butter Cookies (recipe from Redbook Magazine) 
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1/2 light brown sugar, packed 
1/3 cup granulated sugar 
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla 
3/4 cup quick cooking oats 

For the Peanut Cream Filling 
3/4 cup chunky peanut 
3/4 cup marshmallow creme
3 tablespoons milk
3/4 teaspoons cinnamon 
3 tablespoons powdered sugar 


Instructions

For the Peanut Butter Cookies 
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Which together flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl. 
2. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and chunky peanut butter until smooth. Beat in sugars until well blended. Beat in egg and vanilla. 
3. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture and mix until just blended. Stir in oats. 
4. Spoon level tablespoonsful of into balls and place two inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Using a floured fork, make a crisscross pattern on top by pressing dough into a flat circle about 2.5 inches circle.
5. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly brown around the edges. Let cool for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. 

For the Filling
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, marshmallow creme, milk, cinnamon. Gradually whisk in powdered sugar. 

Use 1 teaspoon filling for each cookie. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Courtney's Cookies

These cookies are something special, you guys! I've been making them for over 15 years, during which time they became a yearly tradition for the "It's All Over Party" thrown by my best friend's parents. In fact, when I lived with my bestie and her family for a summer, these cookies were my rent (hence, how they became known as "Courtney's Cookies").

Filled with M&M's, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, peanut butter and oats, these cookies are guaranteed to make your sweet tooth happy. AND, they're SO simple to make. In fact, it's the one recipe I'll share with you that isn't completely from scratch. Yes, you read that right. I actually use pre-made sugar cookie dough for these. I've tried recreating the recipe from scratch and it's NOT the same! You have to use the chilled, rolled Pillsbury Sugar Cookie Dough. Nothing else. 

               

The key to perfection with these cookies is to slightly under-bake them and then let them cool to room temperature before taking your first bite. (Remember, they continue to cook as they're cooling, so you're not eating raw dough.) If you cook them until they're golden brown, like most cookie recipe require, they'll get hard and crunchy once they're cooled and it's not even the same cookie! So, just remember, bake these cookies according to the recipe and all will be well.


 

 

So while, these may not look like your average Christmas cookie, they are one of my favorite traditions of this season and I know you'll still love them.

In loving memory of Bob


Courtney's Cookies

Yield: 2 dozen, medium-sized cookies

Ingredients
16.5 oz roll of Pillsbury Sugar Cookie Dough (not the pre-cut dough, the one in the shape of a log)
3/4 cup Skippy smooth peanut butter
3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter chips
1/2 cup plain M&Ms

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line your baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Place the cookie dough and peanut butter in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until the peanut butter is incorporated into the dough.
3. Add remaining ingredients and stir until everything is evenly combined, about one minute.
4. Using a medium-sized cookie scoop (about 2 tablespoons in size), scoop the cookie dough and place on the baking sheet, about 2 inches apart.
5. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the bottom of the cookie is starting to turn golden brown. The top of the cookie should still be light in color. Let the cookies cool on the pans for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

NOTE: there is also a larger roll of Pillsbury Sugar Cookie Dough. If you use the larger size, increase peanut butter and oats to 1 cup each and all the remaining ingredients to 3/4 cup each.









Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Baker's Wish List

I've gotta say, I'm pretty pumped! We still have two weeks until Christmas, and I'm DONE with all my shopping. Now I can sit back, bake a bunch of cakes, and enjoy the holiday season without feeling stressed about shopping. In fact, I think I only got one or two gifts at a store. The majority of my shopping was done online this year, and I loved it! I hate holiday shopping crowds, and it's about a hundred times worse when you have kids in-tow. No thanks! I'll stick to my computer and click away!

To make some of your shopping a little easier too, I put together a little baker's wish list - some items that I think you can't live without when baking cakes.




