Spa Party Cupcakes

My niece Julia turns 12 this month. She asked if I would make cupcakes with lots of fondant apparently, she loves it, in a spa-sleepover theme. She chose blue and pink as her colors.
I made the fondant toppers the day before baking the cupcakes, and let them sit at room temperature overnight. So the “trinkets” would stand out nicely, I made a circular piece to use as a base. Coupled with the mounds of frosting, these were truly fit for a girl’s night in.

<strong<*note, i used duff goldman black fondant and it worked well–i liked the texture a lot. it is important to warm it in the microwave a bit before working with it. i didn’t use dg white, as it is “buttercream” flavored, not the flavor my niece loves. for the white and colored pieces i used satin ice brand tinted with gel food color.
I am not compensated for endorsing or mentioning either brand.

Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Cookies

I‘m that person. The one that is rarely late. The one that calls restaurants to say I’m running behind schedule. I’m that person leisurely sauntering through the airport, who doesn’t huff and puff when someone has 7 layers of clothes to remove
along with lace up knee high boots, at security. Because I am neurotic, I always have time to spare. I missed a plane once. It was in the 90s, and because of an accident on a country road. Traffic was stopped dead, no fighting it. It was 3 days before my sister’s wedding, I was maid of honor, and I hadn’t had my dress fitting. Consequently, it took me more than a day of travel. Which led to a last minute dress fitting; resulting in a poorly made dress. When my dance partner accidentally stepped on the bottom of my dress, most of it (the dress) ended up lying in a heap on the dance floor. There I stood, in my very classy maroon stockings, 3 inch heels and crop top.
I am now neurotic about airline travel. 2 hours before flight time I like to be sitting at the gate: not at the check in or security, but at.the.gate.
Which brings me to today’s recipe. Recently, while enjoying the sights and sounds of Milwaukee International Airport, for hours on end, I purchased a peanut butter oatmeal cookie as big as my head. Mike and I both thought it was genius: peanut butter and oatmeal. Sadly, genius it was not. Great idea. poor execution. I knew I could make something that tastes better. And i did.

Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Cookies
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
3 cups old fashioned oatmeal
Mix the salt,baking soda, flour, graham cracker crumbs and oatmeal in a large bowl. In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat together the butter, dark brown sugar and granulated sugar, until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla..and beat until fully incorporated. Beat in the peanut butter and beat for 1 minute. Add the dry ingredients all at once and stir until fully mixed. Form into balls and flatten with the tines of a fork. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes. These are delicious right out of the cookie jar, but also wonderful with a scoop of peanut butter chocolate ice cream sandwiched between.

Homemade “twix” Bars

A few years ago, a friend of a friend said to me, regarding chocolate, if you could come up with something that has chocolate, caramel, and a cookie, I would totally go for that. And I said, you a twix? And she replied, exactly like a twix. I gave her 25 cents and walked away.
Fast forward a few years…
I was digging through the freezer and came across shortbread cookie dough; and figured why not. I could take a twix and make it just a wee bit better; using fine chocolate, homemade caramel and a smattering of shaved sea salt.
This is good. This is valentine good. This is write 100 times on the chalkboard “i love you more than chocolate” good.

Rock Candy

My kitchen has been looking like a science lab lately. Not because it is pristinely clean with clutter free counter tops and nerdies wandering around; but because I have been making rock candy. Several attempts
I might add
. It all started out innocently enough: sugar, water, string. But then I got sassy. Like i am Debeers or something. I thought it would be fun and cheeky to make rock candy jewels. Something for a big night out . I settled on drop earrings. Simple, right?
Here is the rub; the fun flew faster than a spy plane out this nerdies door, while obsessive took its place.
In the end, I got the perfect pair.
Now I’m not sure if I should wear or eat them.

