Pink Lemonade Cupcakes

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There will be a day when my blog post is about something other than delicious food, but today is not that day!

I had some fun decorating some extras of these cupcakes I made for the county fair with some of my leftover white chocolate frosting to give to my coworkers for a surprise summer treat.  I absolutely overbooked myself for baked goods and arts at the fair this year.  The woman checking my art at the registration booth last Saturday confirmed that I had entered 11 items: 6 pieces of art and 5 bakes.  But somehow I managed to finish it all!  Here’s evidence of the 5 bakes I did in app. 2 mornings (plus the mint cookies that I took out of the freezer from graduation, but no one needs to know that 😉 )

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I’m not completely clear on how exactly I came around to deciding to make these pink lemonade cupcakes, I mean, I’ve certainly never heard of pink lemonade as a cupcake flavor before, but one day I just thought they’d make a great cupcake and figured they must be on the Internet somewhere.  And for some reason I thought white chocolate frosting would make a great pairing, even though I’ve never had that either.

And guess what?  It worked!

These delectable little cups of sunshine are the perfect summer treat!  I love the sunshiny flavor that comes through from the lemon zest and tangy pink lemonade concentrate.  With the addition of some white chocolate frosting, these cupcakes practically explode with flavor in your mouth.

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I’ve brought these little bits of summer to my group of junior high girls at church and they all raved about them!  My family and coworkers also gave their stamp of approval, so after a year of making them, I figured it was time to enter them into the county fair!

I mean, seriously, just look at them.

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They are SO good.

So go ahead and enjoy your own little lemonade cupcakes 🙂

It just might make your day.

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Pink Lemonade Cupcakes

Cupcakes

2½ cups flour
1 tbsp lemon zest
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp kosher salt
¾ cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup pink lemonade concentrate
1 cup buttermilk

White Chocolate Frosting

 

6 ounces white chocolate, melted and slightly cooled (use a white chocolate bar, not chips)

1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

¼ cup heavy cream (can use milk, but it won’t be as rich)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt

 

DIRECTIONS

For the cupcakes, preheat oven to 350°. Line 27 muffin cups with paper liners and coat with non-stick cooking spray.
In a small bowl, combine flour, lemon zest, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Mix in vanilla and pink lemonade concentrate. On low speed, alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk to mixer, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix just until combined. Fill prepared muffin cups with ¾ full with batter. Bake 20-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool cupcakes completely before frosting

For the frosting: In a medium bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for 1 minute. Switch the mixer to low speed and slowly add the confectioners’ sugar. Quickly stir the cooled white chocolate so that it is smooth and add to the butter/sugar mixture. Switch the mixer to medium speed and beat for 2 minutes until combined and creamy. Add the cream, vanilla extract, and salt. Beat for 1 minute until combined. Frost the cupcakes.

 

(The pink lemonade cupcake recipe and instructions are from Bite Me More and the white chocolate frosting recipe and instructions are adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction.  Photos are property of Lotsoflifeloveandliterature)

Identity in Christ

I just got back from our senior-led retreat, and it was amazing!  God worked in wondrous ways through other people and in my own life.  As a part of the retreat being senior-led, I was one of the seniors who gave a talk.  I’ve been really passionate about identity in Christ because it’s a topic that I’ve learned so much about through my spiritual journey during these past few years.

The retreat’s spiritual theme was “spiritual disciplines” – which is really an umbrella term for knowing truth and putting it into action.  I really want to share with you all my talk that I ended up giving because it’s my testimony of my past few years and I believe that it could give perspective on how God sees you.

I’d like to start off by asking you a question – who are you?

Jesus once asked his disciples, “who do you say that I am?” and that question is said to be the most important question you will answer as a Christian.  Next to knowing who Jesus is, knowing who you are is the second most important question you’ll answer in this life.

So, if a random stranger walked up to you and asked who you were, what do you think your response would be?  Some possible answers could range from anywhere between basketball player to professional doily crocheter.  But you have to admit!, most responses to the question “who are you?” would be based off of your high school rank, age, profession, or even church denomination.  But the truth is, none of those answers would be correct because it doesn’t define what makes you you.

What really defines a person’s identity – at their core – is their relationship with Jesus. 

Neil Anderson is a Christian author who once said,

“The only identity equation that works in God’s kingdom is you plus Christ equals wholeness and meaning.”

