Flourless chocolate almond butter cookies

I'm going to say honestly that I have something of a love-hate relationship with these flourless cookies.  
Despite a few trials with certain flourless cakes and cookies, I still find that I generally don't love them (of course, there are always plenty of exceptions...such as flourless chocolate cake - the kind leavened with eggs - and macaroon cookies, which I do love).  Fortunately, I have no need to avoid gluten so I don't purposely seek out gluten-free baked goods. These flourless double chocolate almond butter cookies intrigued me because they looked wonderful and I was happy to have the chance to use almond butter in baking.  In the last couple of years, I've come to enjoy almond butter almost as much as peanut butter.  
Somehow, I think I was expecting conventional, sturdy, cookies to come out of the oven but these are truly the flourless kind - super moist.  Just beneath the thin, dry crust that develops on top of these cookies, the center is ultimately fudgy and chewy.  And therein lies the love part of the equation.  The moist, chewiness - almost brownie-like texture - is something I adore and find addicting.  As such, these cookies remind me of energy bars/balls made with dates that I am still trying to figure out whether I like or not.
All in, I'm a fan of the chocolaty, salty, rich flavor and the chewy texture of these chocolate almond butter cookies yet I miss the sturdiness of the traditional cookie (clearly, I need to approach it with proper expectations).  They may not be my regular cookie of choice but they were certainly a nice change once in a while.  Since they are so moist, I find it best to store the cookies in a single layer, in the refrigerator.  We actually found we preferred them cold. The fudge factor increases and the cookies were easier to handle/hold.  Serving these cookies with a scoop of vanilla ice cream would not be a bad idea.  



Petit fours

After 7 years of blogging, with plenty of home baking throughout that time, it amazes me that there are always still things I've wanted to make and find myself finally doing for the first time.  
This time, I'm finally making petit fours (or petits fours, or "fancies", as the Brits call them). Really, they're nothing more complicated than small bites of iced almond cake but made ever more attractive - and, yes, just a bit fancy - by their petite size.  I've always been drawn to pretty little things, particularly in pastel colors, and I've always adored these little cakes that look like miniature presents all on their own.  I recently made them right before Easter and they are perfect for celebrating spring, or for a wedding or baby shower, a tea party, or, thinking slightly ahead, for Mother's Day.  
These petite cakes are great for any celebration...including a 7th blogging anniversary!  Yes, it's now 7 years since I started this little blog and I have a healthy roster of favorite recipes, and lots of memories and learning, to show for it.  I've slowed down the pace of my blogging quite a bit in the last year or so but I am cooking and baking as much - if not more - than ever.  It's nice to spend time baking family favorites and to try recipes on a whim without documenting every endeavor.  No matter how much or how little I blog here going forward, I hope to be baking and cooking - trying new things and learning along the way - for a long time to come.  
Now back to the petite cakes.  As you might know, I favor small batch baking and as simple a process as possible so that's the approach I took here.  After looking and saving many petit four recipes through the years, I settled on a recipe from Martha Stewart that I've had my eye on for a long time.  I made a few adjustments by dividing the recipe in half and using apricot preserves as a filling instead of cherry.  
It starts with a moist almond sponge cake.  Once baked in a single layer, the cake is sliced crosswise to be stacked into 2 layers.  I filled the center with smooth apricot preserves, reminiscent of one of our favorite things - Italian tri-color (or rainbow) cookies.

Some petit four recipes call for frosting.  A layer of frosting on top of the cake can provide a smoother surface for the glaze to rest on but I think this version without it is simpler and I like the sharp flavor from the jam filling.  These petit fours are coated with a basic glaze of confectioners' sugar and milk.  I really like this simple 2-ingredient glaze from Martha Stewart that doesn't require corn syrup, and you can tint it to whatever color you like; I went with white and a pale pink.  There's plenty of room for customization in not only the jam filling you use but also the color and design you choose for your glaze.  I topped some of the cakes with ready-made sugar flowers.
And now because this is me, the resident chocoholic, I could not resist coating some of my petit fours in chocolate!  They might not be quite as visually appealing but they sure taste amazing; I used (one of) my favorite 70% dark chocolate and the combination of almond cake, apricot jam, and dark chocolate is, as always, stellar.  
So here's to great times in the kitchen and at the table!  Let's celebrate as often as possible and may there always be some form of cake involved!



Breakfast (for dinner) potato skins

I begin typing up this post on the first day of spring and the brink of yet another nor'easter here in New Jersey.  School will be closed again tomorrow and I find myself, once again, hoping for the best.  It's hard to believe it's officially spring today (as I write this) and Easter is only a short week or so away.  Looking on the bright side, it means warmth, sunshine, flowers, and colorful produce is on its way too.  I have to believe it. 
In the meantime, I thought I'd take my mind off storms by thinking and writing about food.  It's always about food.  When a storm is imminent, we immediately think about food and hit the grocery stores.  I've already got a bowl of oatmeal chocolate chip cookie dough sitting in the fridge, ready to be baked tomorrow while we're hunkered down at home.  As long as we don't lose power, we'll be good to go.  

