Anise Twists

anisetwistsEveryone knows a cookie like this: tender, lightly flavored, and absolutely delicious, the type of thing you know someone’s grandma or favorite aunt always made around Christmas. Such are these anise twists, my spin on the traditional anise love knot, because I just couldn’t seem to make knots. There are several recipes for this type of cookie out there, and the recipe below is a hybrid of those. 

I will absolutely, positively make these cookies again, though probably in smaller sizes and perhaps just as round cookies next time; I might also dial back the anise flavoring slightly, because they left me with a stronger aftertaste than I’d expected. Mike loved them, especially how only one side of the cookie is dipped in the icing; he has requested an almond version dipped in chocolate that could accompany coffee, so stay tuned. 

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour 
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon anise extract

For the icing

  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise extract
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk
  • Multicolored nonpareils

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Sift together 2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat eggs and sugar until light in color, about 3 minutes. Add melted butter and anise and stir to combine. With the mixer running on low, add flour about 1 tablespoon at a time and mix until completely combined. 

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead in additional 2 tablespoons flour. Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop balls of dough and roll into 8-inch ropes. Twist together and place on baking sheets.

Bake for 15 minutes, until bottoms are just golden brown. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make icing, stir together melted butter, powdered sugar, anise, and enough milk to make a dipping consistency. Carefully dip the top of one end of each cookie into the icing (or use a spoon to pour over; these cookies are incredibly delicate and a few of mine broke in the dipping process). Sprinkle with nonpareils. Allow to set before storing; makes 20. 

 

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Chocolate Orange Rounds

embossedchocolateMy dear friend Carrie gave me a lovely embossed rolling pin for my birthday this year. It has a folk art-type pattern of flowers, and I’ve been looking forward to using it for months now. As I’m on vacation this week, I’m baking up a storm, and decided to go with a chocolate orange roll-out cookie to test my embossed rolling skills.

While the cookies look absolutely delicious, they are too bitter for me. I used a King Arthur Baking recipe went with dark cocoa for my cocoa powder, but next time I’ll use regular unsweetened cocoa for a lighter chocolate taste. Mike proclaimed them as delicious and remarked that they’d be good with a pint of Guinness. Perhaps I’ll pick some up for him while running errands today.

Ingredients

  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • zest of 1/2 a large orange
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Preparation

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and powdered sugar. Add salt, vanilla extract, and orange zest and beat until fluffy. Add flour and cocoa powder and beat on low to combine, or stir in with a spoon. Wrap dough in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes or until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a regular rolling pin, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness. Using your embossed rolling pin, roll the dough again to imprint the pattern. Using a round cutter, cut out circles and place on the parchment-lined sheets. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until edges are set. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets for 1-2 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days. Makes about two dozen cookies.

Vanilla Pizzelles

vanillapizzelleMy Budapest-born grandma Zella made pizzelles throughout my childhood. I like to think that, in a city with proud ethnic heritage like Pittsburgh, she learned to make them from an Italian friend from her neighborhood or local church. In my imagination Zella and this friend swapped recipes, and right now there’s a girl of Italian heritage making apricot kolaches for her family’s Thanksgiving desserts, just as I’ve made pizzelles for ours.

However she learned to make them, Zella’s pizzelles were absolutely delicious. I have her recipe around here somewhere, and am determined to find it now that I’ve given these treats a try. I used the recipe that came with my pizzelle iron, and while they have a long way to go in terms of even color they do taste very good. I started with a basic vanilla, but plan to branch out to anise and almond, and perhaps even chocolate, over the holidays. We’ll see how it goes.

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Preparation

Heat and prep your pizzelle maker according to the manufacturer’s directions; I let mine heat up while I made my batter and brushed it with vegetable oil just before making my first pizzelles.

In a mixer, beat eggs and butter until light and almost lemon-colored, about 3 minutes. Add melted butter and vanilla and beat until blended. Sift together 1 cup flour and baking powder, then fold into the egg mixture. Sift the remaining flour over the batter and fold in to combine; the batter will become thick and fluffy.

Using two tablespoons from your flatware, drop a rounded tablespoon* of batter onto the center of the pattern; close the lid and bake for about 1 minute and 30 seconds. Remove using kitchen tongs and cool on a wire rack, then store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days. My recipe yielded 15 pizzelles.

