Baked Sunday Mornings: Good Morning Sunshine Bars


Life has been hectic of late, forcing me to curtail my baking projects. Even my meal plans have fallen by the wayside, although I’m working on getting back on that. As usual, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew and am looking for ways to simplify and slow down.

Lucky for me, this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings project was a very simple recipe, requiring very little actual cooking and minimum cleanup. We are a peanut butter-and-chocolate-loving family, as well as a cereal-dessert-bar-loving family, so this one was a no brainer.

Hoo-boy, are these things rich! A cup of brown sugar and a cup of corn syrup create a thick sauce, the sweetness of which is tempered by a cup of peanut butter. (Thank goodness I used natural, unsweetened peanut butter, otherwise these bars would put anyone on the fast track to DIABEETUS.) I cut the pan into about 16 bars; I think I’ll go back through and cut the larger ones in half because in the case of these treats, a little goes a long way.

I think these bars would be great to bring to any upcoming holiday potlucks; I plan to send a *tiny* square in the BK’s lunchbox once or twice this week. My husband didn’t care for them (he’s not a sweets guy), and I’m counting Weight Watchers points, so the bulk of them will go to work with my guy tomorrow.

Check out the other Bakers’ experience with this recipe here. There are a lot of cakes and highly involved projects on the bake-along calendar for the next few weeks, so this may be my last Baked Sunday Mornings post for a while. We’ll see where the day takes us!

Baked Sunday Mornings: Speculoos Buckeyes

It’s been several weeks since I participated in Baked Sunday Mornings, but I couldn’t pass this one up.

I’ve baked thousands of Christmas cookies and experimented with various candies of a December, but have but have never attempted buckeyes despite how much I like them. I have some friends who make buckeyes every Christmas, and when I had some of theirs last year, I sort of bullied them into giving me more than my share because I loved them so much. That said, they are so rich and sweet that I can’t ever eat more than two before I’m pretty well satisfied.

This was one of the recipes I flagged when I first purchased this book a little over a year ago, but this is my first crack at them. And because I have been feeling extra ambitious and creative this year, I decided to do something a little different and use speculoos (well, okay, I used Biscoff, which is a knockoff, but whatever) instead of peanut butter in these bad boys. I thought maybe using the ginger-caramel spread might cut down on the intense sweetness of the traditional buckeye, but these are still pretty sweet.

I followed the Baked Explorations recipe pretty closely; in addition to the speculoos substitution, I also used cinnamon graham crackers and a 50-50 mixture of dark and semi-sweet chocolate chips instead of the chopped dark chocolate.

And I know that speculoos is popular among The Vegans, so here’s a veganized version of buckeyes.

Reading roundup

I am slowly but surely scraping deadlines off my plate, which makes me so, so happy. I hope to resume proper blogging soon, but in the meantime, I would like to point you to some other writing I’ve been doing:

A guest entry on elitistacademic about Breaking Dawn, part 1.

Recaps of Top Chef for the Austin Chronicle.

A blog entry about Christian’s new film, Local.

Tomorrow, I will have a review of Bacon in the Chronicle, and then a super fun feature in next week’s paper. And I hope to participate in next week’s Baked Sunday Mornings, too.

Okay! Off to do some chores and some reading and some shopping! It’s nice to not be buried under a pile of work for the first time in a very, very, VERY long time.

Baked Sunday Mornings: Grasshopper Bars (and a Slow Food Quiz Bowl wrapup)

I don’t think I’ve ever had a grasshopper bar before, nor have I had the drink. I think I might have had a bite or a slice of grasshopper pie at one point in the distant past, but not in any recent memory I can access in my mind grapes. That’s probably because all things grasshopper are so very dated by this point that it’s just not a thing anymore. Besides, I like to get my chocolate-mint combo in Thin Mint form anymore.

That said, I really like these bars. They are quite tasty (and when they were freshly made last night, they even tasted a bit boozy, although that aspect of their flavor profile has mellowed a bit since then) and pretty darn easy to make. Of course, I’ve made some variant of the Baked brownie about a million times now, so that step is pretty much second nature by now. I was pretty nervous about the buttercream, certain that I would jack it up one way or another, but it turned out beautifully. Seriously, I have nothing but good things to say about these bars. I would totally make them again, and probably will, since I have 90% of a bottle of Creme de Menthe left over. (Which reminds me: I was a bit paralyzed by indecision at the liquor store when faced with the option of the white or green creme de menthe. I went for green, obviously, for verisimilitude.)

