Tuesday, December 3, 2013

150 Stocking Stuffers: The 2013 Edition!

It's here. It's officially Christmastime.

As I finish up my fifth and final week of work training, it's all I can do to stop myself from figuring out a way to bake sugar cookies and gingerbread in this  hotel room. There's a Christmas tree waiting at home, Hershey Hugs waiting in my freezer, and newly-bought Christmas ornaments in my car. At this point... I am literally fueling my Christmas obsession with daydreams, Pinterest, and peppermint iced coffees.  

A few years ago I wrote a post packed FULL of 150 stocking stuffer ideas. It was one of my favorite things to write... and everybody everywhere is pinning it right now (that and these peanut butter reindeer cookies).

This November, I've kept myself busy while work-traveling with an updated 2013 stocking stuffer gift guide. Stockings are a tradition in my family and our absolute favorite thing to shop for and open at Christmas... and today I'm sharing that obsession with you. 150 fun, creative ideas that men and women will actually want. You know. Like not oranges.

P.S. Links to the photos are in italics in the list below.  

For Women...

For Men...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

My Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies {with Sno-caps!}

These are my favorite chocolate chip cookies. 

For the longest time, they've been hidden away on my blog, nestled inside this Cheesecake Cookie Sandwiches Two Ways: Brown Butter Chocolate Chunk & Strawberry Shortcake post. How have I never just written about my go-to, most-baked, most boyfriend-demanded chocolate chip cookies? 

Probably the same way I missed National Bundt Cake Day. 

P.S. Do you need a bundt cake? I got you. Try my Buttermilk Banana Bundt Cake with Brown Butter IcingZebra Bundt Cake with Chocolate Ganache IcingPumpkin Buttermilk Bundt Cake with Brown Butter Icing, or my favorite: this Cheesecake-Filled Gingerbread Bundt Cake. It's never too late to celebrate... or too early for gingerbread.

Today we're baking Sno-caps into our chocolate chip cookies... because there are red cups and wrapping paper and twinkle lights in the world and Sno-caps (semi-sweet chocolate chips covered in white nonpareil sprinkles and resembling snow-capped mountains) are the perfect holiday twist for easing ourselves into Christmastime baking.

Tis the season, I know.. but I'm totally not ready just yet for candy canes and peanut butter blossoms. Let's start with festive chocolate chip cookies!      

What makes these my favorite chocolate chip cookies? 

 Brown butter. You know about my love for baking everything ever with brown butter and these chocolate chip cookies is where that love all started. Besides adding a nutty, caramel-rich depth of flavor, it gives these cookies a soft chewiness that can only found when you're baking with melted butter.    

Molasses + dark brown sugar. Molasses adds a warm, just-slightly gingerbread flavor to the dough, while keeping the centers of these cookies just-baked soft for days. The dark brown sugar (which is just light brown sugar with even more molasses) works with the molasses to create one perfectly-soft, chewy chocolate chip cookie.

 Fact: No matter what I'm baking, I almost always reach for the dark brown sugar over the golden brown.  

 Cinnamon. I'm almost always adding a little something extra to my cookie dough and that something is either in the form of cinnamon or bourbon. Bourbon accents the vanilla/caramel flavors from the brown butter and molasses and cinnamon makes the chocolate flavors really pop.

But be honest: who really keeps bourbon in their baking cabinet? I just don't have that kind of faith in myself.

   Triple chocolate chips. These cookies are similar to my Triple Chocolate Chip Cake Batter Cookies... they're full of semisweet chocolate, white chocolate chips, and crispy, sprinkle-covered Sno-Caps. My weakness? White chocolate chips in my chocolate chip cookies! 

Now if Nestle would just make a white chocolate version of their semisweet chunks.

Crispy edges. Soft, chewy centers that stay just-baked for days... if they even last that long. Plus those golden specks of brown butter I can't stop talking about, cinnamon, dark brown sugar, molasses, and as many types of chocolate chips as I can possibly bake into a cookie? 

It almost makes up for not having bourbon.


P.S. I made these cookies Saturday. They were gone within four days. 