But how about an egg dish and something hearty while we're still waiting for spring to actually be felt?  We love eggs and come Easter time, it seems especially appropriate to feature them.  My fellas also love twice baked potatoes and I these potato skins are a great way to have it all.
Cheesy potato shells holding a egg, topped with bacon is a hearty and satisfying dish for any meal.  I adapted this recipe from Smitten Kitchen's latest book and I'm dubbing it breakfast (for dinner) potato skins because, frankly, I can't imagine "whipping" these up for breakfast given the time it takes to get them ready.  I took a shortcut by microwaving the potatoes instead of baking them in the oven; that shaves about 40 minutes from the cook time but you'll still need up to an hour to (leisurely) get them on the table.  

So if you want my advice, make these for brunch, lunch, or dinner.  There's nothing like a good potato and some eggs to fuel you through the long winter (I mean, spring...) days.  


Cream scones

Sometimes, I buy cream for a particular recipe and find myself with some leftover that I'd like to use up.  This last time, I thought I'd make some cream scones.
These cream scones are made with butter, egg, and cream - these are rich, crumbly, somewhat flaky, biscuit-like American-style scones.  They're a bit like shortbread cookies with a soft interior.  (In contrast, British-style scones are more cake-like, fluffier and softer - well-suited for splitting and topping with things like clotted cream and jam.)
Once in a while, I'll make a batch of scones and pop them in the freezer so we can have them freshly baked and warm for breakfast.  It's very easy to take them straight from the freezer and into the oven.  So this is what I had in mind and what I did.  That said, it's a struggle for me to work with this kind of American-style scone dough (so it's good to have more practice)...I find the dough generally dry and it's tricky to bring it together to shape and cut without over-handling it.

Frankly, I muddle through and do the best I can.  And while British-style scones might be better suited for splitting and slathering with jam and whatnot, I still sliced these and spread them with things like lemon curd (I use this small-batch recipe) and strawberry jam.  

That way, no one really notices if my scones aren't quite as light and tender as they could be!  

Before baking, I brushed the tops of the scones with cream and showered them with sanding sugar for a little extra color and even more texture.  As you can see, these scones are quite biscuit-like with a flaky, crunchy top and sides.  I didn't manage to slice them without breakage - be ready for lots of crumbs while eating these!



Easy puff pastry ("rough puff")

This may be my year of making things I didn't think I'd ever attempt to make! From bagels to English muffins (both of which I've now made several times), I moved on to...puff pastry.  At least, it's a simplified, easy puff pastry recipe - what's been called the "rough puff".
Incidentally, I can't stop saying "rough puff" after hearing the term.  So what makes it a rough puff?  Well, rather than having to go through the intricate and very time-consuming process of rolling out a butter packet and incorporating it into the dough, folding, rolling, and repeating the process several times between refrigeration (reasons I've never been tempted to try making puff pastry), this dough starts off a bit like pie dough and comes together in no time.  We're talking 15 minutes if you're efficient and maybe more like 30 minutes if you're not, like me!

This recipe is another I learned about from the fabulous site, Dessert for Two.  As you can gather from the photos above, cubes of butter are cut into the flour, then brought together with ice water to form a rough dough.  You roll the dough out into a rectangle, fold it like a letter, give it a quarter turn, then roll it out again.  Repeat this process of folding, turning, and rolling 6-7 times (no refrigerating in between) and you have your rough puff pastry dough.  
You don't need me to tell you there are so many uses for puff pastry.  I decided to take my rough puff and use it to make some shortcut chocolate croissants (or pains au chocolat) and chocolate-almond croissants.  I've done it before using store-bought puff pastry. 

True croissants involve leavened dough.  It's basically a cross between a yeasted dough and butter-layered dough like puff pastry.  The result is a stretchy, chewy, yet flaky texture, that's, of course, encased in buttery richness.  For a shortcut, puff pastry alone will due here.  I filled the dough generously with chopped dark chocolate, and for the almond version, I tucked in a bit of almond paste as well.   
The rough puff I made may not have boasted tons of layers but the result was very similar to what I get when I use store-bought puff pastry for this purpose.  My family really enjoy my endeavor and the rough puff was truly surprisingly easy. This experience may help me work up the courage to branch out even further...maybe try my hand at actually making a small batch of homemade croissants (or chocolate croissants) one of these days!



