February 13: National Tortellini Day, and a Sky High Red Velvet Cake Recipe

Happy National Tortellini Day! Oh me oh my, how I love tortellini. Carbs and cheese. So much yes! But while I loved sharing that with you, I think I'm going to keep my focus for the post sweet today, since Valentine's Day is coming and I have made so many romantic and fantastic desserts lately. For instance, this sky-high red velvet cake.

Technically, I suppose it's two cakes: a red velvet cake, and a chocolate layer cake. But I've sandwiched them all together into a four-story sweet stack of frosted awesome to make this object of edible art. 

This would be an impressive cake to make for your valentine, don't you think?

Find the full recipe here. 

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links for National Plum Pudding Day

Happy National Plum Pudding Day! No, this isn't plum pudding, but isn't it pretty? You can find the recipe for that baby right here.

Anyhow, in spite of that brief digression, I do want to discuss plum pudding. While I have no idea why plum pudding is in the middle of February, I do think it's worth giving a try, so I have assembled a sweet batch of plum pudding-themed links for you!

Learn a bit more about the history of plum pudding. (What's Cooking America)

More interesting plum pudding history. (History Today)

Self-saucing chocolate plum pudding. WHAT. (Bite.co.nz)

Plum pudding cupcakes. Cute! (Adeline & Lumiere)

Plum pudding parfaits. (Betty Crocker)

White chocolate and cranberry plum pudding. (Chocablog)

A different type of plum pudding: brandied plum-vanilla bread pudding. (My Recipes)

Another different type of plum pudding: banana-plum crumble pudding. Looks yum. (Pudding Heaven)

Yet another different type of pudding: summer berry and plum pudding. Looks healthy, but awfully tasty. (Real Simple)

How to make the best plum pudding, with lots of interesting lore. (Victoriana.com)

Plum sticky toffee pudding. INTO IT. (The Prepared Pantry)

Tiny Tim's plum pudding. (Taste of Home)

California Walnut plum pudding. This looks good. (California Walnuts)

Book of the week: Confident Cooking: Sticky and Steamed Puddings. This little recipe pamphlet is so retro cute. I just bought it--maybe you should, too, purely because it exists. I can't get enough of these little publications on such specific subjects!

February 11: Homemade Pop Rocks Candy for National Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk Day

Today is National "Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk Day". Not necessarily a literal holiday, it's more about not letting setbacks get you down. I think this is very important in the kitchen, and I am a big believer in the fact that baking should be FUN. And what could be more fun than creating homemade Pop Rocks with a little kitchen science?

All you need is a few ingredients and half an hour or so, and you could impress your friends and have a whole lot of fun making homemade Pop Rocks. 

Or, you could cry because your homemade fondant for eclairs didn't set up quite right and lament that you're a less than perfect baker. 

Your choice. I suggest having fun!

Homemade Pop Rocks Recipe Here.

February 9: National Bagel Day and National Pizza Day

Today is National Bagel Day and National Pizza Day. Or as I call it, "New Jersey Food Day". Yes, New York food, too, but I grew up in New Jersey so that's my association. 

On this hallowed day, I thought I would remind you of some of the brilliant relevant recipes I've posted around the web. 

1. Homemade bagels.

Yes, you can make your own bagels. It will impress everyone (that matters, after all) and they taste freaking amazing. Recipe here.

2. Homemade cream cheese.

Possibly even more impressive than making your own bagels? DIY cream cheese. After all, that's something you buy, not make, right? It's awesome. Do it. Recipe here.

3. Homemade bagel balls.

Combine homemade bagels and homemade cream cheese in an adorable bite-sized form with these homemade bagel balls. OMG! Recipe here.

 

4. No-knead pizza crust

No need to knead this dough! This easy pizza dough comes together in minutes and requires no kneading. Recipe here.

5. No-knead, no rise pizza crust

Love the idea of the no-knead crust, but thinking "aw gee whiz, I have to wait for it to rise?". Nope. This alternative recipe requires no kneading and no rising. Perfect for pizza in a hurry! Recipe here.

