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Pillsbury Bake-Off Countdown: Peanut and Pretzel-Peanut Butter Thumbprints

Peanut and Pretzel-Peanut Butter Thumbprints

Sometimes you can just tell that a recipe is going to enter your permanent rotation. These clever cookies by Barbara Estabrook of Rhinelander, Wisconsin are just such a recipe. Sweet and salty all at once, the rich peanut butter is what will keep me coming back.

Peanut and Pretzel-Peanut Butter Thumbprints

  • Prep Time: 30 Min
  • Total Time: 1 Hr 35 Min
  • Makes: 30 cookies


  • 1 can (14 oz) Eagle Brand® Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 roll Pillsbury™ refrigerated peanut butter cookie dough
  • 2/3 cup chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped mini-pretzel twists
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips


  1. Heat oven to 350°F. In 1-quart heavy saucepan, heat condensed milk and peanut butter over medium-low heat 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla until well blended. Refrigerate about 20 minutes or until thickened.
  2. Meanwhile, in large bowl, break up cookie dough. Add peanuts and pretzels. Mix with wooden spoon, or knead with hands until well blended. Shape dough into 30 (about 1 1/4-inch) balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 5 to 10 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Remove from oven; immediately press back of teaspoon into center of each cookie to make indentation. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool completely, about 20 minutes.
  3. Place peanut butter mixture in large resealable food-storage plastic bag. Cut off small corner of bag. Squeeze bag to pipe about 1 tablespoon mixture in center of each cookie to fill indentation.
  4. In small microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips uncovered on High 40 to 60 seconds, stirring once, until chips can be stirred smooth. Place melted chips in small resealable food-storage plastic bag. Cut off tiny corner of bag. Squeeze bag to drizzle melted chips over cookies. Let stand 10 minutes. Store covered.

Note: the Pillsbury Bake-Off is coming in November! Check out my coverage of the 45th and 46th Bake-Off, and follow the recipes posted so far by clicking the bakeoff tag below.


Illustration Friday: Octopus

Octopus with scuba cuppie

Check out all of the other awesome illustrations on Illustration Friday's website!


Fall, Canadian-Style: Pumpkin Nanaimo Bars

Although Nanaimo bars are perfect just as they are, sometimes it's nice to get celebratory about the season.

Just as people enjoy putting on sweaters and drinking pumpkin spice lattes, Nanaimo bars like to get their Fall on. These ones are a lovely fall treat, with pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice mixed into both the bottom and middle layers. Now, the pumpkin in the bottom layer does make them moist to the point that you want to keep them in the refrigerator, but I think the slightly annoying texture will be forgiven when you take your first creamy, custard-y, kissed with earthy pumpkin-flavored bite. 

Pumpkin Nanaimo Bars

Many of the key components of a Nanaimo bar remain constant: nuts and coconut in the crust, the Bird's custard in the middle section, and of course the chocolate topping. I tested out white and butterscotch chips on the topping, and while they looked pretty, chocolate definitely won the taste test.

Feel like getting your fall on with a tasty Canadian treat? Let's go. 

For the bottom layer

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 2 1/4 cups finely crushed sugar cookies
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts (almonds are traditional; pecans or walnuts work well, too)

For the middle layer

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 tablespoons Bird’s Custard Powder, or substitute vanilla pudding powder (instant)
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

For the top layer

  • 4 ounces chocolate (or white chocolate or butterscotch morsels), coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter

Step 1: Prepare the bottom layer.

Pumpkin Nanaimo Bars

Melt the butter, pumpkin, salt, and spice in a medium saucepan over low heat until fully incorporated, but do not let the mixture come to a boil. Add the beaten egg and stir constantly until the mixture begins to thicken, less than 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the cookie crumbs, coconut and nuts. Press down firmly into a greased 8″ by 8″ pan; try to make the mixture as flat as possible in the pan. Let this cool for about 20 minutes in the freezer (you want it to be as firm as possible, and the pumpkin variation never becomes quite as firm as the bottom of a traditional Nanaimo bar).

Step 2: Prepare the middle layer.

Pumpkin Nanaimo Bars

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, cream, pumpkin, spice, custard powder and confectioners’ sugar together until very light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Spread over the bottom layer, taking care to spread it as flat and evenly as possible. Consider flattening with an offset spatula.

Basically, the flatter this level, the flatter the chocolate will lie on the top. Return the pan to the refrigerator while you prepare the topping.

Step 3: Prepare the top layer.

