Creature Cookies

Here’s another great cake mix-based recipe for busy bakers. I found this recipe on several other blogs, so it’s difficult to give credit to whoever came up with it – I imagine it was an inventive test kitchen baker at a cake mix company.

I chose to add princess cake and cookie flavor to the dough, an amazing product available at King Arthur Flour that promises – and delivers – that classic “from the bakery” flavor. It’s kind of similar to the flavor of an animal cookie and makes a subtle yet wonderful addition to this dough. If you don’t have it, you can substitute vanilla extract if you like, or just leave the dough as-is.

Just a few notes about handling the dough: it’s incredibly sticky, so when you stir in your food coloring, you’ll want to use a mixer. I started out with three separate colors, then realized after some orange dough got into the green dough from my cookie scoop that mixing the colors would also be fun. Lastly, I used two different methods for placing the eyeballs; on the first two batches, I baked the cookies first, then pressed in the eyes when they came out of the oven (resulting in the look of the orange and purple cookies above). On the last batch, I pressed them into the dough before baking, and you can see the difference in the green/orange cookie above. Either method would be fine – you’ll just end up with a slightly different look based on what you choose.

Ingredients

  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon princess cake & cookie flavor
  • Purple, orange, green, and yellow food coloring
  • Candy eyeballs

Preparation

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, vegetable oil, eggs, and flavoring; stir very well to completely combine. Divide dough into three portions. Tint one purple, one orange, and one green (I found that using both green and yellow yields a Frankenstein-like color, which is what I wanted); I used my stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, to really work the food coloring into the dough. Chill dough for 30-60 minutes, until easier to handle; it will remain quite sticky, but the chilling process does help.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop portions of dough, then divide each portion in half – you want your portions to be about the size of a gumball. Roll into balls, combining colors if you like.

Place balls on parchment-lined baking sheets and press in candy eyeballs if you like, or wait until after baking and press eyeballs in then, whatever you prefer.

Bake for 9-11 minutes, until cookies are set. Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 40.

 

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Annabelle’s Honey Cake

For years, loaf-style honey cake eluded me. I tried tons of recipes, but always ended up with loaves that were burnt on the outside and raw in the middle. A few weeks ago, a colleague mentioned a wonderful recipe that her mom, Annabelle, uses each year to make honey cake.

This is that recipe, and it gave me a very important reminder about how the type of pan you use will affect your outcome. The loaf on the right in this photo baked in my King Arthur Flour loaf pan and yielded a nearly perfect loaf, with a bottom and sides that are just slightly darker than my personal preference. The loaf on the left, however, baked in a darker pan from another maker and yielded a bottom and sides that are certainly too dark to serve. Next time, I’ll pull the darker pan much earlier and will cut down the baking time in my King Arthur Flour pan by about 3 minutes.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup strong black tea

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray two 9 x 5 loaf pans with cooking spray and line each with parchment.

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

In a large bowl, beat egg whites with a fork to combine. Add sugar, vegetable oil, honey, and tea; stir to combine. Add flour mixture in several small batches, stirring with a wooden spoon to combine.

Divide batter evenly between pans; I used a 1/2 cup measuring cup and scooped portions into each pan to try to get as even a division as possible.

Bake for 40-55 minutes*, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pans for a few minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely. Store tightly wrapped at room temperature.

Makes two 9 x 5 loaves.

*The original recipe called for baking for 45-55 minutes, but this was too long for my oven. For a dark pan, I’d recommend baking for about 38-40 minutes, and for a lighter pan, for about 40-45 minutes, to prevent sides and bottoms that are too dark. 

 

Cinnamon-Streusel Babka

Now that I’ve made chocolate babka, I want to make lots of other flavors. This cinnamon-streusel babka is just the beginning…I envision a poppy seed version, an almond version, an apricot version…the list goes on.

