If you follow Casual Confections on social media, you’ve seen a lot of chatter leading up to the Muggles Market and Geek Gala which both took place last Saturday. Both events were a huge success!
Want to try your hand at making any of the goodies Casual Confections sold or donated to the events? Go for it! These are the recipes I started with and tweaked to end up with the current versions on my menu:
Topping – same fluff recipe as above, just add ground freeze dried strawberries, strawberry flavor oil, or strawberry Jell-O mix in place of the vanilla extract. Start with a small amount and add more to taste. Sprinkle with ground freeze dried strawberries.
If you’ve been following Casual Confections on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, you’ve noticed several different versions of s’mores sandwich cookies that I’ve made over recent months. Each batch has had aspects that I’ve liked and aspects that simply didn’t work. Each new version explored a new take or technique for the cookie.
For version 4, I made several changes that have resulted in a cookie I am very happy with! Version 5 will text out a few small tweaks to the cookie for easier packaging and other similar logistics.
So what did I do differently for version 4?
Let’s start with the graham cookie. Versions 1 and 2 used the graham cup recipe for s’mores cup. As a cookie, the taste was very good but they fell apart a bit too easily while being eaten. Versions 3 and 4 utilized a recipe that was based off of a s’mores cookie recipe by Brown Eyed Baker. For the sandwich cookie, I left out the chocolate chips and the marshmallow bits since those flavors would have their own components. Version 3’s cookies were made in a whoopie pie sheet whereas version 4 was done as drop cookies. There was a noticeable difference in color and texture, but both versions of the cookie were absolutely delicious! This graham cookie recipe will be used for a variety of graham-based flavors in the future. It’s that good!
While the drop cookie version was a hit, it does not work well for packaging cookies that need to be shipped or transported. I will 100% be making them any time I serve them at my house. Otherwise, it’ll be the whoopie pie versions. Their flat sides are perfect for packaging, storing, and easier eating.
Next, let’s talk about the marshmallow! Versions 1-3 utilized an egg-free marshmallow creme that uses honey and maple syrup as sweetener. The recipe is one of my favorite flavors of marshmallow to date! The one drawback to the recipe is that the creme sets really fast, even with continuous whipping with the stand mixer. The first two cookies would spread so beautifully, but the third on would end up with lots of globs. While that aspect didn’t impact texture or flavor, it made the cookie look less put together and more thrown together. For version 4, I tried my hand at a marshmallow fluff recipe from LivforCake which she adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe.
If you were on the Facebook or Instagram feeds Sunday night, you likely saw my misadventures in making the fluff (if you missed it, go check them out). The sugar syrup was slowly climbing in temperature while on the stove, and I got cocky and decided to shift my attention to something else, just in time for the temp to jump past where it needed to be and burn! First thought: dump it. Second thought: pour it on a non-stick mat and see what happens. I’ve always wanted to try sugar work and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to play, even if I wasn’t going to be able to eat the results. While pouring my bitter brown syrup, I went back and forth in my head, debating whether to throw another round of ingredients into the pot after it was de-syruped and try again or whether to call it a night and try again another time. I already had the egg whites whipped in the mixer, so I opted for cleaning and starting over.
This time, paying full attention, it didn’t take long for the sugar syrup to heat up and be perfect! Before I knew it, the stand mixer was churning away, mixing everything into a sticky, shiny, white fluff. The next step was getting the fluff into a piping bag to quickly and easily add the marshmallow to the cookies. This was my first time trying to wrangle fluff this way and it was a mess! I did end up with enough in the bag for the cookies and once I started piping, it was so easy!
Now, the flavor isn’t as strong as the marshmallow creme recipe, but it played in my favor as now the honey and other flavors from the graham cookies were not dominated by the maple/honey flavor of the creme. Instead, this smooth marshmallow added just the right light flavor to the cookie. I’m really excited to flavor this fluff recipe, too, as it seems like it will showcase each of them well. There are a lot of great things to say about this fluff recipe. I was able to store the leftover fluff and scooped it out several days later as a topping on chocolate cake. Yum!
The chocolate. What about the chocolate? The experiments with the chocolate have been less about finding which chocolate I wanted to use and were more about how I wanted to use it. Versions 1 and 2, I used a chocolate ganache to cover the cookies. This resulted in some not so clean looking treats and some messy fingers and faces. Version 3, I opted for straight melted chocolate instead of a ganache and did a half-dip for easier holding. The flavor was exactly where I needed it to be, but I gave up on coating the outside. Having the chocolate on the inside, like a traditional s’more, was going to be the way to go.
