Kitchen Essential: Pre-cut Parchment Sheets


I love pre-cut parchment sheets so much, and use them so often, I though they deserved their own post. These 12″x16″ sheets fit perfectly on half-sheet baking pans (another kitchen essential) – no more wrestling with parchment rolls that never quite fit right. They make cleanup a snap as well. Continue reading

Blackberry Crumble Bars

blackberry crumble bar

With school back in session and the days getting cooler, summer’s becoming a distant memory. The good news is that this also signals the beginning of baking season (for me, anyway).  With the warm, tart taste of summer’s wild blackberries still lingering in our heads, I thought these blackberry/oatmeal/walnut crumble bars would make the perfect back-to-school treat. Summer sandwiched between layers of fall.

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S’mores Bars

When chocolate cravings hit, they hit hard. One of the (many many) great things about having kids is that it gives you an excuse to make ridiculously indulgent treats like these S’mores Bars. “They’re for the kids!” you say to anyone raising an eyebrow, or to yourself, as you polish off an entire row.

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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.

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:

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

“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

MMMagic Bars

Busy month! Time to start cranking out some holiday treats for the freezer (keeps things fresh and safely out of sight). This is one of my favorite recipes because it’s fast, festive and irresistible. (We squeezed in a batch between school concert prep and math homework.)

I’ve adapted this from the classic Magic Cookie Bars recipe – usually found on the back of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk; instead of using semisweet chocolate chips, I use red and green “M&M’s”® Brand Milk Chocolate Candies. (Nine years post-Mars, I still feel compelled to use the correct trademark protection for the brand. We took those ®s , ™ s and descriptors very seriously; the colorful little candies are a billion dollar business!)

MMMagic Bars

Makes about 3 dozen squares

  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs (available in the baking section)
  • 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)
  • 1 ½ cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • Approx. 2 cups red & green “M&M’s”® Milk Chocolate Candies (not quite a full 12.6-oz. bag; you’ll have to figure out something to do with the leftover candies . . .)

Preheat oven to 350ºF (325º for a glass dish).  Put stick of butter to 13×9-inch baking pan and melt in oven while oven preheats. When butter is melted, remove pan from oven and add graham cracker crumbs; mix and press evenly into bottom of pan to form cookie base.  (I do it this way to reduce the number of dirty dishes; by all means you could melt the butter in a bowl in the microwave, mix in the graham cracker crumbs, then add to the baking pan.)

Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over crumb mixture. (Spread carefully so as not to disturb the crumbs too much.)

Layer the remaining ingredients, ending with the candies. With the bottom of a clean jar or large spoon, lightly press down on candies (so they stick to but don’t get submerged in the condensed milk mixture).

Bake 23-25 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbling.

If you can resist, let cool before cutting into squares.  Cookies will firm up once cooled. (I always have to “test” the edges when still hot, though, and it’s a gooey albeit delicious mess.) Store in the freezer if you want them to last more than a day (because they will disappear).