Personalized Biscoff Sandwich Cookies for Jessica’s Virtual Bridal Shower

“Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”

One of my favorite quotes, from James Matthew Barrie, truly epitomizes my simply delightful friend Jessica, creator of the scrumptious blog, My Baking Heart. Years back when I first began Hot Oven, Warm Heart and joined the Sweet Melissa Sundays baking group, I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Jessica through our weekly correspondence. To this day, I remember how special she made me feel by leaving such thoughtful, kind, elevating comments which I always looked forward to receiving. Upon my return following an extended hiatus from blogging, Jessica reached out to me almost immediately with open arms and it absolutely meant the world. But that’s just Jessica. She’s warm and caring, good-natured and supportive. I’m so lucky to call her my friend, and am overwhelmed with excitement to celebrate her upcoming nuptials! That’s right, Jessica is getting married, and I was granted the opportunity to honor her in a very unique way- a virtual bridal shower.

Organized by the lovely Nikki of Pennies on a Platter, Jessica’s virtual bridal shower is a like an online party, where the guests are a select group of her blogging friends. On October 3rd, each of us will feature a post highlighting a dish that we would bring if everyone could actually get together in person. How neat, right? I was blown away that I was invited to contribute, so I RSVP’d right away, ready to join in on the fun and send best wishes to the bride-to-be!

When it came to selecting my dish, I knew I wanted to bake something sweet, and I decided it was the perfect time to break out two items I was saving for just the right occasion: my Williams Sonoma “Message In A Cookie Cutter” set (a must have for any crazy cookie cutter collector like myself!) and a much coveted jar of Speculoos Cookie Butter Spread (aka Biscoff), which I actually had to go out of state to a Trader Joe’s in CT to get my hands on! I know I’m the last known blogger to gush over the dangerously delectable spread, but I just couldn’t resist jumping on the Biscoff bandwagon. Arguably the Nutella of the new decade, Biscoff can best be described as the ideal amalgamation of peanut butter (in consistency) and cinnamon sugar graham crackers (in flavor). Derived from the much-loved Belgian delicacy, the speculoos cookie, the spread actually has a very interesting back-story. Speculoos cookies are decorative caramelized biscuits traditionally used to celebrate weddings and births (how apropos), commemorate the name day of Saint Nicholas, teach history, and chronicle war in Europe, and they actually make up 20% of all the cookies eaten in Belgium. Already famous overseas, the cookies gained further acclaim when introduced as Biscoff (as in biscuits and coffee) by Lotus Bakeries to North American airline travelers and consumers. So how’d we get from the much-loved spicy crisp cookies to the renowned spread? That’s thanks to the brilliant idea of Els Scheppers, a culinary enthusiast and finalist on the Belgian prime time TV show “De Bedenkers” (The Inventors), who developed a recipe for a creamy spread with the unique taste of the Lotus Speculoos cookies. While she didn’t officially win, she did team up with Lotus to manufacture her creation, and the rest is history. Now Europeans and Americans alike can savor their cookies by the spoonful!

I found a great recipe for homemade Biscoff cookie sandwiches that featured the spread in a luscious, sweet and spicy cream cheese filling. The results were a smashing success: two tender, melt in your mouth, crisp on the outside yet slightly chewy on the inside cookies encasing a light and fluffy, flavor packed buttercream that highlights the best attributes of the silky smooth spread. If you happen to get your hands on a jar, these are a must try!

Homemade Biscoff Sandwich Cookies with Biscoff Cream Cheese Frosting

recipe slightly adapted from Creative Culinary

Ingredients

For the Cookies:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • *I also added 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract (*I subbed an equal amount of vanilla bean paste- with which I am officially obsessed!)
For the Frosting: (*I found a half batch more than adequate for my cookies, but it’s so delicious, I highly advise making the recipe in full. Oh, the endless possibilities for the leftovers!)

  • 10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar, whisked to lighten
  • 2/3 cup Biscoff spread

Preparation

To Make the Cookies:
  1. In a medium bowl add the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt, and baking soda together. Whisk together thoroughly to combine and aerate. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter together with the sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and mix again.
  3. With the mixer on slow, add the flour mixture a little bit at a time until the dough is fully combined. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl often.
  4. Refrigerate the dough for at least half an hour.
  5. When the dough is thoroughly chilled, preheat the oven to 350F.
  6. Lightly flour a large surface and roll out the dough to 1/4″ thick as best you can. Using a small biscuit or cookie cutter of your preference, cut as many cookies as you can out of the rolled out dough.
  7. Combine the leftover dough into a ball again, and roll out again. Only do this once, as reworking the dough too many times will result in tough cookies.
  8. Bake cookies for roughly 9-10 minutes. Watch the oven very closely after the 7 minute mark. Because of the thinness and high sugar content, the cookies are a lot like caramel and can go from perfect to burnt in a flash.
  9. Allow to cool. Enjoy as is or make this Biscoff sandwich cookie using the following icing recipe.
To Make the Frosting:
  1. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy.
  2. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Add the Biscoff spread and beat until thoroughly blended.

