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Available Now: Carrot cake cookies!

Package of carrot cake sandwich cookies

Carrot cake cookies are everything you love about the dessert, down to the cream cheese filling, but in a snack portion!

Two boxes (update: Only one left!) of six carrot cake cookies are available for purchase today! $15/box + tax.

Local pick up only (Charlotte/Matthews, NC).

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Pulla

Last weekend, a cousin reached out to see if I made pulla, a Finnish cardamom sweet bread. My experience with break making is limited as I’ve only made challah and a cranberry bread before. Breads take a lot of time. Longer bakes like breads are definitely harder to work into a schedule. After reading over the recipe she sent over, the pulla seemed simple enough to make and I already had the ingredients on hand. Sure! Let’s give it a go.

IMG_0109 slice
Pulla, a cardamom sweet bread

The recipe states that the prep takes 3 hours and the cook time is 25 mins. So you’re basically devoting half a day to the process, but it’s broken up as much of the time is waiting. The act of making the dough is quite easy and it came together really well. I had never heard of or tried pulla before, and as soon as I started to smell the aroma from the oven, I knew I would be in love! The flavor in this bread is so good! The cardamom isn’t overpowering, the structure of the bread is light, and the crust is golden perfection. After communicating my success, the cousin informed me that not only is this bread traditionally dunked in coffee (being a tea drinker, I opted for some chai to compliment the cardamom) but it can also be made as rolls with a sweet icing on top! I promise not to go crazy making pulla all the time now, but it is now one of my favorite breads.

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Pulla from Curious Cuisiniere
Makes one 15×6″ loaf, serves about 12

3/4 cups milk, warmed to 110°F
1/4 cup water, warmed to 110ºF
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 package)
4 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tsp ground cardamom
3/4 tsp salt (I always leave the salt out of recipes when I make them)
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg beaten w/1 Tbsp water (egg wash)
coarse sugar and sliced almonds (topping)

In a large bowl, combine milk, water, and sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and let stand for five minutes, until foaming. Add 2 cups of flour, the eggs, cardamom (and salt). Mix until smooth. Add the butter and mix until combined.

Knead the dough in the bowl, adding enough of the remaining flour to keep it from sticking, until the dough comes clean from the sides of the bowl and doesn’t stick to your hands. (I did not end up using all of my flour)

Shape the dough into a ball in the bowl and cover it with a damp tea towel. Let the bowl rise in a warm, draft-free place** for 1-1.5 hours, or until doubled. (Mine more than doubled in an hour.)

**To create your own proofing box, turn on your oven to 250ºF. Once the oven gets to that temperature, turn it off. Place a bowl of water in the oven to keep moisture in the air. Place your covered bowl of dough in the oven with the bowl of water. Close the oven door and wait.

Once risen, knock back (punch the dough down to knock air out of it) the dough and divide it into three strands for a braid. Roll each strand into a 20″ snake. Braid the strands and place the braided loaf on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the top of the loaf with the egg wash and sprinkle it with sugar and almonds, if desired. (You can get pretty heavy-handed with the sugar or you can go light. The extra sweetness is delicious!)

Braided pulla loaf
Braided pulla loaf ready to rise

Let the loaf rise for 30-40 mins or until doubled in bulk (30 mins did it for me). Near the end of the rise time, preheat your oven to 375ºF. Bake the bread for 25-30 mins, until golden and hollow sounding when tapped (25 mins did the trick in my oven).

Remove the loaf from the oven and let it cool slightly on a wire rack before cutting or tearing apart. Bread will keep for one week on the counter in an airtight container.

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Casual Confections Q&A

Lauren Widrick of Lauren Widrick Coaching and I did a Q&A about Casual Confections. We discussed where I started, how I made the baking blog into a business in the past 5-6 months, and what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. There’s also a nice plug for the Charlotte Geeks Muggles Market and Geek Gala!

 

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S’more Sandwich Cookies – Version 4

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!

SmoresSandwichCookiesMark1
Version 1: S’mores sandwich cookies
S'more sandwich cookies
Version 3: A layer of egg-free marshmallow surrounded by graham cracker cookie and coated in milk chocolate.

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.

BurntSugarSyrupArt
Sugar work using burnt sugar syrup intended for marshmallow fluff.

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!

PipedMarshmallowFluff
Piped marshmallow fluff on s’mores cookie halves.

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.

