Melt in Your Mouth Caramels.

I've always been a little intimidated to put sugar and cream into a pot and let it steep up to a whopping 245 degrees. But recently I decided to be a little daring. And this was the wonderful product...
These caramels were actually a breeze. The hardest part is waiting patiently for your boiling mixture to actually reach the desired temperature. It took awhile, but is well worth it in the end. I also decided that I would add a little salt on my almost-hardened caramels for a nice sweet and salty taste. It was tasty and I suggest you try it as well!
Also a time consuming task, is wrapping the caramels. You might not think it is, but cutting them each into little rectangles, cutting out shapes of parchment, and individually wrapping them up takes quite awhile. I would say it took me about an hour to wrap the entire pan of caramels. But again, so worth it.
And since they're individually wrapped, these puppies would make a great gift for a friend with a sweet tooth. I like to wrap them up even if I'm just keeping them for myself. Something about a pile full of empty wrappers in front of me makes me decide that I don't need to eat that 20th caramel. It's all about mind-trickery.
So go ahead and let your inner caramel maker out. You'll be glad you did.

Chewy Caramels-recipe from The New York Times

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, more for greasing pan
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
Pinch salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Lightly grease a 9-inch-square baking pan. Combine all ingredients except vanilla in a broad saucepan or deep skillet and turn heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves.

Attach a candy thermometer and keep cooking and stirring until mixture is dark, nearly brown, and measures 245 degrees F.

Stir in the vanilla and pour into prepared pan. Cool, then remove from the pan in a block and refrigerate, but not for too long. What you want is a mixture cool enough so that it's not too sticky, but not so cold that it's solid: this is the easiest state in which to cut and wrap.

Use a sharp knife to cut caramel into pieces, then wrap each square in parchment. These keeps for weeks (psshh...like they'll last that long) but are best eaten fresh at room temperature.

Makes at least 50 caramels.


How To Stay Warm 101

To start off, how was everyone's New Year? I hope it was amazing and you have some fantastic resolutions. What are mine? Well, I'd like to eat less cake and hit the gym more often. Or maybe I should just think of a more realistic resolution...like eat a rational amount of cake, but also hit the gym more often. There. That's reasonable, right? Right.

Whatever your resolutions are, you should add eating this comforting soup to the list. It will make your year that much better.

I live in Ohio. It is cold here. I believe it is around 20 or so degrees below normal temperatures. I am not delighted with this. At all.
So how do I remedy my unhappiness? Well for starters I like to set my alarm for about 20 minutes before I actually need to get up so I can snuggle in my warm bed. Lately, this has put me in a great mindset for the day. Next, I try as hard as I can to get my dog, Dudley, to lay with me on the couch, preferably on my feet, to keep them cozy. He's like a little portable heater!!

Another thing I like to do to keep warm in these chilly days of winter is to eat hot soup. Lots of it.

I got this recipe out of one of my favorite cookbooks, The Pastry Queen, and I thought it would be great to heat up and eat out of an oversized mug on a cold afternoon. Boy oh boy was I right.

This tortilla soup is awesome!
I left out a bit of the spiciness, cause my taste-buds aren't really into that, and I thought it was still perfect. You must must must add the shredded cheese, sour cream, avocado, and tortilla chips to this soup. Sure, I bet it's good without it, but should you have to settle for good? No, you deserve fantastic. The additions really take the soup to the next level. Trust me, this is a sure fire way to keep warm in the winter and experience a wonderful warm meal.

Texas Tortilla Soup-recipe by The Pastry Queen

for the soup:
8 plum tomatoes
4 Tablespoons
1 medium-size yellow onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 cups chicken stock
1 dried ancho chili pepper
1 (15 oz) can peeled tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cooked, shredded chicken breasts
3 ears fresh corn or 1 (8 oz) package frozen corn (optional-I left this out of mine)

the garnishes:
2 ripe avocados, peeled and sliced
Tortilla chips or strips
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Sour cream

To make the soup: Preheat the oven to 350. Slice the tomatoes in half. Spread 1 tablespoon of the olive oil on a baking sheet and arrange the tomatoes on top, skin side up. Drizzle the tomatoes with another 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Roast the tomatoes for 25-35 minutes, until the skins wrinkle and the tomatoes are slightly brown around the edges.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy bottomed, 4-quart soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and bell pepper and saute about 5 minutes, until the vegetables become soft. Stir in the chili powder and cumin and cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and ancho chile. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then cover, decrease the heat, and simmer about 15 minutes, until the ancho chile softens. Remove the chile from the soup and pull off and discard the stem. Cut the chile in half and discard the seeds, if desired. (Leaving the seeds in makes for a spicier soup.) Place the softened chile, the canned tomatoes with their juices, and the roasted tomatoes (including as much of the juices and browned tomato bits as possible) in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Puree the chili-tomato mixture about 1 minute. Transfer the chili-tomato mixture to the soup and continue simmering, covered, about 1 hour. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with the cooked chicken. If using corn, cut the kernels from the cobs, add the corn to the soup, and simmer another 5 minutes.

