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I have a major sweet tooth, and I always have. And as a kid, there was one thing my mom made that I loved more than anything in the whole world. Chocolate chip pound cake. When it came to special events, especially my birthday, she didn’t even have to ask what I wanted. She knew the answer. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite sweet indulgences. Move over cookies and milk, chocolate chip pound cake comin through!

A few years ago, I decided I would try making my mom’s famous cake on my own. I didn’t just ask for the recipe though…I made her show me how to make the cake. After all, I was learning an art, not just a recipe. Over the last few years, I have perfected my favorite cake, and it’s just as delicious as I remember it as a kid.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 3 cups flour
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 2 cups sugar
– 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
– 3 tsp vanilla extract
– 4 eggs
– 3/4 cup milk
– 2 cups (1 12 oz package) mini chocolate chips (yes, mini is important)
– powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Prepare a bunt pan by completely greasing and flouring the inside.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large mixing bowl, using a hand mixer), beat together the sugar, butter and vanilla together on low speed until creamy. Crack one egg at a time into the sugar/butter mixture, and beat on medium speed until each one is thoroughly combined before adding the next.

After all the eggs have been added to the mix and everything is smooth, gradually begin adding the flour mixture, alternating with the milk. I usually add about a cup of flour and beat on medium speed until it’s combined, then add a quarter of the milk, then more flour and so on until all the flour and milk has been mixed in. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips until their evenly distributed throughout the cake batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared bunt pan and bake in a 325 degree oven for 70 to 80 minutes, or until a a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan on a cooling rack. Make sure not to take the cake out of the pan until it’s completely cooled because it’s very heavy and fragile while it’s still hot. Sprinkle the cake with powdered sugar, if desired.

Chocolate Chip Pound Cake

This cake is rich and delicious, it’s the perfect balance of chocolate and cake. The texture is like a mix between a regular cake and a typical pound cake — a little crumbly, but pretty dense. The only way to eat this cake is heated with a huge glass of ice cold milk. And believe me, after your first bite, you’ll be hooked for life. It’s worth the hour and a half it takes to bake, not to mention that your house will smell heavenly the rest of the day.

If there’s one recipe from this blog that you decide to try, it should be this one. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. And…if you decide to give it a try, please comment and let me know how it goes and how you enjoyed it!

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

I’m probably going to get shot for saying this, but I’m not a fan of tiramisu. So, needless to say, I wasn’t totally thrilled about this challenge. But I was determined to make it and enjoy eating it…and I succeeded at both! I was thrilled that everything (well, almost everything — more on that later) worked out and that I actually enjoyed eating the fruits of my labor. That’s right, that’s two challenges in a row that I’ve felt good about!

The challenge was comprised of three parts: the mascarpone cheese, the lady fingers and the tiramisu itself — including the pastry cream and zabaglione. It sounds like a real challenge (that’s the point, right?), and it was. But this time around, I didn’t feel like it was difficult, it was just a lot of components that all had to be done separately. I think I was working on this stupid thing for about four or five days straight before we could even eat it!

The first part of the challenge I decided to tackle was the lady fingers. When it comes to classic New York bakery cookies, these are my absolute favorite. Anytime I’m back east visiting my family or they come out our way, one huge box of lady fingers is all mine. So I was definitely going into this with mixed emotions. I didn’t know if my lady fingers would be anything like the ones I’m used to or if they would be a total failure. I stress out when it comes to “gently folding” things together because I always think I’m over mixing and will loose all the air that I so carefully beat into the thing. Anyway…the lady fingers turned out awesome. They were so easy, I couldn’t believe it! They came out pretty darn good, but not as good as anything I’ll ever get in NY.

Lady Fingers

A few days after the lady fingers were done (it was a task for me to leave them on the counter without eating any of them) I decided to tackle the mascarpone cheese. What a disaster. If it weren’t for all the other Daring Bakers’ posting their horror stories about this stupid cheese on the forums, I probably would have gotten even more discouraged than I was at the point that my “cheese” completely separated and looked like a pile of disgustingness that no one should have to look at or eat. So, as you can probably guess, I ended up using store bought mascarpone cheese like some of the other bakers because I just didn’t have the time or energy to try to make it again. (By the way, I really don’t know what I did wrong. I heated the cream over a double boiler — using a stainless steel bowl — and it never got above 165 degrees. I stood there for at least an hour, stirring, letting it sit, checking the temperature. If anyone knows what could have gone wrong, please let me know!)

