Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Holiday Cookie Lineup - 7 EASY Recipes

'Tis the season of baking! Most of us will be baking in the next two weeks, be it for parties, our own holidays or new year celebrations.  Since I plan on being occupied with my own fun over the next few weeks, I thought I'd do one of those fantastic cheater posts where I review my favorite holiday-friendly cookie recipes in case you are making some last minute dessert menu decisions. The best part about my list is that they are all SUPER easy, so if you have one of those, "OH CRAP, I FORGOT TO GET A GIFT FOR SO-AND-SO," moments, you can quickly whip up a batch of cookies and act like you planned it that way all along.

Have a cookie that should be on this list? I'm not fancy enough for a linkey, but leave a comment with a link to your favorite, easy, cookie and let's all share!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Drop Sugar Cookies

This recipe is a favorite from my childhood that I recently made as holiday treats for my co-workers. They are quick and easy and very unique. They are soft, light and cakey. I'm told that they taste like old-school Archway soft sugar cookies, but, having grown up in a household that did not believe in store bought cookies, I'll have to take other people's word for it. These are fun because you can add some food coloring to make them festive for a special occasion, and also because THEY ARE DELICIOUS.

This recipe originates from my great grandmother and, other than adding some food coloring, I never alter it. It makes a lot of cookies, so you could easily cut it in half, but, why would you want LESS deliciousness???? :-)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gingerbread Ninjas (or Ninjabread Men)

Last summer, I bought ninja shaped cookies cutters. I have since been waiting and waiting and waiting for it to be gingerbread season so I could make the coveted ninja-bread-men. As in, gingerbread men shaped like ninjas. If you are not ridiculously excited right now, then I just have to say it-- we can't be friends. But, I guess I'll also state that this recipe does not exclusively work for ninja shaped cookies, and if you wanted to make non-ninja gingerbread men (or ladies), then I suppose that would be acceptable.

To ice these, I used royal icing for the first time. Since I was a first-timer, I used Wilton's recipe. I found I needed to add 3-4 more tablespoons of water than it called for in order to make it pipe-able, and also that it dries so candy-like that it fell off the cookies very easily. However, it piped on well and made for good detailed decoration. Anyone with royal/detailed icing tips, I'll gladly take them!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Stamped Lemon Shortbread Cookies

Let's start by saying this-- if you've never considered what short bread cookies are made out of, then turn away now and never read this post. Eat your tin of Walkers in blissful ignorance and rejoice in it's delicious splendor......If you already know what goes into a shortbread cookie, then, welcome, pull up a chair-- let's clamp off our aortas together. :-)

As you may have guessed by their flaky, delicious nature, shortbread cookies are pretty much pure butter. WHICH IS WHY THEY ARE SO AMAZING. My baking tends to err on the side of extra chocolaty, a habit I've needed to break since a number of the recipients of my baked goods do not eat chocolate. (Shocking, I know....I'm not sure why they are my friends....) I also like to have a couple of things in my arsenal that are a light, refreshing balance to some of the heavier chocolate based items. These lemon shortbreads are something I created to serve alongside my favorite brownies. I mean, let's be honest-- there is a tray of cookies/brownies.....who eats ONE, right? But two of my favorite brownies leads to being curled up in the corner wishing that I had the good sense to only eat one, so, enter the lemon shortbread!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Spiced Custard Buttercream

Anyone else so let down by the decline in the flavor of the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte that you find yourself inserting pumpkin into all other possible places in your diet, just hoping to achieve something as glorious as the vintage 2009 Starbucks creation? I don't know what happened to the lattes, or if maybe I just got too old and thinking about things like what the flavor syrup is made out of in such a way as to ruin my own fun, but my last few Fall seasons have been deeply lacking an pumpkin confections.

I started making these cupcakes last year. They are a combination of delicious pumpkin cake and a spiced up version of the custard buttercream you find on Nanaimo bars. I learned about Nanaimo bars last year around this time after two amazing friends of mine sent me a package full of them. I rapidly set to work reading pretty much every Nanaimo related recipe on the internet and fiddling around with my own buttercream until I came up with something resembling the perfection that is Nanaimo bar cream. I then decided that, were I to add some fall spices, it would be the perfect compliment to my favorite pumpkin cake recipe. So, without further ado, I present to you my favorite fall treat!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Apple Cupcakes with Honey Mascarpone Icing

Happy (Jewish) New Year!! For those of you who don't celebrate, one of the key culinary features of the Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) meal is the dipping of apples in honey. We do this to bring sweetness to the year to come.  So, you know, you could take the reasonably healthy route of just dipping apples in honey-- or, you could be me and add a zillion calories to the process by making apple cupcakes with honey mascarpone icing.

Dude-- can we say Worth.The.Calories???????

I'm really quite pleased with myself on this little invention. I have been building this one in my head since last Thanksgiving, when I made this caramel-apple cake. A few months later I got the idea for a mascarpone icing when I saw this recipe on pinterset. From there, I Frankensteined together my creation. So, without further ado.....

