Haunted House Cake

If you have a surplus of patience and a little spare time, have I got a cake for you! This is a lovely orange-flavored cake, enough for two deep 8-inch pans and one 6-inch pan, which will create the base for the houses and the top for the moon and witch.

There is a lot going on here if you make it the way I did. The cake, Italian buttercream icing, black fondant cutouts, and a hollow moon made of candy melts.

Let’s see how much of that we can dispense with, for your sake.

  • The cake can be a boxed mix. You’ll need two boxes of yellow cake mix.
  • For icing, use a standard buttercream recipe, but double it so you don’t have to be stingy with the icing. I wouldn’t use canned frosting; it would take a lot of cans to do it right, and it’s pretty soft. You don’t want your houses sliding off the cake! I used Italian buttercream, but it’s a lot of work. I hadn’t made it in a long time and just felt like messing with it.
  • That moon! I really did it the hard way and made it out of candy melts, formed in a bowl. Two large cookies (bought at a grocery store bakery) would be the easiest way to go. Simply coat them with melted yellow candy melts and stick them together.
  • When you cut out the printed silhouettes for the houses, bats, and witches, leave a little white border around the silhouettes so you’ll be able to see what you’re doing when you cut the fondant. I learned this the hard way.
  • Buy black fondant. Even I wasn’t nuts enough to make it and try to color it a true black. Nope. Buy it! (If I’d given you more time you could have had edible designs custom printed. Maybe next year?) I tried a new brand this year and am a real fan: Fondarific. I ordered it online, but you may be able to find it in craft stores.

Create black fondant decorations. Do this first; it’s going to take you a while. This can be done a day or two ahead. I printed out clip art silhouettes and cut each one out. Haunted houses, bats, and a witch (or two if you want one on each side of the moon). Working with small pieces of fondant at a time, roll very thin. Use a dusting of cornstarch if necessary to prevent sticking. Rolling between parchment helps too. Lay a template on the fondant and carefully cut around the outside edge with a sharp blade. Remove the template and cut out windows and doors. I used a large straw for round windows. I found it was easier for me to cut out the whole window and then replace the cross pieces, smoothing the edges than trying to cut out those itty bitty squares. Layer the completed pieces between sheets of parchment or plastic wrap. I did the trees free form when decorating the cake. Just rolled and twisted. I also cut long strips that were flat on the bottom and curved on the top to place around the cake bottom.

Lay paper templates on thinly rolled fondant. Cut out carefully, then peel off the paper. A toothpick is a great tool for straightening the little windows!

Bake the cake. Here’s the recipe I used.

Orange Cake (for Haunted House Cake)
Print
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2⅔ cups sugar
  • 5 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon orange extract or zest from 1 large orange
  • 4 cups cake flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter, add an additional ¼ teaspoon of salt)
  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons frozen concentrated orange juice
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F. Place parchment rounds in the bottom of two 8-inch (2 inches deep) round cake pans and one 6-inch (2 inches deep) round cake pan. Spray parchment and the sides of the pan with a flour/oil baking spray. Or grease and flour pans. (I'd still use the parchment rounds to ensure the cakes release easily.)
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, one a time, beating thoroughly after the addition of each egg and scraping the bowl often.
  4. Add vanilla and orange extract (or zest).
  5. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  6. In a small bowl combine the milk and concentrated orange juice.
  7. Add approximately ⅓ of the flour to the butter and sugar mixture. Beat just until combined. Add ⅓ of the liquids and beat just until combined. Repeat two more times, scraping the bowl often.
  8. Spoon 3 generous cups of batter into each of the large pans. Drop each pan several times on a hard surface to level. Add remaining batter (about 2 cups) into the smaller pan. Drop to level.
  9. Bake 35-40 minutes. Don't open the oven door while the cakes are baking. At 35 minutes carefully check. If a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle of a cake, they're done. If not, let the cakes bake a little longer.
  10. Move to a cooling rack for 10 minutes before turning out the cakes. Let the cakes cool completely before icing.

 

 

Ready for the oven.

Make icing. Use your favorite buttercream recipe, and make lots. Cakes are much easier to ice neatly when you can be generous with the icing. Save at least a cup of white out for the clouds, color a couple of cups of icing blue/gray for the top layer (black food coloring adds a nice tone) and color the rest a pretty yellow/orange.

Most of the icing will be orange, the rest is a blue/gray. Save some white too, for clouds.

Ice the cakes. I didn’t bother cutting layers because I wanted the final cake to be as straight as possible, and I’ve learned from experience that the more layers I make, the more chance I have of having a wonky cake. (I know. I need to work on that!) Put the two large cakes together with a generous amount of the orange icing, then ice the outside as smoothly as you can.  Ice the small cake with the blue/gray. I found it easiest to ice the small cake first and then lift it onto the large cake with two spatulas. Combine the reserved white icing with streaks of the blue/gray to make clouds. I piped it on with a large round piping tip, at the base of the small cake. (Save a small amount for attaching the moon to the top.)

You can add the silhouettes immediately, or wait until the icing has dried a bit. Your call! Melt a few yellow candy melts and place in a disposable pastry bag or zipper-type bag with a tiny bit of the tip cut off. Pipe into windows and doors to create the appearance of light inside the houses.

