Professional finish be damned, my sweet tooth was aching.

My, That Was a Lot of Work Cookies

During my recent bake-a-t(h)on with Jess D, from which emerged the ostentatiously delicious Oreo-stuffed chocolate chipper, we also knocked off our first batch of these mint and ganache-filled whoopie pies from Epicurious. I made Round II today with Billy the Kid, who acted as my enthusiastic emergency finger-licker, since this batch is reserved solely for Peña bellies. Jess generously contributed a new essential to the tiniest functioning kitchen on the Eastern Seaboard: a whoopie pie pan! Finally, there is officially no excuse for cakelette disks of any other kind than perfect circles.

I’m not a huge mint fan, and Mr. P knows that he’ll always find his packages of Girl Scout Thin Mints untouched, no matter how long they wait in the cupboard. These ladies, however, wear mint so delicately that my palate was refreshingly unjarred by the often abrasive essence. The consistency of the filling is similar, I imagine, to whipped angel, and the semisweet chocolate “glue” edges the whole thing into oeuvre territory. They’re embarrassingly unconcerned with undoing gender stereotypes, however, and take forever to get dressed. So if you have a few free hours and inches in your pants, you’ll want to take advantage of yet another opportunity to assert that no one should feel badly; you’re just better.

Remember when “America” was synonomous with “exotic?” Neither do I.

Charlatan Cookies

I wondered what would happen if Jess D and I ever got together and did some baking, and now I know: five extra pounds and some blood sugar tests. She posted this link from BeckyBakes to my Facebook page several weeks ago, and I had the same initial impression as the author, a Bart Simpson-like shudder at the conceived marriage of a home-made and a store-bought cookie. We agreed that they’d either be awesome or inedible. Unfortunately for our waistlines, they fall into that can’t-have-just-one category, which would be fine, except that they’re gargantuan.

I decided to attempt the recipe with mini-Oreos instead, aiming to achieve a three-inch diameter at most, but what is meant to be a cookie-covered Oreo became more of a “surprise cookie,” suggesting that the original is perfect in its enormity, rather like Jeff Garlin.

This is a few of my favorite thing.

Chocolate Covered Popped Corn

Will wonders never cease, it’s winter in New England and it’s snowing. A lot. As I scroll through the endless Facebook griping, I’m reminded of this past summer, sitting on my porch in the stifling August heat, contemplating my edema-induced upside down piano legs, as my father would say, begging gods and nature for my promised Goreian deep freeze, or even just the tip-over of a truck carrying liquid nitrogen in which I could dip my sausagey toes. So forgive me my utter delight with 1) my now permanently non-incubatory midsection, and 2) our current weather. You know, the snow. In winter. But for anyone who views shoveling as a treat-worthy activity…

This recipe for a weapons-grade deceptively light “snack” hails from, but I found out about it through one of Mr. P’s lovely coworkers. While enjoying the tin-full she thoughtfully gave him/us during the holidays, I directed him to bring me either the recipe or her head, and I received the link within 24 hours. The sludge with which you coat the popped corn is well worth the fillings you’ll sacrifice as you snack on whatever quantity doesn’t quite make it into the pan. I had planned on shipping the maiden batch to my debonair brother, C, but looking at the remains this morning, I realize that’s just not going to happen. Perhaps if I double the recipe, eat half, and quickly drive to FedEx while still uncomfortably distended to ship the rest…

The only ingredient you probably don’t have is corn syrup (I keep it on hand, but I know that’s a lot to expect of everyone else). Do not attempt to make your own corn syrup; this enigmatic substance is synthesized in factories for a reason. I recommend using a microwavable popcorn, but get one that’s unsalted and unbuttered. Then proceed to add as much salt (disturbingly omitted from the recipe) as necessary. You’ll have to constantly taste — quel horreur! Do yourself a favor and don’t make plans for your first round, nor for your evening.

As a postscript, Mr. P pointed out to me that his lovely coworker used kettle corn in her version, not regular popping corn. Mr. P’s contribution was given due consideration.

Thank goodness that’s over with.