To garnish the soup: Ladle the soup in the medium bowls. Lean 3-4 slices of avocado against the edge of each bowl, partially sticking out the soup. Arrange the tortilla chips in a similar way. Sprinkle each bowl with a handful of diced tomatoes, some cilantro, and 2 tablespoons of shredded cheese. Top with a spoonful of sour cream. Serve immediately once garnished.


Peanut Butter Blondies with Milk Chocolate Frosting

These are good.
Seriously good.
So, let's talk. How was everyone's Christmas? Mine was wonderful. I spent all of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with my family. I can't think of a better way to have spent the holiday. We ate, sat around the kitchen table and talked, ate, played games (my mom is a horrible cheater at Scattergories), ate, and opened some presents. Did I mention that we ate? It seemed like a reasonable amount of food at the time, and was very very tasty, but now that I look back maybe I shouldn't have indulged with multiple pieces of bread pudding or handfuls of puppy chow. But hey, it's only Christmas once a year, right? Right!
So back to Christmas. Honestly, it was the best Christmas we've ever had. My mom attributes that to her delectable and perfectly cooked prime rib she made for Christmas Eve dinner. I like to think it's the Kitchenaid mixer I was gifted (!!!). But even if we had no prime rib, and no super-cool, awesome, cherry red mixers for the holiday I'm positive it would have been awesome because of the best gift of all, spending time with family. Ok, I'm getting too cheesy on here, aren't I?
Enough of me blabbering about Christmas cheer, and time for blondie talk. Seriously good peanut butter blondie talk. I think the thing that makes these blondies so delicious is the classic combination of chocolate and peanut butter. It's hard to mess that duo up.
I made these blondies awhile back but just got around to posting them. I hope these are one of the desserts you make in the new year. If you do, you'll have made an excellent and delicious choice. Trust me.
Have a wonderful rest of the holiday season and I'll talk to you all next year!
Peanut Butter Blondies with Milk Chocolate Frosting-recipe by Joy the Baker

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 cups dark brown sugar
1 cup smooth and natural peanut butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9x13 inch pan and line with parchment. Grease the parchment paper too.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and sugar until the butter is just melted. Remove from the burner and allow to cool for 5 minutes, then add the peanut butter. Stir until incorporated. Allow to cool for 5 minutes more, then whisk in the eggs and vanilla extract. You want the sugar, butter, and peanut butter mixture to be cool enough that the eggs won't cook when they're added in.

Whisk together salt, flour, and baking powder. Add dry ingredients all at once to the wet. Stir until just incorporated. Pour the thick batter in the prepared pan and smooth out. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center of the blondies comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before frosting.

Milk Chocolate Frosting

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp
3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2-2 cups powdered sugar
3 Tablespoons milk
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips, melted

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter, cocoa powder, and salt. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar followed by 1 Tablespoon milk. Beat well. Add another cup of powdered sugar, followed by 2 tablespoons of milk. Add the melted and slightly cooled chocolate chips to the frosting and beat to incorporate. Add the final 1/2 cup of powdered sugar if you need a bit for thickness. Spread evenly over cooled peanut butter blondies.


Tiramisu. Capiche?

I bought this wonderful cookbook, The Pastry Queen, a few months ago and fell in love with it when I first opened the cover. The photographs make your mouth water and the author writes cute passages at the beginning of each recipe. After weeks of flipping through pages debating what to make, I finally settled on a favorite of mine-tiramisu.
I changed the recipe just a bit, mainly when it came to the syrup that I dunked the ladyfingers in, and I don't think it mattered much at all. Since the dessert filled a big 9x13 pan, I was eager to share, and all of my coworkers said it was delicious.
This tiramisu used homemade ladyfingers. I had made them once before, and they aren't as daunting as I thought they would be, and they add such a great flavor to the dish. I probably could have eaten all of the ladyfingers by themselves because they were that good. For the tiramisu's sake, I decided to refrain.
Probably what I love most about this tiramisu is that the coffee flavor isn't too overwhelming, like some that I've had before. Ironically, this was my mom's least favorite thing about it. So...if you like an intense coffee flavor, this probably isn't the tiramisu for you, but if you enjoy a nice subtle flavor, I bet you'll love this recipe. So try this if you love tiramisu, like me, and be sure to let me know what you think!
Note* At the very end of the recipe it says to let it chill for at least a few hours or overnight. I would definitely choose overnight. The flavors really do mingle while it's chillin' (hah!) in the fridge, and it's much better after it has rested for a long while.
Tiramisu with Homemade Ladyfingers-recipe by The Pastry Queen