A big thank you to both Nikki and Jessica for including me in this special event. Don’t forget to stop by Pennies on a Platter to see the round-up of all the guests’ dishes, and of course, check out My Baking Heart, where you’re always in for a real treat! Congratulations Jessica, I’m wishing you and Chris an extraordinary wedding day and a beautiful future together.

Flourless Triple Chocolate Torte

In Yiddish, the word simcha is defined as joy or happiness, but it more commonly refers to a festive occasion, as a celebration marks life’s happiest special events. While I love to bake for my family and friends any day of the week, it is a true honor for me to contribute a baked good that will help commemorate a significant moment in their lives. So when my sister called and asked for a dessert to be served at her friend Lindsay’s baby shower, I jumped at the chance to help. I think I may have jumped too soon, though, as her next sentence included the phrase gluten-free. More specifically, gluten-free cupcakes- I’ve got another Yiddish phrase you may have heard that was befitting this situation- Oy Vey! Okay… a minor hiccup as I’ve never attempted any gluten-free baking before. But I was confident I could make it work. I’d simply do my research, as per usual, land on a reliable recipe, and do the best I could. Oh, wait, there was one other little detail I failed to consider… I was without a kitchen. We had just started a gut renovation, and I no longer had a sink, stove-top, oven, etc. to accommodate any baking at all. Luckily, what I did have is an extremely generous Aunt living nearby, who graciously opened her home and lent me her fabulous kitchen for this project. (Thank you so very much, Aunt Maggie!) With more solutions than problems on the horizon, I felt ready to tackle the challenge.

After reading lots of reviews, I discovered a very informative book dedicated solely to gluten-free cupcakes with plenty of recipes to choose from: Artisanal Gluten-Free Cupcakes by Kelli and Peter Bronski. I settled on the classic chocolate cupcakes, which I figured I could dress up with a white chocolate mousse filling and fudge frosting like my traditional Triple Chocolate Cupcakes. Yet as bake day drew closer, my self-assurance waned, and I convinced myself I’d never pull it off successfully. Usually in this situation I would do a trial run beforehand, but I certainly wasn’t going to inconvenience my Aunt any further just for taste testing purposes and to put my mind at ease. Then, a light bulb moment- why futz with a slew of unfamiliar ingredients and drive myself crazy worrying about sub par cupcakes, when I could simply select a naturally gluten-free recipe more likely to produce delicious results? I was scared of disappointing my sister, but when I threw the idea of a flourless chocolate cake her way, she gave me the green light without hesitation, and thus I was off in an entirely different direction.

This recipe from King Arthur sort of fell in my lap, and offered both ease of preparation and simplicity of ingredients. The best part? It didn’t require xantham gum. Dense and extremely rich, flourless chocolate cakes (or tortes) pack a punch of chocolate flavor in every bite and have a soft, almost mousse-like texture. Most contain ingredients found in every baker’s pantry: unsalted butter for richness, eggs for lift (as there is no other leavening), chocolate and sugar. My recipe also included cocoa powder; depending on the brand, cocoa is about 60% starch, which provides body, structure, and chewiness that would otherwise be missing in the absence of flour. It also called for two chocolate flavor boosters, coffee (in the form of espresso powder) and vanilla (I used my latest obsession, vanilla bean paste). Instead of having to whip the egg whites and yolks separately, my recipe added them whole, eliminating extra steps. And even better, it offered an actual internal temperature to test the cake’s doneness. I must admit, I always hate that part- deciphering if something is done baking or needs another few minutes. I love when my instant read thermometer eliminates the guessing game. While I’m not sure why the magical temperature was 200 degrees, I did learn that the proteins in the eggs coagulate at 165, creating added structure for the cake. After pulling the cake out and letting it cool, I was able to refrigerate it overnight before adding the finishing touches.

