Martha Washington Candy & a Christmas Cookie Round-up

martha washington title

I hope everyone is relaxing into the holidays!  I am, finally.  We are in Colorado for Christmas with my mother’s side of the family and it has been so nice to sit and do next-to-nothing for the two days since we arrived.  I’m planning another nap before M arrives tomorrow afternoon, since we have a long list of sights to see in the city.  I grew up with yearly visits to Colorado, so places like the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature and Silence are near and dear to my heart.  My siblings and I always needed to visit the statue of the wolf pack out in front of the museum, and we gave each of the wolves names when we were young.  It has been almost three years since I have visited, so I am quite excited to revisit the old familiar sites and see what updates have been made.

As usual, we are still unearthing different treasures around the “Big House”.  This is the name our family has given to my grandparents’ house, where my cousin now lives.  There are still plenty of objects of my grandparents still around the house, waiting to be fully investigated.  The last time we visited, we found a pile of old photos that were pretty key to my family history research.  I might try to look through some of my grandparents books, or see if my cousin has rustled up any more photos.

martha washingtons

In the meantime, I wanted to get out one last minute recipe for holiday sweets, and link up some of my earlier Christmas cookie posts.  I’ve fallen somewhat out of the habit of posting in the last hectic weeks.  During November, every spare minute went to participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  I won, which means I wrote over 50,000 words in just thirty days!  I am astonished on how much I wrote on so little plot (I tossed aside my original story idea the day before NaNo started, and began with an entirely fresh, unplanned story).  Oh man, is 50,000 words time-consuming, though.  No time for blogging or vacuuming, for sure.  I barely kept dinner on the table and laundry in line (I may not have kept laundry in line, actually…I think M has been really good at picking up my slack).

The start of December brought the crucial prep-time for our winter performances, which remained all consuming until just a few days before we flew out to Colorado.  M has a showing that runs up until today, so he cannot even join us until Christmas Eve.  Such is the life in the performing arts industry.  We provide the holiday entertainment, which means working right up to the holidays.  So it will be a very welcome break after Christmas, when we can slow down for a while with friends and family.  All of the siblings have finally come together for Christmas.  Though, in truth, I have been the one away, spending the last two Christmases with M’s family.  It will nice to have the three of us together, now that we are old enough to (mostly) stop bickering and enjoy one another’s company.

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I am working on a slightly limited pantry up here, since I do not want to fill my cousin’s house with all sorts of GF flours.  Colorado is a bit of a GF mecca, which I am truly enjoying, so I grabbed some White Rice Flour and Tapioca Starch at the local grocery and will be making due with that basic mix while I am here.  I might try my hand at making a Yule Log cake with the Rice Flour Genoise cake from Flavor Flours.  I love that most of the recipes only use one type of flour, so I wrote down the recipe to bring with me.  Of course, if I attempt the Yule Log cake, I’ll have to also make meringue mushrooms to nestle amongst the cranberries and rosemary garnish!  I’m hoping that the high-altitude won’t foil my baking too much.

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I will also be making a huge batch of my Swedish meatballs for Christmas Eve dinner.  Christmas day means a full breakfast with my great-grandmother’s Scrapple recipe, and ham for dinner.  E wants to make Derby Pie, so I will help her to make it GF.  If you need a simple recipe to round out your cookie platter, why not make a batch of these Martha Washington Candies?  These coconut-pecan bites taste a bit like almond joys and are naturally GF.  They are also a “candy” that doesn’t require the use of a candy thermometer, if the thought of watching temperatures makes you nervous.

I don’t know where this recipe came from.  My mother has been making Martha Washingtons forever.  A little Google research shows that these candies are pretty traditional in the south.  Perhaps it survives through my grandfather’s family, who came from Kansas.  Maybe it is a recipe that was picked up from a family friend.  However it arrived, these Martha Washingtons are here to stay–we love the sweet, coconut-y treats.

