Saturday, December 29, 2012

Basics: Pudding Cookies

The holidays are in full swing and so far this year, I've made close to 2000 cookies - for gifts, parties, and just because it's that time of the year. Cookie time.. it brings on an intense urge to bake none other than cookies, for some strange reason (possibly to please that jolly old man in red when he comes to deliver your goodies under the tree). You may think this is normal for me, since I'm always baking. But quite honestly, I personally don't bake too many cookies throughout the year. I am definitely more of a cake baker. So, I use the holidays to make up for the rest of the year and bake dozens and dozens of different types of cookies.

Using prepared ingredients in baking can be very useful at times, as in the case of pudding cookies. It's basically a cookie made with a packet of Jell-o Instant Pudding powder. These puddings prepared as directed on their packages always seem a bit plain-jane for my tastes. But throw them into cookie dough or cake batter and voila! They give your treats an added oomph, which is why you'll always find these little boxes of pudding mix in my pantry. My favorite flavors to add into my desserts thus far are Pistachio, Cheesecake, White Chocolate and of course, Vanilla and Chocolate.

The other day while perusing my favorite aisle of the grocery store, I found a seasonal variety of Jell-o Instant Pudding - Candy Cane! I picked up a box along with another seasonal flavor, Gingerbread - more on that in another post.

The cookies photographed here, my Wintry Minty Chocolate Chip Pudding Cookies, were inspired by Kraft's recipe for pudding cookies. These cookies use the below recipe with Candy Cane Jell-o Instant Pudding Mix along with Andes Mint Chips (1 cup) and semi-sweet chocolate chips (1/2 cup) as the add-ins. These are subtly minty and encompass the perfect textural qualities you want in a chocolate chip cookie - chewy on the inside with a thin crispy exterior. And because of the addition of the packet of pudding mix, these cookies stay chewy and moist for days!

You can make these cookies with any pudding flavor you like! I would suggest the Vanilla or White Chocolate flavor if you are going to be adding the mint chips to the dough. If you just want a traditional chocolate chip cookie, use the Vanilla Instant Pudding with regular semi-sweet chocolate chips. The variety of cookies you can bake are endless. Be creative - throw together different pudding flavors and add-ins and come up with your very own signature pudding cookie!

Basic Pudding Cookies
(inspired by

1 c unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 packed light brown sugar
1 package Jell-o Instant Pudding Mix
2 eggs
1 t vanilla extract
2 c all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 1/2 c add-ins (chocolate chips, nuts, chopped dried fruit, chopped candy bars, sprinkles, etc)

Preheat your oven to 350*F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy - about 2 minutes. Add the pudding mix until fully incorporated. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla until they are well mixed into the batter.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda. Slowly add this to the wet ingredients and mix until just incorporated, taking care not to over-mix. Remove the bowl from the mixer, add your add-ins and fold them into the cookie dough. Using a 2T cookie scoop, drop the dough onto the prepared cookie sheet roughly 2" apart. These cookies will spread in the oven, however, I like to press the dough down and flatten them a bit with my hands before I bake them.
Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, taking them out when the edges have browned. Let them sit on the cookie sheet for about 5 minutes and then transfer them to a cooling rack until they are cooled completely. These cookies will keep in an airtight container for 5 days. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Quick Tip: Breakfast Pocket Pastries

I categorized this recipe under quick tips, as it is such a cinch to make that you can roll, cut, fill, and bake these babies in about 12 minutes.

Store-bought Pop Tarts, you know the ones - they're chalky and taste incredibly processed. Yes, they're quick to prepare - just pop them in your toaster - but that's about the only positive point to this breakfast item.

The idea of a pop tart is wonderful, though - flaky, buttery crust enveloping sweet fillings such as jams, chocolate or Nutella. And as much as I'd love to make the whole thing from scratch, these days I just don't have the time. So, here's a quick alternative.