Another bonus- baking the day before the event was actually desirable as the texture became even more smooth and fudgy. The “icing on the cake” was the chocolate ganache poured over the entire torte, hiding any and all imperfections, and providing a final glossy coat of pure chocolatey goodness. While still wet, I attached the baby themed, hand painted chocolate decorations I made in advance, and at the last minute, piped the lightly sweetened whipped cream rosettes. (I was worried that the whipped cream wouldn’t hold up through the trip, but my friend Steph offered highly useful advice to ensure it would; add some powdered sugar, which contains cornstarch, to stabilize the cream. Worked like a charm!) It was then ready to make its debut at the celebration.

My sister returned home with glowing reviews to report, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Most importantly, the guest of honor was extremely moved by her friends’ thoughtfulness (I found out right before that the shower was a surprise), and I hope my cake made it all the more special. Congratulations Lindsay, and best of luck with the arrival of your new bundle of joy!

Note: Because there are so few ingredients in this cake, their quality is of the utmost importance. Obviously, the chocolate is the star here: I used a mixture of Guittard and Ghriadelli baking chips along with Valrhona cocoa (swoon), and even though I never tasted this beauty, I can honestly say the intoxicating aroma emanating from the oven while it was baking was the embodiment of pure, unadulterated chocolate. Everyone in the room had to restrain themselves from grabbing a fork and digging in, and my Mom was eagerly gathering the fallen crumbs.

Flourless Triple Chocolate Torte

Recipe by http://www.kingarthurflour.com

Yield: 8″ cake, 8 to 12 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup/6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons)/4 ounces unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup/5 1/4 ounces granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons espresso powder, optional
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup/1 1/2 ounces unsweetened cocoa powder, Dutch-process preferred
  • 1 cup/6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup/2 ounces heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8″ round cake pan; cut a piece of parchment or waxed paper to fit, grease it, and lay it in the bottom of the pan.
  2. To make the cake: Put the chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat until the butter is melted and the chips are soft. Stir until the chips melt, reheating briefly if necessary. You can also do this over a burner set at very low heat. Transfer the melted chocolate/butter to a mixing bowl.
  3. Stir in the sugar, salt, espresso powder, and vanilla. Espresso enhances chocolate’s flavor much as vanilla does; using 1 teaspoon will simply enhance the flavor, while 2 teaspoons will lend a hint of mocha to the cake.
  4. Add the eggs, beating briefly until smooth. Add the cocoa powder, and mix just to combine. (Next time, I’ll sift the cocoa powder into the mixture to avoid having lumps in the batter).
  5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.
  6. Bake the cake for 25 minutes; the top will have formed a thin crust, and it should register at least 200 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer inserted into its center. (Start checking a few minutes early, mine was done at 23 minutes).
  7. Remove it from the oven, and cool it in the pan for 5 minutes.
  8. Loosen the edges of the pan with a table knife or nylon spreader, and turn it out onto a serving plate. The top will now be on the bottom; that’s fine. Also, the edges will crumble a bit, which is also fine. Allow the cake to cool completely before glazing.
  9. To make the glaze: Combine the chocolate and cream in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat until the cream is very hot, but not simmering. Remove from the microwave, and stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture is completely smooth.
  10. Spoon the glaze over the cake, spreading it to drip over the sides a bit. Allow the glaze to set for several hours before serving the cake.
  11. Note: I used a combination of 2/3 cup/4 ounces bittersweet and 1/3 cup/2 ounces semisweet chocolate in the cake and the opposite proportions in the glaze.

The Cake Slice Bakers: White Chocolate Cake + a bonus cupcake!

When I woke up this morning, I peered out my window to discover a world swathed in a blanket of pristine, glistening, pure white snow. Few seasonal panoramas can compare to the beauty of fluffy flakes falling delicately upon unadorned tree branches and layers of freshly collected, bright winter ground cover. It seems only appropriate that the treat I bring you today is in keeping with mother nature’s color palette- a decadent, luscious yet light White Chocolate Layer Cake, this month’s assignment for The Cake Slice Bakers. I’m so glad to be back in action, baking with my fellow blogging buddies, who I’ve missed dearly during my recent absence from Hot Oven, Warm Heart. I can’t wait to catch up and see how everyone dolled up their latest cake. For my own creative spin, I decided to utilize some leftover whipped white chocolate mousse as a filling, and according to my tasters, that element was the perfect addition to an already delicious confection. (You’ll find the recipe below.) Unique and refined with a subtle flavor profile, this elegant cake would be a lovely dessert to grace your holiday table. I guarantee it will disappear well before the snow!

