What type of chocolate should I use in my recipe? Well, depends on what you're baking. I've written up a helpful guide to the different types of chocolate and their best uses in baking. Read more.
You'd never guess cake mix is the key ingredient of these pleasant little cookies. Vaguely shortbread-y, I made mine with peppermint extract for the holidays, but I'm putting vanilla for more everday use.
I made these because I had a spare box of cake mix lying around (you know, food blogger problems) but was pleasantly surprised. I even included them on a few cookie samplers.
Cake Mix Bonbon Cookies
Makes 30-40 cookies depending on size
- 1 box cake mix (I used Immaculate Baking Yellow Cake Mix)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla (or peppermint around the holidays)
- 3-4 ounces of dark or milk chocolate (3 ounces = delicate drizzle; 4 ounces = more generous icing like pictured)
- Heat oven to 350°F (325°F for dark or nonstick pans). In large bowl, mix cake mix, sugar, oil, vanilla and eggs with spoon until dough forms. It will be a somewhat crumbly dough.
- Shape dough into 1-inch balls. On ungreased cookie sheets, Place balls 2 inches apart.
- Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until set. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks.
- Make the chocolate topping. Melt 3-4 ounces of chocolate, and drizzle on top of each cookie.
Have you ever found yourself eating red velvet cake and thinking "hmm, isn't this cake supposed to have some chocolate in it?". I certainly have. While the cake does in fact contain cocoa, it's delicate, and can easily be overshadowed by the rich cream cheese frosting which typically covers the cake.
This red velvet cake brings chocolate back with a sweet surprise: in addition to the rich cream cheese frosting used to cover it on the top and sides, it has a deliciously decadent chocolate ganache filling, too. The ganache brings out the cocoa-scented flavor of the cake, and it works in sweet harmony with the cream cheese. It's a beautiful way to unify the flavors of red velvet.
No, it's not traditional; no, I'm not sorry. Because this cake tastes great.
Red Velvet Cake with Ganache Filling
Makes 1 9-inch cake
For the cake
- 2 heaping tablespoons unsweetened cocoa (not dutch-process), sifted
- 1 teaspoon concentrated gel food coloring
- 1 1/2 tablespoons water
- 2 ¼ cups cake flour, sifted
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
Note: this recipe has been adjusted for high altitude by reducing the sugar by ¼ cup and by increasing the buttermilk by 2 tablespoons.
- 1/2 pound good quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- pinch salt
Cream cheese frosting
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 8 ounces (1 cup) cream cheese, softened (do not use low-fat)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 cups confectioners' sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease, flour, and line with parchment 2 8-inch round cake pans.
- In a small bowl, combine the sifted cocoa, food coloring, and water. Mix together until it forms a thick but lump-free paste. Set to the side.
- In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour and salt. Give them a stir to combine; set to the side.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar. Mix on medium-high speed for 3 minutes; the mixture should be fluffy.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Stir in the coloring mix.
- Add the flour alternately with the buttermilk, mixing on low speed and scraping the bowl after each addition.
- Now, gear yourself up to move quickly for a few minutes. Don’t be tempted to pick up the phone or take a bathroom break.
- In a ½ cup size bowl or larger, combine the baking soda and vinegar (it will bubble up--don’t panic, that’s why you used the size cup you did to mix) and add it immediately to the batter. Mix until combined.
- Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans, and put in the oven.
- Bake for 25 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes. Run a sharp knife along the edges of the pan to loosen the edges, and turn the cakes out on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting. If the cakes have formed domes, level using a serrated knife.
- Make the ganache. In a saucepan, heat the cream on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to discourage scorching on the bottom of the pan. Bring it just barely to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, remove from heat immediately. Pour on top of the chocolate. Using a wire whisk, mix the chocolate and cream together until they have become smooth, and the chocolate has melted into the cream. It will be the consistency of a thick hot fudge sauce. Stir in the salt, mixing until smooth. Wait until it has come to room temperature (it will solidify more) before using to fill the cake.
