Thursday, July 26, 2012

S'mores Bars (★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆)

Just go with me a sec.

Now brace yourself, because I'm going to ask you to do something you may find difficult.

Imagine for a moment,
                                    ...that you actually like Katy Perry.

And there it is.
Take a deep breath.  Bear with me.  Here we go.

Imagine that you find her music catchy and her need to have cotton candy blue hair while wearing outfits that spew whipped cream nothing short of charming.

For some of you, this is the easiest thing you've been asked to do all day.  

For others...well you're still clutching the side of your chair.  

Moving on...

This next task might be a little easier to swallow.

Now imagine that you love Spiderman.  

See????  I told you. 

But I don't mean love in the "I used to watch Spiderman cartoons and I guess I have nothing better to do with my Wednesday night" kinda way.  

I'm talking love in the "you thought Toby Maguire made a darn good Spidey, that the dorky kid-next-door-being-thrust-into-heroism formula is the best, and that the shear audacity of Hollywood believing it was already time for a remake made you kinda angry but you'd still watch because well, it is Spiderman after all" kinda way.

If you can't give me least give me this.  
Katy Perry Inspired S'mores Bars
So being that you now rock out to Katy Perry and are already designing your own Spidey costume for Halloween, I'd say it's safe to assume you are pretty excited about going to the movies this summer.

How could it possibly get any better?!

Duh, with themed snacks! That's how!

I'm a proud and strong proponent of "theming."

It takes me out of observation mode and makes me a participator.  Better experience, better memories, and infinitely better snacks.  

My brother-in-law just recently discovered this trait about me when I was adamant about everyone only bringing black and white colored snacks to a showing of The Artist

"Why do you always have to theme everything?"
Is this really a question? Uh, why wouldn't you theme everything?

And guess what guys?

It's easy.
Spiderman Inspired S'mores Bars

I came across this recipe that included EDIBLE brownie batter (?!?! Wha!?) on my favorite baking blog - The Domestic RebelBrownie Batter Pretzel Bites.  This is the only baking blog where I actually read every word - all of the time.  If you enjoy a quirky sense of humor, you should check this girl out.  

One look at the brownie batter and my mind went into overdrive.  Graham crackers... marshmallow fluff... multicolored candy melts...  Presto chango, theming made easy.
Katy Perry: Neon Pink and Blue Colored Candy Melts and Sprinkles.
Spiderman: Dark Blue and Red Candy Melts and Chocolate Jimmies.
S'mores Bars

Edible Brownie Batter:
1 box brownie mix
1 stick of butter
1/8-1/4 cup water

Prepared Brownie Batter
1 Box Graham Crackers
1 Jar Marshmallow Fluff
1 Bag Wilton's Candy Melts (I've been told Candiquik or Plymouth Pantry are easier to use.) 

Katy Perry Theme:
Cotton Candy Colored Sprinkles - Pink and Blue
Neon Food Coloring - Pink and Blue

Spiderman Theme:
Blue Candy Melts
Red Candy Melts
Black & Blue Food Color (oil based)
Chocolate Jimmies (for simple/instant "webbing")
What I finagled to ease the burden of dipping the bars.  The candy melts were too thick otherwise. 
1.  Mix together brownie box powder, melted stick of butter and 1/8 cup water.  If batter is too thick to be molded with your hands add up to an additional 1/8 cup of water.  Tip: Add slowly.  You can always add more, but you can't take back runny batter. 

2. Arrange graham crackers into quarters.  I made twenty bars (40 cracker quarters) and had enough batter and marshmallow fluff to make at least ten more.  Spoon brownie batter onto half of the graham crackers.  Spread marshmallow fluff onto remaining half.  Assemble bars using one brownie batter and one marshmallow graham cracker.  Work quickly with the fluff as it starts to deflate and melt at room temperature.  Refrigerate bars until fluff is very firm. 2-3 hours.  You can speed up this process by freezing bars instead for about an hour.

3. After bars are chilled, melt candy melts over a double boiler.  You can use the microwave, but I found the melts to be much too thick.  You can add a couple tbsps of canola oil to thin it out.  I also used a narrow cup over my double boiler to make the dipping easier on myself.  Candiquik and Plymouth Pantry have been suggested to me as better alternatives.  Once melts are ready, dip bars and place on parchment paper.  If doing two colors dip half of the bar and decorate while wet.  Let set (twenty minutes room temp or five minutes in the fridge).  Then dip the other half and decorate.  
Important Things I've Learned:
A) Candy Melts are thick. I wanted to add a little bit of color to my bars for theming purposes, not 
     because I wanted a mouthful of fake white chocolate. Not ideal. Use Candiquik or Plymouth Pantry 
     instead.  You can check their website to find out where they are sold near you.  