Rock Candy
2 cups water
4 cups sugar
food coloring (optional)
up to 1 tsp flavoring (optional)
baker’s twine
granulated sugar
cut the baker’s twine to desired length. tie the twine off to a wooden skewer or pencil. this will allow you to suspend it in the syrup. Dip the twine in water, then roll in a bit of granulated sugar to coat. allow to dry while you make the syrup.
bring water and 1 cup of sugar to a simmer in a saucepan. while the water is still simmering, add sugar, 1 cup at a time, stirring and ensuring the sugar has completely dissolved before adding the next cup. once all sugar is incorporated, remove from heat and add coloring and flavoring. allow the syrup to cool slightly, then pour into a clean and sterilized glass jar or tall glass. you will need a separate glass for each rock candy you want to make.
suspend the twine in the syrup being careful that it does not touch the bottom or sides of glass. crystals should begin to form in about 4 hours. if there is no activity within 24 hours remove the twine, pour the syrup back into a pot and heat to a simmer. return to the clean and sterilized jar and start again. if you see excessive crystallization on the sides of the jar or glass, remove the twine and perform the above steps, otherwise you will have a glass full of hard sugar crystals.
check your twine daily. when you have the rock candy of your desire, remove from the syrup and allow to hang dry for a few hours.

Cookie Dough Candy Cups

I might be one of very few whom actually prefer baked cookies to raw.
The cause possibly may have been the constant threat my mother herald:
“raw cookie dough will give you worms”
I don’t recall that it ever happened to anyone but perhaps it isn’t discussed in polite society.
Still, I find it astounding in a medical sense. I really should have paid more attention in high school biology class.
With that introduction; how could you not be hungry for a little bit of cookie dough?
 (wink, wink)
This recipe is sans eggs so no need to worry. I filled little chocolate cups but you can also roll the dough and dip in chocolate or just eat them out of hand .

cookie dough

1/2 cup unsalted butter–softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour or ground nut flour-toasted
evaporated milk (as needed)
1 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
toasted and chopped (optional)
chocolate ganache for topping or tempered chocolate for dipping.

With a mixer, beat the sugar and butter until creamy.  Add the salt, and vanilla and beat again.  Stir in the flour until just incorporated.  Add evaporated milk a bit at a time until you reach the consistency you want…it won’t take much.  Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts (if desired).  If putting into cups, generously scoop dough into cups and then dip in ganache & top with chocolate chips or colored candy. If making into truffles, scoop out desired portions and put on lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate until hardened. Remove from fridge, roll into balls and dip in tempered chocolate. Top with chocolate chips or colored candies as desired.

Chocolate Covered Gingerbread

It has been quite some time since I have made gingerbread cookies. With all the excitement around gingerbread houses and gingerbread cakes, in our house, the cookies take a back seat.

But I had a special request for the holiday season, so I must oblige.
I dusted off my cookie cutter and scoured my recipe archives, and found a fun idea in Nancy Baggett’s All American Cookie Book
I slightly altered the recipe, only very slightly. I think the cookie benefits from a bit of honey, and that the glaze needs a nice chocolate bump.

Chocolate Glazed Gingerbread
(adapted from all american cookie book)
6 1/2 cups flour (plus more if needed)
2 Tbs ground cinnamon
2 Tbs ground ginger *
1 tsp ground cloves
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt *
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar *
1 cup unsalted butter–slightly softened
2 Tbs corn oil (or other flavorless oil)
1 1/4 cup molasses*
1/4 cup honey*
Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt and baking powder in a large bowl and set aside. In an electric mixer, beat together the brown sugar, butter, and oil until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses, honey and 2 1/2 Tbs water until well blended. Beat in half the flour mixture until well blended. Stir in the remaining flour. knead the dough until it becomes smooth and shiny. If dough is too stiff, you may add a bit more water, if too sticky, add flour. Divide dough into three pieces. Roll each piece in between pieces of wax or parchment paper to 1/4″ thick. Place in the refrigerator to firm up (about 3 hours). When ready to use, peel back the parchment from both sides and using a cookie cutter, stamp out design. Bake on a parchment lined cookie sheet for approximately 6-12 minutes at 350F. Keep a close eye. Let cool, then dip in chocolate glaze

Chocolate Luster Glaze
1 1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate–coarsely chopped and melted*
3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
pinch kosher salt*
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder*
1/3 cup water
1 Tbs light or dark corn syrup*
1 tsp vanilla extract
Heat the water and corn syrup in a sauce pan, over medium heat until it just comes to a boil. Remove from heat. Sift together the powdered sugar, salt and cocoa powder. Stir the hot syrup/water into the powdered sugar mixture and beat by hand until smooth and shiny. Toss in the vanilla and melted chocolate and beat again until smooth. Dip cookies or use an offset spatula to frost. Let cookies sit a minimum of 3 hours to ensure they are set. Decorate as desired.

the ingredients marked by * have been altered, or added by yours truly.

