~ Breakfast Cookies ~
This summer break has been very enjoyable so far. I spent most of May at home having fun with family and friends before packing again to come back on campus for research opportunities and workshops. While I was packing, my parents were already shocked at how many things I was bringing with me (I just can’t pack light even if I try …) that I made up my mind to leave my baking supplies at home. I thought I could just brainstorm recipes while I was away just like I did when I was out of the country for Spring Break.
Surprisingly though, I was lucky enough to run into my friend Bailey, whom I had the pleasure to meet during my freshman year. Coincidentally we live just a few doors away from each other in the same building! While we were talking and catching up, the subject of baking soon came up in the conversation. She mentioned that she brought some pans and kitchen supplies with her and that she even has essential baking ingredients such as flour and sugar. Since we both love to bake, we ended up setting a date and time to meet up ASAP and prepare a homemade dessert together!
I love re-creating the flavors of my favorite candies through desserts. Using a couple of ingredients and some creativity, it’s really simple to turn packaged snickers/twix/almond joy bars into delicious homemade pies, bars, or cupcakes!
For this recipe, I made a mini chocolate pie based on the chocolate, coconut, and almond flavors found in Almond Joy candy.
I started with a sweet chocolate shortbread crust and a thin layer of sweetened coconut at the base. Then I topped it off with a rich dark chocolate-almond cluster and a generous swirl of light almond-flavored whipped cream, garnished with a piece of Ghirardelli Intense Dark Sea Salt Soiree chocolate. The sea salt from this garnish accentuated the chocolate and added a nice finishing touch. Furthermore, this dessert contained various interacting textures, from the soft, crumbly shortbread and the crunchiness of the coconut and almonds to the light and airy whipped cream.
I admit that in the past I’ve always tried to find ways to avoid piping (whether it’s frosting, whipped cream, etc).
I tend to be a perfectionist so I always get worried that my swirls will not look pretty & well-centered which will then result in the need to start all over again. However, I definitely wanted to have whipped cream in this dessert to lighten it up as well as to give it a beautiful fluffy and snowy-white charm. In the end, I actually did a better job piping it on than I expected. It must have been because it was a stress-free night so I was able to take my time and make sure my hands were very steady while I was handling the piping bag…in any case, this small accomplishment has encouraged me to use piping bags more often now (disposable ones with my trusty star tips, of course) instead of always spreading frosting/whipped cream on with a butter knife.
While I was making the dough for the shortbread crust, the kitchen (actually almost the whole house) was already beginning to smell amazing even with nothing baking in the oven! (There was no need to light perfumed candles that evening) 🙂
~ Mini Almond Joy Chocolate Pies ~
1. For the shortbread crust, cream together the butter and confectioners sugar and add in the almond extract.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder and salt.
3. Incorporate the flour mixture into the butter mixture until you get a crumbly dough.
4. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and form a ball, then flatten it into a round shape.
5. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
7. Using 1-tbsp measuring spoon, scoop out about 1 1/2 tbsps of dough, roll it into a ball and flatten it with your palm.
8. Place the small piece of dough in a muffin liner and place the liner in a muffin tin.
9. Spread out the dough evenly in the liner to form a mini crust, making sure it is neither too thick nor too thin.
10. Repeat steps 7-9 until you use up all your dough.
11. Place the muffin tin into the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes then let the crusts cool to room temperature.
12. Place 1 heaping tsp of sweetened coconut in each crust.
13. Melt the dark chocolate and fold in the sliced almonds then divide the mixture as evenly as possible among the mini pies.
14. To make the whipped cream, whisk the heavy cream until it becomes a lot thicker.
15. At this point, mix in the granulated white sugar and almond extract and keep whisking the cream until it reaches stiff peaks.
16. Add a star tip at the end of a disposable piping bag and scoop in the whipped cream then pipe on swirls over the dark chocolate-almond cluster.
17. Break the chocolate bar into small pieces and place a piece on each mini pie.
18. If the liner feels too weak and unstable to hold the dessert, double it with a second liner.
This recipe yields 16 mini chocolate pies. In spite of their small size, having only one feels blissfully satisfying. It’s even better when accompanied by a warm cup of freshly brewed coffee or tea.