Make the moon. Whether you use two cookies or go with the hollow candy melt option, you’ll still need to do some melting and coloring. I used a heaping cup of candy melts, found with cake decorating supplies. Unless you have colors specially meant for chocolate (regular food coloring may react with the melts and cause them to seize into a hard blob) I’d stick with yellow. I wanted a pale yellow, so used mostly white with a few yellow melts. Let your artistic side take over and get the color you want.

White and yellow candy melts are used to make the moon.

If you’re using cookies for your moon, spread the melted yellow chocolate on the rounded sides and lay them, flat side down, on a piece of parchment. Melt a few discs of white, yellow and orange with a tablespoon of chocolate chips to get a contrasting color for the moon’s details. Using a photo from the internet, make a stab at realism by creating craters. Brush or dab color on both cookies so it will look like the moon on either side of the cake.

I mixed white, yellow, orange, and red for my moon accents.

If you want to make a hollow moon, line two small bowls with plastic wrap. The sticky kind works best because you can get most of the little creases out and the plastic won’t budge. Using the darker accent color, dab designs on the plastic on the bottom of the bowl. Here’s the tricky part: you have to do it the opposite of the picture you’re looking at because otherwise, once you turn it out, the craters that you just painstakingly painted from left to right will actually be right to left. I have no spatial abilities. NONE. So I had to flip that bowl over a whole bunch of times to convince myself of this fact.

Line bowls with plastic wrap. (The sticky kind, if you have it.) Smooth out as many wrinkles as possible.

Bowl on the right has the crater design painted in it. Bowl on the left shows the next step – adding the yellow. Then chill!

Once the accent colors have dried, pour melted yellow chocolate into each bowl, swirling as you go. Try to keep the top line even, about 1 inch from the bottom of the bowl. For ease in assembling later, let this dry and then spread on a second layer. Pop them in the fridge to harden quickly. Once firm, gently ease the plastic away from the sides of the bowl, lifting carefully. Take your time. It may help to warm the bottom of the bowl with your hands. Remove plastic from chocolate. “Glue” the two pieces together with melted yellow chocolate and place on top of the cake.

So . . . that’s it. Easy, huh! Hello? Hello?

I don’t really expect anyone to make this, but if you do I’d sure love to see a picture! Just leave it on my Rowdy Baker Facebook Page!

Lorinda

Chocolate Caramel Acorns

There is no baking required to make these elegant fall treats. Thin pieces of caramel are wrapped around chocolate truffles, creating acorns that are beautiful to look at and delicious to eat. Yes, yes, you heard me. No baking, no mixing . . . just a little rolling.

Whether you put an acorn at each place setting, use them to adorn a cake, or place one on each slice of pumpkin pie, you will create fall magic for friends and family. These would also make a memorable gift for a teacher, and kids would love to help to create them.

As you can see, they’ve featured prominently on some recent projects: my Maple Crown Cake and some fancy-schmantzy fall brownies.

The acorns in this post are made with purchased truffles, caramels, and a package of caramel apple wraps (found in the produce department of most large grocery stores). I used wraps because of the beautiful color, but if you can’t find them, there is a good substitution; with a little more—okay, a lot more—rolling, Tootsie Rolls will work.

Caramel wraps are conveniently rolled out for you. That’s a plus! But they are a little softer than square caramels, so they are slightly harder to work with and won’t hold a design well, making them a poor option for the acorn caps. They do make a beautiful, shiny acorn, however. That’s why I used both wraps and caramels in this version.

Chocolate Caramel Acorns
Print
Author:
Makes 12
Ingredients
  • 3 sheets caramel apple wraps (1 package contains 5 sheets)
  • 12 round 1-inch chocolate truffles (or you can use large malted milk balls if you prefer)
  • 6 square caramels
  • 1 teaspoon butter (optional)
Instructions
  1. Place one caramel wrap on a piece of parchment. Using a 2½-inch round cutter, cut 3 circles. Move them to a large piece of parchment, being careful not to let them overlap. Set scraps aside. Repeat with the other two caramel wraps.
  2. Form a ball with the scraps and place between two pieces of parchment. Roll out to the same thickness as the wraps and cut out 3 more circles to equal 12 circles total. Gently stretch each piece out a little.
  3. From the scraps, form small balls of caramel – smaller than a pea. Place one in the center of each circle. This will help create a pointy bottom tip for your acorn.
  4. Unwrap truffles and center one on top of the small piece of caramel. Bring the sides up, smoothing as you go. If the caramel gets sticky, butter your fingers very lightly. Cut off excess caramel at the top, close to the truffle. Pinch the tip at the bottom a little to make it pointed.
  5. Unwrap square caramels. Roll out, one at a time, between pieces of parchment – approximately 1½ inches by 2½ inches. Cut two circles out of each piece with a 1-inch round cutter. (The cap from a milk carton works well.)
  6. With a metal spatula or the back of a knife, press lines into the caramel vertically and horizontally, creating a crisscross design. Use a toothpick to make a small hole in the center of each circle. Stick a small piece of the dark caramel wrap into the hole to make a short stem. It doesn’t have to go all the way through the hole. This is the acorn’s cap.
  7. Place one cap on the top of each acorn, pressing gently.
  8. Caramel wrap is softer than the square caramels, and the acorns will get sticky. To prevent them from sticking together, use a very small amount of butter on your fingers and rub the acorns lightly. Serve individually in pretty mini-muffin cups or arrange them a little bit apart on a plate.
  9. Store lightly covered at room temperature.