6. Gluten-free pizza on a squash crust

No grains? No gluten? No problem. This pizza is prepared on a squash crust and while it doesn't taste just like a flour dough (how could it?) it is awfully tasty in its own right! Recipe here.

7. Sticky buns made from pizza dough (yes!)

Dessert from pizza dough? You'd better believe it. Sweeten up your pizza dough with sticky bun toppings for a most memorable breakfast-dessert. Recipe here.

How will you celebrate this hallowed day?

February 7: World Pisco Sour Day

Well, a happy World Pisco Sour Day to you!

Wait...what is a pisco sour? And what does it have to do with cookies? Read on.

To understand the pisco sour, first you must understand what pisco, a beverage hailing from Peru and Chile is, exactly. Pisco is a type of alcohol made with grapes, but it is not wine. It's distilled into a high-proof brandy. It's said to have been developed in the 16th century by enterprising Spanish settlers who wanted an alternative to spirits which they had to import from Spain. Pisco could be made with local fruit and didn't come with a hefty price tag or lengthy import time, so it's not too hard to see how it became an official Thing in no time at all. 

So, pisco is a sort of bracing, acidic, but oddly not unpleasant, beverage. But to make it more palatable, it's softened with a "sour" mix to make the cocktail, which is basically a mix of citrus and sugar. Some versions have egg white, but not all.

If you're interested in making a pisco sour, this informative post offers info on ingredients and the method. Personally, I find the pisco sour an interesting cocktail, but it's never going to be my go-to drink. If you ask me, I'd rather eat a cookie made with pisco than drink a pisco sour. 

As for the cookies? A couple of years ago I made pisco-infused alfajores, and they tasted splendid. They didn't include the sour mix, but how many cookies do you know of that have pisco in them? Maybe today is the day you give them a try?

Pisco alfajores recipe here!

February 6: Five Types of Frozen Yogurt I'd Actually Eat for National Frozen Yogurt Day

Happy National Frozen Yogurt Day. If you love frozen yogurt, you have my blessing to go nuts today. But as for me...my relationship with frozen yogurt is...complex. Let's just say that 9.9999999999999 times out of 10, I'd rather have ice cream.

But it being National Frozen Yogurt Day, I guess I'll focus on the positive. These are five types of frozen yogurt I'd actually eat!

1. Nanaimo Bar frozen yogurt

I don't know if this is still produced, but a couple of years ago a reader sent me this photo. I love Nanaimo bars. I would eat this frozen yogurt.

2. Homemade honey lavender frozen yogurt.

I made this frozen yogurt, and it was freaking delicious. I would eat it again. And again. Unless someone offered me honey lavender ice cream, in which case I would throw the yogurt across the room to show how much more I love ice cream. Recipe here.

3. Pop-Tart Froyo

The headnote for this recipe reads "I was originally going to make a Pop-Tart ice cream, and at some point I might, but I decided that froyo would be the better choice because then I could eat it for breakfast." Well, I can understand that reasoning. Recipe here

4. Frozen yogurt cupcakes and desserts.

I found this image online as part of a press release about greek frozen yogurt cakes and cupcakes released by Rich's corporation. I would eat all of these things. Read more here.

5. Chocolate dipped strawberry frozen yogurt sandwiches.

Yes, it's frozen yogurt, but it's sandwiched with graham crackers and covered all over with chocolate. I think I could deal. Recipe here.

Do you like frozen yogurt?

February 4: National Stuffed Mushroom Day

Don't get me wrong. I love a good stuffed mushroom. But National Stuffed Mushroom Day? Not so much on this site, sorry. It's also National Homemade Soup Day, BTW. That is also delicious, but not for this site. So why don't we cut to the chase and talk about homemade pop-tarts instead?

Well, technically they are pop-hearts, because as you can see they are heart shaped. But that's not the only thing that makes them special.

These homemade pop-tarts are also made using a unique pastry crust, made using olive oil instead of butter or shortening. It gives them a unique and sophisticate flavor--you've got to taste it to believe it. It's tender, not necessarily flaky, but tasty.

The pop-hearts are also filled with melted Baci chocolates. OMG! OMG! 

