Halloween peanut butter cookies

I had to share this cookie idea I found on Pinterest. There it says to use a cookie mix, but I tried it with my peanut blossom cookie dough recipe and I think it was well worth the extra time.

All you need to do is add about a cup of peanut butter chips and a cup of Reese’s Pieces candy to the dough. Then you press it into a 9×13-inch pan and bake at 350 degrees until it’s just starting to brown on top. Maybe 20 minutes?

When the pan comes out, press in a few candy eyeballs (which you can find at craft stores like JoAnn and Michaels). Let the pan cool, then cut the cookies into rectangles. They are SO GOOD, especially when they are still a little warm.

Biscuit donuts

Um, why did no one tell me about the wonderfulness that is a biscuit donut?

I learned about them on the Say Yes blog and couldn’t believe I’d never tried them before. Basically all you do is crack open a can of biscuit dough, stamp out the middles, fry the donuts in oil and roll them in cinnamon sugar.

They come out remarkably similar to donuts you would buy in a store. They remind me a lot of the cider donuts you get when you go apple picking.

It does take a pretty large amount of oil for frying, but you can actually save it an reuse it another time. Because you will be making these again.

I am a lazy cook, so I did not use a thermometer to figure out how hot the oil was. When it seemed like the donuts were cooking too fast, I turned down the burner a little bit. That seemed to work fine. They got brown and crispy really quickly, so it didn’t take long to make a batch of 8 plus the donut holes. Harper ate most of those and we ate the whole ones. Perfect!

This was sort of the opposite of the breakfast baking I did the weekend before. I have been determined for a long time to find a yeast cinnamon roll recipe that was worth all the effort. I’ve tried 3 times, I think, and they were never good enough. I mean, how can a cinnamon roll that takes 3 hours to make be just OK?

But I finally found THE recipe. I think it came up on Pinterest and it just looked too good not to try. One morning I actually had energy so I got to work. I had to be at the store later that morning so I ended up taking some shortcuts and the recipe still turned out fine. For the first rise, I probably gave it 40 minutes instead of an hour. Then I think I shortened the second rise a little too. The dough was very sticky, but it rolled out just fine.

I made some other changes too. I used all butter instead of margarine because I am a butter girl. My yeast was expired but that didn’t seem to matter either. And then I probably used 1 tablespoon of cinnamon instead of 3. That seemed like plenty to me.

The cream cheese icing seemed like it was too sugary and not cream cheesy enough. But then later it seemed fine, so maybe it just needed to meld a little more.

I couldn’t make this recipe everyday (and definitely shouldn’t!) but I will keep it on file for special occasions. It is everything you want from a cinnamon roll — soft, crumbly bread with a gooey center and melty frosting on top. And at least when you make these at home you know what’s in them.

The best summer dessert

I couldn’t let June go by without mentioning my favorite summer dessert. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it here many times, but oh man do I love a strawberry-rhubarb crisp.

It’s sweet, tart, crunchy, and even better warm with vanilla ice cream melting on top.

You can vary the strawberry to rhubarb ratio as much as you want. You can change up the nuts or leave them out. You could do fresh whipped cream instead of ice cream. Just … yum.

Grandma’s sour cream lemon pie

My grandma loved to make this sour cream lemon pie — it is such a perfect spring dessert. Mom made one for us last weekend with some lemons a co-worker had brought from home and we ate it up!

Grandma’s other tradition was to make my mom a little pie of her own in this sweet mini pie dish. So mom saved the dish and now she can make Harper a little pie to go with the big one. So cute.

Here’s the full recipe.