 

Cut circles from caramel wraps.

 

Make the acorns.

Make caps. Place one on each acorn and press gently.

That’s about as easy as it gets, folks. Start unwrapping those caramels!

Lorinda

Maple Crown Cake

This sinfully rich pound cake is dense and moist and grows more flavorful as it ages. It gets its subtle maple taste from the addition of Maple Crown Royal whiskey. (No, I’m not getting a kickback from them, and yes, I’ll give you non-alcohol alternatives.) It has a delicate crispy crust from coating the pan with sugar before adding the batter, and I kicked the sweet maple flavor up a notch by using maple sugar— but that’s just me; I can never get enough maple!

I played with the icing on this cake. On my first attempt, I made a ganache from maple morsels (something new on the market) and was less than impressed. So I went back to my trusty brown sugar icing and spiked it with maple whiskey. Much better!

If you have a little of this icing left, and you haven’t just eaten it with a spoon, try adding a spoonful to a cup of hot coffee. I like my coffee strong and black, but I’ve got to say, this was delightful. Go ahead and refrigerate it if you want; it’ll cool the coffee down a bit when you add it. You may even want to double the recipe!

Maple Crown Cake
Print
Author:
Ingredients
  • CAKE:
  • 2 cups white sugar (plus enough to coat the inside of the pan)
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 1½ cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 6 eggs, room temperature
  • ½ cup buttermilk (Bulgarian style, if possible)
  • ½ cup Crown Royal Maple Finished Whiskey*
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter, add an additional ¼ teaspoon)
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • * If preferred, substitute ½ cup buttermilk and 1 teaspoon maple flavoring for whiskey)
  • ICING:
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons maple whiskey
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F.
  2. Prepare a 10-inch bundt pan by coating it generously with vegetable oil (or coconut oil or shortening - don't use butter!) and then sprinkling thoroughly with sugar.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the white sugar, brown sugar, and butter together for 3-4 minutes. The mixture should lighten in color.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly and scraping the sides of the bowl with each addition. Take your time! It should take you several minutes to add 6 eggs.
  5. Add the liquid and dry ingredients alternately in three additions, beginning with the dry ingredients and ending with the liquids. Beat just enough to combine each time, taking care to scrape the bowl down often.
  6. Spoon into prepared bundt pan carefully so you don't disturb the sugar on the sides. Smooth the top and bake for approximately 1 hour 20 minutes. The top should be rich brown and a long toothpick inserted in the cake should come out clean.
  7. Allow cake to rest on cooling rack for 10 minutes, then flip it over. Wait a few more minutes before lifting off the pan. Let cake cool before making icing.
  8. ICING: Put brown sugar, milk, and butter in a medium saucepan. Turn heat to medium and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Once it boils, let it cook for 2 minutes without stirring.
  9. Remove from heat and add powdered sugar and maple whiskey. Whisk vigorously until the icing is smooth. Pour over cooled cake. If you have a little extra, it can be gently reheated and drizzled over ice cream. (if it's too thick, feel free to add a bit more whiskey!)

It’s important to let the butter and eggs come to room temperature.

Coat a bundt pan with vegetable oil or coconut oil and sprinkle liberally with sugar. I used maple sugar for added flavor, but regular sugar is great; it’ll give a crispier sugar crust to the cake.

Beat butter and sugar well, then add eggs. One.At.A.Time. Don’t be in a hurry here!

Last egg. See how fluffy the batter is?

Combine buttermilk and whiskey

Add dry and liquid ingredients alternately, then spoon into pan. Spread gently and bake.

Cool for 10 minutes, then turn the cake over and let cool a few more minutes before lifting the pan.

Make icing. Add whiskey and powdered sugar to the boiled mixture and whisk it like you mean it!

 

Once the cake has cooled, pour the warm icing over it.

Keep this covered on the counter (don’t refrigerate) and enjoy it slice by slice. It just gets better and better!

Lorinda

 

Maple Marshmallow Treats

Okay, I’m not offering a stunning show of baking skills here; what I’m posting is pure comfort food, with a maple twist. I’ve always loved Krispie treats, as long as they aren’t so dry they tear your mouth up. My version has always included more butter and more marshmallows for a soft, chewy experience.

These are even better, because . . . duh . . . maple!

I cooked a very simple caramel-type syrup, using pure maple syrup, then stirred in marshmallows and MORE maple flavoring. Actually, in the pictured batch on this post, I was so intent on getting a photo of the maple flavoring being poured into the mixture that I jerked my hand and probably poured another tablespoon into the pan. It was wonderful, but you don’t have to use that much!

Whoops. I may have gotten a little carried away.

To do this right you will need pure maple syrup. Inexpensive breakfast syrup might not set up as well. You know those maple candies I blather on about every year? The ones shaped like leaves that melt in your mouth? Those are just pure maple syrup, cooked until it turns into sugar. You can’t make that happen with fake syrup, no matter how good it tastes. It’s just a different product entirely.