If this candy isn’t quite to your taste, you could also try: Triple Gingerbread CookiesCoconut Macaroons, “Twix” Bar cookies, Turtle Cookies, Chocolate-Peppermint Biscotti, Lemon Tea Cookies, Spicy Almond Slices, or Caramel-Oat Cookie Bars.

martha washington trio

Martha Washington Candies

Serves: 36-48 candies | Prep time: 25-30 minutes (plus 2+ hours chilling time) | Cook time: N/A

  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 c chopped pecans
  • 1 bag of shredded coconut (about 14-16 oz)
  • 1 1/2 boxes powdered sugar
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
  • 8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
  • optional: 1/2 bar of paraffin wax*
  • optional: white chocolate or other garnishes

*The paraffin wax will make the chocolate coating shiny and keep it from getting too sticky at room temperature.  I did not use any wax for the candies pictured, because I knew I could keep them refrigerated until serving.  If these candies will be at room temperature for a long time, I would recommend using the wax.  Paraffin wax is edible and nontoxic. 

Line a pan with wax paper.  In a large bowl, combine the melted butter, nuts, shredded coconut, sugar, and condensed milk until uniformly mixed. It should be very hard to stir.  If is seems to easy, add more sugar or coconut until the mixture is stiff.  Scoop out about 1 tablespoon of the mixture and roll in your palms to form into balls.  Place on the lined pan. Chill the formed candies for at least two hours. Melt the chocolate (and paraffin, if using) in double boiler, then use a fork or a toothpick to dip balls into chocolate. Return the chocolate covered candies to the lined pan and refrigerate until firm.  You can add any ‘drizzle-type’ garnishes, like my white chocolate, after the outer shell has chilled.  If you wanted to use sprinkles, I would recommend adding those before the chocolate shell is refrigerated, so that the decorations stick to the chocolate.

martha washington bite

Pumpkin Swirl Brownies

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After a whirlwind, but rejuvenating trip up north for the holidays, I am home and diving back into the swing of things.  We are one week out from our first promo event, and two weeks away from the show, which means every spare moment is beginning to fill up with costume-making and set-painting and the countless other tasks, big and small, that must be done by the performance deadline.  I feel like I’m constantly adding to one of the half dozen To-Do lists I carry with me: start programs, make microphones, fix splashes (radio plays…live sound effects are fun to watch, but a gargantuan effort to create…).  I intended to be pleasantly productive (more blog posts!) while we were in Massachusetts, but it didn’t quite happen.  I caught up with cousins, some of whom I haven’t seen in 3+ years, and the rest of my family.  I haven’t been to either of my family’s homes in almost two years, and I seem to have forgotten how restorative it can be to visit those old, unchanging homes that carry the ease of familiarity.  There is a certain abandon, I think, in the company of cousins and those people you have known for all of your life.  Laughter is a little bit less restrained, old jokes and memories are rehashed, arguments are entered into with knowledge that all the same points have been debated before.   I got a head start on some Christmas gifts, which with definitely make an appearance on here (as vaguely as possible, in case their recipients wander over onto this blog) since I am trying to have a–mostly–handmade Christmas.  What do you think: Kaity Crafts On: Christmas Edition?

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And, between the family, the crafts, the parade, and the food, I read.  As a child, I powered through a book or more a day, discovering new worlds and stories, and returning to the welcome comfort of reread tales.  I read the first three Harry Potter books more than thirty times before the Goblet of Fire was released, until my well-worn copy of the Prisoner of Azkaban fell apart in my hands.  Books were my security and my love through high school.  With college, homework and rehearsals were soon elbowing out the time for pleasure reading, but I would find myself binging on my breaks.   When I graduated, one of my intents was to bring back pleasure reading as a more constant part of my life.  I have done well-enough in that aspect–slowly and steadily making my way through a list of talked-about books as well as more random, free nook books that have crossed my path.  For a long time, Veronica Roth and her Divergent series have been acclaimed and praised, and the series sat on my “To Read” list for some time.  The books sat in my nook library for several months, always pushed off for one reason or another.  But on Black Friday, I began Divergent…and plummeted into a book binge that I have not experienced for years.  E had finally gotten around to reading the Hunger Games (after I purchased them for her two Christmases ago), so I count myself lucky that my family is quite used to our reading habits and was not offended that the both of us spent the rest of the vacation with our noses in books.  Divergent is captivating and incredible (I’m still working my way through Allegiant whenever I have a free moment–no spoilers!), a series that I could praise for a long, long time.  But I won’t say any more, beyond advising you to read the series immediately.  I’m rather proud that one of my friends immediately picked up the books due to my slightly-rabid social media postings on the topic.