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Honey Cake

Hellooooooooo! I took a little break, but I. AM. BACK! Summer is on the way out the door, the heat has *finally* broken here in Chicago and I'm back in my kitchen. I don't know when fall officially starts, but here in Julie Vision world, it's up and running. I love fall. I the weather; the flavors; bonfires; hoodie sweatshirts; Thanksgiving; everything short of raking leaves, I love.  For me, the start of fall eating is signaled by Rosh Hashanah. For those of you who do not celebrate Rosh Hashana, it is the Jewish New Year. The Rosh Hashanah meal consists of sweet fall flavors to celebrate the season and project sweetness into the year to come. These flavors include apples, honey, and pomegranate. One traditional desert to serve at your meal is honey cake.

Going back to my love of all things fall-- I love honey cake! Though this is a lesser known fall desert, I find it to be a fantastic fall-food-starter. It has great warm, fall flavor, without being pumpkin or apple. I love pumpkin and apple, but, in a season where you can get pumpkin flavored everything--from your coffee to your car air freshener--this sweet, fall-spiced cake is a good one to work into your fall baking rotation. Plus, this recipe is super easy. Double plus, I love to eat it for breakfast. (Cake is *totally* an acceptable breakfast......right? If you aren't sure if that's true, tell yourself it's acceptable to eat holiday foods for breakfast in celebration of your own culture or someone else's culture.....that just makes you worldly.) :-)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Carrot Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Icing

Hello! Sorry for the week of no posts, it's be HOT here in Chicago! It's not much cooler this week, but tonight is my book club and, dammit, book club cannot happen without treats! I love carrot cake, but am not the biggest fan of cream cheese icing (I know, I know, I'm a weirdo). But what goes with carrot cake other than cream cheese icing? Nothing. That's correct. So I've developed a super-vanillay version of the classic that I find to be delicious. Also, carrot cake is made of carrots, which are a vegetable, so I declare this a vegetable, and, therefor, healthy. Comments noting the fact that the butter and sugar content outweigh the carrot content, or any other sort of science refuting my vegetable theory will be deleted, ummmkay????

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Deep Dish Peach Cobbler

Some things in life are not with the time, effort, or calories. Unbalanced cobbler is one of them. Unbalanced as in either too-much-fruit-not-enough-biscuit or too-much-biscuit-not-enough-fruit. I often find that, due to fruit shrinkage when the fruit cooks, the latter occurs by accident. NOT ON MY WATCH, do you hear me?? NOT ON MY WATCH!!! Plus, when there is a lot of fruit you can pretend it cancels out the calories by being healthy and you can eat it for breakfast. :-) Thus, I make a 'deep dish' peach cobbler.

Cobblers are one of my favorite summer desserts. I love them when fruits/berries are fresh and you don't have to use frozen. (You can make very delicious cobbler with frozen fruit, but fresh fruit, in my opinion, always tastes better. That being said-- if you need to save time or the fruit is out of season, frozen is a fantastic alternative.) I've never been big on pie-- possibly the too-much-crust-not-enough-fruit problem that often occurs-- so crisps and cobblers are my favorite fruit based deserts. My recipe started as the one in the Betty Crocker 1969 cookbook featured in my sidebar, but has morphed pretty far from there over the last few years.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Biscoff Chocolate Chip Cookies

Anyone who's been trolling recipes on Pinterest in the past few months has seen the Biscoff Spread that is being used in all kinds of baked goods. I've had my eye out for it for a while, and have not been able to put my hands on a jar. I recently learned that Trader Joe's has their over version called Cookie Butter. Seeing as I have Trader Joe's in close proximity, you must know how excited I was by this. I quickly sped out and bought a jar. See???

Note: Product is delicious & addictive.
After I ate nearly half the jar with a spoon responsibly sampled the Cookie Butter, I was then left with conundrum of what to make with it. I'd seen it made into all kinds of things on other blogs, but the more I thought, the more I figured I'd start with the basics: a chewy, moist, chocolate chip cookie. They take a classic and spice it up a bit with a hint of ginger.

This recipe is based off my peanut butter cookie recipe. Since the Cookie Butter is about the same texture as peanut butter, the recipe converted over nicely.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Triple Chocolate Cupcakes

Remember that time I admitted to being obsessed with this dark chocolate cake recipe? Yes. Obsession still happening. I'm the birthday fairy at work, and we had another birthday a few weeks ago. When I asked said birthday girl what she wanted and she said, 'chocolate,' so I came up with these. In short, this is a dark chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting, dipped in chocolate. They are just as delicious as they sound. :-)

On a side note-- due to the heatwave hitting Chicago right now and my lack of a/c, I will be a bit quiet through the month of July. I hope the heat breaks so I can be back to baking ASAP!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Three Layer Irish Cream Cake + Decorating Tutorial (Subtitled: How to narrowly avoid Cake Wrecks)

I made the fantastic Layla a birthday cake. Layla has long been an aficionado of the Irish Cream Cupcakes I made for Leslie's Birthday, so I was quite certain that Layla needed an Irish cream cake for her birthday. The recipe I used is the same as the one for the cupcakes, but with the amounts adjusted to make three, nine inch layers, each about 1.5ish inches thick.