Pumpkin Nanaimo Bars

Can't decide whether you want chocolate, white chocolate, or butterscotch? Do as I did and make three separate batches! Or, stick to one fave.

In a medium saucepan or double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter over medium heat, stirring often to ensure that the mixture doesn’t scorch. Remove from heat. Let sit until the mixture is still liquid but very thick, then pour it over the second (middle) layer and gently spread it with a spatula to ensure even coverage

Note: Work carefully, because the still-warm chocolate will get messy if you press too hard while spreading it and tear up the buttery layer below.

Be sure to score the tops of the bars before the chocolate totally sets on top. This will make slicing them much easier later.

Typically, Nanaimo bars are sliced in fingers rather than squares. You can slice them any way you like, of course, but for an authentic look, split into eight rows in one direction and six rows the other way, so that they are slightly elongated when sliced.

Pumpkin Nanaimo Bars

Let the chocolate set on the bars, then place in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes before serving. Run a knife under hot water and then dry off before slicing; this will help the knife go through the bars easily. Clean the knife frequently between cuts.

Have you ever tried a Nanaimo bar? If not, check out these other tasty variations:

Classic Nanaimo bars Triple chocolate Nanaimo bars

Shortbread Nanaimo bars

Conversation Heart Nanaimo bars


Pillsbury Bake-Off Countdown: Cherry-Vanilla Dutch Pancake

Cherry-Vanilla Dutch Pancake

This sounds like a most excellent breakfast to me, how about you? It is a pancake that includes sugar and cherries. It sounds virtuous enough for a weekday, but tasty enough for a brunch. This sweet recipe comes from Lauren Katz of Ashburn, Virginia!

Cherry-Vanilla Dutch Pancake

  • Prep Time: 20 Min
  • Total Time: 40 Min
  • Makes: 6 servings


  • 1/2 container Pillsbury Gluten Free refrigerated pie and pastry dough
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons Watkins™ Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen (thawed and drained) pitted dark sweet cherries


  1. Heat oven to 400°F. Let pastry dough stand at room temperature 10 minutes to soften.
  2. Meanwhile, in 12-inch ovenproof skillet, melt butter in oven. In small microwavable measuring cup or bowl; microwave milk uncovered on High 30 seconds.
  3. In blender or food processor, break up pastry dough. Add 1/4 cup of the powdered sugar, the milk, eggs and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla. Cover; blend on low speed 30 to 45 seconds or until smooth.
  4. Tilt and rotate skillet to completely cover bottom and sides with melted butter; pour extra melted butter into blender. Blend pastry mixture with quick on-and-off motions until blended. Immediately pour batter into hot skillet.
  5. Bake 20 to 24 minutes or until puffy and golden brown around edges.
  6. Meanwhile, cut cherries in half, if desired. In medium microwavable bowl, combine cherries, the remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 tablespoons of the powdered sugar; stir until sugar dissolves. Microwave cherry mixture uncovered on High 1 to 2 minutes, stirring once, until warm.
  7. Sprinkle hot pancake with remaining 1 tablespoon powdered sugar; cut into wedges. Top with cherries.

Note: the Pillsbury Bake-Off is coming in November! Check out my coverage of the 45th and 46th Bake-Off, and follow the recipes posted so far by clicking the bakeoff tag below.


What is Gluten, Anyway? 

I've got a question for you. What the heck is gluten?

We've all heard about gluten, or perhaps more accurately, we've heard the phrase gluten-free. We've heard people talk about how they can't (or won't) eat it. We've seen cookies and crackers and bread marketed as being devoid of gluten.

But what is gluten, exactly, and why do people avoid it?

Ooh, Gluten Free Baking mix!

Here's what I know about gluten. It is largely based on my occasional reading of In Touch Weekly:

  • it has something to do with white flour (which is apparently evil, although I'm not sure if this is purely because of gluten)
  • if foods do not have gluten, it is ok for them to cost several dollars more
  • avoiding gluten is very trendy right now. People who avoid gluten can basically be divided into three camps: people who have a severe reaction to it, people who have an intolerance to it, and people who have eating disorders.  

Of course, this is not actual knowledge based on fact. I mean, how many times has that periodical lied about Jen's baby bump and Brangelina's breakup? 

Nope: In Touch Weekly is not the source for gluten information. Let's get down some facts not supplied by pop culture periodicals...


Dictionary definition: gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (varieties of which include durum, emmer, spelt, farina, farro, kamut, etc) , rye, barley and triticale.