SmoresSandwichCookiesMark3
Version 3: S’mores sandwich cookies

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?).

CrystalEatingSmores
Crystal from Casual Confections taste testing version 4 of the s’more sandwich cookies.

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!

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August Cookie Care Packages

The theme for August’s cookie care pages was “comfort cookies.” Included in this month’s box are snickerdoodle, hot chocolate, and chocolate chip cookies.

Wishing you had ordered a box? I have one extra available for purchase! $30 includes shipping and tax. Email CasualConfections@gmail.com or use the form at CasualConfections.com/Menu to order.

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Ice Cream Sandwiches

I’ve always wanted to try my hand at making a traditional ice cream sandwich, but didn’t really carve out the time to do so. This week, a video from Delish.com came across my feed and I had to try it. They made red velvet ice cream sandwiches using a box mix. I had a box of devil’s food mix sitting in my pantry and some mint ice cream in the freezer and decided to give it a go.

This recipe takes almost no time on task to whip together. While my sandwich ends were more thin and cookie-like and less thick and cake-like, they made for a very tasty treat!

One thing to note, the recipe in the link has fewer details than the video. The butter should be melted. I creamed some softened butter for mine which may have played a role in the cookie vs cake texture.

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Chocolate Mint Ice Cream Sandwiches (using a red velvet ice cream sandwich recipe)

1 box cake mix
2 large eggs
1 stick butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 gal ice cream, softened (apply as much as you like. I prefer a thinner ice cream layer, so I only used about half a carton)

Preheat oven 350°F. Line a large rimmed pan baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine mix, eggs, butter, and vanilla. Mix until evenly combined (mixture will be thick).

Spread the batter onto the prepared baking sheet. My batter was quite thick and I found it easier to drop globs on different parts of the pan and using an offset spatula to slowly work it around until there was a smooth and somewhat even layer of batter across the pan.

Bake until set (about 18-20 mins).

Let cool in the pan completely, then cut the cake in half across the middle to make two large rectangles. Spread ice cream onto one half and then place the second half on top to form one large sandwich. Freeze until ice cream is firm (about 2 hours) then slice it into bars (should yield about 12 depending on size of slices). Serve immediately.

Chocolate Mint Ice Cream Sandwich
Chocolate mint ice cream sandwich
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Black Buttercream

The elusive black buttercream. This has been my main experiment for the past month. Along the way, I made some awesome slate grey colors, some more bitter flavored icing, many many many cakes to use as vehicles for eating the experiments, and used lots and lots of gel coloring.

In April, I took a cake order that was going to be mostly black. The client gave the option of using fondant or buttercream and I opted for buttercream because guests would be more likely to eat and enjoy it. Having read several posts on blogs and in baking groups about working on black buttercream, I figured I would get it in only a couple of trials.

Trial 1 – Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC) is my current go-to for cakes. It isn’t very sweet, has great flavors, takes spices and colors well, and holds up well through various temperatures.

Black Buttercream Trial 1
First run of black buttercream (IMBC)

For this first run, melted milk chocolate, a small amount of black cocoa and some drops of Wilton black gel coloring were added to white IMBC. The chocolate flavor was delicious! The initial color result was a slate grey. Leaving the buttercream out overnight to darken only yielded a very slight change in shade. “Ok,” I thought, “maybe I didn’t add enough black.”

Trial 2 – another run with IMBC.

Black buttercream trial 2
Second run of black buttercream (IMBC)

Trial 2 had a lot more black cocoa, no milk chocolate, and more black gel color (this time I tried Americolor) than last time, but it still was not enough as I achieved exactly the same shade as I had in trial 1. The chocolate flavor in batch 2 was still good despite lacking the smoothness the melted milk chocolate added.

Black Buttercream Trial 2
Second run of black buttercream (IMBC). The slate grey color was fabulous but not the intended target.

There were many issues with the IMBC: the texture was getting thinner as I added more chocolate and gel and I was not satisfied with it, the flavor was very bitter and I was adding a lot of powered sugar in to compensate, and it was taking hours to mess with the color. If I was going to add so much powdered sugar, why not start with something very sweet, like American buttercream (ABC)? During my research, a recipe from Chelsweets kept coming up and I decided to give it a go.

Trial 3 – American buttercream via Chelsweets.com

Black buttercream trial 3
Black buttercream trial 3 – American buttercream via Chelsweets

VICTORY! Not only had I achieved black, but it came together really quickly and the flavor was very good! I had found my black buttercream.