You’ll also want to buy maple extract or flavoring. I usually use Mapleine, but have been known to experiment with other brands. And, here’s news!!! (Can you tell I’m so, so, so excited about this?) Nestle has just come out with maple morsels. I haven’t seen them yet (we live in the boondocks) but my friend in Florida just bought some, and I’m so jealous. I will buy them by the case as soon as I find them. Anyhow, my point here is, if you want to skip the flavoring and just stir in a bag of maple morsels, I’ll bet that would be fabulous.

I cut most of the treats into traditional squares but couldn’t resist forming some into little balls, then rolling them in chopped toasted pecans. Yum.

Ready? This is easy. If you have a candy thermometer, cook the mixture until it’s about 260 F. It not, just boil for 6 minutes. This isn’t as touchy as fudge or peanut brittle – just get the temperature in the ballpark and you’re good.

Maple Marshmallow Krispie Treats
Print
Author:
Ingredients
  • 3 quarts (12 cups) crispy rice cereal
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup (If you can find Grade B, use it for more flavor)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons maple flavoring (I use Mapleine)
  • A 10-ounce bag of mini-marshmallows
  • Chopped, toasted pecans (optional, if making pecan covered balls)
Instructions
  1. Line a 12 x 17 baking sheet with parchment. Butter lightly.
  2. Lightly grease a very large bowl (I use a stock pot). Put the cereal in this and set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan (3-quart size is best) over medium heat, cook and stir sugar, butter, syrup, and salt until it comes to a boil. Continue to cook and stir for approximately 6 minutes (it will get slightly thick) or until 250-260 on a candy thermometer.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the maple flavoring and marshmallows. Pour over the cereal and stir well.
  5. Press into the prepared baking sheet and allow it to cool and set up. If you want to roll some into balls, simply spoon a little out at a time and roll, using buttered hands. Roll in pecans if desired.
  6. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container.

Bring the sugar, butter, syrup, and salt to a boil.

Boil and stir 6 minutes, or until it reaches 250-260 degrees.

Add marshmallows and maple flavoring

Stir the hot marshmallow mixture into the rice cereal

Press into prepared pan. Let them set a bit before cutting.

Or form balls and roll in chopped pecans!

Chewy, squishy, buttery. Yes, these are good. Very good.

Next up is a maple recipe that isn’t sweet! Wait for it . . .

Lorinda

Patriotic Meringue Puffs

Well, these are addictive little devils! Sweet little sugar puffs that melt in your mouth, all dressed up for the Fourth of July. Trust me, you won’t be able to stop at one.

I did something out of character and took the easy route with these treats. I’ve made meringues many times using egg whites, but I tried using Wilton’s meringue powder and it worked beautifully.

If you’re fresh out of meringue powder, I’d advise a trip to the store – pronto. And get some superfine sugar while you’re there. You don’t HAVE to use it, but it dissolves into the liquid a lot faster and I highly recommend it. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Meringue Powder
  • Superfine sugar (aka: Baker’s sugar)
  • large pastry bag
  • large star tip
  • red and blue paste food coloring (or gel, if it’s thick)
  • Two paintbrushes
  • Parchment

I tried using my gel coloring but it didn’t stick to the bag at all. Maybe because it’s “squeezable” gel, so it’s thinner. Paste coloring worked fine.

This is seriously so easy. The hardest thing you’ll have to do is get the stripes of color inside the pastry bag. I’ll give you some pointers, but the important thing to remember is that even if your stripes are wonky, the meringues will still look great.

Patriotic Meringue Puffs
Print
Author:
Makes about 30 meringues (1½ inch) or hundreds of little bitty ones.
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder (I use Wiltons)
  • ½ cup superfine sugar
  • a few drops of flavoring if desired (use clear colors: lemon, peppermint, cinnamon are all good.)
  • red and blue paste food coloring
Instructions
  1. PREPARATION: Drop large star tip into the pastry bag. Fold down the top third of the bag (making a cuff) and paint alternating stripes of red and blue up the inside of the bag, starting at the base of the star tip and working up. Don't make them too thick or too close together, or you'll end up with purple! (I used 3 stripes of each color.) Set bag aside.
  2. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment.
  3. MERINGUES: For best results, use a stand mixer (or a sturdy hand mixer and medium-sized bowl.) Heat oven to 250 F.
  4. Beat together the water and meringue powder until foamy.
  5. Add sugar very gradually, sprinkling it in a little at a time, scraping bowl occasionally.
  6. Beat until thick and shiny, about 5-7 minutes. Add flavoring if using and beat until incorporated.
  7. Place the prepared pastry bag inside a tall water glass. Carefully drop meringue into bag. Don't try to spread it, just drop it in there. Unfold the cuff of the bag and twist to close.
  8. Pipe meringues on prepared pan. Squeeze near the pan and pull up slowly, releasing pressure as you go. Aim for about 1½ inches at the base. The first few won't be very colorful, but they're still pretty. They won't spread and can be fairly close together. Small stars can be piped for decorations, but pipe them on a separate sheet; they'll take less time to bake.
  9. Bake large puffs for 25 minutes, (10 minutes for the tiny stars), then turn off oven (don't open the door!) and leave them for a couple of hours. If you have an oven that vents heat out when it's turned off, at the end of the bake time turn the heat down as low as it will go and let them bake for another 10 minutes before turning oven off.
  10. Store the meringues in an airtight container.