Made of cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, vanilla, and lecithin, white chocolate is technically not considered chocolate at all, due to its lack of chocolate liquor. It first appeared in Switzerland in the 1930’s, invented by the Nestle Corporation as a way to use up excess cocoa butter, and was later popularized in America with the distribution of Nestle’s Alpine White Chocolate Bar. To select a good quality white chocolate, make sure it contains cocoa butter rather than the substandard brands made with hydrogenated vegetable fat. The inferior preparations might be less expensive, but they also lack the cocoa butter’s characteristic rich, creamy flavor. The tell tale difference between the two is in the color- true white chocolate has a deeper ivory hue, in contrast to the bright white shade of the imitation variety. When working with white chocolate, a good tip is to treat it with care and always melt it over low heat, which will help prevent the common problems of scorching and seizing.

This month’s Cake Slice Baker’s selection features white chocolate in each of the cake’s components: a healthy dose in the batter, more mixed into the cream cheese frosting, and in my case, a little extra in the improvised mousse filling. Instead of baking in the recommended 9” pans, I decided it was the ideal opportunity to break out my adorable new 6” rounds and give a miniature sized version a go. Of course, I called upon my super knowledgeable friend Steph of the famed A Whisk and A Spoon, who has graciously acted as my personal source for any and all baking 911 needs, and she shared her always reliable tips and tricks. I learned that you can pretty much take any standard 9” cake recipe, and successfully cut it in half to produce an irresistible 6-incher, perfect for a small gathering or in my case, just two grateful tasters. Steph pointed out that the key with such recipe modifications is in the baking time. It can vary greatly from the larger version (she recommends checking about 10 minutes early) OR be nearly identical. That was the case with my mini white chocolate cakes, which were ready to come out of the oven at 27 minutes (right in line with the 25-30 minutes suggested in the recipe instructions.) To test for doneness- I recommend adhering to the instructions- the cakes are ready when golden brown, spring back when touched gently in the center, and are beginning to pull away from the sides of the pans. I guess I should have headed the warning mentioned in the book’s Baking 101 section that said checking a cake too soon with a toothpick can cause it to collapse. Whoops! That’ll teach me to be overzealous! But the slight imperfection of a thin concave marking was easily hidden with mousse and frosting, and the cake was none the worse for ware. As with every baking experience, I learned for next time.

And I can’t forget about the bonus cupcake I promised you- it is most definitely a keeper! When my aunt requested something chocolate for her 60th birthday celebration, I knew immediately I had just the thing. By revamping my most-well received cake (of all time!) into cupcake form, I created a batch of knock-your-socks off Super Fluffy Chocolate Cupcakes with White Chocolate Mousse Filling and Fudgy Milk Chocolate Frosting. If the name is any indication- they were a hit! I feel privileged to share this very thoughtful and incredibly kind comment my dear cousin Sheila left on Hot Oven, Warm Heart after the party (It ended up on the “About” page, since I hadn’t posted yet about these yummy morsels. I’m glad to put it in it’s rightful home! Thanks so much Sheil, your words mean the world to me- I love you!)

“Wow is all we can say about the wonderful chocolate cupcake filled with delicious white chocolate mousse! A work of art, but more than that, an explosion of flavors in our mouths. You are truely an artist. Would love to have Gourmet Magazine taste these. Hmmmmm yes indeed. If we still had our restaurant, you would be our baker. Thank you and keep baking, and of course we will be your tasters.
Sheila & Rip
the former Amontea’s Restaurant
YUM”

Here are the recipes I used, which I highly recommend you try!

Ina Garten’s “Beatty’s Chocolate Cake” recipe
*This recipe makes exactly 2 dozen cupcakes- I’ve baked them this way twice, and both times they took 22 minutes (a toothpick should come out with no crumbs attached- don’t worry, they shouldn’t collapse!). It’s most definitely my go-to chocolate cake recipe, and has never let me down!

White Chocolate Mousse
from Sky High: Irresistible Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne

Ingredients:
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg white
1 tbsp sugar

Directions:
Melt the white chocolate with ¼ cup cream in a double boiler. Whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat and let the white chocolate cream cool to room temperature.

When it has cooled, beat the remaining ¾ cup cream until soft peaks form. In a clean bowl whip the egg white with the sugar until fairly stiff peaks form.

Fold the beaten egg white into the white chocolate cream, then fold in the whipped cream until blended. Be sure not to over mix.

*I only used half of this recipe to fill the cupcakes, but if you have any left over, don’t let it go to waste! Before I had my light bulb moment when I thought to put the rest in my White Chocolate Cake, I planned on making these Whoopie Pies– which will still be on my list!

