Ina's triple chocolate loaf cakes

New year, and much of the same routines here!  I'm thrilled with that because I'm very lucky to be able to enjoy and indulge in my favorite pastimes of cooking, baking, and eating.  Here's to happy cooking and feasting in the new year, and always!

Like so many people, I'm a fan of Ina Garten's and adore watching her cooking show.  I'm no expert but there's something about an Ina Garten recipe that usually manages to surprise you a little bit even when you already expect it to be good.  Her recipes are clearly well thought out and whatever it is we're cooking or baking, she's figured out a way to squeeze out, or amplify, every bit of flavor possible.
So you don't have to twist my arm to try one of Ina's recipe - particularly when it involves chocolate!  For a chocoholic like me, it's nearly impossible to resist a recipe called "triple chocolate loaf cakes".  And you can be sure that if Ina's offering a chocolate recipe, it's going to be unmistakably chocolate.  Here, bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened cocoa (along with a touch of coffee) bloom in boiling water to create the foundation for these cakes.  Then, chocolate chunks or chips add another decadent and delicious dimension.  I opted out of adding walnuts to these loaf cakes.  Personally, I adore nuts in baked goods but I was making them to share with others and went with a nut-free version.
This recipe makes 2 regular-size loaf cakes.  I made 4 smaller loaves so I could share with friends.  To offset our smaller slices, we just had to cut ourselves an extra one, which was easy enough.  

This moist, chocolaty cake satisfied my daily chocolate craving.  I love the light yet almost fudgy texture to the cake, and the serious chocolate flavor doesn't disappoint.  Not too surprisingly, there is something a little extra special about this particular chocolate loaf cake recipe.


Holiday (cookie) season, 2018 - Part 2

It's almost Christmas!  The baking is essentially done and we can sit back and enjoy the fruits of our preparation.  I hope your holiday season has been sweet.  
I'm happy I checked off everything on my to-bake list and even had room to improvise a little along the way to the finish line.  Following my previous post, I made the requisite batch of sugar cookies.  The kids in my life adore sugar cookies and they seem to have to make an appearance at Christmas.  These sugar cookies, with mugs of hot chocolate, make for a sweet finale to our family Christmas party.  
And what's not to love about sugar cookies...they're classic for a reason.  They're sweet (obviously) and always festive and eye-catching decorated however you like.  I'm not very creative but some kids tell me that when it comes to decorating sugar cookies, the key is lots of sprinkles.  I may need to up the sprinkle quotient on my sugar cookies next season! 
Aside from sugar cookies, I loved the simple vanilla sables (recipe from Dorie Greenspan) I baked this year.  The wonderful sandy texture, with the simple yet delectable flavor of the vanilla butter cookies, made me forget my love and commitment to chocolate for a moment.  I will be making more slice-and-bake cookies during the next holiday season!


Happy holiday (cookie) season, 2018!

Happy Holidays!

Italian butter cookies - always festive and makes me think of the holidays
It's my favorite time of year again!  The best time, when baking takes center stage - our kitchen smells like sugar and spice, and sprinkles go flying everywhere!  No matter how hectic it is, with those long to-do lists, there's a magical quality about spending time making things and doing things for others at this time of year that makes it all worthwhile.  I look forward to gathering and sharing, spending peaceful time with family over platters of cookies and mugs of hot chocolate!
I wanted to dust this blog space with a little holiday cheer right now and what better way than to talk cookies and treats.  We may bake cookies all year round but come December, it is all about cookies.  It's no wonder we love the holidays!  It's especially fun to see all the variety, the colors, the festive decorations, the flavors that come alive during the holidays.  I love it all and while I certainly can't do it all, we have family favorites that we bake and we also try a few new things because there are just so many enticing recipes out there.  



Double chocolate Toblerone cookies

Growing up, Toblerone chocolate bars were one of my favorite treats.  I have this picture of myself, maybe around 5 years old - standing with my family at an airport, looking rather glum, and clutching a Toblerone chocolate bar while glaring at the camera.  I assume it was given to me to try to get me to smile and cooperate; it didn't seem to be working that well in the picture but maybe I needed to open the chocolate bar and eat it for its magic to work.  Because then and now, I do love a Toblerone!
Thinking back, I had more than one favorite when it came to chocolate.  Besides Toblerone, there were Cadbury bars as well as Smarties (the chocolate kind that came in a cardboard tube), which I've incidentally also incorporated into cookies in the past.   Even as a kid, I was a serious chocoholic.  While my tastes have changed a little bit as I got older, old favorites like Toblerone will always have a special place in my heart.
So when I saw a recipe in a British baking magazine for double chocolate Toblerone cookies, I was eager to make a batch!  Surprisingly, the recipe actually called for dark chocolate Toblerone.  Growing up, it was only milk chocolate but now there's dark and even white chocolate Toblerone to choose from.  While I actually do prefer dark chocolate these days, it's still the classic milk chocolate Toblerone that I stick with - it's the one that conjures up a happy nostalgic reaction whenever I take a bite.  