Babka really isn’t as difficult to make as it might seem, though it does involve several steps. I find it best to bake bread on the weekends, when I have plenty of time and can accomplish other things during the rising and resting periods. I baked this babka last weekend, and Mike and I liked it so much we kept it for ourselves. I stored it in a zip-top bag and it stayed fresh for about 4 days.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 8 tablespoons butter, cut into slices
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk (or heavy cream)

For streusel topping

  • 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour

Preparation

Place 2 cups flour and yeast into the bowl of a mixer and stir together. Fit the dough hook onto your mixer.

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, sugar, salt, and butter, heating to 120 degrees (the butter will almost melt completely). Pour milk mixture into flour/yeast mixture along with egg and mix until combined, scraping the sides of your bowl to combine. Add remaining 1 cup flour and mix on low speed for 3 minutes, until dough becomes smooth – it will gather itself around the dough hook.

Turn dough onto a very lightly floured surface and knead it for 20-30 seconds by hand, then shape it into a ball.

Place dough in a large, greased bowl; turn the dough once to grease it. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Gently deflate your dough by pressing it to release some of the air; turn onto a very lightly floured surface and let rest for 10 minutes.

While the dough is resting, in a small bowl, combine sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom; set aside.

Lightly grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

Roll dough into a 16 x 12 rectangle and brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with sugar/spice mixture. From the long side, roll dough into a log and cut in half to make two shorter logs.

Place one log on top of the other to form an X, then twist ends together. Place in the loaf pan, cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly beat egg and combine with milk (or heavy cream, if you have it); brush over top of loaf. Make the streusel by combining brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt, then stirring in the melted butter. Add flour and toss to combine until clumps form. Sprinkle over loaf.

Bake for 50 minutes, then cover with foil and continue baking for another 20-25 minutes, until loaf sounds hollow when tapped or the internal temperature reaches 180 to 190 degrees. Loosen loaf from pan; allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Store at room temperature for 3-4 days.

Sweet Bread Pudding

I’m on a mission to create the perfect bread pudding. That’s a subjective statement, of course, because what’s perfect to one person might be not so great to another. My perfect bread pudding has a crunchy top layer, but the bread underneath is almost custardy. I’m getting closer, but as a friend at work said, it’s kind of one of those “I’ll know it when I taste it” situations. All too true.

This recipe is adapted from one I found at The Kitchn, and I jokingly called it Coronary Bread Pudding because of the six eggs and five cups of whole milk. If you’re looking for a light dessert, keep looking! This is an incredibly rich treat and it was a huge hit in my office, where I served it with butterscotch sauce.  It can sit out for brief periods of time for serving, but do keep it refrigerated for safety. Nobody wants food poisoning!

Ingredients

  • 10 cups challah bread cubes (about 16 ounces)
  • 1 cup chopped toasted pecans
  • 1 tablespoon softened butter
  • 5 cups whole milk
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place bread cubes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet (I needed two baking sheets) and toast for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until cubes are dry but not brown.

Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish or pan with softened butter and place bread cubes and pecans in pan, stirring slightly to distribute the pecans but being careful to not let them all fall to the bottom of the pan.

In a large bowl, combine milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt; carefully whisk to combine, then pour mixture over bread cubes. Gently press to allow milk mixture to soak into cubes.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour or overnight to allow cubes to soak up as much liquid as possible; I soaked mine overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Uncover baking dish and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is lightly toasted.

Allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then serve warm, or allow to cool completely and serve cold. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Scout’s Honor Peanut Butter Sandwiches

If you looked through my cookbooks, you’d be able to tell which ones I use the most by the condition of their pages. The books with the best, most reliable recipes have pages that have gotten splattered with batter, sprayed with water, dusted with flour, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and all other manner of baking-related slips and spills.