Cook’s Illustrated’s Foolproof Chocolate Frosting
as seen on America’s Test Kitchen

Note: This frosting may be made with milk, semisweet, or bittersweet chocolate. (*For these cupcakes, I prefer a frosting made with milk chocolate.) Cool the chocolate to between 85 and 100 degrees before adding it to the butter mixture. The frosting can be made 3 hours in advance. For longer storage, refrigerate the frosting, covered, and let it stand at room temperature for 1 hour before using.

Makes 3 cups to frost one 9-inch 2-layer cake (or about 2 dozen cupcakes)

Ingredients:
20 tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter , softened (60 to 65 degrees)
1 cup confectioners’ sugar (4 ounces)
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
Pinch table salt
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ounces milk chocolate , melted and cooled slightly (see note)

Directions:
In food processor, process butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Add corn syrup and vanilla and process until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl, then add chocolate and pulse until smooth and creamy, 10 to 15 seconds. Frosting can be used immediately or held (see note).

If those cupcakes don’t put a smile on your face, take a look at my baby in her holiday best! Much love to you all and warmest wishes for a glorious holiday season!

SMS: Orange Scented Scones *with Grand Marnier Honey Butter Glaze*

Orange Scented Scones

My second favorite way to relax and unwind (after baking, of course) is curling up in a cozy spot, wrapped in a fluffy blanket, sipping on a piping hot mug of French vanilla tea. When the kettle whistle blows, the tension in my body immediately begins to ease, as I eagerly await the curative brew with which I start and end each day. While I don’t have an ounce of British heritage, I swear I belong in the UK, where “tea breaks” are practically a national pastime. There is something magically restorative about enjoying a good cup of tea, and I highly recommend incorporating the soothing beverage in your repertoire, especially as an accompaniment to any indulgent sweet treat starring as your breakfast, snack, or dessert. There is no culinary couple that can quell an anytime craving quite like tea and scones- the ultimate European gastronomic duo. Like peanut butter and jelly or milk and cookies, tea and scones simply belong together, flawlessly complimenting each other’s best attributes. Both tea and scones have quite a bit of ground to cover to surpass coffee and muffins in regard here in the US, but thanks to recipes like this week’s SMS selection, tasters are being converted with just one bite.

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A small quickbread (or cake if the recipe includes sugar) of possible Scottish origin, the scone is a popular treat in many countries around the world, but especially in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Canada and of course, the US. They are usually made of wheat, barley or oatmeal, with baking powder acting as the leavening agent. The name is said to derive from the Middle Dutch schoonbrood, schoon meaning “pure and clean” and brood meaning bread. The original scone was a round and flat cake (now commonly referred to as a bannock), that was usually the size of a small plate, made with unleavened oats, and baked on a griddle. It was then cut into triangle-like quadrants, or scones, for serving. The scone evolved into the oven-baked, well-leavened pastry we know today when baking powder was introduced to the market and became widely available to the masses. While the British scone is often lightly sweetened, it can also be savory, and popular mix-ins include raisins, currants, cheese or dates. In contrast, scones in the US are typically drier, larger and sweeter, and are standard coffee shop fare, featuring fillings such as cranberries, blueberries, nuts, or even chocolate chips.

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There are a few keys to producing an excellent scone, and ways to avoid the dreaded “hockey puck” consistency that gives scones a bad name. Both temperature of ingredients and mixing method are crucial components to consider. It is best if all the ingredients are cold, to add the liquid to the dry ingredients all at once, and then to mix everything together quickly and lightly. Because the butter is “cut-in” to the dry ingredients (just like in making pie dough), it is crucial that it’s cold, so it becomes small, flour-coated crumbs rather than melting and forming a smooth mass- this step is what ultimately gives scones their characteristic delicate, flakey texture. After the liquids are added, it is imperative to mix the ingredients as little as possible (only until everything comes together)- an overworked scone is usually hard and doughy, so a light hand is essential. When the dough is turned out and formed into a disc, it can either be cut into triangles, or rounds by using a cookie cutter. If you opt for the latter method, it is recommended to twist the cutter through the dough instead of pushing straight down, which yields higher rising scones during baking. Brushing the scones with an egg wash or some additional milk/cream imparts a gorgeous golden color and helps encourage browning. When they’re removed from the oven, you can either allow them to cool uncovered for a crusty exterior or wrap them (still hot) in a clean towel for a softer outer layer. Scones are best served warm and eaten the same day they’re made. Classic accompaniments include butter, jam or preserves, clotted cream, and/or lemon curd, however, a well-made scone is delicious even when plain. If you keep these tips in mind, scone baking is relatively easy, and you’re guaranteed to produce a winning treat.