It took about a month, but I was ready to tackle the cake order. This cake order was big for a few reasons:

  1. First cake order for Casual Confections
  2. First bake in the bakery I’m renting space from, Baked Well
  3. First cake where I was trying to match a design
  4. Only my second decorated cake (you may remember the uterus babies as the first)
First Order for Casual Confections in Baked Well
My first official night renting space from Baked Well (Matthews, NC) for Casual Confections orders!

The order was for a Death Note cake: red velvet cake, vanilla IMBC for the pages and lettering, and black chocolate ABC for the icing.

Death Note cake top view
Death Note cake: red velvet cake, vanilla IMBC, black chocolate ABC
Death Note cake side view
Death Note cake: red velvet cake, vanilla IMBC, black chocolate ABC

I did not stage any of the photos, just grabbed a few quick shots on the work table after a few hours of working without a/c, around the repair guy, and running into a few issues with the bake and decorating, I was very tired and needed to clean and close up. The black buttercream turned out really well. As it crusted, I was able to use a wet paper towel to smooth out the buttercream and achieve a leather cover look, which was perfect for the look of a well-worn journal.

Achieving black buttercream was definitely more of an adventure than I expected it to be, but I learned a lot of lessons along the way and now I can whip it up in almost no time!

Black buttercream tongue
Chelsweets was right. Her black buttercream colors your tongue, but not your teeth!

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Black American Buttercream via Chelsweets(makes 4-5 cups)

1 cup (217 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp (37.5 gram) heavy cream
1/2 tsp (2 grams) vanilla extract
1/4 cup (25 grams) black cocoa, sifted (I always ended up adding a bit more to get a deeper black)
1/2 tsp black gel food coloring (add more if the color isn’t quite the black you’re looking to achieve)

Beat the butter on a medium speed for 30 seconds with a paddle attachment until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and add the vanilla.

Add in the sifted black cocoa and mix on low speed until incorporated (scrape down the sides and mix).

Alternate between the powdered sugar and cream, adding each slowly (the powdered sugar, one cup at a time, and the cream, a splash a a time). Beat on low until the ingredients are fully incorporated and the desired consistency is reached (add more cream for a wetter, looser buttercream, add more powdered sugar for a drier, thicker buttercream).

Once the frosting is fully made, add in a generous squirt of black gel buttercream and mix by hand with a rubber spatula until the frosting is evenly colored.

To allow the shade to deepen, place in sealed piping bags or an airtight container. Leave out overnight at room temperature or place in the fridge for several days.

*Check out the link for additional tips and nutrition information.

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S’more Sandwich Cookies

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.

Marshmallow creme
Whipping up some marshmallow

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.

Graham cracker cookies
Graham cracker cookies

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Graham Cracker Cookies

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

 

JCFK6430
S’more sandwich cookies before ganache

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.

Serve and enjoy!

S'more sandwich cookies
S’more sandwich cookies. First draft.
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French Silk Pie Domes

Dome molds seem to be growing in popularity lately. You can use them to make domes or spheres using cake or chocolate or mousse. There are a multitude of combinations that the dome molds can be used for, so I needed to try them. I found a set of three silicon molds of different sizes on Amazon.

I wasn’t sure what my first experiment in the molds was going to be until I realized that Pi Day was coming up and I was planning on making a French silk pie anyway. Why not put it in a dome?

This creation resulted in two new challenges:

  1. Cutting out shapes from an Oreo pie crust
  2. Tempering chocolate without the aid of a chocolatier.

First things first. I had to find out whether my circle cookie cutter was going to be the right size. The circular disks of pie crust needed to fit within the sphere so that they would be covered. They ended up being a perfect fit for the largest mold! Now, it was on to pie!

I decided to use the French silk pie recipe I had made previously. It worked out really well and seemed like it would be a good fit for this experiment.

The crust was prepared following the recipe and instead of placing it into a pie dish, it was pressed out onto a parchment-covered baking sheet. I didn’t press it out too thin since I wasn’t sure how much the crust would break to begin with, but this crust held up pretty well and I definitely recommend pressing it out so that it’s not too thick. The thickness of my disks resulted in the crust being difficult to cut through with a fork. The crust was easy to work with after it had cooled a bit but wasn’t at the point of being completely cool. The butter was still soft, making the surface workable, but not so tough and crunch that it broke. Using the cookie cutter as you would with sugar cookie dough, I was able to get several disks out of the sheet. The leftover pie crust worked well as either a snack or was crumbled to use as a topping.

