Chocolate Spice Cake with White Wine Berry Glaze

White Wine Cake

It’s holiday time! And you know what that means. Dust off that Kool and the Gang record, put on a Christmas scarf, and sing it with me, “Ce-le-brate good times, come on!” Now in your deepest Alto, “It’s a Celebration!”

And really, is there anything better than sparkly Christmas lights, fur trees loaded with ornaments, Elvis singing “Blue Christmas,” and drinking egg nog and/or hot chocolate like it’s your job? Truly, one of the most special times of the year.

And in that state of Christmas joy, I wanted to bake a chocolate cake that tasted like all of those wonderful Christmas feelings: warm and rich, with an unexpected flavor gift in the mix. And who better to parter with in this creative endeavor than uproot? Their Sauvignon Blanc is so versatile, it gave a bright flavor profile to chicken soup and this dessert. Especially perfect for the cinnamon-laced cake is the element of passion fruit the Sauvignon Blanc features- a perfect compliment to the blueberries and raspberries in the berry glaze.

Alright everybody, raise your eggnog-or uproot-glasses high to the best time of the year!

A slice of Christmas cheer

A slice of Christmas cheer

Chocolate Spice Cake with White Wine Berry Glaze

Another great thing about uproot wines is their partnership with Food52– one of my favorite recipe resources- where I went for inspiration in the cake realm. I just added a Christmas spin with a few extra holiday ingredients.

For the Glaze (I listed this first because I suggest you make it first, due to the double-glazing effect we use on this cake.)

What You Will Need

3/4 cup uproot Sauvignon Blanc 

6 ounces fresh blueberries

6 ounces fresh raspberries

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup sugar

What You Will Do

1. In a medium saucepan (make sure you use a larger one than you think you need- your liquid mixture will expand like an over-stuffed Santa when it boils), combine white wine, blueberries, raspberries, vanilla extract, and sugar.

2. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, and let it cook at high heat for at most five minutes. Watch the mixture to make sure it doesn’t overflow the pan. If things get too crazy and you are afraid it is going to bubble over, just go ahead and turn the heat back down to medium or medium-low.

3. Cook on medium heat for about 24 minutes. Make sure and watch your mixture towards the end, stirring frequently to make sure the sugar and berries don’t burn.*

4. Let your glaze cool as you bake the cake.

* To be honest, this cooking time really depends on how thick you would like your glaze to be. I like mine a bit more like jelly so it gives the cake texture and shine; but, if you would like for it to be thinner, cook it on medium-low heat for up to 45 minutes. I also cooked this twice and had different cooking times for the glaze, so really just watch your mixture to see that it cooks to where you want it to be. When it comes to working with liquid sugar, it’s always better to go slowly so you don’t burn off your holiday fingers, as these are vital to your continued recipe success.

For the Cake

  • 1  1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons neutral oil (like corn, canola, or vegetable)
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon cider or white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Freshly grated nutmeg (about 1/4 teaspoon, but up to your preference)
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used this brand)
  • Confectioners’ sugar (optional, for dusting)

What You Will Do

  1. Heat the oven to 350° F and spray a 9-inch cake pan with cooking spray.
  2. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar, and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar.
  3. Whisk together the wet and dry mixtures. If lumpy, whisk the mixture until it is smooth.
  4. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, and chocolate. Whisk together to combine.
  5. Pour the batter into a greased 9-inch round cake pan. Tap the edge of the pan against the edge of the counter, or drop from 6 inches to the floor several times to pop air bubbles. Please do not miss this step, as it is really entertaining and will hopefully make your cake hole-less! Bake for 25 to 30 minutes (mine took 28 minutes), or until the top springs back when pressed gently.
  6. Your cake may have a darker brown ring around the edges; that’s ok. That’s what we have that gorgeous glaze for!
  7. Once the cake is removed from the oven, place it on a cooling rack. Poke tiny holes throughout the cake with a toothpick or fork, going about 3/4 of the way to the bottom.
  8. Spread a thin glaze of white wine berry mixture over the cake, making sure to cover the entire cake surface. This will help infuse some of the berry flavor inside of the cake as it cools.
  9. Once your cake has cooled completely, turn it out onto your serving platter.
  10. Spread the rest of your berry glaze on the top of the cake, working from the center out. Sift confectioners sugar on top if desired for extra celebratory pizazz.

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Comfort Food Cookies

Some weeks, you just need to bake.

And this week, the pull has been especially strong. The weather in the South has been unusually frigid-rain battered against my roof all day yesterday- and cold air continues to seep through the frames of gray, foggy windows.  It’s at this point that my mind wanders to what my kitchen might smell like if I turned on the oven and let the heat do its work on something sweet.

Also, did I mention- it’s the week of THANKSGIVING? And if you don’t want to bake this week, then the likelihood is that you never will. Unless, of course, it’s World Nutella Day and that is an exception to every rule.

