Posts Tagged ‘Sweet Treats’

I thought this was a handy idea from Bon Appetit – some suggestions for desserts you can usually make on no notice with ingredients you already have in your pantry.  My husband is a big fan of PB and Jelly Bars – though I use Barefoot Contessa’s recipe and can’t comment on this one, though they look very similar.

Another pantry dessert staple I love are Nigella Lawson’s Choco Hoto Pots.  These are as easy as can possibly be and use basic ingredients you’ll have around.  You do need a bit of chocolate, but often I will have a bar or just plain chocolate chips lying around, which are fine in this.  This is basically a version of chocolate lava dessert – gooey in the inside, cakey on the outside.  You make them in individual ramekins and they turn out to be quite impressive though they take no more than 5 or 10 min to throw together.  You can prepare them in advance of a dinner party and then pop them in the oven once you’ve finished eating and soon the house will smell delicious and this very glamorous but low effort dessert will wow your guests!  Serve with fresh whipped cream to put it over the top.


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Several weeks ago I was running into Williams Sonoma to buy a new spatula – mine was tasting like plastic when I licked cookie dough off it and I figured that was not a good thing – and tasted these delectable little pumpkin bites they were sampling.  They were made with a jar of pumpkin butter which I happened to have at home, having bought it on sale last winter.  Since they were so delicious, I decided this might be a good way to use up the jar and googled the recipe.  And lo and behold, if it wasn’t the EASIEST recipe I have come across in ages!

This goes in the Paula Deen/Sandra Lee-style category of cooking that uses preservative-filled food to make other kinds of food – and that is not the kind of cooking I usually do.  But I am willing to make exceptions for something that is super yummy, and these little pumpkin treats are certainly worth it!  The base of the whole recipe is a box of yellow cake mix and a jar of prepared pumpkin butter.  Mix in a few other ingredients and whammo, you’ve got a perfect fall treat!

Pumpkin butter can tend to be pricey, but the second time I made these I used an affordable jar from Trader Joe’s – though you have to use one and a third of a jar to make the recipe.  I actually just bought three jars, figuring I could make this twice and then have a little left over for toast!

Next time you need a sweet fall-flavored treat and/or want to make your house smell wonderful, give these a try.  I think you’ll love them – and it won’t take you more than 15 minutes to mix up!


Pumpkin Streusel Squares

1 (18 ounce) box yellow cake mix

1/2 cup butter, melted plus 1/4 cup butter, softened

3 eggs, divided

13 ounces pumpkin butter

3 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Reserve 1 cup of cake mix and set aside.
  3. Mix remaining cake with 1/2 cup melted butter and 1 egg. Press mixture lightly into the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ baking dish.
  4. Mix pumpkin pecan butter with remaining two eggs and milk, and pour over cake mixture in pan.
  5. Mix remaining 1 cup cake mix with flour, sugar, remaining 1/4 cup butter, and cinnamon, and crumble over the top of the pumpkin layer.
  6. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until golden.
  7. Cool to room temp and serve.

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    While I’ve been feeling a little down on cooking, I asked a couple friends to do a guest post.  This is from my friend Courtney Hamilton, one of my oldest and dearest friends.  She picks great recipes so I’m sure you’ll enjoy these!!!


    Lately, I find myself baking with my two and a half year old daughter Olivia quite a bit.  Partly because its a great way to get things done in the kitchen while distracting her from getting into mischief, but I suppose its mostly because my husband and two other friends are currently deployed.  Although they are appreciative of anything I send, nothing makes someone happier than opening a care package filled with home made cookies.

    Chocolate chip cookies are always a crowd pleaser, but this recipe makes the best chewy cookies I have ever eaten.  They are super easy to make and bake in no time at all, since you bake two sheets at once.  They are best served warm with a frosty glass of milk, but isn’t that the best way to eat all cookies.  To caveat that, they are also very delicious a week after being made and travel abroad well.  Enjoy!

    Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (from “The New Best Recipe” from America’s Test Kitchen)

    Makes about 18 large

    2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

    ½ teaspoon baking soda

    ½ teaspoon salt

    12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until just warm

    1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar

    ½ cup granulated sugar

    1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

    2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    1 – 1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips

    1.       Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray.

    2.       Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

    3.       Either by hand or with an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended.  Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined.  Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined.  Stir in the chips to taste.

    4.       Roll a scant ¼ cup of the dough into a ball and place on the prepared baking sheets 2 ½ inches apart.

    5.       Bake until the cookies are light golden brown, the outer edges start to harden, and the centers are still soft and puffy, 15-18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time.  Cool the cookies on the sheets.

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    Caramel Popcorn

    I hope you all had a very happy holiday!  Ours was wonderful and full of great times with family…but back home in NC we’re in post-holiday recovery mode which has consisted of doing jack and squat.  Yes, my tree is still up; don’t judge!

    I haven’t been cooking much either, though I’m enjoying going through a backlog of magazines and blog posts that I didn’t get to in December and picking out fun new recipes to try.  I wanted to share with you my favorite I found so far, which sounds sooooooooo delish – I haven’t tried it yet but I just couldn’t wait to tell you about it.

    This Caramel Corn with Salted Peanuts recipe is from Orangette, and she never steers me wrong.  Doesn’t her description of this crunchy, salty, sweet caramel corn sound like something you should definitely make up on Saturday and munch on while watching some basketball games?!!  Right?

    If you try it, let me know how it goes!

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    Hummingbird Cake

    There is something so comforting about a big frosted layer cake.  I guess people don’t really make them a lot these days, so it seems like a nice old fashioned treat.  I actually love making layer cakes, for one thing because I seriously love sugary frosting, but also because they aren’t too dificult to make and people feel really special when you make one for them. 

    I had seen this recipe for Hummingbird Cake in my little booklet of recipes from Hominy Grill in Charleston that I love (I referred to it before in my posts on banana bread and granola).  I’ve never heard of this cake but they say it’s a cake lots of people know as a southern classic, although in fact it was a Southern Living recipe contest winner.  I hadn’t yet tried it, but once I saw Hummingbird cupcakes at the very chic Parker and Otis in Durham (http://www.parkerandotis.com/store/index.php) I thought there might be something to this recipe and I should check it out!

    Dessert at our place with the old Overlook crew (the super fun guys Michael lived with in college and their awesome wives) provided a great opportunity to try the cake.  It seemed to be pretty successful…although I will say it’s nothing spectacularly unusual, sort of tastes like banana cake with cream cheese frosting…but it was tasty and homey and sure fed a lot of people (13 that night and 5 the next)!  Along with banana bread it will remind you of carrot cake, because of the spices used.  Wherever cinnamon is called for in baking I usually can’t resist throwing in a dash of nutmeg, ginger and cloves.  There’s plenty of frosting in this recipe – you almost don’t need to use it all, but then again you might as well because it makes it look very fluffy and white even if not everyone eats their generous portion.  All in all, it turns out the new old Hummingbird cake is pretty delish!


    Hummingbird Cake (from Hominy Grill)

     For the cake:

    3 cups flour

    2 cups sugar

    1 tsp baking soda

    1 tsp ground cinnamon

    ½ tsp salt

    1 ¾ cup mashed banana (about 5)

    1 ½ cups pecans, divided

    1 cup crushed, canned pineapple

    3 tsp vanilla extract, divided

    3 eggs, beaten

    ¾ cup canola oil


    For the frosting:

