Shortcut Cake Pops

 

If you have kids or visit Starbucks on a regular basis, you know about cake pops.  They’re like Tootsie Pops, but made of mashed-up cake instead of candy (so therefore better for you?), dipped in a glossy coating and dressed up with sprinkles or other accoutrements.

(For some awe-inspiring creations, check out Bakerella.com or search “cake pops” in Pinterest.).

If you’ve ever tried making cake pops, you know that they can be TIME CONSUMING. First you have to bake a cake (albeit from a boxed mix) and let it cool. Then you crumble it up and mix it with a can of frosting.  This dough-like mixture becomes the base for the cake pops. After that you shape, chill, dip and decorate.

Doesn’t it seem crazy to bake a nice cake only to smush it all up? Some smart person though of using Munchins for the centers.  That’s definitely a shortcut (and a lot less messy), but if you’re looking for that gooey-cakey texture or want to shape the cake pops into something other than spheres, the donut holes just won’t do.

Well, hold onto your lollypop sticks, folks. I’ve come up with a trick that may forever change the way you make cake pops:  [cue drumroll]

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Love These

We’re gearing up for the US Open around here. Look out, world – here come the Walter sisters!

Well, maybe in a few years. In the meantime, we’ll get into the spirit of things by serving up these mini tennis ball cookies – simple sugar cookies with a shiny, glow-green glaze.

How’s this for hitting the sweet spot?

Yes, the cookies are a bit time-consuming to make, but I promise they taste as good as they look. And as Sophie (above, in the shades) will tell you, sometimes looking good is worth a little extra effort.

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Fresh Peach Fro-Yo

Every summer it’s the same story: Swoon over perfect-looking peaches piled high in the produce aisle. Bring a bunch home to ripen on the counter. Start dreaming about biting into a juicy, sweet-tart peach.  Try to contain disappointment when the whole lot turns out to be mealy and bland.  Vow to never again buy peaches from the grocery store. Repeat.

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Do NOT Make These Cookies

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. These cookies are highly addictive, and almost impossible to resist when fresh out of the oven. If you ignore my advice and make them anyway, at least don’t do so on an empty stomach.

My daughter Leah would do almost anything for these cookies – which are crisp on the outside, chewy inside, and bursting with Hershey’s Mini Kisses, pecans and toffee bits. If I were the manipulative type I could bake my way to mommy nirvana – beds made, clothes put away, piano practiced, maybe even cat litter scooped! But of course that would be wrong. I make the kids cookies to show how much I love them. But wait – that’s wrong too! Or is it?

Since these cookies are best the same day they’re baked, I usually only bake one sheet pan (12 cookies or 2 servings – kidding!) at a time. I freeze the rest of the dough balls in a Ziploc bag for easy, fresh-baked treats (or bribes) whenever the need arises. (Freeze on a small baking sheet in a single layer first, then transfer to a bag when firm.)

Best-Ever Chocolate Toffee Chip Cookies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated (white) sugar
  • 2 large eggs (ideally at room temperature)
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (taste a few first to make sure they haven’t turned rancid)
  • 1 package Heath Toffee Bits (in the baking aisle)
  • 1 package Hershey’s Mini Kisses (in the baking aisle)

Heat oven to 300ºF. (The low temperature is key.) Line 1 or 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. (Each baking sheet should hold 12 cookies.)

In the bowl of an electric mixer, add softened butter and both sugars. Beat (“cream”) until well combined.

Add eggs (crack into a separate bowl so no shell bits get into the batter) and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.

With mixer off, sprinkle baking soda and salt over butter/egg mixture, then add the flour. Mix on lowest speed to prevent flour from flying all over the kitchen. Slowly increase mixer speed just until flour is fully incorporated.

Then add pecans, toffee bits (extra credit for making your own Almond Toffee!) and Hershey’s Mini Kisses. Even the most powerful mixer will groan a little at all this. Finish mixing by hand if necessary.

Using a small ice cream scooper or a spoon, form walnut-sized balls. (Gather all inner strength to resist OD’ing on dough.) Place on baking sheet a few inches apart.

Bake for 20-22 minutes (depending on how hot your oven runs or whether the dough balls were frozen); cookies should pale/just barely browned. If using two baking sheets, rotate halfway through baking. Slide parchment sheet with cookies onto a counter to cool slightly and firm up.  (I don’t bother with a cooling rack for these cookies – they usually disappear well before they’ve cooled all the way.)

Makes approximately 36 cookies, but we’re usually too busy devouring them to get an accurate count.

