Weekly Baking: Take One

The month of weekly baking started a bit early, since Monday was Halloween. My office decided to have some Halloween related festivities at the end of the day, including trick-or-treating to one another’s cubicles. So, instead of handing out store-bought candy, I thought it would be nice to make something since there are only about 25 employees in my office. Because one dessert just isn’t enough, I made two.

The whole purpose of this month’s attempt to bake something every weekend is because I enjoy the act of baking, but more importantly myself and my husband enjoy the fruits of my labor. It’s true that baking can be time consuming, scientific, and tedious, but it’s almost always worth it. Plus, who doesn’t like taking homemade treats to work as snacks?

I’ve been eyeing this Funfetti fudge from Little Bitty Bakes for quite some time now and finally remembered to pick up white chocolate chips at the store. I’ve had Funfetti mix and cans of condensed milk for weeks, but have somehow always managed to forget the chocolate. I know they aren’t Halloween related, and are instead much more fun and whimsical looking than scary, but I thought the idea was just so cool, and the recipe seemed easy enough. This was my first attempt at “fudge,” and considering how easy it was, I definitely need to make it more frequently.

Next up were homemade Oreos, or as Eat, Drink, and Run called them, Fauxreos. Either way, I was able to make them a little more festive by using some food coloring for the centers, and these were pretty simple to make. This recipe also gave me the opportunity to use my beloved KitchenAid stand mixer twice. My husband likes to make note that I don’t use it nearly enough (his way of trying to get more dessert from me), so this recipe let me really put it to work. I can’t believe not that long ago I used to try and make buttercream by hand. No wonder I couldn’t write for days.

These two treats weren’t particularly daunting or required much baking, so that is why I chose them both together, and as my first weekend baking project. I figured I could get more involved and creative from here. Who knows, maybe by the end of the month I’ll be making macaroons! Well, at least a girl can dream, right? I’m thinking next week might be a pie – since I just recently purchased and subsequently gave away as a birthday gift a cookbook simply called Pie. Of course before wrapping it I flipped through, and had a serious craving for chocolate pecan pie. We’ll see. I’ve got a week to decide!

All the Single Ladies

This past Saturday was my bachelorette party. While I’ll spare you all the juicy details, I do want to share all the delicious food that was enjoyed! Everyone came to my house, and we hung out eating and drinking, until our limo arrived. We’d hired it from this Home Page. When it did, we were off to the city to enjoy dinner and a show at Lucky Cheng’s. If you’ve never heard of it, just take a gander at the website. That’s all you need to know. My sister did my hair and makeup, which was pretty awesome!

Of course, in trying to be the hostest with the mostest (a phrase used frequently in my house growing up), I had to make some goodies. I also tried to be smart, thinking the more food we had available, the better because no one likes a hangover. This was extremely import for myself, as I had completed my longest run EVER to date earlier that morning (14 miles!). I made this amazing Queso Fundido, which was awesome! And of course, I had to make cupcakes.

As part of the favors for my bridal shower, my future mother-in-law got little bottles of wine for everyone. So, we had quite a few bottles left over, so I figured my bachelorette party would be an excellent time to use some. Everyone loves a little boozy baking! I used just regular ‘ole brownie boxed mix and baked them as cupcakes. For the frosting, I made a merlot buttercream, and it was awesome. It was also the first time I got to use my KitchenAid stand mixer! I’m never using a hand mixer again.

We’re only 30 days away from the big day. There’s going to be a lot of wedding (and marathon training) activities in the coming weeks!

Check out the sweet cupcake toppers!

Brownie Cupcakes with Merlot Frosting
– makes 12 cupcakes –

1 box brownie mix (I used chocolate fudge)
1 egg
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup water
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 cup merlot
1 cup butter (room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla extract 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Prepare brownie mix according to package, separate brownie mix into a lined cupcake pan (about 2 tbsp worth). Bake about 25-30 minutes
3. In a stand or hand mixer, cream butter, adding in vanilla followed by the wine. Slowly incorporate the sugar until the consistency is thick and everything is well combined.
4. Allow cupcakes to cool before frosting!  

