2013′s Most Popular Posts

Hubby and I prefer to stay home for a quiet and calm New Year’s Eve. We celebrate by cooking something special, usually lobster. However, two years ago I saved a recipe for Beef Wellington, and this year I’m finally going to try it. Hence, I’ve spent the entire day in the kitchen prepping. If all goes well tonight, I’ll share the recipe later this week.

Anyway, I decided to rest my weary feet a bit and catch up on some emails. Lo and behold, I received my annual report of the most popular posts for 2013 (all sweet treats, by the way), so I thought I’d quickly share them. A couple of the most-searched posts go back to 2011 and 2012!

Wishing each and every one of you a very healthy, happy, and peaceful 2014.

Most popular posts of 2013:

Kahlua Cheesecake

Kahlua Cheesecake

Kahlua Cheesecake: graham cracker crust, ganache layer, velvety Kahlua-flavored cheescake, sour-cream layer, and drizzled ganache topping. Can you say decadent?

Oreo Cheesecake Bites

Oreo Cheesecake Bites

Oreo Cheesecake Bites (2012): Still popular a year later, and rightfully so. These little babies pack a ton of chocolate-y flavor amidst tangy cheesecake. And oh-so-easy to make, too.

Ho Ho Cake

Ho Ho Cake

Ho Ho Cake: This light and airy layered cake garners a lot of oohs and aahs from its recipients. Very yummilicious cake.

Magic Custard Cake

Magic Custard Cake

Magic Custard Cake: Magic indeed as three layers appear from one batter!

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread (2011): Still going strong two years later, this pull-apart bread is simply fun with layers of dough stacked so they pull apart easily after baking. Drizzle with lots of glaze for a glorious treat.

Cookie Round Up 2013

How is it that Christmas is a mere handful of days away? It totally snuck up on me. I never got around to mailing my holiday cards, my tree still isn’t up, and I need to buy a few more gifts. Ahhhhhh!!

However, I did somehow manage to share a handful of cookie recipes with you–not as many as I had hoped, but a few nonetheless. So, here is a recap of the 2013 Holiday Cookie Line Up as well as links to the past couple years of line ups, all just in case you have a spare moment and need to bake up some yummy treats:

Molasses Spice Cookies

Molasses Spice Cookies

I began with these Molasses Spice Cookies. Warm winter spices in an easy-to-whip up dough and extremely yummy to inhale. Santa really loves these after he comes down the chimney :  )

Babbling Brook Cookies

Cookies from the Babbling Brook Inn in Santa Cruz…loaded with goodies

Equally easy-to-whip up but requiring an abundance of ingredients are these Babbling Brook Cookies, named after the inn that serves them. Very decadent.

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

Rich and ultra chocolatey Chocolate Truffle Cookies

Chocolate lovers, these Chocolate Truffle Cookies will steal your heart! Deeply and divinely rich.

Nut Horns

Nut Horns

Utterly European and utterly scrumptious are these Nuthorns, but they require time and patience and skill. I do include a link to a similar yet easier recipe.

Dark Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

Dark Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

And finally, meet the fancy cousin of chocolate chip cookies: Dark Chocolate, Pistachio, and Sea Salt Cookies. If you haven’t invested in sea salt yet, these cookies provide a really, really great excuse for purchasing some.

Here are links to more cookies in case none of the above tickle your fancy:

2012 Holiday Cookie Roundup

2011 Holiday Cookie Roundup

And if you really don’t have time to bake but want some outstanding cookies to give as gifts (or to eat all by yourself), buy a box of Godiva Biscuits. One of my students gifted me a box on the last day of school before winter break, and it is freakin’ delicious!

2013 Holiday Cookie Line Up #5: Dark Chocolate, Pistachio, & Sea Salt Cookies

These dark chocolate chip pistachio cookies, enhanced with a sprinkle of sea salt, come together with ease…unless you insist on shelling pistachios rather than purchasing them already shelled.