So, for Version 4, I melted some milk chocolate and coated the bottom of each cookie. Since I did this Sunday night after my marshmallow mishaps ate up most of my time, I had no patience to wait for the chocolate to cool and piped the marshmallow on the very slick chocolate. After pressing two cookies together, some of them slipped and slid all over the place, making for white the fun and tasty mess. Those that stayed balanced, however, made for some deliciously gooey photographs! And let me tell you, they tasted as good as they looked. I’m typically not one to eat a lot of sugar right before bed, but I had to enjoy the fruits of my labor while I cleaned up.
I am super stoked that I pretty much have my s’more sandwich cookies figured out. I love s’mores but don’t have too many opportunities to make them around a campfire, so I made them out of everything else (s’mores brownies anyone?).
Are you drooling at the end of this post? S’mores will be one of the three flavors in September’s cookie care packages! The theme is sandwich cookies. Monthly cookie care packages are limited to six and there are only two left for September! Order yours now!
Want a half dozen or a dozen s’mores sandwich cookies all for yourself? You can order those, too!
I love s’mores! Any time someone is even considering asking for a s’more dessert, I emphatically encourage them to go in that direction just so that I can add another s’more experiment to my growing library.
If you’ve followed along on some of the other experiments that use chocolate ganache, you know that I’m still on my journey to finding my process. My trials continued on this bake as well. While the ratios of chocolate to cream were fine, I did not let it sit out to cool so that it would pour as a thicker chocolate layer. Instead, the thin stream of chocolate cascading over the cookies soaked into the cookies and covered everything in a thin brown sheen. I’ve now added, in big friendly letters, a note to LET THE GANACHE COOL next time.
The graham and the marshmallow components ended up being brand new challenges for me. Making homemade marshmallow has been on my baking bucket list for a while and I had just asked a friend for her recipe since her homemade marshmallow tasted amazing! The recipe for the marshmallow comes from a cookbook and I do not have permission to share it. However, it is an egg-free recipe and utilizes raw honey and maple syrup in place of sugar!
The marshmallow was way easier to make than I had suspected and came together very easily. One trick I learned quickly, though, is that the marshmallow creme sets fast! I started plopping marshmallow creme onto the cookies and ended plopping gobs of marshmallow by the end. This round, I used my hand mixer. Next time, I’ll likely use my stand mixer so that I can re-whip the marshmallow while I’m filling the cookies, keeping it on the creme consistency a bit longer.
I’m equally excited about how the graham cracker cookies turned out! I found a recipe on TogetherAsFamily.com for s’more cookie cups. The cups looked like exactly what I was envisioning for my cookie sandwiches. While mixing the ingredients together, I became distracted. It wasn’t until the cookies were in the oven that I realized I had never added the white sugar. The good news is that the graham cookies still tasted great! Graham is such a versatile base that these cookies can and will be used in many different sandwich cookie combinations.
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar (accidentally omitted)
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a small mixing bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, flour, and baking soda. Stir with wire whisk. Set aside.
In a large bowl and with a handheld electric mixer, blend the butter, brown sugar, and sugar until creamy and combined.
Add in the egg and vanilla extract. Mix well.
Dump in the bowl of dry ingredients, mix on low speed until just combined. The dough will be crumbly.
(Together As Family’s baking instructions are for mini muffin cups. I modified them for a whoopie pie-style cookie)
Grease whoopie pie tins. Spoon or place dough into the bottom of each well. For a thinner cookie, just coat the bottom. For a thicker cookie, fill the well at least half way with dough. Press the dough down flat. Depending on the thickness of your cookies, you should make around 24 total (this makes for 12 sandwich cookies).
Bake for 6 minutes. Look for the edges to be brown (bake slightly less for a softer cookie and slightly longer for a tougher cookie). Let cookies cool in the tin for 15-20 mins before moving to a wire rack. If you try to move them too early, they will fall apart.
Constructing the Sandwich Cookie
Scoop a hefty spoonful of marshmallow onto the top of one graham cookie. Spread around to get even coverage. Add as much or as little marshmallow as you prefer. Place a second graham cookie, top down, onto the marshmallow and press down lightly to squish the marshmallow but not break the cookie. Once the cookie sandwiches are all made*, prepare your ganache.
For this round, I did a half milk chocolate, half dark chocolate mix. Either a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of chocolate to cream will work well here. Microwave your cream for 30-45 seconds (until hot). Pour the cream over your chocolate pieces and let sit for 2-3 minutes to melt. Stir, ensuring all of the chocolate melts and blends with the cream. (The step I keep missing) Let the ganache sit out for 10-15 minutes to thicken. When ready, either pour the ganache over the cookies to coat or, with gloved hands, dip and roll each cookie into the chocolate. Let sit on a wire rack to set for several hours. When you’re ready to serve or package, slide an uneven spatula under each cookie to separate it from the cooling rack.
*One recommendation that was made was to freeze the cookies for about an hour before coating with ganache. This may prevent the chocolate from soaking into the graham cookie and will help set the ganache quickly.