So, for me, I accepted Jesus when I was about 4 or 5, so really young, and I grew up in the church, so I knew all the churchy-correct answers.  I believe there were some downsides to my giving my life over to Jesus at such a young age because half the time I thought I had it all together.  Sometimes it was as if I just checked Jesus off my list and knew how to live my life from then on.  I believe that my indifference to knowing my true identity in Christ had some repercussions later on that could have been avoided, and it was only a couple years ago that I truly dove into learning how to answer the question of “who did I say that I am?”  So, I’ve learned what I’m calling my “3 Identity Truths” that I believe are really critical for every believer to know:

Once you turn your life over to Jesus, you are first and foremost a new creation, secondly you are a son of the Most High, and thirdly you are free.

First and most important Identity Truth: you are a new creation after you turn over your life to Jesus.  This is the most important truth to remember because from it stems all other truth about your identity in Christ.

One of my favorite verses about this can be found in 2 Corinthians 5:17.  2 Corinthians 5:17 states, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

What is so crucial to remember is that our old nature is gone – done away with.  Allow me to elaborate a bit on that.  We receive a sin nature from Adam when we’re born.  That means that humans are not basically good.  Before we gave our lives over to Jesus, the inclination to sin is immediate.

Whatever the situation may be, we used to be slaves to sin, but now, it says in Romans 6:18, “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” 

Sophomore year I was going through some stuff, so my mom gave me this book to read called Victory Over the Darkness by Neil T. Anderson.  That book and God’s word were what really helped me at the time and I’ll talk more about that later, but there was this illustration in the book that I wanted to show you.

DSC_1925  I really found this fascinating.  So, a person is made up of three parts: their body, soul, and spirit.  And this is the original creation, so everything here is perfect.

Now, here is where the Greek in the New Testament goes much deeper than English.  Whenever you read the word “life” in the New Testament it means one of three different Greek words:

  • bios (bee-os)
  • psuche (psoo-kay)
  • zoe  (dzoo-ay)

Bios is the life of the body, psuche is the life of the soul (the mind, will, and emotions in that second ring there), and zoe is most important; zoe is eternal life and union with God.  Now think back to way in the beginning when God created Adam and Eve.  Adam and Eve were spiritually alive and physically alive, but when they sinned, his zoe ended – his intimacy with God was broken.  They were still able to connect with God through sacrifices and priests, but that spiritual closeness with God was no longer there.

However, in the New Testament, the term zoe comes back into play in a slightly different way in relation to the union that believers have with God through Christ!  Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, He interceded on our behalf and covered our sins so that we might have that zoe, that restored union and intimacy with God.  The sin nature that we received from Adam is completely abolished when Christ enters our lives.

That’s where my second favorite verse comes in: Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.”

“I no longer live” – if someone told you that someone you knew was no longer living what conclusion would you come to?  They’re dead.  Their physical life has ended.  In the same way, when you accept Jesus into your heart and turn over the reins of your life to Him, you die.  Your former flat, 2D identity is dead and Christ now lives in you through the Holy Spirit.  Well, the verse goes on to say that “the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.”  God not only provides instructions of do’s and don’ts for this life, because “faith without works is dead,” but he tells us why.  He loved us enough to give his Son in our place and take our punishment for our sins.  He loved us enough to draw us to himself until we became new creations in him.

So, just some food for thought:  how does knowing yourself to be a new creation influence the way you daily live out your faith?

Second Identity Truth: you are a son of the Most High when you turn your life over to Jesus.

During youth group in the fall, we had electives on different topics we wanted to learn about, and that’s where I learned this really profound twist on what I have always known.  I was talking to my mom about my topic, and I told her that we are all sons of God.  She smiled and added, “and daughters.”

Actually, no, we are not all sons and daughters, we are all sons of God.

Let me explain.

Galatians 3:26 and 28 says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Shortly after, Paul continues in Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”

Now this is where I found the Greek to be really deep again because according to Strong’s concordance, the Greek word for “son” is huios and means . . .

“properly, a son (by birth or adoption); (figuratively) anyone sharing the same nature as their Father. For the believer, becoming a son of God begins with being reborn (adopted) by the heavenly Father – through Christ In the NT, 5207 /hyiós (“son”) equally refers to female believers (Gal 3:28).”

Did you all catch that?  When Jesus died on the cross and defeated death three days later, he made it possible for us to be adopted as sons of God!

In the definition I just read, “son” means “anyone sharing the same nature as their Father.”  That means that we are righteous, holy, and pure.  It means that we possess the mind of Christ.

Jesus made that possible.

Also, “5207 /hyiós (“son”) emphasizes likeness of the believer to the heavenly Father, i.e. resembling His character more and more by living in faith.”  Sooo, the bad news is we’re not perfect.  Not in this life anyway.  We are going to make mistakes along the way, but as long as we are living by faith, living out our identity as sons of the Most High God, we will resemble His character more and more every single day.

