Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

There comes a day when you are just really proud of what you made and how amazing it looks, tastes, how easy it was for you to make, and you shine with pride and confidence.

The day I made this cake was that day.

I am always hesitant when making chocolate desserts. I hate dry, crumbly chocolate anything. Chocolate cake, brownies, and chocolate cookies are meant to be thick, fudgy, moist, and full of the richest flavor imagineable. You might understand when I say I am the pickiest chocolate cake connoisseur of all my friends and family. I try to explain to people that they shouldn't be offended if I take one bite and make a face then put the cake down without finishing it. Baker's Problems, amiright?

When I was putting this cake in the oven, I was extremely nervous. The batter didn't have the rich fudgy taste like brownies do, and I was worried that I made another bad cake. When I pulled it out of the oven, oh my lands it was like I pulled it out of heaven. The smell was wonderful and the batter I was worried about turned into a dark, moist chocolate cake that was to die for.

I don't think I can explain in words how good this cake is. I had people telling me it was better than any cake they had ever had in their life. Those are some strong words!

Don't worry, though! This is quite an easy recipe. Everything you need is already in your kitchen, especially if you drink… coffee. That's right! One of the secret ingredients is coffee! You can't taste it at all; it just adds a dimension of flavor. Do not leave it out!

Here are some tips on making this cake easily and stress free.

1. Made your coffee strong. You're going to make 1 + 1/2 cups of coffee. This is around a normal size coffee cup (16 oz). I have a brew 'n go, so I make one cup at a time. If you're using one of these, add about double what you normally drink unless what you normally drink is super strong. You want this coffee black black black.

2. Cool your coffee. You don't want to give yourself second degree burns on accident, so cool your coffee before you use it. It won't change the taste and it's not as scary.

3. Completely cool your cakes before frosting. If you don't, your frosting is going to slide right off. If you put it in the fridge, your cake is going to get hard and lose its flavor. Just plan ahead and cool your cakes completely before you frost it.

Another great thing about this cake is the frosting. Oh my word, this is the best frosting ever. Check out my How-To Tuesday post on this Dark Chocolate Buttercream so you get the fluffiest and smoothest buttercream. You won't regret it!

So here's to all my chocolate fans. The most indulgent chocolate cake you could ever hope for!

How-To Tuesday: The Best Dark Chocolate Buttercream

Welcome to another How-To Tuesday post! I'm really enjoying these posts and have noticed more traffic on them than I expected. These how-to posts really give me the opportunity to explore the effectiveness and the success of very simple and very popular methods that are in many many recipes.

My first one was the Perfect Mixture of Cinnamon-Sugar. You don't realize how often you use cinnamon-sugar until you think to yourself one day, "Geez, I need a cinnamon-sugar shaker next to my salt and pepper." Or maybe I just have a cinnamon-sugar addiction. ;)

Today I will teach you how to make the best dark chocolate buttercream. I used this particular buttercream on a chocolate buttermilk cake that I posted today as well. I was skeptical, as I always am with chocolate recipes, because they usual come out bland and not the right texture. To me, chocolate anything (cake, brownies, cookies, frosting) needs to be rich, thick, moist, soft, and full of flavor. I can't stand it when I take a bite into a slice of cake and it's crumbly. Ugh.

Sorry about that… Back to the buttercream. This how-to is so simple it's silly, but I'm going to give you some tips to make it easier for you to whip up a batch without worrying about it going awry.

1. Sift the powdered sugar and cocoa. This will prevent any lumps in your frosting. If you don't sift your powdered sugar and cocoa, you're going to end up with little balls of powdered sugar all over your frosting and cake.

2. Make sure your butter is at room temperature. It makes the mixing of the buttercream a lot easier. If you try to beat the butter while it's cold you'll get lumpy frosting, the flavor won't blend as much, and you'll curse the day you thought you should try making buttercream.

3. Be patient. If you think you've been beating that durn frosting for what seems like hours, go just a little bit longer. If you follow all three steps, you'll get a beautiful and tasty frosting you'll be glad you waited for. For me, personally, I have to beat the butter for 4-5 minutes before it's fully creamed. I have to use a hand mixer, too.