 

Setting the disks aside, it was time to try my hand at the chocolate domes. For this round of tempering, I used Baker’s milk chocolate baking bars. Now, tempering chocolate is a very frustrating process until you learn how the chocolate you’re using works. Even then, things like temperature and humidity (i.e., the weather that day) can destroy your process. Other details, like the % cocoa, the type of chocolate (milk vs. dark vs. white vs. semi-sweet, etc.), and the brand of chocolate all impact the way the chocolate behaves and the temperatures it prefers for tempering. In 2017, I took part in a tempering class offered by a local shop, The Secret Chocolatier. The class was fun and very informative and they send us home with treats we had made and notes for when we wanted to try this on our own. My notes sat in my binder for two years before I decided to try tempering again. I decided to use the temperatures on the notes as a guide, a place to start, since they had worked well before. The chocolate we tempered in class was a darker chocolate whereas the one I was tempering was milk chocolate, so I wasn’t expecting it to turn out perfectly.

To temper the chocolate, I broke apart two 4 oz. bars of Baker’s chocolate. This would give me enough to melt and enough to use as seed. I prepped my double boiler by adding a 1/2″ of water to the bottom and set the stove temperature so that the water was barely simmering. To melt the chocolate, I placed 1.5 bars into a metal bowl and placed that on top of the simmering pot. It didn’t take long for my thermometer to show me that I had the heat up too high as the temperature zoomed past the 115°F I was aiming for. Note: the process I am about to describe is not how to temper chocolate. Typically, if the temperature gets too high, it’s best to scrap the chocolate and start over. I decided to cool it back down and reheat it. After adjusting the burner temperature to low/medium-low, I placed the bowl back over the pot and got the chocolate heated to 115°F. Removing the bowl from the pot and placing it on a pot holder on the counter, I stirred the chocolate until it reached 88°F. Then, I added a piece or two of the remaining chocolate. This was error number 3. I had misread my notes from the chocolatier on when to add the seed. As soon as I realized my mistake, I popped the bowl back on top of the pot to reheat the chocolate to 115°F. Even when you temper correctly, there can still be a lot of this back and forth, so it’s always good to have extra seed chocolate on-hand. After getting the chocolate back up to 115°F, the bowl went back to the pot holder and, this time, I added a piece of seed chocolate immediately while stirring. The seed chocolate helps to bring the temperature down and get the crystals in the sugar to play nice. After adding two pieces of seed chocolate and stirring, the chocolate reached 88°F. It was time to pop the bowl back on the pot for a very brief stint to get the chocolate heated up to 90°F. After hitting that temp, the bowl was removed once more and the chocolate was ready to be placed into the molds.

Chocolate tempering prep
Melting chocolate and seed chocolate for tempering

At first, I tried using a silicon pastry brush I had on hand to paint the molds with chocolate. The chocolate and the brush did not get along. I have seen others use a paint brush instead of silicon to do this, so I will be looking into getting a small one of those for food purposes and future chocolate experiments. Since the brushing technique was not working, I used a spoon to place a good amount of chocolate in each sphere and rub the chocolate on the sides. Then, by lifting and tilting the mold, I worked on getting as even a coating as I could. Once satisfied, I turned the mold upside down to let the extra chocolate drip out (be sure to do this over a baking sheet or paper towel or some other surface that is the length of your mold). Once there was no chocolate pooled in the bottom of the mold, I set the mold aside to let the chocolate set. In my excitement, I used the rest of my melted chocolate to make solid chocolates in the smaller sphere mold. Only after I had started cleaning up did I remember that I should have probably saved some of that chocolate to re-temper and add a second or third coat to the large spheres so that they weren’t too thin. Since this was a rough draft, I decided to see how the thin spheres played out and made a note to make them thicker next time.

Filled chocolate molds
Hollow chocolate spheres and solid chocolate spheres in-mold

Once the chocolate spheres were set, I started popping them out of the mold. They broke apart at the edges since they were so thin and they were somewhat in temper, but they were still spheres!

