Sparkling Easter Sugar Cookies

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor coronavirus will keep a baker from sending her favorite Maryland girls treats for Easter. These sparkling cut-out cookies, made simply from sugar cookie dough and colored sugar, are on their way to Mo and Margo as I write this along with a few other Easter favorites.

Colored sugar is a great alternative for sugar cookie decoration, especially when you’ll be sending such cookies through the mail. In addition to the pink and purple eggs in the photo at left, I also made some yellow and blue eggs, along with these adorable ducklings. You’ll need some miniature chocolate chips and very thick powdered sugar icing for the beaks, or you could use royal icing for the beaks if you prefer. Because I needed such a tiny amount, I just mixed a tablespoon of powdered sugar with enough water – about a drop at a time – to get the consistency I wanted.

Ingredients

  • 1 batch sugar cut-outs made with 2 extra teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • Pink, purple, yellow, and blue decorating sugar
  • Miniature chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • Water
  • Orange food coloring

Preparation

Prepare cookie dough and allow to chill for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line three baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness and cut with egg and duckling cutters. Place cookies onto prepared sheets and decorate with colored sugar; for the ducklings, I placed a miniature chocolate chip for the eye after covering the cookie with yellow sugar.

Bake for 9-10 minutes, until edges are very light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks for about 3 minutes, then place on wire racks to cool completely.

When cookies are cool, combine powdered sugar with enough water – about 1 drop at a time – and orange food coloring to make a very thick icing. Use a small spatula to frost the duckling beaks and allow to set completely before storing. Store cookies in an airtight container between layers of waxed paper.

My batch made about 24 eggs and 9 ducklings, so just shy of three dozen cookies.

Cinnamon Sugar Donuts

Mike is now working from 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., meaning that he gets up ridiculously early. Last night, after he went to bed (at about 8 p.m., not that I blame him) I baked him these cinnamon sugar donuts to take to work. I left them next to our stove, along with his travel mug, a bag of extra bold Earl Gray tea, and a kettle full of water waiting to be boiled. I figure since he’s leaving before the crack of dawn, I can help make his mornings a bit easier.

Truth be told, baked donuts are much better eaten immediately, but I doubt the early morning crew at Pittsburgh’s VA hospital cared about that. Adapted from a recipe at Sally’s Baking Addiction, these treats are quite tasty, and I can imagine making them in the future with different spice combinations. I chose to make about three dozen mini donuts and three regular-sized donuts, but you could do all regular or all mini depending on what you choose.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour (use the spoon and sweep method for this)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • About 1/2 cup cinnamon sugar, for topping*

*Mix 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray donut pans with baking spray.

Place cinnamon sugar in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a large glass measuring cup, combine eggs, brown sugar, milk, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth. Pour into flour mixture and stir together until just moistened and no dry streaks remain; be careful not to over-mix. Your batter should be lumpy and kind of fluffy.

Transfer batter to a large piping bag and pipe batter into the donut wells, filling about 2/3 full. Bake full-sized donuts for 9-10 minutes and mini donuts for 7-8 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for 1-2 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool for another minute. Toss in cinnamon sugar while still warm; this will coat the tops of the donuts. Alternatively, you can dip the donuts into melted butter, then coat them in the cinnamon sugar, but I skipped this step since I didn’t want them to be too gooey by the morning.

Baked donuts are best served immediately, but they can be kept for about a day in an airtight container at room temperature. The cinnamon sugar will start to soften the donuts, but they’re still delicious.

Makes about 4 dozen mini donuts or 16-18 full-sized donuts.

Bourbon Pecan Brownie Bites

I could literally bake every day. Granted, flour is a bit scarcer right now as we’re Baking in the Time of Coronavirus, but fortunately these bourbon pecan brownies, which I adapted slightly from the Better Homes & Gardens Baking book, only uses 3/4 cup of flour.

Truth be told, I have a few extra bags of flour tucked away in my cupboards at any given time and no, I am not one of those people buying out all the flour at my local grocery store as if I’m going to have to make homemade bread for the rest of my life. But it’s been interesting to think about recipes that use less flour, or just different types of flour, as I’ve seen empty shelves at the grocery store, and I’m taking it as a challenge to become a more creative baker. We’ll see how it goes.

