Vanilla Sugar Shortbread Wedges

Last year, I took part in the LA Food Bloggers Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry!  I met so many wonderful bloggers and had a great time.  Plus, I had BLD‘s life-changing Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes.  So really, it was a win-win day!

This year, my wonderful husband spotted a newspaper article asking for volunteer bakers for a No Kid Hungry Bake Sale closer to home!  The Redlands Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry sponsored by a Team called the IE Cookie Monsters.  It had to be fate!  You know how I feel about cookies!!

After sending an Email to Team IE Cookie Monsters, I started planning what I wanted to bake. Of course, I had to make brownies. That seems to be a tradition now.  I knew I wanted to do something different, but what?   After a bit of recipe searching, I settled on these easy and delicious Vanilla Sugar Shortbread Wedges.  They are thick, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth, have with a cup of tea on a rainy day, cookies.
Scored Shortbread Wedges

I’m planning on making these again for Mothers Day.  That is, if I can wait that long for another batch.

Vanilla Sugar Shortbread

Vanilla Sugar Shortbread

Ingredients:

2 Sticks Unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1/4 cup Vanilla Sugar (or regular sugar, with one tsp vanilla bean paste), plus extra for dusting

1/2 cup Powdered Sugar

2 cups Flour

1 tsp salt

Directions:

In a bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter until it turns a pale yellow.  On a sheet of parchment paper, sift sugars together using a fine mesh sieve. Pick up the parchment paper and use it to gently add sugar mix to the butter. Continue to beat until thick and creamy (about 5 minutes).  If you are using regular sugar, add the vanilla paste after you’ve creamed the sugar and butter together.

Sift flour and salt together over the same sheet of parchment paper.  Add to butter/sugar mix, mix until just incorporated.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

After dough has chilled, press gently in an 8″ round cake pan.  No need to grease the pan, there is plenty of butter in the dough!  Score the dough into wedges, so it will be easier to cut when it’s done baking.

Bake for 1 hour, or until the top of the shortbread has barely browned.

Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.  Cut the shortbread along the score marks, forming eight large wedges.  Dust lightly with 1 tsp granulated sugar.

Share these with a friend and a cup of hot tea or coffee.

Vanilla Shortbread Wedges

NOTE:  These make very thick cookies.  You can split the dough in half and use two cake pans.  Shorten your cooking time to 35-40 minutes (watch carefully).  You can also roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and use cookie cutters.  If you use cookie cutters, place the dough back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before baking.  Baking cold cookies will help them maintain their shape.

ENJOY!!

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Cake In A Cup!

I have a secret. My food bloggers card may be revoked when I tell you. Then again, I might be your new hero!

I love cake! Oh wait. That’s not a secret.

I love things that are quick and easy! No… not a secret either.

I have boxed cake mix in my pantry. *GASP*

Now I know what you’re thinking. Food bloggers are supposed to make everything from scratch! They sit around fancy tables with gorgeous napkins and fine china, eating perfectly plated, gourmet food! (Remind me to take a wide shot of what my kitchen actually looks like when I’m taking food pictures! HA!) I’m here to tell you, that’s just not true. Of course, if you’ve been following along for a while, you already know my kitchen isn’t perfect so…

Not only do I have boxed cake mix in my pantry, I have two! Specifically, these two.

Cake Mix

My friend Laura is falling out of her chair right now, because I’ve made an Angel Food Cake for her birthday the past several years and she probably thinks it’s from one of these boxes. Hey! Now that I think about it, maybe my food bloggers card won’t be revoked after all! Laura, I promise, your cakes have never been from a box!

So why are they in my pantry? Is the secret really boxed cake mix? No. The secret is the magic that happens when you mix the two together! I keep this hidden for those moments when I want something sweet – just for me – and I want it RIGHT NOW. In less than two minutes, I can have a delicious, personal size, chocolate cake in a cup that satisfies the cravings and doesn’t leave me with a lot of extra cake in the house.

Here’s how it works: In a large ziplock bag, combine the two cake mixes together. Shake the bag until they are fully incorporated. In a microwaveable coffee mug, combine three tablespoons of the mix with two tablespoons of water. Nothing else, just water. Stir to combine. Put the mug in the microwave on high for one minute. THAT’S IT!