But I didn’t come here to write about books today.  I wanted to share brownies with you.  The most unassuming of desserts, a good fudgy brownie is one of the best reminders that simple can still be incredible.  I know that with the pumpkin explosion in October, we have added pumpkin to everything under the sun, but (a) I like pumpkin and (b) I really like these brownies (and (c) I might have bought the triple pack of pureed pumpkin from Costco).  Needless to say, I am not done with pumpkin–and you don’t have to be either!  The chocolate flavor still comes through the most in these brownies.  The pumpkin-cream-cheese swirl gives a pleasant tang and a wonderful boost in fudge goodness.  They are also exceptionally easy to pull together, and can be mixed and in the oven in 10 to 15 minutes.  I store them in the fridge due the the dairy content, and they are equally delicious cold or warmed slightly.

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Pumpkin Swirl Brownies

Adapted from Gluten Free Girl

Serves: 24 | Prep: 15 minutes | Cook: 40 minutes

For the brownie base

  • 2/3 c. + 3 Tbsp. teff flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter
  • 1/3 c. bittersweet chocolate chips + 1/2 c. bittersweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs

For the Pumpkin Swirl

  • 1/2 c. pumpkin puree
  • 1/3 c. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. teff flour
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Dash each, cinnamon and nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350 degree F.  Line a 9×13″ pan with parchment paper, leaving edges to run up the sides.  Grease pan and paper well.

Mix dry ingredients for the brownie base.  Thoroughly combine teff flour, salt, and cocoa powder in small bowl.  Melt 1/3 cup of chocolate chips with butter for 30-second intervals in large bowl in the microwave.  Stir well in between microwaving, until the chips are melted.  Allow to chocolate-butter mixture to cool.  Stir in sugar, vanilla extract, and eggs, mixing thoroughly after each ingredient.  Add dry ingredients and stir well.

In small bowl, combine pumpkin puree, softened cream cheese, egg, and lemon juice.  Mix well.  Add in teff flour, spices, and sugar and mix until combined.

Pour about 1/2-3/4 of the brownie base mixture into prepared pan.  Spread evenly.  Drop spoonfuls of pumpkin mixture in equal intervals over top.  Spoon remaining brownie base mix into intervals between pumpkin mixture.  Run a clean butter knife in diagonal swirls from one corner of the pan to the opposite corner.  Repeat with other corners to create a diagonal, cross-hatched pattern.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out mostly clean.

Chocolate-Coffee Pots de Creme and Teaching Appreciation

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Things have settled down since we returned from our abruptly-shortened cruise (on a side note, M wrote about his Grandeur experience on Reddit–check it out if you want a different, but highly similar account of the events, haha).  I was going to talk about all of the food onboard, but I figured that–except for restating that it was absolutely delicious and we all certainly gained a couple of pounds in our brief time onboard–it is probably best to wait.  It is looking more and more likely that we will be using our cruise certificate to return to the Grandeur in January!  I figure that it would be better to wait (and reinforce the habit of photographing what we are eating, so I do not miss as many shots of meals) until January to give you the full scope of a week of cruising.  I do see an inspired panacotta recipe in my near future–that dish was too good to wait months in order  to eat it again.  But now, we are all now back to work, in spite of the general apathy that M and I admit feeling.  While I perfectly understand why we came back early, and even though we took it easy for the rest of the week, it is a little disheartening to have missed the remainder of our vacation.  As much as you try to relax and forget work, it is hard to be completely disconnected while at home.  Even if I didn’t have to go into work, there was still laundry and cleaning and other unavoidable tasks to be done.  We have been back for a whole week, and both of our jobs are gearing up for summer.  This will surely bring me out of my funk.  Summer camp is one of my absolute favorite times of the year.  