Since the milk chocolate version is what I have on hand, that's the kind I used for this cookie recipe.  The end result is likely a slightly sweeter cookie than intended but I tried to go a little light on the added sugar and all in all, it turned out well.
These cookies are sweet and moist, with a little chewiness to them.  Melted dark chocolate add the first layer of chocolate and chopped pieces of Toblerone stirred into the cookie batter give them texture with its bits of honey and almond nougat.  Half a Toblerone triangle goes on top so everyone knows what these cookies are all about.  
What fun to incorporate one of your favorite childhood chocolate bars into a delectable cookie!  I'm happy I stumbled upon this fun recipe.  

These cookies have me thinking of both Halloween and the holiday season/cookie baking season coming up!



Three-layer pound cake

It's been a while since I've been in this space.  Though it's been quiet here, I'm still in the kitchen, keeping busy trying out different recipes (especially on the savory front).  Recently, I bought an Instant Pot and it's fast becoming my favorite appliance in the kitchen.  I now know why everyone who has an Instant Pot seems to turn into unpaid brand ambassadors; I've been singing its praises to everyone I know!
I haven't been neglecting my family on the dessert front.  There is more than enough homemade cookies, muffins, cakes, and even ice cream, to go around.  Having been blogging the last few years, I'm thankful to have a solid repertoire of sweet recipes my family and I love enjoying regularly - and that's what I've been doing...mainly baking up those family favorites.  

Of course, there will always be room to try something new and I plan to continue doing that whenever the whim takes me.  While I love to document and see the treats I bake up here on this blog, it's really nice to simply bake for the sake of baking, and not have a lot of ceremony, or any kind of self-imposed schedule, surrounding it.
That said, it's nice to be here...and I brought cake with me!  This 3-layer pound cake is the latest new recipe I tried in my kitchen and it comes straight from the pages of the latest Martha Stewart Living magazine.  After all these years, I still can't resist a good Martha Stewart recipe!  

I don't make pound cake all that often but there is something classic and comforting about one.  Plus, a loaf cake is the kind of casual, no-fuss cake I love to have around - subbing in for breakfast, snack, or as dessert.  This buttery pound cake also offers extra visual appeal that called out to me.  Adding chocolate and cocoa to the base recipe of vanilla pound cake, you end up with 3 layers: a rich chocolate base layer, a lighter cocoa layer, topped with traditional vanilla cake.  
I'm very happy with how this pound cake turned out and while we might have been partial to that rich chocolate layer on the bottom, the combination is altogether the best part.  



Chocolate marzipan scone loaf

Watching traditional weekend morning cooking shows (i.e., old-school cooking shows with recipes, not reality or competition-based shows) is still one of the things I like to do.  Recently, I've been watching Molly Yeh's new show, Girl Meets Farm, and spotted a cool recipe I had to try.
It was her chocolate marzipan scone loaf, and I was captivated in more ways than one.  First of all, if there's one thing I really struggle with when it comes to making scones is...cutting and shaping them.  My dough is invariably too dry and it's a high-wire act trying to cut them into individual scones that don't fall apart.  Here was a chance to make scones in an easy loaf cake form!  Not only do I get to skip the shaping and cutting, the result promises to be more moist, and stay that way longer.  
Beyond being technically easy, the flavors drew me in as well.  Because if there's one type of pastry/dessert that I particularly favor, it's got to be ones that include things like chocolate and almond paste.  In this case, the loaf is studded with chunks of marzipan - the sweeter sibling to almond paste (I considered subbing it with almond paste but stuck with the recipe in the end) and bits of dark chocolate chips.  They provide tons of flavor and each bite of this scone loaf is like a treasure hunt for these generous bits.  
I adored how this scone-bread baked up...its rustic top with craters of marzipan and specks of chocolate chips on display.  A sprinkle of sanding sugar gives it extra crunch and sweetness.  And true to promise, the scone loaf stayed moist for a few days.  We enjoyed it for breakfast and it's just a fantastic treat for lovers of almond and chocolate baked goods.
I have baked my fair share of almond and/or chocolate treat (from buns/rolls to scones and babka, to name a few) and they rarely disappoint.  This one didn't either! 