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When it’s done, let it sit for a few minutes to cool. After that, you have your own individual “cup cake” to satisfy your sweet tooth. It looks a bit like a sponge but that’s ok!
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If you want more chocolate, as soon as the cup comes out of the microwave, toss mini chocolate chips on top. They’ll melt a bit from the heat of the cake and it tastes almost like frosting!

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So there it is. Cake in a cup using boxed cake mix. If you don’t like chocolate, you can use your favorite flavor box mix, but don’t substitute the Angel Food cake mix. You will have a lot of mix, so store it in the bag in the back of your pantry. It will be there for you when your own cake cravings hit.

Cake in a cup

Have fun with this! Just remember, it’s our secret!!

Berry Chocolate Ganache Tart

I love it when things push me out of my comfort zone. I combined three different recipes to create this gorgeous Berry Tart! I’m pretty proud of myself too. It wasn’t without some trepidation and learning though! If you make ganache on a regular basis, please skip ahead and don’t read the following imperfections of a regular non-ganache making person.

Berry Chocolate Ganache Tart

Are we alone now? No professional ganache makers among us? Whew! Let me tell you, this one freaked me out a little. I’ve only made ganache in the safety of a cooking class with an instructor ready if I screwed up. This time it was just me, some chocolate, heavy cream and a bit of butter. How hard could it be? Well, let me say, I am thankful for the expertise of Alton Brown and my microwave!

The instructions for ganache are simple: Chop 8 oz of good quality chocolate and put it in a bowl. That’s great, except if you think “Cool! 8 oz is a cup so I only need a cup of chopped chocolate.” Wrong. You need EIGHT OUNCES of chopped chocolate. If you don’t have a digital scale in your kitchen, please go get one as soon as possible. Turns out, eight ounces of chopped chocolate was almost equal to a cup and three-quarters. Lesson learned. We move on to “Sara attempts to make ganache, TAKE TWO!”

The next ganache instruction is “In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream to a very low simmer.” The cream is used to melt the chocolate and needs to be warm enough to do that and melt butter later. This does not mean, when you see little bubbles around the edges of the pan it’s at a “low simmer.” Little bubbles around the edges of the pan mean you need to let it heat more! Otherwise you’ll be using memories of Good Eats “The Art of Darkness III” and your microwave! My cream wasn’t warm enough so I had to put my chocolate and cream mix in the microwave for just a few seconds, twice, to get the right consistency. I could have saved myself the hassle by simply bringing the cream to the right temperature the first time. Every one of you will do that now, right? I hope you’re nodding because I’m going to invite the ganache makers back to the conversation and we want to be cool.

Ganache lovers! Welcome back! Let’s get to tart making, shall we?

I used my grandmothers Pate Sucree (Pastry made with Sugar) recipe. Then, I followed Joy The Baker’s chocolate ganache recipe, and finally, topped this beauty with tons of fresh berries a simple recipe for sweet cream!

Berry Chocolate Ganache Tart

Let’s start with the tart!

Tart Crust

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 TBLS sugar
1/8 tsp salt
6 TBLS unsalted butter, cut into pieces and frozen
1 egg yolk
1 TBLS plus 1 tsp cold water

In your food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the frozen butter, egg yolk and 1 TBLS cold water. Process for 5-10 seconds. If the dough looks too dry, add the additional 1 tsp water, but don’t over process it.

(You can do this by hand, if you don’t have a food processor. Don’t freeze your butter if you do it by hand but it does need to be very well chilled. Sift the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add the cold butter and use a pastry blender or your fingers to mix until the dough resembles coarse bread crumbs. Beat together the egg yolk and the water, then add it to the dough and stir until just blended.)

Pour the dough into a round 8 inch tart pan with a removable bottom, or you can use 6 mini tart pans for individual desserts, press dough gently around the bottom and up the sides to form a solid crust. Place the pan it in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

While the crust is chilling, make your ganache!

Chocolate Ganache filling

8 ounces dark or milk chocolate, finely chopped
8 ounces heavy cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces

Place your chopped chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside. In a small saucepan, over medium heat, bring the cream to a very low simmer. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it sit for two minutes. Use a whisk and start stirring in the center of the bowl. Don’t lift the whisk off the bottom of the bowl, but continue stirring from the center out until the mixture is smooth. Add your butter chunks and use a spatula to stir the ganache until the butter is completely melted and your mixture is nice and glossy. Set aside to cool to room temperature and thicken up.

