Recipe roundup: Valentine’s Day

I loved Valentine’s Day as a kid. It was an excuse to eat lots of candy, wear lots of pink and tell people nice things. What’s not to like?

I wish we did Valentine’s Day mailboxes at work, like we did as kids. Maybe I should make that happen next year. But in the meantime, I’m sitting here daydreaming about pink cupcakes and heart-shaped cookies and all the other lip-smacking Valentine’s Day desserts.

Here’s a roundup of the Valentine’s Day recipes I’m most excited about this year, plus some recipes from my blog that just might do the trick for your V-day needs.

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From Jo Cooks

Strawberry Chocolate Chip Scones: Start your day with a dash of red and a bit of sugar. These scones from Jo Cooks sure look scrumptious.

Olive Oil Cupcakes with Berry Buttercream: The base cupcake is an intriguing mix of almond, orange and olive oil. Top that with a mixed berry buttercream, and you have yourself a Valentine’s Day winner. These come from Molly Yeh, so you know they’re good!

Blackberry Lemon Cake: This cake from Natasha’s Kitchen gets its flavor from blackberry frosting and lemon simple syrup. It’s simple, sounds delicious and the blackberries make it a lovely shade of purply pink.

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From Bakers Royale

Watercolor Heart Cookies: I saw these gorgeous cookies from Bakers Royale in my Pinterest feed yesterday and can’t stop thinking about them!

Red Velvet Brownies with Cream Cheese Frosting: I love frosted brownies, and this recipe from The Recipe Critic looks delightfully rich.

M&M Cookie Bars: A simple cookie bar recipe, jazzed up with seasonal pink and red M&Ms by No.2 Pencil.

Strawberry Thyme Cake: One last cake option for you, because I can never resist a bit of herbs with my dessert. This combo from The Cake Blog sounds delicious and looks great!

Conversation Heart Cookies: These cookies are so fun, especially because I Am A Food Blog strayed away from traditional V-day colors. As much as I love red and pink, it’s nice to have some other colors in the mix, too!

Recipes on this blog:

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Craving more ideas? Check out my Valentine’s Day Pinterest board.

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The 2017 Baking Roundup

Every January I write an annual report. I look at what I did, where I went and what I wrote. It’s a nice way to remember the good from the year before, and helps me look at how little moments in time add up.

I carried this tradition over to Sugarsmith a couple of years ago–because baking deserves reflection, too. I keep a detailed list of everything I bake, so it’s pretty easy to figure out patterns from the entire year. Here’s a look at my 2017 in baking:

What I made

I baked 54 times last year, including 51 new recipes (94%). That’s lower than 2016 when I baked 68 times, but still higher than 2015, so I feel good about it!baking report

Flavors

I covered a nice mix of flavors in 2017. 54% of recipes contained chocolate, but chocolate wasn’t always the dominant flavor. When I took a closer look I found that fruity recipes led the pack, from Lemon Cookies to Lemon Cucumber Cake. I also made a lot of herb-y recipes, like Lavender Cookies and Strawberry Basil Cupcakes. I made way fewer pumpkin recipes than originally planned for the fall, but managed to get three in there! And clearly I didn’t make enough s’mores treats in 2017…though the one I DID make was pretty killer.

Who ate it?

I hosted 6 events in 2017, accounting for 20 recipes (58%). Another 14 recipes went to other people’s birthdays, housewarmings, etc. And the remaining 37% of my baked goods went with me to work. You’re welcome, coworkers!

What did people read?

I published 27 posts to Sugarsmith in 2017. I feel pretty good about that given that I split my time between blogs and also write for work. Of course, I have tons of unfinished drafts just waiting for me to finish them. I also don’t write about every single thing I bake. And I rarely post in chronological order. So even if you eat a lot of my treats…you can never really know what I’ll post next!

Top Posts on Sugarsmith for 2017

Clearly you guys like gooey butter cake and salty/sweet combos. Noted for 2018!

Favorites That Didn’t Crack the Top 5

Best *New* Things I ate in 2017

As always, thanks for reading–I’ll be back with new recipes soon!

 

Wassail Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Orange Glaze

I really hate wasting specialty ingredients. Whenever I buy something special for one recipe, I try to find other recipes that’ll use it up. Sometimes that’s easy: leftover rosemary goes into cookies, or leftover molasses becomes Gingerbread Waffles.

But sometimes…it’s a little trickier. Enter wassail. Wassail is a mulling spice blend that’s most commonly used for mulled cider, spiced wines and other wintry drinks. It makes drinks seem extra cozy and special in colder months, and it’s probably responsible for your favorite winter drink.