I took a few of the bars with me to the quiz bowl today to share with my teammates:

I think it took Kathryn, like, three hours to eat this thing.

The quiz bowl was pretty fun. It was great to hang out with my food bloggy friends, hang out and crack wise with my new friend Christian and his wife Julie, and meet and talk with local restaurateurs while eating yummy food. While our team did not fare so well (things I’m proud of: my pulling the answer for “raclette” out of thin air at the very last second, knowing what “farmstead cheese” means; Jodi and Kathryn pouncing on the ingredient list for the Moscow Mule; Megan knowing that “sushi” is called that because of the rice that’s used. Things I’m not proud of: costing our team 5 points for answering that authentic mozzarella is made from cow’s milk, not buffalo, EVEN THOUGH MY STUPID BRAIN KNEW IT WAS BUFFALO), it was nice to know that we were part of a much bigger project, which was helping raise money for Slow Food Austin and a local charity. The team that beat us, Barley Swine, went on to take the whole prize; they will donate the $1200 prize pool to Urban Roots, a worthy organization indeed.

After the event, the husband and I went home to relieve my folks of babysitting duties, and we cooked dinner. I made a huge salad, a big bowl of fruit, and Matt grilled some chicken, steak, and ribs. We turned off all of the various screens and just enjoyed each other’s company and conversation (topping off the meal, of course, with grasshopper bars!). Everything about today — from making the bars from scratch to sharing them with my friends, to enjoying the fruits of this community’s commitment to local foodways, to preparing and enjoying a leisurely meal with my family — was the very epitome of Slow Food. Everything is connected, no?

Baked Sunday Mornings: Mom’s Olive Oil Orange Bundt Cake

I decided, on the spur of the moment yesterday, to dip my toe back into the Baked Sunday Mornings project. I had made an executive decision, after three months of full-time work (a tough adjustment after more than 10 years of a part-time schedule!) and weekends that saw us run ragged with To Dos, to just do nothing. Putter. Laze around. Not rolling on Shabbos, so to speak.

This, of course, meant that in addition to doing chores and taking a fairly long nap, that I spent a fair amount of time sewing and baking. But at least it was an agenda I set for myself, and by that right, it was very relaxing. And the tangible results of this laziness are quite delightful.

I was actually very irritated while making this cake, particularly while zesting the oranges. “Why would you make a cake calling for fresh orange zest in the middle of summer?! Oranges are a winter fruit! These grocery-store, hothouse, imported oranges are mealy and lame!” (This was all inner dialogue, mind.) One of the cookbooks that I write about in my dissertation says that “Our lives are so disconnected from organic or natural timekeeping and the best efforts of the earth, that once we enter the sterile world of pre-packaged supermarkets it is hard to remember that strawberries and tomatoes are not worth eating in January and that onion soup and oranges don’t make sense in August.” Needless to say, I totally agree.

That doesn’t mean that this cake isn’t delicious — it truly is. The oils from the orange zest did their job and the cake, which was especially scrumptious when it was still warm, is definitely a treat. It’s a little dry this morning, but I wonder if maybe 10 seconds in the microwave would activate the olive oil a bit and awaken the moisture. I just wonder what it would taste like made with locally grown oranges in season (being in Texas means that I actually do have access to locally grown oranges in season!). Maybe I’ll try this one again in December.

Baked Sunday Mornings: Cowboy Cookies

It’s been a while since I participated in the Baked Sunday Mornings project. I fully intended to make the tomato soup cupcakes two weeks ago, but Mother’s Day intervened. I didn’t do the crumb cake because that was Easter weekend and we were so busy hosting our annual Easter egg hunt and doing Easter activities that there was no time to bake and blog about it. But here we are on Cowboy Cookies week and there was no way I was going to skip this one!

As promised, these cookies are quite tasty. They are somewhat reminiscent of the monster cookies from Baked in that they have the oatmeal chocolate-chip base with extra yummy stuff added (the monster cookies also call for m&m’s and peanut butter). I kind of fudged the instructions with the pretzels because I found it annoying to fuss with them after scooping out the dough. I also had a problem with the cook time for these; I let the first two dozen cook for 13 minutes and they were undercooked when I took them out. I let them cool for 10 minutes on the cookie sheets and they had done that thing that undercooked cookies do — they got kind of gummy in the center. I let the second two dozen cook for about 15 minutes and they were also a bit undercooked, but a bit better as regards the gummy center.