Brown Butter Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

Printable Recipe

1 cup (2 sticks) + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon molasses
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips 
1 (3.1-ounce) package Sno-Caps

Brown butter. Brown 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon of butter by heating over medium heat, whisking constantly, until golden brown. Once butter is browned, remove from heat and pour into a bowl to cool slightly. For more information on how to brown butter, see this post

Mix. In a stand mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the other stick of butter with the granulated sugar until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and molasses and beat until incorporated. Add the slightly cooled brown butter and the brown sugar and mix on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Add the egg and egg yolk and mix until fully incorporated. 

Whisk. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda. Add all at once to the butter mixture and mix on low until just incorporated. Fold in the chocolate, white chocolate, and Sno-Caps with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Chill. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (Tip: The longer you chill the dough, the thicker they will become when they bake!) Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Scoop dough into balls using a small cookie scoop and place 2 inches apart on baking sheet.

Bake. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies are just starting to turn golden brown around the edges. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Source: Adapted from the Joy the Baker cookbook.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Vanilla Bean Latte Cupcakes with Mocha-Vanilla Swirled Buttercream.

Happy National Vanilla Cupcake Day! It's totally a thing.

Earlier this year I made the softest, fluffiest, most very-vanilla cupcakes ever from cupcake batter spiked with real vanilla beans. These cupcakes had me dreaming of wedding cake, with their light, delicate vanilla flavor all while still being perfectly sweet and rich (... or maybe it was their peanut butter cup centers!). Either way, they instantly became my go-to vanilla cupcake recipe... and made me fall in love all over again with simple, classic vanilla cake.

They also got me hooked on baking with vanilla beans. I've even started making my own vanilla extract!

Those black specks... it's pure vanilla love. 

To celebrate Vanilla Cupcake Day (P.S. October 18th was National Chocolate Cupcake Day. Did you celebrate?) I baked a batch of my favorite vanilla bean cupcakes with a coffee-shop twist inspired by one of my favorite cold, blustery fall afternoon pick-me-ups: Starbucks' vanilla lattes.

Is there anything more comforting than vanilla, hot milk, and dark, rich espresso on a cold November day?

The answer is yes: cinnamon, sugar, and chocolate.

The answer is also cinnamon, sugar, and chocolate AND vanilla and espresso. 

And we're celebrating today by putting it all together in a cupcake. 

These cupcakes are made up of three easy, irresistible parts: 

1. Vanilla bean cupcake batter.

2. A swirl of cinnamon-sugar and espresso powder.

3. And my favorite vanilla buttercream, divided in half. One half is left pure, rich vanilla, one half is spiked with chocolate and coffee and then both are swirled together. It's even easier than it sounds! A medium bowl, a tablespoon of cocoa powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of espresso powder. Easily one of these best frostings I've ever licked off a spoon.

Optional/totally not optional: a fat chocolate-covered espresso bean on top.

1. Baking these cupcakes couldn't be easier. The cupcake batter comes together in minutes and is packed full of rich vanilla flavor. And it's no wonder! They're spiked with vanilla beans, vanilla extract, AND vanilla yogurt. Triple vanilla flavor = one rich, perfectly-vanilla cupcake. 

2. Next, the cake batter is spooned into cupcake liners and sprinkled with a teaspoon a cinnamon-sugar-espresso mixture. Without the smallest addition of espresso powder, these might have baked into snickerdoodle cupcakes or coffee cake cupcakes. Just the smallest spoonful of espresso and vanilla bean latte cakes are happening.

Tip: Don't completely cover the espresso-sugar layer with cupcake batter. Those sugary edges peeking out will bubble up with cinnamon-coffee goodness when baking. This is totally a thing you want. Also, be sure to only fill the liners 3/4 of the way full... they will rise when baking!

You can't even imagine what my apartment smelled like while these were baking. Like cinnamon-sugar, buttery, crumbly coffee cake, snickerdoodle blondies, wedding cake, and strong, freshly-brewed coffee.      

3. And we're not done! I couldn't decide whether to top these with vanilla frosting or mocha frosting... so I made both! I used my standard vanilla buttercream (the same frosting that tops my Cut-Out Sugar Cookies), spiked half with espresso & cocoa powder, and then swirled them both together using a Wilton #1M piping tip and the same method as my three-tone chocolate cupcakes

I frosted another one of my favorite cupcakes like this too: my chocolate-vanilla-swirled Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Cupcakes. If you haven't tried those yet, then I think it's just best if we make November 11th National Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Cupcake Day. 