Working with children is always interesting.  The same uninhibited manners and frank curiosity that gives adults the funny stories and the memorable quotes (usually) starts to get manipulated, if not stifled as they grow.  My classes are mini-studies in culture and society.  Especially at camp, where I work with a group of our older students.  It can be saddening and inspiring in turns, to watch a group of teenagers traversing the social landscape.  There are many times that I just want to tell a student “Just wait, college will be better.”  “Your geekiness is celebrated by your teachers–and when you get out of highschool, most people will realize that Doctor Who is awesome.” “Your peer group doesn’t understand you.  They think you are ‘weird’, but you are confident and quirky and so much more well-equipped for real life than the rest of them.”  There are nearly as many times that I want to hug them and celebrate them and thank them for including the ‘weird’ kid, for telling off their peer for making an ignorant joke, for taking a bigger risk in their performance than I would have during college.  I have seen students shrug off differences and behaviors that adults are struggling to make sense of.  Most importantly, I have seen students grow.  Grow and grow and be perplexed by my awe.  I have seen the student who cried through every class stand on stage and speak out his lines in confidence.  I have seen the ‘lightbulb’ turn on as a student suddenly understands the subtext of her line.  I have seen the pride when a student makes a bold character choice.

I think I spend at least half of my time teaching in quiet awe of these children.  Another good portion is barely-concealed curiosity.  The rest of that time might be actually teaching them acting.  Haha.  In all seriousness, try as I might (especially in summer), I can’t help comparing my students to myself in my high school years.  Hindsight is 20/20.  While I certainly wasn’t misbehaving (and neither are they), I can only imagine how highschool would have gone if I had half of the confidence, drive, and openness that my students seem to constantly portray.  I have long-since moved past high school, and can readily admit that I stifled myself as much, if not more, as my peers did.  I had some great times and some horrible times, as I am sure most people do.  When I graduated and prepared for college, I also prepared to make myself open and to put myself out there.  Quiet, shy, overthinking, awkward girl could stay in her corner–I was going to meet people and participate, and do my best to stop rehashing conversations or embarrassing moments.  It took a little while, but I m so grateful that I had the self-awareness (even as I lacked in self-confidence) to change myself and my interactions.  College was one of the best times of my life.  While there were many moments of self-doubt and many times in my freshman year that I wanted to simply give up and shrink back to a wallflower, soon enough, I found myself with a wide array of friends, many of whom I cherish to this day; doing things I never thought I would be capable of doing.  I served on students boards, I organized events, helped to start an honor fraternity chapter, and found out that what I most enjoyed was stage managing–you know, that job in theater that organizes everyone’s ideas and communications, that runs rehearsals, and takes the lead during performances.  I never would have imagined myself doing these things in highschool.  It is still surprising to stop and think about it now.

Luckily, so many of my students will not have to make that conscious choice that I did.  So many are above and beyond my high-school self in confidence, maturity, leadership, and social interactions.  For that I am grateful.   Perhaps I am biased, by I firmly believe that our company shapes great individuals.  I believe that children who come through our camp are bettered for their time there, and it is my privilege to watch and to help them grow.  And I am so excited for a new season of inspiration and astonishment.

Now that I’ve summed up my unexpectedly emotional tangent on why I am excited for summer, even after losing half of my vacation…I do have a recipe for you.  To those of you who read five sentences and skipped down to the recipe, you are in luck!  As I mentioned in my post for my Berry-Lemon Syrup, I made Pots de Creme for the first time, on a whim, for Mother’s Day.  I was happily lamenting that I hadn’t taken any pictures, so I would have to make them again before I could share them with you.  The next day, I found two delightful little Pots de Creme stashed in the back of my fridge.  I did say the next day–don’t worry, these pictures have been sitting in my Photos folder far longer than those Pots de Creme lasted at my house.  I’ve only just gotten around to sharing the recipe now.

pots de creme spoon in

pots de creme spoonful

pots de creme bite

I’ve seen variations on this recipe around the web–many of them are incomplete (the directions do not actually use all of the ingredients or vice versa) or rely on the hot coffee to cook all of the eggs, all while melting the chocolate.  That makes me a bit leery.  Many used blenders or food processors, which, aside from my trusty Magic Bullet Blender, I do not own.  Sadly, the MBB was not big enough for this recipe.  So, I’ve tinkered a bit with the ingredients, adapted a lot of the directions, and made this a mixer-and-bowl-friendly recipe.  I wanted the chocolate to shine through, so I’ve cut back the sugar and added just a touch of cinnamon to support the coffee and chocolate flavors.