But back to baking. There is a coffee shop and book store that I absolutely adore whose chocolate chip break-up cookies are not to be missed. On cold fall days, they are the baking remedy to whatever life looks like. They are buttery; dense but chewy; with chunks of semisweet chocolate that melt in your mouth before you get a slight hit of the salt that is artfully placed on top.

Cookies Up Close

I have wanted to recreate these cookies for a while, and this week, I needed to bake them. This recipe from Joy the Baker is as close as I have gotten to date. Her version tastes and smells like warmth; the browned butter and flaky sea salt roll comfort food into a simply, incredibly delicious form.

I know this aren’t the typical Thanksgiving dessert- we’ll leave that to pumpkin/pecan/cranberry jelly pies- but I am pretty sure that the smell of these warm out of the oven will make any holiday guest feel instantly at home. Even on a cold, rainy, almost wintry fall day.

Cookies from Above

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe is from the super talented and fabulous Joy the Baker. I made a few changes from her original recipe, and they are noted in italics.

What You Will Need

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon molasses (I used honey, but I think molasses would be delicious)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans (I prefer my cookies without nuts, unless it is peanut butter, which is a different story)
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (or semisweet chocolate chunks)
  • coarse sea salt for sprinkling

What You Will Do

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking soda.  Set aside.

2. Start by browning 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter.  In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat.  Once the butter has melted completely, it will begin to foam and froth as it cooks.  The butter will also crackle and pop.  That’s the water cooking out of the butter.  Swirl the pan occasionally, and keep an eye on the melted butter.  The butter will become very fragrant and brown bits will begin to form at the bottom of the pan.

3. Once the bits are an amber brown (they are about the color of this wood), immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour browned butter (bits and all) into a small bowl.  Leaving the butter in the pan will burn it.  Allow the butter to cool for 20 minutes.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the  remaining 1/2 cup of butter with brown sugar.  Cream on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes (this will be a very light, beige color).  Add the vanilla extract and molasses (or honey) and beat until incorporated.

5. Once the brown butter has cooled slightly, pour the butter (brown bits and all) into the creamed butter and sugar mixture.  Add the granulated sugar and cream for 2 minutes, until well incorporated.  Add the egg and egg yolk and beat for 1 minute more.

6. Stop the mixer and scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure that everything is evenly mixed (this is important; I had some unmixed bits in my bowl).  Add the flour mixture all at once to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until the flour is just incorporated.  Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and use a spatula to fold in pecans (optional) and chocolate chips.

7. Spoon batter onto parchment paper or plastic wrap and wrap into a disk or cylinder and seal at both ends.  Allow to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

8. Place racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (or a Silpat).  Scoop dough by the two tablespoonfuls onto prepared sheets (or cut your dough log into 24 slices and make dough balls from each slice with your hands).  Sprinkle with sea salt.  Be sure to leave about 2 inches of space between each cookie.

9. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until cookies are golden brown.  Remove them from the oven and allow to rest on the baking sheet for 5 minutes.  Serve warm or allow to cool completely.

Jalapeño Sausage Wheels

Sausage with a kick. Go team!

Sausage with a kick. Go team!

In the South, it goes without saying that almost all of our traditions revolve around food. Having a baby? Let’s get together, open pink or blue gifts, and try Aunt Pat’s cream cheese ball. Getting married? Let’s have a glass of tea, peruse a spread of engagement presents, and eat pimento cheese (this is also known as a “Sip n’ See”). Your favorite football team having a ball game? Come on over, I’ll tell you about the time I spilled the contents of a salad bar into the cuff of our ’92 national championship coach’s pants leg. And, let’s eat!

As fall is upon us, football has once again become all-consuming. I was born and raised around a team of crimson and white jerseys that symbolized everything great about our state- hard work, commitment, heart, legacy. For me though- besides the game, the roar of the crowd and being in one of my favorite stadiums in the world- the best part of football season is the pre and post-game eating.

This recipe for sausage wheels has been passed down through my family; I remember waking up on Saturday mornings to the smell of them. But let’s be honest- there isn’t much you can to to sausage and pie crust to make it taste better. My version just gives it more of a spicy kick, and ends with a sweet, smoky flavor that is absolutely addictive. Plus, I’m hoping the aforementioned kick can somehow serve as good luck for our special teams this Saturday.

You can serve these hot out of the oven; be warned that the sausage fumes may make your mind cloudy and cause unexplained overconsumption of pastries. Or, let them cool to room temperature and take them to the game (or your sofa). They also make a delicious post-game-night breakfast.

I hope you enjoy a beautiful, winning weekend- and that this recipe is good luck for your own tailgating tradition.

Jalapeño Sausage Wheels

What You Will Need

1 package pre-made pie crust (containing 2 pie crusts)

1 pound ground sausage

2 jalapeños, deseeded and minced (Thanks for the peppers mom!)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon Sweet Heat spice

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

What You Will Do

1. Let your pie crusts come to room temperature.

2. In a large bowl, combine the ground sausage, jalepenos, garlic, Sweet Heat, onion powder, and cumin.

3. Lightly flour your countertop or surface of choice (I love my Silpat for this) and gently roll out both pie crusts until they form about a 11 by 11 inch rectangle. No need to measure; I just make sure the dough looks like a large rectangle and is a bit thinner than when I first unrolled the crust.