B) If Candy Melts are all you have, add a generous amount of canola oil one tbsp at a time.  This will 
     help thin it out.  Also, using a double boiler will keep it consistently warm preventing clumping. 

C) If you need to add coloring to Candy Melts they need to be oil based.  I added a little bit of an oil  
     based black to the blue and red melts I purchased and had no problem.  Later, I tried adding a little 
     bit of blue to offset some of the black I mixed in using a water based gel.  Bad juju.  It literally is 
     like oil and water -- clumpy, frumpy, bumpy.  

D) Sometimes the bars do not get coated completely.  Use a spoon to add some of the candy melt 
     mixture to any exposed area.  
These bars were a little more work than I had expected, but I learned some valuable lessons.

They were totally worth it and so delicious!

They're on the rich side.  One is all you need.  But that's awesome cause then you'll have these for days and days to come.

I'm telling you. Theming.  It's gonna be big!

Check out some of my other character inspired adventures:

On a side note, one of my best friends just started a blog.  And her first post??  Batman Themed Cake Pops!  Are you kidding me?!  She makes legitimately delicious cake pops and has somehow figured out how to make fondant behave.  Two things that utterly terrify me.  Check her out at Aimerson.
You are now welcome to resume your formerly held stance on all things Perry and Web-ey.  I appreciate you allowing me to manipulate your brain for a moment.

Hopefully, I have convinced you that designing a dessert or snack or party around something you want to commemerate can be as easy as choosing the correct colors.

So the next time a Star Wars movie is rereleased in 3D, maybe you'll bring some gummy bears.  Ewoks always did make me hungry.

Go ahead.  Start theming your life.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fail: Chewy Orange Almond Cookies (★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆)

As I'm writing this entry, I'm watching the episode of Home Improvement where Tim uses power tools to cook food. Blowtorch grilled cheese sandwich? Yes, please!

I may or may not have specifically chosen this episode for inspiration.  

I have to watch something when I write.  It helps fill the silence.  Puts me in a good mood.  

BUT I can't just watch anything.  

Law & Order: SUV.  How in the heck am I supposed to come up with something witty while that is on??!!  All I end up doing is mentally counting the windows and doors to make sure they all get locked.

Yep, Home Improvement fits the bill.  Actually, Gilmore Girls is my muse.  Nothing, draws out my most stunning repartee as those ladies, but I love, love, love Tim Allen.  And it's just a Tim Allen kind of night, you know?
Almonds comprise the bulk of this cookie.  Almost like using an "almond" flour.
Recipes are an interesting science, aren't they?

Sometimes you get one that is so good, it turns out every time.
Other recipes are delicious, but require exacting care.

But there is another category.  The kind people don't like to talk about.

The recipe we'll endearingly call..."The Crapper."

Sometimes it doesn't matter what you do.  The chemistry just isn't there.  And if it isn't there then why, pray tell, can't we admit we made a boo boo?

Yes, Martha Stewart, I'm calling you out.
Soft peaked meringue (front).  Almond flour mixture (back). You fold the flour into the meringue.  
I wanted to make these Chewy Orange Almond Cookies because:

1) I love almonds.
2) I love anything chewy.
3) Orange, mixed with chewy, mixed with almonds, sounded like the perfect complement to cold lemonade on a summer day.

Welp, I'm sorry to say these were anything but refreshing.

And hey, you all know I'm not afraid to admit operator error.  The fact that most of these didn't turn out because they were either under or over cooked (as you'll soon see below) was completely and utterly the result of my lack of attention.

*Note: If after this post you STILL want to make these (i.e. you are a glutton for punishment), make sure you watch these like a hawk.  They are the "require exacting care" type I was telling you about earlier.  The difference between soft middle sticking to the parchment paper, and darkened crispy unsalvageable lump is not much my friend, not much.
The batter will be very runny.

But the 8 cookies, I actually made correctly didn't even taste good.  

If crazy almond ladies were a thing, these are the cookies they would bring to your door.  

Almond flavor.  
Almond grounds.  
Almond chunks.  

Knock, knock.  Who's there?  Not orange, that's for sure.  

And to top it off - these were sweet.  Sticky sweet.  Taste buds exploding off your tongue sweet.  

Let's go through the checklist, shall we?

Taste: Fail
Ease: Fail
Martha: Fail

Fail + Fail + Fail = Win?

I don't think so, Tim. 

Undercooked: donut shaped cookies.  Overcooked: browned bricks.  The difference between the two? About a minute.
I'm putting this recipe on the naughty list.

It's okay to admit you dropped the ball Momma M.  No one is demanding that you relinquish your domestic pearls. Just gimme this one, okay?

