Soft and chewy chocolate molasses cookies

These chocolate molasses cookies gave me Christmas vibes.  I hope that thought doesn't make you cringe; I know it's not even Halloween yet and we're in flux in general these days because while the fall foliage outside clearly tells me it's autumn, the recent 80-degree days leave me a little unsettled.
I do have Christmas on the mind though - not only because I love the holiday but because I'm contemplating the thought of not baking or cooking a lot during the holidays.  Timing is uncertain but we might be doing a kitchen renovation in the next month or so.  It's probably more likely that work won't begin until the new year but the possibility of not having a functioning kitchen in December does exist.  I have mixed feelings about it and I'll just wait and see how things work out and what we decide. Since our kitchen is small and we're not making any major changes beyond updating the old with new, it will hopefully not be a big or long endeavor.  
It's fair to say I'm comforting myself by baking up some Christmas-like cookies right now!  I went into my recipe archives and dug up this recipe - a very easy one you can simply whisk together for a batch of soft chocolate molasses cookies.  I couldn't decide what type of sugar to roll the cookies in so I used plain granulated sugar and experimented with turbinado as well as sanding sugar.  The turbinado gives the greatest crunch while the granulated sugar is subtle, with the sanding sugar being a nice mix of the two.

These cookies are slightly under-baked and meant to be soft and slightly more dense and chewy in the center.  The molasses flavor conjures up gingerbread and holiday spices.  And I think the chocolate/cocoa component adds a richness and depth of flavor that is always welcome when it comes to treats.  I definitely feel better after making and eating a few of these!
I have a feeling I'll be doing a little bit of early holiday cookie baking this year just in case and this was a good way to ease into it...


I love weekend breakfast/brunch so it's always fun to try new recipes to serve up for that first meal of the day.  But that said, I have to tell you...I would have made these pancrepes simply so I could say the word, "pancrepes" over and over again What a great name!
I spotted this recipe from Ayesha Curry's cookbook.  Whenever I pick up a new cookbook, I gravitate towards the dessert and the breakfast sections first.  The title of this recipe - pancrepes - got my attention and made me smile.   I don't know how many other pancrepe recipes there are out there but this one apparently happened with Ayesha Curry left the baking powder out of a pancake recipe and enjoyed the result.  

And basically, this is a pancake recipe without the leavening.  I was tempted to make a few changes - i.e., use butter instead of olive oil, sugar instead of honey, and vanilla extract instead of almond - but in the end, I figure I'd try the recipe exactly as written.  
So I made a small batch a couple of weekends ago to try with my family; it was fun announcing we were going to have pancrepes for breakfast over and over again, and we were curious to try it.  And the result was interesting...the pancrepes are very much a denser, thinner version of pancakes (though thicker than crepes).  Texturally, it's chewy.  In a way, it reminded me somewhat of Asian-style glutinous desserts because of that chew.  If you like that kind of chewy, dense texture, you'd likely find it oddly addicting like I did.  But if you are looking for moist, fluffy, feather-like pancakes in thinner form, this is not that and I think it's important to have realistic expectations.

Ayesha Curry serves up her pancrepes with a raspberry sauce and granola.  When I think crepes, I think chocolate-hazelnut spread and bananas so that's how I choose to serve my pancrepes at home.  I don't think maple syrup would be enough here in the sense that these heftier pancrepes need a heartier pairing.  My sister recently brought me a jar of Venchi chocolate-hazelnut spread from her summer trip to Italy and this was a perfect opportunity to pop it open. 
These were described as not only being a textural mix between pancakes and crepes but like the bottom part of a Dutch baby.  I admit that got me excited because I make a Dutch baby pancake for breakfast about every other weekend; it's one of one of our favorite things!  After making these pancrepes though, I'd have to say that a Dutch baby bottom is far more moist and custardy than these, which are more dense and chewy. My family and I kept saying "'s good; we like it..." without a strong sense of commitment though everyone cleaned their plates.  Ultimately, I think we enjoyed these as a fun change.  And more importantly, I got to say pancrepes over and over again like I wanted to.  I still think it's a genius name!

Making chocolate 3-layer "magic" cake

Have you heard of 3-layer "magic" cake?  I hadn't until a couple of weeks ago when I saw it on POPSUGAR.  That was when I found out about this cake where you make one batter and, "magically", it bakes up into three separate layers.
I wanted to give it a try and, naturally, I opted to make the chocolate version (there is an original one as well as other versions such as lemon and Nutella that you can check out from Jo Cooks).  The batter sounded fairly easy to make (there are a few steps involved but any cake that doesn't involve frosting is comparatively simple to me) and I was just plain curious as to whether I'd really get 3 layers from the single batter.  I thought it would be a neat trick to show my son.
Well...I followed directions and made the cake batter, which involves incorporating separately beaten egg whites into a chocolate base that ultimately results in a thin consistency.  And I did get 3 layers...but maybe my magic wand needs to go in for maintenance because my layers didn't quite turn out exactly as described.