for the ladyfingers:
1/2 cup powdered sugar for dusting ladyfingers
7 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup plus 4 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup AP flour

for the soaking syrup:
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/4 cup Kahlua
1/8-1/4 cup dark rum
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

for the filling:
3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, at room temp
2 cups sugar
1 (16 oz) tub mascarpone cheese, at room temp
1 Tablespoon boiling water
2 Tablespoons instant espresso powder
Dark cocoa powder or grated bittersweet chocolate for dusting

To make the ladyfingers: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper. Use a fine-mesh sieve to dust with powdered sugar. Using a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks, the 3/4 cup granulated sugar, and the vanilla in a large bowl on high speed about 5 minutes, until the yolks become thick and pale yellow. In a separate clean, large bowl, use a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment to beat the egg whites on high speed until stuff peaks form. Add the 4 Tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 Tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition. Fold the egg white mixture gently into the egg yolk mixture. Use a sieve to sift the flour over the batter. Gently fold in the flour just until incorporated.

Spoon the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe the bater onto the prepared baking sheets, making each ladyfinger about 4 inches long and 2 inches wide. You'll be able to fit about 5 ladyfingers across and 4 down on each sheet. Sift the 1/2 cup powdered sugar over the ladyfingers and bake about 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool for 5 minutes and use a spatula to transfer them to cooling racks.

To make the soaking syrup: Simmer the water and sugar in a heavy saucepan set over medium heat about 10 minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove the mixture from the heat  and stir in the espresso powder, liqueur, rum, and vanilla. Set aside to cool.

To make the filling: Using a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese and sugar on high speed. Ad the mascarpone and beat on medium speed just until incorporated. Combine the boiling water and espresso powder in a small bowl. Stir 1/4 cup of the cooled soaking syrup and 1 Tablespoon of the espresso liquid in the filling. Spoon half of the cream cheese mixture in a medium bowl. Stir the remaining 1 Tablespoon of espresso liquid into the second bowl of cream cheese mixture. You will have 1 bowl of light brown cream cheese filling and one bowl of dark brown cream cheese filling.

Coat a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Dip both sides of 1 ladyfinger in the cooled soaking syrup and place in the bottom of the pan. Repeat with more ladyfingers and syrup to line the whole pan. Spoon the light-colored cream cheese mixture evenly over the ladyfingers and smooth gently with a spatula. Cover with a second layer of dipped ladyfingers. Spoon on the dark-colored cream cheese mixture and smooth the top as before. (Leftover ladyfingers can be wrapped and frozen up to 1 month--if they last that long, I just ate my leftovers.) Use a fine-mesh sieve to dust the top with a light coating of cocoa powder or sprinkle with grated bittersweet chocolate.

Cover the tiramisu and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Serve cold from the fridge.


It's a Double Whammy.


Cookie Dough.
 Cookie Dough Cheesecake.
This was the other dessert I made for Thanksgiving. It was a huge hit with my family. And I have to admit, on Friday and Saturday it is what I ate for breakfast.
The cheesecake isn't baked in a water bath, which I thought was very odd. I have only made one other cheesecake before (a nutella cheesecake!), and it had a water bath. I was a little apprehensive about making it cause I thought the water bath served a vital purpose in the overall baking of the cheesecake. Turns out, it just prevents cracks on the top, and I wasn't so worried about that.

This dessert is definitely a double whammy. The cheesecake is smooth and creamy and the cookie dough balls are, well...cookie dough. You can't go wrong with that. After you make the cookie dough and shape it into balls, make sure to put them in the freezer. If not, they will just bake along with the cheesecake and turn into cookies. Pretty cool, but not as snazzy and just the dough. When the cake is in the oven, the frozen dough balls will just thaw and still be yummy raw goodness.

I'm not sure if my springform pan was a bit loose or what, but when I baked it, it dripped grease onto the bottom of my oven. So about halfway through baking when I realized it was dripping, I just slid a cookie sheet on the bottom rack to catch the grease. Luckily, I have one of those nonstick pads on the bottom of the oven, so cleanup was a breeze, it was a just a little chaotic. In the end, though, it was so worth it. 
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake-recipe by Mel's Kitchen Cafe

4 Tablespoons butter, melted
2 1/2 cups Oreo cookie crumbs

Cookie Dough:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 Tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup AP flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup mini chocolate chips

4 (8oz) blocks cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon AP flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mini chocolate chips

For the cookie dough: In a medium bowl, combine the butter and both sugars. Add the milk and vanilla and blend. Mix in the flour, salt, and chips. The dough will be fairly soft. Gently roll the dough into small balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Place them in the freezer to harden while making the rest of the cheesecake.