4.  Divide the sausage mixture in half, and spread it evenly on each pie crust.

5. Here comes the fun part. Starting at the top of your rectangle (the side facing you) gently roll the dough away from you, creating a tight roll. Pull the dough tight as you roll, making sure your sausage mixture stays inside the dough roll. A loose roll will spill it’s contents onto your counter, and why let that tastiness go to waste?

6. Repeat the process for the second pie crust.

7. Once you have your two rolls ready, wrap them in plastic wrap and put them in the freezer for 45 minutes to an hour to help them firm up.

8. Preheat oven to 450. Go ahead and find your broiler pan and spray it generously with cooking spray; you will need it at the ready.

9. Take your rolls out of the freezer, and slice them into thin wheels (about 1/4 an inch to 1/2 inch). Arrange the sausage pinwheels about a 1/2 inch away from each other on the pan.

10. Bake for 15 minutes, then take your pan out of the oven and flip the wheels over; bake for another 10 minutes. Go team!

Dark Chocolate S’mores with Salted Peanut Butter

Some more s'mores

Some more s’mores

It’s Labor Day weekend, and you know what that means? That’s right- it’s time for s’mores!

For those of you living below the Mason Dixon line, the idea of roasting a marshmallow on a 95-degree afternoon using a open flame is about as appealing standing on the asphalt in your driveway wearing a down vest–and drinking hot chocolate.

Maybe it is the unbearable humidity, or my recent nostalgia for summer camp, or the fact that any excuse to sandwich a toasted marshmallow between chocolate crackers smeared in salty peanut butter is motivation enough, but s’mores are an essentially summer food. Despite the fact that you might have to (currently) sweat when you make them.

That is why this recipe involves marshmallows toasted inside (hallelujah for A/C and a broiler!); homemade peanut butter (whirred together with buttery roasted peanuts and honey); and graham crackers that will make you want to jump outside and start a s’mores caravan. Y’all- these turned out so good. The rich, dense graham cracker with sweet, roasted peanut goodness and melty marshmallow- so worth the sweltering effort.

And besides their taste, one of the best things about s’mores is that they always remind me that fall is on it’s way. Next time I make these I will probably add some chocolate chips to that peanut butter then go online and order a fancy down vest. Fall may be three weeks away. Yes, it’s a sweltering haze of frizzy hair outside. But watch out autumn, here we come- chocolate peanut butter s’mores in tow.

Some assembly required

Some assembly required

 

Dark Chocolate S’mores with Salted Peanut Butter*

What You Will Need:

For the graham crackers: This recipe was taken from one of my favorites, King Arthur Flour

1/2 cup (2 ounces)  unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (3 3/4 ounces) whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) Dutch-process cocoa
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) honey
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cold milk

 What You Will Do:

1. Preheat your oven to 325°F. Cut out two sheets of parchment as large as your cookie sheets.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, cocoa, sugar, and baking powder.

3. With a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingertips, cut the butter into the flour mixture until evenly crumbly.

4. In a separate bowl, combine the honey and milk, stirring until the honey dissolves.

5. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and toss lightly with a fork until the dough comes together. (This took me a while, and for a bit I thought my dough would remain a shaggy mess. But just keep on stirring with a fork and it will come together! ) Add additional milk, if necessary (I thought I would need this at first but it ended up fine; stir for a bit to make sure you need it before you add it).

6. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and fold it over gently 10 to 12 times, until smooth. Divide the dough in half. Work with half the dough at a time.

7. Transfer one piece of dough to a piece of parchment. Roll it into a rectangle a bit larger than 10 x 14 inches; the dough will be about 1/16-inch thick (Ok, my dough looked a bit more like a misshapen heart rectange. That’s fine! Just make sure you roll the dough out pretty thin- thinner than you will think you need. It should feel like if you lift it, it will tear). Trim the edges and prick the dough evenly with a fork. Repeat with the remaining dough and parchment. Place the rolled-out dough pieces, on their parchment, onto baking sheets. (Ok, let’s be honest- parchment paper is frustrating as mess if you don’t cut it perfectly. I cut mine long, put my cocoa container on the edge to weigh it down and rolled it out. This was also frustrating because it didn’t work that great either. So just work through it and I promise it’s worth it.)

8. Bake the crackers for 15 minutes, or until you begin to smell chocolate. Remove them from the oven, and immediately cut them into rectangles with a pizza wheel or knife. Transfer them to a rack to cool. The longer you let them cool, the crispier they get.