I've also included a decorating tutorial for my standard birthday cake design, which you can all thank me for because now that everyone knows it's easy, they are going to expect better cakes. ;-) I will warn you that the Baileys in the icing made the icing colors appear slightly different than if you were putting them in a white, less boozy icing. This is important in this case only because the cake I envisioned was a lovely dark teal with pastel pick letters and some very elegant pink and white sprinkles, but it became the creation you see here when the colors took differently than I'd hoped and I switched to a standard confetti sprinkle. At any rate, I figure I have narrowly avoided cake-wrecks this time, even if it be only by a small margin.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Whoopie Pies

My name is Julie, and I'm a Whoopie Pie Snob.

{Hi Julie}

For real- this is serious business.

My mom grew up in a small town in Ohio, directly adjacent to Amish country. My grandparents still live in said town, and, consequently, I grew up on a steady stream of high quality, delicious, Amish recipes. What does this have to do with Whoopie Pies, the sandwich cookie/cake confections run rampant in American bakeries and enjoyed by the masses since the trend took hold a few years ago??? Oh, LET ME TELL YOU.

(Read as: Put in your earplugs, Julie is a-goin' on a rant).

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cookie Dough Cupcakes

It appears to be a bit of a right of passage for a baking blog to feature a cookie dough cupcake recipe. I've staked a number of them on pinterest, (like this one and this one and this one), and they came in two varieties-- the kind that stuff with dough post-baking and the kind that freeze the dough and bake it inside. I opted to go the route of freezing the dough, so that it really goes in the middle and so that you can get a little in every bite. Consequently, I also went about deciding how to make my favorite cookie dough egg-less, as the dough stays doughy and I have no desire to send anyone into the grips of Salmonella, or any other brand of food poisoning. This post by The Girl Who Ate Everything gave me the idea to substitute the egg with sweetened condensed milk, which worked perfectly. I combined my newly egg-less dough with my favorite vanilla cupcake recipe, doctored up a little vanilla butter-cream to hold a more cookie-like flavor, and DONE. They are delicious.

You'll notice that this vanilla cupcake recipe is the same one I've used as a base for a lot of recipes. I like it because it is consistent and easy. I have a few other recipes I'll bust out for you at another time, but I specifically chose this one for these cupcakes because the batter is thick. It's the same one I use as the base for my cupcakes with Oreos baked inside. You need a thick batter when you want something to bake in the middle-- this helps prevent the stuff in the middle from sinking to the bottom.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Raspberry Lemonade Cupcakes

Photo by Donya.

This lemon cake recipe originated from a recipe in a magazine given to me by a friend. I have no idea what magazine it was, as the clipping given to me did not identify a title and I've googled to no avail. That being said, I've made enough adaptations over the past couple of years that I'm comfortable blogging it here as 'mine', but would very much like to give credit where credit is due! If you happen to recognize this as being something similar to something you read in a magazine, let me know!

The first thing we need to address before we get to the recipe is that this cake is finicky. So is the icing, for that matter. (See note about refrigeration in the icing instructions). The cake is sensitive to movement in the oven and, if irritated, falls in the middle. Luckily, if it comes out ugly, it still tastes good, but, the point is, if this is your first metaphorical rodeo, this is not your metaphorical horse. Or bull. Or whatever it is one rides at a rodeo. If you have not baked a cake from scratch before, start somewhere a little more straight forward, such as here or here. I don't mean you need to be an expert, I just wanted to give you fair warning that this is not the most simple of cakes. It is sensitive enough that it baked differently based on the color of cupcake paper I used (lighter worked better, FYI.) It is, however, delicious.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Cheddar Jalapeño Corn Muffins

My fantastic friend Layla is becoming one of my tried-and-true baking buddies. We have spent many an evening elbow deep in flour making a mess of her otherwise immaculate apartment, ('cause I'm a messy baker......like......for real.....,) creating long lists of delicious confections. Seeing as I have a sweet tooth, I was equal parts fascinated and excited when Layla suggested we create  Cheddar Jalapeno Corn Muffins. It went like this:

Layla: I was thinking something with cheddar and jalapeños....like maybe a corn muffin.

Me: {Confused face}

Layla: Don't you think that sounds good?

To myself, while face still appears confused-- Where is the SUGAR or CHOCOLATE in this idea??? Muffins that are not sugar or chocolate?? IS THIS POSSIBLE?? Wait-- it's totally possible...and totally delicious. 


