Halloween Cookies

HalloweenCookies

HalloweenCookies2

 

Happy Halloween bakers! As many of you may know – Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday and every October since I’ve moved to London, I feel a bit empty inside. The Brits don’t really celebrate Halloween the way the Americans do, so I find myself absolutely jealous at everyone’s amazing costumes and terrifying festivities. Last night I decided to do a bit of late-night baking and rushed home from work to make some sugar cookies.  Ben and I worked late into the night to decorate these ghoulish treats for my colleagues at the office. I reverted back to my old recipe of icing sugar + milk + coloring for the icing and painted it on with a brush.

In other news, I’m heading back across the Atlantic tomorrow to visit my family for a bit before heading over to Chicago to work from our company’s other office for a week. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks!

 

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake

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So I hadn’t mentioned this earlier, but I sent in an application for the next series of the Great British Bake Off. One day, I received a very interesting phone call – one of the people who works on the show; he asked me a few questions and then asked if I would like to come in for an in-person interview for the next round of auditions. Of course, I said yes!!

I don’t know how I managed to stay so calm during my interview, I’m pretty sure I was speaking a mile a minute and I felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest. As soon as I got off the phone, I ran back upstairs to my desk at work with a grin bigger than the Cheshire Cat’s. I was going to audition. I had been selected out of thousands of applicants to have a chance to prove my baking skills.

I was given the instructions to bring some examples of my baking to show off my skills, and instantly my mind starting spinning – what should I make? I wanted something that would be a showstopper. Something that would represent me and my American-ness. Me and my Southern-ness. So I instantly thought to a recipe from Southern Living that I had been eyeing for some time – a chocolate gingerbread cake.

The following weekend, I did a trial bake to take to work for feedback. After a few suggestions and a bit of tweaking, I think I nailed my final recipe. I ended up making this cake three times – once for work as a trial, once for the audition, and a third time for Christmas Eve dinner to share with my family (who are probably more excited at my prospect than I am, as they immediately started planning out plot lines and how they’d ‘spin’ my story on the show).

Anyways, this cake does take a bit of time to prep and assemble. But it is worth it – it is so moist and delicious and it just looks and tastes like the holidays. Plus, the chocolate ganache and toffee layers in between the cakes are an extra decadent treat. The key is to take your time and try not to rush through.

As far as Bake Off goes, I’m awaiting the results to see if I’m invited to the next round – but hopefully this cake impressed! So, bakers, keep your fingers crossed!

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 16-ounce package (450 grams) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups (330 grams) flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 10-ounce (300 ml) container sour cream
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1/4 cup black treacle or 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
For the chocolate ganache:
  • 2 cups dark chocolate
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 Tablespoons (28 grams) butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
For the toffee layer:
  • 400 grams dairy toffee pieces
  • 1/4 cup (57.5 grams) butter
  • milk, if needed
For the ginger whipped cream:
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 5-6 1/8-inch slices peeled fresh ginger
  • 6 Tablespoons icing sugar
For decorating:

Directions

1. The night before you want to bake your cake, prepare the ginger whipped cream. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the cream and ginger for 3-5 minutes of just until bubbles appear. Be sure not to let the mixture boil. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, place in a container to chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours, but overnight would be best. The colder your cream, the better it will whip!

2. When you’re ready to bake your cake, preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter and line 3 round cake tins with parchment paper, then butter the parchment paper. Next, begin your cake batter microwaving your chocolate in a bowl in 30-second bursts until melted. Be sure to stir the chocolate in between bursts to make sure it doesn’t burn!

3. In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the brown sugar and butter at medium speed until well blended. Add eggs one at a time, followed by the melted chocolate, beating until it’s just blended.

4. Sift together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, salt, allspice, and nutmeg. Gradually add this flour mixture to the chocolate mixture, alternating with the sour cream. Make sure to begin and end your additions with the flour mixture. Beat at a low speed until everything just comes together. Next, stir together the hot water with the black treacle/molasses as well as the baking soda (this mix will foam a bit). Gradually stir the molasses mixture into the rest of the batter, as well as adding in the vanilla. Once your mixture is blended together, spoon the batter evenly into your 3 prepared cake tins.

5. Bake the cakes for 25-30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out to cool completely (about an hour).

6. When the cakes are nearly cool, prepare your toffee mixture. In a glass bowl over simmering water, place your toffee pieces and butter together. Gently heat until the butter and candy begins to melt and become runny. You’ll need this to have a fairly runny consistency in order to spread over your cake. If you need to, you can add more butter or a bit of milk to help lighten the consistency. Once the toffee is melted, quickly spread a layer over the top of two of your cakes. Be careful not to work it too hard as it cools, because it can tear your cakes.

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7. Next, make your chocolate ganache. Similar to the toffee, melt your chocolate pieces and salt in a bowl over simmering water. Once everything is melted, add in the sweetened condensed milk; cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly until everything is smooth. Remove from the heat, then add in the butter and vanilla, stirring for 4-5 minutes until smooth. Let the ganache cool to room temperature before transferring to another bowl. Add in the cream and beat with a hand mixer on high speed until it reaches the consistency of buttercream. If you need to, you can add a bit of icing sugar to help with the consistency. Once it’s ready, spread the ganache over your toffee layers.