Third Identity Truth: when you turn over your life to Jesus, you are free.

This is perhaps the hardest concept for me to grasp, because throughout my high school years I was spiritually attacked in several different ways.  When I was 16, I had a lot of guilt attacks where I would remember some deceitful thing I had done, feel a load of condemnation for it for a day or so, confess to my mom and feel a million times better before it happened again.  I think the first time it started was when I started watching a show.  My mom never told me it was okay to watch it and was skeptical of it, so I watched probably three seasons privately.  I eventually stopped watching it, but the weight of what I had done clung on my conscience.  I’m not proud of this, but I didn’t tell my mom what I had done for about 8 months.  And after that 8 months, my pastor gave a sermon on confessing to each other . . . and conviction . . . and truth . . . and I absolutely burned in my seat.  I blurted out the whole deception to my mom in the parking lot – probably a bit incoherently – and she forgave me.

But then I almost felt chained to the cycle, like I had to confess everything I had ever done before starting afresh.  That constant dwelling on the past didn’t help me much either and led me to dwell on immoral things and think of things that certainly didn’t line up with Philippians 4:8, where it says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on such things.” 

Know that if you are struggling with a weight of condemnation about something that was done in the past, that is spiritual warfare.  I know, I’ve been there.  If you are in Christ, there is no more condemnation, only conviction.  The difference between condemnation and conviction is that condemnation is a feeling of no hope and overwhelming guilt whereas conviction is your conscience being pricked by the Holy Spirit.

Guys, there is a spiritual world that we can’t see with our eyes.  There is a constant invisible war being fought that we simply can’t see, but the effects show up in our lives.

Satan is real.

I don’t mean to sound shocking, but he is as real as Jesus and he desperately wants to distract us from loving and following Jesus.

The problem for us is that Satan doesn’t appear in our lives as the ugly brute we know him to be.  He shows up as an angel of light –  as the summation of all of our daydreams and hopes.  He can use the slightest bit of a lie and conceal it in truth and people buy it!  I’ve bought it.  He is the king of deception and all he needs to do is move our course a bit off, get us a bit distracted, get us in a false mindset, in order to throw our focus off of God.

And guess where it all starts?  Guess where Satan deliberately begins his attack.

Thoughts.

Exactly like a speaker at our youth group was talking about a couple weeks ago, our thoughts are the beginning to who we ultimately become.  That is why it is SO important to know God’s truth, to dwell on it every day, and to constantly be in communication with Him, because that is how we can stand our ground against the enemy attacks and know who we are in Christ.

You are filled with the Holy Spirit whether you feel it or not and that is the key difference between who you are now and who you used to be. 

2 Corinthians 3:17 says “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  I really struggled knowing the freedom I had in Christ with his Holy Spirit living in me, mainly because I believed that I didn’t have much choice in my thoughts.  I believed similar lies when it came to singing.  There have been days where I’ve been so beaten down mentally that I couldn’t squeak out low notes that I knew I could sing, much less higher notes that I struggled with anyway.  And the sad part is is that I partially knew that the thoughts I were thinking weren’t true.  So I had to decide, would I believe the lies or would I believe who Jesus told me I am?  The more I spent time soaking up Scripture and communing with God, the more the lies disappeared.  It’s a truth that I repeat to myself every day, that I am free in Jesus and that if temptation does come my way, He will provide a way out of it.

In conclusion, you are

a new creation

a son of the Most High God

free

Your identity changes its very DNA when you hand over your life to Jesus, and you are forever a new creature in Him as His very free child.  If you are in Christ, you are righteous, holy, and pure.  You possess the mind of Christ!  If you’ve been reading this and don’t know what it is to give your life over to Jesus, please contact your local church, a Christian friend, or even me.  I would love to pray for you.

Now I want to close in Ephesians 3:14-21, just as a prayer over you.

 For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Layer Cake

Chocolate Peanut Butter Layer Cake

I must say right off – this cake should only be made if you have loads of time on your hands.  Since I have beginner-intermediate level of experience with baking cakes, it took all day plus a night.  However, I’ve wanted to make this cake ever since I got my Pinterest account two years ago, so when I got school off for Thanskgiving break I jumped at my chance.  I actually didn’t love the looks of the cake called for in the original recipe when I made it, so I decided to make Abby’s fabulous chocolate cake just in case.

Yep, that’s right!  I’m finally posting Abby’s to-die-for blue ribbon chocolate cake!