The day after the mascarpone disaster, I made the pastry cream and the zabaglione. Both of these were really easy and turned out perfect (at least I think). They chilled in the fridge overnight, and the next day I was finally ready to assemble the whole thing. I combined the mascarpone cheese, pastry cream and zabaglione then folded it all into freshly made whipped cream. Next, I dipped the cookies in espresso for like two seconds (so they didn’t get too soggy) and began layering — cookies, cream, cookies, cream, cookies, cream. The (almost) finished product chilled overnight and we were finally ready to eat!

Tiramisu

I didn’t do much in the way of decorating the finished product, but I did sprinkle a little coco powder on top (which was the perfect final touch, by the way). I wanted to do something a little different for the presentation, so that’s how I ended up with wine glasses. I was pretty satisfied with the way they turned out. Nothing professional, that’s for sure, but not too bad for a novice!

Coco Dusted Tiramisu

Like I said before, I’m really not a fan of tiramisu. But seriously…this was awesome. It’s not something I would eat every day, but the taste was totally spot on. The custard layers were so flavorful and the lady fingers were the perfect texture. Aparna and Deeba did their research for this challenge, and it really showed! Thanks for a great challenge, ladies!

Recipe link: Tiramisu

Never again will I buy tortillas from the store. I never knew that making flour tortillas could be so easy! We received a tortilla press (which is only used for corn tortillas — never knew that before) and a tortilla warmer for Christmas as we were dying to try them out. So as soon as we got back to town over the weekend, we put our tortilla-making skills to the test. What an easy test! If you are a fan of Mexican food (or any food that requires a tortilla) you have to give these tortillas a shot.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 2 cups flour
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
– 3 tbsp shortening
– about 3/4 cup hot (145 degrees or more) water

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, salt and baking powder. Using a fork or butter knife, cut the shortening into the dry ingredients. Continue to mix until the mixture looks like a coarse meal. Finally, add the water, a little at a time (important!), and mix until you get a soft — but not sticky — dough.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and kneed, 10 to 15 times, until the dough is smooth. Divide the dough into 8 to 10 evenly-sized balls. Set the dough balls aside and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Once the dough has rested, begin heating a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Using a wooden rolling pin, roll out each dough ball fairly thin. Make sure to turn the dough as you roll it in order to get the right shape.

When all the dough has been rolled out at the skillet is hot, carefully place one of the dough rounds in the center of the skillet. Let it fry up for about 30 seconds, then flip, letting the second side fry for another 30 seconds. Make sure to keep an eye on each side, as they can burn fairly easily. Within 30 or 45 seconds, the tortillas should have brown speckles and be cooked to perfection!

Tortillas!

Seriously? These were so simple! I honestly don’t see a reason for buying tortillas ever again. And they were delicious! They were fluffy, yet light. They had a crisp outer “shell” but were light and airy inside. They had a great texture, and an even better taste. They tasted like a fresh-cooked tortilla you would get in a real Mexican restaurant. No store bought tortilla can match up to a hot, fresh, steamy tortilla fresh off the stove.

I encourage you to try making tortillas! It was fun and so exciting when they came out looking like the real thing. Not to mention the way the tasted!

We got this recipe from a book from the Santa Fe School of Cooking that we picked up during our anniversary last year. The book, Salsa and Tacos, has a lot of great recipes. Check it out if you like…well…salsa and tacos!

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I can’t explain how awesome it feels to actually feel good about a challenge! This month was so hectic for us, but I couldn’t wait to bake and assemble this house! It took two tries to get the dough right, but in the end it was worth the extra effort.

We used Anna’s recipe, which came from Good Housekeeping. The first time we made it, it came out very dry — so dry that we couldn’t even roll it out — and cracked apart. We ended up tossing it and starting from scratch (18 cups of flour later), making a few changes based on the comments from other Daring Bakers’ (thanks guys!).

Dry Gingerbread Dough

The new batch of dough came out much better. We chilled it, rolled it out, cut out the pieces using a haunted Halloween template and baked it off. They came out perfect. They were a good texture — not too hard, not too soft. Some of the pieces expanded during baking, but nothing we couldn’t work with during assembly.