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This is especially true when you have a sure-fire recipe to fall back on, like the Orange Scented Scones from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book. When I first read the recipe, chosen by Robin of Lady Craddock’s Bakery, it seemed like a very basic cream scone dressed up with a bit of grated orange zest. I wanted my scones to deliver a punch of orange flavor, so I pumped up the citrus volume in a few places. I added the zest of one whole orange (which was a bit more than the specified two teaspoons) and then turned to my pantry, which is stocked with a variety of flavored extracts, including orange. I mixed a teaspoon of orange extract into the wet ingredients for that extra hint of citrus essence all throughout the dough. But I didn’t stop there! I knew I wanted to accent my scones with some sort of glaze, and while my first thought was to go the confectioners sugar/orange juice route, I stopped short in my tracks when I discovered a honey butter scone glaze recipe featured in one of my favorite cookbooks, A Passion for Baking, by Marcy Goldman. In an “A-ha!-in-the-kitchen” moment, I thought, why not add a splash of that Grand Marnier (or orange liquor) I have leftover from the Fallen Chocolate Soufflé Cake? Perfect! With triple the orange zip, the scones were tangy, bright, and super refreshing. The sticky sweet glaze kept them ultra moist on days 2 and 3 (I can’t report on any longer since they didn’t last more than that!) I’m confident the classic scone recipe would be a great canvas for any flavor profile you’re craving, and by changing up the mix-ins with different fruits, spices, nuts, and zests, you never have to make the same scone twice! I highly recommend giving the glaze recipe a try as well (either spiked with your favorite liquor or booze free)- dry, chalky stones… I mean, scones, be gone!

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Thank you to Robin of Lady Craddock’s Bakery for this excellent tea-time pick! Head on over to her site for the recipe, and have fun playing with it and making it your own. Get some other great ideas by checking out all the delicious scones baked up by the other lovely ladies of SMS!

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Just in case you’d like to test my version, here’s the fabulous (and truly simple) glaze recipe I used:

Scone Glaze
from A Passion For Baking by Marcy Goldman

Ingredients:

1/3 cup honey
¼ cup or 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon flavored liquor such as Grand Marnier (optional)
1-2 tablespoons sparkling or sanding sugar to coat

Directions:

While the scones are baking, heat honey and butter in a liquid measuring cup in the microwave until mixture is just simmering, about 1 minute, stirring halfway through. Let cool slightly, and then stir in the liquor if using.

Brush the scones lightly with honey-butter glaze as they come out of the oven. Let stand on baking sheets. Repeat with more honey-butter glaze, more generously, about 15 minutes later. Sprinkle with the sanding sugar and let set.

Joy Heart 2

SMS: Fallen Chocolate Soufflé Cake

Fallen Chocolate Soufflé Cake

I have a bit of a confession to make. I am a highly neurotic cook. My perfectionist tendencies follow me into the kitchen, and although my passion for baking brings me a sense of inner peace and tranquility, I can’t help but get worked up some times when I make a mistake or things don’t turn out right. The rational side of my brain tries to reason with me, “It’s okay, Joy, not everything you make can be a smashing success, and even though you’re disappointed now, try not to get discouraged! You’ve learned from the experience and will do better next time, that’s what’s important.” Note: this voice is often the repeating of my mom’s words of encouragement in my head. But usually, I’m too overcome with melancholy and consternation to listen. Bearing all this in mind, I never, never, imagined myself standing over a perfectly risen, evenly domed cake saying, “C’mon, fall. FALL! I want you to look like a pathetic deflated tire. Will you fall already?”

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Yesterday morning, this curious kitchen occurrence came true as I stared at this week’s SMS selection, the cover recipe of The Sweet Melissa Baking Book, Fallen Chocolate Soufflé Cake. Thankfully, this time my cake listened to my pleading, and sunk ever so slightly in the middle, creating cracks and crevices along the surface. Un-molding the cake only enhanced its homely appearance, revealing un-even sides that looked sadly smushed together. While it wouldn’t be winning any beauty contests, it did resemble the book’s photograph, and I was hoping that the cake’s flavor far exceeded its appearance in impressiveness and overall appeal. But before I could serve and find out, I had to wait patiently for the cake to cool completely, giving me the perfect opportunity to discover how this cake came to be.

Fallen Chocolate Soufflé Cake 2

In the mid-1970s, famous restaurateur, Narsai David, set off an absolute sensation with his over-the-top dessert aptly titled the Chocolate Decadence Torte. Ever since, pastry chefs round the world have been crafting devastatingly rich chocolate desserts hoping to achieve ultimate chocolate nirvana on a plate. The intensely flavored French-style desserts unite the seemingly paradoxical qualities of a dense truffle and airy mousse. A palate and preference for these chocolate treats spread quickly throughout the American public, and variations like the ubiquitous flourless chocolate cake began popping up on high-end dessert menus everywhere.