Also, the original cake called for a meringue layer.  Hm.  It sounded delicious and daunting at the same time.  The first attempt I made at it was when I spread all of the meringue in one cake round shape on the parchment paper.  It was decidedly thick and didn’t dry all the way through during the hour and forty-five minutes it was drying in the oven at 200°.  The middle got all sticky, gooey, and gross, so I took another swing at it and spread the new meringue almost to the size of a cookie pan.  I baked it at 250° for 30 minutes and decreased to 200° for another 15 minutes.  The result was not unlike the texture of thin foam, but the the vanilla flavor melted in my mouth.  However, the next day, the meringue was chewy and not the lovely melt-in-mouth texture it was the day before.

That was probably much more information about my meringue struggles than you cared to hear, but it was all said because though I will include the meringue layer in the recipe, I highly recommend making it optional unless you already know how to make a foolproof meringue.

Otherwise, this cake is so much fun!  The crunchy peanut butter layer combined with the chocolate cake is probably my favorite part.  It all reminds me of a rich cake version of Reese’s peanut butter cups.

An assembly tip:  Once you start to put the cake together, it you put the cake on a plate that has a slightly risen rim like mine does, put an un-leveled top half of the cake upside-down on the bottom.  That way there is a flat and sturdy surface to build the rest of the layers on.

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Layer Cake

Meringue
2 egg whites,
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Whip the egg whites on medium until soft peaks form. Slowly add the sugar and the vanilla, continue to whip on high until the whites are shiny with stiff peaks

Spread the whites on the parchment paper in a circle the size of the cake pans. Bake for about 2 hours until the meringue is dried out.

Chocolate Cake

3/4  cup water
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda

  • Preheat oven to 350º.
  • Line desired pan with parchment or wipe with vegetable oil and dust with cocoa powder.
  • In a large bowl, beat water, buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla with a mixer on low speed.
  • Add dry ingredients and beat for 5 minutes on low speed, until thoroughly combined.
  • Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake accordingly, a 13×9″ pan will take about 40-50 minutes.  Two 8-inch rounds take about 40 minutes.  Do not overbake.

Peanut Butter Frosting Layer
1 cup peanut butter, creamy
1 1/2 cup powder sugar
1 1/2 cup rice krispies

Whip the peanut butter and the powder sugar together until fluffy.  Gently fold in the rice krispies.

Milk Chocolate Frosting Layer
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 -2 Tbls cream
4 oz cream cheese
1 cup powder sugar

Warm the milk chocolate chips in a bowl over steaming water (or for few seconds in the microwave, but be very careful not to burn the chocolate).  Add in the cream cheese, the cream and the powder sugar; whip until fluffy. Add in more cream if the frosting is too thick.

Dark Chocolate Ganache
1 cup dark chocolate (pick a good dark chocolate bar, chopped, or chips)
1/2 cup heavy cream

Assemble the cake first and then make this ganache so you can pour over the cake while the ganache is still warm.  Put the chocolate in a bowl and heat the cream until it is steaming but do not boil.  Pour over the chocolate and allow it to melt the chocolate for a minute.  Mix it all together until smooth. Add more cream if the mixture is too thick.

Putting the cake and frosting layers together

Remove the cakes from the cake pan, slice the cakes horizontally so that you have 4 layers.  Place one layer on a cake tray, slather half of the milk chocolate frosting on top.  Place another cake layer on top of the chocolate frosting, top with the meringue and then top with the peanut butter frosting.

Add another layer of chocolate cake, the remaining chocolate frosting and then the final chocolate cake layer.  The final step is to drizzle the warm ganache over the top of the cake, allowing some of the ganache to drizzle down the sides.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Layer Cake 2

(Today’s recipes and steps for “Meringue”, “Peanut Butter Frosting Layer”, “Milk Chocolate Frosting Layer”, “Dark Chocolate Ganache”, and the step “Putting the cake and frosting layers together” are all directly from Fat and Happy Blog)

White Sheet Cake

White Sheet Cake

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you had a fantastic Thanksgiving full of love, family, and lots of turkey and apple pie :).  As can be seen by the majority of my posts, one of my top things to be thankful for is that God created the art and science of baking.  Yum.

(Side note:  if you love to bake or just like listening to British accents, watch The Great British Baking Show.  It’s my favorite, and I’m super sad that I just finished the episodes available on Netflix.  However, I’m hoping that the season that just finished airing will be available soon 🙂 .  If you don’t have Netflix, they have more recent episodes streaming on PBS)

When I was planning desserts with my mom for our first-ever hosting for Thanksgiving, we figured that we would need a good variety in case some people didn’t like some of the desserts.  Knowing that I had school off for the week, I was SO incredibly and ridiculously excited to have so many desserts to make this week.  Let me list them for you: my Melt-In-Your-Mouth Pumpkin Cookies, Chocolate Peanut Butter Layer Cake, and today’s White Sheet Cake.  And since I didn’t have quite enough time, Abby made our Best Frosted Brownies Ever.