For the peanut butter: The recipe was adapted from the amazing Alton Brown and the Food Network

What You Will Need

2 cups shelled and skinned roasted peanuts (I had an incredible friend who gave me roasted peanuts as a gift that I used here)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons plus 1/2 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil

What You Will Do:

1. Place the peanuts, salt, and all of the honey into the bowl of a food processor. Process for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

2. Place the lid back on and continue to process while slowly drizzling in the oil and process until the mixture is smooth, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Process it until it smells roasted and when you look into the food processor the edges of the mixture are smooth. You also might have to scrape down the bottom of the bowl again and blend it for a bit longer to make sure it’s smooth.

3. Place the peanut butter in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. I made a sandwich/distributed this/used it on the s’mores in one night. I mourned it’s passing.

For the marshmallows: These were provided by the wonderful people at the Jet-Puffed factory.

*For the final product:  This recipe requires a very simple assembly, but I found it helpful to make the following elements in the following order: 1. Bake graham crackers. 2. Make peanut butter. 3. Set oven to broil. 4. Put marshmallows in oven, and while they are broasting (roasting in the broiler), spread peanut butter on graham crackers. 5. Take hot mallows out of the oven, use a spatula to gently place them on the prepped crackers, then sandwich between two grahams. Let the s’mores party begin!! 

Bacon Sweet Rolls with Maple Glaze

Bacon sweet rolls

Most everything is better with bacon.

In the South, bacon might as well be one of the five food groups, alongside vegetables, biscuits and/or cornbread, cheese dip, and sweet tea. It’s the basis of any true Southern side item, tops most casseroles, and makes a great afternoon snack with the aforementioned tea.

While reflecting on what I could post that epitomized a truly Southern breakfast, this recipe for bacon sweet rolls caught my eye. Could there  be a way to take a cinnamon roll- perfect with it’s warm cinnamon smell wafting from the oven, soft in the center with ripples of vanilla icing- to another level? Is there a way to actually upgrade nature’s most perfect fried pork product? Can I personally contribute to a breakfast roll awakening in the kitchens of bacon-lovers everywhere?

I do not claim to know the answers to life’s most serious questions. This one, however- can bacon and sweet rolls coexist in perfect unity?- I can answer. With a resounding yes.

These rolls are why bacon makes most everything better. Filling, rich sweet dough swirled around salty, applewood smoked bacon that folds with brown sugar and butter into a wheel of national championship caliber (Did someone say 11:00 pre-game tailgate food? The other team’s fans will cheer for you). These are a first-meal treat in its highest form.

So don’t let all of that bacon go to waste on the side of your eggs. Wrap it in dough, throw it in the oven, and celebrate the South’s most perfect breakfast roll.

Also, a huge thank you to the incredibly talented Stephen DeVries for taking these beautiful photos. I don’t think breakfast has ever looked this good.

What a polite breakfast eater's plate would look like.

What a polite breakfast eater’s plate would look like.

Bacon Sweet Rolls with Maple Glaze (Recipe adapted from this great food blog)

What You Will Need

1/2 cup granulated sugar
6 TBSP brown sugar
Sweet Dough (recipe below)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, warm room temperature
1 pound bacon, cooked (I liked this brand, applewood-smoked), crispy and crumbled
Maple Glaze (recipe below)

Sweet Dough

1 cup warm whole milk
2 envelopes (4 ½ tsp.) active dry yeast
1/4 tsp. plus 2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Stir milk (I microwaved mine until it felt pretty warm to the touch; typically it should be about 110-120 degrees), yeast, and 1/4 tsp. sugar in a small bowl. Let it stand until the mixture bubbles, about 6 minutes (you will see tiny bubbles rising to the surface). Stir it again.

Using a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, add the flour and salt and mix on low speed just to combine.

Add yeast mixture to the flour and mix on medium-low speed until dry shaggy mass forms, scraping down the bowl occasionally, about 2 minutes.

Add egg and egg yolk and beat on medium speed until well blended. Then add the sugar and beat until moist soft dough that resembles thick batter forms, about 3 minutes. (Keep on beating the batter here, even when it looks like it is already in dough form. It needs to become more like a silky batter than a thick dough.)

Add room temperature butter 1 tbsp at a time and beat on medium-low speed until almost incorporated before adding more, about 2 minutes (your dough will be sticky, not thick like a traditional bread dough). Beat dough on medium-high 2 minutes longer (make sure all of your butter is incorporated here).

Scrape dough out onto a work surface then gather together. Place it in a large bowl that is oiled or buttered. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise at room temperature until almost doubled, about 2 hours. Punch dough down; cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Peabody’s recipe was slightly adapted from Dorie Greenspan

Maple Glaze

2 TBSP unsalted butter
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (the darker the better, go for the real Vermont thing if you can)
1 ¼ cup powdered sugar

In a small saucepan, melt butter and syrup together over medium heat (watch the mixture because it comes together quickly).  Whisk powdered sugar into the hot mixture until smooth. Let cool slightly…if too thick add a little more maple syrup. Pour over rolls.

To Bring It All Together

Whisk both sugars together.

