Tuesday, December 20, 2011

12 Days of Goodies - Day 12: Sweet Dreams Chocolate Fudge

Well, here we are people, the twelfth and last day of goodies! I'm surprised I was able to get all 12 done and posted . . . Sometimes my initial ambition kicks my butt at the end.
This last day is taking us candy-making again, and don't be frightened of making your own fudge. This is my go-to recipe, and after a couple years of trying different recipes I can tell you I haven't found one better. And the wonderful thing about this fudge recipe is that there's no candy thermometer required. Usually if you run into trouble with fudge it's because candy thermometers can be finicky, you have to stir for an hour so it doesn't burn, or it ends up grainy.
I have never had any of those issues with this recipe. The first time I made it I was shocked and disbelieving that I only had to boil the sugar mixture for 5 minutes; so, I boiled it a couple extra minutes. It definitely didn't ruin the fudge - it wasn't as creamy as it would have been if I had trusted the directions, but there was a slightly "off" aftertaste. So trust me when I tell you that you only need to boil it for five minutes - it will thicken and set up beautifully for you. I usually leave the nuts out of mine, even though I prefer them, because it seems as though the boys in our extended families prefer it that way and they tend to eat most of it (ahem, Jon).

Sweet Dreams Chocolate Fudge
1 7 oz. jar marshmallow cream
1 1/2 c. white sugar
2/3 c. evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed)
1/4 c. butter
1/4 tsp. salt
3 c. milk chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. chopped nuts, optional
1. Line an 8x8 pan with tin foil and set aside.
2. Combine marshmallow cream, sugar, milk, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a full boil at medium heat. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until thick.
3. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips and vanilla until smooth. Pour into prepared pan and let sit at place in refrigerator for 2 hrs, or until firm.
*I've never tried it, but you could substitute semi-sweet, bittersweet, or white chocolate chips and it would probably work the same. And I bet peanut butter chips would work well, too, now that I think about it . . . I love peanut butter fudge. I might have to try that one out myself!
After it cools it's still shiny and smooth on top

Creamy goodness

Monday, December 19, 2011

12 days of Goodies - Day 11: Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Only one more "goody" left after today! The only downside to all this baking is that it creates a lot-lot-lot of dishes.
As I said, we celebrated our family Christmas yesterday, and one of our goals this year was to try to establish some traditions for ourselves since each of our families has their own. One that I decided I wanted to do actually comes from my Mom's side of the family. Every year when we got together, my grandma would make a cake to celebrate Jesus' birthday. She would put one candle on it for each person there, and one in the center to represent Jesus. So we decided to make that part of our tradition as of this year, and I decided to try out this Red Velvet Cake (from my "Cake Mix Doctor Returns" cookbook).
The cake turned out very moist and just dense enough that I wouldn't call it "light." And, of course, the cream cheese frosting was delicious. I liked that there was enough of a chocolate flavor in the cake so I could taste it, but it didn't just taste like a chocolate cake. It was also easy to make, and it felt even more special because it makes a 3-layer cake instead of just two. If you're looking for a cake to "wow" your family and friends this Christmas, this might be the one for you!
Red Velvet Cake
1 box yellow cake mix
2 1/2 Tbls. cocoa powder
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
1 bottle (1 oz.) red food coloring
8 Tbls. melted butter
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbls. white vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease and flour 3 9-inch round cake pans and set aside.
2. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix on low for 1 minute. Scrape down bowl.
3. Increase speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes.
4. Divide batter among cake pans, approximately 1 1/2 c. per pan, and bake in oven for 17-21 minutes, or until the cake springs back when pressed lightly.
5. Allow to cool in pans on wire rack for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edges and turn cakes out onto cooling racks to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8 oz. pkg. softened cream cheese
1/2 c. softened butter
1 tsp. vanilla
4 c. powdered sugar
1. Beat cream cheese and butter on high for 2 minutes. Scrape down bowl.
2. Add vanilla and powdered sugar and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.
1. Place a small dollop of frosting in the center of your platter or cake stand and place first cake layer in the center (this keeps the cake in place).
2. Spread approximately 1/2 c. frosting over first layer and top with another layer of cake. Repeat with frosting and third cake layer. Frost top and sides with remaining frosting and decorate however you like - I just did back and forth motions with an offset spatula with mine, nothing fancy.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

