With Sweet Dreams and Even Sweeter Days

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Best of 2011

It's hard to believe the year is almost over!  It's gone so fast, as it usually does, but this year seemed to especially fly by.  2011 will always hold a special place in my heart, because January 4th 2011 was the very first day I ever posted on my blog.

I'm a little sad to see 2011 go.  I measured it not only in 365 days but also in 84 different treats and posts that I wrote on here from January until now.  It was an awesome year filled with wonderful things and times.... and obviously lots and lots of baked goods.

Therefore I thought I'd treat you to a quick look back at my most popular treats of 2011.  While I titled this "The Best of" truthfully I loved all of my recipes this year, but for one reason or another these really hit it off with you guys, and I'm beyond thrilled.

So, without further adieu, the top ten Mary Quite Contrary Bakes treats of 2011.

#10.


Spaghetti and Meatballs Cake
This cake was probably my favorite "fun" cake I made all year.  It looked so realistic I'm pretty sure my gram had to do a double take when I first brought it out.  It also celebrates how simple chocolate cake and buttercream can sometimes be all you need.

#9
This is a recipe from the early days of the blog.  And definitely is good enough not to be forgotten.  Brown butter and fall spices put these rice krispie treats over the edge of awesomeness and are as easy to make as it is to go out and buy their store bought counterparts.

#8

Quite possibly one of my favorite pumpkin desserts ever, this gooey pumpkin butter cake is so good you'll keep wanting to make it even way past fall.  I know of two different friends that tried this recipe too and it was off the charts on all accounts.  I may not be able to go back to regular butter cake again.  But I'll take my piece chilled after a day in the fridge.... so good.

#7

Even my mom, the self-proclaimed "non pumpkin lover" dubbed these her favorite cookies ever.  And for good reason.  Soft and airy with fall spices and buttery charm, these cookies run the line of perfect.  The fact that the batch makes a ton and they stay fresh for days doesn't hurt either.

#6

I made this cake for gram's virtual birthday party while she was still in Florida.  Not only is it beautiful, but it tasted fantastic too.  Soft layers of cake sandwiched with strawberry jam and smothered in strawberry swiss meringue buttercream was almost too much to handle.  Somehow I meddled through.

#5

This was the first fancy cake I ever posted to the blog.  It wasn't even a concrete recipe, just an idea and musings on baking and life.  But you all seemed to love it and the ideas it encompassed, and I loved it too.

#4

In this post I went on and on about my love of Mascarpone and all things cheese.  And it seems everyone agreed.  It's pretty plain to see why a sugar cookie crust filled with sweet mascarpone filling and topped with fresh fruit of your choice would be a big winner.  This tart is adaptable and delicious.  Please excuse me while I go buy another tub of Mascarpone and make some more.

#3

After sketching the idea out an some looseleaf when inspiration struck, and developing and actually bringing it to life, these Moulin Rouge cupcakes sort of feel like my brain child to me.  And will always remind me of how much fun I had dreaming of going to Paris, and how much more fun I had when I actually got on a plane and went.  Paris and these cupcakes will always have a very very special place in my heart.  Plus they're adorable and fun, which never ever hurts.

#2

This was the first recipe of mine ever posted on the main page of Tasty Kitchen and I'll never forget how positively thrilled I was when I opened my computer that day in September and saw.  I'm not the biggest brownie person in the world and I fell head over heels for these.  They are sinful, wonderful, and all around everything a great brownie should be.  My favorite brownies of all time.

#1

When I stumbled upon this recipe in September and whipped them up in a cinch, I knew I was onto something unbelievably great.  It's my most beloved recipe I've ever made or posted in this baking marathon so far, and it seems you all agree.  3 Ingredient Homemade Butterfingers are so easy and so fantastic, words don't even really do them justice.  I still stand by what I said the first time I ever bit into one, if you only ever make one thing off of blog... make these.



I hope you loved everything as much as I loved making it for you.  Looking back was a great reminder for me how wonderful 2011 was, but I can't wait to see what 2012 has in store for me, both in this blog and in life.  

It's gonna be good.

Happy New Year!  See you all in 2012!!!

:)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Classic Gingerbread Men


My mom's mom, who I lived with until I was seven years old, was quite the cook.  I've mentioned her on here before but it seems inevitable that she pops up occasionally from time to time.

Back way before the food network was around or food blogging and the internet was even thought of, she was tuning in to public broadcasting to catch the one cooking show they had a week and cranking out her recipes on a bulky typewriter with her own added notes.