Noodle Nests

Who doesn’t love a festive dessert? Better yet – who doesn’t love a festive dessert that requires no baking, comes together in minutes and keeps the kids from fighting for a blissful 10 minutes?

Enter Noodle Nests – salty-sweet little nests made from chow mein noodles and white chocolate chips. I didn’t invent this recipe, but maybe I’m the first one to fill the nests with pastel “M&M’s”® candies? (I swear I’m no longer on the Mars payroll, but – ahem – perhaps I should be?)

The great thing about no-bake treats like these is that you can get right to the fun part – decorating.  You can use anything you like to fill the nests – we opted for Peanut “M&M’s”® (because I couldn’t find any Almond) and JellyBelly jellybeans. Speckled malted milk eggs work well, or for a Martha-chic natural look you could go with unwrapped solid chocolate eggs (i.e., Hershey’s or Dove®).

Noodle Nests

  • 1 10-oz package white chocolate chips
  • 1 Tablespoon (splash) vegetable oil
  • 5 oz. (1 canister) chow mein noodles
  • Candy eggs

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium microwaveable bowl, add white chocolate chips and vegetable oil. Microwave on high in 30-second increments, stirring after each, until chips have melted and mixture is smooth. (These Trader Joe’s chips took about 1 minute total.) 

Add chow mein noodles and stir gently to coat.

Drop mixture by the spoonful onto parchment-lined baking sheets to form nests. If there is any white chocolate mixture left in the bowl, drop that onto the center of the nests to help the candies adhere.

Decorate the nests with candy eggs. Place baking sheets with completed nests in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes to solidify. Store in an airtight container.

Makes approximately 18 nests.

Chocolate Buns

At the Thomas Jefferson School Science Fair earlier this week, students had the opportunity to make their own “Gak” – or polymer made from Elmer’s glue and Borax. It’s fun to play with for a while, until it ends up stuck to the car floor or buried at the bottom of a backpack.  At least with homemade bread dough and these magic chocolate buns, you get to play with your dough and eat it, too.  For a fun activity and tasty snack all in one, kids can help form the dough balls and stuff them with chocolate chips.  (Easy enough for a 7-year-old – see below.) Or for a special breakfast or brunch item, you could make the dough and form the buns the night before; in the morning, just bake for 20 minutes and serve hot and oozy.

Usually I make the dough for these buns in a bread machine – fast and foolproof. Just dump all the ingredients (except for the chocolate chips) into the bread machine bowl, set to “Dough” cycle and walk away. After about 90 minutes, the dough’s ready to form into balls or be refrigerated until ready to use.  Since not everyone has a bread machine lying around, this morning I tried making the dough with an electric mixer and dough hook. It took a little more “active time”, but the results were just as good. And for a fully unplugged and highly therapeutic version, you could mix and knead the dough entirely by hand, using the week’s frustrations to power the process. (Trying to get blue Gak out of beige carpeting comes to mind.)

Chocolate Buns

  • 1 Recipe multi-purpose Bread Dough (below)
  • Bittersweet chocolate chips (approx. ½ package)

Multi-purpose Bread Dough

  • ½ cup warm water (approx. 110-120ºF, like bathwater)
  • ½ cup warm milk
  • 1 package yeast (preferably RapidRise)
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened or melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt (not kosher)
  • 3 ¾ cups flour

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Can’t We All Just Get Along?

So I was wearing orange today to show support for my friend Vicky, who’s helping raise awareness for MS. And the color orange always reminds me of my time as a witness in Federal Court. (I was not wearing orange then.) I was a junior brand manager working on the “M&M’s”® Brand’s lesser-loved stepchildren – Baking Bits, Almond and Peanut Butter. Peanut Butter “M&M’s”® were – and still are – a fantastic product, but it’s hard living in the shadows of successful older siblings. Our ad agency account team used to call me Sue “What about Peanut Butter” because I was constantly advocating for more media support.  The next thing I knew I was in Federal Court, taking the stand to defend the brand’s recently redesigned packaging color. It seems our confectionery archrival (no need to name names) felt they owned the color orange. The case was settled, but the two companies still get ornery over orange to this day.

With St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, I should be talking about green – not orange. So that got me thinking about the Irish flag, which sparked the idea for this recipe symbolizing peace and Pantone harmony.  (I owe my friend Jennifer D. for the idea of using Peanut Butter M&M’s® as a topper for these Hershey’s Kisses treats; truly inspired thinking!)

St. Patrick’s Day Treats

  • Mini pretzels (Snyder’s Snaps are ideal)
  • Hershey’s Kisses
  • M&M’s® Peanut Butter Chocolate Candies

Arrange pretzels on a microwaveable plate.  Unwrap Kisses and place on top of pretzels.