Dark Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

Dark Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

Basically, these cookies are like a fancy-pants chocolate chip cookie. The typical semisweet chips get replaced with bittersweet dark chocolate chips, and instead of using walnuts or pecans, those get kicked up a notch with the use of pistachios. Best of all, though, is the sprinkle of sea salt atop the cookies. You get the sweet with a touch of the salty.

Now, go mix up a batch and treat your palate to a classy cookie with these Dark Chocolate Chip Pistachio delights. Better yet, treat someone else with a holiday gift of these cookies.

Dark Chocolate, Pistachio, & Sea Salt Cookies

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Yield: 2 dozen cookies

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup bittersweet chips (I use Ghiradelli brand)
  • 3/4 cup pistachios, chopped
  • sea salt, for sprinkling on cookies

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper of silpat baking mats.
  2. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, cream butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. (Here is my method to get butter to the right consistency, which makes a huge difference in the cookies baking thick rather than flat: I cut the butter into several slices first and lay them out on a plate, then I gather all my other ingredients. By the time I finish putting everything together, the butter is softened enough to cream with the sugars but not too soft to ruin my cookies.)
  4. Add the egg and vanilla; beat for 2 minutes.
  5. Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until incorporated. Do not overmix or cookies will come out tough.
  6. Using a wooden spoon, stir in bittersweet chips and pistachios.
  7. Drop dough into 1 1/2 inch to 2 inch mounds onto cookie sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Sprinkle each mound with a touch of sea salt. Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned around edges. Allow cookies to sit on baking sheets for a couple minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling.

Note: If you don’t want to bake all the dough, freeze the salt-sprinkled cookie mounds for an hour, then store in a resealable plastic bag in the freezer and bake as desired. Add an extra couple of minutes to the baking time if you bake them frozen; otherwise, they thaw in 10-15 minutes.

SOURCE: Two Peas and Their Pod

2013 Holiday Cookie Line-up #4: Nut Horns with Sour Cream Dough

Nuthorns. Little crescent-shaped cookies loaded with ground up walnuts mixed with sugar and egg whites. Enveloped in powdered sugar, these cookies hit the sweet spot.

Nut Horns

Nut Horns

Hubby’s stepmom, Judy, makes these, and I fell in love with them the first time we visited his family in Ohio back in 2005 and she made them for us. She gifted me the recipe, which she inherited from her mother, hailing back to a Czechoslovakian heritage. They taste very much like my favorite cookies from my Croatian heritage, so I was excited to have the recipe.

The first time I made these, they turned out HUGE, like Amazonian-sized cookies. Everyone laughed at me. The next time, I got the sizing right. I don’t make them often, though, because they are labor intensive. And there is still one element of these that hasn’t worked smoothly for me: the powdered sugar on Judy’s cookies melts into a glaze-like coating. Mine remain powdery. Still yummy, but not quite like hers.

If you feel up for a challenge, give these a try. If you want something similar yet much simpler in terms of effort, try the Walnut Pillows.

Nut Horns with Sour Cream Dough

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Yield: about 78 cookies

INGREDIENTS

Dough

  • 4 cups flour
  • 3 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 package instant yeast (that’s the Rapid Rise yeast)
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, cold
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tsp. water
  • powdered sugar for coating cookies

Filling

  • 1 1/2 pounds walnuts
  • 8 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 4 egg whites