12 Days of Goodies - Day 10: White Chocolate Bark

We're entering the candy zone today, but have no fear because this one is eeeeasy. I don't think chocolate bark gets enough attention - you can change it up in so many ways, and it's basically just melting chocolate, stirring in some add-ins, and spreading it on waxed paper . . . It doesn't get much easier than that! I originally saw this recipe here, but was a little concerned because I wasn't sure if I would like the orange extract that the recipe calls for. I almost left it out, but decided to just give it a try. I'm so glad I did because it is soooo good. It's one of my favorite recipes now!
The rice krispies add a nice crunch, and the golden raisins add just a little chewiness. The combination is killer. If you're not a fan of white chocolate, you could definitely substitute milk chocolate or semi-sweet - it would be like those chocolate oranges that you always see around Christmas-time (I love those things). I love raisins in my chocolate, but you can definitely leave them out if you don't, or substitute dried cherries or cranberries instead. I hope you give this recipe a try because I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Crunchy White Chocolate-Orange Bark
16 oz. white chocolate (I used chocolate chips, instead of the spendier chocolate bars)
1 tsp. orange extract
1/2 c. golden raisins
1 c. crisp rice cereal
1. Line a baking sheet with waxed paper and set aside.
2. Stir orange extract and chocolate in a microwaveable bowl, and microwave on medium power for 30 second intervals, stirring after each 30 seconds, until melted and smooth. Be extra careful with white chocolate so you don't overheat it because it will seize.
3. Stir in raising and cereal, and spread on waxed paper to about 1/4 inch thickness. Place in refrigerator to set chocolate.
4. Break pieces at irregular intervals with your hands or a knife - you can make them as large or small as you'd like, but a little goes a long way. You can also decorate with sprinkles or any other embellishments before putting in the fridge.
This is how mine looked before breaking it into pieces.
One delicious piece that may or may not have been eaten by me right after
this picture was taken . . . 
This candy is so easy to store, too - great for any small gifts you might be
giving this Christmas!
On a Side Note: We're celebrating our family Christmas today, and the boys are loving everything about it. Asher loved opening the presents and didn't really care about what was inside until they were all opened . . . then he loved them all. Aiden, on the other hand, just loved throwing each thing out of the boxes one at a time without looking at anything. He was just so excited that Asher, Mom, and Dad were excited. It's been really fun to start some of our own family traditions this year with both boys!
Looking at their new book together.
Happy about everything!
Asher using his new trampoline and lovin' it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

12 Days of Goodies - Day 9: Buckeye Pretzel Bites

I think I've said this a million times by now: peanut butter & chocolate - you can't go wrong. So I would be extremely remiss if I didn't include a treat with those combined ingredients. I love peanut butter balls, but these were nice because I could hold onto the pretzel and dip it in chocolate instead of fussing with forks, toothpicks, and other devices to help dip things in chocolate. It wasn't nearly as messy, and after eating one Dusty said: "Those are really good and extremely addictive." So that's a win in my book!
When I looked at the recipe, I was worried that with the brown sugar in the filling it would feel really grainy and be unappealing, but with the crunch and salt on the pretzel, you really don't notice it and it all works well together. The only thing I might do differently next time is increase the powdered sugar to 1 c. to make the filling a little stiffer. This is a must-try for PB/chocolate lovers, so I think my sister Hannah will especially like these. :) Hope you give them a try! You can see the original recipe here.