Holiday Cookies

The end of the year is always crazy, and this year is no exception. Between holiday parties, shopping, and decorating, throw in a job in an industry that has a lot to get done at the end of the year, plus end of semester school-work, and you’ve got one busy lady. But enough about me, this post is about cookies!

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of attending the second annual cookie exchange party hosted by my co-worker’s sister. Last year, I made yummy choco-hazelnut cookies that were a huge hit. This year, I decided to make something a little more simple, but still different. I’ve had RecipeGirl’s Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Cookies recipe hanging around in my recipe folder for over a year. Since I still had a can of pumpkin left, and am not yet ready to say goodbye to pumpkin season, I figured these cookies would be a perfect last hurrah. Not to mention, until only a few weeks ago I had never had a snickerdoodle cookie (I don’t like sugar cookies – they’re boring). So, the idea of adding pumpkin flavors to a cinnamon and sugar cookie seemed perfect. Maybe next year I’ll get creative and make my very own cookies. But I knew I was in good hands with RecipeGirl, as she’s yet to let me down!

We had the cabinets and flooring in our kitchen completely gutted and re-done on Saturday, so the day was spent laying in bed, running, and doing homework. Since I was banished from the kitchen all day, this meant I needed to wake up early on Sunday to prep my cookies for the 1pm party. My fiancé came downstairs to the smell of cookies baking in the oven – what a perfect way to wake up! Aside from having to let the dough chill in the refrigerator for an hour, the recipe was pretty straight forward. I’m still counting down the days until I have a KitchenAid stand mixer though; my hand mixer just isn’t cutting it!

I tried my best to make the cookies as cylindrical as possible by using a pint class to flatten the balls of sugary dough, but I definitely had a few that were misshapen. The cookies were only partly about presentation, though, because we all know everyone is at a cookie party to eat! And now that I have a solid 10 cookie recipes to add to my ever growing arsenal, eating is just what I’ll be doing over the next few weeks when I try to recreate these! But before that, I have to cook and bake for our Festivus Party this coming Saturday. I’m sure there will be epic stories about that to come.

But in the meantime, if you have some canned pumpkin laying around and are in need of a sweet treat, take a stab at these Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Cookies!

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles
– From the delicious RecipeGirl.com

Cookie Ingredients:
2 sticks butter (1 cup), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup pure pumpkin puree
1 large egg
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Rolling Sugar Ingredients:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp allspice

1. In a large bowl, cream butter with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add sugar and pumpkin puree and beat well. Mix in egg and vanilla, scraping down sides of the bowl to incorporate all of the ingredients.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and ground cinnamon. Beat flour mixture into liquid mixture a little at a time until incorporated.
3. Cover dough with plastic and chill at least an hour, or until dough becomes slightly firm.
4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper (or spray with nonstick spray). Mix rolling sugar in a small bowl.
5. Remove cookie dough from refrigerator. Use a medium cookie scoop (1 1/2 Tbsp.) or a large spoon to scoop out dough and roll into balls. Use your hands to roll the balls in the cinnamon sugar and make sure they’re coated really well. Place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Use a glass with a nice, flat bottom to dip in sugar and flatten the balls.
6. Bake at 350°F. for 10 to 14 minutes, or until they are slightly firm to the touch. Let cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes or so, then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: About 3 dozen

Baked Goods and (Vibram) Five Fingers!

For quite awhile now, both myself and my fiancé have been eyeing up Vibram Five Fingers. It seems like they’ve become a hit over night. I realize they’ve been around for awhile, as a lot of the running blogs I read have been jockeying them for quite some time, but the craze has definitely hit a high. My fiancé in particular has been interested in barefoot running for quite some time now. I myself, however, remember seeing a woman running through the park about two years ago barefoot and thinking to myself that she was crazy. After reading more, though, I was willing to give them a shot.

