Not-for-a-Diet No-Bake Peanut-Butter-Chocolate Squares

Disclaimer: These are loaded with calories. They’re delicious. They’re addictive. I’m not responsible if you stray from your New Year’s resolution to eat them.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me introduce you to an extremely easy dessert that may disappear is less time than it takes to make them. The quality of the ingredients you use is definitely important with this dessert because nothing is baked. A poor quality ingredient won’t be able to hide behind a browned crust or under a creamy frosting. I replaced a few items in the original recipe to enhance the taste, including the use of my favorite creamy peanut butter, Jif Reduced Fat Creamy Peanut Butter. This peanut butter is perfect to use in the recipe because it’s smooth, slightly sweet, and thick. I used cinnamon graham crackers to mix in with the peanut butter because it gives an extra spicy kick to the bars, and it makes them a bit more interesting if they’ve been spiced up.

No-Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Squares

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes approximately 2 dozen squares

  • 1 1/2 cups cinnamon graham cracker squares, or about 1/2 of a box of cinnamon graham crackers, crushed
  • 2 sticks Earth Balance or other margarine, melted
  • 2 1/2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2 cups Hershey’s kisses
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 13″ x 9″ by 2″ cake pan
  • Parchment paper

How to Do It

  1. Lightly grease a 13″ x 9″ pan, and cover the bottom with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, melted Earth Balance or margarine, confectioner’s sugar, and peanut butter in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon, and mix until well-combined. It will be a thick mixture and may be difficult to spread with a spoon or spatula. Lay the mixture into the lightly greased pan, and spread with your fingertips instead. Refrigerate the mixture for at least 10 minutes to firm.
  3. While the peanut butter layer is chilling, cook the heavy cream and Hershey’s kisses over low heat until the chocolate is melted and begins to bubble. Spread the melted chocolate over the peanut butter layer, and spread with a rubber spatula or butter knife. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
  4. Slice in squares, and serve.

Pancakes Should Only Be Served With Mimosas

This is not exactly a “dessert” recipe, but I made these for the brunch I hosted for my parents on Christmas morning. They’re called “Orange Cloud Pancakes”, and simply put, it’s because they’re as light as air. They’re fluffy, and they have a lovely orange taste to them. I didn’t take pictures because I wasn’t thinking I would enjoy them so much that I wanted to write about them, but hey, I did. They’re quick and easy to make, and they’re delicious with Prosecco mimosas.

Happy Winesday, and Happy Brunch.

Orange Cloud Pancakes

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 7-8 Pancakes

  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 4 Tbsp, or 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 1 Tbsp orange juice
  • 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp orange extract
  • Stand mixer or electric hand mixer

How to Do It

  1. Place the sour cream, egg yolks, melted butter, and orange juice in a mixing bowl, and blend until the ingredients are smooth, about 30 seconds. Add the flour, sugar, salt, and cinnamon, and process again until the ingredients are just blended. Add the orange extract, and set aside. Let the mixture rest for 10 minutes.
  2. Whip the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer until they’re stiff and can hold peaks. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
  3. Immediately ladle 1/3 cup scoops of batter onto a preheated griddle or greased frying pan. Cook the pancakes until they’re golden brown on both sides. Serve immediately with a little cinnamon, powdered sugar, fresh whipped cream, and/or maple syrup. And with 1-2 mimosas.

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.

It’s a Blue, Blue Christmas

Happy holidays everyone. I hope Santa or Hanukkah Harry was good to you, but more importantly, I hope you were able to spend time with good family, friends, and food. I spent a fabulous Christmas Eve, with my big sister and brother-in-law, my boyfriend, and my parents, and naturally, I made dessert. Dessert for 6 with varied tastes doesn’t make planning easy. I’m related to the only two women in the world who don’t care for chocolate, and I’m involved with a man who doesn’t like the fun stuff, like coconut and banana. So lame.

So I had to find something neutral that could still be fun, delicious, and beautiful. I found blue velvet.