*The original recipe called for placing 2 tablespoons of batter on each pattern, but when I did that they were far too large and spread out beyond the pattern part of my pizzelle iron. I recommend testing out what amount works for you based on your machine. 

Karithopita (Greek Walnut Cake)

karithopitaEvery year the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church near our house holds their food festival. Mike enjoys their gyros and various other savory dishes, while I head straight for the dessert table to peruse the variety of syrup-soaked treats. My absolute favorite is galaktoboureko, a phyllo custard pie, followed closely by karithopita, a spiced walnut cake soaked in cinnamon and clove syrup.

The next time I make this – and there will absolutely be a next time, probably sooner than anyone thinks – I’m going to add ground cloves to the cake itself. I found this recipe at Olive & Mango, and have to admit that I had my doubts during baking; the batter looked really loose about five minutes before it was supposed to be done, but everything turned out well. I adjusted the syrup recipe from the original to make a smaller quantity, and even my reduced amount yielded way more than I needed. I believe traditional karithopita is cut into diamond shapes, but for my first try I went with regular squares. I highly recommend storing these treats in cupcake liners, because they become incredibly sticky from the syrup as they sit.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup milk, warmed but not hot
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups walnuts, toasted and chopped, divided

For the syrup

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • zest of 1 small lemon
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 tablespoon whole cloves

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 baking tin and place a parchment rectangle at the bottom. Note: I lined my entire tin, sides and all, with parchment and didn’t like how the edges of the cake turned out, as they weren’t as nicely browned as the rest.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in vanilla.

Place baking powder and baking soda in a heatproof measuring cup or large mug; set aside. Heat the milk so it’s warm to the touch, not hot. Carefully pour the milk into the baking powder mixture, stirring with a fork – it will become very frothy, so make sure you use a large cup or mug. Slowly whisk into the cake batter, then stir in flour mixture, followed by 1 cup walnuts. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is evenly browned.

While cake is baking, prepare the syrup. Combine water, sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon stick, and cloves in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for a few minutes (I let mine simmer for about 5 minutes) to thicken. Set aside to cool.

Once cake is done, remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Using a skewer or sharp knife, prick the cake all over and ladle the syrup over the top, allowing it to soak in. Let stand for about 15 minutes, then sprinkle with remaining walnuts and drizzle over more syrup. Let stand for another 15 minutes before cutting. Cut into squares and place each square on a cupcake liner for easier handling/storage. Store at room temperature for 2-3 days; cake can be wrapped and stored in the fridge for about 1 week, or frozen for up to 3 months. Makes 24 squares.

Fall Spice Cupcakes

fall spice cupcakesDespite what retailers would have you believe, it’s still fall. And we have a lovely holiday – Thanksgiving – to celebrate this week. I get that Christmas can be a magical time of year for people, and most folks (even those who hate winter) get excited for the holidays, seeing family, spending time with friends, having special foods and whatnot. But when I heard Christmas music while out shopping this past weekend, I thought: not today, Santa. Not. Today.

Perhaps in response to the premature Christmasification of things, I baked these fall spice cupcakes, a warming combination of cinnamon, cloves, maple syrup, and applesauce. I found the recipe over at The Live-in Kitchen and cut it down to make a smaller batch, and I decided on a maple buttercream frosting instead of the original cream cheese one in the recipe. These treats are bound for my friend Diana, who is a fantastic baker herself and one of the few people who ever actually bakes for me.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup, at room temperature
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce, at room temperature

For the frosting

  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons pure maple syrup, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners; my recipe yielded 10 cupcakes.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and cloves; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add maple syrup and egg and beat to combine. Add flour mixture and applesauce alternatively in two batches, mixing to just combine.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, scoop batter into cupcake wells, filling about 3/4 full. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and remove cupcakes from tin; cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

To make frosting, beat butter on medium speed for about 1 minute; add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter. Add maple syrup to taste, as well as 1 tablespoon milk to reach a spreadable consistency. Frost cupcakes using an offset spatula; store in an airtight container at room temperature for 1-2 days, or in the fridge for 2-3 days. The tops of these cupcakes get kind of sticky, so a cooler environment is best. Makes 10.

