To New Traditions: Sugar Cookies

The hardest part about growing up is realizing that traditions have to change: The whole family might not make it to Thanksgiving; My mom doesn’t like hanging stockings anymore; My little brothers are too big to have their bedrooms doors wrapped shut on Christmas Eve. Within those lost traditions are ones that remain: My dad reading us The Night Before Christmas (no matter how old we get); Mimosas on Christmas morning; Croquettes for Christmas dinner. Those things stay the same and I believe always will in some way.

Recently I find myself sifting through traditions old and new in order to see what I want to carry on to my own family one day. I will make pies for my own family on Thanksgiving, as I have for years now. I hope to make cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning for years to come.

As a part of tradition searching, this was the first year I made Christmas cookies from scratch. We had always used pre-made doughs, Pillsbury and the like, but they were never really right. The were often hard and the past few years we didn’t really get into it as much. I took it upon myself to tackle fresh cookies that would be more favorable and softer than in years past. I made the dough by myself, but my family still got into the cutting and decorating. The combination of my baking and my family’s help made it the perfect tradition in my book.

The Recipedsc_1463

I am developing a serious appreciation for Tasty lately because they yet to have a recipe that disappoints me. I used their sugar cookie recipe after looking at the positive comments and liking the attitude of the included video. I followed it exactly, except I included less almond butter and anticipated that it made much more than the 12 cookies that it said it did. I can thank the comments for those good decisions.

With all of my years of baking, I believe I had only made homemade icing once before this. I was not sure how my meringue powder substitute would go, but (surprise, surprise) it went pretty well. I had to add more water than I expected, and I could have probably doubled the recipe overall to make more. It was not the perfect royal icing that I was hoping to have in order to decorate, but I pin that on my inexperience and I only hope to improve it in order to decorate more intricately.

How They Taste

I knew from the second I tasted the dough that these cookies were going to be good. That hint of almond, which my family took forever to guess, was perfect. dsc_1471Even after baking they retained their flavor and remained soft for the few days that they lasted.

The key was to not roll the dough out too thin, because thicker cookies had a slight fluffiness to them that was perfect. I don’t mean make them thick, but not make them too thin either.

The cookies reminded me of pre-made cookies from years past, while also having a homemade comfort to them that you can’t get from the store. I was concerned about the flavor of the icing, but I ended up going for the iced cookies over the plain ones. I could go for one of them as I type.

Reminders for Years to Come

Here’s a mental reminder to myself to start putting together a really nice recipe book. This recipe would be first thing in the “holiday desserts” section. It’s a classic cookies that takes time but pays off in the end. I would save myself the work and make the dough one day while baking/decorating the next day. The combined mental, emotional, and stomach satisfaction was just what I was looking for. Already excited to give these another try during the next holiday season.

 

Casey

Life Lessons From Baklava

Living with a chronic sweet tooth can simply only be soothed by trying every new dessert in sight. I never thought this would lead me to a new obsession with baklava, or finding out my grandpa made baklava every Christmas eve for years after trying it in Greece, but nothing tops the life lessons I learned when making baklava itself with my dad.

1. Sometimes you can actually have too much butterdsc_0049

I’m the first one to jump off the healthy eating train, but if there was one thing I would
change about my final baklava product it would be how much butter i slathered on there.

2. Everything can be fixed.

Next time i’ll use my butter more sparingly; The phyllo dough can be re-arrranged; Toss those almost back in the food processor. Nothing is permanent, in the kitchen anyway.

3. It’s the simple things in life

Square baklava is nice, but the simple act of cutting them diagonally is the perfect touch.

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4. Teamwork makes the Dreamwork

My newest cliché motto that is so essential to putting together baklava at a decent pace. Simultaneously keeping the dough moist and laying it with the butter is so much easier with a two person team.

5. Don’t Rush

I always insist on using convection bake instead of regular bake, which we thought cut off 20 minutes of the cooking time. Turns out, it could’ve used a few more minutes. The baklava holds for several days, letting the dough soak up both the butter and syrup, so you can easily set aside 15 minutes a day for the next week to enjoy this.

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6. The biggest surprise is in the syrup

While what led me to this masterpiece of a recipe was a combination of family and friends, the simple syrup made it worth it. It was a small detail but the finishing piece and essential element.

7. Sometimes you have to just let the food speak for itself

Not matter how much I described this dessert to my little brother, he didn’t seem to grasp the beauty of baklava until he tasted it for himself. He was speechless himself after that. The sound of nothing but forks hitting plates might be one of my favorites.

Constantly eating,

Casey

Peep my other eats on Instagram! @penneformythoughts

Tried & True: Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Cookies

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Finally back at it again with the #FoodieFridays! Food has been such a big part of my life lately but not in a way that I could write about it on my blog until now. Thanks to my lack of warm weather plans, I took to the kitchen during my few days back at home this past week.