Chocolate sphere
First try at a chocolate sphere

Now that both the pie crust disks and the chocolate domes were successes, it was time to make the pie filling! There was no variation on the filling. I made it the same way I had before. Once the filling was made, I spooned filling into each upside-down dome. It was surprising that the thin dome held the filling as well as it did! I was expecting it to break or collapse under the weight. Once I saw it held, I filled the dome up and placed a sphere on top. In my final concept, I would build these in the mold and then use some of the tempered chocolate to seal the dome. For this experiment, I skipped this step as I was more interested in seeing how the parts worked and how the different chocolates worked together. I placed the dome, still on its head, in the fridge for the pie filling to set. As soon as that clock hit the 3-hour mark, I had to pull one out! Holding my breath, I flipped the dessert over and it held together beautifully!

All of this chocolate needed a whipped cream topping, so I sprayed some Reddi Wip (check out their coconut milk whipped cream option!) on top and sprinkled some of the crumbled pie crust. Time to cut in and see how this idea worked!

Chocolate silk pie dome
Chocolate silk pie dome reveal!

The milk chocolate dome ended up being a good compliment to the dark chocolate Oreo crust and the semi-sweet pie filling. A dark chocolate would work well, too. Surprisingly, the thin chocolate dome worked really well, too. It was fairly easy to break through while eating and held the dessert well. The two take-aways from this rough draft of a dessert were to make the crust thinner for easier cutting while eating and to make the dome slightly thicker so that it doesn’t break as easily.

This was a delicious success! And now I’ve worked out all of my panic and second-guessing in my first solo outing of chocolate tempering. It can only improve from here!

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Surprise Inside Cake – Pinky the Ghost

A surprise inside cake looks simple enough. It’s a cake of any flavor with a design or different color cake inside of it. One complaint I’ve seen pop up in a lot of conversation about surprise inside cakes is that the design typically ends up dry since it’s baked twice. Having baked one now, I can see how easily that can happy but I also see room for tweaks to prevent that from happening.

For this experiment, I kept the cake simple so that I could focus on trying my hand at the technique. To figure out my approach, I checked out cakes by i am baker and My Cupcake Addiction. I love the colors in My Cupcake Addiction’s love heart cake and may try that as a rainbow surprise in a future surprise inside cake. For my first try, I opted to use a ghost cookie cutter to make Pinky, one of the Pac-Man ghosts.
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Surprise Inside Cake

1 box of white cake mix
1 box of devil’s food cake mix
coloring gel

Prepare one box of white cake mix either by using the instructions on the box or by the modified box method substituting melted butter for oil and milk for water. Add desired color (in this case, I added red with a dab of black to get a muted pink color). Line a cookie sheet or sheet pan with parchment paper and pour batter onto pan. Bake at 350F for 23 mins (or as described on the box).

Place a piece of parchment paper on a cutting board large enough to place the cake on. When the cake comes out of the oven, place the paper and cutting board on top of the cake and flip it so that the cake sits on the board. Lift the pan and peel off the parchment paper that is now on top. Pop the cake on the board into the freezer for 10-30 mins to firm up. This will help prevent the cake from crumbling as much when you use the cutter. Select a cookie cutter for your design and make sure it’s small enough to sit in the cake pan you’re using for the final cake. My ghost cutter ended up being slightly taller than what I needed it to be. Remove the sheet cake from the freezer. Flip the cake over again and remove the parchment paper. Trim the top of the cake with a knife to remove the browned part of the cake and reveal the brighter colors underneath. Use the cutter to cutout shapes from the sheet cake. Cut the shapes close to each other to maximize the number of cutouts. Any extra make tasty snacks.

Arrange the cutouts on the same cutting board and pop the board back in the freezer for at least 30 mins (I did 30 but will let them freeze longer next time to better prevent the moist batter of the second cake from soaking into the cutouts).

Prepare the second box mix as above (either via the box or modified). Using a rubber spatula, place some of the batter on the bottom of a greased and floured bundt cake pan and spread it out to cover the bottom of the pan. My Cupcake Addiction suggests a half inch of batter. Bake this layer of batter at 350F for 7 mins.

Take the pan out of the oven and immediately spread a layer of raw batter on top of the baked layer in the pan. The new batter will thin out quickly since it’s going on top of hot cake. These layers of cake and batter will help to hold the cutouts in place. Take the cutouts out of the freezer and start placing them in the pan. The top of the cutout should be in the bottom of the pan (remember, the cake is upside-down in the pan). The cutouts can be arranged close to each other or with lots of space in between depending on how your want your slices to look. A more spaced out arrangement will result in not knowing whether you’ll get an all devil’s food slice or a slice with a surprise design when the cake is served. If you do a more crowded arrangement, leave some space for batter in between. Don’t press them together too tightly.