(Side note: Abby showed me how to hyperlink, so I went and redid all my previous posts – it’s so much fun!)

I’ve been noticing that some of my posts have been made in an excited baking frenzy, wanting everyone to see my newest projects instead of calmly posting the recipes that are tried and true.  Thus said, I’ve made this cake at least ten times, and it will be made plenty of times in the future.  My dad and brother absolutely adore it, and the rest of my family also love it.  The richness found in the vanilla flavor and moistness is so much richer than any old white sheet cake recipe, probably due to the sour cream in the batter and the amazing frosting.  I once entered in the county fair as “white sheet cake”, but the judges criticized it by countering with “is not white cake.”  I agree.  This cake is not your average white cake, but it’s well worth making if you like white cake.

First, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter and water in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until butter is melted.

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Remove from heat and stir in the sugar, flour, salt and baking soda.

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Stir with a wire whisk until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla. Stir in the sour cream and mix until blended.

DSC_1357 2Pour the batter into a well greased 11”x17” sheet pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly touched or a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and allow to cool slightly while you make the frosting.  If you frost the cake while it’s still the slightest bit warm, the frosting sinks into the cake a bit and makes it more moist.

White Sheet Cake

1 c. butter
1 c. water
2 c. sugar
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. sour cream

Frosting:
1 c. butter
6 Tbl. evaporated milk
4 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. salt
1 c. chopped pecans, opt.

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter and water in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until butter is melted. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar, flour, salt and baking soda. Stir with a wire whisk until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla. Stir in the sour cream and mix until blended.
  • Pour the batter into a well greased 11”x17” sheet pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly touched or a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and allow to cool slightly while you make the frosting.
  • Put the butter and milk into a medium saucepan. Heat until butter is melted and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in the powdered sugar, vanilla and a dash of salt. Whisk until completely smooth. Add nuts (if desired) and spread over cake.

 

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(Today’s recipe was taken directly from Eat Cake for Dinner.)

Overstuffed O’s

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These are like jumbo, gourmet-versions of Oreo’s.  That about sums it up.

I work at the library, and there was this cookbook on the new books display that had the most delicious looking cookie sandwiches on the cover.  I’d seen the book (Baking Out Loud by Hedy Goldsmith) before and hadn’t given it a second thought, but my shift was nearing an end and my hunger probably made the cover look even more delicious.  So, I checked it out and just drank in all of the mouth-watering pictures.  There were multiple problems, however, because the author of the cookbook was a gourmet chef and required many expensive ingredients that we don’t keep on hand.  For example, almost every recipe called for some form of pure vanilla product, including the actual bean.  I quickly did my research and found that beans can range from about $3-5 per bean.  Luckily, I’ve always been intrigued by vanilla beans, so I decided to buy them in bulk (which is far cheaper – more like 50 cents per bean) from Vanilla Products U.S.A .  They are so much FUN!  They are a fragrant bundle of vanilla goodness, and the shipping was really quick too.  If you look really closely, you’ll see little flecks of vanilla bean in the filling, which I added just for the fun of it 🙂

But I digress 🙂

I ended up having a fun shopping trip later on in the week, picking out interesting ingredients like cocoa nibs and 70% dark chocolate.  Yum.  I ended up getting Green & Black’s organic dark chocolate, since we’ve gotten it at Minnesota’s Biggest Candy Store before and loved it.

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Cocoa nibs were one of the most interesting ingredients listed and one I have never heard of before.  They are basically cocoa beans that are dried and roasted and that add a unique chocolate flavor that I thought contributed to making the cookies taste more like real Oreo’s.

One note on the size:  If you’re going for jumbo-don’t-need-seconds kind of size, use a normal 2-in. cup.  However, we found that they were a bit too big for comfort and ended up making a couple mini ones that are just perfect to have one or two.  Be sure to roll out the dough pretty thin as well, since thicker cookies means more frosting than is provided.