Turn cold Sweet Dough out onto floured surface; sprinkle with flour. The more flour the better here; when you roll it out it gets a bit sticky.

Divide the dough in half. Roll out the dough to two 15 by 12 inch rectangles. I can never seem to make actual rectangles with my dough, it’s always more of a large oval, so whatever works for you will still be delicious.

Using fingers, spread the butter evenly over each rectangle. Sprinkle ½ sugar mixture and half of the bacon over each. Starting at one long side of each dough rectangle, tightly roll up dough jelly-roll style, enclosing filling. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut each roll crosswise into fifteen or sixteen one inch-thick slices. Arrange your  dough slices on a cookie sheet, spacing evenly apart.

Cover with plastic wrap; let them rise in a warm, draft-free area until the buns are puffy and doubled, about 1 hour 45 minutes.

Bake buns at 375F until deep golden brown. The cooking time varies here. I used a dark metal pan, and it only took mine about 15 minutes to cook. If you use a light metal cookie sheet, it will probably be more like 25 minutes. Just watch your rolls-because of the sugar inside of them, it can become a syrupy pool around your dough and burn them the bottom. Let the buns stand 2 minutes. Then cover with glaze and say hello to the best bacon baked bun of your life!

Aunt Annie’s Strawberry Layer Cake

Perfect strawberry heaven

Spring strawberry greatness

I wish I had an Aunt Annie.

If I did, I would ask for her for her home address so I could show up every Saturday morning and listen as she lovingly taught me to bake cakes.

The unfortunate reality is that this recipe was not easy to come by. I did not find it on Pinterest, or google “best strawberry cake,” or ask Pioneer Woman. No, this cake took me by complete surprise. And the moment I tasted it, I knew the recipe had to be yours.

Cake on a platter

At a recent photographer friend‘s birthday party, a coworker of ours arrived with a strawberry cake. I love strawberry cake. There is a bakery in my hometown that makes impeccable strawberry cake. But I had yet to recreate anything like it on my own. And to be completely honest, I almost didn’t try this one. I had been let down too many times, sure that it was going to be another missed attempt at strawberry greatness.

But my first bite was a game changer. This cake was pure strawberry; fresh, light and moist with chunks of strawberry, delicately sweet and airy. The frosting was whipped, dense with a strawberry punch. A perfect precursor of spring on a plate. With light streaming in from the cafe windows where we ate, I thought for a brief moment I was living and breathing happiness. And before I left my dream state, the slice was gone.

I think something's missing

My obsessive quest for the recipe began. The owner of the ingredients list did not want to share it (see egg salad dowry entry last week), and so there was one thing left to do: I stalked her. I came by her desk every day and told her I wouldn’t give up. I pled, whined, hid behind office doors to pop out and remind her I wanted it . Then one day, a lovely slip of paper appeared at my desk. A lovely piece of newspaper.

Newspaper recipes are a lost art. I know my generation has passed them over for quick reviews and input from social media sources; I can’t tell you the last time I read a local paper on a Sunday. But the great thing about recipes in the Food section is you know they were loved. Someone took the time to type it out from most likely a handwritten card. They knew it was worth printing and putting on everyone’s front door step. And that’s what I want for this blog- to share with you recipes that are loved, known, and appreciated.

And so, without further ado, I present to you the infamous (stalked) Auntie Anne’s Strawberry Layer Cake. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.

A slice of strawberry

Aunt Annie’s Strawberry Layer Cake

What You Will Need:

1 cup fresh frozen strawberries, thawed (I washed two pints of strawberries, sliced a cup of them in half, then put that cup in a freezer safe bag for the cake. I then froze and thawed the rest of the berries to make sure I had enough juice for the frosting.)

1 box white cake mix

1 box strawberry Jello

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

1/2 cup water

2 batches strawberry butter cream frosting, recipe below

Fresh sliced strawberries and white chocolate coconut truffles for garnish if you like

What You Will Do

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

2. Spray two (9-inch) metal cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Set them aside.

3. Drain your cup of strawberries well, reserving the juice for the frosting. I would go ahead and drain the rest of your frozen strawberries separately at this point to make sure you have enough juice.

4. Combine the cake mix, strawberry Jello powder and flour in a large bowl of an electric mixer. Add the oil, eggs, water and drained strawberries. Mix well on low for 30 seconds, then at medium speed for two minutes (make sure NOT to overmix here; it messes with the jello texture), scraping the sides of the pan as neccessary.

5. Divide the batter equally among two prepared pans and bake for 30 minutes. Check these at about 28 minutes to make sure they don’t over-bake. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool for 10 mintues in the pan, then turn it out onto wire racks to cool for another 30 minutes.

6. At this point you can go ahead and frost the cake with buttercream. However, BAKERS ALERT– you will have a moister cake if you take these rounds, wrap them in plastic wrap first then aluminum foil, and freeze them overnight. Take them out of the freezer the next morning and let them sit at room temp until you need to frost them.