In 10-12 minutes, you can have pocket pastries filled with anything you'd like! Plus these are so easy to make, your kids can do it and be thoroughly pleased with themselves as they are eating them, as my 5-year old son was yesterday. I must say, he's got the crimping down to a science.

Easy Baked Pop Tarts

1 package (1/2 box) refrigerated pie crust (NOT the frozen kind)
1 egg
Jam, Nutella, or other filling
Flour, for dusting
Sprinkles, for decorating (optional)

Turn on your oven to 450*F. Dust your counter with flour and unroll the pie crust. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough, applying some pressure to thin it out just a bit. Cut the largest rectangle you can out of it. Then, cut several smaller rectangles out of this. I made mine about 4"x3" each but they can really be any size you'd like them to be.

 Place a tablespoon of filling in the middle and spread it to within 1/2" of the borders of the crust. Do this for 1/2 the rectangles.

Mix the egg with 1 T of water to make an egg wash. Then lightly brush the egg wash along the 1/2" perimeter of the rectangles with filling. Take a rectangle without filling and place it right on top of the filling, making sure to crimp the edges with a fork. 
Dock the tops of the tarts with a fork to allow air to escape from the pockets during baking.

Then brush the tops with egg wash and decorate with sprinkles if you so desire. Place the stuffed rectangles on a Silpat- or parchment-lined tray about 1 1/2" apart.

Bake them in your oven for 9-10 minutes or until the dough is lightly browned on the edges. When they are done, take them out of the oven and let them cool for about 10 minutes before eating.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Orange Chocolate Snowballs and the Cookie Craze

It's been a while since my last post and for good reason. Last week was spent baking around 1000 cookies for my dearest friends' and family's holiday gifts that I sent out at the end of last week. This year it took me ages to come up with the quartet of goodies I'd be sending, but finally it took shape and I made these four items:
1. Chocolate Mint Buttons - chocolate sugar cookies infused with mint, frosted with mint cookie icing, decorated in holiday colors.
2. Cranberry Orange White Chocolate Biscotti - a hit last year, I thought my friends would appreciate it popping up in their gift baskets again this year.
3. Holiday Marshmallows - homemade vanilla marshmallows in a red and white swirl for the season.
4. Molasses Spice Cookies - delicious, chewy, spicy cookies deepened in flavor with molasses and rolled in sugar.
Riding the cookie train, on Saturday evening I had a small cookie swap with a couple of friends. It was fun, the treats were delicious. I made two treats to partake in the swap - White Chocolate Mocha Cake Balls and Cinnamon Roll Cookies. I initially wanted my cake balls to taste like tiramisu, but the end product tasted more like a white chocolate mocha. These recipes will be posted as soon as I come up for air.
Something in the air gets us in a cookie mood come Christmastime. I can't help by run to my KitchenAid and start mixing up dough at least once a day to try a new recipe or bring back a tried and true holiday favorite.

This year was no different, because after a week full of baking cookies, I'd have thought I'd be sick of them by now, but not yet. Yesterday, I made another cookie - a delicious, delicate orange-scented nutty snowball studded with chocolate chips.

If you think snowball cookies are a bit on the bland or boring side, try this recipe. The orange and nuts and chips make for a burst of flavor in its one bite. I used walnuts and pecans, but you can use any combinations of toasted nuts, citrus zest, and chips that you desire.

Tossed in confectioners' sugar while still warm, they become little snow-covered gems of delight for the season.