Apparently these bad boys are hard to come by. Luckily, one of the shoe stores in my hometown has been selling them for awhile, and even though they’ve been going like hotcakes (mmm, hot cakes), they just so happened to have a pair for both my fiancé and I! So, on our very last summer hours of the year this past Friday, we headed to pick up a pair for ourselves. We wound up getting the KSO’s in black, since they were listed to be good for everything; running, light hiking, water sports, every day use, etc. I expected to have a difficult time getting my toes into their individual pockets, but it was pretty easy. Maybe it’s because I’ve worn toe socks before, or maybe it was because I had an audience and felt like I had to succeed at the first try. Either way, they weren’t nearly as difficult to get on as I had imagined.

So, we set out for a short, easy, two mile run this morning to try them out. I had read on a lot of blogs to ease into them – no more than a mile or so was advised just to get yourself used to them. I had heard you’d feel muscles in your legs working you never knew you had. Needless to say I was a little intimidated by them. We decided to just feel the run out, and we wouldn’t do any more than two miles, even if we were feeling great. The first mile was a bit awkward – you could feel everything, so I really felt like I needed to watch where I was going. It also sounded weird, as though I was slamming my entire foot down with every step. I know that’s not what I was doing, though, because if there was one thing my mother taught me, it was not to slam my feet when I walked.

When the first mile marker popped up through my MapMyFitness, I was shocked that we did it in a 9:10/mile pace. It honestly felt SO slow. Granted, for a lot of runners out there that is slow. But last time I was training for my first half marathon, most runs were at a 9:40-10:40/mile pace, and that felt far from slow. After getting through the initial awkwardness of the first mile, our second mile felt even better. We ran it sub-9, and it seemed as though our legs and feet were finally communicating with one another and getting into the swing of things. I definitely think we could have kept going, probably for another 2+ miles. Being cautious, though, we decided to call it quits for the day, but we’ll be back out for a 4 miler tomorrow! So far, so good.

After the run, I got back to my second love – the kitchen. I quickly started whipping up Chocolate Chip Pretzel Bars from Baking Serendipity, to bring to a pool party. Of course I’ve started to make a name for myself in bringing baked goods to parties, so I always have to make sure I’ve got something with me. These seemed different, and pretty straight forward. Since I was pressed for time (as always) the simplicity was much appreciated.

I think I’m finally getting the hang of creaming things, too. I still cringe when I see that listed as part of the directions, but I’m a little more confident. Up until recently every time I turned on my hand mixer, bits and pieces of butter and other ingredients would go flying. So today I decided to hold the bowl in the middle of the kitchen (or as far as the cord would reach) so that way it would only go on the floor, or me. Of course I got it on both, but it was definitely a lot less than usual. I really just need to get married so I can get myself  a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer.

The bars have a brownie-like consistency (and shape), but are essentially chocolate chip cookies with pieces of pretzels in them. I for one am a huge fan of the salty and sweet combo, so this was right up my alley. Everyone at the pool party seemed to feel the same way too! Unfortunately they were a little difficult to cut (the pieces of pretzel were hard to get through, some spots were crumbly) so they weren’t cut evenly. No one seemed to notice, though, and they were pretty much all devoured. They would probably be great with different chips too – white chocolate, peanut butter, butterscotch, etc… the possibilities are endless! We have some leftovers, and I’m looking forward to enjoying them as a snack this week.

Chocolate Chip Pretzel Bars

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (heaping) cup broken pretzel rods

1. Break pretzel rods and set aside.
2. Cream butter, sugars and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt. Add gradually to wet ingredients, mixing well.
3. Fold in chocolate chips first, then pretzels, being careful to stir the pretzels gently to keep from breaking them.
4. Spread batter evenly into a greased 9×11″ baking dish and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.