Overstuffed O’s

Makes 24 sandwich cookies (my note: makes more if making mini sandwiches)

For the cookies

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably Valhrona Caraibe 66%), chopped (I used Green & Black’s organic 70%)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup finely ground cocoa nibs

1/4 cup natural dark cocoa powder (preferably Valrhona) – (I used Ghirardelli natural unsweetened)

1 tablespoon finely ground espresso beans (I didn’t have any on hand, so I just added 1 tbsp. more of ground cocoa nibs and it worked fine)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature (I used salted)

1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar (I used light)

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 extra-large egg, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

  • To make the cookies, melt the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl set over simmering water, stirring until the chocolate is melted and smooth, about 4 minutes.  Remove the bowl from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
  • Sift together the flour, cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, ground espresso beans, and baking soda.  Make sure to toss any unsifted nibs back into the mixture.
  • Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until soft and smooth.  Add the brown sugar, granulated sugar, and salt and beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat for 1 minute, until combined.  The mixture will look curdled, but trust me, it will all come together.
  • Add the melted chocolate and beat on low speed for about 1 minute, until blended.  Add half of the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined.  Add the buttermilk and mix until blended.  Add the remaining flour and mix until just combined. Do not overmix.
  • Arrange 2 large pieces of plastic wrap on a work surface.  Divide the dough into 2 pieces, drop them onto the plastic, cover, and shape each into an even, flat disc.  Refrigerate for about 1 hour, or until form enough to roll out.
  • Position the oven racks in the upper middle and lower middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375°F (350°F if using a convection oven).  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick liners.
  • Put a large piece of parchment paper on a work surface.  Working with one piece of dough at a time, put the dough on the center of the paper and top with another sheet of parchment paper.  Roll the dough to a scant 1/4-inch thickness, stopping occasionally to peel away the paper, dust lightly with flour and reposition the paper so that you don’t get any wrinkles.  If the dough is too hard to roll, set it aside for 15 to 20 minutes until it is softer.
  • Using a round 2-inch cookie cutter, punch out rounds and arrange them about 3/4 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets (they don’t spread much, if at all).  Reroll and cut the scraps once,
  • Bake for 8 to 10 minutes (7 to 9 minutes if using a convection oven), switching the baking sheets’ positions halfway through baking.  (If you like crisper cookies, add a minute or two to the baking time.)  Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let cool completely.

For the filling

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature (I used salted)

4 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla bean extract

(My optional route: add half a vanilla bean’s seeds)

  • To make the filling, using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until soft and smooth.  Add the sugar, salt, and vanilla and beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until smooth, light, and fluffy.
  • Scrape the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip.  (You can use a 2-tablespoon ice cream scoop instead.)  Arrange half of the cooled cookies bottom side up on a work surface.  Pipe about 2 tablespoons of filling in the center of each cookie.  Top with the remaining cookies, top side up, and press gently to push the filling to the edges.  Let the filling set so that it doesn’t “splooge” out when you take a bite.  Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

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(Today’s recipe was taken word-for-word from Baking Out Loud by Hedy Goldsmith, 2012.  The introduction, parenthesized notes in the recipe starting with “I”, and photos are all the property of Lots of life, love, and literature.)

Heavenly Peanut Butter Cookies

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For all y’all peanut butter cup fanatics out there, these have you completely covered.

Any time I have DQ Reese’s blizzards they have been amazing . . . but there’s that chocolate.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m as crazy about chocolate as Willy Wonka, but there’s something about crunching into hard chocolate in soft ice cream that doesn’t fit.  It’s the same thing as nuts in bread – personal preference of course, and maybe some day I’ll change my mind, but for now these cookies are ranking in top position for my ice cream toppings.

I made these and chopped them up lately for when we visited our camping friends – homemade ice cream was on the menu and everyone brought toppings – and I just told everyone that they were essentially Reese’s peanut butter filling.  Everyone absolutely loved them!  They’re the peanut butter equivalent of oatmeal cream pies – yum!  Was that anyone else’s childhood dessert?  It was up there with Nutty Bars for me 🙂

Some notes on the cookies:

  1.  Slightly under bake them.  It’s hard to tell, but if the edges are the slightest golden and they look set, consider them done.  The softer they are, the more they taste like Reese’s filling :).  If they get a bit more done, don’t worry, a little crunch is fun too.
  2. The more filling the better, but be sure there’s enough for all the sandwiches.

Heavenly Peanut Butter Cookies

For the cookie dough:

3 cups quick oats

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup peanut butter (I used Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread with Honey)

1 cup butter, softened

2 eggs

For the filling:

1 cup powdered sugar

2 cups smooth peanut butter

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • In a medium bowl, mix all the dry ingredients (oats, flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.) Set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl (or mixer), mix peanut butter, softened butter, eggs, and vanilla until smooth.
  • Pour dry ingredients into peanut butter mixture, stirring until just mixed. (Don’t forget to scrape the bottom of the bowl.)
  • Place rounded teaspoonfuls of cookie dough on an ungreased, foil-lined baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch between each one. (I used a jelly roll pan and was able to fit 5 short rows of 4 cookies – 20 total). Using your fingers, gently pat dough down so they form small semi-flattened circles.
  • Bake for 8 minutes. Let cool completely on cookie sheet before removing.
  • While the cookies are baking, whisk together the powdered sugar and peanut butter until light and airy, about 5 minutes.
  • On your work surface, place half of the cookies upside down. Whisk the filling to lighten it. Spoon approximately 1 tablespoon of filling into the center of each upside down cookie. Place second cookie on top of filling and press together until filling just comes to the edges!  Makes approximately 2 dozen SANDWICH cookies (48 total cookies).