I wanted to make something different, but not too timeIMG_0908.jpg
consuming. Cookies seemed like a good way to go, but I wanted something more than my basic chocolate chip cookies. This led me to deciding to make yet another Pinterest find, Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Cookies from Betsylife. Luckily for all of us and my family, I was very happy with how they turned out.

Highlights:

  • Dark chocolate is really underrated and I used to consider caramel overrated, but the combination is perfect. These cookies specifically have a great ratio so that you’re never stuck with a caramel-less bite.
  • These cookies still manage to not be over chocolate-y, so you can shovel down more than a few without immediate guilt or that death-by-chocolate kind of feeling.

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Tips:

  • IMG_0848.jpgUse the full 9 oz bag of Toll House DelightFulls. It seemed like too much so I did not initially add all of them, but after doing my first batch I added the rest of the bag to the dough I had left and it really added to the rest of the cookies
  • Be cautious but generous with the salt. I personally do not like a lot of salt with caramel, but I was a little too cautious with these cookies.
  • Judging these cookies in the oven was tough because they start out dark anyway, so I personally just trusted my gut. They do not spread very much, but you will start to see them almost crack open a bit like a load of bread when they’re done.

My family found the appearance of these cookies in relation to how appetizing they are debatable, but we all loved them for their taste. Heated up and mixed with vanilla ice cream is an extra special treat!

Let me know if you try this recipe! Also, does anyone have any tips for how to come up with my own recipes? I can’t just talk about other people’s creations forever!

Crazy for Caramel,

Casey

The Key to Success[ful cookies]

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After watching a full season of The Great British Bake Off in one day, I find myself reconsidering my whole life and wanting to return to my baker dreams that I had just a few years ago. While I hope to get over this feeling soon, unless it might just lead me to bigger and better things (…food PR…), I know I need to appreciate being able to bake anything I can get my hands on.

No matter how intricate or beautiful the latest food trend is, nothing quite beats a classic chocolate chip cookie. The first thing I baked by myself were chocolate chip cookies, and I have luckily come a long way from the mess that those came out to be. For years I had classic tasting cookies, but their pancake shape was not quite right. Now, thanks to a  recipe my mom got from a friend [hence the random name], I know the not-so-secret key to the most picturesque, delicious chocolate cookies that I could ask for.

Darci’s Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients: IMG_7002.jpg

2 Sticks of Butter

1 Package of (4 1/2 cups servings of) Instant Vanilla Pudding (🔑)

1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract

1⁄4 Cup White Sugar

3⁄4 Cup Brown Sugar

2 Eggs

2 1⁄4 Cups of Flour

1 Teaspoon of Baking Soda

Chocolate Chips to Taste

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Process:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit (convection bake).
  • Combine butter and white sugar (in a stand mixing bowl is easiest); Add brown sugar and pudding mix; Beat for about 2 minutes; Add eggs and vanilla; Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the flour and baking soda (Optional: Save about a cup of flour and mix with the chocolate chips in a separate bowl).
  • Gradually add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.
  • Mix the chip/flour mixture in with the dough. The dough gets fairly thick at this point, but that is normal.
  • Form balls of dough by hand or with an ice cream scoop. The dough keeps it shape pretty well when baked, so keep that in mind when choosing size.
  • Bake until the cookies are brown around the edges (I always go by color), about 13-18 minutes.

These always satisfy my sweet tooth and hankering to bake, and I never have an excuse not to make these cookies whenever my dad begs me to–even if he just wants to eat the dough. They’re just so easy on the eyes and hands. I wish I had a batch of these with me right now!

I would love to see any of your results! Are there any other classic cookies or baked goods I should master next?

Your Cookie Connoisseur,

Casey

Never Too Much: Tried & True Pumpkin Cake

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This pumpkin cake is a tasty mouthful in the name itself as a cake with cream cheese frosting in the middle and a chocolate ganache on top.

I wanted to share this recipe with you all on this #FoodieFriday because I really enjoy making things that taste great but don’t take a lot of decorating to look delicious either–and you can never have too much pumpkin in your life!

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 7.34.56 PM.pngI promise not all of my food post are going to be Pinterest recipes, or even just recipes, but I am enjoying baking as much as I can while I have a kitchen! Somewhere between my first Pumpkin Spiced Latte and pumpkin bread indulgences, I still managed to be interested in this recipe. I have made this cake twice now, both of which I have been very pleased with how they turned out.

My cakes never ended up looking like the original photo, but that did not even cross my mine until I attached it above. This cake is so delicious that it would be okay if you stopped reading this post and went to make it right now, but then you would miss the really good stuff.

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What Makes This Cake Special:

  1. IMG_9390It’s really easy to make: I feel like my cakes can be ruined by one simple decorating mistake, but this recipe was stress free on that and all parts. The recipe is fool proof; no decorations required.
  2. It is not even that sweet: The actual baked cake is similar to a very soft pumpkin bread that is a bit sweeter, so the toppings are really what set this cake apart from actual plain bread old with chocolate chips.DSC00786.jpg
  3. The Cream Cheese: I don’t know if pumpkin and cream cheese are a regular thing that I did not know about, but the flavors are so complementary.
  4. The ganache… THE GANACHE: This is like perfect touch to this cake. Chocolate and pumpkin are an amazing combination.