Buckeye Pretzel Bites
1 c. creamy peanut butter
2 Tbls. softened butter
1/2 c. powdered sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 12 oz. bag of chocolate chips (I used a combination of chocolate chips and chocolate bark, and it worked well.)
1. Beat peanut butter and butter together until thoroughly combined.
2. Add sugars and beat until well mixed. Add more powdered sugar if needed, to form into balls.
3. Place pretzels on a waxed paper lined baking sheet, and top with approximately 1 tsp. of peanut butter filling. Press another pretzel on top of the filling, and place in the freezer for about 1 hour.
4. Melt chocolate in the microwave for about 1 1/2 minutes, stirring after each 30 second interval, or until smooth.
5. Dip half of the pretzel in chocolate and place back on the waxed paper to cool. Place the pan in the refrigerator for 1/2 an hour to set chocolate.

Friday, December 16, 2011

12 Days of Goodies - Day 8: Cashew Brittle Bars

Remember a while ago when I made the Salty Caramel Peanut Brittle Bars? Well, they were a hit, and as I said, I thought it would be delicious with white chocolate and cashews for a special occasion. So I changed up the recipe for Christmas, and these are just as delicious. We loooove cashews in my family, especially my dad and grandpa, so I'm hoping these go over well, too. If you're not a fan of white chocolate, just use whatever you like best.

Cashew Brittle Bars
1 pouch (1 lb 1.5 oz.) sugar cookie mix
1/4 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. cold butter, cubed
2 c. salted cashews
1 c. white chocolate chips
1 jar (12 oz.) caramel ice cream topping
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease 10x15 pan.
2. Reserve 3 T. of cookie mix, and combine the rest with the brown sugar. Cut in butter with pastry cutter or two knives, until crumbly. Press evenly in the bottom of the pan and bake for 15-18 minutes.
3. Remove crust from oven and immediately sprinkle with peanuts and chocolate chips.
4. Heat caramel in the microwave for approximately 1 minute - just until drizzling consistency. Stir in reserved cookie mix, and drizzle even over bars. 
5. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 12-14 minutes or until caramel is bubbly. Let cool to room temperature before cutting. 

For a nicer presentation, I would trim the borders of the bars around the
pan and then cut into squares. Added bonus: you then get to eat the edges . . . which I did. All of them.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

12 Days of Goodies - Day 7: S'more Cookie Bars

I've seen this recipe on multiple websites, and it looks easy and delicious every time. Well, it is easy and delicious, especially if you're a fan of s'mores . . . which I most definitely am. The graham cracker base actually stayed really crispy - I didn't notice any sogginess at all, which was great. I broke mine into squares, but you can break them into the smaller rectangles if you want a smaller cookie. You can also use more chocolate on the top if you want, which I might do next time, but they were good this way, too. I got this recipe from Lovin' From the Oven, and only altered it slightly. If you haven't checked out her blog, you definitely should - really fun recipes over there!

S'more Cookie Bars
11 Tbls. softened butter
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 1/2 c. flour
1 c. mini marshmallows
1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 (or more if desired) chocolate bars, each broken into 12 pieces
12 whole graham crackers
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line 2 9x13 pans with the graham crackers. (Pack them together tightly; Mine filled about 1 1/2 pans.)
2. Cream butter and sugars on med.-high for 2 minutes. Scrape down bowl.
3. Add eggs, vanilla, soda, salt, and cinnamon and beat again for 2 minutes.
4. Stir in flour until just combined, then stir in marshmallows and chocolate chips. Refrigerate dough for 1 hour. *Don't skip this step or your dough will spread too much and make a mess.
5. Spoon about 2 Tbls. of dough onto each graham cracker square and bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and press 1 chocolate piece into each cookie. Return to oven for an addition 8-10 minutes, or until light golden brown on top, and the edges are slightly darker brown.
6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before cutting, otherwise you'll have a gooey mess . . . which isn't always a bad thing :)

These are right out of the oven - you can see they aren't quite set,
and the chocolate still looks melted and shiny. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

12 Days of Goodies - Day 6: Turtle Cookies

I love turtles - the combination of caramel, pecans, and chocolate gets me every time. So when I saw a recipe from Betty Crocker called Caramel-Fudge Turtle Cookies, I knew it was one I wanted on my Christmas cookie list. The original recipe is here, but I changed it up to use more of a chocolate chip cookie dough base (minus the chocolate chips) and instead of fudge ice cream topping, I used melted chocolate chips because I thought the cookies would hold up and and travel better that way. I also turned it into more of a thumbprint cookie because I thought dipping half the cookie in caramel would also be too messy. The result was delicious, and I hope you give them a try!