While you are waiting for the tart crust to finish chilling and the ganache to thicken, pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees.

When the oven is hot (AND the hour is up for chilling your tart crust) remove the tart from the refrigerator, place a piece of buttered-foil (butter side down) on the tart (or use beans or a pie chain, whatever you want!) to weigh down the tart and keep it from bubbling while it bakes. Place the tart in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes until it’s a light golden brown.

Allow the tart to cool completely.

Berries and Sweet Cream Topping

1 cup heavy cream
3 TBLS powdered sugar
3/4 tsp Almond extract

1 1/2 cups assorted fresh berries

In a medium bowl, using a hand blender (or do it yourself with a whisk!) beat all the ingredients (except the fruit) together until you get soft peaks or it starts to look like Cool Whip! But don’t use Cool Whip, this tastes better!!

To assemble this delicious-ness, spoon ganache filling into the cooled tart shell. Spread evenly with a spatula. Pile the berries on the ganache and top with sweetened cream.

Berry Chocolate Tart

These are well worth the effort to make for that someone special for Valentines Day, or, you know, just because it’s Tuesday. Either way, have fun!

The Top 12 of 2012!

The year is drawing to a close. As we say goodbye to 2012, I want to share with you the Top 12 posts of the year (according to Word Press!) It’s been fabulously delicious journey and I am looking forward to seeing what new things we can eat and experience together in 2013!

Number 12: Follow That Chef – Kirsten Gum!
Chef Kirsten Gum
Kirsten is a crack up! She is one of the most down to earth and vibrant people I met this year. I was blessed not only to follow her around the Santa Monica Farmers Market, but also take several other classes with her at The Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories. Coming in at Number 12 and the ONLY Follow That Chef to make it into the top 12!

Number 11: Ghirardelli Brownies!
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I have never been shy about being a self-proclaimed “Ghirardelli Girl” (that really should be trademarked!) I made these brownies after the Ghirardelli outlet opened just a few miles from my house. The girl working there suggested this recipe to another customer and I was HOOKED! The variations of these brownies are only limited to your favorite flavor of Ghirardelli chocolate squares!

Number 10: Chocolate Covered Strawberries with Cheesecake Filling!
Chocolate Covered Strawberries with Cheesecake Filling!
These were a Valentines Day treat I made for my store team. As I recall, I had to make two batches because they disappeared so quickly! They are a sweet combination of three of my favorite things!

Number 9: PBK Brownie Bars!
PBK Brownie Bars
Brownies layered with peanuts and chopped peanut butter cups,then covered with chocolate rice crispy treats. I made them originally as bowling snacks and they took off from there! My very first guest post on another blog, I shared these brownies! I took them to the Share Our Strength LA Food Bloggers Bake Sale this year and have made them several times since. If you haven’t tried them yet, you’re missing out!

Number 8: Sweet Heaven Bars
Sweet Heaven Bars
Another bowling snack favorite! Chocolate chips, Toffee Chips and a gooey Caramel Center! It’s a triple threat of awesome-ness!

Number 7: Chocolate dipped Potato Chip Cookies!
Chocolate and Potato Chip Cookies
Thanks to Smitten Kitchen and Chef Emeril Lagasse, these cookies have quickly become a family favorite! A brilliant way to use the crumbs at the bottom of a potato chip bag. They go from brilliant to legendary when you dip them in chocolate. YUM!

Number 6: Bacon wrapped Jalapeño Poppers!
Bacon wrapped Jalapeño Poppers
We’ve made these for Christmas Parties, New Years Eve Parties, Superbowl Parties, Fourth of July celebrations! They are perfect for any celebration really! For a simple vegetarian version, just omit the bacon.

Number 5: Chocolate Caramel Surprise Crackle Cookies!
Chocolate Crackle Cookies with a caramel center
The most recent of my posts to make it into the top 12, these Chocolate Caramel Surprise Crackle Cookies are deceptively simple to make and very hard to resist! The caramel center is a sweet surprise hidden in these indulgent cookies!

Number 4: Chocolate Chip Cookie and Oreo Brownie Bars
Chocolate Chip and Oreo Brownie Bars
Another layered bar from our bowling days! My youngest son made these recently for a “Bake Off” at work. That’s right, my boy bakes! He won first prize with them too. 🙂 They are very decadent!