You've got to make these sweet treats for your valentine. Forget stuffed mushrooms! This is where the romance is at, people.

Full recipe here. 

Can You Make Cake Frosting with Hot Fudge Sauce?

A few weeks ago, I got this super sweet package of samples from Smuckers / Pillsbury. It included jam, baking mixes (including an infamous box of brownie mix) and some ice cream sauces. And by ice cream sauces I mean hot fudge and salted caramel.

Yesterday, when making my annual Groundhog Day cake, I found myself wondering:

Could I make an easy cake frosting using hot fudge sauce? 

Well, once I got that thought in my mind there was no getting it out, so I decided to give it a try. I decided to try combining a jar of Smuckers hot fudge and a stick of butter to see what would happen.

Well, it mixed up nicely, but I could tell it was too soft to be an effective cake frosting, so I added in about a cup of confectioners' sugar, maybe a little more. 

That worked nicely. The resulting frosting was creamy, chocolatey, smooth and slippery (in a good way--it glided on to the cake easily from my little icing spatula), and tasted way fancier than you'd think, given its humble ingredients. The hot fudge mixture gave the frosting a different flavor than a buttercream made using cocoa powder--it was thicker and somehow, I don't know, juicier. It seemed to have a more full flavor, with a slightly caramelly aftertaste.

It made for a very sweet little groundhog cake. 

So, if you want to make a super easy frosting, try this! 

Easy chocolate frosting

Sufficient for an 8-inch cake 

  • 1 jar Smuckers Hot Fudge Topping, at room temperature
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more to taste

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the hot fudge topping and butter until combined and creamy. Add the confectioners' sugar, and blend until combined. If the frosting is too soft for your liking, add more sugar, 1/4 cup or so at a time until it has your desired spreading consistency.

Enjoy!

February 2: National Heavenly Hash Day

Happy National Heavenly Hash Day. Wait, what the heck is Heavenly Hash? Let's explore.

If you hear the term "heavenly hash" in conversation, it could mean one of four things:

1. They are engaging in behavior that is mostly illegal in the USA.

'nuff said.

 

Heavenly Hash eggs were developed in 1923.

Heavenly Hash eggs were developed in 1923.

2. A type of candy. 

In its culinary life, Heavenly Hash was first developed as a candy, which features nuts, chocolate, and marshmallows. One of the key products that put the flavor combination in the public eye was the  Easter treat known as the "Heavenly Hash Egg" by the Elmer Candy Corporation, which debuted in 1923 and remains available today. In their version, the candy features almonds, marshmallows, and a chocolate coating.

Homemade Heavenly Hash recipes are readily found on the internet, and range from fudge-like squares to more egg-like formations to yes, even a cake topping.

 

3. An ice cream flavor

These days, Heavenly Hash is probably better known (but still not super well known) as an ice cream flavor. Why is it not super well known? Probably because it has been superseded by its very similar counterpart, Rocky Road Ice Cream. In this interesting post, a consumer sends an inquiry to several ice cream companies asking what the difference is. Edy's ice cream responds (in so many words) with "not much"; where Rocky Road is chocolate ice cream with mini marshmallows and almonds, Heavenly Hash was comprised of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, and featured mini marshmallows, almonds, and chocolate bits. The response is similar from Ben & Jerry's, who echo the sentiment about the vanilla and chocolate ice cream base, but who also say that they use pecans for Rocky Road ice cream. 

If you like Rocky Road ice cream, you'll probably like Heavenly Hash; if you see it on a menu, order it!

4. A type of jell-o salad.

My guess is that this must have been a back-of-the-box recipe at some point. There is another recipe for Heavenly Hash out there that has absolutely nothing to do with chocolate (though some do feature mini marshmallows or nuts). Recipes range hugely. In some, it's an unholy melange of Jell-O, cooked rice, whipped cream topping, and pineapple, with any number of variations (some have cream cheese; some have nuts; etc). In others, it's a mixture of fruit with a mayonnaise dressing. I would say this type of Heavenly Hash, along with its BFF Ambrosia salad, are better enjoyed as nostalgic novelties than for everyday eating.