Both of us: Let's get some wine. (This has nothing to do with the recipe, but it totally happened.)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ultimate Chocolate Cake + Decorating Tutorial

So, I have a fantastic friend named Susan. Susan lives in Boston and whenever we find ourselves in the same city, we base our entire agenda around visiting as many bakeries and chocolate shops as possible. We, along with another friend, once did a side-by-side formal tasting of cupcakes for six different Chicago bakeries.

Let me back up-- this goes all the way back to college. Somewhere in the early 2000's, Susan and I met on a summer program that was hosted on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, where there was no chocolate. It was like a bad social experiment that ended in one of the program staff stealing us chocolate chips from the kitchen pantry to quiet our withdrawal. Bonding over stolen baking morsels has led to the years of bakery/chocolate themed touristing noted above, as well as the idea that we should someday open a bookstore/cafe/bakery called "The Cookie Bard," where all the treats are ironically named for a writer or literary character. So, like, the menu would have things like Nick Caraway twists; Miss Maudie's Lane Cake; The Curtis Brothers' Special would be chocolate cake and scrambled eggs; The Hemingway will appear on our coffee menu, but is nothing but a solitary mug of cheap gin; etc. You get the idea. {...........and you think it's AWESOME, right??}

All this back-story is leading to this-- Susan's birthday cake. Even though Boston is about 1000 miles outside my delivery range and she would never get to eat it, Susan an I thought it would be fun for me to design a cake for this occasion. Clearly, this cake needed to be covered in chocolate. Like, it needed to be a chocolate fortress, with a WALL of chocolate keeping the chocolate from leaking out. The best part? This decor looks cool and it's super fast and easy.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Peanut Butter M&M Cookies

As I mentioned here, Erin recently turned 30, and I baked a number of things for the surprise party that her husband threw for her. I was able to find pink and orange M&Ms in the exact colors of the party, so I knew I had to bake something with them. What goes better with chocolate than peanut butter? (The answer is nothing.)

This peanut butter cookie recipe was my great grandfather's favorite; I remember baking them for him with my mom when I was a kid. It is simple and basic, but I have yet to find one that I like better. The M&Ms were not part of the original recipe, but it was just too good a combination to resist! (Please note: I know these photos are all very yellow. Photography is not my game. I'm trying.) :-)

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here)
Peanut Butter M&M Cookies (Yield- about 3 dozen)

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup shortening
2 eggs
1 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup M&Ms

Friday, May 25, 2012

Julie Vision Etsy Coupon

Some of you who know me or have been hanging around me on the Internet long enough know that I have an Etsy shop. I've neglected said shop for a while and, sadly, don't have the time I used to to keep it flowing with new merchandise. I also have a shop blog that is even more neglected, but that is another conversation. :-)

Every now and again, I close the shop for a few months, and then re-open it again. Every time I re-open I get really excited and cut out a ton of new bags, only a quarter of which ever get sewn. What's the point of me telling you this? I'm determined to get some new designs in the shop!

I've recently embarked on a joint project with the fantastic Sara of Twillypop and it got me excited to sew again. (Are you familiar with Twillypop? Sara's designs are awesome. Like, seriously. I have four of her pieces and get complemented on them constantly.)

My slow down in production was synchronous with my relocating to from Detroit to Chicago and moving into an extremely tiny apartment. (Phenomenal Julie Powers......iddddy biiddddy living space.) So, to make room for new designs, the old ones must go!! Take a look through the shop-- if you see something you like, use code FREESHIP to get free shipping on your order. This coupon will be valid until the end of June 2012.

As always, I love taking custom orders. I've done some special bridal and bridal party bags, as well as some really cute designs that convert baby dresses into handbags. Like this one, where I took one of my mom's favorite dresses from when I was a toddler and made it into bags for both of us; this one, where I used the bride's first communion dress to make her a bridal bag; and this one where I used photos to personalize the bag.

Thanks for reading this shamelessly self promoting post, and thanks for checking out the shop! Here is a little taste of what you'll find there......

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hazelnut Mocha Cupcakes

Photo by Donya.

I'll start by stating that I've developed a minor obsession with this dark chocolate cake recipe. You'll notice it popping up a lot. That's because it's good. Like, REALLY good. I have plans to bust it out for some triple chocolate high-hat cupcakes soon, so stay tuned for that one. Also, I liked it for this recipe because you can make the coffee extra strong by using Starbucks VIA packets, which gives the cake a slightly mocha-ish flavor all on its own, even without the icing. (Usually, even though there is coffee in the batter, it doesn't taste like coffee, it just tastes like chocolate).

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here)
The Cake...

Dark Chocolate Cake (Yield 2 dozen standard sized cupcakes)
Adapted from Sweetapolita's Rich & Dark Chocolate Cake

2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups dark cocoa powder, such as Hershey's Special Dark
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup strong black coffee (I used 1 cup water + 2 Starbucks VIA packets)
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
1/2 cup melted butter, cooled
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
12 Ferrero Rocher chocolates, unwrapped (optional)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Tommy's Team - Race Day!

