Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Blog Updates and Things to Come

Just a few campsite improvements that I'm sure you've noticed.  Have you visit the new Recipe Archives page?  (You're welcome.)  I hope you enjoy it and I apologize for taking so long to get it up there.  I do want to make some tweaks to it, but it's functional and, I hope, useful.  The Top 5 Recipes for the Month have also been added to the side.  It's interesting to see what gets all of you excited.  Knowing what you like (by clicking on those recipes) will certainly help in deciding what to bake next.

I also wanted to give you some updates about what you can expect as we roll into the upcoming Holiday Baking Season.  Remember how I've promised you (twice) product reviews of the things I use most for baking?  Well, for real, I'm going to get to that.  And hopefully I'll even have a few contests for you to get some of these products for yourself.  At the very least, you should have a very nice list of baking related gifts to put on your holiday wish list or buy for your baking friends.

There is a strong possibility that you will see ads.  I hope they aren't obnoxious, but frankly, I need the cash.  Many a penny has been spent on extra butter and sugar this past year.  I'm not looking to make bank, so if the ads get crazy or slow everything to a crawl, they may disappear.  Ideally the ads would provide a little extra slush for ingredients.

In return, I offer you two things: First, printer-friendly recipe links.  These will be added to recipes going forward and over time they'll be added to past recipes.  I know it can be obnoxious to not have those links, so I apologize for dragging my feet on that. 

The second thing is better photography.  I know my pictures aren't very technical and often pretty terrible and poorly lit.  I've been trying, but I know I can do better.  I've gotten a lot of feedback that the step by step photos are very useful, especially for the beginning and novice baker, so those will continue.  But hopefully they'll be sharper, brighter and more drool-inducing.

Thank you for your on-going support.  It would be easy to stop doing this and return to a life of baking occasionally.  But my compulsion to try new recipes has been fueled and I do want to share them with you.  In a blogsphere full of talented baker-writers and not-so-talented baker-writers, I hope to be a voice of clarity about what works and how to make the things that don't work better.  And how to blend from scratch and not-so-from-scratch baking into delicious treats to satisfy all your cravings.

Happy Baking,
The Cookie Princess

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Strawberry Margarita Cake

Look! I made a cake!  My difficulty with cakes has come from two areas: 1) removing from the pan (despite trying various tips and tricks) and 2) frosting.  I can never get it as smooth and pretty as my mom and sister do, so instead I'm just focusing on other yummy treats.  But last weekend we had friends over for dinner and I wanted a light, fruity treat to share with them.  This recipe had been in my stack since May, and now was the perfect timing.  The light cake has a lovely strawberry sweetness and the lime whipped topping was a refreshing change to thick buttercream.

The recipe is based on a boxed cake mix, but as we head into the rigorous schedules of fall (back to school, no more vacations, and all that), consider this a time saver.  It comes from Betty Crocker and was featured as a fun twist on dessert for Cinco de Mayo, but it's pretty much perfect whenever.  I choose to make the standard 9 x 13 inch pan, but you could do 2 round pans, cupcakes or whatever your heart desires by following the baking instructions on the box.  For a split second, I considered adding lime juice to the whipped topping as well, but didn't.  After tasting it, Dave and I both agreed it was good, but a little more lime in the topping would have sealed the deal.  A squeeze of lime juice (maybe 2 teaspoons) would be worth the effort.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Funfetti Blondies

From scratch! Not from a mix!  Dave was surprised when I said that--he assumed I'd doctored up a Funfetti cake mix.  I took these to work last week because one of my coworkers said he was starting a Biggest Loser challenge.  Before you judge me for being cruel, hear me out.  I was helping.  One morning, I was chatting with him when a coworker came past and criticized him for eating a chocolate croissant because she knows he's trying to lose weight.  Then he explained that in two days he was starting a Biggest Loser challenge.  So I asked if he was bulking up and he sheepishly said yes.  So I immediately chimed in that I was going to bake and bring something in the next day.  It was a Friday so that lends itself to a fun treat day anyway.   See, I'm not evil.  But these are so delicious you might have a hard time resisting.

Beantown Baker made these first and I found them while looking for something else altogether.  But I'm glad I stumbled upon her recipe.  Simple to make and cute as can be, wouldn't they be perfect for birthday baking?  While I didn't alter the recipe, I didn't have any almond extract, so I only used vanilla.  The white chocolate chips and sprinkles really give these blondies great texture.  They are rich and sweet, just as any good blondie should be.  The only way they'd be better is with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cranberry Apricot Oat Squares

Last week, Dave's aunt and uncle were in town, so we went to my in-laws house for dinner.  Of course I took it upon myself to bring a dessert but I wasn't sure what I was going to make. I figured something fruity with a more adult palate (since of the six of us, I am probably the only chocolate freak).  If it had been a weekend, I would have probably made cheesecake because I have a few recipes I'm aching to try out.  But being a weeknight and needing something that would keep well until the next day and that Dave could transport easily since he picked me up on the way to his parents' house, I decided on these bars.  They are sweet and crunchy with a clever combination of fruit flavors.  The nuttiness of the oats, with the added wheat flour, is a nice balance to the sweet dried fruit and preserves.