- Make the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese and butter until very smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Add the confectioners' sugar one cup at a time, mixing well after each addition and pausing to scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed, until the frosting is smooth and spreadable. You may not add all of the confectioners' sugar.
- Assemble the cake. Place one of the layers with the flattest side up on a serving platter. Coat it generously with a thick layer of ganache. You might not use all of the ganache, but if you have extra I don't think this is a bad thing for your life and snacking for the next day or two. Place the second layer on top, flattest side up again. Now, cover all over with that tasty cream cheese frosting. You might want to apply a crumb coat, but it is not necessary. Do, however, cover the cake very generously.
- Store in the refrigerator, but serve at room temperature.
Do you like Red Velvet cake?
Are you ever haunted by the memory of Christmas cookies past?
I am. Let me tell you about it.
When I was young, there were two cookies in particular which I treasured above the others. They were chocolate chip pistachio cookies (recipe here) and chocolate cherry cookies.
While my mom was happy to hand over the pistachio recipe, she claims a cloudy memory about the chocolate cherry variety. What? They were the best!
I'll tell you about them, and maybe you know of something similar: a chewy yet slightly crumbly chocolate cookie with a cherry pressed inside, and a chocolate ganache type topping, baked right into the top of the cookie.
I loved those cookies so hard.
This recipe, while not the same as those cookies in my memory, came out awfully good. They have the same flavor combination, and I made them with some Montmorency cherries from Stoneridge Orchards which were recently sent to me in the mail. They have a perfect, shortbread-meets sugar cookie texture base, and the cherry inside works very nicely with the chocolate, giving it an almost almond-y flavor. The chocolate topping bakes up fudge-like, and is extremely pleasant and if not gooey, then it adds a moist element to the cookie.
The candies are mainly for show, but I learned pretty quickly to not display two of them side by side, because, well, boobs. Well, OK, do it--it might make you laugh.
Chocolate cherry cookies
Very loosely based on this recipe
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 egg yolk
- 1-1/2cups all purpose flour
- pinch salt
- 1/4cup unsweetened baking cocoa
- 24 dried cherries
For the topping
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup chocoalte morsels
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar
- 24 cinnamon candies, for garnish
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
- In large bowl, beat the sugars, 1 cup butter and the vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Beat in egg yolk until smooth. Beat in flour, salt, and cocoa.
- Shape dough by rounded teaspoonfuls into 1-inch balls. Press a cherry on top of each cookie, and ease the dough around to cover it.
- On ungreased cookie sheet, place balls 1 inch apart. With index finger or thumb, make indentation in center of each ball. It might feel a little awkward because of the cherry inside, but I promise, you'll be OK.
- Make the topping. Combine the chocolate chips and butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat in 20-second increments until melty. It will look ugly. Stir in the confectioners' sugar; as it mixes it will become less ugly.
- Top each cookie with a dollop of the chocolate mixture, and place a cinnamon candy on top of each.
- Bake 7 to 10 minutes or until set. Immediately remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.
What's your favorite holiday cookie?
With the holidays hurtling toward us at an alarming rate, I'm all about any kitchen shortcut which will streamline my baking.
And I have come to the conclusion that crushing cookies for a pie crust takes up way too much time and energy.
But following my ice cream cone shipping experiment, I began to wonder: could I ship cookies to myself in the mail, and rely on the postal service to crush them for me? I mean, let's be honest: they're not necessarily known for their gentle handling of packages.
I'm aware that this might sound ridiculous to you.
I realize that you might be tempted to point out a fatal flaw in my thinking here: doesn't packing and sending cookies to yourself take just as long as crushing the darned things? And yes, you are correct. But my thought process was this: if this experiment worked, I could move into shipping large amounts of cookies through the USPS. If I were shipping five cookie crusts' worth at a time, paying a nominal fee for the USPS to crush them just by doing what they do...it seems like a small price to pay.