So there you have it! A few tips to help you get the best buttercream there is. Oh, and this can easily replace a frosting in another recipe, or you can top it on vanilla cupcakes, chocolate cupcakes, pumpkin cupcakes, chocolate cake, or make it a filling for whoopie pies.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Perfect Sugar Cookies

** This post was modified on December 22, 2013 to add the royal icing recipe **

So these last few weeks have been all about finding the perfect sugar cookie. I wanted one that wasn't too sweet, wasn't crunchy, and didn't go flat. I happened upon this MakeBakeCelebrate post and decided, after many sugar cookie attempts, to give it a try. On the first try, I didn't use any royal icing. I just wanted a sugar cookie that I liked!

The second try (8 months later, haha) I decided I wanted some Christmas cookies. It was a tradition in my house to make a batch of cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve! Well, it's been a long time since I did that, but this year I wanted to make some. With my time being limited, I had to make them a couple of days ahead of time, but I'm sure Santa won't mind one bit. :)

3 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 C unsalted butter, room temperature
1 C white sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a separate bowl whisk together flour and baking powder.

2. Beat together unsalted butter and sugar. Once mixed well, add in egg. Mix again, then add in vanilla.

3. Slowly add in flour mixture about a cup at a time. Mix until dough forms and begins to clump together.

4. Gather up dough and knead it with hands until it's nice and smooth. Roll it into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and place in fridge to chill for 20-40 minutes, until it's semi-hard.

5. Roll out the dough on a floured surface, and using your desired cookie cutter cut out shapes and place onto parchment paper on a cookie sheet. 

6. Bake at 350 degrees between 7-11 minutes (baking time will vary depending on thickness of dough).

Royal Icing Recipe

I got this recipe from Wilton's website, then I modified it to my liking. What I got was a nice, smooth royal icing that sets well. You can add an oil-free extract/flavor you like, just make sure it is oil free! In this recipe, I used almond extract, vanilla extract would have been my second choice. 

3 tbsp Meringue Powder
4 C powdered sugar
6 tbsp warm water, plus extra
1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)
Food coloring (optional)

In a bowl, mix together meringue powder and powdered sugar. Add the warm water and flavoring. Beat on medium speed for several minutes until you get a thick consistency. If it's too thick, add a bit more warm water, only a tablespoon at a time. Add in your food coloring, and beat until fully incorporated. 

To decorate the cookies:
Using a piping bag with a tip, or a large ziploc baggie with the corner cut off, ice the cookies to your aesthetic pleasing.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Chocolate Covered Sandwich Crackers

One of my favorite holiday traditions was baking things with my mom. I loved helping her in the kitchen with all the treats for the Christmas parties and the holiday parties. I know she loved it, too. I remember watching her make all the different treats and her showing me the best techniques to make it easy and stress-free.

These Chocolate Covered Sandwich Crackers were one of my favorites. I think they taste kind of Nutty Bars, which was one of my favorite and very unhealthy snacks. What can I say? I liked to indulge. 

Luckily I don't eat things like that anymore, but when I was making this recipe it was hard not to eat every other one I made. Peanut butter is my weakness!

Just a couple of tips to help you make this easy and stress-free, just like my mom taught me. 

1. Chill the sandwiches. It might sound weird, but pop the sandwich crackers in the fridge for about 20 minutes so. This will prevent the peanut butter from becoming a goopy mess when you coat it in chocolate. 

2. Use enough almond bark. You'll think you have enough with maybe half a pound of almond bark, but these puppies are pretty big and you'll want enough chocolate to where you're not scraping the bottom of the pot and taking so long the peanut butter will start melting. 

3. Coat the sandwiches twice. They will look better aesthetically and the double coating will be a perfect balance of chocolate to cracker to peanut butter ratio. You'll thank me later. 

4. Use wax paper. This will prevent the chocolate from getting all over the counters, the stove, and will save you clean up time. Just line a couple of cookie sheets with wax paper and work off of them. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas Breakfast Round Up

Like most families I know, our family wakes up Christmas morning and eats a simple breakfast so we don't get too full for Christmas lunch/dinner. Most of the time it consists of cinnamon rolls and eggs and toast, or sometimes I breakfast casserole. Here is a list of simple and easy to make breakfasts that everyone will love!

