Although there’s rarely a time when I’m not unnaturally interested in Bundt cakes, my love for this effortless, humble comfort food has reached a fever pitch in recent weeks. Maybe it’s the comedown from the flurry of fussy, frosted, and sprinkled holiday baking, or maybe, too, it’s because we signed off on the final-final edits for Real Sweet just a few weeks back and I’m no longer (technically) allowed to obsess over the recipes in that book (although there’s a lovely Bundt coming your way in those pages, too). At any rate, the no-frills, no-frosting-required beauty of a Bundt has been high on the list of things that excite me these days. (I know, you should see when I really get down to party. Woot, woot!)
I have a new Bundt recipe from a baking legend coming for you very soon, but in the meantime, if you Like Big Bundts and You Cannot Lie, I thought maybe the following might be as inspiring for you as it is for me.
It’s New Year’s Eve, y’all! Wowza. As I type this, I have a huge, almost 10-month-old baby in my lap and a 5-year-old in the living room, who is on (a rather unnecessarily long, really) winter break from Big Kid School. Unreal! 2013, you were a crazy one. I’m not even going to get into the ups and downs and utter confusion that marked this year for me–does the internet really need more year-end oversharing? So I’ll just say that like a lot of you, I’m looking forward to a new year, new projects, and an all-around new attitude. Not to mention more full nights of sleep, which I finally started getting around here during the past week. (Hey, it only took 10 months! Blergh.)
I hope everyone has lovely plan to ring in 2014, whether that means some fancy gala that calls for hair and makeup and something sparkly to wear (Ooh! Tell me, what is that like?) or if you’re doing something more our speed, which is to say a celebration involving comfy pants, (spiked) hot chocolate, popcorn, and the East Coast feed of the ball drop because seriously, I can’t do midnight anymore. Whatever you do, I hope it’s full of fun and love and hope and promise. Really, truly. We all deserve a great 2014. Can you hear me, universe?!
But first, priorities. Brunch planning! New Year’s Brunch, to be specific. Let’s do this year up right by starting with some epic eats. And I don’t mean a whole homemade spread, although if you’re doing that, I’d love to come over. For me, it’s about one great dish or a special side thing to make the first day of the year a little extra special. Bonus points if said thing has make-ahead elements to gently massage you into the morning. No need to be bursting out of a cannon on Day One and making the rest of us look bad. Let’s save that action for some especially warm, sunny day in early June.
First up? Bacon and Caramelized Onion Tart. (See top photo) Because if you’re going to have bacon and eggs, why not repackage the whole thing and blow minds?
Picasso had his blue period, Hugh Hefner had his blonde period. I am currently in my dark muscovado sugar period.
That sentence made a lot more sense in my head before I typed it.
At any rate, I’ve been playing with this heady, dark, mysterious sugar a whole lot over the past few months, and I’m smitten, friends. In my last Baking Booster post, I waxed all fangirl about dark brown sugar, and can’t nobody take those feelings away. But! When I want Real Big Dark Brown Sugar Flavor, all smoke and molasses and sticky sweetness, I reach for dark muscovado, and since we’re heading into serious baking season and lots of sweets with big bold flavors like gingerbread and pumpkin pie and decadent dark chocolate somethings, I’ve got to urge you–nay, implore you–to find some and give it a shot. It’s basically dark brown sugar on steroids! Magical. Let’s talk about it.
If you’ve never been to San Francisco on July 4th, let me break it down for you: It’s freaking depressing. Cold, windy, and so foggy that we’ve never even bothered to go see fireworks in the 4 1/2 years we’ve lived here. But from the warm cocoon of our living room, they sound awfully festive! At any rate, the wintry conditions don’t hold me back from making treats suitable for the holiday, adding the perfect note to an afternoon spent grilling in an overcoat.
At first glance, these Kool-Aid Marshmallows might seem too bizarre to be a real thing. Believe me, I get it. And I wrote the recipe. But really, what we’re doing here is adding flavor to the mallows with the powdered drink mix, rather then just throwing in an extract or candy oil in the final steps of whipping. And the color is provided in powder, too, so no extra food coloring is needed to achieve a perfect candylike hue–hooray!.