Slooooowly add sugar to water and meringue powder. Beat until very thick and shiny.

I place the cuff over my hand and very (very) carefully paint the lines. I was pretty generous here and had some vibrant colors. I used less on the second batch and they were still bright and pretty.

Here’s what it looks like before the meringue is added.

Place bag in glass for support. Carefully drop the meringue into the bag.

Piping the puffs

Tips:

  • Take your time when adding the sugar. Give it time to dissolve.
  • If you want to make the tiny stars (great for decorating cupcakes) hold the tip a little bit above the parchment and start squeezing as you push down and touch the sheet. Stop squeezing and pull up. You’ll get the hang of it!
  • To make both sizes, put the large puffs in the oven first. Let them bake for 15 minutes, then put the other sheet in too. Continue to bake for the remaining 10 minutes then turn off the oven without opening the door. Don’t peek – leave them to dry out for a couple of hours (or overnight). If you have an oven that vents the heat once it’s turned off, see the recipe for instructions.
  • Put a dot of meringue batter on the baking sheet under the parchment to hold it in place while piping.
  • If you want a little more white and a little less color in your meringues, just make 4 stripes instead of 6 inside the pastry bag.
  • Keep them dry, cool, and dark. In theory, they’ll last 2 weeks. I don’t think they’ll have that opportunity!

Here is the mini version:

Piped and ready for the oven.

Jazz up strawberry shortcake, cookies, cupcakes, or a bowl of ice cream. Or just pop them—one after another—in your mouth.

Have a sweet and safe 4th!

Lorinda

Faux Taco Cookies

Taco ’bout sweet! If you’re looking for something different for Cinco de Mayo, I’ve got you covered, because these “tacos” aren’t what they seem to be. A wafer cookie is filled with crushed chocolate sandwich cookies and frosting, then topped with fake cheese, lettuce, and sour cream. (And yes, I used canned frosting. Even I am not nutty enough to make a batch of homemade frosting for just two-thirds of a cup.)

I used orange candy melts for the cheese, spreading it very thinly on a Silpat, then scraping it up with a knife. I used green melts for the lettuce, though green coconut would have been an easy alternative.

If I hadn’t chosen peanut butter-filled Oreos for the filling, I’d have added some maraschino cherries or even chopped red licorice for “tomatoes”, but neither sounded like a good match with peanut butter. Meh. Maybe next time I’ll use the cookies with the plain white filling.

A dollop of marshmallow fluff was perfect for sour cream.

The taco shells were easy but took a while since I could only bake two at a time without making a mess of things. But the recipe only makes 14 or so, and they bake for 6 minutes, so it’s not that crazy. Right? Right? Oh, c’mon, humor me.

Making cookie taco shells

I tried a couple of different methods and the easiest way to make the taco shells was with a stencil. I cut a four-inch circle out of cardstock, placed the stencil on a Silpat sheet (you can use parchment if you prefer) and spread the batter on with a metal spatula. They came out very uniform this way. They’re soft when they first come out of the oven and must be shaped right away. You’ll have to move quickly and drape them over a dowel or spoon handle.

Shaping the shells. They harden quickly!

Tip: if the shells get hard before you manage to drape them over the spoon handle, pop them back in the oven for a few seconds. As long as they weren’t overbaked, this should soften them up. Now move FAST!

Faux Taco Cookies
Print
Author:
Make approximately 14 faux tacos.
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 3 egg whites
  • ½ cup superfine sugar (Baker's sugar)
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream (or thick Bulgarian style buttermilk)
  • yellow/orange food coloring (optional)
  • ⅓ cup chocolate chips
  • 15 sandwich cookies (I used peanut butter-filled), crushed
  • ⅔ cup chocolate frosting
  • Toppings: orange candy melts, green candy melts (or green coconut), marshmallow fluff
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 375 F. and cover two baking sheets with Silpats (or parchment, if preferred).
  2. Melt butter. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. In a medium bowl beat egg whites and sugar together until foamy.
  4. Add flour and cream (or buttermilk) and beat until smooth.
  5. Add butter. Beat on low until mixed.
  6. Add yellow and orange food coloring, if desired, to make the shells the color of a corn tortilla.
  7. Spread batter in 4-inch circles on Silpat sheets, leaving at least 1 inch between circles. The easiest way to do this is to make a simple stencil. Cut a 4-inch circle in the middle of a piece of cardstock. Lay the stencil on Silpat and spread 1 tablespoon of batter with a flat spatula. Lift stencil carefully and repeat.
  8. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove pan, carefully flip over with a flat spatula. Bake 1 additional minute, or until the cookies are beginning to brown. Immediately drape over a dowel or spoon handle (suspended between two cups or bowls) while you are baking the next sheet of cookies. Repeat.
  9. Melt the chocolate chips and brush a thin coat on the inside of each shell, coming half-way up the sides.
  10. Combine crushed cookies and frosting. Divide between each taco, crumbling to resemble meat filling.
  11. "Cheese" can be made by melting ½ cup of orange candy melts and spreading very thinly on Silpat. Once it's firm, run the tip of a table knife along the candy to create shreds.
  12. "Lettuce" can be made by melting ½ cup of green candy melts and spreading very thinly on Silpat. Once it's firm, run a fork along the candy to create thin shreds. (Or use green shredded coconut if desired.)
  13. Sprinkle orange and green toppings on tacos and top with a dollop of marshmallow fluff to resemble sour cream.
  14. Keep lightly covered until ready to serve.