Triple-Chocolate Bullies

Two weeks after the extraction of my new minions and I’m back to my old self, though with a bit more on my plate. My second c-section was even more pleasant than the first, if that’s possible, and I took advantage of the hospital nursery during my stay this time, returning home delightfully rested and cheerfully perc’d. I’ve just made the switch over to Tylenol, bidding adieu to the two-week prescription party, and my taste buds have fully recovered. Billy the Kid and I celebrated the grand reopening of the oven last night with a brand new cookie that quickly took all the Peñas down a few pegs. A thin crisp shell immediately yields to a brownie-cake hybrid that keeps the sweetness understated and spotlights the saltiness sublimely.

1 C butter, room temperature
3/4 C sugar
3/4 brown sugar, packed
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 C flour
1/2 C cocoa
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
12 oz chocolate chips

Set your oven to 375. Melt 1/2 stick of butter with the unsweetened chocolate over low heat. Cream together the remaining butter and sugar until fluffy, then blend in the brown sugar and mix until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat vigorously until even. Stir in the melted chocolate and butter. Dump the dry ingredients in and mix the dough until everything’s incorporated, resulting in a rather unseemly dark brown, sticky mess. Finally, stir in the totally unnecessary chocolate chips. Drop the dough by rounded teaspoons onto sheets, and bake these bad boys one batch at a time for 9 minutes. Cool on wire racks, and impress the hell out of anyone who said you’d be too busy with babies to make any goddamn cookies.

Weight gain is no longer an issue. By any means.

Mr. P’s New Favorite Cake (Chocolate Mousse Crunch Cake)

Next up in my baking queue, as I spend a good deal of time these days browsing other people’s cooking blogs in search of new pastry horizons with which to appease my incessant cake cravings, was Chocolate Mousse Crunch Cake from Our Best Bites, a site that receives automatic link status in light of this dessert’s attainable yet fancy presentation, as well as its innovative use of standard cake components. I was immediately intrigued by the eggless mousse filling that calls for gelatin, one of those mysterious packet powders I categorize with yeast and pectin. Your stomach will no doubt sink when you see the whipped chocolate “mousse” turn to soup with the addition of the gelatin-water, but I assure you that after thirty minutes in the fridge, all will be right with your first-world once more. Truly impressive is this cake’s ability to shrug off the heat and humidity; while I generally avoid cake mixes (in my opinion, effort is an ingredient), they do practically jump out of the pans themselves. The chocolate ganache frosting was easier than expected – I used semi-sweet baking chocolate squares, roughly chopped, and two minutes in the microwave was all it took to melt them adequately.

Having just finished a heaping plateful of spaghetti and meatballs, I’m taking a post-dishes breather before I face my last 500-calorie intake of the day, but the boys are already hard at work, cramming away their first slices with the occasional “nom” punctuating the silence. I just called over to Mr. P, inquiring if he approves of the crunch element, to which he instantly avered, “yes. Yes I do.” Once again, I followed the recipe pretty much word for word, so I won’t repost it here, since that would be ridiculously redundant as well as fairly lame. Just follow the link above – I’ve taken the liberty of having it open in a new tab so that you don’t stray too far from my wit and charm.

No, not really.

Reddish Velvet Cake with Cream-Cheese-Butter-Cream

I was mistaken as I wrote the previous post; my appetite merely stopped by to pick up some things and then blew right back out of town. However, I’m a firm believer that if you’re sick, there’s a pharmaceutical solution, and I’ve been on the top-secret tier of anti-nausea medication for a few weeks now. To all ladies who may one day decide to incubate: if Zofram doesn’t do it for your barfs, demand no less than Promethazine. Remember, they’re loathe to admit it, but your doctors are technically vendors. Dr. G managed to scare the bajesus out of me the last go around, but I’m calling the shots with this one and have taken to severely berating him each time he raises my stress level over “risk.” He’s already been instructed to drop it regarding the chromosomal craps game, and if he mentions weight as an issue over the next four months, the skillet’s coming out of my purse. Once I couldn’t keep applesauce down, I decided to put mom first for the duration, and I’m delighted to find I don’t feel at all guilty about it. Save for my daily wake-up wretch, I’ve been holding food down like no one’s business, and one particular craving has hit me hard: my own cake.