pots de creme above

Chocolate-Coffee (Mocha) Pots de Creme

Adapted from Ree Drummond

Serves: 8 | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 30 minutes

  • 12 oz quality semi-sweet/dark chocolate
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 c. hot, strong coffee
  • 1 c. whole milk/half & half/heavy cream
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Place coarsely chopped/chip chocolate into a large bowl.  Add cinnamon.  Slowly whisk in hot coffee.  The chocolate pieces should melt within 5 minutes of stirring.  If not, heat the cream–be careful not to scald it!  Add cream and mix well.  In a small bowl, beat eggs.  Temper* with 1/4 – 1/2 cup of chocolate mixture, before adding egg mixture to chocolate mixture.  Add vanilla extract, sugar, and salt and mix well.  Pour mixture into ramekins or pots.  Place pots in large pan.  Fill the pan with hot water to make a water bath, until the water is one inch from the edge of the ramekins.  Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake Pots de Creme for 25-30 minutes.  Remove from oven and water bath.  Cool completely before moving to the fridge.  Serve chilled with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

*Tempering is adding a small amount of hot batter/mixture to beaten eggs while stirring, to slowly warm the eggs up to temperature.  This keeps the eggs from scrambling when added back into the hot mixture.  Keep stirring through the entire tempering process.

pots empty jars

This dessert was so delicious and simple, I was surprised.  I’m already dreaming up different flavors–white chocolate and chai tea, anyone?

Revisiting Snickers Pie

Well, around this time last year (actually, to the day, I’ve just noticed) I posted a recipe for Snickers Pie that I made for a ‘special friend’…blahblahblah.  You guessed it.  The special friend was M, and, having only just started dating, we were caught in a strange trap of how much to share, with whom, and when.  Anyways, clearly that’s worked out pretty well: here we are a year later and I’m bringing you another Snickers Pie with tips, tricks, and a warning label (and minimally better photos).

I made this year’s pie almost exactly like last year’s.  I did substitute ground up Annie’s Snickerdoodle Bunny Cookies for the graham crackers (I’ve tried the new Snickerdoodle and Gingersnap flavors, both are wonderful!).  Because the cookies themselves were flavored, I excluded the brown sugar and the cinnamon in my graham cracker crust, and dropped the melted butter down to 3-4 Tablespoons to accommodate for that.  This crust was awesome!  It shined through, even against the chocolate, caramel, and peanuts.  Annie’s cookies will be my new go-to for cookie-crumb crusts.

I also very nearly burnt the caramel sauce (it cooked up to about 5-10 degrees hotter than the recipe recommended).  After I tasted a smidge of cooled caramel, I was worried.  It had the distinctive burnt, bitter edge.  I didn’t have time to make more caramel and was rather upset, but M insisted that paired with the chocolate and run through with peanuts, it would be fine.  He was right.  The nearly-burnt caramel helped to cut through the sweetness of this pie.  I wouldn’t recommend purposefully trying to reach this point of near-burning caramel, unless you have a lot of experience with the substance.  Non-burnt caramel is equally delicious, and a better participant in this sugar-riot of a recipe.

Now for the warning:  now that I have perfected my original recipe, I hereby give this warning: This pie is extremely rich and very sweet.  This is a tiny-sliver for a serving type of dessert, with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream on the side to help cut through the sugar.  I sliced far too big of slices the first round, and though we gamely and happily ate all of our servings, M and I fought off sugar comas all the way through Skyfall.

I still love the idea of this pie…if it can actually be called that.  Pie is the best term I can think of, as it is filling in a pie shell.  I make it in a spring-form pan, so, uncut, it looks like a chocolate-topped cheesecake.  In all reality, it is a giant candy bar.  But, if Pecan Pie is consider pie, I think this should be as well.

Snicker-themed desserts are a likely theme for M’s birthday, at least until he requests  something different.  But I think that next year, I will have to cut this pie with another layer.  I was considering adding a layer of nougat (minus the almonds) like an actual snickers bar, but I think it still might be near too much sugar.  We’ve found that dairy cuts through the sugar very well, right now, I think my best bet would be to put a layer of cheesecake (or chocolate cheesecake) under the caramel-peanut layer (and probably make a half-batch of that recipe).  It would help to vary the flavors, and the tang of cheesecake is very welcome here.

Even so, this decadent pie is still our to enjoy.  We’re careful to eat only thin slices, if only to keep ourselves alert and functioning for the hour after eating. I’m wondering if we’ll finish it by Thanksgiving, and the influx of desserts that come with that holiday.  But for now, if you feel the need for a dangerously decadent dessert, follow the link below to my earlier post with the full recipe.  The only tweaks I made were mentioned above, and either crust pairs wonderfully with the candy filling!