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Once you’re done making drinks, though, it’s not really clear how to use up the rest of your mulling spices. I spent a good amount of time looking for a recipe that used wassail as an ingredient. I literally only found this one recipe, for the cookies you see here today.  I didn’t know what to expect…but man, are these good cookies! Melanie of Melanie Makes definitely cracked the wassail baking situation. She figured out that wassail would be a great flavor complement to orange, chocolate and even Blue Moon beer. These cookies may sound complicated, but the final flavor profile is pretty incredible. The cookies have a slightly malted taste, generous bites of chocolate, and a fruity, fresh finish from the glaze.

So after you go caroling this year and sip up your cider…why not use leftover wassail for some cookies? I promise you’ll be glad you tried it. I left some cookies unglazed out of curiosity, but definitely recommend adding the glaze if you can snag some oranges. It adds a nice layer of flavor!

Wassail Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Orange Glaze

Original recipe: Melanie Makes. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: ~36 cookies

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: ~1.5 hours

Cook Time: 12 minutes

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 12 oz Blue Moon beer
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp wassail (I used this blend from Rodelle but you can sub in another brand)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)

For the glaze 

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons orange juice

Instructions

Make your cookies

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 375F
  2. Put your beer in a small saucepan, and turn it up to medium-high heat. Cook the beer until it’s reduced–you want 1/4 of a cup left. It might be sort of hard to tell the quantities, so you can always pour in more beer than the recipe calls for and just measure out 1/4 cup when it’s reduced a bit
  3. Use your mixer to cream the shortening, brown sugar and granulated sugar
  4. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat until fluffy
  5. Pour in the beer, and mix until the ingredients are combined
  6. Add your wassail, flour, salt and baking soda. Mix to combine, but don’t overmix
  7. Stir in your chocolate
  8. Scoop balls of dough onto lined baking sheets
  9. Bake for 10-12 minutes. They should start to firm up a bit, but still be a bit soft in the centers
  10.  Let the cookies cool on the sheets for a few minutes, then move them to a rack to finish cooling

Glaze your cookies 

  1. Once the cookies are totally cool, whip up your glaze!
  2. Whisk your powdered sugar and orange juice until they’re combined and smooth. The glaze will be white and a bit sticky looking when it’s ready
  3. Drizzle glaze over the cooled cookies. Let the glaze set before you package up or transport the cookies

Lemon Crinkle Cookies

Last weekend I co-hosted my annual cookie swap with my friend Mimi. I always go a bit overboard. I know the whole point is to share and trade cookies. And yet…I inevitably make way more cookies than I should. This year, I made four different kinds. Necessary? No way. But satisfying? Heck yes.

These Lemon Crinkle Cookies made it onto my baking list because they’re dairy free.  I have a couple friends who can’t eat dairy, so I always try to include a dairy free recipe at my parties. I liked that these cookies used olive oil instead of butter, and expected that the lemon-olive oil combo would be a great flavor profile.

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Honestly, these cookies were even better than I expected. They’re slightly tart, slightly sweet, and have a soft, pillowy texture. You roll them in both granulated sugar and powdered sugar for that crinkle top. They’re a truly great cookie–and they went real fast at the swap. I wish I’d made a double batch! The original recipe comes from an olive oil brand and calls for flavored oil, but I swapped in a standard light olive oil instead.

IMG_6817Make sure to allow a couple hours for the dough to chill. Mine was pretty easy to deal with until the final few cookies, because the dough started to hit room temp again and got a little messier to work with. You could always split the dough in two, and keep half in the fridge until you’re really ready for it.

Lemon Crinkle Cookies

Original recipe: Colavita. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.

Yield: ~24 cookies

Total Time: ~2.5 hours

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

For the dough 

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt (you can use regular salt too)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup light olive oil
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the topping 

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar

Instructions

Make your dough 

  1. Whisk your flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk your eggs, 1 cup of granulated sugar, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla
  3. Add the flour mixture in spurts, mixing the dough with a spatula until it’s fully combined
  4. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill for at least a couple hours

Bake your cookies

  1. Heat your oven to 350F and line cookie trays with parchment paper
  2. Put granulated sugar in one bowl, and powdered sugar in another
  3. Roll dough into tablespoon-sized balls. Dip each ball in the granulated sugar, pressing to coat. Then roll the ball in the powdered sugar
  4. Place your dough balls on the cookie tray, leaving space between the balls so the cookies can spread as they bake
  5. Bake for 5 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 5-7 minutes. Mine took 10 minutes to bake through
  6. Cookies are done when they’re cracked on top and a nice puffy shape
  7. Let cookies cool on the tray for a few minutes, then move them to a rack to finish cooling

Lavender White Chocolate Chip Cookies

When you think about New Mexican cuisine, lavender probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. The state is better known for its chile laden cuisine.