Photo via Professional Pasta Magazine (really)

Where does the funny name come from? According to Dictionary.com, the origin is such:

 1630s, "any sticky substance," from Middle French gluten (16c.) or directly from Latin gluten "glue" (see glue (n.)). Used 16c.-19c. for the part of animal tissue now called fibrin; used since 1803 of the nitrogenous part of the flour of wheat or other grain; hence glutamic acid (1871), a common amino acid, and its salt, glutamate.

What it does in food: Gluten does what its name sounds like: acts as "glue" that holds food together. It helps doughs maintain elasticity and a good "chew". While most people instantly think "flour" when they think of gluten, this is not quite accurate. It's not just baked goods or bread that contain gluten--it can be used in a number of different products to add thickness, texture, or bulk. 

This is what makes baking particularly maddening when gluten is taken out of the equation. To get the same texture, taste, and bulk which wheat based flour lends to baked goods, you can't just rely on one type of gluten-free flour. Different mixes are required to meet each of the criteria. If you want more guidance on that, check out this post on Craftsy. You'll also probably enjoy checking out the blogs of my buddies both online and in real life, Gluten-Free Girl and The Art of Gluten-Free Baking to learn more about gluten-free baking. 

Primary sources of gluten in your everyday diet: 

Wheat, barley, and rye. This triple threat of gluten-containing goodness constitutes a major part of many foods, including but not limited to: bread, cereals, baked goods, pasta, soup, sauces, food coloring, and beer. Gluten can be found in unexpected sources, too, such as soups or sauces that you wouldn't even think of containing flour. However, many of them do contain traces of gluten-containing matter, which gives them structure and thickness. This is why people who need to adhere to a gluten-free diet are forever scanning food labels. 

Why would people avoid gluten?

If you have celiac disease, you kind of need to. According to WebMD,

Experts estimate that about 1% of Americans have celiac disease. The condition, caused by an abnormal immune response to gluten, can damage the lining of the small intestine. That, in turn, can prevent important nutrients from being absorbed. Symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea, anemia, bone pain, and a severe skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis.

Aside from that, though, some people simply feel better when they avoid gluten. It doesn't cause a death threat, but it can cause discomfort. Others perceive it to be a healthier way to be, or a way to lose weight. 

As WebMD further says, 

Gluten itself doesn’t offer special nutritional benefits. But the many whole grains that contain gluten do. They’re rich in an array of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron, as well as fiber. Studies show that whole grain foods, as part of a healthy diet, may help lower risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that half of all carbohydrates in the diet come from whole grain products.

Whew! If you feel like you'd like more GF info, check out these posts I did for Craftsy:



What are your thoughts on gluten?


Pillsbury Bake-Off Countdown: Toffee and Almond Fudge Cookie Cups

CakeSpy Note: OMG! It's getting to be that time of year again. The Pillsbury Bake-Off is coming in November! Since I so deeply loved attending the 45th Bake-Off as well as the 46th Bake-Off, I thought I would get you excited the 47th one early by sharing all of the sweet recipes in the running. I will focus on sweets! You can follow them by clicking the bakeoff tag below to see the recipes posted so far (as well as recipes from previous Bake-Off events). 

Forget coffee: these cups are filled with toffee! And fudge and almond, all nestled in sugar cookie cups. This fantastical recipe was dreamed up by Amy Andrews of Macomb, Michigan. Her cup runneth over with luck: this recipe is a finalist at the Bake-Off this year! 

Good luck!

Toffee and Almond Fudge Cookie Cups

  • Prep Time: 25 Min
  • Total Time: 1 Hr 15 Min
  • Makes: 48 cookie cups


  • 2 packages Pillsbury Ready to Bake  refrigerated sugar cookies
  • 1/4 cup milk chocolate toffee bits (from 8-oz bag)
  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/3 cup creamy Almond Butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, finely chopped
  • 1 can (6.5 oz) whipped cream topping (in aerosol can)


  1. Heat oven to 375°F. Spray 48 nonstick mini muffin cups with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Place 1 cookie dough round in each muffin cup. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the toffee bits evenly over cookie dough rounds. Bake 13 to 18 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Loosen with tip of knife; carefully remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in 1-quart heavy saucepan, heat sweetened condensed milk and almond butter over medium heat 5 to 6 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Cool 2 minutes. Spoon 1 heaping teaspoon condensed milk mixture into each cookie cup.
  4. In small bowl, mix remaining 2 tablespoons toffee bits and the almonds. To serve, top each cup with about 1 tablespoon whipped cream topping and about 1/4 teaspoon almond mixture.