I discovered the blue velvet cake recipe on another fabulous blog, Adventures in Cooking,  and I thought it would be fun to try since blueberries seemed to get the approval of all members of The Family. The cake’s texture is similar to Angel Food because a meringue is incorporated into the batter, and the flavor is soft and full of blueberry. The cream cheese icing is, hands down, the best recipe I have ever tried because it has slightly more butter and slightly less sugar than most other variations. I’ll be using that from now on. It was a lovely combination that was much lighter than the desserts I originally had in mind (lots of peanut butter and chocolate), and I was able to get a little creative with blue gel and a paint brush.

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 2 9″ round cakes; serves 10-12

For the Cake

  • 1 and 1/4 cups cake flour, sifted
  • 1 and 1/4 cups ultra-fine sugar (I used granulated)
  • 11 egg whites, room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Sky Blue gel coloring from Wilton
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 2 greased 9″ round cake pans

For the Frosting

  • 1 stick plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 16 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 3 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract

For the Syrup

  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup Smucker’s Orchard’s Finest Blueberry Jam, or other good quality blueberry jam
  • Food procesor or blender

How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9″ cake pans.
  2. Sift the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and cocoa powder in a mixing bowl, and set aside. In another bowl, beat the egg whites, cream of tarter, and salt until soft peaks form.
  3. Add the remainder of the sugar and the blue coloring (continue to add until the desired color is achieved-I added 4-5 large drops of coloring), and continue to beat until the mixture can hold stiff peaks, about 4 minutes.
  4.  Gradually add the flour mixture to the meringue, folding 1/4 cup in at a time. Do not beat or whip the mixture, and be careful not to deflate the meringue. When all the ingredients are incoporated, fold in the blueberries.
  5. Pour the batter into the greased caked pans, and bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until the tops of the cakes bounce bake slightly when pressed. Cool in the pans for 10-15 minutes before transferring to a plate to cool (these are too soft and sticky for wire racks).
  6. While the cake is baking and cooling, cream together the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar until all the ingredients are blended and creamy. Chill in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes to firm the frosting a little before icing the cakes.
  7. Transfer the cake layers to plates, and refrigerate for 30 minutes before icing. Because of the soft texture, the cake is more delicate and could be damaged if it’s iced while warm.
  8. While the cake layers are cooling, make the blueberry syrup by cooking the blueberries, sugar, and water in a small saucepan over low heat for about 8 minutes or until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture has thickened slightly. Continuously break apart the blueberries by pressing them with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat, and pour the mixture into a food processor with the blueberry jam. Blend until smooth. Place in a bowl, and chill the syrup until it’s completely cooled.
  9. Plate the first layer of cake, and frost it with a thin layer of cream cheese frosting. Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes so the icing hardens slightly.
  10. Frost the bottom layer of cake with another layer of frosting, and spoon a thin layer of blueberry syrup across the top of the layer without reaching the edges. Place the second layer on top of the cake, and frost it with a thin layer of cream cheese frosting. Refrigerate the cake for 10-15 minutes so the frosting can harden slightly.
  11. Remove the cake from the fridge, and frost it with a thicker layer of cream cheese icing. If you want to make the cake a little fancy, use a small, thin paint brush, and paint swirls of color into the icing. Be sure to clean the brush between each dip into the color to avoid getting frosting in the gel and to avoid diluting the color on the cake.
  12. After painting the cake, pour a little blueberry syrup on top of the cake in the center, and cover with fresh blueberries. Sprinkle with silver sugar.

Tip: By frosting the cake with a thin layer of frosting and refrigerating it, you’re creating a “crumb coat”. This helps keep your top layer of frosting smooth and free of any crumbs from the cake. It also adds more frosting to the cake 😉

I Prefer My Creme de Menthe in Brownie Form Please…

…though liquid form would be fabulous too.

On a whim, I decided I wanted to make something peppermint for the unseasonably warm Christmas season. I came across a video of Paula Deen making brownies, and after the addition of her second stick of butter, I knew they had to be delicious. Granted, I’m not a huge fan of consuming butter, and I’ve actually been replacing butter in many recipes with vegan-friendly Earth Balance instead, but I have to admit that butter in desserts usually adds to the richness of flavor and texture. Ask Paula Deen-she adds it to everything.