Microwave for about 90 seconds, in 30-second intervals, until Kisses are glossy and the tips collapse when pressed.

Use the Peanut Butter “M&M’s”® to smash down the melted Kisses. (Wait – let’s try that again: Gently press Peanut Butter “M&M’s”® onto the melted Kisses tips until a peaceful union is achieved.) Refrigerate until firm, or eat warm and melty.

 

 

Gelato Break

My first real job was in high school, at the University Place Baskin Robbins.  It came with a brown, pink and white polyester striped uniform shirt (we had to buy our own brown polyester pants) and a below-minimum wage. That was all fine with me – I would’ve worked there for free.  I learned how to decorate ice cream cakes (quickly!) and how to scoop ice cream correctly (in an “S” pattern across the tub). By the end of the summer I thought I knew all there was to know about frozen desserts. But I was cold wrong.

It was the summer after college graduation, and I was backpacking my way around Europe solo. (And these were the Dark Ages, before cell phones, digital cameras, email and Facebook.) Traveling alone really forced me out of my shell, and I met people I never would have spoken to if I had been traveling with friends. While sojourning for a few days at the Cap d’Ail youth hostel in Southern France (you can only take so many churches and museums before needing a beach break), some of my new friends and I decided to take an overnight train to Venice for the day. Unfortunately, most of that day is now a blur (canals, bridges, gondolas). But one memory still rings clear: my first gelato. Che buono! It was pistachio, and even though it was smooth and creamy, it completely confused my mouth because the nut flavor was so intense. (Mouth: “Do I lick this or chew it?”) How could I have missed out on gelato for all these years??

Ever since that enlightening experience, I have a hard time passing a gelateria without stopping in for a little cup.  Even if the gelateria happens to be in the middle of a parking lot next to a CVS pharmacy, as was the case yesterday.

Angelato is a little gem of a gelateria, though most people I talk to about it have never been inside. Now that I have a blog, I can spread the word much more efficiently.  As a special offer for Subee’s Kitchen readers, just print out the last page of this post and bring it in to Angelato for 20% off your gelato order.

I’m still partial to pistachio, though Angelato also makes a hot chile chocolate flavor that I’m now addicted to. (It goes really well with coconut as well as pistachio; you can get two flavors combined if you order a medium cup.) It’s a little pricey, but the portions are generous and I think the small-batch quality is worth it. Plus, did you know that gelato is made from whole milk, vs. heavy cream – which means it has less fat than ice cream?? (2-8% fat, vs. 16-20% with ice cream, according to Angelato’s brochure and a quick Wikipedia search – which is all the research I need to justify the medium size.)

I wonder if they’re hiring.

Florham Village, Columbia Turnpike, Florham Park, NJ

Angelatoheavenlyicecream.com

Offer valid through May 31, 2012; not to be combined with other offers.

Trefoil Chocolate Pudding Pie

While I believe in a well-stocked pantry (see my Pantry Staples page for details), one thing I try NOT to keep on hand is packaged cookies. It’s just too easy to get carried away with them during a moment of weakness. (Which is typically every day around 4 p.m.) Sure, I usually have all the ingredients to make homemade cookies, but that process allows more time for introspection and self-intervention. In the time it takes to get 2 sticks of butter soft enough for cookie-making, one could easily rip through an entire sleeve of Oreos.  So I avoid the cookie aisle, and generally keep afternoon cravings under control with some fruit or a few chocolate chips. And caffeine.

For the past week, however, there’s been a new foe in town: The Girl Scout Cookie. How could I resist the deftly-crafted sales pleas of sweet angelic Girl Scouts (who happen to be my daughters)? Even though we donated boxes to the troops’ chosen charities, I still ended up with a pantry full of Trefoils, Thin Mints, Samoas and Tagalongs.

Fortunately, abundance is the mother of invention when it comes to my cooking.  I love the challenge of using up leftovers or overstocked ingredients in a creative way. My sparse-pantried mother would say, “Just buy less food!” But then I might never have come up with Trefoil Chocolate Pudding Pie – and that would be a shame.

This is more of an ice box cake than a pie, but you get the idea. Shortbread cookies layered with chocolate pudding and refrigerated, so that the cookies turn soft and cake-like. Then topped with whipped cream before serving. (The Nilla wafer banana pudding and chocolate wafer whipped cream cake classics were the inspiration.) Retro-chic comfort food at its best! If it’s not Girl Scout cookie season, any kind of shortbread-style cookie could be used – Lorna Doone’s, Pepperidge Farms Chessmen, Nilla Wafers, etc. And while I’m all for shortcuts, the “semi-homemade”angle should end here. You really owe it to yourself (I mean, your family) to make homemade chocolate pudding.