Baking with kids can be a lot of fun and very educational. It can also be a test in patience for the head baker. Finding the right terms and ways to explain measuring ingredients, why things need to be mixed a certain way, and what happens in the oven can be a challenge, but it is a great mental exercise and kids are typically fascinated to learn how things work. The absolute best part of baking with kids is seeing the look of pride, surprise, and satisfaction on their faces when they get to eat what they created.
This past week, a 3.5-year-old designed a cake with me. It started with a simple question: “Do you want to bake cookies this weekend?” After excitedly answering “yes,” I asked which type of cookie he wanted to bake. It was no surprise it was chocolate chip. They are his favorite to make. It escalated quickly from there. When all was said and done, the final design ended up being a devil’s food cake with orange-colored icing that has pieces of chocolate chip cookies in it. It typically takes me no time to whip each of these parts together, so I figured it would take a few hours, tops.
We compiled our grocery list and went to the store to get what we needed. We talked about why we were getting the smaller bag of sugar instead of the larger bag of sugar (storage), why we didn’t need marshmallows for this bake (any excuse to eat marshmallows is a good one), and the ways we need to be careful when handling a carton of eggs. After getting back to the kitchen, we prepped our ingredients, set out our tools, and selected our aprons (having at least two kid-size aprons around is great as it gives them a choice and they get to dress like you do in the kitchen). After selecting his apron, the young baker got a quick introduction on how to tie it around his waist. It will take some practice, but he loved seeing how easy it could be to tie something.
Chocolate chip cookies are a great first-bake for kids. The ingredients are easy and safe to work with, it’s more than four steps, and, for most kids, it’s a treat they love to eat. Flour and sugar are easy for kids to use to measure out ingredients and are easy to clean up if it results in a mess. While putting the dry ingredients together, it’s easy to talk to the young baker about ingredients that are safe to taste and ones that are not. For example, cookie dough that is just butter and sugars mixed together is safe to taste. Once the flour and/or eggs are added, however, the dough is not safe to taste. The flour and eggs can be unsafe to eat before they are baked or cooked. Speaking of safe to taste, a tradition I have when baking chocolate chip cookies with anyone is to pour out a few chips to eat before we dump the bag into the dough. It’s a special treat since the baker has not had a chance to sample anything in a bit while the dough was coming together and it’s a few small bites of chocolate. Yum!
This junior baker did everything for the cookies except for cracking the eggs (he decided it was too messy for him to do that day) and dealing with the oven (he’s not quite tall enough or his arms long enough to do that, yet).
For most cookies, and especially the soft batch, it’s a good idea to roll the dough into balls or mounds for them to bake properly. Some kids, however, struggle to roll a ball between their hands when they’re younger. This young baker decided that he was going to roll logs instead of balls. We did one full tray of logs and one full tray of balls so that we could gauge the baking time for the logs and have everything cook evenly. When we took the tray of logs out of the oven, we were excited to find that the logs had baked down to perfect dipping bars!
While the cookies cooled on our cooling racks, we did a quick clean up of the area and of the tools we’d need to use for our cake. At this point, the junior baker needed a break.
After a break watching some videos on his iPad and having lunch, we got back to work on part 2.
Part 2 – Devil’s food cake
For this bake, we kept it simple. We grabbed a box of Duncan Hines mix and doctored it. Doctoring a box cake mix can range from very simple to more complex. I like to keep it simple. Use the same measurements that are on the box but use milk in place of water and use butter in place of oil. Typically, I melt the butter to add to the mix, but this time, I tried creaming the butter first and then adding the other ingredients to the butter. Making a cake using a box mix is another great first-bake for kids, though it can be disappointing as there aren’t too many steps and it’s over quickly.
We poured our batter into two 9″ rounds greased with Baker’s Joy (this is my favorite non-stick baking tool outside of parchment paper). Once baked, we let the cakes cool in the pans before flipping them out onto the cooling racks.
After another round of clean up and preparing tools and ingredients, it was time for the junior baker to take a good long break and for me to make the buttercream. This junior baker does not enjoy American buttercream as it is too sweet, so for him to really enjoy his creation, we decided to go with Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC). It’s less sweet, very creamy, and is easy to work with. Since the IMBC is basically boiling a syrup and whipping egg whites, there wasn’t much for this junior chef to help out with at this stage.
For this cake, I halved the recipe I used in the pull apart cupcake cake (link above). It ended up being a nearly perfect portion! After adding the butter to the mixture, my buttercream wasn’t coming together. Having made this several times now, I was a big confused and just kept whipping. It took about 10 minutes for me to realize that I had only prepared and added half the amount of butter I needed! I quickly grab a stick from the fridge, throw it on a plate, and send it spinning in the microwave for a couple of 10-second rounds to soften it. After adding the second stick of butter, the buttercream came together quickly and beautifully! Phew!