Basically a food blogger before the term even existed, not only do I think she'd be the one most excited about my adventures in the kitchen and with this blog if she were here, I think she'd be right there with me on both accounts... flour up to her elbows and typing away, the works.

Although she was more of a cook than a baker, come Christmastime I vaguely remember her plunging head first into sweets.  Although I have no particular memory of gingerbread cookies being made, I'm sure plenty were... as evidenced by the fact that stashed in the back of my pantry are some killer vintage cookie cutters.

And I knew come Christmas this classic dessert was exactly what I wanted to make.


This dough ends up being a little on the sticky side but if you lightly flour it as you roll it, you'll have no problems.  I rolled mine out on a pastry mat just to make my life even easier, but if you don't own one don't sweat it, any floured surface will do.



Just be sure to brush any excess flour away before you put these in the oven, to avoid wonky looking gingerbread men.  However, in my book there's really nothing wrong with some wonky cookies.  They taste just as good.

Truth... my silipat baking liner is one of my most trusted and well loved baking tools.  If you bake cookies more than once a year, I highly suggest investing in one or two.  They're not expensive and they take the frustration out of cookie making.  They are literally a god-send.


The original recipe called for royal icing to decorate the cookies, and while royal icing is straightforward enough and delicious, quite simply a whole batch for some buttons... wasn't going to happen.

Instead I used sugar pearls that you can find at any local craft store (and maybe even some grocery stores) and it looked just as cute with a fraction of the work.  As you can see a few of them sunk in a tad, but no big deal when the cookies came out of the oven I just placed a new one in where the hole had been left.


This recipe yields an obscene amount of cookies.  I'm talking 5-6 dozen.  For all other desserts I normally cut the recipe in half, but with cookies I never ever do.  For some reason my tiny family has no problems finishing off whatever amount of cookies I put before them.

This made more than enough cookies to eat and even then still some to give away, which made it perfect for our holiday season.

I really love these cookies, and I think you will too.  You can change it up and use whatever cookie cutters you want to go beyond Christmas, just be sure to adjust your baking time if you use a radically different sized one.

Whether you like your cookies on the softer or crisper side, just adjust the baking time slightly.  For my 3-inch cutter 9 minutes per tray yielded chewy and pillowy irresistible cookies for a soft cookie lover like me, but if you'd like yours more crisp increase a few more minutes.

Give these cookies a try, they reminded me of Christmases past and some loved ones and were the perfect ending to a wonderful holiday.


Enjoy!



Classic Gingerbread Men

Servings: 5-6 Dozen

Ingredients:
- 5 1/2 cups all purpose flour (plus more for rolling)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 tsp ground ginger
- 4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp grated nutmeg
- 2 sticks unsalted butter (at room temperature)
- 1 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups dark molasses
- Sugar pearls for decorating (optional)

Directions:
Note: start cookies at least 1 hr before you want to bake
Whisk together all dry ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.  Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer, beating until fluffy and well-combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed (about 3-4 minutes).  Add eggs and molasses and beat until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure all is combined.  Add dry ingredients slowly, with the mixer on low speed, and stir until just combined.  Separate dough into three portions and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hr (or up to a few days).  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  When ready flour a work surface and dough lightly and roll dough to approximately 1/4 inch thick.  Cut dough with desired 3-inch cookie cutter of choice.  Transfer to baking sheets lined with baking mats or parchment paper.  Place sugar pearls or sprinkles in as buttons if desired. Bake cookies for 9-11 minutes, rotating pan halfway through.  Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.  If sugar pearl have sunk in, immediately push in a new one where hole was left.  Continue until all dough has been used up.  Let cool completely and enjoy.


Recipe adapted from: Martha Stewart's Cookies


Friday, December 23, 2011

Maple Toasted Pecan Fudge


It seems almost silly that after posting about a healthy recipe like the Frozen Pumpkin Pie Milkshakes that I follow it with such a decadent and unforgivingly bad for you (in the best way possible) treat.

But sometimes that's just the way life goes, and I knew I wouldn't be happy unless I got the chance to share at least one Christmas goodie with you before the big day rolled around.

And these right here are the jackpot of Christmas goodies.

This past summer I was lucky enough to have the chance to travel to Toronto, Ontario not once but twice.  My friends and I went up on a whim, not really knowing much about the city or what it had to offer.  And let me say, I was blown away by how great Toronto is.



I feel as though Toronto is this hidden gem that no one, at least in my area, ever talks about let alone raves about.  The city had so many fun things to offer and truthfully I can't wait to go back.

While we were up there I ate a large amount of all different types of candies and treats, but one of my favorites was the maple flavored candies.  With maple themed things abundant everywhere I felt it was my duty to try each and every one.

