Monster Blondies

What’s an easy homemade treat to for Halloween? I highly recommend blondies, a versatile treat that you can customize however you like. These monster blondies feature both Reese’s Pieces and M&Ms (the plain variety), as well as some candy eyeballs. They’re on their way to my favorite little Marylanders, Mo and Margo. Incidentally, Margo’s birthday is on Halloween, so I guess these count as her birthday treats as well.

Candy eyeballs are available at most craft stores in the cake and candy section; I got these at Target, in their Halloween baking section, and used both plain white and creepy red. When you’re placing the eyeballs on top of your blondies, keep in mind your cut lines for when the blondies are baked; I definitely had a few half-eyeballs, but I guess that just ups the creep factor.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 12 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons Reese’s Pieces
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons plain M&Ms
  • Candy eyeballs

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 pan completely with foil and lightly spray with baking spray.

Reserve 1 cup each of Reese’s Pieces and M&Ms for mixing into the batter; save the remaining portions for pressing onto the top along with the candy eyeballs.

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, and brown sugar; mix well to combine.

Add melted butter and stir to incorporate slightly; add eggs and vanilla extract and stir well to fully combine. The dough will be fairly dry, so you’ll want to use your hands to fully incorporate your ingredients.

Add candies and mix with your hands to combine well.

Press dough into the prepared pan, then place candy eyeballs at regular intervals so you’ll be able to cut your finished blondies (mostly) without chopping the eyeballs in half. Sprinkle the top with the remaining candies and press them into the dough.

Bake for 23-25 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool in pan for about 10-15 minutes, then lift out by the foil and place on a wire rack; peel foil back slightly and allow to cool completely.

Once cool, remove foil entirely and cut into bars. Store in an airtight container.

Makes 24.

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Fall Spice Biscotti

If you’re the type of baker who doesn’t stock apple pie spice, pumpkin spice, or other seasonal spice blends, don’t sweat it. You can easily make your own blends with common ingredients you’re likely to have.

This fall spice biscotti uses apple pie spice, a mixture of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves. I recently bought a few small jars at the Container Store that I’ve filled with both homemade apple pie spice and pumpkin spice, so I can easily use either one in a recipe. Spice mixing is a bit of an art; you can stick with standard measurements, or explore a bit with your own ratios. I’m a big fan of cloves, so my apple pie spice is a bit heavier on cloves than the store-bought kind might be. The next time I make this recipe, I’ll likely divide my dough in half and bake it in two logs; it spreads a great deal when baking, which I wasn’t quite expecting. I may also add a bit more flour to the dough to stabilize it. Stay tuned!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons apple pie spice*
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup cinnamon chips

*You can make your own by blending 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon allspice, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and a dash of cloves. You’ll need to increase these measurements to get enough for 1 1/2 tablespoons, but it’s important to have the right ratio. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, apple pie spice, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping the sides of the bowl between each. Add flour in two batches and mix to completely combine; stir in cinnamon chips.

Dust your counter top with flour and turn dough out; it will be sticky. Sprinkle with flour and knead gently to bring dough together; you can add a few more tablespoons of flour without having to worry that your dough will be too tough. Roll into a log about 16 inches long (or divide in two – this is what I’ll do next time) and carefully place the log on your baking sheet; flatten to about 1 inch thickness. Note: the log will spread a good deal when you bake it, so you’ll want to place the log diagonally on your baking sheet to avoid it spilling over the edges.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the edges are completely set and the middle is firm. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then carefully move the log to a cutting board and slice it into 1-inch slices. Carefully place slices back on the parchment-lined baking sheet (they will be almost cake-like at this point, so handle them gently); you may need another sheet to fit all of the slices. Bake on one side for an additional 6-7 minutes, then flip and bake on the other side for 6-7 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet(s) for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container; makes 16 slices.

Chewy Maple Cookies

Looking for a cookie with subtle maple flavor? Look no further than this chewy maple cookie, a recipe I adapted from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion’s Vermont Maple Cookies. They’re crunchy at the edge, but soft and chewy in the middle, making for a wonderful textural experience.

Once you read this recipe, you’ll wonder: just where do I find maple sugar? You can order it online from various sources including King Arthur Flour and Amazon, but local specialty food shops may also be a good source. I got mine at a creamery near Deep Creek Lake in Maryland, which produces its own ice cream and cheese and offers locally made honey, syrup, jellies, and fortunately, maple sugar. Just a few things to note: the next time I make these, I’ll scoop smaller balls of dough; the cookies ended up much larger than I intended.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons pure maple sugar, divided
  • 1/2 plus 2 tablespoons cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons maple extract
  • 2 3/4 cups flour

Preparation

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, 1 cup maple sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, cream of tartar, eggs, baking soda, and maple extract, scraping your bowl often. Add flour and beat until combined.

Cover dough and chill for about 30 minutes, until easier to handle. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line three baking sheets with parchment.

In a small bowl, combine remaining two tablespoons of maple sugar and granulated sugar. Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls, then dip into maple sugar mixture to coat. Roll again to press the maple sugar mixture into the dough.