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And yet, on my recent trip to New Mexico, lavender played a crucial supporting role. Our whole trip was fabulous, from the art galleries of Santa Fe to the beautiful vistas of Taos and gypsum sand dunes down south. But one of my most treasured memories comes from our very first night of vacation, which we spent at a lavender farm called Los Poblanos.

Los Poblanos is on 25 acres of land just outside Albuquerque. It’s surrounded by gorgeous lavender fields, vegetable gardens and tons of beautiful foliage. Our room in the “Field” section looked out to growing lavender, fall leaves and beautiful mountains in the distance.

We were lucky to stumble on this place. Fittingly, I found it because of its reputation for amazing cuisine. I stumbled on their restaurant’s page first, then decided to book the night at their hotel, too. It was completely, totally worth it. Both our dinner and breakfast were fresh, flavorful, memorable meals. And of course, they make sure to work lavender into their menu. At dinner alone, I had a lavender margarita and lavender peach gelato!

IMG_4453My mind has been on lavender since that stay and I’ve been dreaming of these Lavender White Chocolate Chip Cookies. This is definitely one of my favorite recipes I’ve made in 2017. Lavender adds a floral hint to the dough, subtle but distinct. It pairs really well with white chocolate, and the sea salt on top is the perfect finishing touch.

Someday, I hope to make it back to Los Poblanos. Until then, I’ll just have to content myself with a plate of these cookies, and beautiful memories.

Lavender White Chocolate Cookies

Original recipe: Spache the Spatula. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.

Yield: ~24 cookies

Suggested equipment: Food processor

Total Time: ~45 min

Cook Time: ~12 min

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp culinary lavender (I bought mine at World Market)
  • 8 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temp
  • 6 tbsp vegetable shortening
  • 1 large egg at room temp
  • 1 extra large egg yolk, at room temp
  • 1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips or chunks
  • Sea salt to sprinkle on top

Instructions

  1. Grab a small bowl, then combine the flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt. Set that bowl aside
  2. Throw your sugar and lavender in your food processor. Process the mix for about 10-20 seconds to chop the lavender into really small pieces. Sugary “smoke” will start coming up out of the top of your processor as you grind the mixture together—totally normal!
  3. Use an electric mixer to beat the butter, shortening and sugar-lavender mix on medium-high for about 3 minutes
  4. Add the egg and egg yolk, then beat for another 3 minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy
  5. Add your flour mixture, and beat on low until it’s all combined
  6. Stir in your chocolate by hand
  7. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper
  8. Scoop dough onto the sheets, about an inch apart
  9. Preheat your oven to 375F. While it’s preheating, throw your cookie sheets in the freezer so the dough can firm up a bit
  10. Once the oven is ready, start baking sheets of cookies! Bake about 11-13 minutes (mine took 12). They’ll look a little undone, but will set as they cool
  11. Throw the cookie sheets on a cooling rack, and immediately sprinkle them with sea salt
  12. Cool the cookies on their sheets for about 10 minutes, then move the cookies straight to a rack to finish cooling

 

Pumpkin Banana Bread

I try to avoid buying produce at Trader Joe’s because I’ve noticed it goes bad really quickly. And when you’re cooking for one person, you really need produce to last more than a couple days.

One notable exception: bananas. Yes, they also go bad pretty quickly. But an overripe banana isn’t waste: it’s a baking opportunity. So now I buy TJ’s bananas planning to bake with whatever goes super brown.

img_5972.jpgThis time, it was Pumpkin Banana Bread. This bread is incredibly flavorful with hints of both banana and pumpkin pie spice. It’s also super moist, because pumpkin and banana are both texture boosters. You add a nice crumble on top, and get a layered bread that’s the ultimate breakfast booster. Or afternoon booster. Or whenever else you like to eat your treats….no judgement here.

Pumpkin Banana Bread

Original recipe: Cookies and Cups. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: 1 9×5 loaf

Total Time: ~2 hours. A lot of that is baking time vs. prep!