My Tips:

  • Be Cautious with the Confectioners Sugar. The cream cheese filling and ganache get stiff very quickly, so make sure you take the time to see if you like the consistency before you put in those last few 1/2 cups of confectioners sugar.
  • DOUBLE IT. DOUBLE IT ALL. The recipe mentions that you can double it if you want two cakes and let me just say a single cake is extremely small. Don’t bother making this cake if your are not going to double it, because the cake will be gone before you know it if you don’t.

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My family definitely knows how to eat, but I think us finishing almost half of my most recent take on this cake in one night definitely says something. This dessert was very easily a highlight of my indulgences this week, and I think it could be one of yours too!

Let me know how this one goes for you all!

Stay Sweet,

Casey

Poppin’ Like It’s Hot: Tried & True Blueberry Muffins

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Happy #FoodieFriday!

When you have a sweet tooth as strong as mine, you try your best to fit in the healthier food groups into your diet whenever possible. The only way i’m going to be eating blueberries is when I eat them in muffins–If I end up gaining the freshman 15, it will be because of Newark’s Brewed Awakening’s blueberry muffins.  I had a perfect opportunity to try to make bakery-like muffins from home, and actually eat blueberries without cringing every time I feel the squish and pop, when my mom asked me to use up a pack of blueberries.

Instead of even opening one of the dozens of cookbookScreen Shot 2015-12-17 at 7.30.34 PM.pngs in my house, I found a recipe on Pinterest-from a blog that even said the recipe was “tried and true”. As far as picking the recipe, I used my usual criteria that mostly depends on the pictures. The recipe does not call for anything out-of-the-ordinary, which makes it perfect for just whipping up one afternoon.

 

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Long Story Short… MAKE THESE MUFFINS!

There is not much I would change about this recipe. I am concerned how just about everything will turn out as I put it into the oven (miss perfectionist here), but these reassured me as soon as I started to smell them baking.  The muffins are a sweet treat that I never regret eating, even when one isn’t enough.

Highlights and Tips:

  • IMG_8643.jpgFilling the muffin tins to the top with batter should make picturesque muffins that pour over the top once they rise (I personally should have filled mine more!).
  • DO NOT HESITATE with sprinkling sugar on top; It’s a nice touch!
  • Same with the blueberries: the batter-to-berry is perfect so don’t hesitate with adding the berries.
  • 25 minutes on convection bake were all my muffins needed. This gives the berries enough time to beautifully pop and ooze all over the muffins without burning the bread part.
  • I used whole milk but others may work.

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Whether you’re more of a health nut or dessert connoisseur, whether you’re an amateur baker or restaurant chef, I really suggest you try this recipe. You get more than the basic blueberry muffin experience with the beauty, texture, and taste of a bakery muffin from scratch. Pair it with a cup of tea and you have yourself a great afternoon.

 

 

Eat Up!

Casey

 

Tried & True: Panera Bread Coffee Cake Dupe #FoodieFriday

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I used to think you could only eat coffee cake with coffee. Like you could have coffee alone, but not the cake without coffee. This all changed in seventh grade when Charles H. brought in coffee cake WITHOUT COFFEE, and it was delicious. I never found out exactly where it was from, but my mom soon picked up one of Panera Bread’s Coffee Cakes to try and that was close enough. It was probably the same cake for all I know by now. Over the next several years my mom occasionally brought the infamous cake home for me to devour, and I was always grateful.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 7.45.04 PMAs an avid cake maker and eater, it finally occurred to me this summer that I should make my own coffee cake instead of buying it. I prefer to know what I am eating and it would just be more fun. Returning again to Pinterest I found a recipe with a very appealing picture. It was a simple recipe from the good ole’ Martha Stewart. I gave it a shot for the first time two months ago, and (spoiler alert) I recently made it again because I love it so much.

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The first time I made a couple mistakes due to my own stupidity, so make sure you read the recipe carefully. I missed the whole part about putting the streusel part on before putting it in the oven, but putting it on afterwards still turned out okay. The cooking time was also off, but that is usually the case for my oven in particular. I really appreciated not having to alter anything from the actual recipe on my second go around!

I had the hardest time getting the cake out of the pan on my second try. I do not know if it was because I was eager so the pan was still hot & the cake was less stable or that the streusel on top (that I actually did correctly this time) was making a mess. After some frustration I finally got in on a plate to glaze, which was my favorite part. Seeing it melt onto the cake was beautiful. IMG_6943

So this recipe was tried & true to a tee. I loved it with some black tea. This cake is basically Tea Cake because I don’t drink coffee unless it’s part of a sugary Starbucks Frappucino, but I have heard it is delicious either way.IMG_6945

I would love to hear what you think of it if you try it!

Casey