Number 3: Zucchini and Potato Pancakes!
Zucchini and Potato Pancakes
I am so happy these savory pancakes made it into the top 5! This was one of the first recipes I made from my Sunday’s With Joy cooking group. Cooking and baking our way through Joy The Bakers cookbook has been awesome. I’ve learned so much from Joy and from our group! There are so many talented people out there! Plus, I love Zucchini and this post has some of my favorite photos too. Food as art! Who knew?!?!

Number 2: Santa Hat Brownie Bites!
Santa Hat Brownie Bites
Adorable little brownie bites with frosting and a strawberry “hat” on top! These are perfect treats for Christmas parties! P.S. They are kind of like potato chips… no one can eat just one!

We’ve made it all the way to #1! DRUM ROLL PLEASE! Taking the top spot by a landslide…

NUMBER 1: Melted Snowman Cookies!!
Melted Snowman Cookies
I LOVE the expressions on these cookies! They are my greatest accomplishment in cookie making thus far. They are also probably part of the reason most of you are here, so THANK YOU for that!!

Hmmm… in looking over this list, I wonder if I should be concerned that nine of the top twelve are desserts, eight have chocolate in them, five are made with brownies and only two are savory? Nahhhh! It’s just been a SWEET year!

Thank you so much for joining me on my culinary adventures! I hope the coming year brings bright blessings for all of us and perhaps a few more savory items. 😉

S’mores Brownies!

S'mores Brownies

Oh brownies… how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee with chocolate chips mixed into your chocolatey batter.
I love thee with swirls of gooey caramel and chunks of walnuts.
I love thee frosted and topped with crushed peppermint candies.
I love thee layered with peanuts, chopped peanut butter cups and topped with chocolate rice krispies! (PBK Brownies)

And now… thanks to Joy the Baker, I love thee with graham crackers and marshmallows!

These remind me of summers, sitting around a campfire with the kids, making S’mores and singing silly songs. It’s winter now, but wouldn’t it be fun to make these when you have a blanket tent set up in the living room for a sleepover? There are some awesome Mom points right there!

No matter when you make them, I know you’ll love them!

S’mores Brownies
Recipe from Joy The Baker

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
5 large eggs
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup graham cracker, roughly crushed
12 big marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan (or you can you non-stick cooking spray too!) Set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and espresso powder in small bowl. Set this aside too!

Using a double boiler, with two inches of simmering water, stir chocolate and butter until melted and smooth. Allow to cool for a few minutes before continuing.

Once cooled slightly, whisk the sugars into the chocolate. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Stir in the vanilla, then your flour mixture. Carefully fold in the crushed graham crackers.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Dot with 12 large marshmallows and sprinkle with a few additional graham crackers. Bake about 30 – 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.

The marshmallows will be browned and fairly puffy, but will deflate as they cool. Let the brownies cool for about 20 minutes before slicing them. You will need to clean the knife under hot running water as you cut these because the marshmallows can get sticky!

Toasted S'mores Brownies
Enjoy!

Magical Orange Gingerbread with Cream Cheese Frosting!

If you love gingerbread, one bite of this cake and you’ll be convinced a fairy godmother must have waved her magic wand to create such perfection!

Magic Gingerbread

So, aside from the Fairy Godmother, why am I calling this “magical” gingerbread? Two reasons:

One, it tastes like Christmas! Imagine sitting in front of a roaring fireplace with a cup of hot tea and a platter of THIS delicious gingerbread to share with your family? Magical memories are sure to ensue!

Two, our Sundays with Joy group had some interesting experiences with the amount of batter fitting (or not) into an 8×8 pan. Obviously from the picture below, mine fit into TWO pans.

Gingerbread

It was a very curious conundrum!

Magical Gingerbread has quickly become a favorite around here! I especially love the unexpected pop of the pomegranate arils on the frosting. It makes a fabulous cake even more… well…. magical!
Joy the Baker wrote about it in her cookbook, but then she posted it again on her blog. Yes, it’s just that good! Here is the link to the recipe:

Orange Gingerbread with Cream Cheese Frosting

I think I may have had another magical moment… I used both “ensue” and “conundrum” in a post. Wow! 😉

Try the gingerbread! You won’t be sorry!

Till next time, foodie friends! XOXO

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