And from that moment on I fell head over heels for all things maple.  When I came home maple was on my baking mind for weeks, but with so much going on sadly got pushed to the side for awhile.

When I saw this fudge though, I knew it was time to jump back in.



The night I made this fudge I tried it and I liked it, I really did, but I wasn't wowed.  The next day I ate a piece and it was even better and I was happy and content, that was that.

The third day I came down and had a piece or two for breakfast (notice a trend?) and this fudge was out of this world.  The fourth day it was even better than that.

I'm not sure how it tasted on the fifth day.  Because by the fourth day I had to get this out of my house to stop me from eating the entire pan.  Normally I have a good amount of self control with baked goods, but this fudge was apparently too much for even me.

You see, as I made it I watched the equation of

2 sticks of butter + 4 cups of sugar + liquid sugar

unfold and come together to create this sweet, salty, creamy, heavenly end product.  

Oh my god.

So therefore when I had already eaten half the pan by day four, I knew I was in deep trouble.  Thankfully my friends were more than happy to take some off my hands, and it received rave reviews from everyone who saved me from myself.

It's so easy to make and would make an awesome holiday gift for eating or sharing, as I said it only gets better with age.  Really though, I'd recommend making this for a crowd... unless you have some serious willpower when it comes to this stuff.  In which case, I'm totally jealous.  

Learn me in your ways.



Merry Christmas to you and yours if you celebrate, and if not happy holidays!  If you make this fudge a part of your celebrations I promise you can't go wrong.  As for me, I think I'm going to force myself to wait until next year to make another batch.

..... But if you do make some and feel like bringing it over, my door is always open. ;)

Enjoy!



Maple Toasted Pecan Fudge

Servings: Approx 36 pieces

Ingredients:
- 2 cups light brown sugar
- 5-8 oz fat free evaporated milk
- 2 sticks unsalted butter (at room temperature)
- 2 cups powdered sugar (sifted)
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp maple extract
- 1 cup chopped toasted pecans**

Directions:
Spray an 8x8 inch square pan with cooking spray and set aside.  In a large saucepan combine sugar, 5oz evaporated milk and butter.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low/medium.  Boil lightly for 10 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar, vanilla, and maple extract.  Stir in without stopping so mixture does not have time to clump up and seize.  Pour into a bowl of an electric mixer and beat until glossy 2-3 minutes.  If your mixture does clump up and seize and turn into dry crumbs, don't panic.  Pour small amounts of evaporated milk into mixture as it is mixing until it becomes a glossy (but not overly wet) mixture. (I used about 2 oz more).  Stir in pecans.  Pour into prepared pan and pat down until smooth.  Let cool at room temperature completely and cut into squares.  Store at room temperature in an air tight container for best results.  DO NOT store in the refrigerator.  Refrigeration dries the fudge out completely and fast.  Enjoy!

** To toast pecans spread in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Toast in oven for 6-8 minutes, stirring once halfway through until nuts are golden and fragrant.  Let cool ten minutes.  Chop to desired size.




Recipe adapted from:  The Foodie RD




Sunday, December 18, 2011

Frozen Pumpkin Pie Smoothies



This is the first super healthy recipe I've posted in a long long time.

I know this isn't why you're here.  You're here for the butter, the sugar, and the chocolate.

(Or maybe this is why you're here, and in that case I'm sorry for ignoring your needs for so long.  Thanks for sticking it out and waiting.)

I'm not really into health food as a whole.  I'm in more of the camp "eat what I like in moderation and try my best to stay active".  That's what works for me.  But in no way am I against health food.

That's why when this smoothie came along, I swooned.  This healthy treat tastes anything but.  And therefore it's a healthy food option I can really get on board with.  This is a healthy food I can stand behind proudly.

One that tastes like a decadent treat instead.  Hey, I'm just being me.


Frozen pumpkin puree is mixed with nonfat vanilla greek yogurt, nonfat milk, some cinnamon, and a smidgen of pure vanilla extract in a blender.

Since the pumpkin is already frozen when you start there's no need for ice in this smoothie, which is great way to get even more flavor out of it.  If you want to be really healthy you can stop right there and have a low sugar, fat free treat.

.......

But let's be honest, we all knew I wasn't going to stop right there.  

Did you honesty think I was going to stop right there?

Do you know me?

In my smoothie I added approx 2-3 tablespoons of sugar and sprinkled some graham cracker cookie and a little cinnamon on top.  

Totally optional, but also totally charming.  Basically it sealed the deal for me.