Turtle Cookies
1/2 c. softened butter
1 c. white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. soda
2 c. flour
12 caramels
1 T. milk
1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 c. chopped pecans
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Cream butter and sugar on med.-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 minutes.
3. Scrape down bowl, add egg, vanilla, soda, and salt and beat again for 3 minutes.
4. Stir in flour until just combined. Drop by Tbls. onto prepared baking sheet and bake for 7 minutes.
5. Take out of the oven and press your thumb into the center of each cookie, and return to oven for 3-4 minutes. Remove from the oven and re-press your thumb to make an indentation, and allow cookies to cool.
6. Melt caramels and milk in microwave for approximately 1 minute, and stir to combine. Using a 1/4 tsp., spoon caramel into cookie indents, and use the back of the spoon to spread around.
7. Melt chocolate chips for appr. 1 minute, and use a 1/2 tsp. to spoon over caramel and spread slightly. Sprinkle a few chopped pecans on each and allow to cool. Eat up!

On a side note: The boys have been playing so nicely together lately, and sometimes it makes my heart so full of love I can literally feel it in my chest. It's the most wonderful feeling! We're gearing up for Christmas, and I think we'll celebrate over this coming weekend because we'll be heading to our families for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I can't wait to see how much fun the boys have - Asher is so excited, and Aiden gets excited just because Asher is. All I'm hoping for is good weather and healthy boys! I also finally got Christmas cards out this year after wanting to for four years now - I patted myself on the back already. ;)
The family photo we used for our Christmas card.
The other photo we used - I love Asher's smile in this one,
and that Aiden's reaching for him :)
We didn't use this one, but I think it's hilarious
Mr. Sweet Face

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

12 Days of Goodies - Day 5: Chocolate-Caramel Snowballs

Chocolate cookie dough, wrapped around caramel Hershey's kisses, rolled in powdered sugar? Yes, please. Hershey's has really great recipes - in fact, my favorite chocolate cake and chocolate frosting recipes are from their online recipe page (see here for the recipes). The original recipe calls for finely chopped almonds in the dough, but I didn't have any on hand so I omitted them. Also, I used caramel kisses instead of plain - my only note would be to freeze them the day before you  bake with them. I had a few problems with caramel leaking out of the cookies, but they still turned out well and looked pretty.
Aside from looking and tasting delicious, another nice thing is that since with this cookie there are a few extra steps (i.e. covering the kisses in dough, and rolling them in powdered sugar after baking), it's nice that the recipe itself is a doctored sugar cookie mix! I love having a few of these types of recipes on hand. This one could be changed up easily just by using different flavorings and different types of Hershey's kisses. Orange extract with chocolate-almond kisses would be good, or the cherry filled kisses with vanilla extract would be delicious, too -  endless possibilities!
Chocolate-Caramel Snowballs
1 pkg. (16 oz) sugar cookie mix
1/2 c. butter, melted
1 egg
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. almond extract
Caramel Hershey kisses - I used about 30, I think
Powdered sugar for rolling
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Mix first six ingredients in a large bowl until thoroughly combined.
3. Scoop dough by Tbls. and form around a Hershey kiss.
4. Place on prepared baking sheet, and bake for 8-10 minutes.
5. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then drop 3-4 cookies at a time in the powdered sugar and toss lightly to coat. Place on baking rack to cool completely. You can douse them in powdered sugar again before you serve them if you want to perfect their powdered sugar appearance and get them looking snowy white again.

You can see a tiny bit of the caramel on the bottom, right hand cookie.
The center of these is nice and chewy from the chocolate and caramel,
while the outside has a more tender crumb texture.

