The 2018 Baking Roundup

Listen, I know it’s kind of late for a 2018 roundup. But let’s pretend that I picked this timing on purpose, ok? Let’s just say that I was intentionally giving you a break from all those other year-in-review pieces, and wanted to spread mine out a bit.

Playing along? Awesome. Thanks for that.

I’ve been writing personal annual reports for a while now and started doing baking roundups a few years ago. It’s fun to see my baking trends, and set baking goals for the following year. So let’s dig in, shall we?

What I made in 2018

I baked 34 times last year, and 76% of that was new recipes. As always, cookies, bars and brownies dominated my list. That’s pretty typical for me, because those kinds of things are much easier to carry around on public transit than a tray of warm cinnamon rolls or a towering layer cake. I really do love making layer cakes, and always declare that I’m going to make more the next year… but logistics tend to get in my way. Maybe this is the year!

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I baked a pretty good mix of flavors last year. Chocolate tends to dominate every year, whether that’s brownies or chocolate chip cookies or M&M bars. In 2018, 50% of the things I baked last year included some kind of chocolate. But it wasn’t always the main flavor, and I tried lots of other things, too. I made 3 types of banana bread, 7 other recipes that included a different kind of fruit and 2 recipes that starred peanut butter.

The most intriguing recipe I made last year was these pea and vanilla cupcakes. They didn’t really taste like peas—you could tell there was something distinct going on in there, but I don’t think anyone would have guessed it was peas unless I told them. My absolute favorite thing I made last year (and didn’t blog about!) was this pistachio cake from Molly Yeh. It was perfectly nutty, perfectly fluffy and topped with this lovely, tart pomegranate frosting. I actually changed my mind at 9 PM the night before a party and switched from a different pistachio cake recipe to this one. It was definitely the right choice.

Who ate it?

hosted 3 events in 2018, accounting for 10 recipes. I took another 8 recipes to other people’s events, from birthdays to holiday potlucks to tea parties. The remaining 16 recipes went to work, where I leave things in the kitchen and beg people to eat them. They tend to happily oblige.

What did people read?

I published 12 new posts in 2018. That’s down from last year, but it correlates to a specific goal to spend less time on my computer than I used to. So, I can feel pretty good about 12 posts. I try to post a mix of things, from simple cookie recipes to complicated cakes. I think my absolute favorite recipe I posted in 2018 was these pumpkin cupcakes. It’s really just a standout recipe: Great texture, great flavor and lightyears ahead of lots of other pumpkin cakes out there.

Top New Posts on Sugarsmith for 2018

My Personal Favorites for 2018

Top Posts from Previous Years 

Looking ahead

I’ve baked a few times so far in 2019, and plan to rack up a few more recipes in the next couple weeks. My resolutions for 2019 are to bake more things with yeast, make more muffins and try to use all the random ingredients I’ve accumulated in my kitchen. Stay tuned to find out if I make it happen 🙂

 

 

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Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’ve made a lot of dairy-free recipes over the years, but haven’t ventured far into vegan territories. After a couple negative experiences with less-than-great vegan recipes, I worried that all the ingredient substitutions just couldn’t lead to an awesome final result.

Well, dear readers: I stand corrected. These Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies are pretty darn amazing. If someone handed you one of these cookies on the street*, you’d never guess they’re vegan. And based on what I read on baking blogs, that seems to be the ultimate compliment for ingredient-restricted recipes.

These cookies swap in coconut oil and coconut milk for more standard cookie ingredients like eggs and butter. I’d never used either ingredient before, so I wasn’t totally sure how this would go. But the final cookies have such an amazing texture! They’re thick and chewy, with a nicely firm exterior. The original recipe writer recommended making these decently big, and I took that advice. The final cookies were truly delicious, and very satisfying.

I guess these cookies have officially convinced me that vegan baking can be awesome. Maybe I’ll try this vegan chocolate cake next…

* If someone actually handed you a cookie on the street would you eat it? Because I definitely wouldn’t! My Lyft driver took one of these and I will always wonder if he actually ate it once I got out… or tossed it in the trash. Stranger danger! 

