S’mores Cake

My level of fondness for someone is often reflected in the sweets I bake for them.  And as you can see from the pictures of the S’mores Cake below, this cake was baked for someone pretty special.   On top of a dense graham cracker crust sits a dark, tender, chocolate cake that’s piled high with fluffy marshmallow meringue. To get that extra dark chocolate color and flavor, I used half black cocoa powder  and half all natural cocoa powder.  I also used a small brûlée torch to brown the marshmallow topping and give the cake a just-roasted-over-a-campfire look.  The cake takes a bit of time to make because of its three different components, and the cake should be fully cooled before adding the marshmallow topping.  But for the right person, it’s totally worth it.

The graham cracker crust is hiding under the thick layer of chocolate cake.  This is a photo before the marshmallow topping has been brûléed.
Smores Cake- Life Love & Sugar5
Post-brûlée, this cake looks even more ridiculously delicious.
Smores Cake- Life Love & Sugar9
Here’s a close up of the cake with the graham cracker crust peeking out.
Smores Cake- Life Love & Sugar7
And here’s a slice of heaven.  Note, after sitting out in a warm kitchen for a few hours, you can see the marshmallow topping has melted a bit and is in moderate danger of sliding off the cake.
Smores Cake- Life Love & Sugar8

S’mores Cake

(Adapted from Life, Love, & Sugar)
Makes one 8×8 inch cake

Ingredients

Crust

10 graham crackers (approximately 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs)
5 tablespoons butter, melted
5 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon (optional)

Chocolate Cake

1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 + 1/8 cup cocoa powder (Use natural cocoa powder, NOT Dutch-processed.  See this link for a description of the difference between the two)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk (I rarely have fresh buttermilk around so I use dried buttermilk powder)
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup water

Marshmallow Topping

2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup sugar

Directions

Crust

  1. Heat oven to 325°F.  Grease and line an 8×8 inch pan (make sure the sides are at least 2 inches high because the cake rises a bit)  with parchment paper, making sure the parchment extends up the sides of the pan.
  2. In a food processor, pulse together the graham crackers, sugar, melted butter, and cinnamon (if using) until they are well mixed and come together like slightly wet sand.
  3. Firmly press the crust mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.  A spatula is useful in pressing the crust down.
  4. Bake the crust for approximately 9 minutes (it will not brown but will smell fragrant), and then remove from the oven and set aside.

Cake

  1. Lower the oven temperature to 300°F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Add the egg, buttermilk, and canola oil to the dry ingredients, and mix well.
  4. Add the water and vanilla to the mixture, and mix well.  Don’t worry if the batter looks very liquidy.
  5. Pour the batter into the pan over the graham cracker crust.  Bake for approximately 50 to 60 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean with no crumbs attached.
  6. When the cake is done, remove from oven and allow it to fully cool.

Marshmallow Topping

  1. When the cake is cool, make the marshmallow topping. Combine the egg whites, a pinch of salt, and cream of tartar in a metal mixer bowl.  Using a whisk attachment, beat until peaks form.
  2. Gradually add the sugar to the mixture and beat until stiff, glossy peaks form.
  3. Using the parchment overhangs, carefully remove the cooled cake from the pan.  Set it on a firm surface, and spread the marshmallow topping on top of the cake.   If you’d like, use a brûlée torch to brown the marshmallow topping.

This cake is best eaten within a few hours after it’s made.  If the weather gets too warm, the marshmallow topping will start to sag and slide off the chocolate cake.

Double Chocolate Banana Bread

Summer is bikini, bbq, and banana bread season.  The weather has been so warm lately that my bananas have been ripening at warp speed.  Rather than going with the usual banana bread recipe, I made Double Chocolate Banana Bread.  This version of banana bread is super moist, tender, rich and chocolatey, with a hint of banana.  I especially like the crispy top and edges.  This recipe is is definitely in my top 10 favorites and had everyone asking for seconds.

Double Chocolate Banana Bread- KAF1
Double Chocolate Banana Bread- KAF8

Double Chocolate Banana Bread

(from King Arthur Flour)
Makes one 9″ x 5″ loaf or two mini loaves.