Place on prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart; cookies spread a good deal when baking. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies are light golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Makes 27.

Pumpkin Spice Shortbread

I had to, you see. Less than 24 hours into fall, and I had to bake something pumpkin-themed. These pumpkin spice shortbread cookies, adapted from a recipe from The Cafe Sucre Farine, sounded too delicious to pass up.

While the original recipe called for adding a candy pumpkin (the delicious cousins of candy corn) to each baked cookie, I chose to leave mine plain, with just the recommended coating of Demerara sugar for a lovely, crunchy texture. You could use turbinado sugar if you don’t have Demerara, but I highly recommend Demerara for its large crystals. You can find it in most grocery stores in the baking aisle. I also highly recommend eating candy pumpkins!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin spice*
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Demerara sugar, for rolling

*You can make your own pumpkin spice by combining 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon each ginger, allspice, and nutmeg. This makes more than 1 1/2 teaspoons, so just save whatever you have left in a small jar. 

Preparation

In a medium bowl, combine flour, pumpkin spice, and salt; set aside

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, brown sugar, and vanilla extract. Add flour mixture and beat until completely combined.

Chill dough for about 15 – 20 minutes, allowing it to firm up slightly. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Place Demerara sugar in a small bowl.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls, then dip each ball into Demerara sugar. Place about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets and bake for 14-16 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Lemon Poppy Seed Shortbread

My friend Carrie has had a challenging time lately. And because I show love and support to the folks in my life through baked goods, I made her these lemon poppy seed shortbread cookies. As women of Eastern European descent, we have a mutual appreciation for poppy seeds. Carrie is also a fan of tea, and I thought these treats would make a comforting addition to her daily cup.

The base of this shortbread is simple; just five ingredients. Add some lemon zest, lemon extract, and poppy seeds, and you’ve got a fancier version of a basic treat. Next time, I’d like to add a zest lemon drizzle icing to these for an extra flavor kick.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • zest of 1 small lemon
  • 10 ounces (about 2 1/3 cups) flour
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease two 9-inch round baking tins.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar, salt, extracts, and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Add flour and beat until completely combined; the dough will pull away from the sides when it’s ready. Stir in poppy seeds.

Divide dough in half and press into the bottom of each cake pan, using the palm of your hand to create an even surface.

Bake for 32-35 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and gently loosen the sides, then allow to cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Gently flip onto a cutting board and slice into 16 wedges, then place wedges on a wire rack to cool completely. Note: shortbread must be cut when it’s still warm, otherwise it will break.

Store at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Honey Cookies

Shanah tovah, friends! Rosh Hashannah begins tonight at sundown, and I’m getting ready with some honey cookies. Although I grew up Catholic, I love the belief that our fates for the next year are written at Rosh Hashannah and sealed in the Book of Life on Yom Kippur. Honey and other sweet foods play a big part in Rosh Hashannah, as we wish friends and family shahah tovah, or a sweet new year.

My friend Inbal, who grew up in Israel, shared her mother-in-law’s honey cookie recipe with me, and it turned out incredibly well. I cut the original recipe – which called for five cups of flour – in half, but now I wish I’d made the whole version. These treats are absolutely delicious, and I can see why the original recipe included a line that read “this makes a lot of cookies, but they go fast.”

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil*
  • 1/2 cup honey*
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon coffee
  • zest of half a small lemon

*Note: I poured my vegetable oil into a glass measuring cup, then added it to the bowl for the liquids, so that I could use the same measuring cup for the honey and have it slide out easily. This is a great trick. 

Preparation

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and cloves. In another bowl, stir together vegetable oil, honey, melted butter, eggs, coffee, and lemon zest; it works well if you use a fork instead of a spoon.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until completely combined and no dry streaks remain. The dough will be very soft, but that’s normal; don’t add more flour or the cookies will turn out hard. Chill dough for 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 365 degrees. Remove dough from fridge and line three baking sheets with parchment paper.

Break off pieces of dough about the size of a walnut and roll into balls, then place on baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until cookies are just golden.

Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes about 3 dozen.

Apple Sugar Cut-Outs

It’s back to school time. Even those of us without children feel it, that change in rhythm from summer to fall, a time of promise and preparation. Each morning I see our neighborhood kids waiting for the bus, remembering what it was like when life revolved around the months of September throughMay.

My goddaughter Mo went back to school very recently, and her little sister Margo just began preschool. I know everyone says “oh, they grow up so fast,” but it seriously feels like about five minutes ago that Mo learned to crawl and that Marg wanted her mom, and only her mom, to hold her. These fun apple sugar cut-outs are on their way to my favorite little girls in Maryland; I hope they enjoy them, and that everyone has a good school year.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • Red sugar
  • Green sugar

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour. Form dough into a ball, then flatten out into a square; refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with foil or parchment.

Roll dough to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut into apple shapes; place cookies on baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Using a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon, scoop red sugar onto each cookie and fill in the apple part, then scoop green sugar onto the leaf part. Note: I left my stems plain, but you could use brown sanding sugar if you have it.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 2 dozen.