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpat baking mats.
  2. To make dough: In a large food processor, pulse together flour, granulated sugar, salt, and yeast. Add cold butter, cut into small pieces. Pulse until you begin to see pea-sized pieces of dough. (You can do this by hand, too, using two forks to mix the butter into the flour.)
  3. Add egg yolks, sour cream, and water. Pulse continuously until a ball of dough forms.
  4. Shape dough into 1-inch balls, placing them on a towel topped with a sheet of wax paper. Place another sheet of wax paper on top, followed by another towel (to keep dough warm). Allow dough to rise for 30 minutes (it won’t rise a lot).
  5. To make filling: Using food processor, pulse until nuts are finely ground. Add sugar and pulse until combined. Add egg whites a tablespoon at a time until filling is moistened. You don’t want the filling too loose nor too moist. It should be about right when you squeeze in in your hand the it sticks together.
  6. To assemble cookies: Roll each dough ball in powdered sugar, then use a rolling pin to flatten into a thin disc, about 1/8 inch thick and about 4 inches in diameter. Fill each circle of dough with about 1 tsp. of filling. Roll the dough into a cylindrical shape, pinch the ends, then roll in powdered sugar. Place onto cookies sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart, and form into a crescent.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned. Upon taking them out of oven and while still hot, give them another toss in the powdered sugar, then place on cooling racks to cool.

Note: these freeze well. Simply place in an airtight container. Judy recommends storing in tins rather than plastic, though, to prevent moisture from destroying the cookies.

SOURCE: my husband’s stepmother, Judy

2013 Holiday Cookie Line Up #3: Chocolate Truffle Cookies (from Dahlia Bakery)

Yep, I could eat that entire stack of ultra chocolatey cookies.

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

Rich and ultra chocolatey Chocolate Truffle Cookies

And I would need an entire gallon of milk to wash it down.

However, I refrained. I froze them instead so I could snack on them nightly. Oops, I meant to say so I could share them as holiday gifts.

Did I mention these are the perfect solution for when a gal needs her chocolate fix? They hit the spot. They should since they have a TON of melted chocolate added to the batter, which can get quite costly if you use the quality chocolate. And you should. No cutting corners on this one. Go for the gold.

These also hit the spot when us English teachers sit home all day–literally all day–grading essays. A cookie here, a cookie there–it helps ease the pain of grading.

Most of my baked cookies came out on the flatter side, which frustrates the heck outta me. Sometimes cookies just work and sometimes they don’t. I think it has to do with the butter and how cold it is. I guess my butter was on the slightly-too-soft side. However, as the mounds of dough waited on the cookie sheets for their stint in the oven, the later-baked batches had better form. Go figure.

Anyhow, these pack a mighty rich chocolate punch. I did find them to crumble a bit and harden ever-so-slightly the next day, which truthfully bummed me out a bit. However, I froze a bunch of the baked cookies, and when thawed, they tasted great and held their shape better. Again, go figure.

Chocolate Truffle Cookies (from Dahlia Bakery Cookbook)

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Yield: 36 cookies, about 3 1/2 inches in diameter

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp. + 1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Penzey’s Natural High Fat Cocoa)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 pound + 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat baking mats.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. (I always sift my cocoa first to get the lumps out of it.)
  3. Place a heatproof bowl over a saucepan filled with about one inch of water. Heat the water until simmering but not boiling. Place chopped chocolate in bowl; stir until chocolate melts and is smooth. Remove bowl from saucepan; allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, mix softened butter and sugar until well combined.
  5. Add eggs one at a time, mixing on medium speed until each is incorporated, then increase speed to high and beat for a few minutes until mixture is very light and creamy and pale in color (this step, by the way, gives the cookies their shiny, cracked tops; I think I needed to mix mine longer).
  6. Add the melted chocolate and vanilla (do not add vanilla to hot chocolate; it will make the chocolate seize!); mix until just combined.
  7. Use a spatula to fold in the dry ingredients. Do not overmix or cookies will come out tough.
  8. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  9. Start scooping cookies as soon as batter is made. Batter will be very soft and sticky initially but will begin to firm up as it sits, making scooping difficult. Scoop out into mounds about 2 inches in diameter, placing two inches apart. Slightly dampen hand and lightly flatten each mound. While one batch bakes, allow other to sit on counter rather than refrigerate them (chilled dough won’t spread properly with these cookies).
  10. Bake until cookie tops are evenly cracked and they are soft set, about 14-16 minutes. Remove pans from oven; allow to cool on wire rack. Cool cookies completely before removing them from the baking sheets.