Gingerbread Pieces, Pre-Baking

After a day of baking, we left the pieces overnight and assembled and decorated the next day. Even though it was stressful putting the house together (I was terrified it was going to fall apart!), it was such a blast! We’re totally doing this every year from now on!

The House Coming Together

The House, Pre-Decorated

Without Billy’s help, I probably would have failed miserably at this. Maybe in a prior lifetime he was a contractor or something, but he rocked at putting this thing together and piping the royal icing! It was a total blast building and decorating the house from start to finish, and I think it will be a family tradition from now on. Plus, I think for our first ever shot at a gingerbread house we did a pretty good job!

Our House!

Decoration Detail

Decoration Detail (Again)

Recipe Link: Spicy Gingerbread

This is the first holiday season that I’ve actually been excited about baking. I’ve never been much of a baker, and for the most part I still leave most of the baking up to Billy, but the results are always so darn tasty that it’s hard to resist. And what better time to bake and try new recipes than the holidays, right?

I’ve never been a huge fan of pumpkin pie (I know what you’re thinking…who doesn’t love pumpkin pie?) and Billy doesn’t eat it at all. So this year I decided I’d find a new pumpkin-related dessert and give it a shot. Turns out it only took one try to find a success — Better Homes and Garden’s pumpkin-chocolate cheesecake bars were a huge hit at both families Thanksgivings. They’re definitely worth the time they take, so I encourage you to give them a try for Christmas or keep them in mind for next year!

Here’s what you’ll need:
Crust
– 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
– 1/4 cup sugar
– 1/3 cup butter, melted
Pumpkin
– 2 (8 oz.) packs cream cheese
– 1 3/4 cups sugar
– 3 eggs
– 1 cup canned pumpkin
– 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or a mix of cinnamon, cloves and ginger)
– 1/2 tsp vanilla
– 1/4 tsp salt
Chocolate
– 1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
– 2 tbsp butter
Topping
– 1 1/4 cup sour cream
– 1/4 sugar
– chocolate pieces and nutmeg (for garnish)

This recipe is done in phases, so at first glance it seems like its going to be a beast. In actuality it’s really pretty easy, it just takes time and there’s a lot of waiting in between steps. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

The first step in the process is to make the “crust.” In a small bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and the first 1/4 cup of sugar. Stir in the 1/2 cup melted butter and press evenly into a greased 13×9 pan. Set aside.

Next, combine the cream cheese and 1 3/4 cups sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat on low speed until completely combined before adding the next egg. Once combined, add the pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla and salt. Beat on low speed until completely combined. Remove 1 1/4 cups of the mixture and set aside.

Meanwhile, combine the chocolate and 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan. Over low heat, stir constantly until completely melted. Whisk the 1 1/4 cups of the pumpkin mixture into the melted chocolate and butter. Once combined, pour over the graham cracker crust and spread evenly across. Bake at 325 for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and pour the remainder of the pumpkin mixture over the baked chocolate layer. Return to the oven and bake (still at 325) for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the pumpkin has puffed up and the center has set. Remove from the oven and cool, in the pan, on a wire rack for 30 minutes.

Finally, combine the sour cream and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl. Carefully spread over the pumpkin layer and continue to cool. Once the bars are completely cool, cover and refrigerate for at least three hours before serving. Cut into bars (24 to 36, depending on size) and garnish with chocolate pieces and ground nutmeg.

Pumpkin-Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

I will probably get yelled at by some people for saying this, but these bars were way better than pumpkin pie. Every single day since Thanksgiving I’ve been craving these stupid bars. They’ve got so many different layers of flavor and texture, but they all work together to form an overall great dessert. The texture of the pumpkin and cream cheese layer is so smooth and creamy and the graham cracker and chocolate layers give it a little crunch. Pumpkin is definitely the star of the show here, but each layer really adds to the flavor of the bars. These bars will most definitely be a Martin family tradition from now on!

I got this recipe from the 2009 Holiday Recipe Collection edition of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. I couldn’t find the recipe anywhere online. Hopefully you can trust my rendition enough to try them anyway. :)

I’m late, I’m late…for a very important date! With all the Thanksgiving shenanigans, I completely spaced what day it was and didn’t have time to post about every Italian’s nightmare — horrible cannoli.