This streamlined recipe for chocolate pudding maximizes “chocolatiness” while minimizing steps and other ingredients.  No eggs, no double boilers, no straining; just delicious, seriously chocolately pudding in about 5 minutes.  I make it with organic 1% milk, so it’s practically health food! Once you see how easy it is to make – and how much better it tastes, you may never buy boxed pudding again.

Trefoil Chocolate Pudding Pie

  • 1 box Girl Scout Trefoil cookies or other shortbread cookies (Lorna Doone, Chessmen, Nilla Wafers)
  • 1 recipe Real Chocolate Pudding (below)
  • Whipped cream for topping (1 cup heavy cream, 1-2 Tablespoons powdered sugar, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract)
  • Chocolate bar/shavings for garnish (optional)

In a 9×9 pan or small casserole dish, arrange cookies in a single layer.

Make pudding recipe (below); pour warm pudding over cookies. Add a few additional cookies on top.

Allow to cool; then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. (If you cover it right away, you’ll get a lot of condensation on the plastic  wrap.)

For serving, top with fresh whipped cream. (In a cold bowl, beat heavy cream with powdered sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form.) 

(Sorry for the blurry photo; I think the anticipation was getting to me.)

For chocolate shavings garnish, use a vegetable peeler and shave a chocolate bar directly over the whipped cream.

Serves 6-8

 

Real Chocolate Pudding

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt [I use table salt (vs kosher) here and when baking]
  • 2 cups milk (any kind: nonfat, 1%, 2%, whole)
  • 1 generous cup bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate (approx 6-7 oz) [You could use semisweet chips, but cut the sugar down to 1/2 cup]
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, add sugar, cornstarch, salt and milk. Whisk to combine.

Whisk/stir gently until mixture comes to a boil. Pudding will start to thicken just before boiling. (It will look like Elmer’s glue.)

Let bubble/boil for a minute or so, and then remove from heat. Stir in vanilla (which will bubble up) and chocolate chips. Whisk until smooth.

Pour into a serving dish or individual bowls, or proceed with Trefoil Pudding Pie assembly.

 

 

 

 

Cakewalk This Way

This is a busy week for me and many other mom-unteers, with major fundraising activities at both kids’ schools: a Read-a-Thon starting this Friday at one and a Fun Fair this Saturday at the other. (Add a comment to this post or email me for more information on either!)

Sure, the kids have fun and we earn important funds for the schools, blah blah. But what I’m most excited about is the return of the Fun Fair Cakewalk – the musical chairs-like game where you walk around in a circle (with numbers taped to the floor) while the music plays, and when the music stops you hope and pray that your number gets called. If it does, you get to pick a cake or treat from the cake table!  I still remember the heart-pounding thrill of winning five cakes at Sunset Elementary’s Fun Fair (many many years ago); I don’t think I left the Cakewalk room all evening.

Gumball Machine Cake

Making the cakes for the Cakewalk is almost as fun. I’ll be making mine this Friday (freshness is important!); I’m not sure what the design inspiration will be yet, but I have a big bag of JellyBelly jelly beans to use up so those might be incorporated somehow. I’m not going to go crazy, though; I’ve learned from past Cakewalks and Bake Sales that the most elaborate creations are not necessarily the ones that go first. (Kids tend to choose the treats that look homemade.) In full disclosure, I usually use boxed cake mixes – they’re quick, easy and reliable. (My friend Angela asserts that if you bake it it’s homemade – boxed mix or not.) I usually make my own buttercream frosting, however; the results are worth the minimal effort. You can find frosting recipes on boxes of confectioner’s (powdered) sugar, or here: http://www.dominosugar.com/baking-tips-how-tos/advanced-baking-tips/frosting-recipes

For anyone else with a Cakewalk or Bake Sale coming up this spring, here are some ideas based on things I’ve made in the past. Most are original concepts, but some (i.e., slider cupcakes) are blatant knock-offs. For more inspiration and detailed instructions on making Cake Pops and other really cute treats, check out http://www.bakerella.com/.

“M&M’s” ® Brand Cake

“M&M’s” ® Pretzel Cake Pops

Daffodil Cookie Bouquet (marshmallows cut in half form the 3-D effect)

Dessert is Served

Fruity Pebble Treats

Cake Pops with Sprinkles (the white ones went first, surprisingly)

Sliders (vanilla cupcake “buns”, brownie “burgers”)

Gingerbread Girl Scout Daisies