1. Jade Cake Stand - you simply have to have something beautiful to display your work of art on
2. Wilton Cake Lifter - this will make your life SO much easier when you're moving around your cake layers
3. Parchment Rounds - love the pre-cut parchment paper rounds - they're a total time saver!
4. Wilton Cake Leveler - for me, this is the easiest and most accurate method of getting completely level cake layers
5. Pioneer Woman Measuring Cup Set - because these are darling!
6. Decorating Tips - get a small set of tips and start experimenting with designs and styles you like
7. Fiesta 5-Piece Bamboo Utensil Set - for a little color in your kitchen, I think these are great displayed in a clear canister on your counter or hanging from your wall
8. Offset Spatula - an offset spatula helps to draw in the frosting edges on the top of your cake to help achieve a perfect edge
9. Sweetapolita Bakebook - you literally cannot go wrong baking anything from this cookbook. Sweetapolita is the queen of cakes, in my opinion, and I have no doubt you'll love everything you bake. (She's the reason I started making cakes!)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Triple Chocolate Cake for the Birthday Boy

Just got done building Legos and competing in the most epic Nerf battle with my not-so-little, little man. (He won, but my aim is getting better!) Westin turned seven today. I kept looking at him throughout the day in disbelief that he could be so grown up. I swear it was just yesterday that he was running around as Superman, with his long, curly blonde hair. Now he's sporting a mohawk (his idea) and building Star Wars Lego sets meant for 9 to 11 year-olds. Time is flying by and I'm grateful for days like today when I can set work aside and enjoy Nerf battles and Legos with him. 

This year was a non-friends party year for us, so we enjoyed a weekend full of family fun and this triple chocolate cake, specifically requested by the birthday boy.


This six-layer dark chocolate cake is filled with chocolate whipped filling and frosting with a chocolate buttercream. It's a chocolate lover's dream come true. I opted for a lighter filling than the frosting because I didn't want the buttercream to be overwhelming and I didn't want to fill it with a ganache because the cake itself is rich enough. I think the balance of chocolate in this one is perfection. Let me know what you think.

A few photos before blowing out the candles and digging in...
"W" for Westin
When mom makes you take a dozen photos and you're not getting a chance to pose the way you want to. 



With the six, thinner cake layers, this cake didn't cut very pretty. Next time I might try keeping it three layers and seeing how it looks. It still tasted amazing!!! (Obvi)


Enjoy!

Triple Chocolate Cake

Yields: One 6-layer, 8-inch round cake 

Ingredients:

For the Cake (adapted from Sweetapolita)
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup Cacao Barry Extra Brute Cocoa Powder (or similar premium brand)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs, room temperature
1 ½ cups buttermilk, room temperature
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 ½ tablespoons pure vanilla extract

For the Chocolate Frosting
2 cup unsalted butter
4 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
10 oz. good quality milk chocolate, chopped melted and cooled
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

For the Whipped Chocolate Filling
3/4 cup chocolate chips
2 1/2 cups heavy cream, cold, divided
3 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin 
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt


Instructions:

For the Chocolate Cake
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare three 8” round cake pans (butter or spray, line bottom with parchment paper, butter or spray paper and dust with flour).
2. In a bowl of electric mixer, sift all dry ingredients. Set aside.
3. Combine eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil and vanilla in a measuring cup and lightly beat with a fork.
4. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix on medium speed for two minutes. Batter will be thin. Scrape sides and mix for another 30 seconds. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans (I like to use a kitchen scale to ensure the batter is evenly distributed).
5. Bake for 25-27 minutes (you may need more time depending on your oven), until toothpick comes out almost clean. Cool on wire racks for 10-15 minutes, then gently invert onto racks until cooled completely.
6. When cakes are completely cooled, I like to wrap each cake layer individually with plastic wrap and stick it in the refrigerator or freezer until I’m ready to frost. The cake will be easier to work with if it’s cooled a bit. If I’m making the cake a day or two before I actually need to frost it, I put it in the freezer to ensure freshness. If I’m frosting same-day, I’ll just put it in the refrigerator to chill until needed.

For the Whipped Chocolate Filling
1. To make the chocolate ganache, pour 1/2 cup of the heavy cream over the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for one minute and then stir until the mixture is smooth and silky. Will be a bit thick. Let cool to room temperature but not to the point that it sets.
2. In a small bowl, place the cold water and sprinkle with the gelatin. Let sit for at least 10 minutes. In a small saucepan, bring 1/3 cup heavy cream to a simmer and then stir in the gelatin mixture. Refrigerate, stirring frequently, until cool but not set, about 5-7 minutes.
3. In a chilled stainless steel bowl with a chilled whisk attachment, beat the remaining whipping cream, icing sugar, vanilla and salt until it thickens and soft peaks begin to form, about one minute. Very gradually add the gelatin mixture and continue beating until medium-firm peaks form. 
4. Gradually fold in the cooled chocolate ganache. 
5. Keep covered and chilled until ready to use.