Christmas Sweets Round-Up

Merry Christmas to you all!

I thought I'd help you out with all the sweets you plan on baking by doing a round up of everything I've made around the holidays. You'll get a great assortment: cookies, pretzel snacks, bread, and even a trifle! Let's get to it!

The Perfect Sugar Cookie (Updated with an icing recipe!)

Buttermilk Chocolate Cake - Posted on Christmas Day 2013

Holiday Chocolate Covered Pretzels (Two Versions - Andes Mint and Peppermint Crunch!)

Chocolate Covered Sandwich Crackers - Posted on December 23, 2013

Holiday Bark

Just a few more days left until Christmas and I've got a recipe that is sure to be a hit! Personally, I like simple recipes that don't require me slaving in the kitchen for hours or even a whole day. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE baking, but not when I have only a couple of days until Christmas and I have to work and get everything ready, presents wrapped, dishes made, and then I have to travel on Christmas Eve!

When I come up with an easy recipe, I get real excited. I know most of you do, too. That means more time with family and less time in the kitchen during the holidays.

This recipe was inspired by the Holiday Pretzel Sticks I made several weeks ago. It has a perfect balance of sweet, crunchy, salty, and chewy. It's real simple, as I've stated three times already. White almond bark, dried cranberries, dark chocolate, and toffee bits. That's it! So with that, I'll leave you to it.

Oh! And the mold I used I bought at Hobby Lobby in the chocolate mold section for a couple of bucks.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday Chocolate Covered Pretzels

One of my favorite holiday traditions is making chocolate covered pretzels. My mom and I used to make them every Christmas to take to classroom parties or other holiday parties. They are an easy treat to make, they are quick to put together, and it's a very inexpensive snack!

There is one great thing about chocolate covered pretzels: they are easy to make and they have endless possiblities. Today, I'm bringing you Andes Mint chocolate covered pretzels and Peppermint Crunch white chocolate covered pretzels. A festive treat that people will gobble up!

There are only two tips I have for you, but they will save you frustration and time.

1. Heat your chocolate on low heat. If you heat it too quickly, you'll burn it and there goes an entire pound of wasted chocolate. White chocolate is especially sensitive to burning, so keep an eye out while you're melting the chocolate.

2. Use wax paper. I really don't consider this an option. Cover a cookie sheet or your counter with a long piece of wax paper. Setting the chocolate covered pretzels on there to dry is easy, has a quick clean up, and they don't stick.

3. Use almond bark for the coating. I've used several different kinds of chocolate to coat things with, and nothing is easier and tastier than almond bark. Where I'm from, they sell Plymouth Pantry Almond Bark in Chocolate and Vanilla (White Chocolate) flavors.

4. Be creative. Use whatever toppings you want! For the holidays, I buy Andes Mint pieces and Peppermint Crunch pieces. I took these lovelies to a Christmas party and they were a hit! When I make them again, I'm sure I'll coat some in sprinkles, toffee bits, caramel, and whatever else I can think of. Yum!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Peppermint Pal Cookies

This year I had the chance to participate in The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap! It was a blast! I got to make some delicious cookies and I got 3 dozen in return!

If you're interested in joining the FB Cookie Swap check out the website here or click on the logo to keep in the loop for next year's event!

I got some great cookies! First, these pretty little cookies from Haute Pepper Bites! They were so good! There wasn't a flavor on the packaging, but I don't judge. I gobbled them up.

Next, I got these Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies from a blogger (I couldn't read the writing) and they were great! I can't remember the last time I had a thumbprint cookie!

Lastly, I got these Eggnog Cookies from Anna Dishes. I don't normally like eggnog, but I LOVED these cookies! They were so good!

On top of that, I got some great swap from Imperial Sugar and OXO. Definitley putting the items to good use! I'm so grateful we got to raise so much money for Cookies for Kids' Cancer!