I realize too that you might be tempted to say something like "dudette, just get a food processor." Well, I will have you know that I own a food processor. It's just that this way seemed so much more like an adventure. You're not going to deny me a life filled with adventure and joy, are you?
So, moving past any nay-saying, let me tell you exactly how I went about my experiment.
Here's what I did.
- I grabbed a bag of Walkers mini scottie shortbread cookies. Walkers shortbread is one of my favorite cookies to use for a cookie crust. (Note: while I have been paid to do recipes for Walkers in the past, they didn't pay me to say that. It's the truth!).
- I poured the entire bag, which is usually a good amount for a pie crust, into a plastic freezer bag and forced out any extra air.
- Then I packed it in an envelope WITHOUT padding, so it could be pummeled and crushed by any and every element that came its way.
- To bring home the point that this was not a parcel to be handled gently, I helpfully labeled it (pictured below) and then popped it in the mailbox.
It arrived back to me two days later, and I was disheartened to see that the envelope still held a somewhat lumpy, dimensional shape.
When I opened the parcel, I saw that the cookies were slightly crumbly around the edges, but really not all that different from how I mailed them.
I was tempted to curse the post office for its ginger handling of the parcel. But I held myself back. RESTRAINT.
Oh well, I thought. That answers that: having the USPS crush my cookies for me is not going to be a viable option for streamlining my holiday baking.
But, I do feel like I got some important takeaways from the experiment:
- It made me laugh while I did it, and that's not for nothing.
- It did give me a head start with my cookie crushing, though it didn't finish the deed as I'd hoped.
- It made me realize that perhaps there is an aspect of reverse psychology at hand here. By labeling the parcel in such a way that implied I wanted it to be pummeled, injured, and generally not handled with care, I seem to have ensured that they did just the opposite: I imagine the postal employees cradling the parcel like a delicate flower.
So maybe, when you're shipping something fragile in the future, you should just label it "NOT FRAGILE IN THE LEAST" and it will arrive totally fine.
Hey, I can't say that for certain. But it's definitely food for thought.
What's your favored method of crushing cookies for a cookie crumb pie crust?
I'll just get right into it: what is cornstarch and what does it do?
This question came up when I was chatting with a gluten-free friend who said she'd recently made a GF brownie mix that called for 1/2 cup of added cornstarch in the event of high altitude baking. Well, that's odd, I thought. I wonder why? That seemed like a lot of cornstarch to me. Maybe there are some things I don't know about cornstarch?
And so I figured, for my reference and yours, I'd come up with a roundup of what cornstarch is, what it does, and how to use it in your baking. Ready? Set? Let's go.
Cornstarch: what is it?
The short version? Cornstarch is derived from the endosperm (tee hee) of corn kernels, which is ground into a find powder. It's used primarily as a thickener and binder both in savory and sweet cooking and baking.
Cornstarch: how is it made?
The long version? It's sort of confusing, but here's what I gleaned from the International Starch (really) page. First, corn is steeped in hot water for up to 48 hours. The germ is then separated from the endosperm, and still steeping, they are both, respectively, ground. Starch is separated from the steeping liquid, the remaining cereal germ, and corn gluten--mainly in centrifuges and hydrocyclones (a cyclone-shaped device). The starch is then modified by applying different reaction conditions - temperature, pH, additives. This process creates the corn starch with unique and reliable properties we use for our culinary projects.
Key roles cornstarch plays in baking
Cornstarch as a thickening agent
Cornstarch can be added as a thickener to a variety of mixtures, from gravy to pie fillings to custards or cake fillings. It has more power, ounce for ounce, than flour, which is also used for this purpose; increasingly, the fact that it is also gluten-free is attractive to bakers, enabling them to make gluten-free pie fillings and custards.
Here's what happens when cornstarch is added to the mix: heat causes the starch to bind with molecules of water, and the starch begins to swell as it absorb the liquid. When the mixture comes to 203 degrees F, the starch will have expanded to about 10 times its size while still in powder form. However, this expanding is finite. You can bring cornstarch-enriched sauces or mixtures close to a boil, but don't let them fully boil and don't stir too vigorously. The starch will start to deflate, erasing the entire purpose of adding it to your mixture.