My cake stand has been full and proud for over a week, and it currently showcases my first execution of red velvet with cream cheese frosting. Having a slight skin-crawl reaction to using an entire tablespoon of red food coloring, as suggested by the Guilty Kitchen’s cake recipe, I cut the amount down to a teaspoon, so mine was more of a not-terribly dark brown. I found the cake itself rather adult, with a less-is-more attitude toward sugar. When I sign up for cake, I expect a glucose-induced forehead tingle to punctuate each slice, and I was left chasing mine with Keebler rainbow cookies in a failed attempt to reach the top of candy mountain.  Mr. P, however, has sworn that his eyes sincerely rolled back upon first bite, even after I promised I wouldn’t be angry if he had just been patronizing Preggy. I have to say that a bite of the cake loaded with the frosting (pilfered from the Smitten Kitchen) is impressive indeed, but I’m unable to finish a slice beyond its surface area.

At the end of the day, if you like dark chocolate, I suspect you’ll love this. For those of us who prefer our chocolate well milked, I’ll refer you to my reliably spectacular Black Midnight Cake.

The Cake:
1 C brown sugar
1/2 C white sugar
3/4 C butter
2 eggs
2 C cake flour
1/2 C plus 2 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 C buttermilk
1 tbsp red food coloring if you play fast and loose with your liver
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp white vinegar

The Frosting:
1/2 C butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 C powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
some milk

Set your oven to 350 and grease/flour two round cake pans. In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the butter and white sugar by hand before creaming in the brown, then beat in the eggs. In a separate bowl, stir together the buttermilk, food coloring and vanilla. Dump the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, then start stirring with one hand while slowly pouring in the milk mixture with the other. Once everything’s moist, quickly stir in the vinegar, then pop the bowl under the mixer and let it ride on high for 2 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula, give the whole thing a vigorous stir, then divide the batter evenly between the pans. Bake the layers side by side at 350 for 22-24 minutes, switching their positions at 12 minutes to keep them level. Set the pans over wire racks and let them sit for 10 minutes before inverting the layers onto the racks to finish cooling.

Cream the butter and cream cheese together with a wooden spoon until the resulting mixture is completely consistent. Add the vanilla, then stir in the powdered sugar in 1-C increments, adding just a few drops of milk with each. Once all the sugar is in, switch to a whisk to eliminate any unsightly lumps. When frosting the cake, give the circumference a few go-arounds to pile it on, and don’t be frugal in between the layers. It’s ant season, so cover it up!

(Tiny?) Bites of Decadence.

7 Layer Bars
Inspired by this.

Drool. I'm sorry, what did you say?

This dessert has achieved a level of notoriety among my friends–this is the only dessert they ask for. Don’t think that my cookies, brownies, pies, or cakes aren’t delicious–they just aren’t The 7 Layer Bars. (It should be noted that the original recipe is called something completely accurate and boring. My name came about because of the sheer height of these squares–at almost 3 inches tall, they are a thing of beauty. The recipe seems like you get 12 squares, max, from the 9″ x 9″ pan. Don’t be fooled–the only person who could get down a portion that size is my husband.)

Mid-afternoon snack.

1 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups uncooked quick oats

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 (12-ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Lightly grease a 9" x 9" baking pan.
3. Cream together the butter and brown sugar.
4. Add the eggs and vanilla.
5. Stir in the flour, salt, and baking soda.
6. Add the oats, and mix well.
7. Press a little more than half of the batter into the prepared pan. Set aside the rest of the batter.
8. For the filling, melt the chocolate with the milk, butter, vanilla, and salt in a double boiler. (Can also be melted in a saucepan over low-medium heat, stirring constantly until chocolate is just melted.)
9. Pour over the batter in the baking pan.
10. Sprinkle the top with the nuts.
11. Spoon the remaining batter over the filling.
12. Bake for 30 minutes, until the batter is golden brown. Cool for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
13. Cut into 20-25 squares and stuff your face.