The junior baker wanted the buttercream to be orange. I did not have orange color (on purpose) and asked him which two colors we could combine to make orange. This is an easy way to work color lessons into baking. As he excitedly stated “yellow and red,” we grabbed the correct bottles of gel coloring and decided which order to add them to the buttercream. Once the colors were added, we set the mixer to run and watched as the yellow and red streaks started to combine into a light orange. Bouncing up and down with excitement, the junior baker proclaimed the color to be perfect so we stopped the mixer and grabbed our cookies. This was the moment the junior baker was waiting for. We crumbled the cookies into the buttercream. As we crumbled, we talked about the differences in adding big pieces vs. smaller pieces vs. crumbs. He decided for chunks instead of pieces. We added 3-4 cookie logs to the batter and folded the chunks into the buttercream.
Now for the new challenge, spreading the buttercream with large cookie chunks across the cake without ripping up the cake. Junior baker did a great job of spreading and our cake handled it very well.
Once the cake was iced, it was time to enjoy!
We asked the junior baker what he was going to call his cake. He proudly proclaimed “Chocolate chip cookie Halloween cake because it’s orange and black!” and so the dessert earned its name.
The cookie chunks ended up working really well with the icing and the cake for flavor and crunch. The bake ended up taking us all day instead of the few hours I itiniall thought but it was well worth it. This cake design was definitely a success and the junior baker has told everybody who would listen, including a very nice lady at the deli counter in the grocery store, about the cake he designed and baked.
Pastry cream is not something I’ve had on my to-bake list, but finding the right recipe for cannoli filling has been. I grew up having cannoli from Long Island, so the bar has always been set pretty high. Last year, I took a stab at making a cannoli filling using a recipe for cannoli dip. As you may recall, it was more of a learning experience than a dining experience.
For my second attempt at a cannoli filling, I tried a recipe by Ginger Barragan of Moonlight Bakes Bakery. Since her recipe utilizes pastry cream, I ended up adding it to my to-bake list. King Arthur Flour is a great source for recipes, so I decided to give their pastry cream a spin.
Having watched shows like Chopped and the Great British Bake Off, making pastry cream had become a bit intimidating. It seemed too easy to ruin the cream and end up with inedible scrambled eggs. The one piece I kept forgetting about was that they were working against a clock. It is easy to see how one slip up can ruin the whole batch, but overall the process was simpler than expected.
Since these experiments were for the filling and the cream, I decided to bake and torte a single devil’s food cake as a vehicle for eating the results instead of going whole hog with fresh pastry. Those challenges are for a later time.
While the cannoli filling isn’t where I want it to be, it is very tasty and a great place to start while honing in on the right ingredients and proportions. I highly recommend giving both of these recipes a go.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Pastry Cream via King Arthur Flour
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 Tbsp all purpose flour
4 large egg yolks*
4 Tbsp (1/4 cup) butter
1 cup heavy cream (optional)**
Before starting, set up a bowl with a strainer in an ice bath (place the bowl into a larger bowl, add water and several ice cubes between the two bowls, keeping the inner one dry).
In a medium saucepan, stir together 2 1/2 cups of milk and all of the sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch, flour, and egg yolks with the remaining 1/2 cup of milk.
Whisk some of the hot milk mixture with the yolks to temper them. This keeps the yolks from turning into scrambled eggs when you add the simmering milk.
Pour the egg/milk mixture back into the remaining simmering milk. Doing this through a strainer will prevent lumps later. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, with a whisk, until mixture thickens. Once the cream comes to a full boil, stop cooking immediately or it can curdle and separate.
Remove from the heat and strain through a fine strainer into the bowl set in an ice bath. Stir in the butter and vanilla extract (I sliced the butter so it melted faster and mixed more easily). ***If you would like to flavor the pastry cream, do so here*** (See King Arthur link for flavoring suggestions)
Cover the cream with a piece of plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cool.
Will keep covered in the fridge for up to five days before it begins to weep.
Pastry cream going into the fridge to cool
Pastry cream and raspberries in a torted 9″ round of devil’s food cake.
Cannoli Filling via Ginger Barragan
3/4 cup pastry cream
3/4 cup ricotta cheese (depending on brand, your cheese may need to be strained through cheesecloth overnight. A dry ricotta like Kraft Polly-O (my favorite!) can be used immediately.)
2 Tbsp powdered sugar
1 Tbsp mini chocolate chips (I used more than 1 Tbsp. add to desired density of chips)
Stir pastry cream, ricotta, and powdered sugar until well-combined. Mix in chocolate chips. Chill for 1 hour before filling shells or using in cake.