Ingredients

For the brownies

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5 1/3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks*
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon

For the frosting

  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled just slightly
  • 1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans

*You could substitute semisweet chocolate chips for this, and that’s how the original recipe is written, but I only had chunks for some reason and decided this would be a great way to use them up.

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 baking tin with foil, extending the foil over the sides, and spray lightly with baking spray.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a large saucepan, combine sugar, butter, and water; cook over medium heat until the mixture just boils. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chunks until melted. Allow to cool for just a moment before stirring in the eggs and vanilla, then stir in flour mixture until completely combined. Stir in pecans.

Pour batter into prepared tin and bake for 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack; brush top of brownies with bourbon. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

To make frosting, beat butter on medium speed for about 1 minute, then add powdered sugar all at once and continue to beat until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter. Add bourbon and vanilla and beat for 2-3 minutes, until fluffy.

Spread frosting on cooled brownies, then drizzle on melted chocolate. Sprinkle with pecans.

Cut into 1 1/2 inch squares for bite-sized treats (or larger for regular-sized brownies). Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 25.

 

Orange Crush Cupcakes

Now and then my Facebook feed lights up with recipes people want me to bake. This week my dear friend Stefanie tagged me in a post for orange creamsicle cupcakes with Orange Crush buttercream; Mike jumped on the bandwagon, and there I was yesterday, whipping up said cupcakes in my kitchen.

Granted, my recipe is different than the one in the post that Stef shared, which used a box mix and orange Jell-O for the cupcakes. I adapted a tried-and-true cupcake recipe to include fiori di Sicilia, a wonderful extract that tastes like vanilla and citrus, then whipped up a buttercream using – you guessed it – Orange Crush pop. The end result is a delicious orange cream cupcake, more intense in flavor than the orange cream cupcakes I’ve made in the past. Thanks for the idea, Stef!

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
  • 1/2 plus 1/8 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fiori di Sicilia, to taste (this is powerful extract!)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk

For the frosting

  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Orange Crush
  • 1/4 teaspoon fiori di Sicilia
  • 1/4 teaspoon orange extract
  • Orange food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners; my recipe made 7 cupcakes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

Place egg in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar and continue to beat for another 30 seconds. Add vanilla and canola oil and beat on medium speed for 1 minute.

Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternatively in three batches, beginning and ending with the flour, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. Batter will be very thin.

Using a quarter-cup measuring cup, scoop batter into prepared regular-sized cupcake liners, filling half full.

Bake for 13-16 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before frosting.

To make the frosting, in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed for 1 minute. Add powdered sugar all at once and beat on low speed until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter. Add Orange Crush, fiori di Sicilia, and orange extract and beat for 2-3 minutes, until frosting is very light and fluffy. Add enough orange food coloring to reach your desired shade.

Fit a piping bag with a large star tip and pipe generous swirls of frosting onto each cupcake.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Makes 7.

Applesauce Bread

Baking in the Time of Coronavirus will make you ask yourself interesting questions, like can I bake quick bread with whole wheat flour because I want to ration my white flour because a bunch of people who have probably never even made chocolate chip cookies before are hoarding all the white flour and my local grocery store is sold out? The answer to this question is yes.

My trusty Better Homes & Gardens Baking book has a wonderful recipe for “Make-it-Mine” muffins, which convert easily into quick bread. Make-it-mine recipes give you quantities of ingredients, then you pick the type of flour, sugar, liquid, and spices you want to use. I decided to go with an applesauce bread using apple pie spice and a combination of whole wheat flour and white flour. The flavor is delicious, but the texture is definitely drier than I’d like. This could be because of the wheat flour, but it could also be because I baked it a few minutes too long. Next time, I’ll give it a slightly shorter baking time and see what happens; I’ll also add some pecans into the batter.

Ingredients

  •  1/2 cup white flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1-2 teaspoons apple pie spice, to taste
  • Streusel topping:
    • 3 tablespoons flour
    • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
    • 1/4 teaspoon apple pie spice
    • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
  • Drizzle icing:
    • 1 cup powdered sugar
    • About 2-3 teaspoons water

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 loaf tin.

In a medium bowl, stir together flours, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and apple pie spice. In another medium bowl (or large measuring cup), combine eggs, applesauce, milk, and vegetable oil. Add all at once to flour mixture and stir until just moistened, with no dry streaks of flour remaining.