Note: I halved the recipe and it worked out just fine.

SOURCE: In Sock Monkey Slippers via The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook

2013 Holiday Cookie Line Up #2: Babbling Brook Cookies (a.k.a. Loaded Cookies)

Babbling Brook Cookies

Cookies from the Babbling Brook Inn in Santa Cruz…loaded with goodies

Last year, I patiently waited for the holiday season to whip up these cookies, which I discovered in the summer of 2012 during our vacation. We took a road trip up to northern California, traveling the stunning and stark coastline along the famed Pacific Coast Highway (a must-do at some point in your life!). We’ve traveled this road several times but had never stopped in Santa Cruz, so our trip was centered around that laid-back college coastal town. I booked our stay at a lovely Bed and Breakfast, the Babbling Brook Inn.

Every evening, they served these fresh-from-the-oven cookies. I would sometimes make hubby drive back to the inn between our sightseeing and our dinner stop just so I could load up on these cookies because we often arrived back to our room after the lounge area had closed, and I  just had to have my sugar fix, especially with a treat as loaded and scrumptious as these were.

As always, if I taste something I like, I ask for the recipe. Usually, the person asked grants my request. Tickled pink that this particular request was graciously granted, I safely stored the recipe and patiently awaited the festive holiday season to bake them.

Holiday 2012 season arrived.

I baked.

They flopped.

I was bummed.

Problem? Too flat. That means my butter was probably too soft. Darn shame since these goodies get pricey due to all the ingredients. So I shelved the recipe for another time.

Now it is time with Holiday 2013. And this time they worked!!!

They are LOADED with goodies: hints of orange, buttery yum, two kinds of chocolate chips, chewy dried fruit, earthy nuts, hearty oats, and crunchy granola. How’s that for a cookie?!

It offers a myriad of flavors that create a punch of WOW when you take a bite. I’d say these are not your ordinary-every-day-kind-of-cookie but definitely a special-celebration-kind-of-cookie, like staying-at-a-lovely-B&B-on-vacation-kind-of-cookie or a Happy-Holiday-gift-cookie or an impressive-party-gift-contribution-cookie… You get the idea.

Babbling Brook Cookies (a.k.a. Loaded Cookies)

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Yield: about 5 dozen cookies

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. orange zest (I put in a full tsp.)
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened (not too soft, though)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups toasted pecans, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins (or dried cherries or dried cranberries)
  • 1 1/2 cups orange almond granola (or any good granola)
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (I buy the thicker oats from the bulk bins at Sprouts or Whole Foods)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
  2. Take two refrigerated sticks of butter and cut into 8 slices each, arranging them on a plate to soften while you gather the remaining ingredients.
  3. Roast nuts in a pan over medium heat for 5-8 minutes. When cooled, coarsely chop the nuts.
  4. If desired, roast oats in pan over medium heat for 1-2 minutes.
  5. In a medium bowl, thoroughly whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and orange zest. Set aside.
  6. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, blend butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until creamy, about 3 minutes.
  7. Turn mixer to low and add eggs, orange juice, and vanilla; increase speed to medium and beat until well mixed, 1-2 minutes.
  8. Turn mixer to low speed and add flour mixture to butter mixture; mix until just blended.
  9. In a large bowl, combine chocolate chips, raisins, chopped nuts, oats, and granola. Stir into dough mixture until just blended.
  10. Using spoon or small cookie scoop, place 1 1/2-inch mounds on prepared cookie sheet, spaced 2 inches apart, and bake at 350 degrees F for 12-14 minutes or just until turning brown around the edges.

Note: Dough keeps well refrigerated or frozen. Bake them fresh as needed.

SOURCE: Babbling Brook Inn Signature Cookies developed by Mrs. King and once featured in the 1990 issue of Family Circle Magazine, graciously shared by the current owners of the B&B during our summer 2012 trip to Santa Cruz, California