Vanilla Bean Latte Cupcakes with Vanilla-Mocha Buttercream

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
2 egg whites
1/4 cup vanilla yogurt (or sour cream)
3/4 cup milk
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Seeds scraped from 1 split vanilla bean

Espresso Swirl
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder 

Vanilla-Mocha Frosting 
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 cups powdered sugar 
2-4 tablespoons milk 
1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Prep. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners and set aside.

Mix dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. 

Melt. Melt the butter in the microwave in a large bowl. Stir in the sugar until combined. Stir in the egg whites, vanilla yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract. 

Vanilla bean. Using a sharp knife, cut one vanilla bean in half length-wise, from top to bottom. Gently scrape the seeds from the whole bean into cupcake batter. Whisk until combined, making sure to break up any vanilla seed clumps if necessary.

Make your cupcake batter. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until smooth and no lumps remain. 

Cinnamon & spice. In a small bowl, whisk together the 1/2 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder. Set aside. 

Scoop. Fill cupcake liners a scoop with batter, about 1/3 of the way full (tip: use a cookie scoop!). Sprinkle a teaspoon of the espresso-sugar over the batter, then scoop cupcake batter over the top until liners are 3/4 of the way full.

Bake. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake tests clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before frosting. 

Frost. To make the frosting, beat butter and shortening in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and salt. Beat in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add 2 tablespoons of milk; beat at high speed until light and fluffy. Add additional milk until desired piping consistency. 

Make it mocha!  Transfer half the frosting to a small bowl and stir in espresso powder and cocoa.  

Swirl. To frost, place each frosting in a separate piping bag. Place both bags together in one piping bag fitted with a Wilton #1M piping tip. Top each cupcake with swirls of frosting and a chocolate-covered espresso bean. For more help on piping with two-tone frostings, see this post.   

Source: Adapted from my Vanilla Bean Cupcakes, originally adapted from The Cupcake Project

Monday, October 21, 2013

Candy Bar Bundt Cake with Chocolate Fudge Icing.

It's October. Now is the time to spend way too much money on fun-sized candy bars, smash them into chocolate chunks, and bake them into a candy bar bundt cake. Because you can... and you can get away with absolutely anything in October. Pumpkin spice cookies for breakfast, pumpkin lattes for dinner, candy bars and cinnamon in your popcorn (I can't even) , "just one more" pumpkin spice candle because I'm in love and obsessed/just try and stop me, and spending hours pinning all things pumpkin and then baking absolutely nothing because The Walking Dead is on. This is real life and we're living it!

Aren't you glad too? I'm in love with this Etsy print... and with October. It's the calm before the storm. You know... before we have to deal with candy canes and mistletoe and tangled-up Christmas tree lights.

And a month away from home, at training, where I'm expected to run three miles, study the law, and excel at ground-fighting. Do not major in criminal justice.

In the mean time, we're celebrating that calm by putting down the pumpkin spice and baking a cake. A soft, fluffy, tender, brown sugar-vanilla bundt cake filled with chunks of our favorite chocolate Halloween candy and then completely covered in the thickest, most pure fudge chocolate icing ever.  

And sprinkles. You should never miss an opportunity to use sprinkles. It's the best life advice I could ever give you.

My real life isn't always as sweet, styled, and covered in pumpkin-shaped sprinkles as you would think. Maybe I stress-bake bundt cakes sometimes... because it's who I am, they're a cake-walk to bake, and let me feel completely in control of things for at least 50 minutes.

P.S. Are cake walks even a thing anymore? They were my favorite part of my town's annual Halloween fair growing up. I mean, why try and win a Pixy Stix at the ring-toss when you could when a WHOLE CAKE for walking in a circle?

... this is probably why I run today.

  This bundt cake is the perfect place to start for Everything Ever Baking. As in... this batter smells like chocolate chip cookie dough... and anything can be baked into a chocolate chip cookie! What do you have hiding in your cabinets? Oreos? Chocolate-covered pretzels? Seventeen opened and forgotten bags of chocolate chips?