The recipe is another Betty Crocker find, but I modified it slightly since I didn't have any strawberry preserves.  Instead I found a jar of cranberry-orange marmalade in the pantry and, knowing what a hit the Cranberry Apricot Bars are, knew this would be a great substitute.  They come together quick and bake up nicely and because the sweetness isn't sugary confection, they'd be good for brunch or a pot luck, too.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Baking for a(nother) Cause

Recently I was perusing Beantown Baker's blog and found a link to Operation Baking GALS (Give a Little Support), a volunteer organization that sends cookies and care packages in bulk to a member of our military.  A serviceman/servicewoman may receive as many as a dozen or more packages over about a weeks time, all containing homemade baked goods and usually from complete strangers.  I was touched by the concept of showering these heroes with love and support and immediately knew I needed to be a Baking Gal.

So I joined and read through the teams that were shipping out in August. Many of the stories of these soldiers were touching and it really didn't matter who I was baking for.  But ultimately I signed up for Team East Coast Love (despite having only 3 days to bake and get my package in the mail).  I was touched because this Marine grew up not far from where I went to college and only a few hours from my hometown.  He's serving in Afghanistan and is missing his girlfriend and his golden retriever (in addition to his family). 

Since I was on a tight deadline and had to work with ingredients on hand, I baked up some M&M Cookies and packaged them up with some extra goodies like cereal bars, nuts, candy and gum.  These grateful recipients usually get so many packages once they are nominated to Baking GALS that they often end up sharing with their roommates, coworkers, or even the entire unit.

So here lies another category of baking.  I plan to join at least a few rounds a year and I encourage you to join Baking GALS as well.  Or if you know someone serving in our military and would like to nominate them, please leave a comment with your email address (so I can contact you for more details) and I will lead a team to send them goodies.

Happy Baking,
The Cookie Princess

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Coconut Chocolate Chunk Blondies

You may remember that I'm not a big fan of coconut.  Dave is, so I succumb and will make different cookies and such with coconut for him (and others) to enjoy, but generally speaking I'll pass on those treats and reach for the straight up chocolate yummies every time.

But then I found this recipe and coconut and I became buddies.  These are seriously good.  Brown Eyed Baker said they tasted a lot like a Girl Scout Samoa cookie (minus the caramel), so I was sold and had to test them out (yes, Samoas are one of my favorite Girl Scout cookies--right behind Thin Mints.  So much for me not liking coconut).  These did turn out awesome.  There is a sweetness to the bar which is at the same time crunchy and moist with a lot of flavor.  I used some leftover ganache to spread across the top, but the original topping is listed below too.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Colorful Cookie Pops

Welcome to another installment of birthday baking!  Aren't these adorable?  My lovely niece turned 9 last month so I wanted to treat her to something special.  These were the perfect fit.  A simple, yet tasty, soft sugar cookie dressed up to party.  What says birthday more than colorful cookie lollipops?

For those of you intimidated by the Stained Glass Flower Lollipops but still want a fun cookie on a stick, these are for you.  Poking around the Betty Crocker website for kid's cookies, these called out to me, despite being more designed for Christmas.  I put my own spin on these treats, using blue, red and purple food coloring as well as jumbo nonpareils and tied them up with a cute ribbon.  Not realizing I didn't have any treat bags left, I wrapped these in plastic wrap before securing with regular curling ribbon.  Experiment with favorite colors and sprinkles--I had a hard time choosing the jumbo nonpareils since there were so many other cute shapes--stars, butterflies, dinosaurs, etc.  These come together quickly (just a bowl and a spoonula), although if you want intense colors, you need to work the dough.  Dave thought it looked like Play-doh, but they taste a lot better!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Apricot Blondies

These were a sweet surprise.  They were so simple to make and unassuming that I wasn't expecting them to be so delicious.  I didn't plan on baking but I was invited to crash a baby shower (don't ask) and Cindy, who invited me, asked if I had any cookies in the freezer since the mom-to-be loves my treats and the event was pot luck.  I didn't have anything on hand, but never one to disappoint, I took a quick spin through my recipes, looking for something quick and fruity.  Mom-to-be fell in love with the Cranberry Apricot Bars, so I wanted something with a similar impact.  These are sweet and nutty, soft and chewy, a definite win.  Even Dave who doesn't care for the Cranberry Apricot Bars thought these were good.  And Cindy and the mom-to-be raved over these.

This recipe comes from the Christmas Cookies cookbook where I found the Cinnamon Bars and Peanut Butter Brownies.  It's simple and delicious, but unfortunately I didn't have all the ingredients.  The recipe calls for pecans but I ran out last week when I made the Banana Coffee Cake.  Instead I substituted almonds and the match was perfect.  I also added a light powdered sugar glaze.  The nuts and apricots provide a great flavor and the soft texture of the bar make this a wonderful treat.  These would also be great for brunch or a dessert.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Banana Coffee Cake

Did you make the Banana Coffee Cake with Chocolate Chip Streusel that I made a couple weeks ago?  If not, hold on.  I've discovered something awesome.  This coffee cake is moist and flavorful and turned out perfect.  Plus it was easy to make. There is a lightness to this cake that I think comes from the cream cheese.  And while I enjoyed the pecan topping, Dave and I agreed that the chocolate chip streusel paired with this cake would be a winner.  It'd be the lovechild of two good recipes to make a great brunch addition, dessert or snack.

This recipe comes from allrecipes.com and was posted by Georgia Courtney.  I made an addition to the batter, which is good because I also forgot something from the batter.  I added a teaspoon of Penzey's Spices Baking Spice to the batter.  But Georgia's recipe says to put half of the pecan topping into the batter.  Oops.  I forgot to read that bit until I already had the batter in the pan. In hindsight, though, I'm glad that happened because I don't think there would have been enough topping to cover the whole cake if I'd only had half.  Below is the version I used, but play around with the toppings by either adding some to the batter or layering like my previous attempt.  No matter what you try, it'll turn out good.