Monday, December 12, 2011

12 Days of Goodies - Day 4: Coconut Cake

For my birthday, my parents got me "The Cake Mix Doctor Returns" and I've been dying to try out one of the cakes. I decided to go with the Coconut Refrigerator Cake for two reasons: 1) I've wanted to make a coconut cake of some kind for about a year now, but haven't found an occasion to do it, and 2) It looked so pretty and festive in the book.
The recipe itself is simple, both for the cake and frosting. However, I definitely ran into problems with the frosting because it would not stay on the cake! It was really frustrating and time consuming to get it to look decent. BUT, don't worry, I have some suggestions below as to alternatives which should make it much easier next time. The wonderful thing about this cake is that it's a refrigerator cake, so you can make it ahead of time and it only gets better as it sits in the fridge. I sliced a piece and then took the rest over to my old work pals as part of their Christmas goodies. So far, the two bites Asher and I have had were very well received.
This. Cake. Is. Delicious. I will definitely be making it again!

Coconut Refrigerator Cake
1 pkg. white cake mix
1 c. milk
1/2 c. cream of coconut (can be found by the mixed drink ingredients; be sure to stir it well first)
3 eggs
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 3 9-inch cake pans.
2. Put all ingredients in mixing bowl and mix on low speed for 30 seconds.
3. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat batter on medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes.
4. Divide batter evenly in cake pans - approximately 1 1/2 c. each. Bake for 18-23 minutes, or until light golden brown, and the top springs back when lightly pressed with your finger.
5. Allow to cool in pans for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and turn cakes out to cool completely on wire racks.
2 c. reduced fat sour cream
1 3/4 c. white sugar
8 oz. frozen whipped topping, thawed
3 1/2-4 c. sweetened, flaked coconut
1. Place sour cream and sugar in mixing bowl and beat on low for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down bowl and beat on medium until the sugar has dissolved - 2 more minutes.
2. Add whipped topping and beat on low until well blended.
3. Stir in 3 c. coconut, and refrigerate at least 10 minutes
1. After cakes have cooled, slice each in half horizontally using a serrated knife - you'll have six layers. Brush layers lightly with cream of coconut, if desired. (I did this for three of the six layers.)
2. Put four strips of waxed paper forming a square and set the first cake layer on it. (This prevents frosting from getting your platter messy). Top cake with a heaping 2/3 c. frosting. Place another layer on, and repeat layering cake and frosting until the top layer is on.
3. Here is where I went wrong, and now you won't. You can use the rest of the frosting to frost the top and sides of the cake. If so, here are my tips: 1) Start on the top and put frosting on, and slowly work it to the edges and down the sides. It will slide off onto your waxed paper. 2) Do not try to keep putting more frosting on the sides. You will spend forever trying to do this. Whatever sticks with the first application is all that will stick. I mistakenly thought if I refrigerated it and then tried to put more on it would work . . . it didn't. So, frost the top and sides and stick it int he fridge. 3) After it sits in the fridge for an hour or so, take it out and sprinkle the top and press the sides with the remaining 1 c. of coconut. This helps cover any imperfections the frosting didn't cover. I think I would do it this way next time.
If you don't want to mess with that process, here's an alternative: Make half of the frosting recipe and just use it as filling between the layers. It's way too delicious to not use it at all. For the top and sides, you can then use a cream cheese frosting, or a coconut buttercream - I think either would be yummy.

If you learn from my mistakes, you shouldn't have problems. Or maybe your frosting will stick nicely to your cake and not run at all . . . According to the recipe, she adapted this frosting because in her previous recipe the frosting wouldn't stick and kept dripping down the sides . . . Hmmm, that's still happening to me with this one, but maybe you'll have more success. Like I said, I'll definitely be trying this one again. SO GOOD.

*Don't forget to gently pull your waxed paper from the edges of your cake before serving!
Look at that mess!!!
Drippy drippage.
Ta-da! Fixed it - and thank goodness I used the waxed paper trick or it would have been much harder to clean up.
Looks pretty nice, now, right?
It cuts beautifully, too.
12 layers of cake and frosting . . . what could be bad about that?!
It really is a delicious cake.