Cook Time: ~70 minutes

Ingredients

Bread 

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed with a fork
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (I make my own with this recipe)
  • 2 cups flour

Crumble topping 

  • 1/4 cup butter, cold and cubed
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar (can sub in light if it’s all you’ve got)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Instructions

Make your bread 

  1. Preheat your oven to 300F
  2. In a large bowl, mix your sugar and oil
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla, then mix until it’s all smooth
  4. Add your mashed banana, pumpkin, baking soda, salt and pumpkin spice. Stir until it’s combined. I used a wooden spoon for this step
  5. Fold in your flour. Mix so you can’t see any traces of flour, then stop—you don’t want to overmix!
  6. Spray a 9×5 loaf pan with nonstick spray, then line it with parchment. I tend to leave extra parchment hanging over the sides so it’s easier to remove the bread from the pan. It still might be sort of hard, but this makes it easier!
  7. Pour batter into the pan

Make your crumble and bake the bread 

  1. Grab a medium bowl, and add your butter, brown sugar, flour and pumpkin pie spice
  2. Use a fork or your hands to mix the ingredients together. You want to mix until a coarse crumb forms. I found it much easier with my hands!
  3. Sprinkle your topping over the loaf batter
  4. Bake for 65-85 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Don’t assume the bread is done just because the topping starts to brown—it might still be undercooked in the center. If you need to bake the bread longer and you’re worried about burning the top, use a foil “tent” to cover the top.
  5. Put the pan on a cooling rack, and leave it there for 20 minutes. Then, remove the bread from the pan, and put it on a wire rack to finish cooling

This bread kept well. I think it tasted even better on day 2, and still tasted great on day 3!

 

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake

I’ve been waxing poetic about the merits of gooey butter cake for years. It’s not something you see on many menus or at many bakeries…and I can’t understand why. I started experimenting with gooey butter cake recipes back in 2010, and I’ve tried many different takes over the years. Earlier this year I made this Biscoff Gooey Butter Cake, declaring it my favorite version yet.

IMG_5984But now…there’s a new contender for that title. This Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake is truly something else. The top is similar to pumpkin pie: soft, perfectly spiced, comforting. The bottom is cakey, with a slight layer of goo between the cake and pumpkin layers. It all adds up to an awesome flavor combo, and textural mix.

This recipe was inspired by a couple of recipes I kept seeing in my Pinterest feed. I loved the idea of pumpkin gooey butter cake—but didn’t want to follow those actual recipes. They used cake mix for the bottom layer, and I prefer to make my own cake instead.

So: I combined bits and pieces from a couple recipes. The bottom layer comes from the same Butter Baking recipe I used for my Biscoff-flavored version, and the top pumpkin layer came from Averie Cooks. If you want to use a cake mix on the bottom, just follow Averie’s original recipe and use spiced cake mix. If you want to make your own plain cake layer—keep reading below!

Note that the bottom layer bakes faster than the top pumpkin layer, so make sure to keep an eye on your oven. And allow time to let this chill for a few hours before you cut in.

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake

Source: Bottom layer came from Butter Baking, and the top layer came from Averie Cooks. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.

Yield: 36 bars

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: 1.5 hours, but I recommend tacking a few more hours on to let the bars cool completely before you cut them.

Cook Time: ~45 minutes

Ingredients

Cake layer 

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Pumpkin layer 

  • 8 oz of cream cheese, softened
  • 15 oz of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling!)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (I used this recipe)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Directions

Make your cake layer 

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 350F
  2. Mix your flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl
  3. Add your egg, butter, milk and vanilla, then stir until it’s just combined
  4. Line a 9×13 inch pan with parchment paper, leaving a little extra hanging on the sides so it’s easy to pull out your cake later
  5. Pour your cake layer into the prepared pan, making sure it’s evenly distributed

Make your pumpkin layer 

  1. Use your mixer to beat your cream cheese and pumpkin until it’s smooth. This can get pretty messy, so I suggest using your mixer cover if you have one!
  2. Add the eggs, vanilla and butter, then beat until it’s all smooth again
  3. Add your powdered sugar, pumpkin pie spice and salt. Beat until ingredients are totally incorporated. You’ll need to scrape down the bowl a few times to get there
  4. Pour the pumpkin mixture on top of your cake layer
  5. Bake for 43-48 minutes (mine took 45). When it’s done, the edges will be set—but your center will look a bit jiggly. Resist the urge to bake longer, because you’ll start to burn your cake! Rest assured that the cake will set up more as it cools
  6. Let the cake cool on a wire rack for a bit. Then cover it, and move it into the fridge to cool completely. It’ll be much easier to cut chilled
  7. After a few hours, cut your cake into bars

These bars kept nicely in a covered container for a few days. You could also store them in a fridge for up to 5 days.