Add the cream and flour to the egg/sugar mixture.

Brush a thin layer of chocolate on the inside of each shell, halfway up the sides. This will keep the “meat” mixture from making the shell soggy.

Crumble the cookie mix into the shells.

Why yes, I AM using a putty knife to spread the candy melts. A bench scraper works well too!

Scrape the candy with a knife tip to create “grated cheese”.

Or, for smaller shreds, use a large serrated blade.

Use a fork to make finely shredded “lettuce”.

Transfer the candy to the taco with the fork. Your fingers would melt it immediately!

See? Not too hard! And how fun would it be to serve these at your Cinco de Mayo celebration?

They’re messy to eat—there’s no denying that. They remind me of those nasty dry shells that come in a box (except, these taste good and melt in your mouth) because filling tends to fall out as you’re eating. Serve these cookies with napkins or plates and have your camera handy. People will just love being tagged in photos while they’re eating these!

Have a great Cinco de Mayo.

Lorinda

 

 

 

 

 

Cherry Nut Fudge

This easy fudge is full of sweet dark cherries and walnuts . . . and a little bit of Baileys Chocolate Cherry Liqueur. You don’t have to add the liqueur, of course (a dash of cherry flavoring is a good substitute) but it sure adds a festive touch for Valentine’s Day.

I used silicone heart molds to create perfect little fudge hearts. You could also pour the fudge into a large heart-shaped pan, or into a regular sheet pan and cut hearts out with cookie cutters. (I’m sure you can think of something to do with the leftover scraps.) This makes a lot of little hearts, so unless you have several silicone pans, have a small pan lined with parchment to put excess fudge into.

When I say the fudge is easy, I mean it’s not a complicated recipe. It does require your undivided attention at the stove for ten minutes or so, though. You can do that, right? For simplicity, leave the fudge plain. If you want to play with your food, you can “ice” it with a thin layer of melted chocolate and decorate with sprinkles, or roses made of royal icing or candy clay.

The heart on the left below is unadorned. The heart on the right was flipped over and the smooth side was coated with chocolate and gussied up with a few candy roses.

You’ll need a candy thermometer for this recipe. I started out with the recipe on the jar of marshmallow fluff, but because I added frozen sweet cherries to the mixture, it took a lot longer to reach the proper temperature – about ten minutes instead of the four minutes in the instructions on the jar. Not something you should guess at!

Speaking of temperatures, did you know that altitude really matters when making candy? My home is at an altitude of 2,500 feet, so I deduct five degrees from the target temperature. Subtract one degree for every 500 feet in elevation.

This recipe calls for 12 ounces of chopped chocolate. I use good dark chocolate and include 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate because I want my fudge to be really rich. I tend to have little chunks of different brands of chocolate in the cupboard, so I just throw them all together on my kitchen scale until I have 12 ounces. Mix and match! (And yes, to make it even simpler, you can use dark chocolate chips.)

Cherry Nut Fudge (with a little something extra)
Print
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 cup (packed firmly) frozen dark sweet cherries, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cups sugar
  • ⅔ cup evaporated milk
  • ¾ cup butter
  • 12 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 7-ounce jar marshmallow creme (or fluff)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • ¼ cup Baileys Chocolate Cherry Liqueur (or substitute 2 teaspoons vanilla and ½ teaspoon cherry flavoring)
  • Optional for decorating: Melted chocolate, sprinkles, nuts, candy, royal icing flowers
  • Candy thermometer and silicone molds (or 9x13-inch cake pan)
Instructions
  1. If using a 9x13-inch pan or heart-shaped cake pans instead of silicone molds, butter lightly and place parchment in the bottom of the pan. Silicone molds do not need to be greased.
  2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine cherries, sugar, evaporated milk, and butter. Stir frequently until mixture comes to a boil, then stir constantly until it reaches 234 F. on a candy thermometer. (Adjust for high altitude if necessary, lowering temperature by 1 degree for each 500 feet.)
  3. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate and marshmallow creme.
  4. Add walnuts and liqueur (or flavorings) and stir until well mixed.
  5. Spoon or scoop into ungreased silicone molds (tap lightly to level the fudge) or spread into prepared pans.
  6. Allow mixture to cool completely, then cover and place in cool location. Refrigerate for firmer fudge (and easier cutting.)
  7. Decorate fudge by spreading with a small amount of melted chocolate and adding desired candy, nuts, or icing flowers.

 

Chop up the chocolate! (Yes, you can use dark chocolate chips if you prefer.)

Prepare and set aside everything that you will add at the end. Trust me, you don’t want to be trying to stir and chop at the same time!