Place the rest of the batter into a large piping bag. Cut a wide tip at the bottom. Using the bag helps to get the batter between the cutouts and between the cutouts and the edges of the pan. Pipe the batter into all the sections around the cutouts. After filling the sides and in between, pipe the batter on the top of the cutouts to cover them. Since my ghost cutouts were a bit too tall, my batter did not completely cover them. I used a rubber spatula to try to coat exposed areas of cutouts with batter to encourage the cake to cover them all. When done, tap the pan on the counter a few times to get the batter to fill any gaps. Bake at 350F for 33-35 mins (or as long as directed on the box). Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 mins before flipping it over. The cake should release easily. When ready to serve, cut slices and enjoy the surprise image inside.

 

 

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Brookies

Brookies, or brownie cookies, are always a nice treat. You get to enjoy the flavor of a chocolate cookie and a chocolate chip cookie at the same time. What’s not to like? For this bake, I gave this recipe by Mel’s Kitchen Cafe a spin. I really like how this recipe includes the weights for the dough balls to give you a starting point for proportions. After I saw how the first sheets came out, I started making some cookies with a larger percentage of chocolate chip relative to brownie as an experiment. You really can’t go wrong here. You can make these cookies as balanced or imbalanced as you’d like. The only tweak I’m making the next time I make these is to leave out the salt, but that’s due to personal preference. Give this recipe a go and make a fun treat chocolate-lovers will enjoy!
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Brookies

Brownie cookie ingredients:
10 Tbsp butter, softened
2/3 cup (5 oz) lightly packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup (5 oz) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups + 3 Tbsp (7.25 oz) flour
1 cup (1.5 oz) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda

Chocolate chip cookie ingredients:
10 Tbsp butter, softened
2/3 cup (5 oz) light brown sugar
2/3 cup (5 oz) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups + 2 Tbsp (10.75 oz) flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cups mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Sweet aside.

Brownie cookie batter:
I’m a medium bowl, beat the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar together until smooth and creamy (around 1-2 mins). Add the egg, yolk, and vanilla and beat the mixture for 2-3 mins until light in color.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix until combined. Cover and refrigerate while making the chocolate chip cookie batter.

Chocolate chip cookie batter:
In a large bowl, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until smooth (about 1-2 mins). Blend in the egg, yolk, and vanilla, mixing for 2-3 mins until the batter is very light in color.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the batter with the chocolate chips and mix until no dry streaks remain and the chocolate chips are evenly distributed.

Both:
Pull out dough to make smallish balls. Use a 0.5 oz ball of brownie batter and a 0.65 ball of chocolate chip batter. Press the two balls together and use your hands to shape the cookie by flattening and turning it to smooth out the edges, forming a flattish but thick shape. Continue until all of the batter is used. Place the cookies onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them out to allow for some spreading during baking. Bake for 8-10 mins. The brownie side may crack a bit. Under-cook slightly for a softer and more chewy cookie. Let cool for 1-2 mins on the sheet before moving them to a cooling rack.

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Cannoli Dip Cake Experiment

Some days more than one experiment fails. This trial saw two fails in one day! The idea behind this bake was to try my first recipe for my long venture down the road to figuring out my ideal cannoli dip/filling. Unfortunately, the recipe I tried turned out really runny and had way too much almond extract. I hoped the filling would firm up in the fridge but no luck. I still tried to salvage it by scrambling and throwing together a chocolate ganache to maybe lock in the filling, but I ended up only adding half the amount of chocolate necessary so that, too, turned out too runny. Instead of ending up with a tasty cake experiment, I ended up with a few lessons learned. #weKeepItMessy
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Cannoli dip from Cookstr.

1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese (I used Polly-O which did not require straining)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp milk or heavy cream
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
Mini chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)

Combine ingredients and place in the fridge to set.

Chocolate ganache
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz chocolate (I used only 2 oz of semi-sweet chips)

Place chocolate into a heat-safe bowl. Heat cream in a small pan and bring to a boil on medium heat. Pour hot cream directly onto the chocolate. Let sit for 2 mins to let the chocolate melt. Stir until smooth. Pour onto cake.

 

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Runny cannoli filling between two slabs of yellow cake.