7. Garnish to your heart’s content with strawberries, white chocolate truffles, sprinkles, marshmallows, edible glitter

Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

What You Will Need

1 stick butter at room temperature (This is important for your frosting to whip up to it’s peak fabulousness)

1/4 cup strawberry juice (Please, please, please don’t skimp on this; the juice makes this frosting!)

1 pound powdered sugar

What You Will Do

1. Using an electric mixer, mix the butter, juice, and sugar together on low until blended. Then cream the mixture on high until light and fluffy, about two minutes. The icing will start to form peaks and feel like a dense buttercream when it is ready.

2. Scrape the sides of the bowl and/or taste frosting as necessary.

BAKER ALERT (These are way too much fun) If you dip your icing knife or spatula into a bowl of warm water, it will help smooth the frosting without tearing the cake. Also, it is easier to make one batch of frosting for the layer between the two cakes, then make a second batch for the top and sides of the cake. This ensures even frosting in the center and on the outsides of the cake.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Crunch Granola

Oats baked to a sweet, nutty crunch

Oats baked to a sweet, nutty crunch

Happy Belated Valentine’s Day!

For a blog devoted to luv, it is bit embarrassing that I missed the February 14 deadline for this recipe.

To be fair, the treat I planned to debut was a bit of a sweet-potato-biscuit disaster. Marshmallows melted with chocolate do not become marshmallow fluff, they become liquid Tootsie-Roll, and my gluten-free heart-shaped peanut butter cookies were a bit ambitious.

But, hope springs! And, if you are like me, and may have eaten one too many sugary hearts, truffles, cereals, cupcakes, and donuts this week, then this recipe might be a nice change of pace.

Plus, when it comes to nutty-sweet combinations, peanut butter and chocolate wins.  If chocolate combinations competed in a doubles tournament, pb+c would serve aces every time, win the trophy, and do a fantastic victory dance over the net. Strawberry-and-chocolate, vanilla-and-chocolate, banana-and-chocolate: no competition. Peanut butter and chocolate’s flavor profile is simply complimentary; rich whipped peanuts and sweet, dense chocolate: perfect. This is why the following confession is a bit embarrassing.

I have never posted a peanut-butter chocolate recipe on this blog.

I know, I know. I talk a mean game, but have yet to deliver. Maybe I have been waiting for the right recipe, maybe I was caught off guard by how dependable and delicious this recipe is-maybe I was afraid to commit to the first posting. But you know something good when you find it, and I can’t think of a better way to start a day than with a perfect pair for breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Crunch Granola

*This recipe has been adapted from Allrecipes.com version 

What You Need:

2/3 cup creamy peanut butter 

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup agave nectar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon  (I like Saigon Cinnamon, it has a kick to it)

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 cups uncooked rolled oats

1 cup dry-roasted, salted peanuts

1 bar semisweet chocolate

What You Will Do

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine peanut butter, honey, agave, cinnamon, and vanilla, over medium heat, and stir until smooth.
  3. Place oats and peanuts in a large, shallow roasting pan or a 15 x 10 x 1-inch baking pan. Pour warm peanut butter honey/agave mixture over the oats and peanuts and stir gently until oats are coated. Spread evenly in the pan.
  4. Bake, taking the oats out of the oven every 10-15 minutes, stirring to make sure they are evenly cooked. I did mine in two rounds of 15 minutes, then baked them for about 8 minutes more. Just make sure your oats are golden and a bit crunchy; you don’t want to burn the edges of the granola, or the peanuts.
  5. Burned peanuts are not delicious.
  6. Once the granola is done, put your cookie sheet on a baking rack to cool for about 15 minutes.
  7. While your granola cools a bit, use a vegetable peeler to peel half of your chocolate bar into small curls. Once you have passed the 15 minute mark, sprinkle the chocolate curls over the granola and stir to combine, making sure you coat all of the oats with the chocolate.
  8. Let the granola cool for about an hour, then chop the other half of your chocolate bar into small chunks. Sprinkle the chunks over your granola, and mix to combine.
  9. This makes a large batch, so you could easily feed an entire tennis team with it, or two large families, or yourself, if all you had to eat was this for a week.

Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats

Squares of melt-in-your mouth marshmallow decadence

Squares of buttery, marshmallow goodness

It’s funny how cookbooks can change your mind about things.

To me, Rice Krispie treats lack the luster of other desserts. Piled high on the glass shelf of almost every bakery in America, they pale in comparison to  dark chocolate chunk break-up cookies, golden Nutella croissants, or pink raspberry macaroons.

But- Deb Perlman changed my mind. About a month ago I began consuming the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook like it was my job, and came across her recipe for salted brown butter crispy treats. It flipped every traditional recipe for the bars on it’s wax-paper-lined 8X8: browned butter instead of melted; marshmallows folded into the butter until they were light and airy; the addition of coarsely ground kosher salt.

Deb's recipes are detailed, beautiful amazingness.