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100 percent verbatim from either book.

Despite the fact that I’m Italian, I have never made cannoli. I’ve eaten plenty of them, though, so I know exactly what they’re supposed to be like. Mine definitely did not turn out like “true” cannoli.

The dough, though easy enough to make, was so difficult to work with. In order to get perfect cannoli shells, the dough was to be rolled paper thin. No matter how hard I tried or how long I worked at it, I could not get that stuff to roll out! I’m not sure if it was something I did wrong (added too much liquid, maybe not enough?) or if it’s just a difficult dough. Either way, I decided to try frying them anyway and they just didn’t turn out right. They were too fat and didn’t blister at all. From what I could tell, the taste was right on, but the texture definitely wasn’t (too fat, not crunchy enough, etc.).

Cannoli Dough Pre-Frying

Cannoli Shell Post-Frying

I made a traditional ricotta filling (with a little mascarpone to help the texture) and mini chocolate chips. The filling was awesome. So good, in fact, that I was eating it with a spoon in between filling the shells. I guess that made up for the shells being not-so-perfect, but it still wasn’t goon enough for me.

The Finished Product

I fully intend to give the cannoli another try, but I think I’ll use a pasta roller to try and get the dough extra thin. Any tips from other Daring Bakers or cannoli makers would be greatly appreciated!

Recipe Link: Cannoli

Okay…so I’ve fallen off the face of the blogosphere, I know. But, I have a good reason. The day after our Halloween party (thank God it was the day after) I started feeling pretty crappy and by Sunday I was down for the count. Still not entirely sure what it was/is, but Billy ended up getting it too and we’re still recovering. Anyway, I’m back. We haven’t been doing much cooking this week, but I can’t wait any longer to post about all the cool stuff we made for Halloween.

This was the first year we decided to have a party. It was a lot of work, but totally worth it. We decided to go the “finger food” route and wanted to make everything with a Halloween theme. We ended up with way too much food, but everyone had a good time and seemed to enjoy the food.

What we had on the menu:
– English “Mummy” Pizza
– Meatballs in “Blood” Sauce
– Bone Breadsticks
– Green Chili Rollups, dyed orange of course
– Spiders on a Log (aka, Ants on a Log)
– “Mother-in-Law Party Mix”
– Sugar Cookies and Thumbprint Cookies
– Sherbet Punch with a Floating Brain :)

English Mummy Pizza

These were a total hit, and so fun to make. We used string cheese so it wouldn’t melt and kill the mummy look. For the eyes, we used black olives with green onions as the pupils.

Spiders on a Log

Ants on a log are one of Billy’s favorite snacks, so we totally had to make them into something fun for Halloween. Billy was really committed to those spiders, too…he hand drew all eight legs on all the spiders!

DSC_1287(r)

This was the first time either of us has ever decorated a cookie. I thought it was so fun! We were by no means pros, but I thought we did pretty good for our first time. We totally bought the wrong stuff though because it never hardened when it dried, it was some kind of gel (tips, anyone?). Never the less, they came out lookin pretty good!

"Mother-in-Law" Party Mix

I never looked at my mother-in-law the same after she made this mix the first time. Everyone has their favorite party mix, but this will seriously blow all of them out of the water. Something about the three (very unhealthy) sticks of butter, garlic salt and Worcestershire sauce….

Sherbet Punch...and a brain

Who doesn’t love sherbet punch (with alcohol, of course)? The brain was a little creepy though….

We had a ton of fun coming up with and creating all the food for the party. It was a little stressful trying to make so many things, but totally worth it. I think everyone got a kick out of all the Halloween themed food, and they certainly didn’t mind eating it.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. of Baking Without Fear. She chose macaroons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Let me just start by saying that never in my life have I had a macaroon. I don’t know what they’re supposed to look like (though I learned after looking through the many photos in the Daring Kitchen forums) or what they’re supposed to taste like. I’m pretty sure I failed on both fronts.

They looked pretty, but I’m almost positive the texture was wrong and the taste just wasn’t what I was anticipating. I think part of the problem was that the cook time was wrong.