SNICKERS PIE RECIPE (link to my earlier post)

Better Than ___________ Cupcakes

When I was in the prime of my childhood (i.e. grades K-7 when it was still fun to play outside all day, every day), there were 37 children living in our cul-de-sac.  Not the block, not the sprawling network of a ‘neighborhood’, but the 19-house stub of a street.  It tumbled out 37 bodies under the age of 15 every Saturday morning.  Nowadays, with my–ahem–broader view of the world and especially of the area where I live, I realize how lucky we were to have our house on that street.  We were two turns away from the busiest street to the north, with a generous network of neighborhood to the south.  A similar cul-de-sac was across the street, and, of course, our ended in a wide circle that we were never tempted to stray from.  Parents in the neighborhood drew a line: “Don’t go past the corner”.  And 99% of the time, we didn’t.  My mother got a large, old copper whistle to call us home for dinner.  The shrill notes stretched just long enough to reach our ears at the top of the street.

There was more than enough to do on our little street.  Summer evenings turned our circular end of the street into a milling sea of bicycles, without a care for traffic.  One lucky summer, an ice cream truck came every other night for two weeks straight.  We climbed trees, built forts, collected seed pods. Endless hours were spent on our trampoline, in the neighbor’s clubhouse, and playing some sort of jumping game most akin to reverse limbo with more dangerous results.  Whoever jumps over the stick held at the highest place, wins.  The losers are those who catch the stick with an ankle and careen face-first into the ground.

We thought it was fun.

While the children of the cul-de-sac whiled away our hours in constant contact, the adults were friendly, but didn’t push the neighborly relationship much beyond sidewalk conversations as they collected their progeny, and the occasional stroll-and-chat through a neighbor’s yard sale.  (It does make me laugh, as the new generation on the street have young, 10-and-under children, and the parents seem much more social than our parents ever did.)  Once, we decided to try to change that.  I must have been on the older end of the spectrum, and all of the kids decided that we wanted a barbecue.  We made flyers and stuck them in everyone’s mailboxes after pleading with our parents.  Feeling especially kind, we even put flyers in those houses of families without children (in our tiny world, I doubt we’d ever met some of those households).  And then we got to planning, pre-facebook.  We took polls as to who would bring what kind of food, who could drag their grill down into the street.

And there, in our family’s own search for picnic food, we found a recipe on the back of a Carnation sweetened, condensed milk can.  Or perhaps a box of cake mix.  All the same, the title was alluring (Better Than Anything Cake) and the ingredient list was even more so (anything containing toffee with always get my vote).  This was pre-gluten-free, and the height of my childhood meant the hieght of my mother’s quick-fix dishes.  The recipe was simple enough.

Mix up a batch of chocolate cake (preferably Devil’s Food) according to package directions.

Bake the cake in a sheet pan (I chose cupcakes for portability).

Poke holes throughout the top of the cake with the handle of a spoon (or a fork, for cupcakes).

Pour one can of sweetened, condensed milk and one bottle of caramel sauce all over the top.

Let sit overnight so the sauces can be fully absorbed into the cake.

Spread top with one tub of Cool Whip and sprinkle with one bag of Heath toffee bits.

The ultimate 90’s recipe.  Quick, easy, all prepackaged, no measuring required.  And let me tell you, it was delicious.  This was serve-with-a-spoon cake.  It couldn’t stand up to being sliced, so soaked with caramel, but that wasn’t too much of a problem.  Needless to say, we took home a pan and some crumbs at the end of the night.  I’m positive that someone at the barbecue let my mother in on the other name for this cake: Better Than Sex Cake.  Either way, years later as I began to stumble through the world of online recipes, when I encountered “Better Than Sex Cake”, I knew what it was.  I’ve seen it with a variety of names (Better Than Sex Cake, Almost Better Than Sex Cake, Better Than Almost Anything Cake…), take your pick.  The ingredient list and the assembly have always been the same.