For the Chocolate Frosting
1. In a bowl fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the confectioner's sugar and butter. Beat on low speed for 1 minute.
2. Add vanilla and salt and beat until combined.
3. Add the melted chocolate and beat on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.
3. Slowly add whipping cream, with mixer on low speed, then increase speed to med-high and beat for another 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy.
4. Frost cake right away, or, if you cover and use later, make sure to mix with a rubber spatula right before applying to the cake to get rid of air bubbles.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Chocolate Peppermint Cake

It's been a crazy week since Thanksgiving, filling cake orders and planning a huge Christmas dinner for the women at my church, so I apologize for not having a new recipe up until now! However, I think you'll agree that it was worth the wait for this one. And when you make this cake, I insist that you run to the store and get that pink peppermint ice cream to serve with it because the two were made for each other!



Using my favorite chocolate cake recipe, I made a few small tweaks and added peppermint extract. Nothing too complicated there. Same goes for the frosting, it's my go-to whipped vanilla frosting with peppermint extract. And then I added some crushed peppermint bark in between the layers and gave the top a generous slather of chocolate ganache. You could also crush candy canes or any other kind of peppermint candy to layer in this cake and use for garnish.




Enjoy!

Chocolate Peppermint Cake 

Yields: One 6-layer, 8-inch round cake

Ingredients:

For the Chocolate Peppermint Cake
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup Cacao Barry Extra Brute Cocoa Powder (or similar premium brand - can even use Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate Cocoa Powder)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs, room temperature
1 ½ cups buttermilk, room temperature
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons peppermint extract

For the Peppermint Frosting
2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
3 teaspoons peppermint extract
Pinch of salt
Red or pink food coloring

For the Chocolate Ganache
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Instructions:

For the Chocolate Peppermint Cake
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare three 8” round cake pans (butter or spray, line bottom with parchment paper, butter or spray paper and dust with flour).
2. In a bowl of electric mixer, sift all dry ingredients. Set aside.
3. Combine eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil, vanilla and peppermint in a measuring cup and lightly beat with a fork.
4. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix on medium speed for two minutes. Batter will be thin. Scrape sides and mix for another 30 seconds. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans (I like to use a kitchen scale to ensure the batter is evenly distributed).
5. Bake for 25-27 minutes (you may need more time depending on your oven), until toothpick comes out almost clean. Cool on wire racks for 10-15 minutes, then gently invert onto racks until cooled completely.
6. When cakes are completely cooled, I like to wrap each cake layer individually with plastic wrap and stick it in the refrigerator or freezer until I’m ready to frost. The cake will be easier to work with if it’s cooled a bit. If I’m making the cake a day or two before I actually need to frost it, I put it in the freezer to ensure freshness. If I’m frosting same-day, I’ll just put it in the refrigerator to chill until needed.

For the Peppermint Frosting
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamy, about two minutes.
2. With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time, and mix until combined.
3. Add the whipping cream, salt and peppermint extract and beat on medium-high for about 3-5 minutes, until the frosting is light and fluffy.
4. Add the food coloring and mix for another minute.
5. If your frosting has air pockets, take a spatula and fold the frosting until it's smooth.

For the Chocolate Ganache
1. Combine the chocolate chips and whipping cream in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for one minute and then stir the chocolate and cream until it becomes a smooth, silky ganache. Mixture will be thick. Let it cool to room temperature before spreading it on the cake.

Assembly
1. After leveling each cake layer, set the first cake layer, right-side up, on a cake plate or board. Spread about 2/3 cup of the frosting evenly over the cake. Sprinkle crushed candy canes or peppermint bark on top and pat down with your hand. 
2. Repeat step one for the second cake layer.
3. Place the third cake layer, bottom-side up, on top of the second layer of frosting. Give the cake an even crumb coat, filling in an areas that seem uneven with frosting. Let the cake chill in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes or in the freezer for 10 minutes.
4. When the crumb coat is set, finish frosting the cake with the peppermint frosting. Let it chill again before spread the ganache on top. Garnish with candy canes or peppermint bark.

Helpful tip for spreading the ganache: pour 2/3 of the ganache on top of the cake in the middle. Using an offset spatula, start pushing the ganache to the edges of the cake in a circular motion. I like to use a turntable while doing this. I think it helps to push the ganache around evenly. You can spread the ganache as far over the edge as you like.