If you are looking for an orange cookie recipe that is actually good see my earlier post on Orange Sugar Biscuits.  Make them chocolatey or use poppy seeds as called for in the recipe. Either way these are delicious.  Not too sweet.  The perfect tea cookie.


Sidebar: These were not a total waste.

After throwing away the slightly burned cookies (These do not hold up well to temperature.  A slightly overcooked chocolate chip cookie?  No biggie.  These?....oHoHOHO no.  Lick the bottom of your toaster oven for a pretty accurate rendition), I didn't know what to do with the gapping hole ones.

They were ugly, but perfectly fine otherwise.

Enter: Vanilla Ice Cream.

I am a genius.

Crumbled up pieces of these cookies make a rah-dic-cuh-lous ice cream topping.  So, so, so, so, so, so good.

Martha, your recipe has been salvaged.

Girl, I gotchu.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

All American Cake (★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆)

I love America. 

We have Oreos,



and Sally Fields.  

Oh, Sally.  

The woman is notorious for playing a bad-a mom.  Seriously dudes, you do not want to cross this chick.  

I've been on a Sally kick for the past few weeks and on Sunday I settled in to watch "Not Without My Daughter."  Have you ever watched a movie that made you feel like you were in a locked sauna?  Basically, you want to punch someone, but are too busy trying to breathe and maintain the fetal position.

Ya, it was intense. 

I feel like it is my duty then, to offer some guidelines: 1) Do not watch this movie if you have a pre-existing fear of travel.  2) Skip it, if having an irrational desire to request proof of U.S. Citizenship from all potential dates seems extreme.  3) And above all, do not watch this right before bed unless relentless, tortured dreams are your cup of tea.  

Did I mention, I LOVE America?  

No, being scarred by that movie is not the reason I made this cake.  It just makes me wish I had a piece left because, in this instance, eating my feelings with the help of some cake in all its American pride and glory seems like the only logical thing to do.


So July 4th.

It's a pretty big day in our house.  The birthday of our great country and the birthday of the best brother in the whole world! (<----- test to see if he "really" reads my blog ;)

What about this scenario doesn't scream - "Needed: Cake of Epic Proportions" ?? !? !!!?!

Only one could fit the bill: All American Cake.

From the moment I laid eyes on this cake it was like we were meant for each other.  5 Layers.  Plain outside...flag marvel-fantasticness on the inside.  I LOVE secret details like this.  And to top it all off, this blog couldn't stop raving about how "easy" it was.

Well I'm here to tell you that "easy" is too flippant a word.

1) Baking for hours on end because...for the sake of cake consistency...I only baked one layer in the oven at a time.
2) Trying to make white and dark chocolate ganache using candy melts all the while not realizing that the almond bark that you are not supposed to use is in fact the same thing.
3) Whipping up a chocolate buttercream at literally the very last second (people were killing time by watching Storage Wars while I kept proclaiming - "the cake is almost ready!").
4) Actually, physically frosting the monstrosity.

...After all that, I would like to offer a more appropriate word: Involved.

Sure, it doesn't take a genius, but don't make any other plans cause you be stayin' in for the night.
You need a large round cookie cutter to create the blue and white/red layers.  I used the second to largest ring in this package I picked up from Michaels.
These layers weren't that difficult to make at all.  You just place the ring in the middle of your cake pan and pour blue batter on the outside and red/white in the cookie cutter.  Then carefully lift straight up!

The outer edges of these layers got the most discolored from baking.  I had to slice off a thin top layer to get this picture.

For a "truer" blue color, I would suggest purchasing one of those Wilton concentrated colors you can get at craft stores.  I have food gel which is supposed to work a lot better than the drops, but I put a ton of coloring into this blue batter and it still didn't come out rich enough.
What I thought was going to be my white and dark chocolate ganache.  The picture before the storm.

Learn from my misfortune: Candy melts (i.e. almond bark) do not make ganache.  They make a grainy, soupy sauce.

I was able to use the white chocolate one for my layers.  I just spread the thinnest amount possible.  But the dark chocolate one was unsalvageable.
The makings of a grand cake.

For the frosting I went with this Chocolate Buttercream recipe.  I used about a 1/2 cup less of the powdered sugar because I hate sticky sweet frosting.


It worked!  It worked!  It really worked!

After all the time I spent and the last minute changes I had to make, I was a little wary that this "project" would turn out like my Cake Pops - total disaster.

But after making those first slices and carefully removing a massive chunk, I couldn't wipe off the big fat grin that found its way to my face.

God Bless America. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mother's Circus Animal Cupcakes (★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆)

Mother's Circus Animal Cookies -- Making Children Happy Since 1914.  