Jordan Marsh's blueberry muffins

I've got blueberries on my mind lately.  Certainly because it's that time of year - summer, when fresh berries and berry desserts take center stage, particularly around the 4th of July.  But beyond that, I've got blueberries on the mind since getting back from a short road trip to Maine.  There, it was a constant lookout for wild Maine blueberries in every form - from donuts, to ice cream and lemon tarts!
Though there are no wild Maine blueberries to bake with at home, I made do with the usual garden variety.  And the easiest way I can think of to bake with blueberries is certainly in muffins.  It's lucky that I happened to have spotted "Jordan Marsh's famous blueberry muffin" recipe from i am a food blog not long ago and vowed to give them a try.  
I'd never heard of Jordan Marsh until spotting the recipe but I now know it was a popular department store based in Boston until the mid-90's.  These muffins were served on the top floor of the department store and deemed "the best" by many.  I've been disappointed more than a few time when it comes to my hunt for bakery-style muffin recipes but it truly pays not to give up because I finally found a winner (and I'm doing the happy dance)!  
So I wanted to post this gem of a muffin recipe. It turns out some lovely bakery-style muffins, which I think of as soft and tender yet hearty muffins that sport a signature slightly-domed, golden brown top.  Now these are the muffin tops I've always wanted!  A sprinkle of coarse sanding sugar before baking accentuates the crust.  I just adore these golden craggy tops with its crisp crust.  
And the crispy top and edges (which taste remarkably like Danish butter cookies) give way to soft, moist, cake-like muffin studded with juicy blueberries in the center.  All that and these muffins can be mixed together by hand very quickly.  I'm glad I didn't give up my search for bakery-style blueberry muffins.  i am a food blog tweaked the recipe to make a banana chocolate chip version, which I'm more than willing to try.  In fact, I might have to do some experimenting of my own because this base recipe, and the results it produces, is too good not to daydream about.  
Temps were much cooler when we were up in Maine but we've been having a serious heat wave back home in NJ.  Even with the heat, I still can't resist turning on the oven and baking.  It was definitely worth it in this case!



Teenager in the house!

When June comes around, my mind is all wrapped up around my son's birthday.  Plus, June is always an exciting time - with Father's Day, the start of summer and the end of the school year.  The days are longer, and there's a different energy in the air around here.  
This year, my son's birthday was actually on Father's Day so it essentially eclipsed the holiday; of course, my husband didn't mind one bit.  And now, after the celebrations and affirmations, we officially have a teenager in the house!  It's hard to believe the infant who wouldn't nap for more than 25 minutes at a time is now nearly as tall as I am and morphing into a young man.  The same goes with his friends, many of whom we've known since kindergarten.  This growth is truly an amazing thing to witness.

I thought my son turning 10 was a big deal but at 13, it really felt like a *moment*.  Not to make it all about me...but I'm now the mom of a teenager and I approach it with equal parts trepidation and excitement.  In all seriousness, every day and every year is a gift and birthdays are a great time to celebrate a person and let them know how important they are and how much better the world is because they're in it.  
When it comes to birthday festivities, of course there's cake involved!  Why have one cake when you can have 3?  We started off with 2 ice cream cakes...because you can't beat that when it comes to kids birthdays, particularly those in the summer.  One came from a local ice cream shop and we picked another fun one from Haagen Dazs.  We cut into one during a cousins pizza party night we had at the house about a week before the birthday; we took the other one to a restaurant where we celebrated the birthday boy on the eve of his day with a few of his friends.
Finally, I had to make a cake, too, because I really wanted to.  I went with chocolate, of course.  The young fella and I are very much in sync when it comes to desserts and our preference for chocolate.  

I decided to make the fabulous Chocolate Heaven Cake from Cheryl Day.  I've adapted the recipe in the past as cupcakes and this time, I divided the original cake recipe in half to make a 6-inch round cake.  We didn't need a huge cake but I thought it would be fun to make it a tall one, 3 layers instead of the typical 2-layer I usually make.  
Having more cakes means more chances to celebrate, to sing happy birthday, and blow out birthday candles.  All the cakes were devoured and while you can never celebrate enough, hopefully the newly minted teenager felt the love in all the little ways we tried to show it.  Here's to our new teenager!  May this next chapter of his life be better and sweeter than ever.  



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