(Today’s recipe comes completely from One Good Thing)

Dutch Flower Braid

Dutch Flower Braid

I’ve loved this braid ever since I saw it first on Pinterest.  I finally watched a tutorial for it not too long ago and my fingers have been itching to try it out ever since!  My cousin came over to celebrate her 18th birthday with my mom, her godmother, by going on their annual outing.  They usually do something special and fun like mini golfing, frisbee golf, or going to a nice restaurant.  The outing only takes a couple hours and then she sleeps over 🙂

Did I mention her lusciously long, wavy locks?

We set aside some time, 3 hours or so, for doing her hair, and I had a blast!  We listened to Home Free, an amazing a capella group, and Melanie Amaro while I worked with her hair.

1.  To make a Dutch flower braid, section off a squarish section of hair underneath and opposite to the part.  That’s where the flower will sit.

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2.  Start a Dutch french braid at the main side of the part, braid down and then veer off to the side, as if doing a Katniss braid.  Braid down again after you reach the corner of the squarish sectioned off part.  Take out the ponytailed section and continue braiding, keeping towards the bottom of the section.

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3.  Finish braiding normally and tie off with a clear elastic.  If the ends are too long, just make a loop of hair with the last loop of elastic.  Then, generously pancake only the outside of the braid.  Those loops will be the petals.

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4.  Coil the braid, with the end coiling on top of the bigger part of the braid.

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5.  Pin securely.  If the hair is long enough, finish pancaking the rest of the french braided section.  Embellish with a spin decoration in the center of the flower if you wish.

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Here’s the tutorial that I used:

Carmelitas

Carmelitas

Carmelitas.  Doesn’t that just sound like an amazing Hispanic dessert oozing with caramel and bursting with sweet glory?

Well it is.  Plus chocolate.

Actually, I’m not so sure about the Hispanic part, but Renee from Two in the Kitchen looked them up and said,

“After doing a little digging into the short history of these bars, (I can’t help it, I am a history teacher after all!!) as near as I can tell, the term carmelita was fist used in the 1967 Pillsbury Bake-Off by Erlyce Larson who called her treats “Oatmeal Carmelitas“.  Or at least, I couldn’t find a reference to the name before that time period.  These bars are made with caramel ice cream topping and they won first prize!”

My dad isn’t a fan of the chocolate part (he believes it will be amazing with white chocolate, so I’ll be whipping those up pretty soon), but these bars are heavenly soft, caramel bursting, chocolate peppered goodness.

Carmelitas Bars

I was at a friend’s grad party the weekend before 4th of July, and she had the best, most varied kinds of bars that I’ve ever seen.  I had quite a few, which only contributed to my coming down with a sore throat and fever later in the week, but anyway.  I was craving bars of all kinds, so when I scrolled across these on Pinterest, I knew I had to make them.

They are incredibly sweet and rich.  If you’re the grazing or snacking type, even better, because they’re best eaten in small portions.

If you’re uncertain as to what caramel to use or can’t find what the original recipe recommends, I’ve used Werther’s Original Chewy Caramels & Kraft Caramel Bits with great success.

REMINDER: Don’t cut the bars until at least 4 hours later or after they sit overnight.  It they’re cut right away, they will not hold their form at all.  They might be a good gooey mess to put on top of ice cream, but that’s it.  I haven’t experienced it first-hand, but the blog I got the recipe from stated this reminder several times.