These brownies were almost as easy as making them out of the box, but the quality of taste is so much better. They’re rich without being sugary, and they burst with chocolatey goodness with only a hint of mint. After the brownies are cooled, they’re frosted with a decadent chocolate buttercream (to which my boyfriend responded “why are you putting chocolate on chocolate?”…why WOULDN’T I put chocolate on chocolate should be the correct question on any other occasion). Note that I said-after the brownies are cooled…I made these late in the evening and was desperate to get to bed, so I frosted them when they were still slightly warm. Amateur mistake! The frosting is made of butter, which melts when it’s heated…silly. Paula suggests topping the frosting with chopped Andes mints, which would be amazing also, but I felt that was too much mint and couldn’t find them at the store anyway. I used the green cream cheese frosting I made for the gingerbread cupcakes, and piped thin diagnol lines across the surface to make them a little more festive. I did this using a pastry bag fitted with a small round tip.

My last comment before we get to the good stuff…I will admit, I used my stand mixer to make the batter, but it was mostly because I was too lazy to dig out my hand mixer (I have terrible storage space in my apartment). Brownies are best made using an electric hand mixer or even folding the batter by hand. Batter tends to get overworked in a stand mixer if it’s not carefully monitored, and brownies should be fudgy and soft, which may be compromised if the batter is mixed too much. If you use a hand mixer or mix by hand, you’ll pay more attention to how the batter feels. It should be thicker and creamer than a cake batter, but not as stiff as a bread dough.

Onto the good stuff.

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 2 dozen small brownies

For the Brownies

  •  1 cup or 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened (or 2 sticks of Earth Balance)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 10 oz package mint/chocolate baking chips
  • 13″ by 9″ by 2″ cake pan
  • Parchment paper

For the Frosting

  • 1/2 cup or 1 stick unslated butter, softened to the point of being a little melted
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp milk

How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13″ by 9″ by 2″ pan with butter (or Earth Balance), and place a piece of parchment paper snugly over the bottom and the sides of the pan. Leave enough of the parchment paper hanging over the sides of the pan that you’ll be able to easily pull the brownies out with it later. This makes removing the brownies from the pan tremendously easier.
  2. Combine the flour, cocoa, and baking powder in a mixing bowl, and set aside.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl, and beat at medium speed until creamy. After the ingredients are blended, add the eggs, one at a time, and beat the mixture well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract, and blend.
  4. Gradually add the dry ingredients in three steps, and be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl in between each addition. When the batter is mixed, fold in the mint chips with a rubber spatula. Do NOT beat them in, or you may break the chips.

    Fold the chips in using a rubber spatula

  5. Spoon the batter into the greased pan, and use a rubber spatula to spread it evenly across the bottom. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a fork or toothpick inserted into the center comes out free of batter.
  6. Cool the brownies slightly in the pan before transferring to a wire cooling rack (by carefully using the parchment paper handles you made!) to finish cooling.
  7. While the brownies are baking and cooling, make the frosting. Add the butter, cocoa, vanilla, and milk into a mixing bowl, and beat until the ingredients are moist and blended. Gradually add confectioner’s sugar, and whip until the frosting is a spreadable texture. Add a little more milk if it’s too dry.
  8. When the brownies have cooled, spread the frosting on top, and cover with shaved or chopped Andes mints, mint/chocolate chips, or pipe with green frosting.

Recipe adapted from Paula Deen’s Creme de Menthe brownies.

Almost gone...

Boozeday, Beans, & Gingerbread

Instead of celebrating on the usual Winesday this week, my girlfriends and I celebrated on Tuesday (Boozeday)…which is always lovely, but when Winesday comes early in the week, it throws me off for the rest of the week…and now it really is Winesday, and I have nothing else to look forward to this week. Oh, except for Christmas. I suppose that’s exciting.