Grandma's sour cream lemon pie
Serves 8
A tart and creamy dessert for spring.
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup sugar
  2. 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  3. 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  4. 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  5. 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  6. 1 cup milk
  7. 1 cup sour cream
  8. 3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
  9. 9-inch pie shell, baked (if you have a scratch recipe, all the better!)
  10. 1 cup whipped cream for topping (optional)
Instructions
  1. Combine sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Add butter, lemon zest and juice, milk and egg yolks. Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture starts to boil and thicken.
  2. Remove from heat and fold in sour cream. Pour the mixture into your cooled pie shell.
  3. Refrigerate until the pie is nice and firm. Top with lemon slices and serve with whipped cream.
Notes
  1. Meyer lemons work great, too!
Cara Corey http://www.caracorey.com/

Donut muffins

Speaking of recipes you have to make…

I found this recipe for donut muffins on Red Tricycle and I knew I had to try it. I first had one of these scrumptious breakfast desserts at Bette’s Diner in Berkeley and I immediately fell in love. The muffin itself is pretty plain, but then it’s dipped in butter and rolled in cinnamon sugar (a la Bubble Bread), which sends it over the top.

The only thing I changed was to scale back the cinnamon to a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon. I feel like people have a compulsion to add too much cinnamon to recipes. Or maybe it’s just me. But I thought the batch of muffins I made turned out perfectly and they were gone in a flash!

DIY Brobee cake

I’m excited to share the cake I made for Harper’s 2nd birthday because it was one of those rare DIY projects that turned out exactly like I hoped it would. But it also took a last-minute change of plans to get there, and that’s worth sharing, too.

If you haven’t yet discovered the awesomeness that is Yo Gabba Gabba, I highly recommend it! It’s one of those kids shows that is very much for parents, too. Lots of quirky actors guest star with their “dancey dances” and indie bands play songs. (We record old episodes on Nick Jr. so we always have some to watch.) It’s kind of like if Barney was on an acid trip or something. Strange, but lots of fun. And Harper’s favorite character is Brobee, the little green guy.

I figured I could fashion a Brobee cake by making one rectangular cake the body and another cake the arms, which did work. I decided to make one 9×13-inch chocolate cake and one 9×13-inch vanilla cake so people would have more than one flavor option. I used boxed mixes to save time, but I can also recommend the recipes we used for our wedding cakes, which I blogged about on Goodsmiths (RIP…).

The body and legs were easy. I just removed a long skinny triangle to create legs. For the arms, I cut the chocolate cake into thirds lengthwise, and used two of them for arms. I rounded the corners where the hands would be and cut the bottom of the arms at an angle so they would fit next to the body. The other third I cut in half and made one part the head and used the rest to cut triangles to go on top of the head.

That left a lot of delicious cake to snack on.

I had to add a little piece of vanilla cake right next to where the head attached because there was a height difference. Then I smoothed it all over with one layer of buttercream frosting. It took every last bit of a half batch of buttercream to cover the cake.

I did this part the night before so that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed with cake decorating right before the party and I’m so glad I did. Here’s what he looked like before the final decorating.

By the way, I used a piece of foam core board covered with parchment paper to hold the cake. It worked really well. I certainly didn’t have a plate big enough to hold a cake like that.

This is where I had to stray from my original plan. Inspired by this Pinterest post, I had gone out and bought some piping bags and a grass tip at JoAnn (who has an amazing selection of cake decorating tools, if you need any). But when I started piping on the buttercream it very quickly started going wrong. The “fur” was coming out all squiggly and then eventually the tip kept getting clogged and it would squirt out way too much. So I kind of stopped for a minute and decided it was not worth the effort it was going to take to keep using that tip. So I abandoned it and just spread on the frosting with my favorite little offset spatula. And though it took some precision, it was much faster and it looked great.

I’ve had mixed results with gel paste food coloring so I ended up buying a bottle of liquid green food coloring to dye the frosting. Basically I added enough food coloring (combined with a little bit of yellow I already had) to get a light green color. I frosted on all the light green stripes. Then I mixed in more green to make the remaining frosting darker and used that to fill in the dark green stripes. This is where it really helped to have a Pinterest photo and a stuffed doll to look at for inspiration.

For the details on the face, I used these Wilton decorating icing bags that come with tips on them. I bought one white, one black and one red (about $3 each). I just freehanded the eyes, mouth and unibrow and then iced over the triangles on the head.