Today was race day for the three of us representing Tommy's Team in the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago's 5k  Montrose Harbor race. You can check out Erin's account of the Wheaton race from last weekend here, where they had a much larger delegation!

I wanted to take a moment and share some of our day and THANK EVERYONE who supported Tommy's Team over the past few months. As a team, we raised over $3500.00!! Being at the race and seeing some of the amazing work and programing that the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago supports/creates was truly and awesome experience.  I was amazed and inspired to see the large delegation of kids and teens who are part of the foundations young person's group, a group that helps unite young people with Epilepsy to provide social opportunities for them to share.  As someone who loves Tommy very much, I'm so happy to know he will have the support of this group as he grows up!

Due to the NATO summit in Chicago this weekend, many roads were closed and there were protestors slowing public transit in some areas, so our day began early.  Leslie joined us from Milwaukee and had a slumber party at my house the night before...she was rather unconvinced that 6am was the appropriate hour to wake up and walk for a seizure free future.

But don't let the sleepy facade fool you! Not long after, she was bright eyed and ready to brave the NATO protestors the news told us to expect on the CTA. Luckily, there were no protestors. Although that would have made a better story.
We then met up with Laura, and headed off to the race grounds!
 We had enough time before the race to pose for a, aheam, beaver shot,
and to give some pre-race high-fives.

The numbers were low at the race due to the NATO situation, but everyone there was awesome! We walked at a nice, leisurely pace and finished feeling great!

After the race, we walked one more mile and treated ourselves to brunch at Inspiration Kitchens, which we found by googling brunch locations near the finish line. Turns out, it's AWESOME. Not only did we have an amazing brunch that was super inexpensive, it was some of the best service I've had at a restaurant ever! Take a minute and check out their 'about us' and see what they are doing to help those Chicagoans hardest hit by homelessness and poverty. Way to go, Google! Great find!

Again- THANK YOU to everyone who blogged, tweeted and/or donated to Tommy's Team. I'm proud to be part of an event that is directly supporting kids and families like Tommy and his family here in the Chicago area.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Cookie-Cake-Brownie Cake

Photo by Donya
For Erin's 30th birthday, there needed to be an amazing cake. Not just an amazing looking cake, but an amazing tasting cake. (Have you met the woman? Don't let the skinny exterior fool you-- girl can proudly pack in the desserts like a champ!) I struggled for some time to come up with the best cake idea, and finally, it came to me. Why limit the cake to cake?? I immediately busted out my spring form pan and set to work on the Cookie-Cake-Brownie. This was one layer of chocolate chip cookie, one layer of vanilla-butter cake, and one layer of brownie. I made all three of theses ahead of time and froze them so that I could stack/decorate them the day before the party.

Photo by Donya

Photo by my phone. Not as awesome as photos by Donya. :-)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Iced Sugar Cookies

First and foremost, this post starts with a massive shout out to Donya, who not only assisted in making these cookies, but took all the amazing photos that you see in this post. AND, she let me use her stand mixer. STAND MIXER!!! I wanted to steal it, but it wouldn't fit inside my jacket.

I'll back up a moment-- these cookies happened because Donya and I worked with Erin's husband to throw her a surprise 30th birthday party. We had to be awwwwwfully sneaky to do this, because, as far as Erin knew, Donya and I had only met in passing and didn't really know each other. This was true, except that we spent the past month emailing 320482304234723948732 times a day planning the party. (and giggling.)

As this party took place over an hour from where I live, but only about fifteen minutes from where Donya lives, we decided that the day before the party was going to be 'last minute errands-decoration making-baking slumber party of fun.' And it was just that! We finished all the last minute decorations (pics to come!), iced the cupcakes (posts to come!), baked up a batch of these bad boys, and still had time to go out for a fabulous dinner and do a load of laundry. I've now determined we are the best party planners ever, and shall henceforth be referred to as "Crooked Vision." :-) (The universe that exists in my brain is SO AWESOME, you have no idea.)
Crooked Vision!!!!!
The recipe itself has been in my family for over 150 years and came from my great-great-great-great-great grandma on my mom's side. The original recipe calls for lard, but over the years it has been adapted to shortening-- I do not recommend using butter! The cookies have a light, cakey, texture and freeze really well. (No, YOU repeatedly got caught stealing frozen cookies out of your grandma's freezer.) This is the recipe we use for Christmas cookies, or really any kind of celebration. My grandma still mails me a box of these on special occasions, because my grandma is awesome.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Road Trip Apple Pies

Last weekend, my family and I took a mini-road trip from Chicago down to Springfield, IL, to engage in all kinds of nerdy, historical, Lincoln related tourism. (If you didn't already know this, I'm a HUGE history nerd. HUGE.) We mapped a route following the start of historic Route 66 and stopping any/all cheese-ball road side attractions. This included giant Bunyan/muffler-man style statues, small town museums, a 'metal menagerie', and various other roadside oddities. CLEARLY, a trip this awesome in nature needed equally awesome road snacks. Enter the road trip apple pie: a single serving pie wrapped in a driver-accessible, eat-while-driving wrapper. Though slightly tedious to wrap, these are super easy to make and they withstand the road with flying colors.