Have you ever tried any of these types of Heavenly Hash?

February 1: National Baked Alaska Day, and a Free Coloring Book Page

Happy National Baked Alaska Day! This is indeed a great holiday. The thing is, I have already blogged about Baked Alaska. In fact, I even shared a great recipe for it in my second book, The Secret Lives of Baked Goods. So while today is a great day to explore Baked Alaska by clicking the links above, today I feel like offering you a different miracle: a free coloring book page download!

To download, click the picture above or follow this link to Flickr, where I have set it up so you can download this image for free. Download the "original" size (there's a downward facing arrow on the bottom right of the photo image that you click on to do this). 

Enjoy!

January 31: National Brandy Alexander Day, and Italian Meringue Buttercream

Today is National Brandy Alexander Day. I have never tried a Brandy Alexander, and my only real experience with them is a long-running joke that a friend with Alexander as her last name should adopt the drink's name should she ever take up stripping. I know what you're thinking: HILARIOUS.

But I digress. I don't think today is the day for me to discover drinking Brandy Alexanders, so instead may I tempt you with another delectable delight that has nothing to do with alcohol? It's called...

Italian Meringue Buttercream.

For the longest time, this buttercream scared me. It involves monitoring temperatures and boiling sugar, both of which set off the "too hard!" blinking button in my mind when I read through a recipe.

But you know what? It's really not that hard. Really. And the stuff is delicious.

It's a little fancier and definitely smoother than an American buttercream (which is primarily butter and sugar). Using egg whites in buttercream, as you will do with Italian and Swiss meringue buttercreams, respectively, gives them a silkier finish and a more sophisticated flavor. Plus, they're a little more heat-resistant, so they're better for using on cakes that might be served during warmer or more humid weather. 

I wrote a little tutorial on how to make Italian Meringue buttercream on Craftsy.com. I think you should check it out, because I wrote it with newbies in mind.

Don't be scared of Italian meringue buttercream! Go ahead, have a Brandy Alexander, and give it a try.

Recipe and tutorial here.

January 30: National Croissant Day

Happy National Croissant Day! In addition to eating a croissant, I'd like to offer another fun activity for the day: learn how to draw a croissant! You can do this in a few easy steps, and personalize it to your liking. 

You can make the edges more rounded in for more of a crescent shape, or add a beret, face, and tiny mustache if you like.

Happy National Croissant Day!

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links for National Corn Chip Day

Happy National Corn Chip Day! You might think that corn chips have nothing to do with dessert, but you're wrong. 

Photo licensed via Creative Commons by Flickr member Paul Martin

Photo licensed via Creative Commons by Flickr member Paul Martin

Want proof? I've included desserts featuring corn tortilla chips and Fritos in this roundup. Enjoy.

Peanut butter and corn chip no-bake cookies. (Skip to My Lou)

Fritos chocolate chip cookies. (Dessert for Two)

Sweet corn tortilla chips recipe. Interesting. (Rumbamel's)

Chocolate dipped Fritos. (Blue Bonnet Baker)

White chocolate Fritos popcorn. (The Girl Who Ate Everything)

I'm interested in the concept of a chocolate Fritos pie. (Homesick Texan)

Vanilla caramel corn Fritos pie. Yes, for real. (Frito-Lay)

Fritos bark. Interesting. (Dozen Flours)

Buffalo sauce, corn tortilla chips, doughnut. What do you think? (Grub Street)

Fritos waffles with mascarpone and fruit. (Frito-Lay)

Fine, this one is savory. But it's in pie form, OK? Fritos Pie...PIE! (Oh Bite It)

Fritos bars. Into it. (One Crazy Cookie)

Double chocolate Fritos cookies. (Petite Panini)

Book of the week: Fritos Pie: Stories, Recipes, and More. This book not only delves into the history of the famous corn chips but offers some pretty interesting recipes, from (of course) Frito Pie to Fritos fruitcake. Do you need this book? Well, let me say this. If you want interesting cocktail party banter, you'd be smart to keep this one prominently displayed on your coffee table!