So this year, I definitely tried to go all out for Thanksgiving. It was finally the holiday period, baking ingredients and supplies could be found everywhere, and every store was beautifully decorated with bright holiday colors. This put me in just the right mood to bake nonstop throughout my Thanksgiving Break! (and since baking is my stress-reliever, the looming finals which were just one week away must’ve played their part too).
As usual, my aunt hosted her annual Thanksgiving family gathering where everyone was in charge of bringing in a dish to contribute to the table. I had already planned ahead of time the two desserts that I’d love to make and I made sure to let her know a few weeks in advance. I wanted to make a two-layer carrot cake with white chocolate frosting and a chocolate-pecan pie with an almond-flavored shortbread crust!
I got the idea of the carrot cake when I went to Aromas, the coffee shop at my college’s library. Every time I’m in line to order coffee, I see the different varieties of sandwiches and cakes that they have for the week. One morning, I saw a carrot cake and realized I had never actually baked one at home before but it would have been perfect for the Thanksgiving dinner. It was an autumnal flavor, a beautiful orange color (as you might have noticed from previous posts, I seem to love orange desserts in the fall), and it was rich enough to be a fancy dessert. That same morning, I happened to order white chocolate mocha from the coffee shop and as I was still thinking of dessert recipes to bake, I decided to substitute the usual cream cheese frosting that goes on the cake with white chocolate frosting. I knew how decadent and sweet that was going to be but it was for a special occasion after all and it sounded delicious!
In terms of decorations, I’m not a fondant-type of person. I prefer more natural and edible garnishes. I saw some almonds, sweetened coconut, and grapes at home and just got creative with these 3 ingredients. I formed flowers with the sliced grapes and almonds and toasted the coconut to get a wonderful color and aroma.
~Thanksgiving Carrot Cake~
2 1/2 cup fresh shredded carrots
1 1/4 cup sweetened coconut
1 cup dried cranberries
2 cup All Purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
Fresh sliced grapes
White Chocolate Frosting
6 oz white chocolate
3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp almond extract
For my second dessert, I made a chocolate-pecan pie because 1) pecan pie has always been and will always be my favorite kind of pie and 2) I’ve heard of chocolate-pecan bars, so why not put chocolate in the pie too!
Pecan pie tends to be a very rich and sugary dessert and a small slice of it is enough to feel amply satisfied! (except if you’re like me and can potentially eat half of it and still want more..) By incorporating chocolate, I didn’t want to sweeten it even more but actually tone down the sweetness while adding more flavor to complement the pecans! That’s why I recommend using a bittersweet or even a 90% cocoa dark chocolate.
1 1/2 cup All Purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tbsp granulated white sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup melted unsalted butter
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup pecans
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
After Thanksgiving day, my high school friends who were all back home wanted to meet up and organize a potluck. (Thanksgiving meal part 2!). This time, for dessert I went with a simple chocolate cake!! Chocolate cakes are very versatile and you can decorate them with any frosting and decorations you want. I have yet to find a flavor that does not go well with chocolate.
Since I’m a huge dark chocolate lover, I baked a two-layer dark chocolate cake with a fudgy bittersweet chocolate frosting in the middle and topped it with some whipped cream. For decorations, I used whole pecans, chocolate chips, toasted coconut, and sliced almonds (I made sure no one was allergic to nuts first). If you don’t like nuts/coconut, just go heavier on the chocolate chips! 😉
~Thanksgiving Chocolate Cake~
1 3/4 cup All Purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 cups warm milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
1 1/3 cup confectioners sugar
2/3 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp Granulated White Sugar
1/2 tsp Almond Extract
1/4 cup Sweetened Coconut
I remember when I was younger and had not developed an interest in baking yet, I always had a hard time finding the right present for my dad for his birthday or for Father’s Day. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so every year I wanted to give him an amazing gift but I constantly fell short of accomplishing that. It was easier with my mom because my teacher made us decorate cards with lots of glitter, hearts, and flowers in elementary school art classes for Mother’s Day.
When I’d ask my mom for advice, she’d usually suggest buying a fancy perfume and giving it to me to offer him as a present. I never liked that idea much because it didn’t feel like it came from me at all.
Consequently, when I started baking, it became a lot easier for me to give him something that he actually loves without feeling like I did not have enough input. One day when I have a decent job, I definitely plan to buy him fancy watches/fountain pens at the mall but meanwhile, I can at least bake him fancy desserts!