I find it’s helpful to consciously remove oneself from the premises of this delicious smelling dessert and try to do something distracting during the 4 hours 🙂

Carmelitas

3/4 cup butter, melted (1 1/2 sticks; I use unsalted butter but salted may be used)
3/ 4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-rolled old fashioned oats (not instant or quick cook)
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt, optional and to taste
35 caramel squares, unwrapped (I used Werther’s Originals Baking Caramels which are slightly bigger than cellophane-wrapped caramels; if using those, I recommend using a couple more)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional and to taste, if you prefer salted caramel sauce
1 cup (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks (I used a combo)

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8×8-inch pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Lining your pan is highly recommended for ease of cleanup due to the stickiness of the caramel; set pan aside.
  2. In a large microwave-safe mixing bowl, add the butter and heat on high power to melt, about 90 seconds.
  3. Add the brown sugar, vanilla, and whisk until smooth.
  4. Add the flour, oats, baking soda, optional pinch salt, and stir until combined. Mixture will be quite thick.
  5. Add half of the mixture to the prepared pan (just eyeball it), and smooth it with spatula or the back of a spoon, to create an even, smooth, flat layer; set remainder aside.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes. While it bakes, make the caramel sauce.
  7. In a large microwave-safe mixing bowl, combine the caramels, cream, and heat on high power in 60-second bursts to melt caramels, stirring after each burst. It will likely take about 4 to 5 minutes total to melt; heat until mixture can be stirred smooth. Alternatively, combine caramels and cream in a medium saucepan, and heat over medium-low heat to melt, stirring nearly continuously, until mixture can be stirred smooth.
  8. Optionally stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste, for salted caramel sauce; set sauce aside.
  9. After 10 minutes, remove pan from the oven and evenly sprinkle with the chocolate.
  10. Slowly and evenly pour caramel sauce over the chocolate.
  11. Evenly crumble reserved oatmeal-brown sugar mixture over the top.
  12. Return pan to oven and bake for about 15 to 18 minutes (I baked 16 1/2), or until edges are lightly browned and center is bubbling slightly.
  13. Allow bars to cool completely in the pan before slicing and serving, giving the molten caramel time to firm up. This can take up to 4 hours, or overnight, at room temperature. You can speed it up by placing pan in fridge with a sheet of foil over the top to prevent fridge smells. If you don’t wait for bars to cool completely, they’ll be a literal hot mess. They’ll taste fine (don’t burn yourself), but they won’t slice neatly with clean cuts. Bars will keep airtight at room temperature for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 4 months.

(Today’s recipe is taken directly from Averie Cooks at http://www.averiecooks.com/2013/12/carmelitas.html )

Braided & Twisted Side Bun

Braided & Twisted Side Bun

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Lookin’ so fine, this ‘do could be worn anywhere from an evening get-together to a wedding.  The braid is my own added embellishment, but you could just follow the tutorial and still get a beautiful result.

My cousin Hanna, my lovely model, and her siblings all have gorgeously thick hair, but this style will still work on shorter, more moderately thick hair as well.

If you do choose to do a braid, any Dutch braid will do – it doesn’t have to be 5 strands like I did.  Just be sure to pancake it!  Pancake:  to gently pull the outer loops of a Dutch braid to increase its fullness and size.

Here’s the 5-strand French braid tutorial in case you choose that one:

1.  Your first step will be to french braid a Dutch braid of your choice from the part down to the middle of the back of the head and then finish with a normal version of the Dutch braid.  Curl the tail of the braid.

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2.  Using a comb, separate two side sections of hair away from the main chunk of hair in the middle.  Do a simple bun with the center chunk and secure with bobby pins and/or spin pins.  Curl the two side chunks of hair in ringlets and lightly comb to produce a softened effect.

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3.  Bring the section of curled hair from the left side over the braid and around the bun.  Leave the curled end out if desired.  Secure with bobby pins.

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4.  Bring the right section of hair over and around the bun.  Leave curled ends over the bun if desired.  Secure with bobby pins.  Gently tug at the section of hair going down into the bun to make everything softer looking.

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5.  Take out the band holding the braid together and wind the end of the braid around the bun like the other two sections.  Leave curled ends over the bun if desired.  Secure with bobby pins.

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Here’s the original tutorial:

Enjoy your lovely updo 🙂

The Braided Bun

The Braided Bun

This is such a fun bun!  It looks adorable and is ten times easier than it looks.

My friend and my cousin are my lovely models – thanks, you two!  My friend has longer, more medium thick hair, while my cousin has shorter, blond, very thick hair, so it gives a good idea of what this hairdo looks like on different hair types.

I’ve been watching and pinning hair tutorials like crazy this past week, so when my friend and cousins came over, I was more than ready to tackle their hair 🙂

A couple notes on this hairstyle:

1.  The technique in the tutorial works best on longer hair, preferably past the shoulders.

2.  If the hair happens to be just past the shoulders, braid tighter so that the little hairs can’t escape in chunks.

3.  Use an old sock if a bun maker isn’t handy.  By cutting off the toe and rolling up the whole thing like you would roll up a pair of pants, it makes a good substitute.

The tutorial is super easy to follow along – so watch, do, and enjoy!