What's that? You want to see some road trip pictures??? OF COURSE YOU DO!!!!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Cinnamon Walnut Coffee Cake

I'm going to be honest here-- sometimes baking doesn't go as planned. I was baking this coffee cake to take somewhere important. You'll see in the pictures below that I baked it in a bunt pan. The pictures of the sliced cake? NOT in a bunt pan. The story goes like this-- I had a very busy weekend and was ROCKING my to-do list, when the coffee cake decided not to come out of the bunt pan. I don't know why it wouldn't come out, the pan was greased/floured/all kinds of prepared- but, as anyone who has ever baked anything knows-- sometimes this just happens. Sometimes it's because you did something wrong, and sometimes it is just because it happened that way.

So, there I was, thinking I was ready to go, and I had a broken bunt cake. I had to do an emergency re-bake and bake it in a loaf pan to ensure it would come out of the pan. Luckily, cake tastes the same no matter if it is in a lovely bunt form or in a boring loaf form. And, since I was plating the cake to take tot he event, it didn't really matter. Except in my head, where this was a disaster of epic proportions. I'll ask you to do me the favor of pretending that you do not notice that my tutorial photos show a bunt pan, yet my cake is not in bunt form, umkay? Thanks. I knew I could count on you.

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here)
Cinnamon Walnut Coffee Cake (Yield - two loaves, one 9x13, or one bunt)
(Adapted from the 'Favorite Coffee Cake' recipe in the 1969 version of the Betty Crocker cookbook featured in my sidebar)

3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs


2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cinnamon
6 tablespoons firm butter
1 cup chopped walnuts

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pear Almond Muffins

In the parallel universe that exists only in my brain, muffins are healthy and acceptable to eat at every meal, chubby women are hailed as goddesses of beauty, and all matters of justice are handled by Atticus Finch, Detective Stabler, Batman, and The Doctor. This blog is really only equipped to handle the muffin issue.

A few months ago, I had a really delicious pear muffin at a bakery near my house, and then a really delicious almond muffin at a different bakery. I have since been obsessed with developing a hybrid of the two. This is what I've come up with.

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here)
Pear Almond Muffins - Yield 10-12 muffins

1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup sugar (+ extra for topping)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 sliced almonds, toasted and ground (+ extra for topping)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 cup chopped fresh pear

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chocolate Fluffernutter Cupcakes

 I needed something REALLY awesome to celebrate the amazing Erin completing her first half marathon, so I came up with these. They are chocolate cupcakes, filled with marshmallow fluff, and topped with peanut butter icing. Need I say more?? I used the chocolate cake recipe my mom used for birthdays and special occasions when I was a kid, which is not only delicious, but easy to make.

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here)
Chocolate Celebration Cake (Yield 2, 9" layers or 24 standard cupcakes)

2 eggs
2/3 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda dissolved in 1 cup water
1 cup sour milk*

*Sour milk can be made by adding 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice per cup of milk. Stir well and allow to sit for a few minutes before adding to the batter.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Easy Homemade Bread

Remember when I hosted that birthday party and made a big bread and cheese tray? This is one of the breads I made for that tray. I chose this one because 1) it's good, 2) it's something everyone likes, and 3) it freezes well, so it can be made ahead of time.

Bread is really not hard to make, it's just time consuming because you have to allow it to rise. And, it can be a bit of a mess. In my instructions below, I detail how I reduce the mess as much as possible. I live in a very small apartment with a very small kitchen, so reducing mess is high on my priority list.

Though I'm usually a fan of wheat and seed breads (recipes for some of those to come!), there is a great deal to be said in the favor of a classic, homemade, loaf of white bread. We aren't talking about preservative filled, fluffy, store bought, nutrition-less white bread-- we are talking about dense, delicious, hot-from the oven white bread. I can't say it's the highest on the nutrition scale, but, if that concerns you, this recipe works exactly the same with whole-wheat flour. This recipe is one I adapted from one in the 1969 vintage Betty Crocker Cookbook. Cookbook info. is in my sidebar.