That's the nice thing about this smoothie.  It's completely customizable.  Like a thicker milkshake?  Add less milk or use a higher fat content version (1%, 2%, whole).  In the thinner smoothie fan club (me!) bump up the milk or use plain vanilla yogurt instead of greek.

Play around and see what works best for you.   

100% your call.



Whichever way you try it though, definitely do.  This kept me filled for quite a long time and I didn't feel deprived or like I had given something up by choosing it for breakfast, in fact I really really loved it.  And I think you will too.  

Some days you just need to make a smoothie for one.  Make that day today.  You earned it.  

Here's to hoping I stumble upon more healthy recipes I love just as much as this!

I'll be back with the butter and sugar again soon. ;)

Enjoy.



Frozen Pumpkin Pie Smoothies 

Servings: 1
(Please note, the ingredient quantities on here are only approximations.  Each time I make this I taste as I go to make this smoothie just right for me, I highly suggest you do the same.)

Ingredients:
-5 oz (around 1/2 cup) pumpkin puree that has been frozen for at least 24 hrs*
- 1 (5.3 oz) container nonfat vanilla greek yogurt
- 1/4-1/3 cup nonfat milk
- dash of cinnamon
-tiny tiny dash vanilla extract
- 2-3 Tbsp sugar
- crushed graham cracker for decoration

Directions:
Take pumpkin out of freezer and break into small pieces (I did mine ping-pong ball size and it was perfect).  Put in blender with yogurt, cinnamon, and a very VERY small dash of pure vanilla extract. (Trust me here less is more with vanilla extract - it's strong stuff. Go easy on it.  You can always add more, you can't take it out.)  Pulse together until somewhat combined.  Start adding milk and continue until desired consistency has been reached.  (Same mantra - start small you can always add more, you can't take it out.)  Add in sugar if desired 1 Tbsp at a time, blending briefly, tasting after each addition until desired sweetness has been reached. (Same mantra - you'll thank me!)  Blend briefly again to make sure everything is smooth and pour into a glass of your choosing.  Top with some crushed graham crackers if desired for garnish.  Enjoy!


* This recipe works best if the pumpkin is super super cold and frozen very well.  The best way I have found to freeze pumpkin puree is to pre-measure it and then portion it in plastic air-tight ziplock bags, that way when I need it I can take it out of the freezer ready and don't have to worry if it's the right portion or not.



Recipe adapted from: The Pioneer Woman Cooks


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cappuccino Chocolate Bites


I'm nowhere near perfect.  I never try to pretend to be.

Not all my days are filled with laughter and cookies and smiles (although most of them are).

This blog isn't about the bad days, the ones we all have.. the, "I just wanna pull the covers over my head and try again tomorrow" days.  This blog is about the fun days, the great people, and the awesome times.  But this blog is also about real life.

Therefore an alternate title to this post could easily be, "The blog post that took me 8 months to write."

I made these cookies way back in April for someone who, simply put, isn't in my life anymore.

And, you know what, that's ok.  

But this post... oh this post.  At first it was easy to push aside just because I had no idea what to say, and the longer it went unwritten, the easier it was to forget.



But then, just like they always do, those recipes that are too good not to share just keep coming back to me.  And that's when I realized forgetting, no matter how wonderful life is now, isn't real life. 

(And isn't fair to you guys, my readers, because these cookies are some of my favorites.)

Real life is remembering the cookies made in great times and but also the cookies made in not so great times too.  It's knowing there will be more tough roads ahead in life, but also that things will always find a way to get back to great again, someway somehow.

And seeing that, regardless, there will still always be more cookies to share.

In one month will be my one year of blogging.  Blogging at least once a week, every week, for an entire year.  And truthfully I'm not sure where the time has gone.  

In the days I celebrated birthdays, holidays, and spent random time with wonderful people.  In the days when I wasn't sure how in the world life was supposed to start fresh again... but whether I was ready or not, it did.

Baking, and you all, were here.

And looking back all I can say is, thank you.  I'm glad I made it.  I'm glad I'm here.  I'm glad I could share it all with you.  I'm glad I get the opportunity to look back and see how far I've come, and also how far I'd still like to go.  

I hope you stick around for more of the ride.  I think it's going to be a fun one.

Give these cookies a try, they certainly have been in the works long enough.  I have a sneaky feeling that they'll have been worth the wait.

Life is good.