The cornstarch will not only become thicker in heat, but as it cools, it will set, so it's a great way to further solidify desserts tending toward gooey such as the filling of Lemon meringue pie, without the cloudy color that flour might impart.
There are considerations for using cornstarch as a thickener. According to this website,
- If you add cornstarch directly to a liquid, it can get clumpy, especially if added to a hot mixture. First, make a slurry of equal parts cornstarch and a cold liquid. Add this liquid paste to the mixture you want to thicken for better results.
- Cornstarch doesn't react well with acidic ingredients. Tapioca starch or arrowroot will work better for thickening acidic mixtures.
- Cornstarch imparts a glossy, translucent sheen to the mixtures it thickens, so it tends to be used more in sweets rather than savory sauces.
Cornstarch in cookies and cakes
Cornstarch not only thicken sauces and mixtures, but it can be used in baked goods such as cookies or cakes, too. It is said that cornstarch used in combination with flour can "soften" the harsh proteins of flour, making a more tender baked good. Anecdotally, I can tell you this is true. A recipe such as shortbread which employs part flour and part cornstarch yields a cookie with the perfect crumb: crumbly, but not fall-apart. Tender and delicate, but in a way that the cookie still holds its shape.
As I learned on a King Arthur Flour forum, it is also one of the secrets of cake flour.
Cake flour has been treated with chlorine gas which acts not only as a whitening agent, but also has a maturing effect on the flour. It damages the proteins that form gluten so that these will not form the long stiff chains and networks that make good bread, but also breaks down starches so that these will absorb more water. These hydrated starches then "gel" during baking to provide an alternate structure (alternate to gluten formation) which is desirable for cakes; tight, even crumb, moist, very tender.
You can make your own cake flour substitute, by the way. All you have to do is add two tablespoons of cornstarch per cup of all-purpose flour for a recipe. While it won't yield exactly the same results, it will certainly yield a more delicate baked good than all purpose flour alone.
Cornstarch as an anti-caking agent
The difference between confectioners' sugar and granulated sugar? Primarily texture--confectioners' sugar has been finely ground (and you can make your own, at home, btw!)--but it's also the fact that confectioners' sugar is mixed with a small amount of cornstarch. The starch acts as an anti-caking agent by keeping moisture and condensation from forming the sugar granules into lumps.
Cornstarch isn't just used to discourage moisture from ruining your sugar. If you buy shredded cheese in the supermarket, chances are it has cornstarch in the mix--this keeps the moisture and condensation from making your cheese slimy. However, with cheese, there is a caution involved. The starch can turn brown quicker than the cheese in heat, so it can give a false indication of doneness.
Frequently asked questions
Still curious about cornstarch? Here are some answers to commonly asked questions.
Why is cornstarch used so often in gluten-free baking?
Probably first and foremost because it's naturally gluten-free. Both cornstarch and flour are considered "cereal starches"--but the main difference is the aforementioned gluten. Flour has it; cornstarch does not. But, you know, it also adds structure to baked goods, and this can be helpful when they lack the "glue" of gluten.
Is it possible I know this stuff by a different name?
I've seen it as "corn starch" and "cornstarch"--I prefer the one-word variation. You'll see it referred to as such in US and Canada; in other countries, it may be called "cornflour"--not to be confused with cornmeal.
My cornstarch got all clumpy in my pie filling. What's up?
Nobody likes clumps and lumps in what should be a smooth pie filling. To avoid lumps, make a slurry (equal parts cold liquid and cornstarch) before incorporating the starch into the pie filling mixture.
I'm sure I did everything right, but the starch didn't thicken my mixture.
Check the expiration date. Cornstarch does not last forever, and an advanced age can very much affect its thickening abilities.
Other possible causes: the mixture got too hot and the starch broke down; you overstirred and the starch broke down.
