Chocolate Peppermint Shortbread

Chocolate and peppermint make a great flavor pair. These chocolate peppermint shortbread cookies are an elegant-looking treat that’s very easy to make and great for holiday baking.

You can buy peppermint candy bits at most craft stores and dollar stores around the holidays, but if you can’t find them, simply get some of the traditional red and white “star mint” style peppermints and crush them yourself. Give the chocolate just a moment to start to set once you’ve dipped the cookies; this helps the crushed candies adhere better without sliding off once you’ve placed the cookies on your cooling sheet.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ounce (about 1/3 cup) Dutch-process cocoa
  • 7 1/4 ounces (about 1 3/4 cups) flour
  • 8 ounces chocolate candy coating
  • About 3/4 cup crushed peppermint candies

Preparation

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

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla, then beat in cocoa powder and flour.

Divide dough into two 12-ounce portions and press each portion into the bottom of the cake pans, using the palm of your hand to flatten the dough as evenly as possible.

Bake for 32-35 minutes, until it appears done around the edges. Remove from oven and loosen the sides with a knife, then cool in pans for 5 minutes.

Carefully turn one shortbread round out onto a cutting board and cut into 16 wedges; place wedges on a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the second round.

Once cookies are cool, place crushed peppermints on a plate or in a shallow dish. Melt your chocolate coating in a saucepan over very low heat, stirring until smooth.

Working quickly, dip the wide edge of each wedge into the chocolate and gently shake off the excess; hold over the pan for about 20 seconds just to let the chocolate begin to set, then dip in crushed peppermints.

Place on waxed paper or parchment and allow to set completely before storing.

Makes 32.

Note: shortbread will break if you try to cut it once it’s cool, so you must cut the rounds into wedges while they’re still warm.

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Spice Roll with Caramel Sauce

The Great British Baking Show has made me a more creative – and adventurous – baker. I’m on vacation this week, and between errands, cleaning, and yoga, I’ve spent some time checking out the latest season. Inspired by various treats, I made this spice roll and caramel sauce.

While the contestants on the GBBS don’t roll their cakes in towels, choosing instead to cool them, then roll them, this method works best for me. I’ve come a long way from my very first pumpkin roll, achieving a nice spiral (see below). In hindsight, the maple cream cheese filling could have used a bit more maple syrup – it’s not as strong a maple flavor next to the rather strong spices in my cake. The entire treat is still delicious, though.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon apple pie spice
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

For serving

Preparation

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 dust it with powdered sugar.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and apple pie spice; 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 vanilla 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 the flour mixture in (I used my whisk attachment for easy clean-up).

Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading with a spatula to create an even layer. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until the top 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 – I needed to use an offset spatula to prevent some of the cake from sticking to the parchment. Starting at one of the short ends, roll the cake up in a tight spiral and allow to cool on a wire rack completely before filling.

To make the filling, beat cream cheese and butter on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Add powdered sugar and beat on low, then medium speed, until completely combined. Add maple syrup and beat to combine.

Carefully unroll the cake and add filling, then re-roll and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for about 1 hour before serving; serve with caramel sauce. Store in the refrigerator.

Behold, a lovely spiral!

 

Caramel Sauce

Caramel is one of my favorite flavors, and making your own caramel sauce is probably easier than you think. The keys to caramel are attention, timing, and fearlessness. Read through the recipe a few times, then have all your ingredients ready to add. Keep an eye on your mixture, and don’t worry if the mixture seizes a bit when you add the heavy cream – just keep stirring, and it will become smooth. Most of all, don’t be afraid – the worst thing that happens is you have to start over.

I don’t usually include the step-by-step photos in my blog posts, but since caramel-making instructions can be vague, I wanted to give you a visual – pictures are below. Good luck!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pats

Preparation

Place sugar in a medium saucepan; shake gently to form an even layer. Add water, but don’t stir; allow the water to completely moisten the sugar, then place over medium heat.

Allow mixture to cook to dissolve the sugar; it will look cloudy (step 1). Once the sugar dissolves completely, allow the mixture to cook on medium-high until it turns an amber color, which can take 5-10 minutes; mine began to turn amber around 6 minutes into cooking and I gently shifted my pan a bit to keep the heat even as the mixture began to darken (step 2). When the mixture is almost evenly browned (step 3 – I pulled mine when all but the very center of my mixture had turned amber), remove from heat. Very carefully add heavy cream, stirring well, then add butter and continue to stir until completely smooth (step 4). The mixture will bubble up when the cold cream hits the hot sugar mixture, so watch out for splashes and be careful not to get burned.

Allow mixture to cool to room temperature, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Caramel will last in the fridge for about 1 month.

Step 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 4

Turkey Cupcakes

My nephew Roman loves chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, and these adorable little turkeys are on their way to North Carolina, along with my mom, for his Thanksgiving. I cannot get over how cute they are.

There are plenty of turkey cupcake decorating ideas out there, but I chose the M&M version for ease of completion. You can create their beaks, wattles, and feathers with the same candy, though I recommend buying a larger bag so you have enough for the whole batch. I used several different designs for their feathers, as you can see in the photo below, but I think the stand-up version – where you place the candies vertically instead of pressing them flat into the frosting – yields the best look.

Ingredients

Preparation

Bake cupcakes and allow to cool completely before frosting and decorating.

Make frosting and hand-frost the tops of the cupcakes. Fit a piping bag with a large plain tip and pipe a blob for the face, then pipe additional frosting around the top edge of the cupcake to make it easier to place the candies.

Add candy eyeballs, then use a yellow M&M for the beak, red for the wattle, and the colors of your choice for the feathers. I used two different methods for the feathers; I pressed some directly into the frosting flat, while I stood others up vertically, using the frosting as sort of a bolster. I prefer the second method, as the candies look more feather-like that way.

Store in an airtight container and serve within a few days. The moisture from the cupcakes and frosting will affect the candies after a while.

Makes 13. Below is a look at the flock for Roman!

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).

 

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.