The combination of COVID-19 and pregnancy has kept me out of the bakery since March 2020. Now that the baby is here, it’s time to pivot to keep this baking train going while we work together to get some control over the spread of COVID-19.
This morning, Casual Confections’s channel went live on YouTube! The videos will evolve as time goes on and I play with style and approach. The first four videos are part of a series titled Nibbles of Knowledge. These are very short videos providing tidbits for baking. The channel will also include videos of baking experiments whose recipes will later be posted to the blog, some longer form videos that expand on the Nibbles, and more!
Be sure to subscribe and set notifications so you don’t miss a video. I look forward to you baking along with me!
The ooey gooey topping of a sticky bun along with the crunch of the pecans is a combination of flavors and textures that is difficult to beat. I decided to try my hand at making my own version this holiday season. As baking goes when you have family around, distractions happen which lead to mistakes, which lead to lessons learned.
This go-round, my misstep was not separating out the butter I needed for the different steps of the buns. Instead, I had all of the butter sitting out to reach room temperature and didn’t section the amounts off as I typically do. Can you see where this is going? When everything was ready, I excitedly started making the dough. When it came time to knead, it was a silky texture but seemed a bit wetter than expected. I was still excited thinking about the soft flaky texture of the rolls. The moment I put the dough into the oven for its first rise, it hit me. I had added all of the butter – the butter for the filling and for the topping as well as that for the dough. Nothing left to do at that point other than see what happens, right?
Since the dough was so buttery, some separation occurred during the rise but folded back in fine during the kneading. Adding more butter for the filling onto the already over-buttered dough had my laughing pretty hard. I love butter, especially on white breads, but this seemed excessive. After rolling and cutting the rolls, I noticed they didn’t fill out the pan as nicely as I’ve seen in photos. Maybe it will change when they go in for their second rise… They kind of did, but there was still room for the topping to rise up instead of it being trapped beneath the dough. That meant that while baking the rolls, much of the topping boiled over the sides and onto the oven. This resulted in quite the mix of amazing smells and burnt smells in the kitchen. In hindsight, I should have tried to bake the rolls longer since they were so moist. I also waited too long to turn the rolls out as the topping mostly stuck to the pan and not the rolls. Nothing some scooping out and plopping on top couldn’t fix.
All said and done, the rolls turned out ok, a bit dense but ok. Now my first attempt at them is done and I learned a lot of what to do and what not to do for next time. These rolls are actually super easy to make (when you pay attention) and I’m really excited to add these to my repertoire.
Dough 1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into 4 pieces
2 large eggs, at room temperature
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more to flour work surface
Heat milk to about 95ºF. Pour the warm milk into the bowl of a mixer with the dough hook attached. Whisk in the sugar and yeast. Cover with a towel and let rest for 5-10 minutes, until foamy.
On low speed, beat in the softened butter until it is slightly broken up. Then add the eggs one at a time. The butter won’t really mix into the mixtures, so don’t be alarmed.
On low, gradually add the flour. Once it’s all added, beat the mixture on medium high until dough is soft and supple, about 6 mins.
Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead with hands for 1 min. Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to a lightly greased bowl. Cover the dough loosely and let sit in a warm place* for 1-2 hrs, or until doubled in size. (*can heat oven to 200ºF, turn oven off, then place bowl into warm oven)
Topping 2 cups chopped pecans
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
2/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
Grease the bottom and sides of a 9″x13″ baking dish. Spread pecans in an even layer in the pan. Set aside. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the butter has melted, then bring to a boil for 3 mins. Remove from heat and pour on top of the pecans. Set aside.
(back to dough) Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly flour surface and roll it out into a 12″x18″ rectangle. Make sure dough is smooth and even.
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
Spread softened butter all over the dough (since the dough is still generating heat, the butter will further soften once placed on the dough, so bits that are harder to spread will spread more easily if they’re let to sit for a minute). Top evenly with the brown sugar and cinnamon. Tightly roll up the dough to form an 18″-long log. Cut the log into 12 even rolls. Arrange them in baking pan. Cover tightly with foil and let rise in a warm environment (could be the same oven) for 30-40 mins.
(remove rising dough from oven but leave it covered) Preheat oven to 375°F. Place uncovered rolls in oven and bake for 25 mins or until golden brown. If some parts are browning more quickly than others, cover the rolls loosely with foil to slow down the browning.
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!
CCK is back with another bake designed and executed by an almost-four-year-old. It all started with his grandfather’s birthday.
“Oh, it’s GP’s birthday! We need to make him a cake!”
“What kind of cake do you want to make for him?”
“A chocolate chip cake!”
As I showed him different photos for inspiration on what we could do with the chocolate chip cake idea, he spotted a set of colorful popsicles.
“Let’s make those!”
“We can do that. Those are cake.”
The kid was hooked. We ordered two mini cakesicle molds and some small popsicle sticks.
After a few more discussions about what flavor the cake and icing would be, we landed on chocolate cake with chocolate chips and chocolate icing. Perfect! The birthday boy loves chocolate and this would be far from chocolate overload.
Since we only had two molds, we used half a box of Devil’s Food cake mix and applied my usual modifications (butter for oil and double the amount, milk for water). Note: when making half of a box mix, be sure to half the wet ingredients. Store the rest of your dry mix in a sealed baggie and be sure to mark what type of mix it is, the expiration date, and any instructions you still need from the box. (These can easily be made with cake made from scratch, too.)