I sneaked a half-cup of whole-wheat pastry flour into the batter to ease my conscience. I also deeply regret allowing my kids (especially the Big Kid) eat a couple of these cookies because even though that teaspoon of espresso powder was spread out over four dozen cookies, I suspect it was the culprit in turning my kids into vibrating perpetual motion spazz machines yesterday.

Click on over here to see the recipe and others’ writeups of the cowboy cookies!

Baked Sunday Mornings: Carrot Coconut Scones with Citrus Glaze

Okay, this one was a total dark horse. I would never in a million years have chosen these from the cookbook to work with, but Ho-Lee Wow. These are Uh. Maz. Ing. Hats off to the fearless organizer of Baked Sunday Mornings for picking a winner!

(Please forgive the crappy photos. I shot these at night. Ugh. Embarrassing. It looks better if you click and enlarge it, tho.)

I knew when I read this recipe that I had to use carrots from Johnson’s Backyard Garden, because they are so sweet and juicy and just taste so much better than grocery-store carrots. So I made a special trip to the farmers’ market this morning to get a bag of them to make the puree. I had a little trouble with the puree because despite whether I put them in the blender or my mini-food processor, the carrots kept slipping under the blades and not getting pureed. So I think maybe my scones have larger chunks of carrots than they’re meant to have.

No matter. These are so delicious, I probably could have just put hunks of carrots in there and they’d still be amazing. Not that I didn’t fear for the outcome. You see, I have a method for cutting scones: I put the dough into a cake pan, slice them, and transfer them to a baking sheet. However, this dough was too sticky for that maneuver. Except I learned that after I’d put the dough in the cake pan. So, I took a deep breath, brushed on the egg whites, and put the pan into the oven and baked a scone cake. After about 15 minutes, I took the pan out, cut the cake into six pieces, and baked them off a few more minutes.

While these cooled, I mixed together some cream scones with apricot and white chocolate. (I’m taking the scones to a food swap tomorrow.) As I was transferring the “raw” cream scones onto the baking sheet, my husband wandered through the kitchen and said, “Oh my g-d, those look amazing. Like, they look like the most amazing freaking scones in the world, and these [gesturing to the raw scones] just look ‘meh.'” I told him that he could have one of the carrot scones after he took out the trash. I applied the glaze and set them aside (this citrus glaze is really yummy, but I also think that a gingery glaze would go nicely. I have some ginger syrup that my friend Carly made and I might try to utilize it the next time I make these.).

(Side note: that cream scone recipe results in the kind of scones I love. Tender yet glutinous, fluffy but not cakey, and not too sweet. I have some opinions about scones.)

When he got back inside, I put one of the scones on a plate for him (I made six scones and they are GARGANTUAN). He said, “Oh, I just want a bite, I don’t need this whole thing.” I broke off 1/4 or 1/3 of the pastry for myself after he’d had a bite or two and went about my business. He put the plate on the table and went about his business. But then I kept seeing him wander by the table.

I think he liked it.

Baked Sunday Mornings: Malted Crisp Tart

Has it really been two weeks since I posted here? Blimey. It’s been pretty busy around these parts, what with SXSW and the home stretch of my dissertation. But things are slowly getting back to normal, which is nice.

This week’s Baked Sunday Mornings project is the Malted Crisp Tart. This is another one of the recipes from the book that I probably wouldn’t have tried otherwise, but the project “forced” me to confront. I’m not usually one to go too far out of my comfort zone with cooking; I have to be feeling pretty darn adventurous to try new techniques, and I am lazy and don’t like to make things with a bunch of steps. So this recipe wasn’t really up my alley, but I rolled up my sleeves and did it anyway. Took me two days, but I did it!

I made this in a springform pan because I still don’t have a proper tart pan. The one I borrowed is ceramic and I wasn’t comfortable using it because the recipe calls for you to chill the crust in the freezer for 20 minutes before transferring it directly to the oven. I didn’t want to risk cracking Laura’s pan, so I used the springform instead.

This was my first time making a diplomat cream (pastry cream with whipped cream folded in), and I’m not sure what the consistency was supposed to be. It was light and fluffy, maybe not terribly flavorful, but not unpleasant. Every layer of this tart — crust, chocolate malt, and diplomat cream — contained malted milk powder, but it didn’t have a strong malt taste. I’m not sure what I was expecting; maybe a giant Whopper (a favorite candy of mine, which I don’t often indulge in)? It basically tasted like a thick layer of chocolate with a nice crust on the bottom and an airy cream on top.