Chocolate chocolate-chip pancakes

Yes, sometimes breakfast gets a little extra indulgent and borders on dessert.  I can think of no better excuse (though who needs one) to indulge than Valentine's Day so the weekend beforehand, we did just that as I served up these chocolate pancakes for breakfast.  
These chocolate pancakes are made with buttermilk - tender, fluffy, and light, chock full of chocolate flavor from cocoa powder as well as mini chocolate chips that I folded into the batter.  I substituted some of the all-purpose flour with white whole wheat flour and I think these pancakes can really handle it.  In fact, I think chocolate and whole wheat flour work really well together in general, often giving the finished product a subtle nutty flavor and texture.  
It's a little like eating a light and fluffy chocolate cake.  Think of it as an alternative to chocolate muffins.  I'd like to think I showed some restraint in not topping the pancakes with chocolate sauce like you often see.  As tempting as that may be, some berries and a few extra sprinkles of mini chocolate chips does the trick.
Looking at these pancakes is helping me deal with Valentine's Day withdrawals.  I hope you had a lovely one, filled with love and plenty of chocolate!  Lucky for me, there's Chinese New Year to continue the celebrations and the feasting on sweets.  I can't complain at all!


Valentine "Kisses"

It's almost Valentine's Day!  I love this little holiday because I adore all the hearts, the pink & red, the treats, the chocolate, and symbols of love.  We can all use more expressions of love and we can all appreciate a little sweet treat!  
I've been in the Valentine spirit and trying to spread a little of it through food.  These cookies are an example of that.  I'm calling them "Valentine Kisses" - essentially, they're soft chocolate cookies with a Hershey's Kiss on top.  I first saw this recipe as rainbow kiss cookies from Sally of Sally's Baking Addiction; I spotted them around Christmas and the colorful nonpareil sprinkles caught my eye and I haven't stopped thinking about them.  
Since I didn't get a chance to make them over Christmas, I thought I'd make them as a Valentine treat, and simply swapped the rainbow nonpareil sprinkles with pink-and-white ones.  You can easily customize these cookies for any holiday/occasion.  Sprinkles are versatile and always, always smile-inducing!  These cookies are not only fun to look at but really tasty.  They are soft and a little fudgy inside, packed with plenty of deep chocolate flavor.  The little chocolate Kiss on top makes the cookies what they are (and they are so cute to look at) but they're frankly equally good without it.  You'd just have to rename them from "kisses" to "bon bons" or something.
I could not resist making them in their original rainbow version as well.  They really make me smile!
Whatever sprinkles you roll these kiss cookies in, I think they're bound to make you smile and remind you of the joy of chocolate (not that anyone needs a reminder of that)!



Easy English muffin recipe!

Here's another first for me and something else I didn't expect to be making myself at home: English muffins!  I can hardly believe I made these and how incredibly easy it was!  I'd already hit the jackpot recently with the easy bagel recipe but, believe it or not, these English muffins could well be even easier and just as good.  I'm floating on cloud nine in the kitchen lately.
English muffins are actually one of my favorite things.  Whether slathered with almond or peanut butter, or in breakfast sandwich form, they feature heavily in my breakfast routine.  I really never felt the urge to make them given how complicated and mysterious the process seemed - from the yeast dough to shaping them into tart rings and then cooking over a griddle rather than baking in the oven.  I was satisfied with the English muffin bread recipe I learned a couple years ago.

So what changed?  Well, I was watching Gesine Bullock-Prado's show (which is really terrific), Baked in Vermont, and she said making English muffins was as simple as making pancakes!  She said she wasn't kidding, and let me tell you...she really wasn't kidding!  
I was a little skeptical that it might be too good to be true but there was little risk to trying so I decided to make a half batch of 4.  I literally stirred the dough together right before I left to pick up my son from school and the dough was ready when I got home.  Using instant yeast, it only takes a half-hour rise before the dough is ready to be cooked over a griddle!
I did not use tart rings to cook these English muffins.  I simply shaped them with wet hands into a rough round; I don't know about you but the English muffins I buy are never perfectly round and I'm more than fine with that.  The dough is sticky and is firm and thick enough to handle and to hold its shape.  I cooked the first side for about 10-12 minutes under medium-low heat, then flipped it and let the other side cook for the same amount of time.  It was truly minimal work and I was shocked!

I was amazed to see English muffins in my kitchen in such a short time and almost equally surprised when I sliced it open for breakfast the next day and saw nooks & crannies accounted for!  I used an equal mix of all-purpose flour and white whole wheat flour.  Since these are made via a quick rise, I thought they would be quite bland but I think the whole wheat flour added a great nutty flavor to them that I always enjoy.  They were really terrific - just toasted and slathered with butter and whatnot.
Equally, they made excellent bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches!  My son actually said these English muffins are better than the regular ones that I buy.  That is a serious testimonial.  I just couldn't believe I made breakfast sandwiches using homemade English muffins.  It took me a few days to get over the wonder of that...



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