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.  



Fran's truffle brownies (with Vietnamese coffee ice cream)

Could I possibly interest you in another brownie recipe?  In all likelihood, you already have a favorite one of your own but when it comes to things like brownies (things that we like to eat with regularity), I think there's always room to experiment and try one more variation.
That's what I figured when I spotted this recipe for truffle brownies from Fran's Chocolates.  I think I must've first heard about Fran's from Ina Garten, who would rave about the company's caramels on her show.  I've since sampled some of their chocolates but haven't been to Seattle where their boutiques are located to really explore their offering.  The chocolates that I have tasted were delicious so if I ever find myself in Seattle, you can bet that will be a key stop. 

So I trust that Fran knows her chocolate and I wanted to make these truffle brownies I saw online.  I thought they'd make a nice dessert on their own, or paired with ice cream.  
I churned up a batch of Vietnamese coffee ice cream to go with the truffle brownies.  I was inspired by a spurt of warm, sunny weather we were having a couple of weeks ago and while that might have distracted me to the point of baking these brownies a few minutes longer than I wish I had, they were still satisfying.  The truffle brownies are moist and have a texture that's somewhere between cake, brownie, truffle, and chocolate mousse.  How can you not want to try that!
Cut into small squares, I individually wrapped and kept my stash of truffle brownies in the fridge.  I shared some with a friend and the rest, we enjoyed on their own as well as a nice bonus accompaniment with a bowl of ice cream!  There are few things better than brownies and ice cream.  



Brazilian cheese bread (pão de queijo)

One of the fun things we did recently on vacation in Aruba was having dinner in a Brazilian steakhouse, a churrascaria, featuring amazing grilled meats that are brought table-side in skewers, sliced to order.  It's an endless parade of succulent barbecued meats you enjoy with a generous buffet of side dishes.  
Throughout the years, the idea of going to a churrascaria had popped up but we never actually found the occasion to go.  My husband and I thought our meat-loving "little" guy (who is almost a teenager now!) would enjoy it so we took advantage of going to one when we were in Aruba.  We were right about the young one enjoying it; in fact, we all loved it. 

I could go on and on about the delectable meat - the juicy and succulent picanha (top sirloin) cut and such - but what I wanted to focus on here today is something that was served in a little bread basket at our table at the steakhouse.  They turned out to be Brazilian cheese bread, or small cheese rolls or puffs, called pão de queijo.  
My husband fell hard for these little rounds of cheese bread!  I thought they were good (I mean, it's cheesy bread so what's not to like) but I have to admit I was more focused on eating Brazilian black beans, rice, and sampling all the meat.  But I do remember the rolls - particularly not only for their great cheesy flavor but the uniquely chewy texture that made them so interesting.  

They are not your typical fluffy, soft breads rolls but more like French gougeres but with a very different interior texture.  Brazilian cheese bread is soft and slightly crisp on the outside but dense and incredibly chewy inside.  The key is they're made with tapioca flour, which give it its distinctly chewy, stretchy texture.  
My husband was really smitten by the little Brazilian cheese bread and kept talking about it.  So naturally, I came home and read up on it a little bit and decided to try making them after finding a recipe.  It was a fun project and they turned out very well!  My husband swears they're just like the ones we had at the restaurant.  I say they're close enough and more importantly, we had a lot of fun talking about and tasting these at home.  It's always fun to relive vacation memories and make them last by recreating it in some way.  
Weekend dinner!  This meal featured Jacque Pepin's recipe for crispy chicken thighs and of course, the Brazilian cheese bread 



Peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies

Last Friday, I was in the kitchen making cookies again.  Nothing out of the ordinary there.  If I needed a reason, I'd say it was Friday and the sun was shining and it actually looked as though spring might be here to stay.  
But we don't need any particular reason to make cookies any/all the time other than simply wanting to make life a little sweeter with a little treat.  Cookies are quick and easy to make, and ever so universally beloved.  It really is the simple things - and the little things - in life that make it special, and I am grateful for cookies.  I love baking them, eating them, and sharing them.
Just as cookie-making is a routine, this is not the first peanut butter chocolate chunk cookie I've made.  It's a good thing there are so many versions of everything, always a slightly different yet still familiar recipe, to try on our favorite themes.  And chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter, cookies in general, are some of my favorite themes.  

So last Friday, I was filling our cookie jar with the latest batch of cookies - these peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies.  I saw them recently and was just waiting for a day to make a batch because, again, favorite themes play on repeat and make us happy.  
And they did make us happy because these are some solid cookies peanut butter and chocolate cookies.  If you share some of my favorite themes then you can imagine that you really can't go wrong with this formula - soft, chewy chocolate chunk cookies full of peanut butter flavor.  A mix of dark and semisweet chocolate gives the cookies a little variety and interest.  I think they're the kind of cookies meant to come out of your home oven.  And I sure hope my oven continues to churn out cookies like these for a long, long time to come.  



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!



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