    12 tablespoons butter, softened

    12 tablespoons cream cheese, softened

    5 cups confectioners’ sugar


    1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
    2. Lightly butter 3 9-inch cake pans and dust them with flour, shaking out the excess.  Set aside.
    3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.  Set aside.
    4. In a food processor, pulse the bananas and pineapple with 1 cup of the pecans until the pecans are coarsely chopped.  Add 1 ½ tsp of the vanilla and set aside.
    5. Combine the eggs and the oil and add to the flour mixture.  Stir just enough to moisten the dry ingredients.  Add the banana mixture and continue stirring, until just combined.
    6. Divide the batter into the three prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean, approximately 25-30 minutes.  Cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes and turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.
    7. In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.  Add the confectioner’s sugar and the remaining 1 ½ tsp vanilla and beat until fluffy.
    8. Finely chop the remaining ½ cup of pecans and set aside.
    9. Place a cake layer on a serving plate.  Spread with approximately ½ cup of frosting, starting from the center and working towards the edges of the cake.  Top and repeat with the remaining layers.  Ice the sides and the top of the cake and garnish the top with the reserved pecans.


    Serves a LOT of people (18 when I made it)!

     Hummingbird Cake

    Hummingbird Cake Slice

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    I have been excited about sharing this super easy and very tasty dessert with you, especially for the summer because it showcases fresh summer berries so well!  This is a simple little french cake, almost like a thicker, chewier shortbread.  I found the recipe a few years ago in Bon Appetit and LOVED it, and I now turn to it for a quick dessert because not only is it easy and very delicious, but it also doesn’t use up as many bowls and utensils in my kitchen!  My husband, who is the pots-and-pans washer in our family, appreciates that.

    There are a few key ingredients: one is butter.  There’s a lot of butter in this and I do not apologize for that.  It’s delicious.  Secondly, hazelnuts.  Hazelnuts have a very rich flavor, and there are a lot in here, all ground up in your mini-food processor first (if you don’t have one, these are very handy: http://www.amazon.com/Cuisinart-DLC-1SS-Mini-Prep-Processor-Stainless/dp/B00007IT2M/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=home-garden&qid=1246539494&sr=8-2).  Finally, there’s a wonderful vanilla flavor to this cake.  The recipe called for vanilla sugar, which I think you can probably buy at Williams Sonoma but is basically regular sugar with vanilla pods ‘marinating’ in them…to give the sugar a strong vanilla flavor.  I don’t bother with that, instead I use a whole vanilla pod.  I’m lucky to have a stack of these in my pantry, which I brought back from my last trip to Madagascar.  Madagascar, you might not know, is where a huge percentage of the world’s vanilla is grown!  It’s usually pretty expensive to buy the pods here, but they do last a long time and you don’t use them that frequently, so I would suggest springing for them.  I really love using the seeds in this recipe because it adds so much flavor. If you DO buy the pods, here is what you do: using a small, sharp knife, carefully cut the pod down the middle to split into two long halves.  Use the tip of the knife or another small instrument to scrape out the teensy, tiny black seeds laying inside each half of the pod.  Scrape the off the knife and into the batter.  If you DO NOT use a vanilla pod, use the same amount of sugar called for and add a teaspoon of good vanilla extract.

    You’ll see the the recipe also suggests organic eggs, because the yolks will be yellow-ier and give a nicer color to this cake.  Folks: this is SO TRUE!  It sounds somewhat dubious but I can swear to it, because we are now getting our eggs weekly in our CSA box and when you crack open one of those eggs and put it next to one of the ones from the grocery store – well, it’s very obvious which is which.  The grocery store egg looks pale and sick compared to the fresh egg that’s happy and tan and healthy!  Since this recipe calls for so many egg yolks, I think it’s worth getting the good eggs.  Not to mention the fact that (as I think I wrote in another post) organic or free-range eggs have half the cholesterol of regular eggs and it’s all the good kind.  So frankly it’s better for you anyway, this cake is just a good excuse.