My King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion is now such a cookbook, its pages warping with good use. Today’s scout’s honor peanut butter sandwich cookies come from the peanut butter chapter, a wonderful collection of classic peanut butter cookies and delicious adaptations. These treats are a home-baked version of Girl Scout peanut butter sandwich cookies, and this recipe yields hearty, peanut buttery treats with a delightful mellow flavor and great texture from the rolled oats that get mixed into the dough. These would also be delicious with a chocolate filling, but the classic peanut butter – which I adapted to include some vanilla extract – is just perfect.

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 5 1/3 tablespoons butter
  • 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup old-fashioned (rolled) oats

For the filling

  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

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

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter, peanut butter, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and vanilla. Cream together, scraping the sides of your bowl a few times. Add egg and beat until fluffy.

Add flour and oats mixing (or stirring, if you prefer) until combined.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto prepared cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Gently flatten with the heel of your hand to 1/4 inch thickness (the original recipe said to do this with the bottom of a drinking glass, but mine kept sticking, even after I greased it). Bake for 9-11 minutes, until edges are very light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on the cookie sheets for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Once cookies are completely cool, make filling. Combine peanut butter, honey, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract and beat to combine; filling will be fairly thick, almost like the center of a buckeye, and this is the texture you want – don’t thin it out.

Use a 1-inch cookie scoop to scoop filling onto half the cookies; gently press filling down with your fingers and top with another cookie, pressing very, very gently to bring the cookies together but not tear them.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 17 sandwiches.

Pecan Bread Budding

Shana tovah, friends! This week’s celebration of Rosh Hashannah meant some fun fall baking and this delicious pecan bread pudding. It’s another winning recipe from my Better Homes & Gardens Fall Baking magazine, a make-it-mine recipe that you can customize to your liking.

I chose to leave out the dried fruit (I’ve never been a fan of things like raisins) and go with pecans, and to add some homemade butterscotch sauce for serving. You could easily mix in dried fruit or different types of nuts depending on your tastes. I used challah, but you could use whatever bread you prefer. French bread or cinnamon swirl bread seem like great ideas.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups dried bread cubes*
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Butterscotch sauce, for serving if desired

*To dry bread cubes, toast them in a 300 degree oven for about 10 minutes, until very light golden, stirring a few times. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Lightly grease a 2-quart square baking dish.

Place bread cubes and pecans in baking dish.

In a 4-cup measuring cup (or medium bowl), combine eggs, milk, melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Pour over bread cubes, stirring to coat them.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, until puffed and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for about 10 minutes; serve warm with butterscotch sauce, if desired.

Makes 8 servings.

Maple Walnut Fudge

Fudge making is a delicate business, requiring a precise balance of ingredients, time, and temperature. I’ve made fudge the shortcut way, using marshmallow creme or baking chips. While it certainly yields a delicious treat, there’s a big textural difference between real fudge – the kind made from sugar,butter, milk, and extracts, all cooked to a perfect temperature – and the kind made with marshmallow creme and/or baking chips.

This recipe, adapted from one by Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk, yields what I’d called candy, but not exactly fudge. It’s smooth and tasty, and I certainly liked it, but it doesn’t have the texture I want in fudge. My only solution to this problem is to try, perhaps sometime soon, to make maple walnut fudge the old-fashioned, clip-a-candy-thermometer-to-a-heavy-saucepan way. Stay tuned!

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
  • 3 cups white baking chips
  • 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 teaspoons maple extract
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts, divided

Preparation

Line an 8 x 8 baking pan with foil.

In a medium, microwave-safe bowl, combine butter, baking chips, and sweetened condensed milk. Microwave in 2-minute intervals, stirring about every 30-60 seconds, until melted and completely smooth; it took me about 5 1/2 minutes.

Remove from microwave and add maple extract, stirring to completely combine. Add half of the walnuts and stir to combine, then pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle with remaining walnuts.

Chill until set, about 2 hours. Cut into squares and store in the refrigerator; bring to room temperature before serving.

Makes 24 medium-sized pieces of fudge; pieces can be cut smaller though, as this is a rich treat.