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

Original recipe: Baker by Nature. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: ~30 cookies

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: ~60 minutes

Cook Time: ~10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil. I used refined/virgin oil because I read it has less of a coconut taste. Your coconut oil needs to be totally solid—if it has started to melt at all, stick it in the fridge for a few minutes to get it back to a solid state
  • 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk. I got the Thai variety based on the recipe’s original notes, but you can use any kind you want
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips. If you really need these to be vegan, make sure to find vegan chocolate chips! I use the Enjoy Life brand

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 375F
  2. Use your mixer to beat the coconut oil, brown sugar and vanilla. They should be well-combined before you move on.
  3. Add in your coconut milk and applesauce, and beat again.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together your flour, baking soda and salt.
  5. Pour your dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, and mix until the ingredients are totally combined. Note that your batter will be thick! If it seems too sticky, you can add a little more flour. If it seems too dry, add another tablespoon of coconut milk.
  6. Stir in 1.5 cups of chocolate chips with a wooden spoon.
  7. Scoop your cookies onto a lined cookie sheet. I used a two tablespoon scoop to measure out my dough.
  8. Bake for 9-11 minutes, or until the edges are golden and the centers are set. Keep a close eye on them—they’ll start to burn if you leave the cookies in too long.
  9. Cool your cookies on the baking sheets for 15 minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack and let them finish firming up.

 

 

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

I’ve got to say it: I don’t like Pumpkin Spice, the flavor. Doesn’t matter if it’s in a latte, a candy bar, ice cream… I tend to stay away.

But pumpkin, spiced? Now that’s a flavor. It all comes down to ingredients, and where the “spice” is coming from. When you take actual pumpkin and punch it up with spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, you get magic. When you dilute it all down to some Pumpkin Spice syrup, you really just get the sugar.

The Pumpkin Spice Cupcake recipe I’m sharing today adds buttermilk into the mix for even more flavor. It’s a smart move, giving the cake more depth than pumpkin could contribute on its own.

IMG_0387You’ll top these cupcakes with a simple-but-awesome Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting. You could omit the cinnamon if you want something simpler, but I highly recommend keeping it in there. It’s the perfect complement to the spiced cupcakes and makes for an all around awesome treat.

This recipe means serious spice business, so make sure you have everything on hand before you start. It’s a good amount of measuring small bits of spices, but I promise it’s worth it! I turned a bundt cake recipe into cupcakes since I don’t own a bundt pan. If you’re interested in other sizes, check out the reader comments on Cozycakes Cottage.

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

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

Yield: ~26 cupcakes

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: ~2 hours

Cook Time: ~18 minutes

Ingredients

For your cake

  • 2 and 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tps baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 3/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 and 1/3 cups canned pumpkin (you’ll need one 15 oz can)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (I used dried buttermilk. If you do the same, follow the instructions on your can!)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs

For your frosting 

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk

Instructions

Make your cake batter 

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Mix your flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and salt in a large mixing bowl, then set it aside. If you’re using dried buttermilk, mix that in too.
  3. Mix your pumpkin, buttermilk and vanilla in another bowl. If you’re using dried buttermilk, make sure to add water at this step!
  4. Use your mixer to beat the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until they’re fluffy. It’ll take a few minutes.
  5. Add your eggs, and beat until they’re totally incorporated.
  6. Turn the mixer speed down to low. Add your flour and pumpkin mixtures in there, alternating between the two until you’re out of both. Make sure everything is mixed together before moving on—sometime dry ingredients hide in clumps at the bottom of batter!
  7. Line your cupcake tin, and fill each tin about 2/3 of the way full.
  8. Bake 18-21 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Mine took exactly 18 minutes.
  9. Let the cupcakes cool in their tins for about 10 minutes, then remove and cool all the way on a wire rack. Make sure they’re completely cooled before you frost them!

Frost your cupcakes

  1. Use your mixer to beat the butter and cream cheese until they’re fluffy. It’ll take a couple minutes on medium speed.
  2. Add your vanilla and cinnamon, and beat again.
  3. Lower the speed, and gradually add your powdered sugar. Mix until it’s smooth and fully combined.
  4. Add the milk, and mix again.
  5. Frost your cupcakes, and enjoy!