Enjoy :)



Cappuccino Chocolate Bites

Servings: 1-2 dozen (depending on size of cutter)
Ingredients:

For the cookies:
- 2/3 cup flour
- 1 Tbsp espresso powder
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter (at room temperature)
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the ganache:
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2  1/2 oz milk chocolate (finely chopped)

Directions:
(note: start cookies at least 40 min before you want to bake. start ganache at least 4 hrs before you want to serve.)
To make ganache, place finely chopped chocolate in a small bowl.  Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan and then pour over chocolate.  Stir until smooth.  Place plastic wrap on top of bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hrs (or overnight).

To make cookies, in a medium bowl sift together flour, espresso, and salt.  Whisk to combine.  In a bowl with an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.  Mix in vanilla.  With mixer on low, add in flour, stirring just until combined.  Pat dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 30 min.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Let dough stand at room temperature 5-10 min. Roll between two sheets of parchment to 1/8 inch thick (see first picture for visual guide to thickness).  Cut out rounds with a 1-inch circular cutter and space at least 1-inch apart on a baking sheet lined with either parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.  Bake until set (but not browned) approx 8-9 min, rotating the pan halfway through.  Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 min and then let cool completely on wire racks.  

Take ganache out of refrigerator and whisk to form soft peaks.  Transfer to a pastry bag and cut 1-inch off corner.  Pipe a small dollop of ganache on the bottoms of half of the cookies.  Top with the remaining cookies and press lightly to adhere.  Serve immediately or refrigerate in an air tight container for 1-2 days.  Enjoy!


Recipe adapted from:  Martha Stewart's Cookies



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles


It's that time of year folks.

The end of a college semester where the work load starts crushing my soul and I wonder if come Christmas I'll still be the same human being, just hoping and praying I'll make it through.

Normally my semesters are pretty low key and this last minute surge of stuff to do only hits me at the very end, but unfortunately for me this barrage of crazy amounts of work... well it started in the middle of October this time around.

I feel as though I'm coming to the end of a marathon (and I'm so looking forward to it) but also that I'm not going to know what in the world to do with my newfound free time when it arrives.

Granted I'll still have my two part-time jobs and this blog to keep up with, but to not have to work myself into the ground studying projectile motion and thermodynamics will be such a welcome welcome change.

Therefore you can expect lots and lots of Christmas and holiday goodies from me come this time next week (next Friday to be exact - when I'm officially done my semester), but for now I thought I'd treat you to some goodies from my pumpkin baking explosion a few weeks back.



These cookies are absolutely out of this world.  They're everything I love about classic snickerdoodles, but amped up with pumpkin to give them some charm for these long winter months we have coming ahead.

To put it simply, my mom who is a self-proclaimed un-pumpkin person declared these to be her favorite cookies ever...... EVER.

They stay fresh out of the oven soft for an extremely long time in cookie life (4-5 days at room temperature) but I doubt they will last that long in your kitchen, I know they didn't in mine.

My tiny family devoured 3 dozen of these in an embarrassingly short amount of time.  It got to the point that I brought a big bag to school with me and just started giving them away to keep myself from eating each and every last one.

So to keep it short and sweet, if you're a fan of pumpkin, or if you're a fan of awesome cookies, make these...

... and if you're not a fan of awesome cookies, to be quite honest I think you may be in the wrong place.



Savor them, share them, or hoard them for yourself.  Whatever floats your boat.  Just get into the kitchen and make them today.  You won't be dissapointed. 


Pumpkin Snickerdoodles
Servings: Approx 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients:
For cookies:
- 3 3/4 cups flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup (firmly packed) light brown sugar
- 3/4 cup pure pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For topping:
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions:
(start cookies at least 1 hr before you want to bake)
In a medium bowl sift together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Whisk to blend lightly.  With an electric mixer beat butter and sugars together in a bowl until smooth light and fluffy (3-4 min).  Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary.  Blend in pumpkin puree and beat until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined.  With the mixer on low add in dry ingredients and mix just until equally distributed and combined.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hr. (I did mine overnight and they worked perfectly.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper of silicon mats.  Combine sugar and cinnamon for topping in a small bowl and toss to blend.  Scoop approx 2 Tbsp of dough (slightly larger than a ping-pong ball) and roll into a ball.  Roll each ball in cinnamon-sugar mixture and place balls on baking sheet at least 2 inches apart.  Slightly flatten balls with the bottom of a glass.  Bake cookies for 10-12 min (rotating pans halfway through) or until cookies appear lightly golden and puffy all over.  Let cool on baking sheet for approx 5-6 min and then let cool completely on wire racks.  Keep in an airtight container at room temperature if possible for best results or just covered at room temperature.  Enjoy!


Recipe adapted from:  Annie's Eats