I feel like it was just luck that the icing came out the perfect thickness for the details I needed. The mouth was especially easy.

It’s one of those things where you have to take a deep breath and accept that you have one shot at getting it right. I suppose you could scrape off the frosting if you messed it up and try again, but I was really hoping not to have to do that.

In the end, Brobee looked like this. (I wiped off the excess crumbs with a wet cloth before serving the cake.)

The cake was a huge hit, and I think people really appreciated the two-flavor option. I also made some gluten-free cupcakes with green frosting. I’m finding that option to be more important now (plus some people just like cupcakes!).

The most important part, though, was that Harper liked the cake. She was so excited when everyone sang to her, and she definitely ate a piece of cake.

It was even better with the homemade coconut ice cream our friend Joanna brought. You know you have good friends when they bring you something like that!

I don’t know how much it would have cost to buy a cake like this from a bakery, but I’m guessing several hundred dollars. I think with everything, including the frosting supplies, I spent about $30 to make this cake. Plus, I love being able to do something like this for her. Sometimes — often — I feel like I don’t know what the heck I’m doing as a mom. But damn it, I can make a cake. 

The next day, this was all that was left of Brobee, so I think it was a success.

Next year, Daniel Tiger?

Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies

If I thought my last stab at gluten-free baking was successful, these cookies were even better.

I’d been looking for a way to use almond meal (a bargain at Trader Joe’s, though you can grind it fresh yourself) for a while and when I saw this recipe for coconut-chocolate chip cookies I had to try it. 

Though the cookies don’t plump up like traditional chocolate chip cookies, they are a little crisp on the outside and chewy inside. I used mini chocolate chips instead of chopped dark chocolate but otherwise stuck with the recipe. It’s a good base that would be good with other add-ins too.

Everyone in my house loved the cookies. They’re not too sweet. More like granola bars than cookies. My only complaint is that the recipe doesn’t make enough. You’ll definitely want to double it!

Gluten-free baking success

Up until recently my efforts at gluten-free baking had been mostly failures. It’s a tough thing to master. But I picked up a couple of recipes on Kristin’s blog, and they both turned out surprisingly well. At the time I was looking for a guilt-free snack I could bake, and these seemed to fit the bill. Substituting other flours for wheat often yields a higher-protein, healthier baked good, so I thought it was worth a try.

I made the lemon-blackberry breakfast cookies, substituting blueberries since I had so many in the fridge.

I’m not usually a big fan of banana-flavored things, but in these recipes the banana was more subtle. You can taste it, but it’s not overwhelming. 

I also made flourless peanut butter chocolate chip muffins. I was amazed by how much the texture resembled something made with flour. The muffins are soft and fall apart easily, so I would not make them bigger than mini muffin size. But they taste great, and I bet you could add nuts, fruit or other ingredients to change them up. 

They disappeared so quickly, I have to make another batch!

Christmas essentials

The cookies

Sugar cookie cutouts

Peanut blossoms

Chocolate Suzies


And if you’re really ambitious…

Candy stripe cookie sticks

Christmas morning breakfast:

Bubble bread

Crumb coffee cake

Quick gifts:

Twisted convertible cowl

Mason jar crafts

Recycled wax candles

We’ll be spending Christmas in Wisconsin with Mike’s family. We’re thinking of making bubble bread there, and I’ve been baking cookies and Chex Mix here. It may be 65 degrees out, but it sure feels like the holidays!

Cooking with apples

Even with our ridiculous weather (today’s forecast: “abundant sunshine”), you can still feel a chill in the air as it turns to fall. I love this time of year. It reminds me of new school years and football games and pumpkins. Don’t even get me started on the idea of putting Harper in an adorable costume for the first time…

But one of fall’s greatest gifts is the apple harvest, and I’m excited to get cooking with mine. If you’re lucky enough to pick your own at an orchard, you’re guaranteed to have way more than you know what to do with. So here are some ideas for ya:

Recipes: apple tart / stuffed turkey tenderloins / mini apple crisp / caramel apples / homemade applesauce