 

Apricot White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sometimes I go a little crazy and stock up on WAY too many baking supplies. It’s usually because things are on sale…or because I’m trying to hit a free shipping minimum.

It’s not a huge deal, because I bake a lot. But sometimes I go extra overboard and run out of pantry space.* Right now, I’ve got extra caramels, semolina, M&Ms, rye flour…it’s quite the diverse list of impulse baking buys, and I’m on a mission to use it all up!

IMG_0290First on my list: These Apricot White Chocolate Chip Cookies. My leftover apricots met leftover white chocolate chips in a perfectly spiced, chewy cookie. Oatmeal and fruit cookies are some of my favorites but they’re often overlooked in favor of flashier flavors. Don’t underestimate the power of a good spice combo, and fruit. These star cinnamon, nutmeg and dark brown sugar for the perfect flavor combo.

Of course, the whole reason I made these was to use up leftover white chocolate chips. But honestly, I don’t think they even needed the white chocolate chips at all. Next time, I might add in a second kind of fruit instead, or swap in some dried peaches for the apricots and call it a day.

Apricot White Chocolate Cookies

Original recipe: The Redhead Baker. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.

Yield: ~3 dozen cookies

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: ~An hour

Cook Time: ~12 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp sinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 cup dried apricots, diced
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips (if you want them!)
  • 1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Use your mixer to cream the butter, sugar and brown sugar until it’s light and fluffy
  3. Add your egg and vanilla, then beat until the mixture is well-blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl before you move on
  4. In a separate bowl, stir your flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, baking powder and nutmeg until it’s mixed together
  5. Add in your dried apricot pieces, and toss with the flour mixture. This keeps the apricots from clumping together in the dough
  6. Add the dry ingredients to your mixer bowl. Mix until combined
  7. Stir in the chocolate chips and rolled oats by hand. You just want to get them distributed throughout the dough—don’t overmix the dough
  8. Line baking sheets with parchment, and place balls of dough about two inches apart. Dampen your hands with water, and press down on each dough ball before you throw the sheet into the oven
  9.  Bake your cookies 9-12 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when the edges begin to turn dark brown
  10. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes on their pans, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely

The cookies keep well and freeze well, but be careful transporting them because they can get a little crumbly!

Smoked Cheese Cookies

If you hear “cookie,” your brain probably goes to sweets. But savory cookies are a thing. And they’re a very, very good thing, at that. I found this gem in the Dorie’s Cookies cookbook, which I highly recommend. It’s a great mix of savory and sweet recipes, covering all types of cookies. From biscotti to brownie drops, Dorie’s got you covered.

IMG_4745This is the first recipe I made from Dorie’s book, and what a winner it is. These cookies live up to every bit of their name: smoky, cheesy and buttery too. I started telling people they were like “biscuit tops.” I mean…if muffin tops can be a thing, why not biscuit tops, too?

These go great with wine, with more cheese, or even with a square of chocolate. They’re the perfect thing to bring to your next dinner party, or wine and cheese night. I put them out at a party and then walked away…forgetting that people would be surprised to bite in and find cheese, rather than a sweeter flavor. I didn’t hear any complaints though—these were nibbled up in no time!

Smoked Cheese Cocktail Cookies

Original recipe: Dorie’s Cookies, by Dorie Greenspan. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.

Yield: ~45 cookies

Suggested equipment: Food processor

Total Time: ~2 hours

Cook Time: 18-20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups flour
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 4 oz cubed, smoked Gouda (mine was about 3/4 a cup in the end)
  • ¾ tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 oz shredded, sharp cheddar cheese (mine was about 3/4 a cup in the end, though the original recipe says it will be 1/2 cup lightly packed)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into ½ inch pieces

Instructions

Make your dough

  1. Put your butter, Gouda, cheddar, cayenne, salt and pepper in your food processor. Pulse until the butter is coarsely chopped, and the mixture forms into small clumps.
  2. Add the flour, then pulse again until larger clumps form.
  3. Line a work surface, then turn your dough out on it. Knead the dough until it comes together into a big piece.
  4. Split your dough in half, and form each half into disks.
  5. Roll each disk out between two sheets of wax paper until the disks are about 1/4 inch thick. Freeze for at least an hour, or until the dough is very firm.

