Paw Print Cookies

Last week I sent my favorite little Maryland girls two stuffed bobcat toys, and what better to accompany them than some paw print cookies? Not having a paw print cookie cutter – and not wanting to send frosted cookies through the mail – I got a bit creative. I’d seen charming polar bear paw cupcakes on Pinterest a while back that used chocolate chips and miniature peppermint patties, so I adapted that concept and just used chocolate candy melts for the main part of the paw print instead.

Cake mix is a great option for these cookies; I might try a scratch-made cookie next time, but these were quick and easy to bake. I went with milk chocolate chips and candy melts, but you could use dark if you prefer, or even white if you went with a chocolate cookie.


  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • Milk chocolate chips
  • Milk chocolate candy melts*

*I used Baker’s Dipping Chocolate, which is available at most grocery stores and Target


In a large bowl, combine cake mix, vegetable oil, eggs, and almond extract. Mix until completely combined and chill for 2-3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place chocolate chips in a small bowl and place them, along with the candy melts, in a cool place nearby (not right next to your oven).

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop portions of dough and roll into balls. Place about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets.

Bake for 9-11 minutes, until the edges are just golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately press 1 candy melt in the center of each cookie for the center paw pad, then press 4 chocolate chips above it for the toe pads. Move your baking sheet to a cooler place and allow cookies to cool on the sheet for 2-3 minutes, then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely. The chocolate does take some time to set; you can pop the cookies in your fridge for a few minutes to speed the process if you like.

Once chocolate is set, store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.


Frosted Peanut Butter Cookie Bars

Do bakers like me (read: people who usually do everything, and I mean everything, from scratch) use mixes sometimes? Absolutely. Today I discovered a bag of peanut butter cookie mix in my pantry and decided to whip up some frosted peanut butter cookie bars with it.

While scratch baking is great if you have the time and inclination, many people are just too busy to go about softening butter and whisking eggs and whatnot. Enter the bag, or boxed, mix: a convenient way to have home-baked treats in no time. You can always jazz up a boxed mix, which is what I did here; I added a scratch-made peanut butter frosting to these bars, but you could just as easily use a can of chocolate or vanilla frosting from the grocery store if you like. I sprinkled half of these bars, which Mike will take to work, with some chocolate chips once they were frosted, too.


  • 1 box or bag peanut butter cookie mix, plus the ingredients listed on the box/bag
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare your cookie mix according to the package directions; I used Betty Crocker peanut butter cookie mix, which called for three tablespoons of vegetable oil, one tablespoon of water, and one egg. Mix dough and press into an ungreased 9 x 13 baking pan; bake for 18 minutes, until the top is just golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool bars completely before frosting; to make frosting, beat butter and peanut butter in a mixer for 2-3 minutes until smooth and nearly all the lumps of butter have disappeared. Add powdered sugar and vanilla, beating on low, then medium, then high speed for about 3-4 minute total.

Spread frosting over cooled bars; if desired, sprinkle with chocolate chips. Cut into bars; makes 21-24 bars, depending on how large you cut them.

Espresso Brownies

While migraine life has kept me from having chocolate and caffeine for the last three years, my favorite dessert in the history of the world is tiramisu. I’ve had it once since being advised that such things could send me into major migraine land, and fortunately, I remained headache, vertigo, and aura-free afterward. Still, one doesn’t want to take too many chances, so I tend to refrain from such potential triggers.

I admit that I did take a teeny, tiny taste of these brownies, which remind me very much of tiramisu. Espresso powder is an essential part of these treats, and you can find it in the baking aisle at your grocery store, likely near the chocolate chips.


For the brownies

  • 12 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

For the icing

  • 1 tablespoon espresso powder
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 15 x 10 x 1 baking pan.

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

In a medium saucepan, combine butter, sugar, and cocoa powder over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the butter melts. Remove from heat and add eggs and vanilla extract. Add flour mixture and milk alternatively, beginning and ending with the flour and stirring until smooth after each addition. Stir in chocolate chips.

Spread batter in prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool brownies completely in pan before icing.

To make icing, in a small bowl, stir together espresso powder and hot water. Add powdered sugar, then 1 tablespoon milk, stirring until completely smooth. You want an easily spreadable consistency that isn’t too thin; you can add more milk if necessary, but do so very sparingly.

Pour icing over brownies and spread with an offset spatula, then allow to set completely.

Cut into squares and store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes 24 generously-sized brownies.

Sour Cream Quick Bread – Spice Version

Sometimes you think of something brilliant the moment you put a bake in the oven and hope you’ll remember for next time. Adapting my lemon poppy seed sour cream quick bread to a version with apple pie spice and chopped pecans presented me with a liquid dilemma. I couldn’t use juice, like in the original recipe, so I went with milk instead.  But the moment I closed the oven door, I thought that applesauce, or better yet grated apples, would have been a great choice instead.

Truth be told, although this bread is very tasty, texture-wise it’s a bit too dry for my liking. Next time, I’ll go with either applesauce or grated apples and see what happens. This is one of the many benefits of baking; you’re always learning something new.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons apple pie spice
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon apple pie spice
  • 3 teaspoons water


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan or spray with baking spray.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and apple pie spice in a large bowl; set aside. Combine sour cream, egg, vegetable oil, and milk in a medium bowl, mixing well.

Add sour cream mixture to flour mixture all at once, stirring to combine until no dry streaks remain. Stir in chopped pecans. Your batter will look a bit dry, but that’s normal.

Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes, then cover with a foil tent and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

Make the spice drizzle by combining powdered sugar, apple pie spice, and water in a small bowl. Pour over top of bread; allow to harden before storing.

Store tightly wrapped at room temperature for up to 4 days. Makes about 8 servings.

Orange Swiss Roll

Somewhere along the way, “make fluffier Swiss roll sponge cake” became one of my baking goals. I’m proud to say that last week’s orange Swiss roll, my Easter dessert, yielded a very fluffy sponge. Paired with the delicious orange curd I had left over from our seder, this orange and almond sponge turned out very well.

How does one achieve fluffy Swiss roll sponge? You can go with a different prep method than I’ve used below; many bakers find success by separating their eggs and mixing the yolks with the other ingredients, then whipping up the whites to a meringue and folding them in just before baking. Given all the baking I’d done for Passover, I wanted to go with a simpler solution, so I started by giving my sponge a full 12 minutes of baking before I checked it to keep as much heat in the oven as possible. My sponge baked for about 13 minutes before I pulled it; I also let it cool for about 2-3 minutes before I rolled it, and didn’t roll it as tightly in the towel for cooling. Success!


  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • zest from 1 Valencia orange
  • Orange curd, for filling
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 10 x 15 x 1 pan with parchment. Place a lint-free tea towel on a heatproof surface (I use a cutting board) near your oven and lightly dust it with powdered sugar.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat eggs until foamy, then slowly add the sugar, beating on medium speed until the mixture is thick and a light lemon color, about 5-7 minutes; add almond extract and orange zest just before you stop beating. When the batter is done, it will fall from the whisk in a ribbon, then mound on top of the batter before blending back in. Gently fold in the flour mixture so you don’t lose volume, but make sure you get all the streaks of flour; they can hide in the fluffy batter.

Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading with a spatula to create an even layer. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until the top is golden brown and springs back when you touch it. Remove from oven, then quickly and carefully flip your cake onto the powdered sugar-sprinkled tea towel. Gently peel the parchment away and allow to cool for about 2-3 minutes before rolling. Starting at one of the short ends, roll the cake up in a spiral and allow to cool on a wire rack completely before filling.

When cool, unroll the cake and spread on the orange curd. Re-roll and dust with powdered sugar. If not serving immediately, wrap the cake in plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator. Makes about 8 servings.

Orange Curd

I’ve had more than one friend turn up their nose at the word “curd.” Is it like curds and whey, they ask,  or like cheese curds? Oh no, I say – it is a delicious creation that’s kind of a cross between preserves and pudding. I’ve made lemon curd, lime curd, and blood orange curd in the past, sometimes using whole eggs and other times just egg yolks. I find that yolk-only curds tend to be tangier, while whole-egg curds have a lighter flavor and texture.

Fruit curds are a great way to use leftover egg yolks from meringues and macarons, and are actually a wonderful complement to such treats. This orange curd, made with Valencia oranges and just a hint of lemon juice, tastes a bit like an orange cream popsicle. I suspect it will get added to a cake for our Easter dessert tomorrow, but we’ll see.


  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 teaspoons cornstarch
  • zest from 3 Valencia oranges
  • 3/4 cup Valencia orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 12 tablespoons butter


Lightly beat egg yolks and pass them through a fine sieve to remove the albumin. Set aside in a medium bowl close to the stove for easy access; thoroughly wash your sieve and place it nearby for a second straining once the curd has cooked.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together cornstarch, sugar, orange juice, lemon juice, and orange zest until completely combined. Add butter and cook on medium heat until thickened and bubbly.

Working quickly, pour about half of the hot lemon mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly to temper. Pour egg mixture back into the pan and cook and stir for 2 minutes more.

Pour mixture through your sieve to remove the zest; press waxed paper (or plastic wrap) onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Once curd is completely cooled, place in an airtight container. According to various food safety websites and other food blogs, fruit curd made with egg yolks only (not whole eggs) should last in the refrigerator for a few weeks.

Walnut Cake

Passover is upon us, and last night Mike and I had our annual interfaith seder. Three Catholics, three Protestants, and one Jew celebrated the story of the exodus along with a ton of food, including my traditional orange almond cake (this time made with Valencia oranges for the best result yet) and a new, delicious treat. I found this recipe for flourless walnut cake at Food 52, and it is life-changing.

The thing about Passover baking is: no flour. So what’s a baker to do? Ground nuts and eggs feature heavily in Passover cake recipes, and that was the case with this cake as well. It was my first experience whipping egg whites separately, then folding them into batter. Full disclosure: I had to start over with the whites because holy cow, it’s easy to over-whip egg whites. In any case, the end result was absolutely delicious, tasting almost like the nut filling in a nut roll pastry. The cake sinks in the middle as it cools, leaving a wonderful indentation for a pool of freshly whipped cream. I’ll absolutely make this cake again, for many occasions, and may try hazelnuts or pecans next time.


  • 8 ounces ground walnuts
  • 9 ounces superfine sugar
  • 6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Whipped cream, for serving


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat egg yolks and sugar until fluffy and light in color, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in cinnamon and vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, whip egg whites to soft peaks. (Not sure how to do that? Watch this.) In three parts, carefully and gently fold the whites into the batter.

Gently pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, or with just a few small moist crumbs. Cool in pan about 10 minutes, then open the pan and peel back the paper, allowing the cake to cool completely. The cake will sink in the middle as it cools, and this is perfectly fine. Fill the indentation with fresh whipped cream, candied walnuts, or whatever you like. Store a plain cake at room temperature; if you’ve added whipped cream on top, keep it in the fridge.

Makes 8 servings.