Amanda’s Holiday Spice Shortbread

What do you do when you’re a baker and your bestie is allergic to cinnamon? You develop a cinnamon-free spice mix just for her. Behold, Amanda’s Holiday Spice: a blend of ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom. It’s sort of like gingerbread spice meets apple pie spice, a wonderfully warm blend of some dynamite flavors.

I’m a big fan of making your own spice mixes, so here’s how you make this one: take 1 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon cloves, and about 1/4 teaspoon cardamom; mix it all together and taste. I added a few dashes more of nutmeg and cardamom for a total of about 2 teaspoons of spice. Store homemade spice mixes in small jars right alongside your regular spices so you can toss them into recipes whenever you like.

P.S. – these treats are on their way to Amanda and her family in California right now as a Thanksgiving gift, because I’m more grateful for her than I can say.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 10 ounces (about 2 1/3 cups) flour
  • 2 teaspoons Amanda’s Holiday Spice Blend
  • Demerara sugar, for sprinkling

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract. Add flour and spice mix and beat to combine completely. The dough will be ready when it pulls away from the sides of your mixing bowl.

Divide dough in half and press into the bottom of each cake pan, using the palm of your hand to create an even surface. Sprinkle the top with Demerara sugar, about 1/8 cup on each, then gently press the sugar into the top of the dough.

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.

Store at room temperature for up to 5 days (or mail to your best friend).

 

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Dracula’s Favorite Cupckes

October went by in a blur, and I never got a chance to post these fun, Halloween-themed cupcakes. They’re a basic almond cupcake filled with blood-red raspberry filling, topped with a little bat. I like to think Dracula would have enjoyed them.

I initially planned to poke holes in the tops and have some of the filling ooze out vampire-bite-style, but that didn’t quite work. Fortunately, I had some bat sprinkles, so that worked well. To make your raspberry filling appear a bit more bloody, simply add red food coloring once it’s cooled. You could also go with a cherry filling if you wanted to, as cherry and almond are good flavor friends as well.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 recipe raspberry filling
  • Red food coloring

For the frosting

  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 3/4 to 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk
  • Bat sprinkles

Preparation

Prepare raspberry filling and allow to cool; add several drops of red food coloring, stirring well until you reach your desired color.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners.

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

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until very well-blended. Add eggs, vanilla, and almond and beat until combined.

Add flour and milk alternatively in two batches, beginning and ending with the flour and beating until completely combined.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of batter into each cupcake well.

Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and immediately place cupcakes on a wire rack to cool completely before filling and frosting.

Once cupcakes are cool, prepare 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. Add 1 tablespoon milk and beat well; add additional milk if necessary to achieve a smooth consistency that will be easy to pipe and spread.

To fill and frost: using a melon baller, scoop out the center of each cupcake. From the core, cut away all but the top 1/4 inch, leaving a small disc of cake. Reserve the scraps for a trifle or other treat.

Place raspberry filling in a zip-top bag and carefully snip one corner; pipe filling into each cupcake, then top with cake discs. This will help the raspberry filling from getting into your frosting, although I suppose for a vampire-themed cupcake, that wouldn’t be the worst thing.

Fill a piping bag with frosting and pipe onto each cupcake; using an offset spatula, flatted the swirls just slightly. You can also just frost the cupcakes by hand if you prefer.

Top each cupcake with one bat.

Store at room temperature for up to 3 days; you’ll have some filling left over, which you can combine with the cupcake scraps for a delicious mini trifle.

Makes 12 cupcakes. Below, you’ll see the blood-red raspberry filling.

 

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.

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.