I was supposed to end up with: a top layer of sponge cake, a middle layer of custard, and a denser, somewhat "fudgy" bottom.  It seems my order got shaken up a bit because while I certainly got that top sponge cake layer, the other 2 parts were flipped!  I ended up with that darker, fudgy layer in the center and the custard was at the bottom!  I've actually seen an image online that looks identical to the result I got; however, I have seen plenty of images of the "magic" cake how it's supposed to be. I am still feeling confused!
Another thing that bothered me is the "skin" that formed at the bottom of my cake - similar to a skin that would form on a pudding.  My husband insists he actually likes that but I removed it for the rest of us who preferred the cake without it.

So this was an interesting experience that left me scratching my head a bit.  It certainly was not a wasted effort because taste-wise, it was a good cake.  My favorite part was actually my dark center - that thin layer was moist and the most chocolaty part of the cake.  This cake tastes deceptively light and with that, the cake did do a magic disappearing quickly!  I'm not sure I'll be attempting this particular trick again but I sure would love to know if anyone has tried it and achieved a different result.

Chocolate chip muffins

Here I go with another muffin recipe!  I make no apologies for my muffin-making addiction.  They are so gratifying to make and who can resist the occasional indulgence of eating a little cake first thing in the morning!  So let's have a simple, classic chocolate chip muffin this time.
I always keep an eye out for "back pocket" type recipes and they often fall in the category of muffins.  These are recipes that I know everyone will generally like, that aren't complicated - built off a base of simple ingredients that I usually already have around so I can whip it up quickly.  This simple recipe for chocolate chip muffins that I found in the Damn Delicious cookbook totally fit the bill.
While I've baked and enjoyed more complicated muffins, sometimes you just want to grab a couple of bowls and a few ingredients from the fridge or pantry to make something simple.  That's what we're talking about here.  
These muffins were actually titled "bakery style chocolate chip muffins" and that got me thinking about what makes muffins "bakery-style".  To me, I tend to think of large muffins that are very crusty and brown on top.  These aren't exactly what I picture but when it comes to bakery muffins, I think you also expect a moist and tender one that's also sturdy at the same time.  I think these chocolate chip muffins fall into that description and in general, they're tasty and simple, something you can make on a whim when you have a need or craving for muffins.  I feel that need/craving quite often.

Split pea soup (with bacon and miso)

Oh, how quickly the season and the weather changes!  It's October already and those long, blazing-hot, summer days seem like a distant memory.  The sweaters, the long pants, and comforters are starting to find their way out of the closets and once again, our food cravings are starting to shift.
It feels somewhat symbolic to make a pot of soup to welcome fall.  I make soup all year round and enjoy it whenever possible but at this time of year, when it turns chilly and starts getting dark early, I really want to warm up with a bowl of soup, and I feel motivated to try a new soup recipe I haven't made before.

This comparison won't make much sense but soups are a little like brownies to me.  I generally like them all!  Can you remember the last soup you had that you really didn't like?  I can' I know making soup will be rewarding. And this is the time of year when I feel the motivation to try something new.  I chose this split pea soup, a recipe I saw and adapted from the latest issue of Cooking Light magazine.  
The magazine had a feature on "pulses" - dried seeds of plants that we know of in the form of lentils, dry peas, chickpeas and beans.  Those are some of my favorite things - foods that fill me up that I feel really good about eating.  This soup made me think of the many containers of split pea soup I'd pick up at a local lunch spot back when I worked in NYC eons ago.  That soup was thick and hearty, plus quite salty.  That salty/savoriness was likely from the ham hock that you often find in the base of split pea soup.

Instead of ham, there's bacon in this green split pea soup.  Not too much...we're talking 5 slices of center-cut bacon, rendered until crispy, then crumbled and stirred into the soup when it's done.  The idea is to use the bacon grease to cook your aromatics in (which would give it a great salty/smokey flavor) but I opted to discard all but about a teaspoon of it and add olive oil instead.  The other ingredient giving this soup more savory/umami flavor is miso paste.  If you think the idea is intriguing, I'm with you! It made me curious and since I have white miso in my fridge, I welcomed the chance to have another use for it.
No surprise, the soup hit the spot!  The bacon and miso add deep savoriness (you don't distinctly taste the miso) and the soup is hearty, with not only split peas but full of carrots and onions.  It takes about an hour for the pound of split peas to soften in plenty of chicken stock but I think it was well worth the time to make this happen.  I managed to stow a container of it away in the freezer and I'm already looking forward to having it again soon.

Crab cakes

When I recently posted the Atlantic beach tart, which featured a saltine cracker crust, I made a quip about how I just keep saltines on hand for upset stomachs.  I realize that isn't entirely true because I use saltine crackers often for something else...crab cakes!  I have been making these crab cakes for many years - it often makes an appearance when I have a dinner party, along with bruschetta and a lemon saffron orzo that my husband and sister are particularly fond of...
So I happened to have my family over for dinner recently and was making these crab cakes again, and thought it was a good opportunity to finally post them here.  In this instance, I made mini crab cakes, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, as an appetizer but I often shape them into larger rounds and serve them as a main course.  