For the crust: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 10 inch springform pan. In a medium bowl, combine butter and cookie crumbs. Press onto bottom and about halfway up the sides of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

For the cheesecake: Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and flour until smooth. Add the vanilla and sour cream and mix just until blended. Be careful no to overmix, you want your cheesecake to be light and fluffy.

Pour half the batter into the cooled crust. Gently stir in the cookie dough balls and additional chocolate chips into the remaining batter. Pour that into the pan, spreading the batter to the sides of the pan and evening out the top. Bake the cheesecake for one hour. Turn off the oven and prop the door open several inches and let sit in oven for an additional 30 minutes. Remove the cake and let cool completely on a wire rack. Refrigerate overnight.


Pumpkin Is Timeless.

I realized my last post was about pumpkin. And this post is about pumpkin. But truth be told, I can't get enough pumpkin. Especially on Thanksgiving. To me, there are a few things about Thanksgiving that never get old:

-spending time with my wonderful family
-hearing my brother jokingly yell "this needs more salt" numerous times from the living room
-eating until it hurts, and then some more
That being said, make this pie! It is the perfect blend of spices and pumpkin to give you the pumpkin pie taste, but without all the work. And I love anything with a graham cracker crust. I changed the recipe just a hair. I put mine in a tart pan, instead of a pie pan, for easy removal. I also sprinkled a bit of cinnamon on top instead of maple syrup. That extra zing was delish. Also, I didn't add any molasses simply because I didn't have any, but I think it would have tasted just as great.
I know the pictures aren't the best quality, but I was taking them seconds before family members snatched the pie out of my hands to eat. We take our desserts very seriously. I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving and I'll see you in a few days!
Pumpkin Cream Pie-recipe by Joy the Baker

for the crust:
1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham crackers
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
pinch of salt
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

for the filling:
1 (8oz) package cream cheese, softened
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 (15oz) can pumpkin

for the topping:
1 cup heavy cream
3 Tablespoons maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine graham crackers with sugar, salt, an melted butter. Toss together to coat the entire mixture in butter. Press into 9-inch tart pan.

Bake crust for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely before adding the filling.

Beat cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Add the powdered sugar to the mixture and beat until smooth and fluffy. Add the vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, and canned pumpkin and beat until thoroughly combined. If necessary, pass through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl to remove lumps.

Spoon the filling into the cooled tart shell. Let pie chill in the fridge overnight. 

Beat together heavy cream and maple syrup until cream is in soft peaks. Spread over the chilled pie and sprinkle cinnamon. Slice and serve. 


Hey Pumpkin!

Recently, I discovered Joy the Baker. Over the course of a few days, I stalked her entire blog and bookmarked over a dozen recipes that made my mouth water. This includes the Apple Tarte Tatin, a Pumpkin Cream Pie with Maple Whipped Cream, and a good looking Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake. You will more than likely see these delectable desserts on my blog in the near future. But today is all about these...
These good looking treats are Pumpkin Cookies. With butterscotch chips!
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Which means, technically, that pumpkin season is over. I'm not much for technicality, so I will make these for weeks to come.
This cookie is like no other. It's more like a cake or a whoopie pie. I bet these little suckers would be awesome sandwiched together with a dollop of cream cheese frosting in the middle. Yum! 
Even if the day after tomorrow starts Christmas season, you should hang on to Fall a little bit longer and make these cookies. But be warned, they are insanely addictive. I may or may not have eaten the entire first baking sheet by myself. It was worth it. 
Pumpkin Cookies with Butterscotch Chips-recipe by Joy the Baker

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola or corn oil
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup butterscotch chips

Position a rack in the middle of the oven . Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and butter the paper. 

Stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together in a medium bowl and set aside.  In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs and sugar until smooth and lightened in color, about 1 minute.  Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed during mixing.  On low speed, mix the oil, pumpkin, and vanilla until blended.  Mix in the flour mixture to incorporate it.  Mix in the chips.

Using an ice cream scoop with a 1/4-cup capacity, scoop mounds of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies at least 2 1/2-inches apart. You could also simply use a 1/4-cup measuring cup if you don’t have a  scoop. Use a thin metal spatula to smooth and flatten the rounds.  

Bake the  cookies one sheet at a time until the tops feel firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry, about 16 minutes.  Cool them on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then use a wide metal spatula to transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. 

Dust the cooled cookies lightly with powdered sugar.  The cookies can be stored in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to 4 days.