Recently, when a friend and I planned dinner while compiling a lesson plan, I was charged with dessert.  It had to be easy to make  the morning off, be transportable, and delicious for those eating gluten-free or not.  And, I had a bag of Gluten-Free chocolate cake mix wallowing in my pantry.  Cupcakes.  Cupcakes were a must.  The dessert would have to survive coming to work with me, a stint in the work fridge, and the drive to my friends. Cupcakes offered the portion-ability and portability that would be perfect.  I didn’t quite prep well for this recipe.  At the grocery store, I grabbed some cream cheese, heavy cream, and whipped cream, deciding to figure out frosting later.  I grabbed the toffee, we had the caramel and condensed milk at home.  I forgot cupcake liners.

By lucky chance, M’s mum had huge cupcake liners at home.  It worried me since they fit strangely in our muffin tin, but this turned into a stroke of pure luck.  With these cupcakes, the taller the liner, the better.  I scaled back the condensed milk and the caramel (only used about 6 Tablespoons of each), since I didn’t have the time for these to soak up the sauce overnight.  If you are able to give these cupcakes the time to rest, I highly recommend it.

I also did not want to take a chance with pure whipping cream as frosting.  Inevitably, in our long journey, it would melt.  Ultimately, I ended up compromising with a whipped cream cheese frosting I’ve seen on a few sites that is phenomenal and entirely stable.  In my cream-cheese-loving-opinion, this frosting only makes these cupcakes better, but for you BTSCake purists, perhaps investigate whipping cream stabilizers?  I’ve never used them before.  Either way, with very little effort, you can have delicious  cupcakes that people will be talking about all week (my co-workers can attest to that!)  You don’t even have to share our little secret about the cake mix…

Better Than ____________ Cupcakes

For the Cupcakes

  • 1 package gluten free chocolate cake mix + ingredients listed on package for making cupcakes (or use your favorite homemade chocolate cake recipe, prepared to batter stage)
  • 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar, packed
  • 6-8 Tbsp (or more) sweetened condensed milk (low-fat/non-fat is fine)
  • 6-8 Tbsp (or more) prepared caramel syrup/sauce
  • 1 cup Heath toffee bits

For the Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8 oz (1 package) cream cream (low-fat is fine, non-fat is not)
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • Pinch of salt

Prepare your cake batter as directed on the package, or according to your usual recipe, adding the tablespoon of brown sugar with the dry ingredients or with the other sugars in recipe.  Once the batter is thoroughly mixed, stir in chocolate chips by hand.  Spoon into cupcake liners and bake according to directions for cupcakes.

Remove cupcakes from oven and allow to cool.  Meanwhile, mix caramel syrup and sweetened, condensed milk.  Poke a dozen or so holes into the top of cooled cupcakes with a fork or a toothpick.  Drizzle a spoonful or so over each cupcake (more of the syrup mixture can be added depending on how much time you can allow the cupcakes to set.  Up to a tablespoon per cake if they can sit overnight).  Allow cupcakes to set as long as possible: at least one hour and up to overnight in the refrigerator.

Make your frosting: in medium bowl, whip heavy cream until stiff peaks form (watch carefully at end to see that you do not over-whip the cream.  If you see it starting to separate, stop!  The next stage after stiff peaks is butter!).  In large bowl, combine softened cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Beat until smooth.  Fold in whipped cream.  Remove cupcakes from fridge, sprinkle with toffee bits.  Spoon frosting into piping bag, or a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off and pipe onto cooled, set cupcakes (or simply spread with a knife).  Top with additional toffee bits.

When I have a day off, all alone

Things like this happen:

Unfortunately, I do not have a recipe, because these were a pain and a half to make.  See the un-chocolated/frosted ones at the bottom…I got bored of being bored halfway through.  To keep the story short, I picked the wrong type of dough, one that was barely meant to be rolled out, let alone to make cut-out cookies.  I also constructed the large ones out of two circle cookie-cutters and my fingers.  Which subsequently melted the dough.  I covered up the cookies with melted chocolate, and sprinkled either sliced almonds, chocolate jimmies (sprinkles), chopped pecans or orange zest.  Delicious, but nothing really to write home about.  The was one shining moment in the day, though:  Look at those baby hedgehogs.  Perfection, yes?  HOLLY LEAF COOKIE CUTTER!  I know.

