Hidden Heart Cake

Are you looking for something fun to bake for Valentine’s Day but are thinking that it’s too late? Well, this may just be the cake for you. All you need is 2 boxes of cake mix (I used white & chocolate), a loaf pan, a 2-inch heart cookie cutter and pink (or red) food coloring. While I used a white cake mix tinted pink for the hearts inside of a chocolate cake, you could try pink hearts inside of a white cake, red hearts inside of a white cake, red hearts inside of a yellow cake and so forth. It’s really up to you.

To begin, I prepped a box of white cake mix per the directions and then tinted it pink with a few drops of gel food coloring. I poured it into a loaf pan that I sprayed with baking spray and baked it in a 350 F oven for 40 minutes, the cake wasn’t quite done but was browning considerably along the top so I dropped the temperature to 325 F and baked it for another 10 minutes. I let the cake cool for about 20 minutes in the pan and then transferred it to a wire rack to cool completely.

After the cake cooled, I sliced it into approximately 1 inch slices. Some of the slices were a little thicker, some a little thinner. In the end, it didn’t matter.

Next, using a 2-inch heart cookie cutter I cut hearts from the slices of cake and set them aside. Those mini hearts were for a different baking project that turned out to be a fail… Oh well.

You will have a bunch of cake scraps left, I ended up snacking on a few pieces and then tossing the rest. If you make cake pops, or have been wanting to make cake pops, save these scraps for just that.

I then prepared the chocolate cake mix per the box directions. I spread about a 1/2 inch layer of the batter into the bottom of my loaf pan that I prepped with baking spray.

Next, I arranged the 2-inch hearts in a row down the middle of the pan, leaving a small space between the first and last heart and the pan, but, making sure the hearts in the middle were close together. This is why I said that if your slices aren’t exactly 1-inch thick it won’t matter. Once you line them together it will all be good.

I used a ladle to slowly pour the rest of the batter along the sides and on the top of the hearts. You don’t want to just pour the batter into the pan, this could disturb the hearts and you could end up with chocolate in between them. I did make sure that the hearts were completely covered with the batter. You don’t want a heart peeking out of the top of the cake… that would ruin the surprise.

I then baked it in a 350 F preheated oven for about 40 minutes. I inserted a cake tester and the inside was still a little underdone so I lowered the oven temperature to 325 F and baked it for an additional 10 minutes, similar to what I did with the pink cake. Once again, I let the cake cool for about 20 minutes in the pan and then removed it and let it completely cool on a wire rack.

Once it was cool it was time to slice and see if my hidden heart cake was a success (and it was)!

Pink Hot Chocolate

An all-natural Pink Hot Chocolate just in time for Valentine’s Day! How you may ask, well, instead of using red or pink food coloring to get the pink hue, you use a few tablespoons of beet juice. And before you cringe your face because beets are not your favorite vegetable or something you are willing to try once or again, just know that you will not be able to taste the beet flavor whatsoever. But, if you are still intrigued by the idea of making Pink Hot Chocolate for your Valentine this week (or for yourself) but are completely against the beet juice, I will give you a few options to get the pink color that might sound more appealing.

The base of this hot chocolate is white hot chocolate. You start off by bringing milk (I used whole milk) and salt to a simmer over medium heat. Then remove it from the heat and add in grated white chocolate and vanilla extract. Grating the chocolate allows it to melt easier and quicker. Once the chocolate has melted then stir in a few tablespoons of beet juice. But, if you are not inclined to use beet juice, you could substitute it with cherry juice or the juice from maraschino cherries. Just be aware that either of those options could make your hot chocolate a tad bit sweeter. Now, if none of those options work for you, you could tint the hot chocolate with a few drops of either pink or red food coloring. And finally, top the hot chocolate with a healthy topping of whipped cream and then sprinkle with cinnamon. YUM!

Pink Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

2 cups milk

Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 ounces white chocolate, grated*

2 tablespoons beet juice**

Whipped cream, for topping

Cinnamon, for topping

 

*I used Baker’s White Chocolate

**substitute with cherry juice, maraschino cherry juice, food coloring

 

Directions:

In a small saucepan combine the milk and a pinch of the kosher salt and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

Remove the saucepan from heat and add in the vanilla extract and grated chocolate, stirring until the chocolate has completely melted. Stir in the beet juice.

Diving among mugs and top with whipped cream and cinnamon.