Those 1000 extra calories aren’t going to eat themselves.

The Day Is Mine Chocolate Chip Cookies

About once a month I make an impromptu variation on the Tollhouse Chocolate Chipper. In my never-abating quest for superiority, I assume that mine will be the face behind its eventual perfection, at which point everyone will jot down my recipe and we can all move on to other culinary ventures. Usually my experiments yield cookies that are fine, but with a lowercase “f.” But endeavor is never a waste, and I’m able to take advantage of Billy the Kid’s not yet fully developed palate to move the mediocre product. This afternoon, however, I created a most magnificent monster, a complete departure from my signature butter-crisp version, but a delicious bastard indeed.

At fifteen I began a several-year career with the burger tycoon known within the industry as The Monarch, and back when a pack of Old Golds went for $1.85, Burger King’s menu offered a chocolate chip cookie that I believe was supplied by one Mrs. Fields. I spent the summer after my senior year waking up at 4 AM five out of seven mornings to scoop lard into industrial deep-fryers and ready the palace for its throngs of noble patrons. I fully believe in getting one’s due out of the employment contract, and as my morning ritual continued and I placed the mandated dozen frozen balls of dough into the very specific and very branded tiny oven, I’d throw in an extra six to hide behind the tomatoes and sustain me throughout my shift. They were the best cookies I’ve ever eaten, nuanced with the most indulgent of all secret ingredients: sneaky.

These cookies bring me right back to my bad girl days of dark lipstick, Colt 45’s, too much eyeliner and pink hair. Oh, to be young and ridiculous.

1-1/2 stick butter (3/4 C)
1/4 C shortening
3/4 C sugar
3/4 C dark brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2-1/4 C flour
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 bag Toll House Semi Sweet Morsels

I hate it as much as anyone, but for the best cookies, all ingredients, including eggs, must be at room temperature before beginning. I didn’t microwave the butter as I sometimes do, and I suggest you rock these old school as well. So, set your oven to 375, but not before the butter easily accommodates a poking.

Cream together the butter and shortening, then add the white sugar and continue mashing until completely blended. Add the brown sugar and disperse, then beat in the eggs and vanilla until everything’s consistent. Stir in the flour, salt and soda with a hefty wooden spoon, as this dough gets thick enough to snap a dollar-store utensil. Once all loose flour has been incorporated, stir in the chocolate chips until the mass has an even distribution.

Form the dough into 1-1/2″ balls and space 2″ apart on cookie sheets before flattening just slightly. Bake single sheets at 375 for 12 minutes (10 minutes for extra soft). Cool the finished cookies on the sheets for three minutes before transferring to a wire rack until room temperature. These should be stored in an air-tight container as they crisp quickly, and the chewy middle must be preserved!

Happy Birthday, Mr. Hamilton!

Deposit-Your-Soul-Here Devil’s Food Cake

Last night, I managed to type the following: “I’m looking forward to an early retirement this evening, having just concluded Mr. H’s annual birthday dinner, Steak Hamilton and Cheesy Potatoes,” then immediately succumbed to the food coma induced by filet mignon, sauteed mushrooms, twice-baked potatoes, and a deliciously sneaky Muscat contributed by the couple, which made for a difficult bed-extraction this morning. But it was the rich, moist, chocolate cake that did me in; elastic pants were donned within seconds of our friends’ departure. Breaking a cardinal rule, I made a new cake for company. How could I act so irresponsibly when Mr. H’s birthday cake was at stake? I’ve had the 1960’s recipe for Betty Crocker’s Devil’s Food Cake for as long as I can remember, and I’ve started assembling the mise en place to make it on countless occasions. However, while I keep a laudable stock of baking ingredients in my pantry, I’m repeatedly foiled by the buttermilk. Yesterday, I remembered the recipe’s existence before a scheduled trip to the market, and I trust Betty more than I do myself.

It was, as expected, hellishly good. By far the heaviest cake I’ve created, forehead-tingle commenced within a record two bites, and though the double-dark buttercream frosting lent an adult depth, Billy the Kid cookie-monstered his slice with standard enthusiastic vigor. It was indeed a truly happy birthday for us all.