I found the recipe from Martha Stewart years ago and have been making them ever since; I think it was the saltine crackers that initially caught my attention then.  What I liked about it was the simplicity.  There aren't many ingredients beyond the crab meat - the point being to showcase the sweetness and flavor of the crab itself without a lot of binders or distractions.  The other ingredients are mainly pantry items used to boost flavor, not to add bulk, to the crab cakes.  I sometimes use lump crab meat but in cases like this where I'm making small ones as an appetizer, I like to go with claw meat.  It's not only significantly less expensive but I find that I really like the claw, which has a great sweetness to it if not that chunky texture. 
I actually use a little more saltines than the recipe specifies to make them easier to shape and handle.  Beyond a handful of crushed saltine crackers, an egg, and some mayonnaise to bind a pound of crab meat together, there's flavoring with dashes of Worchestershire sauce, hot sauce, and lemon juice.  You can certainly amp it up further with additional spices (like old bay seasoning or paprika) but the simple ingredients give you that quintessential Maryland-style crab cake that's all about the crab meat.
The holidays will be upon us before we know it!  Though I wish I could slow down time, I'm looking forward to it and I know I'll be turning out some crab cakes and other party foods during the season.

Banana chocolate swirl muffins

I am big on routine.  I get set in my ways and need to remind myself to loosen up and mix things up sometimes.  Lately, we've been adjusting to a new morning routine. With my son starting middle school this year, it means an earlier start to the day. We're out the door closer to around 7:30am rather than the 8am or so timeframe we were accustomed to.  So far, I think I actually prefer the new schedule but I happen to be a morning person.
So when you think morning, you must think breakfast!  With the earlier start to the day, I need a lineup of quick and easy things for us to eat during the weekday mornings. Since my son eats lunch quite early with his fellow 6th graders at school, breakfast doesn't have to be big.  It isn't always a muffin but muffins definitely make the cut for weekday breakfast.  It's one of those things my son eats quickly and it's just so convenient for everyone.

So I've got breakfast and, specifically, muffins on my mind these days. When I saw these chocolate banana swirl muffins in a recent issue of Bake from Scratch magazine, I was happy to try it.  The original recipe was for banana chocolate espresso muffins but I kept it a bit more kid-friendly with just chocolate.
Think marble cake...for these muffins, you mix up a banana muffin batter, then set some of it aside and stir in melted chocolate to make a chocolate version to go with it. I baked the muffins in regular muffin tins rather than jumbo-sized ones as the recipe intended.  I found the thick batter difficult to swirl so I basically ended up with dual components - plain banana muffin on the bottom and banana chocolate on top. Visually, it would be fun to have more of a swirl throughout but I think dolloping the two muffin batters alternatively into the muffin cups - instead of dropping the plain batter in first, followed by the chocolate one, and then swirling - would likely do the trick for a more even incorporation of the two.
All that said, these banana muffins disappeared quickly.  They're moist, fragrant, and flavorful.  It's classic banana muffins, with a punch of chocolate thrown in, making for an interesting bite that you want another one of as soon as you take the first.  It's a pretty good way to start the morning, if you ask me!

Mint chocolate chip cake

Fall officially arrives in a couple of days and we've definitely been making the transition from summer to our more typical routine.  The school year started almost two weeks ago and it's kind of momentous for us because our "little" guy started middle school!!  It's time to celebrate - time for cake!
It's become a little bit of a tradition for me to make a back-to-school cake; last year, I made Baked Alaska.  This year, I tried this mint chocolate chip cake you see here. Frankly, it's just fun to have an excuse to celebrate and a reason to try one of the cake recipes I've bookmarked.  
This was a recipe I bookmarked from America's Test Kitchen.  I scaled things down and made this 6-inch, two-layer, version.  It was an interesting experience because I have hardly any familiarity with making a white cake, which this one is.  I felt a little uncertain along the way but gave it my best shot since mint chocolate chip really sounded like a cake my son would enjoy.  
Aside from the chocolate chips settling to the bottom of my cake layers instead of being nicely interspersed throughout the cake, I think this endeavor worked out pretty well. The cake was moist and fluffy, with a cool mint flavor from peppermint extract. The frosting is chocolaty, smooth, and rich.  Studded with more mini chocolate chips on the outside, you have plenty of chocolate represented here, which is how we like our cakes!  Mostly importantly, my newly "minted" middle schooler thought it was "really good" and we all enjoyed digging into it.  
It's nice to stop and enjoy simple things like a piece of cake with my family.  These are crazy times and on a micro level, the last couple of weeks have been very busy, as we try to navigate the new structures of middle school.  My son just returned from a night of sleep-away camp with his fellow 6th graders and it felt so good to be back together at the dining table again (even if he was only gone for a day and a half). There are certainly changes happening and things yet to figure out but change is usually good and so far, so good (I say, with fingers-crossed).  Here's to a smooth school year ahead!


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