Help! My pie filling began "weeping". Is the cornstarch to blame?
Cornstarch can thin as it stands. The technical term is "syneresis", and it is characterized by a liquid "weeping" from the filling. It tends to happen more with mixtures including eggs or a lot of sugar. One of the culprits can be overstirring--this can break up the starch and make it thin out. Be sure to follow the instructions on your recipe to ensure that you are following the specified guidelines for how to treat the cornstarch mixture.
Don't have cornstarch?
Here is a list of some substitutes you can use in baking.
Can I use cornstarch instead of flour?
Go ahead and give it a try. Cornstarch has twice the "thickening" power of flour, so you won't need as much. This helpful table will assist in substitution amounts.
Recipes with cornstarch
- Lemon meringue pie in a chocolate crust (CakeSpy)
- Chocolate chip cookies (Sally's Baking Addiction)
- Shortbread (CakeSpy for Craftsy)
- Alfajores (CakeSpy)
- Marquesote (CakeSpy)
What's your favorite recipe containing cornstarch?
Lucky you, dear readers! What we've got here is a guest recipe and excerpt from the fantastic new book Brazilian Food by Thiago Castanho and Luciana Bianchi.
This is a really lovely book, with photos as vibrant as what I imagine Brazil to be (having never been, it's all imagination for me!). The recipes are accessible, flavorful, and interesting--and exotic. It's a cookbook to dream on, and I think it would make a nice holiday gift!
And, well. Even if none of that intrigued you, the fact is this: the cover features rainbows.
Note: the photo and recipe in this post are used with permission from Brazilian Food by Thiago Castanho & Luciana Bianchi, Firefly Books 2014, $39.95 hardcover.
‘Bolo podre’ com calda de café e tapioca caramelizada
Tapioca pudding with coffee syrup and caramelized tapioca
This is a traditional pudding of the Amazon region. It does not contain wheat but granulated tapioca flakes, usually moistened with coconut milk. We eat it in the morning or late afternoon, but it is always accompanied by a cup of freshly brewed coffee.
* 2 vanilla beans
* 1/2 cup (50 g) unsweetened, finely shredded dried coconut
* 2 cups (500 ml) whole milk
* scant 1 cup (200 ml) sweetened condensed milk
* scant 1/2 cup (100 ml) unsweetened coconut milk
* 1 cup (120 g) farinha de tapioca (granulated tapioca) or Farinha de Tapioca substitute (see page 82)
* oil, for greasing
* 2 ¾ oz (80 g) rapadura or unleveled . cup (80 g) dark brown sugar
* 1 cup (250 ml) hot espresso coffee
* unleveled . ¾ cup (100 g) farinha de tapioca (granulated tapioca) or Farinha de Tapioca substitute (see page 82)
* unleveled . ¼ cup (60 g) superfine sugar
1. Cut the vanilla beans in half lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a knife. Put the seeds, bean pods, shredded coconut, and all the milks in a saucepan. Place over medium heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches scalding point. Discard the vanilla bean pods.
2. Put the farinha de tapioca in a large bowl, and add the hot milk mixture. Stir well. Pour the pudding batter into a generously oiled 12 x 4.-inch (30 x 11 cm) loaf pan, and refrigerate it for 3 hours, or until it is firm.
3. To make the coffee syrup, combine the rapadura and . cup (60 ml) of water in a saucepan. Heat for 2 minutes, stirring until the rapadura has dissolved. Add the coffee and remove from the heat.
4. For the caramelized tapioca, combine the farinha de tapioca and sugar in a saucepan, and heat gently, stirring constantly, to melt the sugar. Cook until the caramel is a light golden brown. Pour the mixture into a nonstick baking pan and let cool. Store in an airtight container.
5. Transfer the chilled cake to a serving board, and sprinkle with the caramelized tapioca. Serve in slices, accompanied by a drizzle of coffee syrup.
Tips from Thiago: When pouring the pudding batter into the pan, press it down gently to pack it together and prevent it from falling apart when it is removed from the pan.