Bake your cookies

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F, and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Work with one disk of dough at a time. Use a 1 1/2 inch cookie cutter or the rim of a glass to stamp circles out in your dough. Place the circles at least 1 inch apart on your baking sheets.
  3. Bake the cookies 18-20 minutes. Mine were perfect at 19! You know they’re done when they look lightly golden on top, and they’ve just firmed up a bit.
  4. Let the cookies cool on their baking sheets for 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store baked cookies for a couple days in a closed container, at room temp. You can freeze the dough for a couple weeks if you wrap it in plastic.

 

Let’s Talk About Tahini

Tahini is one of those miracle ingredients that makes tons of dishes better. It plays a starring role in the best hummuses around, lending nuttiness and depth. But it’s also great in cookie dough, on ice cream, on cauliflower–you name it. I’ve found so many ways to use tahini that I always keep a jar around my house.

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Tahini topped soft serve, with a side of sesame candy for good measure

What is tahini, exactly? It’s made up of ground, toasted sesame seeds. The flavor varies quite a bit by brand, so you might need to shop around for the brand you like. I’ve noticed that certain brands are smoother and more pleasant to eat with a spoon, but other brands can be a bit thick and bitter. I’ve had good luck with both Joya and Whole Foods 365.

Tahini has a slightly earthier flavor than peanuts, but most people really can’t tell the difference once it’s in baked goods. The flavor is more pronounced if you use it as a dressing or drizzle–like the amazing soft serve with tahini sauce that I tried at Seed + Mill last year.

Here’s a look at some of my favorite tahini dishes so far–and what I want to try next.

My favorite tahini recipes:

Tahini swirled brownies: This is a pretty simple way to dip your toe into the tahini dessert waters. Just make your favorite brownie recipe, and swirl a layer of tahini in the top before you throw the pan in the oven. I also topped mine with sesame seeds for extra texture. You could put a swirl in the middle too–just pour in half the batter, add a tahini swirl, and top with the rest of your batter.

Tahini Cupcakes with Chocolate Tahini Frosting: This was my first foray into baking with tahini. They taste sort of nutty, with a lovely texture.

Tahini Peanut Butter Chip Cookies: These use tahini in the base dough and peanut butter chips as a flavor accent. I’d omit the pumpkin seeds if I made them again–they just didn’t seem necessary!IMG_1448.jpg

Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies:These are easy and pretty incredible. Sesame gives the dough a unique flavor, and you can’t go wrong with salted chocolate.

Tahini recipes I want to try: 

Tahini Dirty Blondies: I keep meaning to make these! They look delightfully chewy.

Zahav’s hummus: My favorite hummus so far was at Dizengoff in NYC. It’s so rich, pillowy and satisfying.  I’ve read that the trick is lots of high-quality tahini, and several prep steps that enhance each ingredient’s flavor.

Tahini French Toast: I first had tahini french toast at a place called Bar Bolonat in NYC. I immediately looked for recipes to try at home–but sadly, haven’t actually made it yet!

Carrot Tahini Muffins: I can’t quite imagine what these would taste like–which is usually my cue to try a recipe! They look scrumptious and satisfying in the photos, and I bet you it’s a unique flavor.

Carrot Lentil Cakes: I bake more than I cook, but these lentil cakes sure look good.

Roasted Butternut Squash: This recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi is the king of vegetables with tahini sauces. This one looks great, and I also tried  one of his cauliflower recipes recently at a friend’s house.

Black Tahini Morning Buns: Black sesame is richer than white sesame. I can’t stop thinking about a black sesame kougin aman that I tried a couple months ago, so this recipe is a must-try for me.

Orange Cinnamon Pull Apart Bread

Before we get into the details of this recipe: go add six oranges to your shopping list. Do it right now, so you don’t forget–because you’ll want to make this bread, ASAP.

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And yes, you read that right. This recipe uses a whopping six oranges. You’re mostly using the zest, though you’ll throw a bit of juice into your glaze. Don’t worry about wasting the rest of the fruit–zested oranges last a couple days in the fridge, so you can just eat the rest later.