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here)
 Easy White Bread Yield 2 large loaves

2 packages active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
3/4 cup warm water (105*-115*F)
2 2/3 cups warm water
1/4 brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons butter (if you are diary-free or keep kosher and want this to be parve, you can use shortening)
9 - 10 cups of all-purpose flour (you can use bread flour/self-rising flour, but then omit the salt)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sheep Cupcake Decorating Tutorial

I was invited to Easter at a friend's house this year and was very excited at the prospect of baking cute, kid friendly Easter things.  This is the first time I've done any Easter baking, and everyone told me that meant I had to make a lamb cake. I googled lamb cake. I entertained the idea for about a twenty-four seconds before one of the ladies at work mentioned that, unless you really know what you are doing, the head of the lamb cake often falls off. I'm a lot of things, but I am NOT the guest who shows up with the decapitated lamb on Easter. (Maybe on Christmas.........;-))

Risk of headless lamb aside, I continued to google and see if I could find an adaptation of the lamb cake that held less risk of accidental, offensive, mutilation. I came up with these little lamb cupcakes that are SO CUTE!! (My inspiration came from here and here.)

What you need to make these little sheepy cupcakes:

- One dozen cupcakes (I used the dark chocolate cake recipe here. I wanted the cupcakes to have nice, high, domes on top, so to bake them, I started them at 450* for seven minutes, then took them down to 350*F for another seven. This process makes them 'poof' more while baking.)
'Poofy' cupcake
- Approximately two cups thick white icing. (I think one store bought can would do it, but I used the recipe below since it is easy and tastes better than canned icing.)

- One medium sized bag mini-marshmallows.

- One dozen Milano cookies. (Chocolate ones also make cute little sheep, but they are more difficult to find.)

- Two dozen mini-chocolate chips or two dozen candy eyes. (I used Wilton candy eyes.)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Passover Bagels

So, anyone who has ever been to a Passover Seder knows that Passover baking is not always the finest. During Passover, those who celebrate remove all grains and grain based items from their homes, with the exception of matzo and flour made from matzo. We also refrain for eating anything with leavening, such as yeast, baking powder, or baking soda. (This article does a good job of explaining the basics, if you are interested.) Naturally, this makes baking complicated. Things tend to not taste quite like what they are trying to be and often end up like edible rocks.

My family celebrated almost every year of my childhood with another family, and that other family always made Passover Bagels. The matriarch of the other family, Susan, remains to this day as one of my favorite adult figures from my childhood. Susan didn't cook-- in the whole of my youth, I recall her making a total of three things, all of which made repeated appearances at various functions: orange jello mold, caramel brownies, and passover bagels. All three were delicious. Though Susan passed away a number of years ago, I think of her every Passover, and this year, I tried my hand at her Passover bagels.

Before we get to the recipe, keep a few things in mind: 1) generally, these don't look exactly like bagels-- in fact they look a little bit of a mess; 2) they won't taste like regular bagels; 3) despite items 1 and 2, they are delicious. Susan used to make hers the size of regular bagels, I made mine a bit smaller so that they can be eaten like a dinner roll with the Passover meal.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tommy's Team - Have you joined yet??? {{GIVEAWAY}}

A few weeks ago, I blogged about Tommy's Team, the team I will be representing in the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago's 5k race in May. 

Erin, Tommy's mom, is hosting an AWESOME giveaway in honor of Tommy's Team and in hopes that you might join us at one of the two races in May. You can win a $30 gift card to Starbucks, Sephora, iTunes, Amazon, or Dunkin' Donuts (winner's choice!).

You can enter the giveaway here. All you have to do to enter is to visit the epilepsy facts page and tell her something new you learned about epilepsy. That's it! You can get additional entries for joining Tommy's Team or for donating, but neither are required to gain your entry!

As a reminder...........

Erin is heading up the main division of Tommy's Team at the Wheaton race on May 12, 2012. I will be heading up division two at the Montrose Harbor race on May 19, 2012, since I, sadly, cannot attend on the 12th. This is a walk/run family friendly event-- you do not have to be a runner! (Let's be glad for that.....my walk/jog/walk/walk/walk/jog/pant-for-breath/walk combo is slightly far from professionally competitive).

If you are interested in joining us on Tommy's Team at either location (or any of the other locations!), you can register here and THANK YOU, you RULE. If you are not so into the racing, but are interested in making a donation, then, THANK YOU, you also RULE. You can make a donation here.

For those of you out there that have already joined or donated-- THANK YOU SO MUCH! I'm excited for race day!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cake + Decorating Tutorial

Doesn't this cake look awesome??!!!

It's so easy to make, it's almost embarrassing.

I'm serious.

I have the step-by-step for each part of this cake-- the baking, the decorating and the making of those cute flower toppers--here in this post. ANYONE can make this cake, I promise!

The cake.......

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here)
Dark Chocolate Cake (Yield 3, 9" layers)
Adapted from Sweetapolita's Rich & Dark Chocolate Cake

2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups dark cocoa powder, such as Hershey's Special Dark
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup strong black coffee
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
1/2 cup melted butter, cooled
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Low-Fat Blackberry Oatmeal Muffins

Brace your self-- this is a healthy recipe.....bummer....I know......but don't click away yet!!!