The recipe called for milk chocolate for this middle layer but 1.) I don’t really care for milk chocolate and 2.) 8 ounces of high quality milk chocolate was going to set me back about $6-8 and I wasn’t willing to spend that kind of money. So I got some semi-sweet chocolate chips from the bulk section of the Whole Foods Mothership and called it good. This chocolate ganache layer has crushed Whoppers and caramelized Rice Krispies pressed into it, which is where the “crisp” part of the name comes from. It’s also very thick and WOAH CHOCOLATE. It reminds me of Toll House Pie, actually, especially with the semi-sweet chips.

I was just finishing up shooting the pictures of the tart when my sister and her husband came to pick up my nephew, who is a few months older than the Big Kid and who had been staying with us this weekend. I offered them each a slice (who can say no?). My sister LOVED it (and gladly accepted a piece to take home), my brother-in-law described it as “sweet” and said that he doesn’t like chocolate, and my husband was kind of “meh” on it. I liked it alright; enough that to keep it in the house for any length of time will seriously undermine my Weight Watching, but I don’t know that I’d make this again. I’m really more of a brownie/cookie kind of gal; you get just as much YUM with a lot fewer steps!

Baked Sunday Mornings: Salt and Pepper Sandwich Cookies

I love Oreos. LOVE. THEM. I almost never eat them because they are part of the horrific industrial food system, not to mention being fattening and devoid of nutrients. (But! They are [possibly] vegan!) That said, these cookies did not capture my interest the first time I flipped through Baked Explorations, and I was ambivalent about their spot on the Baked Sunday Mornings calendar. I’m glad I made them, though, because these are gooooood.

The cookie part has a pleasant depth of flavor thanks to the double whammy of Valhrona cocoa and Dagoba dark chocolate; the white pepper creates heat on the back end. The filling (I omitted the rum because a.) I didn’t have any and b.) my husband wouldn’t be able to take the cookies to work with him if they had “live” alcohol in them) is exactly the consistency of an Oreo filling. The only thing I would change about the filling is that I would also leave out the 1/2 t of salt. Then again, I’m sensitive to salt and tend to find things too salty that others don’t notice. (For example, my husband didn’t think they were too salty at all.)

I let the Big Kid have one before nap and I heard him ask, “Daddy, does this have pepper in it?” I was certain that once he got an answer in the affirmative, he’d stop eating, but he finished the whole thing and even said he wanted one in his lunchbox tomorrow.

(HA! As I write this, Matt Lewis is making the Sweet and Salty Brownies on The Best Thing I Ever Ate! I need to make those again soon.)

Anyway, I only used half of the dough; the first half made 28 sandwich cookies. When I make the second half of the cookies, I might experiment a bit with the filling, maybe throw some blueberries or blackberries in there to complement the pepper.

Baked Sunday Mornings: Devil’s Food Cake with Angel Icing

I decided to adapt this week’s entry into cupcakes because tonight is my (very small and intimate) Oscars party and I reckoned cupcakes would be easier to eat than cake.

I made the cupcakes this morning while my husband slept in. I knew where this project was headed the minute I took them out of the oven:

Flat, sunken messes

The edges.

After nap, I made the frosting. I knew I was doomed when I got distracted (toddler harassment), dropped an egg on the floor while putting the fifth egg white into the mixing bowl, and allowed a teensy bit of yolk into the bowl with the rest of the whites. I tried to get it out, but it didn’t work. I would have dumped the whole thing and started over if it hadn’t been the final egg white, but I didn’t want to dip into my “regular” egg stash.

The recipe says you’re supposed to whip the egg whites with the sugar syrup for seven minutes. Three minutes into it, I had soup and started making plans to go to the store to get some cream cheese to make a backup frosting. But with about two minutes to go, it started to thicken up and look glossy, per the recipe. Then I added the vanilla (I used 1.5 t extract per the recipe, which calls for 1 t of vanilla paste or 1.5 t of extract, but that was WAY too much).

I went ahead and put the frosting on the cupcakes. And by “put,” I mean “glopped.” Then I realized, as I ascertained the brown streaks in the frosting, that the vanilla hadn’t blended in entirely. Then I tasted a cupcake. While the cake was really delicious and moist, the frosting was crazy sweet and had an overpowering vanilla extract taste.

After conferring with my husband, who agreed with me when I said that these were by far the ugliest cupcakes I’d ever made (not to mention just an epic failure with the frosting), I decided to cut my losses.

Better luck next time.

So, now I have no cupcakes for tonight’s party and all of the local cupcakeries are closed. Yes, this is a first world problem. But I’m still bummed.