Gingerbread Biscotti

I love this biscotti.

2 3/4 -3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3/4 cup + 5tsp granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 Tbs molasses
2 Tbs butter–melted and cooled
2 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1 Tbs sugar + 1 tsp cinnamon mixed together
1 egg–gently whisked for glazing

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.  In a bowl whisk together the whole eggs with the granulated sugar, brown sugar, molasses, vanilla and butter.  Stir in the dry ingredients and mix until it comes together. If it is too wet, add a bit of flour to your hands as you form the mixture into 2 logs of about 2″ wide. Place each log on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Brush the top of each log with the egg and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top. Bake at 350 until it is puffed and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and let cool. Once cooled, slice crosswise, reduce the oven to 325 and place cut side down on the cookie sheet.  Return to oven and bake until dry but not brown.

I use a little royal icing to mimic the gild of gingerbread people, but it isn’t necessary.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

My two best finds in England? Becky and sticky toffee pudding. Becky is a Brit and a cherished friend. She is also whip-smart and has a laugh that fills a room. I was reminded of that last week. Mike and I met up with Becky for lunch whilst in London on a visit. Such a treat!
I was also reminded of the first time I’d eaten sticky toffee pudding. It was Becky’s birthday and I had strong-armed my way into a reservation at the, then, most popular spot in town, The Ivy. I may have insinuated that I was a food writer. I can’t remember. It was 10 years ago and not entirely a lie; my diary is loaded with food descriptions…as far back as the 6th grade. I have since eaten sticky toffee pudding hundreds of times but none have been as good. The Ivy didn’t invent it but they sure did perfect it. Almost. I have made a few additions to their recipe along the way that give it a bit of a kick, a more modern flavor if you will but it is them and Becky that I have to thank. I was one small fib away from never knowing the beauty of sticky toffee pudding
For my final, in culinary school, I made sticky toffee pudding into a composed dessert with bourbon hard sauce and cocoa nib tuile all wrapped in a caramelized sugar cage. It was beautiful and earned me high marks but way too fussy for everyday enjoyment. This recipe is not complicated, but it is a bit time-consuming. It takes a bit of advanced planning, but I promise, it is worth it.

sticky toffee pudding


for the date puree
375gr stoned dates
375ml water
1/2 inch knob of peeled ginger kept whole
Simmer the dates and ginger in the water over low heat about 15 minutes until they are very soft and the water has almost evaporated. Remove the knob of ginger and discard. process the remaining water and dates until very smooth.
for the toffee sauce
640 ml heavy cream
340 gr granulated sugar
130 gr corn syrup (optional)
130 gr unsalted butter
generous pinch of kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla
Pour half the cream, sugar, corn syrup (if using), butter and salt into a thick-bottomed pan and mix well.  Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon, and continue to boil until it is golden brown.  Remove from heat and allow it to cool slightly. Whisk in the remaining cream and vanilla. Set aside.
for the sponge
130 g unsalted butter–room temperature
375 g dark brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
450 gr bread flour
10 gr baking powder
3 gr baking soda
3 gr kosher salt
1/8 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
Grease and line a baking tin measuring approximately 30x24x6cm, with parchment paper. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, clove, ginger, and cardamom.  In a mixer cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, do not allow the mixture to separate. If it does, add a bit of flour to bind it back together. Add vanilla. Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat until the mixture is smooth.  Fold in flour mixture until smooth.  Add the warm date puree and mix well.  Spread in prepared tin and bake for about 45-50 minutes at 350. Use a cake tester to ensure you do not overbake.
To assemble
Once cooled, remove the cake from the tin and trim the edges.  Slice horizontally into 3 and reassemble in the baking tin, spreading two-thirds of the sauce between layers. Just before you are ready to serve, place the cake back in a 350 oven for about 15 minutes, then cut into equal servings.  Top with remaining toffee sauce. You can serve with softly whipped cream, creme fraiche, soured cream or ice cream.

**You can also make these into cupcakes. Bake as normal and before they are completely cooled, poke holes in them and pour in the toffee sauce. Allow it to seep in and pool on top.  Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

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