The Wine

  • Layer Cake 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon California. Normally, we choose a white wine or a spunky red wine for dinner, but this wine was chosen by Michelle’s boyfriend as a gift for us. He said it reminded him of us because of the name-Layer Cake. The combination of “Layer Cake” and wine speaks volumes to us, and this wine had a range of flavors to listen to. It’s a very soft Cabernet that has subtle notes of blackberry, cherries, and cedar. It’s very complex, and has a fresh, lingering finish that isn’t heavy and doesn’t have an oak taste the way some Cabernets do. It comes from vineyards near Mt. St. Helena, which adds to its slightly earthy taste, and it would be lovely with a dark chocolate or dark berry dessert. We had it with gnocchi and gingerbread instead. Oops.

The Entrée 

  • Gnocchi with White Beans, a recipe adapted from Tasteofhome.com. We’ve enjoyed this meal before, but it never gets old. It’s very hearty and comforting, but it’s loaded with healthy ingredients. We always go back for seconds!

Stuff You’ll Need

Serves 5-6

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pkg (16 oz) potato gnocchi
  • 1 pkg (10 oz) fresh spinach
  • 1 15 oz can of white kidney or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 14.5 oz can Italian diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 3 Tbsp shredded Parmesan cheese
  • A large wok or skillet

How to Do It

  1. In a large wok or skillet, heat the olive oil, and saute the garlic for 1 minute. Add the gnocchi, and cook for 5-6 minutes or until they begin to brown.
  2. Add the beans, tomatoes, and pepper, and continue to cook until heated through. Add the spinach, and cook until the spinach has wilted.
  3. Sprinkle the mixture with cheeses, and cover the pan. Remove from heat, and let stand 3-4 minutes, or until the cheeses have melted.

Tip: Draining and rinsing canned beans is super easy if you use a colander. I used to try to drain and rinse them in the can until I figured out how much easier it was to put them in a colander. They can be drained, rinsed, and held for your recipe all in the same bowl.

Extra tip: The original recipe states to throw the spinach into the pan earlier than the beans and tomatoes. Spinach cooks very quickly if the pan is heated enough so there is no need to throw it in early. It takes longer to heat the tomatoes and beans, and the spinach can remain slightly crisp if you add it to the pan last.

The Dessert

  • Gingerbread cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. I was in the Christmas mood when I was planning a dessert for this Winesday (Boozeday), and I loved the recipe when I used it last year for gingerbread. I would have made a change to the frosting by adding orange zest or extract if I had realized how delicious the combination of orange and gingerbread is, but I’ll save that for next time.

Gingerbread Season

I’ve started to live by the motto “so many recipes, so little time” (written by me), and it’s so true. I’ve been pretty excited about these cupcakes since the weather started to grow cooler, and the moment I bring them into work to share, I see an even cooler idea that would have enhanced them-adding an orange kick to the frosting. I knew it…I KNEW when I looked into my cabinet that morning and saw orange extract next to the vanilla that it would have been an interesting twist…but instead of branching out, I stuck to the basic. Damn you Barefoot Contessa for not showing me this recipe earlier! I like Emeril’s recipe better, but I drifted from his to use a basic cream cheese frosting rather than his spiced creme anglaise (also with orange!). Ugh…there will always be time next year to do it that way…probably. When you love food this much, you’re bound to be drawn toward every interesting recipe you find…there is just never enough time!

So, here is what I brought to the table for a Christmas contribution at work-Emeril’s Gingerbread, made with turbinado sugar (a fancy, more natural, raw brown sugar), Guinness, and molasses, and I made it into cupcake form with (basic) cream cheese frosting.