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Another such adaptation is the fallen soufflé cake, a hybrid of sorts between a chocolate mousse/soufflé and a flourless cake. Fortunately for the baker, the nerve-wracking anxiety of soufflé baking is eliminated, as a fallen dessert is the desired result. While the batter is constructed and baked just like a soufflé, it is allowed to cool thoroughly, during which time it falls, compacting the texture. It’s best served slightly re-warmed, so the consistency remains more like a mousse than a dense fudge. Traditionally, fallen soufflé cakes are served accompanied by a custard, caramel sauce, ice cream, or sweetened whipped cream.

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I’m sad to say the Fallen Chocolate Soufflé Cake in The Sweet Melissa Baking Book didn’t quite live up to expectation. The reaction my tasters had at first bite can be described in one word: surprise. My dad remarked, “I taste something, but it’s not chocolate… it’s not orange, is it?” Apparently the single teaspoon of orange zest and splash of Grand Marnier was enough to overpower the central ingredient. Even with over 10 ounces of Ghirardelli, it just didn’t deliver that punch of chocolate flavor I was after. My mom chimed in commenting on the lack of sweetness, and asked if I had used all bittersweet chocolate. Nope. All semisweet here. Both had no problem polishing off their slices, and complimented the cake’s surprisingly light texture, but then came the kiss of death: “It’s just not my favorite,” my mom said gently. When my number one fan, who loves EVERYTHING I make, utters those five telling words, I know that there won’t be a second showing of the dessert in my home.

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I still have to thank Sarah of The Blue Ridge Baker for pushing me to try something I’ve never tackled before. I’m now inspired to find the fallen chocolate cake of my dreams, and don’t you worry, when I do, I’ll be sharing. Please still check out Sarah’s fantastic site, where you’ll find the recipe along with a bonus chocolate cake that she deemed “heavenly.” I’m certainly adding that one to my must-try list! And remember to check out how all the other lovely ladies’ cakes came out too!

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SMS: Mom’s Banana Apple Bread

Mom's Banana Apple Bread

In the dedication of The Sweet Melissa Baking Book, Melissa Murphy candidly writes, “To my mom, who has been with me to hold my hand every step of the way.” With a phenomenal mom, who has dedicated her life to nurturing, loving, and supporting her daughters, I am blessed to say that I share Melissa’s sentiment wholeheartedly. As my best friend, guardian angel, constant companion, and number one fan, she is so much more than just my mom. An exceptional role model for leading a beautiful life, her generosity and deeply compassionate spirit shine through in everything she does, especially taking care of me. When I’ve faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, my mom has stood by my side and inspired me to keep pushing forward, even when I was ready to surrender. She can brighten my darkest days with her smile, and dedicates her boundless energy to always being there for me, no matter what. Her unconditional love and constant support give me strength, and because she believes in me, I know that I can achieve my dreams. My mom seizes every opportunity to show how much she cares, and in return, it is a true pleasure to present her with some of her favorite homemade treats from the kitchen. While she raves over just about everything I make, one of her all time favorites is this outstanding and unique banana bread. Delectably tender and exceedingly moist, this banana bread, studded with caramelized chunks of apple and delicately spiced with the perfect combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, is an elevated adaptation of a classic and a bona fide showstopper. It is definitely deserving of its recipe title: Mom’s Banana Apple Bread.

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Banana bread is a sweet cake-like quick bread, whose main ingredient is mashed bananas. Utilizing a chemical leavener such as baking soda and/or powder, quick breads are so named because they are “quick” acting and begin rising the moment the wet ingredients are added to the dry. Quick breads were developed at the end of the 18th century in America after pearlash, a preceding leavening agent that produced carbon dioxide gas in dough to produce rise, was discovered and popularized. Evidently, banana bread first originated from 18th century housewives experimenting in the kitchen with the new ingredient. When baking soda and baking powder grew to be widely used in the 1930’s, banana bread became a standard feature in American cookbooks, and was first included in the 1933 edition of the Pillsbury’s Balanced Recipes cookbook. But it was the home baking revival of the 1960s, combined with the simplicity and ease of its recipe that resulted in the spread of banana bread’s fame. Multiple variations of the quick bread were developed at that time, featuring a variety of mix-ins including additional fruits and nuts.