That is all.  Please go play.  Make mistakes.  Pick the wrong dough and stubbornly push on with your plans until you finally give up and smoosh the last handful of it onto the sheet pan in vaguely cookie-shaped piles.  Breathe.  Decide to cover the cookies with chocolate to make yourself feel better.  Be reminded that you need your kitchen counter to be six inches higher, but until then you will inevitably end up with a knot between your shoulder blades.  Give up on frosting and fill the last few with peanut butter, nutella, jam, and any other spread you can find in the fridge.  Eat cookies.  Feel better.

Or, you know…follow a recipe.  But sometimes that is a little boring.

Chocolate-Peanut-Butter & Coconut-Caramel Knock-off Cookies

Can you guess what I’ve been working on?  Its is the season of delectable cookies sold by a certain leadership group for girls.  A delicious season.  Just when we begin to recover from the Christmas candy and the cookie swaps, these little babies come knocking.  Only, now, I can’t answer.  Last was not so bad.  I was still in school and it was ignore the delectable bites when they weren’t in my kitchen. But this year, I am back home.  And the rest of the family can eat those cookies.  Several boxes appeared in my pantry, and I knew I was facing the inevitable.  I needed some cookies.  So I had to make them.

I used the recipes from Nicole at Baking Bites.  As you can see, she already has a lovely collection of knock-off recipes.  Including a gluten-free Thin Mints recipe.  But if you look closely at my (unfortunately dim) photo, I didn’t make Thin Mints.  I intended to.  They were third on the list.  But I won’t mislead you:  these cookies are a little labor intensive.  The taste is worth it, absolutely, and a double batch (one for each cookie) made over six dozen cookies.  Thats right.  One batch makes three dozen delectable morsels of nostalgia.  So if you can find the time to put in the elbow work of rolling, baking, filling, and dipping; you won’t be disappointed.

Look at all that melting chocolate…

I want to point something out from the get-go:  The recipe for these cookies uses (A) a store-bought All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour (Bob’s Red Mill) and (B) that blend contains bean flour.  I know the controversies of bean flour in gluten-free baking.  I’ll readily admit, I hate the smell of raw bean flours, and made the mistake of tasting the dough.  Please don’t.  That metallic-penny grit haunts my dreams. Seriously.

But, when baked, that taste and smell disappears entirely.  And, the bean flour in this mix makes the dough very pliable.  That is worth it in such an involved process for these cookies.  Mixing, rolling, and cookies out the cookies was an absolute breeze!  Plus, I had a bag of Bob’s Red Mill GF AP flour languishing in my pantry (a thoughtful purchase from someone trying to help…I couldn’t tell them I usually wasn’t fond of it).   As far as the “Bean Flour Bloat”, I’ve never had any issues resulting from bean flour.  And, if you think about it, we probably shouldn’t be eating enough of these cookies at once to have that much of an effect on our systems.  If you absolutely do not want to use a bean flour mix, I would suggest trying a baking mix with some elasticity–I’ve found that Soy Flour is the next best choice in that area.  Unfortunately, I haven’t worked with it enough to give measurements for a good mix.

My modifications were directly in the cookie dough, and I used the same dough for both the Tagalong- and the Samoa-knockoffs.

I used Nicole’s filling without any modifications.  Please follow the link above to find those.

Knock-off Cookie Base

  • -1 cup butter, softened
  • -3/4 cup sugar
  • -1 3/4 cup all purpose flour mix (Bob’s Red Mill GF)
  • -1/4 tsp baking powder
  • -1/2 tsp salt
  • -1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • -1/4 c. milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a small bowl, whisk together dry ingredients (flour mix, baking powder, salt) until thoroughly combined.  In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar for 2-3 minutes until light, fluffy, and completely incorporated (the mixture will turn faintly yellow).  Beat in vanilla extract and milk, mixing thoroughly after each addition.  Slowly add in dry ingredients, mixing well.  The dough should not be too sticky, and should be malleable.

Roll dough out to 1/8-1/4in thickness between two pieces of well-floured parchment paper.  Cut into 1-1 1/2 in circles.  Gather scraps and re-roll, continue cutting out circles.  If dough becomes too soft, refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.   Place on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.  The cookies will not spread in the oven.  Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, until they begin to brown.  Browning will be very slight, as the dough contains no eggs.

Allow cookies to cool completely, and follow Nicole’s instructions for filling/topping/dipping in the link above.

I’d say they look pretty close to the originals!