Kentucky Derby Pie

derbypieThe Kentucky Derby is in May…so why I did bake a derby pie in November? Well, Mike made shrimp and grits on Friday, and I wanted a dessert to complement it. But the recipe I tried failed, and once I fail at a recipe I must try again. I’ve spent literal years perfecting honey cake and buttercream, my friends. I could not let something that sounded as delicious as derby pie – essentially a pecan pie with chocolate and bourbon – go unperfected.

And so I took to the internet, searching for a recipe that seemed more feasible than the one I’d tried to make. I found this recipe at The Happier Homemaker, and it turned out great. I think I overbaked mine a bit, so next time I’ll pull it a few minutes earlier. And while I should probably call this Migraine Pie – because as it contains both chocolate and alcohol, I’m putting myself at migraine risk by eating it – it is absolutely delicious, almost like a chocolate chip blondie in pie crust, but not exactly. You’ll just have to make it and see what I mean.

Ingredients

For the pie crust

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • Dash of salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 4-5 tablespoons ice water

For the filling

  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons Kentucky bourbon
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup pecan halves
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place a pie dish on a baking sheet to catch any drips if your filling bubbles over the edges.

Make the crust: in a large bowl, combine flour, salt, and shortening. Cut the shortening in with a pastry cutter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Drizzle two tablespoons water over the mixture and toss with a fork to combine; add enough water to bring your dough together, but be careful not to make the dough too wet. Gather dough into a ball and roll out to about a 12-inch circle; carefully lift into your pie pan, and trim and crimp the edges.

Make the filling: In a large bowl, combine melted butter and sugars, whisking to combine. Whisk in eggs, vanilla, and bourbon, then fold in flour and salt. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips.

Pour filling into the pie shell and bake for about 55-60 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool just slightly before serving, or chill and serve cold. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days; makes about 8 servings, depending on how generously you slice it. 

 

 

Fall Fun Chocolate Cupcakes

fallfuncupcakesI struggled to figure out what to call these cupcakes. They’re actually just chocolate cupcakes, frosted with vanilla buttercream to look like pumpkins. But chocolate pumpkin cupcakes – that’s a different thing altogether. And it actually sounds delicious, despite what some people might think about the pumpkin/chocolate combo. And so, I settled on “fall fun,” because they were fun to make.

As you can see in the photo below, Tucker was quite impressed with them – but as they’re chocolate, they are absolutely not dog friendly. Next time, I’ll go with more vibrant colors for my frosting – these shades are quite muted. I’ll also use a different piping tip for my pumpkin stems, because these ended up looking more like the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter than I’d like. Regardless of how they look, they’re quite tasty. I hope my brother Andy and nephew Roman, who were in town from North Carolina this weekend, will enjoy them.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water

For the frosting

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • Orange, green, and brown food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; this recipe yields 14 cupcakes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Mix until well-blended, then make three wells for the wet ingredients.

Place vinegar, vanilla, and vegetable oil into the wells; add water and mix until the batter is smooth. The mixture will bubble up slightly when you add the water, so just keep mixing until you get a smooth consistency in the batter, which will be fairly thin.

Using a 1/4 cup measure, divide batter among your cupcake wells. Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, then remove cupcakes from pan and cool completely on wire racks.

To make frosting, in a mixing bowl, beat butter for about 1 minute. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until all of the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter; this will take a few minutes. Add vanilla extract and almond extract, beating well to combine completely. Divide into three portions; two small portions of just a few tablespoons each for your stems and leaves, then the remainder for your pumpkins. Tint the largest portion orange, then the smaller portions green and brown. Fit a large piping bag with a Wilton M1 tip and pipe swirls of frosting onto each cupcake to create your pumpkin shape. Fit a small piping bag with a star or plain tip and pipe stems; fit another small piping bag with a leaf tip and pipe leaves. Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 14.

tuckerwithcupcakesTucker was very interested in these, but remember – chocolate can be deadly for dogs. Never feed your pup chocolate! 

Bailey’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

baileyschocolatechipcookiesEarlier this month I got the flu, even though I got (and still firmly believe in) my vaccine. The Original Gangster Flu, the type that knocks you out of commission for a solid week. During my flu experience Mike found this recipe courtesy of Baker by Nature, and I promised him once the plague lifted I’d bake it. I’ve been symptom-free for about a week now, so today I gave it a try. I adapted my recipe to use milk chocolate chips instead of semisweet because that’s what I had on hand, so I think you can go with either one.