And Deb, like she always does, provided just enough detail in the recipe to make you feel like a.) you should do this and b.) if you don’t do this, you are making a poor life choice because she does such a great job of making things easy to follow. Result?

Y’aaaalllllll.

These will, guaranteed, change your opinion of the (formerly lowly) crispy treat.

Treats stacked

The squares are rich, decadently buttery, and brought to life with the accent of salt.  The first time I made these, my mom, sister and I ate roughly 1/3 of the pan- my brother ate the rest.

In one day.

This recipe, like Deb’s blog, will not disappoint you. In fact, pull out an old cookbook or two from the back of your (cook)book shelf. Which, if you are like me, may or may not be covered in what appears to be dust-or is that a fine layer of powdered sugar? Remnants of what used to be frosting? Wait- I think that’s grits.

Regardless, the search for a new take on an old recipe might surprise you. But be warned- this recipe will make you pass over every other crispy treat you find, even if you weren’t one of those snub-your-nose, make-judgements-about-dessert-choices, kind of people. Totally unlike anyone I know…

Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats, text detail added, from Smitten Kitchen‘s recipe here

What You Will Need:

4 ounces (1/4 pound or 1 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan
1 10-ounce bag marshmallows
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal (about half a 12-ounce box)*

What You Will Do:

1. Butter (or coat with non-stick spray) an 8-inch square cake pan with 2-inch sides.

2. In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Make sure you stir it frequently; I like to use a pastry brush to lift any bits off of the bottom.

3. Don’t take your eyes off the pot. While you may be impatient for the butter to start browning, the period between the time the butter begins to take on color and the point where it burns is often less than a minute. If your butter burns, then it will make little black specks in your treats. Unless you like the way white highlights black specks in your baked goods, watch the butter.

4. As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat off and stir in the marshmallows. The residual heat from the melted butter should be enough to melt them, but if it is not, turn the heat back on low until the marshmallows are smooth. Make sure and don’t over stir this; take the mixture off the heat when it just comes together, or it will get too stretchy and lose the light texture we are looking for.

5. Remove the pot from the stove and stir in the salt and cereal together. Quickly spread into a prepared pan. I like to use a piece of waxed or parchment paper that I’ve sprayed with oil to press it firmly and evenly into the edges and corners, though a silicon spatula works too. I have done both, and prefer the parchment paper method- this gives you the smoothest finish.

5. Let the mixture cool, it took mine about twenty minutes, and cut into squares. Try not to take them to your nearest bakery and taunt others. I dare you.

*I did a test to compare the off-brand of crispy cereal to Rice Krispies. Rice Krispies not only tasted more toasted, but they had a darker color. It’s worth it to splurge on the name-brand here.

Dark Chocolate Christmas Cookies with Sea Salt

Salty and sweet. Kind of like a sailor with a santa hat.

Salty and sweet. Kind of like a sailor with a Santa hat.

Can you tell I like Christmas cookies?

Honestly, I didn’t want to do two Christmas cookies posts in a row. It goes against every food blog rule out there. But I had to, because this recipe is so good. It’s worth a second batch of Christmas cookies. And I want you to have the chance to make some before time runs out and we are all post New Year’s, drinking smoothies and eating kale.

Well, some people are doing that. I never liked kale and only drink smoothies with peanut butter. But best of success to you, juicers!

These cookies are dense, chocolatey and rich, and the salty kick after you bite into them takes the flavor to another level. And for those of you who don’t like the chocolate/sea salt combination, you can also accent them with cinnamon candies, sanding sugar, and what the heck- go all out with some icing too.

I wish all Christmas trees were made of chocolate.

I wish all Christmas trees were made of chocolate.

Chocolate cookies en papillote (sort of)

Chocolate cookies en papillote (Well, sort of; I think that was French-lish)

Dark Chocolate Christmas Cookies with Sea Salt

(This recipe is adapted from the fabulous blog Sweetapolita)

What You Will Need:

  • 6 cups (750 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 and 1/4 cups (137 g) dark cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon (8 g) salt
  • 2 cups (454 g)(4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (228 g) light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs, cold
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract

What You Will Do:

  1. In large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder and salt. Set aside.
  2. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until fluffy and pale, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs until just combined.
  3. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until thoroughly combined. (Please do this slowly. I got carried away and ended up with a light brown powder on my mixer, counter, and clothes. And pants? I have no idea.) Add vanilla and blend.
  4. Remove 1/2 of the dough from bowl, make a ball, and place it on a large piece of plastic wrap on the counter.Wrap the sides of wrap over the ball, then press down with the palm of your hand and make a disc about 2″ thick. Finish wrapping the disc with the plastic wrap. Repeat with the second half of dough. Chill both discs of dough for about 45 minutes.
  5. Remove one disc and remove the plastic wrap. Place on top of a large piece of parchment paper (I used a silicone bakers mat underneath it to make sure it didn’t slip while I was rolling it out), then put another large piece of parchment paper on top of the dough.
  6. Roll dough with a rolling pin (Ok, this is where your work-out comes in. It takes a bit to get it warm and ready to cut) until it is an even thickness; I aimed for about 1/4 of an inch.
  7. Preheat your oven to 325° F. Slide your parchment paper and dough onto a board, then place the board in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
  8. Remove the dough from the fridge, and cut your shapes using the cutters of your choice, placing them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat, with 2″ clearance around each one and the edge of sheet. Place sheet with cookies into freezer for 15 minutes before baking (I didn’t have time to do this and they turned out great). Bake until cookie edges are just crisp, about 16 minutes. Repeat with the second disk of dough.
  9. Cool the sheets on wire racks for 10 minutes, then gently remove cookies and place on wire racks to finish cooling.
  10. Promptly consume with a large glass of egg nog. So delicious!

