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.
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.
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!)
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.
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!
It’s mid-August. The school buses are back out and rush hour is back to its full capacity. It’s still hot outside and summer will be around for a few more weeks, but visions of pumpkin flavored goods have started to dance in our heads.
This year I decided to join in the pumpkin fun. A pumpkin roll is the first of two planned pumpkin treats that are new additions to the menu! For my first pumpkin roll attempt, I started with a recipe for the infamous Libby’s pumpkin roll (recipe is available on the label of the can of pumpkin).
2/3 cup (5.3 oz) pumpkin (I used an entire 15 oz can for my first experiment and the cake held together mostly fine)
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
6 Tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375ºF. Grease and line a 15×10 inch jellyroll pan with parchment paper. Grease and flour paper. Sprinkle a thin, cotton kitchen towel with powdered sugar.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and cloves in a small bowl.
Beat eggs and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl until thick. Beat in pumpkin. Stir in flour mixture. Spread evenly into pan. Sprinkle with nuts. Bake for 13-15 mins or until top of the cake springs back when touched. Immediate turn cake onto towel. Carefully peel off paper. Roll cake and towel. Cool on wire rack.
Beat cream cheese, 1 cup of powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in a small bowl until smooth. Carefully unroll cooled cake. Spread mixture over cake. Reroll, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
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.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 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.
Hanging out with friends while they indulge in sweet treats can be a bummer if you stick to a special diet. This is the concern a recent client brought to me. She and some friends were headed to ConCarolinas and a member of the group was gluten free and felt as though she was missing out. The idea my client had was to create a con care package of gluten free treats that hit that sweet spot. A con care package has to meet a few criteria: the treats should not melt easily, they need to travel well, be easy to eat on the go, and stay fresh for longer than a day.
After kicking around a few ideas, we landed on some flourless fudge cookies. Half of the cookies were chocolate chocolate chip and the other half were chocolate chocolate chip with raspberries. There are a few great things about the right flourless fudge cookie recipe: 1. it really hits the sweet spot, 2. it satisfies chocolate cravings in the best way, 3. it can easily be made dairy free by using dairy free chocolate chips or using mix-ins other than chips!
King Arthur Flour is a great place to start for gluten free recipes and gluten free ingredients. The base recipe I started with comes from their site. I highly recommend checking out their link for the recipe, their blog post for lots of tips and tricks, and the comments sections to see what others have done in making this recipe. Another big plus about using recipes from King Arthur Flour is that you can select whether you want to bake by volume, ounces, or grams, and the site automatically updates the amounts for you!
Flourless Fudge Cookies (gluten free, can be made dairy free)
9 ounces (2 1/4 cups) confectioners sugar
3 ounces (1 cup) cocoa powder
3 3/4 ounces (3 large) egg whites (it is helpful to have an extra egg white or two on hand)
2 tsp vanilla extract
8-12 ounces (2 cups) chocolate chips, chopped nuts, and/or chopped dried fruit (my batch used far fewer mix-ins than the recipe called for)
Lightly grease two baking sheets or line with parchment paper and grease parchment (you want the surface to be as non-stick as possible).
Whisk together egg whites and vanilla (I used the whisk attachment in the stand mixer and walked away for a second, resulting in starting a meringue…whoops! If this happens, add an extra egg white to help get the mixture wet again.)
In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (powdered sugar and cocoa powder). Stir in the wet ingredients. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and stir again until smooth. The sticky batter will be the consistency of thick syrup. If the recipe appears too dry and not syrupy, then add another egg white.
Mix in chips (I used mini semi-sweet chips), nuts, and/or fruit. I split my batter in half after adding the chips and added chopped, freeze dried raspberries to one half. The raspberries and chocolate smelled amazing!
Drop the syrupy batter onto the prepared baking sheets in 3″ circles (for large) or 1 3/4″ – 2″ circles (for small). A Tbsp or tsp cookie scoop works well here, respectively.
Let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 30 minutes while preheating the oven to 350°F.
Bake the cookies for 7 mins (smaller) or 8-9 mins (larger) They should spread slightly, become somewhat shiny, and develop faintly crackled tops. Note: large cookies with chips or nuts need to bake for 10 mins.