Pour batter into loaf tin and allow to rest for a few minutes while you make the streusel; in a medium bowl combine flour, brown sugar, and apple pie spice. Rub in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs, then sprinkle over batter.

Bake for about 35 minutes, then tent with foil and continue baking another 10 minutes or so, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in tin for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool either partially or completely; you can glaze this loaf when it’s still warm (not hot) without the drizzling dripping off.

To make the drizzle, place powdered sugar in a small bowl and add water, one teaspoon at a time, until you reach a thicker drizzling consistency. Using a spoon, drizzle over the loaf. Allow to set before serving.

Store well-wrapped at room temperature for 2-3 days.

 

Lemon Bars with Almond Shortbread Crust

I’m going to call this phase in my baking life Baking in the Time of Coronavirus, in homage to Colombian author and Nobel prize winner Gabriel García Márquez. Truth be told, I’ve never read Love in the Time of Cholera, but I did read (and very much enjoy) One Hundred Years of Solitude, a title that likely resonates with people around the world right now.

Although I’ve worked from home this past week, and imagine that I’ll do so for many days to come, Mike and his coworkers are on the front lines. These treats are for his friend and colleague Elizabeth, who enjoys lemon desserts. They’re adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction in two ways: first, I added almond extract to the shortbread crust, and second, I included the zest of two lemons in my filling. I hope she and the other folks at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System enjoy them, and continue to be grateful for all that they do.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour

For the filling

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup lemon juice (from about 5 lemons)
  • Zest of 2 lemons

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 glass baking dish with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine melted butter, sugar, salt, vanilla extract and almond extract, stirring to combine. Add flour and stir to completely combine; press into the baking dish and bake for 20-22 minutes, until the edges are just barely golden brown.

In another medium bowl, sift together sugar and flour, then add eggs, lemon juice, and lemon zest, whisking to combine completely. Pour over crust and bake for another 22-24 minutes, until the center is set. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for a few hours, then place in the fridge to chill further before cutting. Cut into 24 squares and store in the fridge; you can keep these bars at room temperature, but they’re best served cold.

Peanut Butter Caramel Cupcakes

Mike works as a patient advocate at the VA hospital here in Pittsburgh. You’d expect him to have a social work background, but you’d be mistaken – he actually worked in public affairs for most of his career and handled a lot of congressional inquiries in his first few years there before transitioning into advocacy. Right now, he’s on the front lines of the corona virus, screening each employee and patient who comes through the VA’s doors.

One of Mike’s good friends at work is the VA’s director of infection prevention, Dr. Brooke Decker. The world really needs her right now, so I figured she could use some cupcakes. These peanut butter caramel treats incorporate two of her favorite flavors, and I’m happy to say she loved them. I’m really grateful to her, to Mike, and to all of the health care professionals who are working through this unprecedented and surreal experience. Stay safe, everyone.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk

For the frosting

  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup peanut butter, to taste
  • 5 vanilla caramels, unwrapped, slightly flattened, and cut in half diagonally

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line cupcake tin with paper liners; this recipe yields 10 cupcakes.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar until very light and fluffy. Add egg and beat to combine, scraping down your bowl, then add vanilla and beat to combine.

Add flour mixture and buttermilk in alternate batches, starting and ending with the flour and scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. Batter will be kind of fluffy.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop batter into prepared pans, filling about half-full.

Bake for 16-20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. My cupcakes were done around 17 minutes.

Remove from oven and remove cupcakes from tin; cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, place butter in a mixing bowl and beat with the paddle attachment for 1-2 minutes. Add powdered sugar all at once and beat on low speed until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter; this takes a few minutes. Add vanilla and 1 tablespoon heavy cream and beat well to combine. Add 1/2 cup of peanut butter and beat to fully combine; taste and add additional peanut butter if you’d like; my recipe had about 3/4 cup in it because I wanted a really peanut buttery flavor.

Fit a large piping bag with a large star tip (like the Wilton M1) and pipe generous blobs of frosting onto the top of each cupcake; rather than swirling my piping bag, I just held it above each cupcake and piped a generous portion in the middle of the cupcake, allowing it to fill out nearly to the edges. Place a caramel wedge in the center.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days; caramels will start to soften and get sticky, but that’s okay.

Makes 10.