8. Once all of your cakes are toffee-d and ganache-d, layer them up so that the cake with nothing on it is the top layer. Then whip up your chilled ginger cream to make the frosting. Pour the cream through a fine mesh strainer to remove the ginger pieces. Beat with a hand mixer on high speed until the mixture starts to foam. Then add in your icing sugar and continue to mix on high speed until stiff peaks form. Use the whipped cream immediately and spread over your cake.

9. Finally, decorate your cake however you’d like using fresh gingerbread cookies, mint, and cranberries.

Oreo Cheesecake Brownies

In my internet recipe hunting, I came across this recipe for Oreo Cheesecake Brownies from Sweet Pea’s Kitchen. I absolutely LOVE cheesecake brownies, and it had been a looooong time since I last had one. So combine my love for cheesecake, chocolate, AND Oreos?! How could it be any more perfect?

I gave these brownies a shot, and they were wonderful. However, this recipe only makes about a half-batch, so you may want to double up if you want to make a full 9×13 Pyrex dish’s worth. In a way this works out well, since I have 2 half-size Pyrex dishes, so I made one normal batch, and one batch with peppermint added to the cheesecake, which was also delicious. Also, I had to increase the baking time quite a bit – most likely due to using the deeper pans. So be sure to keep an eye on them to avoid over or under baking! You’ll know when they’re done when the cheesecake swirls start to brown on top a bit.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup icing sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups coarsely chopped Oreo cookies

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350° F (approx 175°C). Butter the bottom and sides of a 8 inch metal baking pan (I used glass Pyrex dishes for my brownies). Put a long piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, letting the parchment extend up two sides of the pan and overhang slightly on both ends. (This will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after they have baked. This is a must do!!) Butter the parchment.

2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Whisk in sugar and bring to a boil, whisking frequently; boil 1 minute. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

3. In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract until combined, about 1 minute using a hand mixer. This will be the cheesecake for your brownies. If you want to make the peppermint version, use 1 tsp of vanilla, and 1 tsp of peppermint extra. You can also swirl in some red food colouring if you’d like.

4. In a separate medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder and salt; whisk until combined.

5. In a second large bowl, whisk together eggs until combined. Whisk in melted butter-sugar mixture until well combined. Stir in flour mixture until just combined, followed by Oreo cookies. Again, if you’re making the peppermint version and it’s around Christmas – try substituting with the red creme-filled Oreos for that extra holiday touch.

6. Bake for 24-28 minutes, until brownies and cheesecake are set. A knife inserted into the cheesecake mixture should come out clean and the edges will be lightly browned.

7. Let cool completely in pan on a cooling rack before lifting out the parchment paper to remove the brownies. Cut, and serve.

Peppermint Bark

Peppermint Bark is one of my favorite holiday treats. My dad used to make it, and there’s something about the crunchy, minty, chocolate-y taste that just makes it perfect for Christmas. It’s also a super simple way to make homemade gifts for family and friends. I don’t have an exact recipe for this, because I just eyeball it and do everything based on intuition, so here’s a step-by-step guide.

Ingredients

white chocolate
dark chocolate (I use dark instead of milk, because it doesn’t melt as easily in your hands, making it easier to handle)
peppermint extract
candy canes
red food coloring

Directions

1. Crush the candy canes into tiny pieces. The easiest way to do this is with a food processor; but if you don’t have one, just double bag the candy in some ziploc bags and press down on them with a rolling pin or hammer. Be sure to put a towel under and on top of the bags so you don’t dent your countertops!

2. Slowly melt the dark chocolate in a double boiler, with the water on a simmer. Be sure not to let any water or steam drip into the chocolate, because that ruins it! As the chocolate is melting, stir it with a spatula to help prevent it from burning and to help keep it smooth.

3. Line a baking tray with plastic wrap, then pour in the melted dark chocolate so it forms a thin layer. Then place the tray into the fridge to set up.

4. While the dark chocolate is in the fridge, melt the white chocolate in the same way. Once the chocolate is melted, stir in the peppermint extract.

5. Remove the dark chocolate tray from the fridge, then pour the white chocolate on top. You may need to use a spatula to spread it evenly, just be careful that you don’t use too much pressure, as some of the dark chocolate may mix in (it melts a tiny bit because of the hot white chocolate).

6. After pouring in the white chocolate, use a toothpick to swirl the red food coloring through. Then sprinkle on the crushed candy cane pieces. Return the tray to the fridge to set up for at least an hour.

7. When the chocolate is all set, use the overhanging plastic wrap to slide the chocolate out of the tray. Then carefully press down onto the chocolate to break it into large chunks. Store these in an airtight container. You can store in the fridge, but be sure to let the bark sit out at room temperature for about ten or fifteen minutes to soften a bit so you don’t break your teeth!