Ingredients

1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons (3/8 ounce) King Arthur All-Purpose Baking Cocoa, or Dutch-process cocoa
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons; 4 ounces) soft unsalted butter
1/2 (3 1/2 ounces) cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mashed banana (8 ounces; about 2 medium bananas)
1/2 cup (4 ounces) cold sour cream
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips, chocolate mini chips preferred

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 3 1/4″ x 5 3/4″ mini loaf pans, or one 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.
  2. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa in a medium size bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and creamy.
  4. Beat the egg into the butter-sugar mixture.
  5. Stir in the vanilla, banana, and sour cream to the wet ingredients.
  6. Gently mix in the dry ingredients and chocolate chips until well incorporated.
  7. Pour the batter into the pan(s) and bake for 45 to 60 minutes (bake for the shorter time for two mini loaves and the longer time for the larger loaf), until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  8. Remove the bread(s) from the oven, and allow to rest in the pan(s) for 10 minutes. Turn the bread(s) out onto a rack to cool completely.

Yin Yang Chocolate Chip Cookies

For those times when you just can’t decide if you’d rather have a regular cookie with semi-sweet chocolate chips or a chocolate cookie with white chocolate chips, I present to you a cookie that seamlessly melds both worlds.  These perfectly balanced Yin Yang Chocolate Chip cookies consist of a regular chocolate chip cookie on one half and a chocolate cookie with white chocolate chips on the other.   They’re thin, yet sturdy with a soft center and crispy edges.  So no need to go to yoga to get centered; go get your Zen on by baking these cookies!Half and Half Chocolate Chip Cookies-KAF3

Yin Yang Chocolate Chip Cookies

(from King Arthur Flour)
Makes about 40 cookies.

Ingredients

2/3 cup (5 ounces) light brown sugar, firmly packed
2/3 cup (4 5/8 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons; 4 ounces) soft unsalted butter
1/2 cup (3 1/4 ounces) vegetable shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract, optional
1 teaspoon vinegar, cider or white
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 (3/4 ounces) cup Dutch-process cocoa
2 teaspoons milk
1 cup (6 ounces) white chocolate mini chips or regular chips
1 cup (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate mini chips or regular chips

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the sugars, butter, shortening, vanilla and almond extracts, and vinegar, beating until smooth and creamy.
  3. Add the egg, beating again until smooth. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula to make sure everything is thoroughly combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking soda.  Then mix the flour mixture into the wet ingredients.
  5. Divide the dough in half (if you have a scale, each half will weigh about 14 ounces or 396g.)
  6. Mix the cocoa, milk, and white chocolate chips into one half of the dough.
  7. Mix the semi-sweet chocolate chips into the other half of the dough.
  8. Use a spoon (or a teaspoon cookie scoop) to scoop the chocolate dough onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2″ clearance on all sides.
  9. Rinse off your spoon or cookie scoop, then scoop balls of lighter dough right next to the balls of chocolate dough.
  10. Using your hands, press the two doughs together and roll them into a ball, being sure not to blend them.  Press down lightly on the balls to flatten slightly.  Note, in order to get the “yin yang” look to the cookies, make sure that half of the regular dough and half of the chocolate dough is visible when you place the dough ball on the cookie sheet.
  11. Bake the cookies for 9 to 11 minutes, until their edges are set and the middles are still slightly soft.
  12. Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool them on the pan until they’re set enough to move without breaking.
  13. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Rice Krispie Treats

Don’t know how to turn on the oven?  Don’t like to read and follow complicated directions?  Not enough time to bake?  Too lazy to put much effort into making something?  Insecure in the kitchen?  Whatever excuse you have, sweep it out of the door.  Here’s a recipe that anyone can make, and when I feel lazy but want something sweet, I whip up a batch of Rice Krispie Treats.  You only need three ingredients, butter, marshmallows, and rice krispies, and the only kitchen skills you need are the ability to melt butter and marshmallows together and a strong arm to stir.  Rice Krispie treats1

Rice Krispie Treats

(from Kellogg’s Rice Krispies)
Makes enough to fill a 9×13 pan

Ingredients

3 tablespoons butter
1 package (10 oz.) of large Marshmallows OR 4 cups of Miniature Marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies® cereal