Combine cherries, sugar, milk, and butter in large pan

Almost done! Love that purple color.

Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate and marshmallow.

Add nuts and Baileys (or vanilla and cherry flavorings if you’re substituting) and stir well

Fill silicone molds or prepared pans and chill until firm.

I use a knife to put a thin layer of chocolate on the smooth side of each heart because I love the little “snap” when I bite into one. Or two. It would be fun to write names or little conversation heart sayings on each one, too. So many possibilities!

More sweet treats coming soon,

Lorinda

 

Gingerbread Houses (and other edible abodes)

I’ve been holding a Rowdy Baker “Holiday House” contest for five years running now, and have seen some great houses made . . . mostly made by youngsters. I love seeing kids in the kitchen, and am thrilled to have them participate, but am convinced that adults are missing out on all the fun!

And it is fun. It’s also messy, frustrating, and persnickety, but mostly FUN!

I’m just beginning to get comfortable with creating my own templates for the structures. I (loosely) followed instructions from a great book: “The Gingerbread Architect” by Susan Matheson and Lauren Chattman, for some of my creations and still use the recipe in the book for my gingerbread base, though I add a little less leavening and a little more spice than the authors call for.

The collapse of my house in 2015 was not the fault of the plans in the book. I think I just wasn’t patient enough. It really helps to spread your efforts out over a few days and let that royal icing set hard as you go.

I don’t enter my own contest, of course, but I do play along. I can’t ask people to do something I wouldn’t do, right? Besides, I love making huge messes and staying up until the wee hours creating all the little details. Sometimes it’s challenging, but I try to make every single item on my houses edible.

I’ll show you the five I’ve made so far, and just add to this post every year.

2017 A mountain of fudge with a gingerbread cabin and gingerbread critters.

2016 (my personal favorite) a barn with gum paste and/or chocolate clay reindeer and farm animals inside. This thing was huge. And heavy!

2015 I actually made two. One was a monster of a house (which collapsed the next day in a very dramatic fashion.) and the other was an igloo made of sugar.

2014 was a more traditional house. I put a glow stick inside and the light shone through the windows.

2013 was the year that started it all. A blogging friend and I put out a challenge to make a pretzel house. The two of us were the only ones who actually entered, but we sure had a blast. 

So there you have it: five years of planning, swearing, and creating. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. The holidays are so busy, it’s hard to cut out time for a project like this, but so much of it can be simplified. And when it’s done (which is never, because you’ll keep thinking of just one more thing to add to your house) you’ll be pretty proud of your accomplishment.

Let that flour fly!

Lorinda

Orange Cranberry Cupcakes

Chopped fresh cranberries and orange zest add little bursts of flavor to these sweet vanilla cupcakes. The fluffy orange icing is made with a generous amount of whipping cream, which keeps it from being too sweet.

Make sure to freeze lots of cranberries this season, because these cupcakes aren’t just for the holidays – you’ll want to make them all year long.

You know how many sweets I bake (my sweet tooth is legendary), so you might be surprised to know that I really prefer my cake unadorned, or at least minimally so, and sometimes even (gasp) scrape off some of the icing. Peer pressure often has me piling the icing on cupcakes just like everyone else, and I have to admit it makes for beautiful photos.  But how on earth are you supposed to eat a cupcake with mountain-high icing without having it go right up your nose?

Eeeuw. Not attractive.

So I’ll give you two options. A half-batch of icing is enough for a sweet little rosette on each cupcake, like this:

Or, if you love your icing, make a full batch and pile it higher, like this:

Yes, you could make even more and go for the mountain effect, but I didn’t go there. This time.

For an artsy effect, you might want to gently heat and drizzle orange marmalade or cranberry sauce over the icing, which would be lovely. But for the love of all that’s holy, do NOT use fresh cranberries to decorate the cupcakes unless you want to watch everyone pucker.  Sour, sour, sour. The berries that are baked into the cake itself are delicious, though.

Orange Cranberry Cupcakes
Print
Author:
Sweet orange cupcakes studded with bits of chopped fresh cranberries, topped with whipped orange icing. Makes 24 tall cupcakes, or approximately 28-30 standard cupcakes.
Ingredients
  • CAKE:
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2¼ cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon orange extract
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 3½ cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
  • grated zest from 1 large orange
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • ICING:
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 2 tablespoons concentrated frozen orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • grated zest from 1 large orange
  • pinch salt
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • orange food coloring if desired
  • Candy orange slice or sprinkles for decorating
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F. Place extra large baking cups in two 12-cavity cupcake pans. (If you are using regular baking cups, this recipe will make approximately 28-30.)
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy - about 5 minutes.
  3. Add vanilla and orange extracts and mix until combined.
  4. Add eggs one at a time, beating and scraping the bowl between each addition.
  5. In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.
  6. Alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk to the butter mixture, beginning with the flour and ending with the buttermilk, approximately ⅓ of each at a time. Stir each addition well before adding the next.
  7. Beat mixture just until well blended.
  8. Add 1 tablespoon flour to the cranberries and toss to coat. Fold cranberries and orange zest into batter.
  9. Scoop into cupcake liners. For extra large (or tulip-type) liners fill a little over half full - about level with the pan. If you're using regular liners, fill approximately ⅔ full.
  10. Bake approximately 20-25 minutes, or until cupcake springs back up when pressed on the top.
  11. Cool on a rack.
  12. ICING:
  13. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, shortening, orange juice, and vanilla together well.
  14. Add powdered sugar and orange zest, beat until combined. If too stiff to mix, add a little of the whipping cream.
  15. Add whipping cream and beat until light and fluffy. This will take several minutes.
  16. Place half of the icing in a bowl and add a small amount of orange food coloring.
  17. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large open star tip with both colors to get a swirled look. For a rosette, start in the center of your cupcake and work in circles outward. For a mounded "mountain" effect, start on the outside and work your way in, increasing pressure at the center. Top with a candy orange slice or sprinkles.