While I don’t really taste the Bailey’s in these cookies, they are delicious. Bailey’s is one of my favorite things to bake with, but to me these just taste like rich chocolate chip cookies with a hint of something I can’t quite identify. Mike loved them though, and that’s all that matters to me. My only recommendation for next time is that I bake them for less time; I think they turned out crisper than I’d prefer, so I’ll pull them around 8 minutes in the future and let them finish baking while they cool.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons Baileys Irish Cream
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 12-ounce package milk or semisweet chocolate chips

Preparation

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and espresso powder; set aside. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and Bailey’s and mix to combine; add eggs one at a time, mixing after each. Stir in flour mixture, then stir in chocolate chips; batter will be fairly thick, but be careful not to over mix it. Cover and chill for about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; line four baking sheets with parchment paper and let your dough sit out at room temperature while the over preheats. Using a two-inch cookie scoop, scoop balls of dough and place on cookie sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are set but center still look puffy; remove from oven and cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature; makes about 32 cookies, depending on how generous you are with your scoops.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cookie Bars

saltedcaramelchocolatecookiebarsToday’s baking theme seems to be “looks good, tastes…just okay.” Granted, I have very high standards when it comes to flavor profiles, but I feel like there’s something missing from these salted caramel chocolate cookie bars, which I found over at Inside Bru Crew Life and adapted just slightly based on what I had on hand. The frosting is absolutely delicious, but the bars themselves need something more. The original recipe called for caramel-flavored coffee creamer in the dough and I just used milk, so perhaps that’s what’s missing?

In any case, this recipe makes a ton of frosting and you’ll have at least a cup or so left over. I suspect I’ll whip up some brownies and use the leftovers on them because I think that would be quite tasty. I’m also considering whether pecans or walnuts – toasted, of course, to really bring out their flavor – would make a nice addition. Stay tuned!

Ingredients

For the cookie base

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk

For the frosting

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup caramel ice cream topping
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • 4 cups powdered sugar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 baking tin with foil and spray with baking spray. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, and milk and beat to combine. Add flour mixture in two batches, beating well between each.

Press dough into the bottom of the baking tin to create an even layer; bake for 14 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely before frosting.

To make frosting, beat butter on medium speed for about 1 minute. Add vanilla, caramel sauce, and salt and continue to beat until combined. Add powdered sugar and beat on low, then medium speed, to fully incorporate the sugar into the butter mixture.

Spread frosting over bars and sprinkle lightly with additional kosher salt (if desired). Cut into 24 bars and store in an airtight container for 1-2 days.

Autumn Leaf Shortbread

leafshortbreadThis morning Tucker and I had a lovely walk at North Park, one of our favorite local places. North Park sits on more than 3,000 acres and includes a manmade lake for kayaking, paddling, and fishing, miles of hiking trails through beautiful woods, an ice rink, a swimming pool, various ballfields and tennis courts…pretty much everything you’d expect from a suburban park.

The trees at North Park are stunning at this time of year, and this year especially. Cooler weather has brought out vibrant reds and oranges, which are some of my favorite shades. These shortbread cookies, inspired by a recipe I found at Tastemade, are inspired by Mother Nature’s lovely fall showcase; while they look beautiful, they weren’t quite as flavorful as I would have liked. They have a lovely crumbly texture, but I think they need more vanilla extract – or even vanilla paste – to give them a richer flavor.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Yellow, orange, and red gel food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Add flour and salt and mix to combine completely; this takes a few minutes. Divide dough into three portions and tint each portion a different color, then marble your dough together. If necessary, you can chill your dough, but I skipped this step because it was cool enough in my house today and the dough didn’t get that soft.

Roll your dough into a log, then roll out to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut cookies using a leaf-shaped cutter; press lines for leaf veins into each cookie using a sharp knife. Place on baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes, until bottoms are very light golden brown.

Remove from oven place on a wire rack to cool completely. Makes about a dozen, depending on the size of your cutter; I used a maple leaf shape that’s about 2 inches wide. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days.