Sure we almost lost them a few years back, but the incessant crying of babies and toddlers...and, okay, me...were enough to ensure they weren't gone for long. 

I've been crazy fond of these cookies for pretty much forever.  I vividly remember being at my great-grandma's house and plopping down on the ground with my little bowl full of pink and white and using the seat of her large recliner as a makeshift table.  I would savor each at a time - biting off a head here, scraping off some sprinkles there.

I mean, come on. A pink cookie, shaped like an elephant, covered in multicolored sprinkles?!?!  How is that not a four-year-old girls dream come true?! 
To this day these are some of my favorite cookies.  I don't know what it is.  They do taste good, and, honestly, the sprinkles are pretty enticing, but I can't help but wonder if it wasn't these early experiences that began the brainwashing while I was but a wee lass.

Thankfully, my best friend feels the same way.  For all the opposite that we are, we are surprisingly similar in the areas that count.  Don't judge.  So what if this is a biggie?  We once bought a tub of "limited edition" circus animal ice cream that turned out to be less than ideal (sugar cookie/cotton candy flavored ice cream?  no thank you!).  But together we scoured the entire tub for each and every last cookie bite.  That's teamwork.

Kinda solves the mystery of this post for ya, huh?  
Mother's Circus Animal Cupcakes

For Cake:
1 Box Strawberry Cake Mix
1 Bag Mother's Circus Animal Cookies (trust me, don't go generic. worst. mistake. ever.)
1 Small Box Vanilla Pudding
24 Cupcake Liners

For Frosting:
1/2 Stick of Butter
4 oz Cream Cheese
1 Cup Confectioner's Sugar
2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
Multi-Colored Non-pareils

1) Prepare cake mix according to box adding small package of vanilla pudding.  2) In baking cups place a white circus cookie sprinkle side down.  Add batter and cook according to directions.  3) While cupcakes are baking prepare frosting. Cream room temperature butter on medium speed for a minute.  4) Add cream cheese and vanilla.  Mix thoroughly.  5) Add confectioner's sugar beating on lowest setting until dry ingredients are coated.  Increase to medium speed for one minute.  6) After cupcakes have cooled and are frosted pour non-pareils onto a plate.  Carefully roll the edges of each cake into the sprinkles.  Top with a pink animal cookie.  
These came out so cute!  But I wasn't too fond of the strawberry flavor of the box mix.

In fact, I hated it.  It tasted like Trix cereral.  You know, the kind with the rabbit that just wanted to eat a colorful bowl of cereal and none of those bratty kids would ever let him have any?  Where were their parents??  They fail at life.  

But back to the issue at hand -- Trix flavored cupcakes.  I don't like fruity cereal.  It's awful.  Sticky,  sweet, fake, fake, fakeness.   So you can imagine my utter disappointment at this discovery.  

If you are wanting to make a few of these on your own, I'd recommend a little recipe revamp:

Mother's Circus Animal Cupcakes - Take 2

For Cake:
1 Box Funfetti Cake Mix
1 Bag Mother's Circus Animal Cookies
1 Small Box Vanilla Pudding
24 Cupcake Liners

For Frosting:
1/2 Stick of Butter
4 oz Cream Cheese
1 Cup Confectioner's Sugar
2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
3-5 Drops of Red Food Coloring
Multi-Colored Non-pareils

Prepare as above except: 1) Pink cookie on bottom (the white get a little darkened in the oven) and the white cookie on top.  2) Add some red food coloring to frosting to make pink. Actually, a fluffier frosting recipe would be even better.  As much as I enjoy the subtle sweetness of a cream cheese frosting it is a bit more goopy than I would've cared for in this situation. 

Although, I have to say nothing entices little children like a pink cupcake.  I took these to an event and they were gone before I could blink.  Imagine my surprise...or the sight of little girls in frilly dresses all across the room holding my pink confections.  

Thank you pip-squeaks for eating Trix disguised as animal cookies.  Joke's on you.   Not that they cared.  A sugar bomb is a sugar bomb, right?

I figure if you actually read this whole thing, then it's safe to assume you love Mother's Circus Animal Cookies as much as I do.

So then, in theory, you might appreciate this little tidbit from one of my favorite baking blogs - The Domestic Rebel.  She recently conducted a circus animal themed baking week.  How legit is that?!?

For your enticement:
Circus Animal Cookie Rice Krispy Treats - Domestic Rebel
Circus Animal Cookie Pie - Domestic Rebel
Circus Animal Cookie Ice Cream - Domestic Rebel
Circus Animal Cookie Truffles - Domestic Rebel
Circus Animal Cookie Mini Cheesecakes - Domestic Rebel