Directions

  1. Prepare a 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan by coating it with cooking spray or greasing with butter.
  2. In large pot, melt the butter over low heat. Do not set the heat too high or the butter will brown and burn.
  3. Add the marshmallows to the melted butter, and stir until completely until they’re well combined and melted. Keep the heat low so that marshmallow-butter mixture does not brown.
  4. Remove the pot from heat, and immediately add rice krispies cereal. Stir until well combined.
  5. Immediately pour the mixture into 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan, and using buttered spatula, wax paper, or parchment paper, evenly press mixture  into the pan.
  6. Cool, and cut into 2-inch squares.

Fudge Brownie Shortbread Bars

I love it when good food reminds other people of me.  This recipe for fudge brownie shortbread bars was passed along to me from a friend who said that she thought of me when she came across the recipe.  A thick, fudgy brownie sits on top of a buttery, crumbly shortbread bar, and the whole thing is topped off by a smooth, rich chocolate ganache.  The recipe takes a bit of time to make because of the three step process, but the outcome is worth the extra effort.

Shortbread Brownies- 12 tomatoes 2

Fudge Brownie Shortbread Bars

(Adapted from 12 Tomatoes)
Makes approximately 20 bars

Ingredients

Shortbread
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Brownies
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
8 tablespoons unsalted butter cut up into 8 pieces
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup cake flour (or 1 cup all-purpose as well)

Topping
1/2 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Directions

Shortbread

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F, and line a 9×9-inch baking dish with parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on both sides.
  2. In the bowl of food processor, combine flour, sugar and salt and pulse together.
  3. Gradually add cold, cubed butter and vanilla extract and pulse until dough begins to come together.
  4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form a dough ball with your hands.
  5. Transfer dough to greased baking dish and press firmly into the bottom, corners and edges of dish in an even layer.
  6. Place dish in oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until crust is a light golden color.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool.  Leave the oven at 350º F.

Brownies

  1. Prepare the brownie batter while the shortbread is baking.
  2. Line an 8″x8″ metal baking pan with aluminum foil.
  3. Combine chocolate and butter in a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring frequently until smooth.
  4. Remove from heat and let cool about 5 minutes.
  5. Combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Mix until evenly incorporated.
  6. Add the chocolate mixture to the eggs mixture and stir until combined
  7. Add the flour and walnuts and fold in until the flour is just incorporated (no white streaks, but be careful to not over-mix)
  8. Pour batter over cooled shortbread crust.  Pour the batter into the baking pan and push it to the edges in an even layer. Use a rubber spatula to smooth out the top. and place in oven.
  9. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until edges begin to pull away from baking dish and center is set. (It’s ok if center has cracked.)

Topping and Finishing

  1. Place chocolate chips and heavy cream in microwave safe bowl. and stir until mixture is completely smooth and melted.
  2. Remove brownies from oven and let cool 15 minutes.
  3. Drizzle chocolate over brownies and let cool completely.
  4. Remove bars from baking dish by extracting parchment paper and cut into squares

Strawberry Fruit Strips

Every so often I take a break from my usual cookie, cake, and brownie baking to experiment with making something that’s a little off the beaten path.  This time it was Fruit Roll Ups… you know, those sweet, brightly colored snacks with wacky flavor names that were huge in the 80s and 90s but didn’t really contain much discernible fruit (and that’s probably why I liked them so much).  So, I was intrigued to find a recipe for fruit roll ups that contained nearly all fruit.  These Strawberry Fruit Strips are tart, sweet, and slightly crunchy from strawberry seeds, and they’re healthy!  It’s a perfect way to make good use of any extra strawberries you have that you haven’t turned into jam, pies, tarts, cakes, sauce, sorbet, ice cream…

Fruit Strips- A Dodge 1

Fruit Strips- A Dodge 6

All-Fruit Fruit Strips

(From Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets by Abigail Johnson Dodge)
Makes twelve 1-inch strips

Ingredients

1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 to 3 tablespoons honey
Pinch of table salt