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Banana bread recipes typically call for one of two possible mixing methods: the two-bowl or muffin method, and the creaming method. With the muffin method, all the dry and wet ingredients are stirred together separately, and then they are quickly and gingerly mixed together, leaving a slightly lumpy batter, sometimes with some streaks of flour remaining. This method results in a texture with larger and more irregular air holes throughout. Alternatively, the creaming method calls for creaming the fat with the sugar until light and fluffy, followed by the addition of the remaining ingredients, which gives a different, cake-like texture. Mom’s Apple Banana Bread utilizes the latter method, and certainly has a characteristically delicate, tight crumb.

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Baking a loaf and enjoying a slice of this bread is the perfect way to celebrate National Banana Lover’s Day, which just happens to be this week, on August 27th! The banana doesn’t get much attention or respect as a fruit, but as a baker, I appreciate many of its qualities. Available year round, reasonably priced, easy to peel, and generally of consistent quality, the banana is a highly underrated ingredient. Most importantly, the color of its skin and the firmness of the flesh reveal its inner sweetness- an attribute not shared by many other fruits. Did you know that bananas are picked green when they’re hard and relatively flavorless? As time passes, the peel transforms from bright yellow to spotted brown, to nearly completely brown, and the flesh continues to become softer and sweeter. So don’t throw away those overripe bananas- they are ideal and arguably essential for delicious banana bread!

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Not in the mood to whip up a loaf right now? No problem. Just slip them into a plastic bag and place them into the freezer for later use. You can also peel and mash them, (optionally stir in 1 teaspoon lemon juice for each banana to prevent them from turning color), and freeze in an airtight container or bag. Your ripe-and-ready-to-go bananas will keep about six months in the freezer. Have the opposite problem- a craving for banana bread but green bananas on your counter? Check out this website recommended by my dear friend Hanaâ of the fabulous blog, Hanaâ’s Kitchen, which details a number of ways to hasten the ripening process.

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It is my pleasure, as host, to present this week’s Sweet Melissa Sundays’ recipe, and I hope it becomes a family favorite for you as well! Thank you to all the amazing “SMS bakettes” who baked along with me- please check out our blogroll to explore all of their incredible sites and find out what they did with the recipe. The kind words and support they offer each week means the world to me, especially as a newbie blogger, and I’m so lucky to be a part of such an outstanding group! But most importantly, thanks to my mom, for never letting go of my hand.

Mom’s Banana Apple Bread– makes one 1 1/2-quart loaf pan
from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy

For the apples:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the banana bread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
¼ cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups very ripe mashed bananas (2 to 3)

Before you start:
Position a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour a 1 1/2-quart loaf pan.

To make the apples:
Preheat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and brown sugar and heat until bubbling. Add the apples and cinnamon and sauté until golden and tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the vanilla. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

To make the banana bread:
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. In a small bowl, combine the orange juice and vanilla.
4. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three batches, alternating with the orange juice mixture, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each flour addition. Stir in the mashed bananas until combined. Then stir in the reserved apples.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes before unmolding onto the rack to cool further.

Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. The banana bread keeps well wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days. For longer storage, freeze well wrapped in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil for up to 3 weeks. Defrost (still wrapped) at room temperature.

Pro Tip: If your bananas are black before you are ready to bake, peel them, puree them, and store them in an airtight plastic container in your freezer. You can add more to the container whenever you like; the bananas keep a very long time. When you are ready to bake, just defrost them and get on with it.

Pretty Slick: If after a few days, the banana bread starts to get dry, toast a slice and spread some soft butter on top. It’s great this way with your morning coffee or afternoon tea.

Joy’s Tips:
*For the apples: Instead of chopping both, I chop one (in very small chunks) and shred the other on a box grater. The chopped apple still gives you the interesting texture and bites of tender caramelized appley goodness, while the shredded apple sort of melts into the bread and adds to its incredible moisture. I still saute both in the butter and brown sugar, and add any accumulated juices from the shredded apple. Beware of stirring in apple chunks that are too large- their weight causes them to sink to the bottom of the batter, and you end up with an apple layer of sorts at the base of the loaf. Still delicious, but not ideal- to have it well distributed, make sure your apple chunks stay pretty dainty!

*For the bananas: I recommend using the measured amount rather than just 2 or 3. I always seem to need more bananas to make the required measurement than are recommended (and I don’t think my bananas are particularly small). You definitely don’t want to skimp on this central ingredient for the overall flavor of your finished loaf!

*My loaf usually requires an additional 3-5 minutes for a toothpick to come out clean. I test at the 1 hour mark, and if it’s not done, I cover with foil to prevent over-browning and return it to the oven. Just be aware that your time may vary depending on your oven.

I hope you enjoy!

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