While you can use any flavor of unsweetened Kool-Aid mix for these, the specimens you see in the photo above were made with Tropical Punch mix, which is one of my very favorite flavors for Kool-Aid Marshmallows. (Can you believe that I’ve experimented with this enough to have a favorite flavor This is my life, friends.) With all of their awesome fruit punchy-ness, they’re everything a marshmallow should be–fluffy, fun, full of Candy Land-esque novelty flavor. And as long as I’m on my way to Crazytown by flavoring a marshmallow with Kool-Aid, I tend to just go for it, take the scenic route, and roll the edges in Pop Rocks, which crackle delightfully upon serving. It’s all so hysterically whimisical, it almost makes you forget that you’re spending July 4th in long johns.
I’m going to give you the recipe for these gems below, but I also thought I’d give you a few more ideas for goodies for the 4th, suitable for summer get-togethers and picnics of all sorts. Enjoy!
A couple of years ago, we drove up to Napa for the day to hang out with one of our favorite families. Great food was in no short supply–juicy local ham, bubbling and golden cheese grits, grilled asparagus, lots and lots of big Napa Chardonnay. We ate at a long wooden farm table in the sunny backyard. We all looked around to realize that every single person was in khakis and some shade of a pastel shirt. There was bocce ball involved. It was like a Saveur dream. I also think we’d never felt so WASP-y in our entire lives. But it was picture-perfect, for sure.
I hope you’ve got fun-filled plans for the weekend this year, guys. Whether they’re pulled from a glossy food magazine, or–like mine will be–thrown together at the last minute and full of loud child antics with a breathless trip to Target because Yes, of course the Easter Bunny called us on the cell phone, Honey! Of course he will bring you lots of treats! Whatever you’re up to, try any one of the following and you’ll be golden. Happy Easter, everyone!
Bubble Gum Marshmallows (photo above). The good Lord knows I’ve got nothing against Peeps, but I highly encourage you to blow everyone’s minds with homemade marshmallows this year.
Quick Brioche. Speaking of blowing minds, freshly baked bread does the trick quite nicely as well.
Raspberry-Pistachio Brown Butter Cake. For dessert or for an Easter brunch buffet. Even the Easter Bunny can’t multitask like this.
Glazed Clementine Chiffon Cake. Because nothing says “happy day!” quite like a zippy, citrusy, big Mama chiffon cake.
Little Lime Cupcakes. And on a related note, nothing says “happy day!” quite like zippy, citrusy wee cakes, either. Also, frosting.
Cherry Shortbread Cake Squares. So simple. So cheery-looking. So easy to eat five at once.
Spring Vegetable Quiche. See how I’ve tucked a little savory in here for ya? Perfect, just perfect, for Easter brunch.
Tomato, Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Tarts. More savory loveliness. Brunch, lunch, early supper, whatever. Just get you some.
My Favorite Cheesecake. This recipe is so easy, it’s crazy–like crustless cheesecake-crazy. Easter-level magic, I’m telling you.
Classic Popovers. I can’t think of a situation where these wouldn’t be perfect, actually.
Lemon White Chocolate Butter Cookies. If ever there was a perfect Spring cookie, BAM! This is it.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Crumble Bars. A perfect way to use up all that rogue, leftover Easter chocolate. You know it will make it into your face eventually. Best to just make an event of it.
Are you feeling recharged and energized this New Year, ready to take on those long-procrastinated-about fitness goals? Determined to revamp your diet? Buying all those magazines with headlines like “Get Fit in 2011!” to help propel you along your healthy eating and exercise plan?
Nah, me neither.
But I can offer you this: A few recipes that are delicious, satisfy the sweet tooth and the urge to create in the kitchen, while not adding to the real estate in your pants. Not “diet” food by any means, but certainly not as naughty as most recipes around here, and no Splenda to be found. Because sometimes it feels good to eat something with a little less vavoom in the dreaded calorie department. Enjoy!
Oh, and speaking of less naughty recipes, what are some of your “lighter” favorites?
Virtuous Strawberry Mousse. Up there at the top of this post. So light and lovely, it will make you feel like a lady again after all that holiday bourbon-drinking. Or is that just me I’m talking about?
Rocky Road Rice Crispy Treats. Decadent without a whole lotta calorie craziness. Good for those “I really need chocolate lest I rip my husband’s face off” sort of cravings while you’re trying to cut back a little.
Glazed Clementine Chiffon Cake. A great use for all those Clementines you bought for “healthy snacking”. Schaa.
Chocolate Tweed Angel Food Cake. With or without whipped cream, it’s so pretty, so satisfying. Good luck not putting the whole thing in your face.
Mom’s Cheesecake. One of my all-time favorite desserts. And when you swap out full-fat cream cheese and sour cream for light, it’s positively harmless. Yes, you can use calorie-free sweeteners here, too, but don’t tell me about it.
Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies with Candied Ginger. I still sort of can’t believe how little butter is in this recipe.
Everyday Cookies. The perfect thing to always have in the cookie jar. Also great for snacky kids who are a real bore when all hopped up on sugar.
Baked Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnuts. I was gobsmacked at how good these were and how non-gypped I felt in terms of a doughnut experience. Eat them warm for best results.
Strawberry Angel Pavlovas. I think this dessert might be part of my Last Meal on Earth. So dreamy.
Nubbly Bran Muffins with Golden Raisins and Cranberries. Nothing wrong with something tasty and actually good for you for breakfast.
Piece of Cake Granola. Even more deliciousness to start your day out right. You know, before you fall off the wagon at 3:00 in the afternoon.
Well, well, well. Wouldja look at that? It’s the last week of baking before Christmas, everybody! I really hope you’ve got some grand plans for this most sacred of times. I personally would love nothing more than to set Little C in front of Frosty the Snowman with an arsenal of snacks, sprint to the kitchen, tie my apron strings and hunker down with a hot oven and absurd amounts of butter and sugar.
If you feel me here, then perhaps one of the following might make into your holiday cookie tins this year or onto your last-minute gifting list. Like the sweet little Candy Cane Pinwheels you see up there. They’re like sugar cookies with jazz hands, and the recipe for them is at the end of this post. Enjoy!
Chocolate Mint Squares. Fudgy brownie, minty buttercream, slick of bittersweet ganache. Is there anything more perfect for the holidays? Don’t answer that if you disagree. It’s like telling me there’s no Santa, all over again.
Heirloom Sugar Cookies. My love for this cookie runs deep. Real deep.
Simple Rolled, Iced Sugar Cookies. It’s what holiday baking projects are all about.
Classic Gingerbread Cookies. And because they’re so flippin’ cute, holiday baking projects are all about these, too. The best I’ve ever tried, icing recipe included.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle. One of the most searched for recipes in Piece of Cake history. Part candy, part cookie, all set up for you to eat the whole dang pan.
Salted Peanut Cookie Brittle. The little sister to Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle, with an extra salty-sweet, nutty kick. Crispy, crunchy perfection.
Aunt Phyllis’s Crusty Butter Pound Cake. Perfect for doubling or tripling, this cake is the crowd pleaser you can wrap with a big bow and give to just about anyone who’s done something nice for you this year.
Chocolate Chip Marble Bundt Cake. Save this one for the actual special people on your list. This cake is nothing short of Stupid Delicious.
Chocolate Tweed Angel Food Cake. Something a little lighter, but still full of flavor, and a pillow-soft texture. Perfect for gifting.
Cranberry-Pistachio Torrone. Because we all secretly wish we could be Giada for Christmas.
Gifting Toffee. This is the toffee people go crazy for, the one I ship to family across the country. 110% Piece of Cake kitchen approved.
Layered Peppermint Crunch Bark. The holiday classic, but crunchier and creamier with a double layer of white chocolate. God Bless Us, Every One.
Take the extra time to really get the two dough sheets as identical in size and shape as possible (a ruler helps!), and don’t slice the cookies until the dough is very firm–it’s the key to getting a really nice looking swirl on these cookies.
Makes about 4 dozen
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 cup peppermint candy, finely ground (about 20 striped round ones)
6 drops (or so) red food coloring
Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg and until well-blended. Scrape down the bowl, and stir in the flour mixture on low speed. Remove half the vanilla dough from the bowl and set aside. To the remaining dough, stir in the peppermint extract, peppermint candies and red food coloring on low speed until the dough the color is well-incorporated and the color is the intensity you’re looking for.
Roll the vanilla dough between two large sheets of parchment paper to create a 14×8-inch rectangle. Leave the dough sheet in the parchment and place on a sheet pan. Repeat with the peppermint dough and stack on top of the vanilla dough sheet. Chill both together until the dough is firmer but still pliable, about 30 minutes.
Remove the parchment paper from the vanilla dough sheet and place on a work surface. Repeat with the peppermint dough and place on top. With the long side facing you, roll the dough into an even, tight log. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill until very firm, at least 2 hours.
When you’re ready to bake, position oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.
Slice the log of dough into 1/4-inch thick rounds and place on the prepared baking sheets, a dozen to a sheet. Bake until the edges are lightly golden, about 12-14 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheets for a minute before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.
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