Remove from oven and allow them to cool on the pan. While nearly cooled, use a spatula to carefully loosen them from the pan. The cookies can also be peeled carefully from the parchment paper.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
First cake order for Casual Confections
First bake in the bakery I’m renting space from, Baked Well
First cake where I was trying to match a design
Only my second decorated cake (you may remember the uterus babies as the first)
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.
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 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.
A number of gluten-free recipes have been gathering dust in my books and binders. Gluten-free baking can be expensive and cumbersome since you need various flours and xanthum gum to create a suitable blend that can sub for all purpose flour. Several companies have worked to take the hassle out of gf baking by offering prepackaged flour blends. After learning about these blends, I decided to use King Arthur Flour‘s Gluten-Free Measure for Measure flour blend. This blend includes rice flour, whole grain brown rice flour, a couple starches, and xanthum gum. What does this all mean? It means that this is the only thing you need to buy when adapting a non-yeast recipe to be gf (Note: always check your other ingredients to ensure that they are also gf).
For my first adapted recipe, I went with the lemon blueberry pound cake, which you may remember from the Portal cakes post. The only substitution was the gf flour instead of the ap flour.
The good news first: The flour swap was great! I’m really happy with how the cake turned out with the gf flour.
The bad news: The cake was 90% inedible. Why? I forgot about my blueberries until I started pouring the batter into the pan. In my scramble, I completely forgot (once again) to dry them and toss them in some of the gf flour. This resulted in a lot of extra moisture in the cake. The blueberries all gathered in the same section of cake and those sections did not bake fully. I had already glazed the cake before slicing, so I wasn’t able to toss the slices back into the oven to finish them up.
Fortunately, there were some parts that were baked that I was able to taste. I’m now chomping at the bit to try another recipe using the gf flour. While I have not tried any other brands, I do recommend King Arthur Flour’s gluten free blend, as do many others (shout out to those who commented on Facebook and Instagram!).
My second Passover bake this year is an apple cake. Instead of regular flour and baking soda, this cake utilizes potato starch and matzoh cake meal. The recipe for this bake came from ReformJudaism.org.
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon (or 2 Tbsp lemon juice)
5 large Granny Smith and/or Braeburn apples, peeled and diced
1/4 cup sugar
1-2 tsp cinnamon
Grease a 9″ spring form pan. Place parchment on the bottom of the pan. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Beat eggs with sugar until blended. Add oil and beat. Sift together potato starch and cake meal. Add sifted items to the egg mixture.
For the filling, mix together the cinnamon, sugar, and lemon juice. Mix in the apples.
Put two cups of dough (or half the total amount of dough) into the pan. Spread evenly. Add the apple filling using a slotted spoon, leaving the accumulated liquid behind. Make sure filling is distributed evenly.
Put in the remaining two cups of dough. Spread evenly. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar topping (you won’t see this in my photo as I forgot this step and dusted the top after the cake was baked).
Place the pan on a cookie sheet since liquid may seep out.
Bake for one hour.
Let cool in the pan before releasing.
Unbaked Passover apple cake (sans cinnamon sugar topping)
Passover is a time of family gatherings which means it’s a great time for baking! The challenge with Passover bakes, though, is that they cannot have rising agents. That means that most cakes and cookies are out. For this Passover, I made two bakes. The first is a chocolate raspberry pecan square recipe from Esthero Design.
12 oz chocolate chips (I went with milk chocolate)
8 oz chopped pecans
15 oz raspberry jam
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Mix the dough ingredients together.
Grease an 11″x17″ cookie sheet and press a piece of parchment paper onto the bottom. (Note: having some parchment paper hang over the sides will help with releasing the bars from the cookie sheet. Otherwise, you may end up needing to cut the bars on your sheet, which isn’t good for the sheet.) Press the dough onto the prepared cookie sheet, making sure its distributed evenly. Bake for 20 mins.
Take the dough out of the oven. Spread the jam evenly over the dough. The jam will get easier to spread as it is heated by the hot dough. Sprinkle the chocolate and the pecans over the jam.
Bake for an additional 25 mins.
Allow the squares to cool completely before cutting.