I was so excited for this cookie swap that I wanted to create an entirely brand new recipe that I've never seen before. I made so many of these durn cookies, that's all I could smell for days! But it's okay, I love cookies, I would happily bake cookies all day every day!

Introducing the Peppermint Pal Cookies! Why are they called Peppermint Pal Cookies? Because it's two of the best cookies pal-ing up together to make an awesome holiday cookie chock full of chocolate chips and peppermint crunch pieces!

What it is: A fudgy chewy chocolate cookie swirled with a perfect chocolate chip cookie and baked to tasty perfection. I'm sure you could even make this without the peppermint pieces and it would be divine year round!

With all of the holiday parties, festive gatherings, and every other social outing you are doing this season, this cookie will solve all of your dish-bringing problems. Let me tell you how:

1. This batch makes approximately 70 cookies. Holy wow. That’s a lot of cookies.
2. This batch sits well in the fridge, where you can use it multiple times for multiple occasions in the span of a couple of weeks. It also freezes well.
3. This batch is festive tasting and looking, full of peppermint crunch, chocolate, and happiness. Yes, it’s chock full of happiness.
4. This batch only takes 15 minutes to bake and cool. Meaning once you prep your dough, it’s in and out of the oven quicker than it takes you to put on that ugly Christmas sweater.
5. This batch has a lot of ingredients, but it so simple to put together, you’ll giggle with excitement.

Just a few notes with this recipe before you get started. 
1. Refrigerate your dough. No matter what you do, put it in the fridge for a couple of hours. Plan ahead if need be.
2. When rolling the dough in a ball, roll it taller than it is wide so it will not spread as much.
3. While baking these cookies, keep the dough you’re not baking in the fridge for maximum thickness of your cookies.
4. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

French Toast Donuts with a Maple Glaze

Today's post brought to you by me craving not-Eggo-waffles for breakfast. On most days when I'm at home alone, I eat two Eggo waffles with peanut butter for breakfast alongside my couple cups of coffee. I usually don't mind. It's got enough protein and carbs to give me that early morning boost I need. But I was just craving something different and decided that I wanted to make donuts.

French toast donuts topped with a sweet maple glaze and totally tastes like french toast and donut combined. Imagine that! But in all honesty I didn't share a single bite with anyone. I ate them all myself. Of course it was over the span of a week of breakfast and sometimes an evening snack. I'm not even mad.

I only have one donut pan (which I love) but I went ahead and made donut holes so I wouldn't have to sit and wait to bake more. I just baked them all at once! That's how impatient I can be sometimes, but I do love donut holes! When I was kid, I always ordered a bag of them just for me. Yum!

A couple of tips on making baked donuts:

1) Grease your donut/donut hole pan well. You don't want to be pulling out crumbs of donut. I use Pam's baking spray that has flour in it and smells amazing! If I use it, nothing ever sticks. Ever!

2) Do not overmix your batter. The more you stir, the more dense and chewy your donuts will be. You want them to be thick, yes, because they are baked, but you don't want a chewy donut. Weird.

3) Sift your powdered sugar. When making the glaze, sift that powdered sugar. Otherwise you're going to spend 20 minutes using a fork to mash out all the lumps in your glaze and you'll never want to make glaze again. Just do it.

So with those tips for you, have fun making these very tasty donuts!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Peppermint Crunch Pretzel Sticks

I know you know what time it is. (If you immediately said Adventure Time, you get two million extra points for being super awesome)

It's time for peppermint. Peppermint flavored every thing. Literally. 

If you haven't been on Pinterest, then maybe you haven't seen it. A few weeks ago I started seeing it and I just groaned. Why can't there be other flavors for Christmas?! Then I was at the store and saw the package of Peppermint Crunch… I took back everything I said.

So my first experiment was pretzel sticks. One of my holiday traditions is to make chocolate covered pretzel sticks, and I did just that. I passed them around to several friends and it was a hit. They are sweet and salty crunchy perfection. The best of both worlds! 

I'm kind of stuck in writers block today… I haven't blogged in a while, so I'm going to leave it at this and hope you enjoy the beginning of a few weeks of peppermint crunch recipes!