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 2 dozen cupcakes

For the Cupcakes

  •  1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup turbinado sugar (I used Sugar in the Raw)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 cup Guinness (or other dark beer…but unless you can think of something more heavenly, stick with Guinness)
  • 24 cupcake liners
  • 2 cupcake/muffin pans

For the Frosting

  • 16 oz plain cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla (or orange!) extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • Pastry bag, fitted with small star tip
  • Edible glitter

The best way to start the morning...baking

How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake or muffin pan with paper liners.
  2. Sift or mix together your dry ingredients (flour, spices, baking soda, salt) in a bowl, and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together the Guinness and molasses, and set aside.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy with a paddle attachment on a stand mixer (if you don’t have one, an electric hand mixer is fine). This takes slightly longer than it would with granulated sugar because turbinado sugar is more coarse. It may take up to 3-4 minutes.
  4. Beat the eggs into the butter and sugar, one at a time.
  5. Alternately add the dry ingredients and Guinness mixture to the butter, sugar, and egg, and beat after each addition. Occasionally scrape the sides of the bowl to incorporate all of the ingredients.
  6. When the batter is mixed, it will be softer than a traditional cupcake batter. Use an ice cream scoop to fill cupcake liners 1/2 to 2/3 of the way full, and be sure that they are filled equally.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes, and rotate the pans in your oven. Bake for another 12 minutes, or until the cupcakes bounce back when lightly pressed. Remove from the oven and cool in the pans for several minutes before carefully moving to a wire rack to finish cooling. These will be soft and fragile cakes.
  8. While the cupcakes are baking and cooling, make the cream cheese frosting. Whip the cream cheese and softened butter together until uniform and soft. Add the vanilla extract and salt, and whip until blended. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar one cup at a time, and whip until blended between each addition. If you want to add color for a more festive appearance, add it after you’ve whipped in the confectioner’s sugar. It’s best to use color gel rather than liquid food coloring to avoid changing the consistency of the icing. See the tips below. Refrigerate the icing to thicken for 25-30 minutes.
  9. When the cupcakes have cooled and the icing is the desired thickness, frost the cupcakes using a pastry bag fitted with a small star tip, and frost in a counter-clockwise fashion, starting in the center and moving upward rather than outward. Top with edible glitter or sparkles to give the cupcakes a little glisten.

Cupcake recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse.

Tip: To color icing without changing the consistency, use a gel-based coloring. Wilton makes every color in the rainbow, and because the color is so concentrated, you need very little to get a bold hue (unless it’s red or black). Use a toothpick to dip into the color (use the toothpick only once-no double dipping!), and dip it into your icing. Whip the color in with a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, and if you want to darken your color, add another drop of the gel with a new toothpick. I used Leaf Green to create the color on these cupcakes.

Who put their finger in my cookie?

Who put their *thumb* in my *thumbprint* cookie that is. Welcome to more holiday baking! And more little cookies that you just can’t stop snacking on because they’re just so small and so itty bitty cute…damn you inevitable holiday weight gain for making me feel guilty for such things!

These cookies are filled with buttery goodness and can be made with different kinds of jams, nuts, and even toasted coconut, which leads to an endless assortment of flavor combinations. My sister and I included these on our list of holiday baking (see Butterballs for more on that) and thought that we would be able to bake them without the jam, freeze them until Christmas time, and add the jam after thawing them (that sounds like such a tasty process when I put it that way, doesn’t it?). However, it turns out that if you bake thumbprints without the jam (I almost typed ham…and that would just be awful…you should never bake thumbprints with ham), the “thumbprints” you create actually rise and leave little space to add the filling. The recipe and procedure I’ll give you below came from a combination of trial, error, and Simplyrecipes.com.

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 18 tablespoon-sized cookies

  • 1 cup or 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated and at room temperature (you will only need the whites if you are coating the cookies with chopped nuts or flaked coconut)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup of your favorite jam (we used peach-mango jam and raspberry preserves)
  • 1-2 cookie sheets
  • Parchment paper

How to Do It

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the egg yolks and vanilla to the butter and sugar, and whip until blended.
  3. Gradually add the flour and salt, and mix until the ingredients are just blended but not thoroughly mixed in (you should still be able to see flour). Remove the dough from the mixing bowl, and lightly knead it with your hands until the dough is uniform. Wrap it in plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator to rest for 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while the dough is resting, and line the cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and break into small pieces to form mounds that are approximately 1″ in diameter, or about a tablespoon-sized ball.
  6. Round the mounds before placing them on the paper, and press your thumb into the center of each mound to make a small well (or “thumbprint”!) for the jam. The cookies will spread slightly when baked so be sure to give them 1 1/2-2″ between each.
  7. Fill the wells with jam (approximately 1/2 tsp for each).
  8. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges begin to brown. Remove from the oven, and let the cookies cool slightly in the pan before transferring them to a wire cooling rack.