The small baker excitedly put on an orange apron and chef’s hat and got to work using the hand mixer. He did need some help after a while as the mixer is still big for his small hands, but he did a great job for his first solo mixer run! The junior baker wanted to also make this a mint cake, so we added some peppermint extract to the batter.
When the batter was ready, we greased a 9″ x 13″ cake pan, poured in the batter, and got ready to put it in the oven.
“WAIT! We forgot the chocolate chips!”
Indeed we had! Instead of scraping the batter back into the bowl, we poured a layer of chocolate chips on top of the batter in the pan, knowing the cake would rise over them (especially since I did not coat them). The pan then went into the oven, following the box instructions for time and temp.
Meanwhile, I had taken some leftover chocolate-flavored black American buttercream out of the freezer to thaw overnight. While the cake was in the oven, we let the buttercream sit out on the counter to further soften up. Since we were going to be mixing it directly into the cake, we did not re-whip it.
After the cake came out of the oven and cooled on a rack, we dug our hands in. This was a fun part for the junior baker. You crumble the cake into small bits in a bowl using your hands. This is great for kids because they can just go wild. After crumbling our cake to pieces (the chocolate chips had become melted chocolate at this point), we added two tablespoons (cereal spoons, not measuring spoons) of buttercream to the bowl. Now, we got really messy! We used our hands to blend the buttercream with the cake until it was one wet cakey mixture.
Now it was time to see how this mixture went into the molds. Since this was my first go, I greased the molds. The quality of the molds is so good, though, that they do not require greasing. My molds will be ungreased next time.
We continued to use our hands and pressed the mixture into the molds. Each cavity holds a surprising amount of cake mixture! After filling our eight molds, we slid a popsicle stick into each one. The design of the molds makes this step super easy as there is a rest for the stick and a slot for it to slide into. You still need to be a bit careful so you’re not pointing the stick up or down when sliding it in as this may cause the stick to pop out of the cake.
We hand plenty of mixture left and decided to make some cakepops. We took a small handful of mixture and rolled it between our palms until we had circles. Then we carefully pushed a lollypop stick into the center. We lined a baking sheet with wax paper and placed the cakepops and cakesicle molds on it. Once everything was shaped and molded, the entire sheet was popped into the freezer to set overnight.
The next day, we took the sheet out of the freezer. The cakepops stayed sitting where they were. We took the cakesicle molds and popped the cakesicles out. This was super easy! Start at the top and slowly push the cakesicle up and out. We placed the unmolded cakesicles onto the wax paper with the cakepops. While these sat out, we melted a bag and a half of dark chocolate candy melts in a double boiler. They melted fairly quickly. We poured our candy melts into a large red Solo cup for easy dipping since the cakesicles are tall. We took turns dipping our cakesicles first, since we’d need our melts to be higher up in the cup. While dipping the cakesicle, be sure to slowly turn the treat to get a good coating, especially around the area of the stick. Slowly pull the treat out of the melts and turn your treat right-side-up so that any chocolate on the top falls down onto to cakesicle or cakepop. The melts started to cool down and get a bit harder to work with as we went on, but that is easily fixed by reheating or adding newly melted candy melts to the mix to get it a bit more runny again.
After each dip, we added colorful sprinkles. Junior baker had his choice of sprinkles and made his own mix.
The first couple cakepops we tried rolling them in the sprinkle mix, but the melts were still too warm and the sprinkles carried them right off the pop in dollops. The cakesicles did not have that issue as much because we did not roll them, we just pressed them into the sprinkles. After a few attempts with pressing and rolling, we both decided to use our fingers to sprinkle the sprinkles onto the pops and cakesicles. Instead of setting the cake pops in a stand so they were upright, we placed them right back on the wax paper, resulting in flat sides. This was fine by us as the pops were extras and were just for fun.
The candy melt coating set very quickly and letting the cakesicles and pops set on the wax paper worked out perfectly. Since junior baker wasn’t going to see GP for a few days, we needed to sore the cakesicles. Once they were completely set, we lined an airtight container with wax paper and placed the cakesicles inside. Each layer of cakesicles was topped with a piece of wax paper to keep them separated. The candy melt coating does lock in the moisture of the cake and help keep it preserved, but popping these guys in the freezer if you don’t need them for a while helps to extend their shelf life.
Now it was time to sample our work. The junior baker and I each took a cake pop and bit in. They were delicious! The various chocolate flavors (dark chocolate candy melts, Devil’s food cake, black chocolate buttercream, chocolate chips) combined with the peppermint extract resulted in a very tasty bite. The sprinkles, especially, gave the pop an extra crunch that really tied the treat together.
I highly recommend cakesicles as a bake to do with kids, especially smaller kids. They can have a lot of freedom in making them without you needing to make sure they’re not over-mixing or adding the wrong thing or doing something unsafe. Everything they get their hands into can be licked off immediately (the cake is baked, the buttercream is made, the candy melts can be tried as long as they’re not too hot) without worry. Doing them in two parts (baking and molding one day, dipping and decorating the second) means that each part does not take long, making it easy to keep the kids engaged before they reach the end of their attention spans. Plus, they get to eat what they created. Seeing their faces when they taste just how good the treat is and your remind them that they made that themselves, is priceless. It’s a great exercise and confidence boost for them.
So order at least four molds (I immediately ordered more after we were done) for a half cake (eight for a whole) and start planning your flavors with your favorite junior baker.
Have you tried one of our CCK bakes? If so, post your pictures in the comments, on our Facebook page, on Instagram, or on Twitter! Be sure to use the hashtags #CasualConfectionsKids #CasualConfections and #WeKeepItMessy!
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.