Directions

  1. Put the fruit in a food processor and pulse until completely smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Pour the fruit puree into a medium saucepan, stir in the lemon juice, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring often, until it’s very thick and reduced to 2/3 cup, about 20 to 26 minutes.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and add the honey, to taste, and the salt.  Stir until well combined.
  5. Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 175°F.  Line a cookie sheet with a nonstick liner (like Silpat).  You can use parchment paper if you don’t have a nonstick liner, but it will be more difficult to peel the dried fruit from the parchment paper after baking.
  6. Scrape the puree onto the center of the sheet and using an offset spatula, spread evenly into an 8×12-inch rectangle (it should be about 1/8 inch thick).
  7. Bake until the puree looks dry and is tacky, but not sticky, when you touch it with your fingertips.  This can take as little as 2 hours.  It took about 3 hours for my fruit strips to get tacky enough.
  8. Turn off the oven and let the fruit cool in the oven and continue to dry out. After 2 hours, test the leather to see if it is mostly dry and can be peeled easily from the liner/parchment paper.  If the fruit is not dry enough, leave it in the oven for a few more hours or overnight.  I left mine in the oven overnight.
  9. Cut a piece of parchment into an 8×13-inch rectangle.
  10. Arrange the parchment on top of the dried fruit, leaving about a 1-inch overhang on one long side, and press gently to smooth out any wrinkles in the fruit.  Smoothing out the wrinkles is easier said than done.  As you can see in the photo, my fruit was quite wrinkly but that might be because I used parchment paper to line the cookie sheet instead of a Silpat.
  11. Invert the nonstick liner/initial piece of parchment so that the second layer of parchment is on the bottom, and carefully peel away the liner/first piece of parchment.  If you used parchment as your initial liner, this is where it gets a bit difficult to peel off the fruit.
  12. Fold the overhang on top of the fruit and beginning with one long side, roll the leather and parchment together into a tight roll, jelly roll style.
  13. Using a sharp knife, cut the fruit leather into 1-inch pieces and stow in a ziptop plastic bag at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.

Caramel Nutella Cashew Graham Scotcheroos

Hello Gorgeous!  Have you ever seen a better looking cereal bar?  This beauty is a combination of caramel + Nutella + chocolate chips + butterscotch chips + cashew butter + honey graham cereal with a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt.  Sounds fancy, but it all comes together in one pot, and the chocolate-butterscotch spread can be melted in the microwave.  All you need is a slightly strong arm to stir together all the ingredients and some patience to wait for the slab to firm up before cutting into squares.  If you’ve made rice krispie treats before, then you can make these “gourmet” Caramel Nutella Cashew Graham Scotcheroos.

Scotcheroos- D Lebovitz5

Caramel Nutella Cashew Graham Scotcheroos

(Adapted from David Lebovitz)
Makes 1 9×13 inch pan

Ingredients

3/4 cup (150g) sugar
1 cup (320g) light corn syrup
1/2 cup (130g) cashew butter (you can also substitute peanut butter or almond butter)
1/2 cup (130g) Nutella
5-6 cups Honey Grahams cereal (I like Mom’s Best Cereals because it doesn’t seem quite as sweet as Golden Grahams)
6 ounces chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, or 1 cup (165g) chocolate chips
1 cup (165g) butterscotch-flavored chips
fleur de sel or flaky sea salt

Directions

  1. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, or line with greased/buttered aluminum foil.
  2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, bring the sugar and corn syrup to a full boil (the sugar mixture will not change color) and then remove from heat.
  3. Stir the cashew butter and Nutella into the sugar mixture until smooth and well mixed.
  4. Stir graham cereal into the mixture until the cereal is completely coated.
  5. Working quickly (the mixture will start to firm up fairly quickly), press the mixture into the prepared pan.  I used parchment paper to help press/pack the cereal mixture into the pan.  Make sure the top is smooth.  Set aside.
  6. Melt the chocolate and butterscotch chips together over the stove or in a microwave, stirring gently until smooth and well-blended.  The butterscotch chips make take a little longer to melt than the chocolate, but keep gently heating and stirring until they are well combined.  Spread over the rice cereal mixture.
  7. Sprinkle the top lightly with sea salt.  Let cool until set.  I put mine in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to harden the chocolate butterscotch topping a bit.
  8. Once cool, cut into small bars with a sharp knife.