Orange Chocolate Snowballs
(Recipe by Leelabean)

2 1/2 c flour
2 1/2 c confectioners' sugar, divided
1 1/4 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 sticks (1 c) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg
1 t vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange
3/4 c toasted nuts (I used walnuts & pecans)
3/4 c mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a mini-food processor, grind up the nuts until they resemble coarse meal. Set this aside. In a large bowl, combine the flour, ground nuts, baking powder, and salt and whisk together. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream 1 1/2 c confectioners' sugar and butter until light and fluffy - about 2 minutes. Then add the egg, vanilla, and zest of an orange. Blend well. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips.
Wrap this dough in plastic wrap and store it in the fridge until cold and firm throughout (at least a couple of hours). This dough can be made up to 2 days ahead. When you are ready to bake, heat your oven to 375*F. Pinch off pieces of dough that are the size of about 2 teaspoons and roll into little balls. Place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet about 1 1/2" apart from each other. Bake them in the preheated oven for around 8 minutes. It could be a minute or two more or less depending on your own stove. They will turn the slightest light brown on the bottoms when they are ready. Let them cool on the cookie sheet for about 2 minutes.
In a small bowl, put in the reserved 1 c confectioners' sugar. In groups of 5 or so, toss the cookies in the confectioners' sugar until well coated and place back on the cookie sheet to fully cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for about a week. Make sure to put some of these out on a plate for Santa on Christmas Eve. :-)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Superhero Birthday Party!

About a month ago, one of my friends asked me to make her son's 4th birthday cake decorations - that's right, decorations. Not the cake, not the cupcakes, just the decorations. I thought this was such a great idea, especially for those who like to bake and want the look of a custom cake but may not have the time or experience of making such detailed and labor-intensive decorations.

Her son, quite the little superhero himself, wanted his party to have a superhero theme. And not just any superhero, but quite nearly all the superheros! It was such fun for me to create these little medallions that would go atop the cupcakes my friend would make for his birthday party. I have to be honest, I didn't know many of the logos belonging to these superheros, but a quick Google search took care of that.

Top row (left to right): Green Lantern, Spiderman, The Hulk, Flash Gordon. Bottom row (left to right): Captain America, Batman, The Incredibles, Superman.
 These superhero medallions were created during the week Sandy hit. We had no power that week and making these medallions was a great way to spend the sunlit days. And since they required no baking or refrigeration, it was quite perfect.

Onomatopoetic words

I've made and blogged about these fondant medallions before, both here and here. They are proving to be such a versatile adornment to cupcakes and can really fit in with any theme. 

It was such a pleasure to be responsible for such a fun, memorable part of this special little boy's very special day. Thanks for the opportunity, guys.

My friend's home-made cupcakes topped with my fondant medallions.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Peanut Butter Caramel Dip

Condensed milk is one of those things, I pull out to use for a recipe, hoping there will be some left over to enjoy with a spatula. It's sweetened reduced milk that has a creamy, lightly caramelly flavor and it is used in such recipes as fudges, pies, and to sweeten beverages to name a few. It takes the place of milk when a richer result is desired. A while back I did a post on Dulce de Leche cookies. Dulce de Leche is made by cooking condensed milk until it caramelizes and if you haven't tried it, you must. Dulce de Leche is amazing. It's like a more complex, exotic version of caramel. In fact, the holidays are just around the corner. Add Dulce de Leche cookies to your cookie arsenal this year. They are simple to make and everyone will rave about them!

The recipe I am bringing to you today is for a simple dip. This Peanut Butter Caramel Dip is delicious and uses condensed milk as its base. My children absolutely love it with some crisp apples but it would be equally satisfying with a banana, over ice cream, or even sandwiched between some bread!

Forget all of that. When it's in the fridge, I can't walk by without taking a spoon to it. It's just that good. It's simple to make and keeps well in the fridge. Try this today, for your kids.. for the fruit going south in your kitchen.. for you.

Peanut Butter Caramel Dip
(Created by Leelabean)

1 can sweetened condensed milk (you can use fat-free)
1/2 c smooth peanut butter
1 t vanilla extract

Mix the condensed milk and peanut butter in a saucepan. Heat them on the stove over a medium flame. Continue to cook, mixing all the while with a wooden spoon, for about 5 minutes or until the mixture starts to boil. Continue mixing and once the mixture has been bubbling for about 1 minute, remove it from the heat and add the vanilla extract. Stir to combine. Let the dip cool and then store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week. To loosen the dip, you can microwave it for a few seconds.