Free Drawing and Illustration E-Guides on Craftsy

Have you ever thought "I'd love to learn how to draw and paint JUST LIKE CAKESPY"...?

I'll take that as a yes.

Well, if so, you're in luck, because Craftsy has just debuted two very cool new E-guides on illustration and art which prominently feature my work. Did I mention they are free?

Click here for the "Botanical Illustrations" E-guide

Click here for the "Illustration Basics for Beginners" E-guide



Pillsbury Bake-Off Countdown: Cinnamon Roll-Pear Bread Pudding

CakeSpy Note: OMG! It's getting to be that time of year again. The Pillsbury Bake-Off is coming in November! Since I so deeply loved attending the 45th Bake-Off as well as the 46th Bake-Off, I thought I would get you excited the 47th one early by sharing all of the sweet recipes in the running. I will focus on sweets! You can follow them by clicking the bakeoff tag below to see the recipes posted so far (as well as recipes from previous Bake-Off events). 

What a fantastic pear-ing! Cinnamon rolls are a fantastic medium for baking bread pudding, but have you ever tried it with a ripe, juicy pear?

Elizabeth Albert of Highland Park, Illinois, did just that and it's put her in the running to win a million dollars at the Bake-Off, so perhaps it's something you should try (how about this weekend?).

Cinnamon Roll-Pear Bread Pudding

  • Prep Time: 15 Min
  • Total Time: 1 Hr 45 Min
  • Makes: 8 servings


  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 can Pillsbury refrigerated cinnamon rolls with icing (8 rolls)
  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 firm ripe pears (1 lb), peeled, thinly sliced


  1. Heat oven to 375°F. Grease bottom and side of 8-inch round cake pan with 1 teaspoon of the butter. Bake cinnamon rolls in pan as directed on can; reserve icing. Cool 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Grease bottom and sides of 9-inch square pan with 1 teaspoon of the butter.
  2. Meanwhile in medium bowl, beat sweetened condensed milk, 1/2 cup water, the eggs, vanilla and nutmeg with whisk until well blended.
  3. With serrated knife, cut each cinnamon roll in half, forming 2 layers. Place layers, cut sides up, in bottom of square pan, overlapping as necessary. Drop remaining butter by 1/4 teaspoons over rolls. Pour half of the egg mixture evenly over rolls and butter; layer pear slices over rolls. Pour remaining egg mixture over pears.
  4. Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until edges are golden brown and knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes. Top each serving with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the reserved icing.

Mini to Maxi: Cakes, That is

Photo: CraftsyEver wondered how to take a mini cake design to a full-scale cake production? This post is full of inspiration for how small cakes can inform and inspire your cake decorating. Full post here!


Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Apple cider doughnuts. Tis the season! (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

Here it is, world: the official Cronut recipe, from Dominique Ansel (Good Morning America)

Chocolate-peppermint birthday cake. You'll want to eat this thing. (Naptime Chef)

Dessert-ify your nails! (ModCloth--thanks Pam!)

What's an Asian Pear? Find out, and also score a recipe for Asian pear bread. (Ninja Baking)

Strawberry and cream cake. SERIOUSLY. (Shauna Sever)

Hooray for tres leches! Here's a beautiful recipe. (WannaB Gourmet)

Yums: apple crostada! (The Cultural Dish)

Tips for using fresh flowers in cake decorating (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

Food ingredient marketing? I had fun poking around this site. (Food Ingredient Marketing)

Tips for drawing clothing on your characters in illustration (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

Lovely and proper Scottish shortbread (Food52)

I'm sorry, are you still baking your brownies in a pan? Try 'em in a pumpkin! (The Perfect Brownie)

Magical princess cupcakes. (CakeSpy archives)

Wok and Roll: tips for making perfect stir-fry (not sweet, I know, but I wrote the article for Craftsy!)

Can we talk about the awesomeness of this bad-ass unicorn tee? (Plasticland--thanks Ren!)

Princess Leia cupcakes. (JustJenn Recipes)

Praline bread pudding with caramel-pecan sauce. Reminds me of New Orleans, in the best way. (Bake or Break)

Book of the week: Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets, and Recipes From Our Kitchen. Because I have visited the bakery behind this cookbook, which is located in Los Angeles, and everything I ate was delicious. Since I don't live in Santa Monica, I would like to be able to replicate the goods on a daily basis, please.

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