Ok: now onto the details. This bread makes any morning sunnier. It’s like a gooey, soft cinnamon roll, made ten times better by lots of orange zest. It’s definitely sweet and decadent–and the ultimate morning pick-me-up. I compared a few recipes for orange cinnamon rolls before picking this one, and noticed lots of bloggers talking about nostalgia for this flavor combo. I never had Pillsbury’s Sweet Orange Rolls as a kid…but if you did, this bread apparently tastes like that!

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Give yourself plenty of time for this one. You need to let the dough rise twice, and you’ll want the bread totally cool before icing it at the end. I promise it’s worth it! This was my first time making a pull apart bread, and I really liked how it turned out. It’s easier than doing rolls, and looks really cool once it’s finished.

This is the perfect recipe for Easter brunch, or your next brunch potluck…or you can be like me, and bring it to work next Monday. Whatever you do, trust me: people will thank you.

Orange Cinnamon Pull Apart Bread

Original recipe: How Sweet Eats. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.

Yield: One 9×5 loaf

Suggested equipment: Mixer, with a dough hook and a beater attachment

Total Time: ~1 hour, 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30-35 minutes

Ingredients

Dough 

  • 2 cups and 3/4 cups flour, separated
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup milk (whole or 2% is fine)
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp freshly grated orange zest  (~2 oranges)

Filling 

  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp freshly grated orange zest  (~3 oranges)

Icing 

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 tbsp orange zest (~1 orange)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

Make your bread 

  1. Put the 2 cups of flour, sugar and yeast in your mixer bowl. Use the beater attachment, and stir until combined.
  2. Put your milk and butter in a small saucepan. Turn the heat to low, and heat just until the butter melts.
  3. Remove the pan from the stovetop, and let it sit for a few minutes. Then, stir in your water and vanilla.
  4. Attach a dough hook to your mixer bowl.
  5. Pour your butter mixture into the flour mixture. Mix until everything is just combined.
  6. Add your salt and eggs, one at a time. Beat well in between each addition.
  7. Add your orange zest, and beat the dough again. The dough should be pretty sticky at this point.
  8. Add your remaining 3/4 cup of flour in small increments, beating another 2-3 minutes. You’ll know you’re done when the dough comes together again. It should still be pretty sticky!
  9. Oil a bowl, and place your dough inside. Cover the bowl with a towel, then leave it to rise in a warm place. It should take about an hour to rise–check to make sure it’s poofed up before you move onto the next step.

Fill your bread 

  1. Once your dough has risen, prep your workstation for the next step. Flour a flat surface that’s large enough to roll out the bread.
  2. Punch your dough down, then turn it onto the floured surface.
  3. Roll the dough into a large rectangle. The original recipe said 12×20 inches, but mine stretched slightly smaller than that.
  4. Brush your dough with the melted butter.
  5. Cover that with sugar, cinnamon and orange zest. Try to spread the filling evenly.
  6. Cut your dough into 5 strips from top to bottom, lengthwise. Then, cut horizontally into 6 sets of squares (See pics below!)
  7. Stack your dough into six stacks.
  8. Brush a 9×5 loaf pan with melted butter. Put your dough stacks into the pan, then smush it together. Make sure to press the dough together well, so it sticks together while baking.
  9. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and let it rise for another hour.

Bake your bread 

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F.
  2. Bake the bread for 30-35 minutes, until the top is golden brown and set. I ended up tenting mine with foil near the end so I could keep cooking the insides without burning the top.
  3. Let the bread cool for 10 minutes before moving onto the glaze.

Add your icing 

Note: I only used half the icing. Adjust based on how much glaze you usually like! 

  1. Whisk all icing ingredients together until a glaze forms. It should be pretty smooth–if it seems thick, add more orange juice 1 tsp at a time. If it seems to thin, whisk in a few more tablespoons of sugar until you reach the right consistency.
  2. Drizzle glaze all over your bread. It’ll end up in some of the bread pockets…mmm.

This definitely is best served warm, but it tasted great after it cooled, too!