Chocolate Macaroons with Orange-Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate Macaroons with Orange-Chocolate Ganache

I made chocolate flavored macaroons — I don’t think I used enough cocoa powder, though — with a orange-chocolate filling (that was Billy’s idea). The filling was fantastic. The cookies…not so much. After following the recipe exactly, I took the macaroons out and the bottoms just separated from the top. I wasn’t sure how to fix this, so I just baked them longer. That seemed to take care of the problem, but then they seemed overcooked. So I ended up cooking one batch longer than the recipe called for and one for the correct time. Both turned out not-so-great, so I’m not sure what exactly the problem was. I did, however, end up with “feet” on both batches. Success on some level, I suppose.

Macaroons -- Complete with Feet

Macaroons -- Complete with Feet

I have to admit, it was fun trying something I’ve never done before. After all, that’s the reason I joined the Daring Kitchen anyway. Making the macaroons was definitely time consuming, but it wasn’t difficult. It was just disappointing, as always, when the results don’t match up with the effort. It was nice to know, though, that I wasn’t the only one who had a problem with the DB recipe. On a positive note though, I’ve got my first challenge under my belt and I look forward to the next!

Recipe link: French Macaroons

I’ve been in the baking mood lately and I’m not sure why…I’m typically not a baker. Never the less, I thought it was only right to let Kramer share in the goodness that is baking. I know you’re probably thinking that I’m nuts, but this isn’t the first time we’ve made our dog treats (I know, that makes me look even more nuts). He loves homemade treats — and they’re better for him than most anything we could get at the store. We get all our dog treat recipes from a nutritional guide and cookbook specifically for dogs called Better Food for Dogs. It’s a great book and has really helped us learn about the specific nutritional needs for dogs. On the plus side, Kramer loves the finished products of everything in this book (we haven’t tried the meals, just the treats).

One of Kramer’s favorite treats from the book are the carrot cinnamon “cookies.” (Sometimes they smell so good in the oven that I’ve thought about trying them myself — I’ve refrained though.)
Here’s what you’ll need:
– 4 cups whole wheat flour
– 1/2 cup cornmeal
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– 1 cup chopped carrots
– 1/2 cup water
– 2 tbsp canola oil
– 2 tbsp honey
– 1 egg
– 1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Baking dog treats isn’t any different than baking human cookies…believe it or not. First you’ll combine the dry ingredients — the flour, cornmeal and cinnamon — in a small bowl. Next, combine the carrots, water, oil, honey, egg and vanilla in a food processor and puree until smooth. Pour the carrot puree over the dry ingredients and stir until well incorporated.

Leaving the mixture in the bowl, kneed with your hands until the dough starts to hold together on its own (you may need to add more water). Once a dry dough is formed, transfer to a lightly floured surface and roll out until it’s about 1/8 inch thick. Use a fork to poke holes all over the dough, then cut into bite-sized pieces based on the size of your dog (you can either use cookie cutters or a pizza cutter). Place the pieces about 1/2 inch apart on a baking sheet. Depending on the size of your dog, you’ll end up with a ton of treats.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until firm. Let cool completely (still on the baking sheet), lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes or until the treats are hard (you want them to be crunchy, just like you would find in the store). Transfer the treats to a cooling rack and let cool completely before serving or storing.

The Finished Product

The Finished Product

Kramer would do anything for one of these “cookies.” He loves them and we love giving them to him because we know they’re healthy and we know exactly what goes into them. Baking for a dog sounds like a lot of work, but I think it’s worth it — and it’s also kind of fun! If you love your four-legged friends as much as we love ours, I would recommend that you pick up a copy of Better Food for Dogs and try out one of the cookie recipes yourself. If you’re a dog-treat baker, drop a line and let me know about some of your favorite recipes!

P.S. For a lower-fat version of this recipe, substitute the 2 tbsp. oil for 2 extra tablespoons water. Also, if you have a small dog you might want to consider cutting the recipe in half. The finished treats only last about a month and the recipe makes a lot of cookies. Another option is to freeze half the dough and bake it off another time.

As if we didn’t eat enough with the seafood boil, we decided to make warm chocolate chip cookies in a cast iron pan. The results: warm, slightly under-baked cookies with a dollop of ice cream on the top. Deliciousness.

Mmmmmmm

Mmmmmmm