Tip: Be creative with these! The cookies themselves are buttery and rich, but not very sweet so play with the different kinds of jams/preserves you add to the center. If you want to cover the cookies in chopped nuts, you’ll need to use egg whites and cover before adding the jam. Whip the egg whites slightly with a fork until they’re a little frothy, and dip the rounded balls of dough. Roll them in chopped nuts, and place them on the cookie sheet. Continue with the rest of the procedure for adding the jam and baking.

Peanut Blossom…Cupcakes?!?!

Oh yes, I have taken that fabulous little cookie-shaped piece of heaven and turned it into a cupcake-shaped piece of heaven. I first came up with this idea three years ago when I was beginning to really fall in love with baking, and it took me a few tries to transform a (perfect) cookie recipe into a cupcake recipe. I am especially proud of this recipe because it’s the first one I’ve created from scratch. Unfortunately, when I first developed the recipe, I was using Reese’s Peanut Butter as one of the main ingredients, but when I went to the local grocery store to find it, I was disheartened. Apparently, Reese’s doesn’t make peanut butter anymore 😦 😦 😦 I had to use something a little different to get that chocolatey-peanut-buttery taste so I chose my absolute favorite “healthy” indulgence (I say “healthy” because it’s vegan-friendly dark chocolate peanut butter that has fewer calories per tablespoon than regular peanut butter), Peanut Butter & Co’s Dark Chocolate Dreams.

It’s absolutely vital that you use the right peanut butter for both the frosting and the cupcake because of the range of peanut butters there are out there. Some are too salty, some aren’t salty enough, some are too sweet, some aren’t creamy enough…I felt like the Goldilocks of peanut butters when I was selecting my ingredients. I knew I wanted the chocolatey taste in the cupcake so the selection of the Dark Chocolate Dreams was easy enough, but I wanted something a little more natural and just slightly salty for the frosting. I selected Smart Balance Creamy peanut butter because it had the right taste, and the texture was creamy and smooth and didn’t have to be stirred like some other natural peanut butters.

Anyway, on to the good stuff. I’ll include tips on decorating at the end of the recipe.

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 18 cupcakes

For the Cupcake

  • 1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sweet, chocolatey peanut butter like Dark Chocolate Dreams
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 18 Hershey’s chocolate kisses, unwrapped
  • 2 muffin/cupcake pans

For the Frosting

  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup creamy, natural peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pastry bag with a star tip

For the Chocolate Topping

  • 10 Hershey’s kisses, unwrapped
  • Pastry bag with a small round tip

How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and line your pan with paper cupcake liners.
  2. Sift together the baking powder, baking soda, salt, and flour. Set aside.
  3. Cream the butter and chocolatey peanut butter together on low speed until whipped and smooth, about 3 minutes. You can use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or use an electric hand mixer.
  4. Add the sugars to the peanut butter mixture, and cream together at medium speed until fluffy, or about 3 minutes.
  5. Add the eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla extract, and continue to mix until ingredients are fully blended. Stop the mixer occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl.
  6. Gradually add the dry ingredients in 3 steps, and scrape the sides of the bowl between each addition.
  7. When the ingredients are just blended, stop mixing, and scoop the batter into the cupcake liners until they are no more than 2/3 full. Gently push a Hershey’s kiss into the center of each cupcake. As the cupcakes bakes, it will bake around the chocolate so there is no need to push it to the bottom of the liner.
  8. Bake the cupcakes for 18-20 minutes, or until the tops of the cakes spring back when gently pressed.
  9. Remove the cupcakes from the oven, and cool slightly in the pan. Move to a wire rack to cool completely.
  10. While the cupcakes are cooling, make the peanut butter buttercream frosting by whipping together the butter and peanut butter until smooth and creamy. Add the vanilla extract, and continue to whip. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar, and pause to occasionally scrape the sides of the bowl.
  11. Melt the Hershey’s kisses to drizzle over the frosted cupcakes.