If you're reading this in November... the answer is probably leftover Halloween candy.

Into this cake went all of my favorite fun-sized chocolate things... 

 Reese's peanut butter cups


 Hershey's Cookies & Cream bars

 Almond Snickers 

I love a good suspenseful cake. With this bundt, each slice was different! The slice above was full of chopped almond Snickers and Rolo halves... making it taste like a rich, moist caramel-vanilla cake with unexpected chunks of chocolate.

My boyfriend ate this slice for breakfast full of nothing but peanut butter cups. He totally thought I'd baked him a peanut butter pound cake.

The secret to this cake's fluffy softness? I almost always swap out the light, golden brown sugar in any cookie or cake recipe for dark brown sugar. Besides adding a deeper and richer brown sugar/caramel taste, it leaves my baked goods so much more tender, soft, and moist.

P.S. This cake came THIS close to having a brown butter icing (my second best life advice tip? Follow that link to my buttermilk pumpkin cake & immediately make it a part of your life). This chocolate icing though? Pure fudge + a good decision. It was similar to the stovetop icing used to ice one of my favorite go-to chocolate cakes: Texas sheet cake.

There's just too many things going on here that I love.

It's fall. Let's smash chocolate and bake cakes!

Candy Bar Bundt Cake with Chocolate Fudge Icing

Printable Recipe

3 cups all-purpose flour + more for dusting
1 cup vegetable oil + more for greasing
1 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups assorted candy, roughly chopped & tossed in 2 tablespoons of flour (I used Rolos, Reeses peanut butter cups, and fun-sized almond Snickers and cookies & cream Hershey bars)- 

Chocolate Icing
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup cocoa powder
6 tablespoons evaporated milk
3 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-3 tablespoons evaporated milk or heavy whipping cream, if needed

Prep. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup bundt pan generously with oil and dust with flour, tapping out any excess. Set aside.

Mix. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the oil and brown sugar. Add the eggs and mix well. Next, mix in the vanilla extract and vanilla Greek yogurt until thoroughly combined. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Fold in the chopped candy bars (tossed in 2 tablespoons of flour).  Pour cake batter into prepared bundt pan and spread evenly.

Bake. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center of cake tests clean. Remove cake and allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make icing. In a medium saucepan, bring butter, cocoa powder, and evaporated milk to a boil over medium heat, whisking occasionally. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt, and whisk continuously until smooth, about 30 seconds. If icing is still to thick, add extra evaporated milk or heavy whipping creaming one tablespoon at at a time until icing is a pouring consistency. Immediately remove from heat and pour icing over the top of your cake. Work fast- the icing will harden quickly once it's removed from heat!

Source: Candy Bar Bundt Cake inspired and adapted from Scarletta Bakes. Chocolate icing from Brown Eyed Baker.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Kiss Gingerdoodle Blossoms.

 These pillowy pumpkin spice blossoms are inspired by two of my favorite and most popular (and pinned!) fall cookies: 

 Cinnamon pumpkin spice kiss blossoms... soft, chewy cinnamon cookies, rolled in sugar, with a white chocolate-pumpkin spice Hershey kiss on top. 


 Gingerdoodles... gingersnaps and snickerdoodles rolled into everyone's new favorite Christmas cookie. 

Anything with a Hershey kiss on top is my favorite thing to bake. That was the first thing I changed when I updated my About Me page! Whether it's peanut butter, chocolate-peppermint, cinnamon spice, or Oreo-stuffed white chocolate raspberry blossoms... I'll be honest: it's all about pressing a chocolate candy into a just-baked cookie and making those signature crinkles.

I love a good sparkling, sugary-crisp crinkle.

This fall, the only thing I wanted to bake (besides everything pumpkin) was a repeat of last year's cinnamon kiss cookies. They were simple, chewy, and full of fall flavor ... and even better when paired with a pumpkin spice latte for breakfast. And after snooping at what you've been pinning lately, I was inspired and determined to combine the sugar & spice swirls of gingerdoodles with the pumpkin spice Hershey kiss of those cinnamon blossoms we're all obsessed with.

There's three parts to these gingerdoodle kiss cookies.