This recipe was born out of two problems: 1) I hate taking time to make healthy breakfasts, 2) one healthy breakfast I do like is steel cut oats made in my crock pot overnight, but it makes way more oats than one Julie can eat, so I always have too much left over. And then, one day, it occurred to me that I could use the leftover oatmeal to make muffins, and, for just one second, ALL WAS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD.

This recipe is fast, easy and waist-line friendly! For those of you out there counting weight watchers points, these muffins are only three points plus points each! According to SparkPeople's recipe calculator, the stats break down to: Calories, 115 / Fat 2.4g / Carbs 24.6g / Fiber 2.3g/ Protein 3g. I'm sure you could lower the fat/calories even more if you use egg substitute instead of real eggs.

Since healthy baking is way less fun than non-healthy baking, you must first make sure you have some really awesome music to sing and dance to while you are baking. Yes, this is part of the official recipe. The muffins will know if you are not dancing. You don't have to dance well-- to prove this, I've provided an internet simulated likeness of my dancing:

Seriously. You have no idea. It's bad. But it makes healthy projects SO much more fun.

ANYWAY...back to the muffins. Yes, these are healthy muffins, so they will have that slightly hockey-puck shape that healthy muffins have; but, they taste good.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Butter Pecan Cake

We decided to start celebrating birthdays at work. This is very exciting, because it means I was nominated birthday fairy and I get to make treats for birthdays. The tricky part is that my office has a few people who either don't like or can't eat chocolate, so I'm rapidly expanding my non-chocolate portfolio. (If your response right now was, 'wait, cake comes in NOT chocolate?? WHAAAT??" then we are totally friends.) One of the new cakes I've adopted is a butter pecan cake / cupcakes, and it is AWESOME. Almost worth forgetting I know about chocolate.

For work or for places where there are lots of people, I always do cupcakes just to make serving the cake easier. However, this recipe makes so much batter that I made two dozen cupcakes and still had enough batter/icing to make the birthday girl her own 6" cake to take home.

My only disappointment in this whole experience was my use of the floral themed Wilton cupcake papers. These did not bake as pretty as I had hoped and many of them looked kind of ridiculous. Since the icing on this cake is not able to be piped, I was hoping that using the flour papers would help decorate them, or that the nutty icing would look like centers in the flours. Unfortunately, it did not turn out this way.

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here)
Butter Pecan Cake - Yield 3, 9" layers OR 3 dozen standard cupcakes
Adapted from the recipe found here and originally published in Christmas with Southern Living, 2005.

6 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups all purpose flour
Toasted pecan halves- for garnish, if desired

2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cup chopped pecans
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
16 ounces powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk/cream;
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Step #1 - Preheat oven to 350* F.

Step #2 - Melt chocolate with evaporated milk in double boiler over medium/low heat. Set aside to cool. If you don't have a double boiler, you can always put a glass bowl over a sauce pan to create one, which is what I do. Make sure that the bowl is big enough to sit on top of the pan securely, but without touch the bottom of the pan and allowing for the water to boil underneath.Also, make sure steam is not escaping from the pan below and contaminating the chocolate. This will ruin it.If more that slight amounts of steam are escaping from the pan, then it is too hot; turn the heat down.

Step #3- In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until they are fluffy.

Step #4- Add, the vanilla and, one at a time, the egg yolks, mixing after each one.

Step #5 - Dissolve the baking soda in the milk. 

Step #6 - Add,the flour, white chocolate, and the milk/soda mixture to the butter mixture, alternating between them
as you stir.
Once it's all incorporated, the batter should be smooth and slightly thick.

Step #7 - In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a mixer until they form still peaks. This always takes me a different amount of time depending on the day. 'Stiff peaks' means that, when you pull the beaters out of the mixture, the mixture stiffly holds the peak. Having egg whites at room temperature when you start is vital-- cold egg whites are much more difficult to fluff/get to the peaking point.

Step #8 - Fold the egg whites into the batter until well incorporated.Folding is the motion of using a spatula or large spoon to 'lift' the batter over on top of itself as if you were folding it. DO NOT MIX WITH A MIXER!! The purpose of adding fully egg whites to a cake batter is to help the cake become moist and fluffy. If you beat the batter too much, it will beat the fluffy-ness out.

Step #9 - Bake at 350* F. For 9" layers, bake for 20-22 minutes. Make sure the pans are well greased and lined with wax paper.For cupcakes, bake for 10-13 minutes.

The Icing
You can easily make this icing the day before you bake the cake if you need to. Also, this type of cake/frosting freezes well.

Step #1 - Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped pecans and simmer over medium heat until pecans are toasted. (about 10 min). Careful! It's easy to burn the pecans! Remove the pecans from the pan immediately. The pan holds enough heat to burn the pecans even after you've removed the pan from the heat. ALLOW PECANS TO COOL!!!

Step #2 - Beat, with a mixer, the butter, cream cheese, vanilla, milk and powdered sugar, until creamy.

Step #3 - Add cooled pecans and beat until well incorporated. Apply to cake and garnish with toasted pecans if desired.