Holiday Sugar Cookies

Our finest Christmas masterpieces on display.

Our finest Christmas masterpieces

I love decorating cookies.

So far this season I believe I have baked at least 96. And as a child I especially loved the dough. As in, I would sneak it from the round ball on the cutting board into the sides of my cheeks, hoping that no one would notice. My sweet mom would then ask me how the cookie-cutting was going, and the dough would fall gracefully from underneath my tongue onto the counter. I know, I was pretty cool at a young age.

Paula and Kellen's children are much cooler than I was at their age.

Paula and Kellen’s children are much cooler and creative than I was.

There is an art to holiday sugar cookie dough. Unless you have a great foundation, a cookie won’t hold up under mountains of icing and sprinkles. Too soft, and your cookies will pillow up in the oven like an overstuffed Santa. Too hard, and biting into them is about as pleasant as eating stale crackers.

And one of the most fun things about holiday cookies is who you decorate them with. This brings us to my amazing, talented friend Paula Coldiron from Two Ellie blog, who volunteered both her talent and her sweet children to decorate cookies together.

The best use of green icing and milk chocolate balls I have ever seen.

The best use of green icing and milk chocolate balls I have ever seen.

twoellie&luvcooks.12 (44 of 61)

Paula has an incredible gift for interiors- she can make the most generic of spaces light up with style like a Christmas tree- and she also has a way with a camera. So, if you are looking at this post and thinking, “Wow; her food photos look fantastic! Better than they ever have!” It’s because Paula took them. Her and her husband Kellen also have a wedding and lifestyle photography business.

I was beyond excited and thrilled to partner with Two Ellie for this post. Check out all of Paula and her impeccable style, holiday and otherwise, here. She also has a fantastic shop for anyone looking for last-minute holiday gifts.

This dough below is one I modified a bit to make it taste more holiday-esque, but it rolls out beautifully and responds well to hefty cookie cutters. Go ahead and roll the dough out to 1/8 inch; that will give you the perfect weight and density for your cookie.

Half of these cookies are glazed to make the icing colors pop.

Half of these cookies are glazed to make the icing colors pop.

And don’t forget to add something special to every cookie you make. I’ve learned this year that it’s not always what you bake- it’s who you decorate it with.

I wish you and your loved ones a very merry-and sweet-Christmas season.

The mini-decorator at work.

The mini-decorator at work.

Holiday Sugar Cookies (this recipe has been adapted from Bon Appetit via Epicurious.com)

What You Will Need:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 2/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • freshly grated nutmeg

What You Will Do:

1. Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla.

2. Sift flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a bowl. Add the dry mixture from the bowl slowly to the mixer until fully incorporated; it took me about three big pours.

3. Turn the dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead it gently for one minute. You will know it’s ready when it feels elastic and warm in your hands.

4. Shape the dough into a 1/2-inch-thick rectangle. Cut it into 4 equal mini-rectangles. Wrap each rectangle in plastic wrap and the original recipe said to refrigerate them for at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.  Honestly, you can just roll this dough on out, but it does make life easier if you refrigerate it first. If you have time to refrigerate it, let the dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling it out.

5. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350°F. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray, or use a Silpat. Working with one dough piece at a time, roll out dough with a floured rolling pin on a lightly floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness, lifting and turning dough often and dusting surface very lightly with flour to prevent sticking.

6. Use your most celebratory Christmas cookie cutters to cut the dough; I highly recommend Santas, snowmen, angels, stars, candy canes, and hearts. Pull away excess dough from around cookies, then transfer the cookies to a prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart (cookies will not spread). Gently reroll dough scraps; cut out more cookies. Transfer them to the same sheet.

7. Bake cookies until light brown, about 11 minutes. It is always better to take them out earlier rather than later; if you bake them too long the cookie edges will get crispy and might burn on the bottom.

8. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes on the sheet. Transfer the cookies to a rack; cool.

9. Repeat this process with the remaining dough pieces, baking one sheet of cookies at a time. Cool baking sheet completely and butter the sheet lightly between batches.

10. Finally, decorate until you can decorate no more. For this shoot I used green fluffy icing, red and white sparkle gel icing, Christmas sprinkles, milk chocolate balls, and edible silver balls.