 Gingersnap dough

 Chilled pumpkin snickerdoodle dough

 And pumpkin spice kisses!

Oh... and a quick dunk in a bowl of nutmeg-spiked cinnamon-sugar. I fall.

Rolled together, it's hard to tell we're baking with two different doughs. Don't worry... all your hard work hasn't gone to waste. Here's a sneak peek at the cookie bottoms!

Gingersnaps meets pumpkin snickerdoodles. 

First up, the gingersnap dough.

If you have ten minutes, you can easily mix together a half-batch of the soft-baked, spicy-sweet gingersnap dough used in my original gingerdoodle recipe. Rich with ginger, cinnamon, and molasses, this recipe needed no improvement (except in quantity!).

Next, the snickerdoodle dough.

Because it's October and let me live, I took things one step further by swapping out the snickerdoodle dough for pumpkin snickerdoodle dough. Pumpkin snickerdoodles have been on my fall to-bake list for the past two or three years and I'm so glad I waited for this moment to test the recipe. With the addition of some fall spices, a few tablespoons of pumpkin puree, a little vanilla, and some extra brown sugar, this cookie dough had all the cinnamon-sugar flavor of the classic snickerdoodle, with the subtle pumpkin flavor I plan on craving from now until December.

Because we're baking with pumpkin, the dough is soft and nearly impossible to roll at room temperature. Chilling the dough for at least one hour (I was too lazy to bake and chilled mine overnight) made the sticky-soft dough pliable enough to roll into balls.

As someone who likes her cookies soft-baked and pillowy, the addition of pumpkin turned these blossoms into the fat, puffy, cinnamon-sugar clouds I was hoping for. Where the original gingerdoodle cookies were thin and chewy, these baked up into perfectly soft (but un-cakey) chewy cookies. And they stay soft! Even several days later.

Last... the pumpkin spice Kisses.

The secret to keeping your chocolate from melting? 

1. Freeze your Hershey Kisses.

2. Allow cookies to cool three minutes out of the oven before pressing your Kisses on top.

3. Place the entire baking sheet into the freezer until chocolate sets.


P.S. An anticipated FAQ: I found my pumpkin Kisses at Target. Can't find them in anywhere near you? Try caramel Kisses or use the back of a spoon to make a thumbprint-shape indent and fill with a sprinkle of white chocolate chips!

Pumpkin Spice Kiss Gingerdoodle Blossoms

Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Dough
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar 
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons pumpkin puree
2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
Pinch of salt  
Pinch of nutmeg

Make snickerdoodle dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the sugar, softened butter, egg, vanilla, and pumpkin. 

Add in the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg and mix on low until thoroughly combined. Let dough chill for at least 1 hour (I chilled mine overnight). 

Gingersnap Dough
6 tablespoons shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
4 tablespoons molasses 
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt 
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 

Make gingersnap dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream together the shortening and sugar. Add the molasses and egg and continue beating until combined. 

Add in the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger and mix on low speed until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

For rolling & making cookie blossoms 
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
1 package Hershey's Pumpkin Spice Kisses

Freeze pumpkin Kisses. Unwrap pumpkin spice Kisses and place them in a small bowl in the freezer until ready to use. 

Prep. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat baking mat or spray with baking spray; set aside. 

Sugar & spice. In a small bowl, combine the 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and pinch of nutmeg. Set aside.

Combine together. Combine a 1/2 tablespoon of gingersnap dough and a 1/2 tablespoon of snickerdoodle dough together and roll into one dough ball. Toss in cinnamon-sugar and place on prepared baking sheet. Keep snickerdoodle dough in the refrigerator when not using... dough quickly becomes too soft and sticky to handle when at room temperature! 

Bake. Bake for 9-10 minutes, or until done.

Stick a kiss in it. Remove from oven and allow to cool for three minutes on baking sheet. Gently press a frozen pumpkin spice kiss into the center of each cookie. The Kisses will start to get shiny and melt after a just few minutes. At this point, just pop the whole baking sheet into the freezer until the chocolate sets.

Source: Cookie blossoms inspired and adapted from my cinnamon pumpkin spice kiss blossoms and gingerdoodles