Above: Remains of the Cake

1-3/4 C flour
1 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1-1/4 C buttermilk
1/2 C shortening
2 eggs
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 tsp vanilla

Set your oven to 350 and grease and flour two 9″ cake pans. In a large bowl (preferably that of a stand mixer), cream together the shortening and sugar until fluffy, then cream in the brown sugar until the color’s consistent. Beat in the eggs and vanilla by hand until the batter’s smooth and airy. Add the flour, baking soda and salt, and stir the dry ingredients in while slowly pouring in the buttermilk. Give the whole thing a rigorous beating before stirring in the chocolate.

Stick the bowl under the mixer or get out your hand-held, and beat on high until it looks smooth and delicious, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the batter into the pans and pay close attention to leveling for this one. Bake them side by side in the center of the oven for 30 minutes (give or take 5, until a wooden-pick inserted into the center comes out clean, duh), but give each pan a 180-degree turn half-way through. Let the layers sit in the pan for 5 minutes before running a knife around the perimeters, then turn them out onto wire racks to cool.

The outsides of the layers harden quickly, so a soon as they’re barely warm, seal them with the following non-optional frosting.

2 C powdered sugar
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/3 C butter
1 tsp vanilla

Melt the butter and chocolate over low heat in a medium saucepan, stirring frequently to prevent the chocolate from burning. Once melted, turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Proceed to stir in the sugar in half-cup increments, and accompany each addition with 1 tbsp of water. Add more water as needed throughout the process, but no more than 1 tbsp at a time, lest your frosting turn into icing. Once you’ve incorporated all the sugar, the frosting will probably look a little greasy. That means you need to add more water and beat it as vigorously as you can. You can grab the hand-held if you don’t do a lot of baking and it’s killing you, but you’ll wind up sacrificing the love. I don’t have a slightly more muscular right upper-arm for no reason.

After you frost your cake, let it stand uncovered for a half hour to let the shell set, then cover it up until you don’t have anywhere to be for the rest of the day. I felt awful for so gastric-ly incapacitating the Hamiltons, as they had an hour of driving ahead of them, but as someone who enjoyed the option of passing out quickly, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the evening.

I need to fill the void. Literally, my new cake plate’s empty.

The Rolo Cookie

It seldom occurs to me to combine cookies and candy, but I happened to flip past the card for these in my recipe book earlier this evening, and within half an hour Mr. P was heading out to get Rolo’s and butter while I flash-bathed Billy the Kid. My supportive and helpful husband made it to the counter with milk, paper towel, butter and the candy, when he heard “that’s a lot of Rolo’s you got there,” from the local 7/11 fly, who got so excited upon learning that they were for the cookies, Mr. P had to drive around the block twice to avoid unexpected entertaining.

Almost everyone has had these at a kid’s party or bake-sale: the chocolate, brownie-ish cookie surrounding a melted disc of caramel. I have a feeling that if these aren’t worthy of, a version substituting butter cubes for the candy would be a shoe-in. Might I suggest that you wait until an opportunity for sharing presents itself before making these to avoid serious self-loathing and distension.

2-1/2 C flour
3/4 C cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 C sugar
1 C brown sugar
1 C butter, softened
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
40 Rolo’s

Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy, then mix in the brown sugar until everything’s the same color. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until the mixture is smooth. Mix the dry ingredients in a medium bowl before adding to the batter, and stir with a spoon until it’s easier to just go in with your hands. Combine and knead until a dough forms, continually rubbing the mass along the inside of the bowl to incorporate all the dry ingredients. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap it in foil or plastic, and stick it in the fridge for half and hour.

Set your oven to 375. Roll the dough into 1″ balls, then flatten slightly and press a Rolo into the center. Shape the dough around the candy so that it’s completely hidden. Roll the loaded balls in granulated sugar to coat, and place them at least 2″ apart. Bake single sheets for 8 to 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool. I’d advise you to wait 5 whole minutes before biting into recently 350-degree liquid sugar, but some lessons have to be learned the hard way.

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