    One last thing to mention: this cake is wonderfully rich and flavorful but to really put it over the top, you should serve it with some kind of summer fruit.  The recipe suggests you can even just heat up some strawberry jam, which I bet would be delicious.  Or you could serve it with a scoop of ice cream and some raspberries.  Or make a nice sauce from summer berries and pour it over.  In the picture below, I drizzled a slice with a quick sauce I made from leftover strawberries – just a little water, the cut berries and some sugar heated up in a little pot til it becomes the consistency you like.  So feel free to experiment with anything you have around or your favorite fruit of the moment.  If you want to spend more time on it, this is my go-to raspberry sauce that we love on everything from cakes and ice cream to french toast (from guess who?): http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/raspberry-sauce-recipe2/index.html.  And then once you’ve wowed your dinner guests, toast a slice of this cake to enjoy for breakfast the next morning with your coffee.  Yum!  Bon Appetit!

    Hazelnut Gateau Breton (adapted from Bon Appetit 2007)

    • 1/4 cups sugar, divided
    • 1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise and seeds scraped out
    • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, lightly toasted, husked
    • 6 large egg yolks (preferably organic)
    • 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, melted
    • 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
    • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 2 teaspoons water (for glaze)

    Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325°F. Butter and flour 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Scrape the vanilla seeds out of the bean, and combine with 2 tablespoons sugar and the hazelnuts in a food processor; blend until nuts are finely ground but not pasty. Combine 6 egg yolks and remaining 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar in large bowl; whisk until well blended and slightly thicker, about 2 minutes (do not use electric mixer). Whisk in hazelnut mixture. Gradually whisk in melted butter. Sift flour over batter; stir just until blended (batter will be thick; do not overmix or cake may be tough).

    Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top with offset spatula (layer will be thin). Brush top generously with egg glaze. Using back of tines of fork, deeply mark crisscross pattern atop cake, marking 3 times across in 1 direction and 3 times in opposite direction. Bake cake until deep golden on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in pan on rack 15 minutes, then remove pan sides and cool cake completely.

    Cut cake into wedges and serve with cut strawberries or with warm strawberry jam.

    Hazelnut Gateau


    Hazelnut Gateau - close up

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    Sweet Potato Pound Cake

     Here’s another great find from Orangette.  This cake is not as sweet as I usually like my desserts, but you know, sometimes that’s ok…if you have a really rich dinner and still need a little something to round out the meal, this could be exactly what you want.  I did add a bit more brown sugar than white sugar to deepen the flavor a bit, and also added more spices than she used. 

    I served this with fresh whipped cream, but vanilla ice cream would also be good.  Some caramel sauce would be PERFECT with it!  And I think cut fruits or berries would go well too – this is a nice blank slate for an easy dessert.

    It would also be a nice addition to a brunch table or breakfast, since Bundt cakes usually keep really well and it could be made in advance. 

    And why WOULDN’T you make this, because frankly, Sweet Potato Pound Cake sounds so darn southern and homey that it probably makes everyone feel sweeter just hearing the name. 🙂


    Sweet Potato Pound Cake


    3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
    2 tsp. baking powder
    ½ tsp. baking soda
    ½ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg

    ½ tsp ground ginger

    ¼ tsp ground cloves
    ½ tsp. salt
    ½ cup milk (low-fat is okay)
    1 tsp. vanilla extract
    8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 1/2 cup light brown sugar
    4 large eggs
    2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes

    Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube or Bundt pan. (If your pan is nonstick, you can get away with just some cooking spray; no need to flour.)

    In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk well. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the milk and vanilla.

    In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, and light brown sugar until light and fluffy, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the sweet potatoes, and mix until the batter is combined. (The batter may look terrible at this point: curdled, weird, terrible. Don’t worry.) With the mixer on low speed, add half of the flour mixture. Beat to just incorporate. Then add half of the milk mixture, and continue to beat on low until well blended. Add the remaining flour, followed by the remaining milk, and beat on low until the batter is thick and smooth.

    Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the cake springs back when pressed lightly and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge to loosen the cake, and then carefully invert it onto the rack.

    Serve with fresh whipped cream.

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