My next-door neighbor, Pam, gave me some wonderful parchment supplies and I’m in love with these extra-large liners. They come up high so you can use a little more batter. (They fit nicely into two of my standard cupcake pans but were a little too big for the other.) If you can’t find them, you can use tulip-type liners or just make more regular-sized cupcakes.

Beat butter and sugar until fluffy.

Add vanilla, orange extract, and eggs. Beat well.

Add one-third of the flour. Stir.

Add one-third of the buttermilk. Stir.

….and repeat. Again!

Dust the cranberries with flour. Fold into batter along with orange zest

Fill tall cups a little over half full.

Beat butter, shortening, orange juice, and vanilla together. Add powdered sugar and orange zest.

Whip in the cream. So fluffy!

Put both colors together in a pastry bag fitted with a large open star tip and make ’em pretty! Top with an orange candy slice.

These would make a perfect holiday dessert . . . not too rich, not too heavy, and so festive!

Time’s flying and Christmas is just around the corner. I’m so not ready. The next time you hear from me I’ll probably be pushing chocolate hearts, so let me say it right now:

Merry, Merry Christmas!

Lorinda

Chocolate Cupcakes with Grand Marnier Icing

I gussied these chocolate cupcakes up for Halloween, creating pumpkins with little spiders lurking on them, but without the spiders they would be perfect for Thanksgiving – a real crowd-pleaser. Grand Marnier makes these an adult indulgence, of course, but you can always replace the liqueur with orange juice if you are feeding them to littles.

I’ll go with the booze, thank you very much.

I love Grand Marnier and usually splurge on a bottle every year. Mostly for baking, though a little occasionally makes its way into a small brandy snifter. Who can resist that? What amazing flavor it imparts to buttercream icing! It doesn’t take much, so you could just buy one or two of those mini bottles at the liquor store if your budget is tight, or go with a knock-off version.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Grand Marnier Icing
Print
Author:
Makes about 30 cupcakes Decorating them like pumpkins uses a lot of icing! If you choose to simply frost the cupcakes, you can cut the icing recipe in half.
Ingredients
  • CAKE:
  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup cocoa powder (I use a mixture of regular and extra dark)
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup oil (I use peanut oil, but canola would be good too)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup hot coffee
  • Grand Marnier for drizzling over cupcakes before icing (optional)
  • ICING:
  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 tablespoons shortening
  • 9 cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup Grand Marnier liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • Orange food coloring (optional)
  • Chocolate slivers, green icing for decorating.
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cocoa powder.
  3. Add buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Beat well, scraping the bowl often.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well in between each addition.
  5. Stir in the coffee until mixture is smooth.
  6. Fill cupcake liners a little more than half full, but no more than ⅔ full.
  7. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until top springs back when touched and a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
  8. Cool on a rack.
  9. Once cool, you may want to poke inch-deep holes in the cupcake tops and drizzle each cupcake with ½ teaspoon Grand Marnier, letting it soak in through the holes.
  10. ICING: beat together the butter, shortening, and 2 cups of the powdered sugar until creamy.
  11. Add Grand Marnier, frozen orange juice, and cream. Beat until well combined.
  12. Add the remaining powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl often. Beat on high until fluffy, adjusting if necessary by adding more powdered sugar or cream to achieve a thick icing that will hold shape when piped.
  13. Add orange food coloring, if desired.
  14. With a pastry bag fitted with large round tip, pipe a mound in the middle of each cupcake. Starting at the base of the mound and working your way around the icing mound, pipe from bottom to top, releasing pressure on the pastry bag as you reach the top. Put a small sliver of chocolate in the center of the top for a stem and, if desired, use a small amount of green icing to add leaves.

Fill a little over halfway.

Poke holes with a skewer and drizzle with Grand Marnier.

Use large round tip to make a flat circle then center mound (like a witch’s hat). Or . . . just make a mound.

Pull icing up from the base of the circle to create a pumpkin.

Now just stick a little sliver of chocolate (or get creative: a pretzel stick, piece of Tootsie Roll, cacao nib, whatever) on top and, if you want, add a few leaves and curlicues with green icing and a tiny writing tip. I piped small spiders on mine with melted chocolate (because the crow requested them) but if you don’t want to get all crazy, you could just do this: 

Added bonus to taking this shortcut: you would only need half of the icing recipe for the pretty little floret. A drizzle of chocolate or a few sprinkles, and it’s a thing of beauty.
Enjoy!

Lorinda