Tip: Use a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip to frost the cupcakes. Both the buttercream and the cupcake are fairly rich so you don’t need much frosting. Fancy it up more by melting Hershey’s kisses and putting them into a pastry bag fitted with a small round tip. Drizzle each cupcake with a little chocolate.

Lighten it Up! Use Earth Balance vegan buttery spread (it comes in sticks too) to replace the butter in the recipe. It’s closer to cruelty-free, healthier, and, I promise, no one will know the difference 😉

Butterballs

Happy holiday baking season! As of Sunday, it’s officially less than two weeks until Christmas, which means it’s absolutely time to start baking all the fun things that come with the Christmas season. I may even be a tad late on that one…

Anyway, my sister and I have started a bit of a tradition where we make plans to get together to do some holiday baking, but it often turns into me baking in her kitchen (she has a way better kitchen than mine), her playing with the cats, and us chatting the whole afternoon. The end result is usually 2-3 batches of cookies over a 6-7 hour period…not quite “productive”, but I enjoy the time with her and her feline family anyway. My sister is a nurse and lives an hour away from me so we often have opposite schedules, and it’s difficult to put aside the time to visit. She does annual cookie swaps with some of the girls she works with and other friends so I like to take part in it when I can. She has at least three types of cookies she always does-special secret Hungarian cookies that I may or may not be able to share the recipe for, thumbprints, and butterballs without nuts (she’s allergic).

Butterballs are small cookies traditionally made with finely crushed walnuts, almonds, or pecans and rolled in confectioner’s sugar. The cookie itself is not very sweet so the extra sugar-coating makes them irresistibly comforting. The version below is adapted from a recipe we found on food.com, and our version was made with additional extract and no nuts (other than a hint of almond extract).

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes approximately 6 dozen cookies

  • 1 lb (or 4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but not melted
  • 8 Tbsp (or 1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 4 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 4 cups of all-purpose flour
  • Powdered sugar
  • 2-3 cookie ungreased non-stick cookie sheets or cookie sheets lined with parchment paper

How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
  2. Cream together the butter and granulated sugar in a stand-mixer or electric hand-mixer until they’re light and fluffy.
  3. Add the extracts, and mix until blended.
  4. Gradually add the flour, and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Be careful not to over-mix the dough as it will become flaky quickly. At this point, stop mixing, and kneed the dough with your hands until it’s soft and uniform.
  5. Break off small pieces, and roll them into balls that are approximately the size of a quarter. You can place them close together on an ungreased or parchment-lined cookie sheet because they spread very little when baking. I fit 30 on a standard-sized Wilton cookie sheet.
  6. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the edges have just browned. Remove from the oven, and immediately move to a wire cooling rack.
  7. While the cookies are still warm, but not hot, roll them in powdered sugar.

Enjoy! Expect more holiday goodies from now until Christmas 🙂

 

Double Holiday Whammy

This is not a post about food…shocking I know. It is, however, about wine, which makes it less shocking, but since it’s the holiday season and everyone scrambles for gifts at the last minute, I wanted to post an idea for gifts that I love. It’s called Cork for a Cause, and it benefits 10 different causes, including my personal favorite, animal rescue. According to the website, each bottle sold “helps provide free mammograms, preserves rain forest, feeds a family in need, rescues animals, helps veterans in need, provides health care for children, and provides emergency relief around the world”. How cool is that?? You can buy a bottle of wine for someone (or yourself) for the holidays and also support their favorite cause. The bottles are $19.99 plus shipping (no tax!), and if you buy 6 bottles or more, shipping is only $.99 a bottle.

A bottle of red wine from Washington state will fund 56 bowls of food for rescue animals? I’m sold. Who are we kidding? I was sold at the mention of the wine; helping the animals is just a bonus 🙂 Happy holidays!

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