 

Recipe from Real Simple

 

YouTube Themed Cake

My blog started with an Elmo Cake for my niece’s birthday, and throughout the years there have been other character themed cakes, Minnie Mouse, Frozen, Trolls and last year’s Descendants. As you can see the themes aged as she did and by whatever was popular at the time. Well, fast forward 7 years and for her 9th birthday she requested a YouTube Cake. Initially she said she wanted the Cookies and Cream Cake I made a few months back (her younger sister will only eat Oreos in mini form thanks to that cake) but I guess she wasn’t ready to let go of a themed birthday cake just yet. Who knows what next year will bring, or what I will be making for my younger niece come June. I am thinking she’ll still want some sort of character.

Now, a YouTube cake sounded easy enough. It didn’t require any special decorations, the colors were simple (white, black and red) and I pretty much had all of the tools I needed to make it. But, there was one thing. While looking at some cakes on Pinterest and Instagram, I noticed that people opted to make their YouTube themed cakes round, but, I felt it really should be a square cake. Not that that was an issue, but then I wondered, how would I cover it in fondant? I sometimes have mishaps when covering round cakes (they seem to always tear) so I could only imagine that covering a square cake would be even more difficult. Especially trying to get the edges sharp. So, I thought, isn’t there a way I could panel the fondant. And of course a quick Google search assured me that yes, fondant paneling was possible and from the looks of it easier – I am actually thinking of trying the technique on the next round cake I make that needs to be covered in fondant. I decided to watch a few videos just to pick up a few tips and tricks. And I quickly learned that one of the keys to fondant paneling is to freeze the fondant for a few minutes after rolling and cutting it so it’s firm and easier to trim and place on the place.

I began by baking two 9-inch square chocolate cakes. After letting the cakes cool, I wrapped them in plastic wrap and left them on my kitchen counter. The following day I made a chocolate mousse filling for the cake and I took a major short-cut and used store bought chocolate frosting. I haven’t quite mastered making chocolate frosting myself. Anyone have a good foolproof recipe they can share? I leveled, filled and frosted the cake and then placed it in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day it was time to cover the cake in fondant. Normally I use confectioners’ sugar to dust my rolling mat and pin, but, opted this time to use cornstarch and what I found was that the fondant didn’t get as soft. I began by cutting a square piece for the top of the cake. To leave room for error, I cut the fondant about a quarter of an inch larger than what I needed it to be. To place it on the cake, I matched it to one corner of the cake so all I would have to trim was two sides. Now, I didn’t place this piece in the freezer since I thought it would be easy to trim it since it was just lying flat on the cake, a mistake. While I was able to trim it, it would have been easier had it been frozen.

Next, I covered the sides of the cake. Before I started though, I decided which sides of the cake would be the front, back and sides. This is important as you cover the sides of the cake first before the front and back. Since the cake is a square, all of the sides were the same length and width. I rolled and cut two pieces for the sides and placed them in the freezer on a cookie sheet for 5 minutes. After the 5 minutes I removed them and before placing them on the cake, I lightly brushed the cake with water so the fondant would adhere better. As I did with the top piece, I lined the fondant piece with one bottom corner of the cake and then used my fondant smoother to smooth (and stick) the fondant onto the cake. I then trimmed the fondant. I used a small knife that I sharpened. I think next time I will purchase an X-Acto knife to get a cleaner and closer cut. I repeated this three more times and was pretty happy with my end result. It wasn’t perfect, but, I was happy that I didn’t have any mishaps and that my fondant actually stuck to the cake and that I had clean edges and no fondant tears! I would have benefitted from trimming my cake prior to frosting it so it would have sharper and cleaners sides. Each time is a learning experience so I am sure next will be better.

Then it was time to make this square into a YouTube cake. I cut out letters and a triangle (for the play button) using white and black fondant. For the red pieces, I actually used a band aid cookie cutter I purchased to make a Doc McStuffins themed cake a few years back.

And to cover up the unfinished edges around the cake, I decided to put a black trim over it. To adhere all of these pieces I lightly brushed the back of them with a little water. And that was it. This cake was a hit with the Birthday girl and everyone who saw it!

This is the recipe I used for the chocolate cake. I have been using it for years now and haven’t had any issues or complaints. As for the chocolate mousse, I used the mousse recipe I made for the Spice Cupcakes and instead of using a box of pumpkin spice Jell-O mix I used chocolate.

Pistachio Quick Bread

I’ve been using Jell-O pudding mixes for quite some time now as a base to make mousse fillings for my cakes. I’ve actually started picking up different flavors of the boxes to switch up my filling flavor. While there is nothing wrong with vanilla and chocolate of course, a chocolate cake with either a caramel or banana mousse flavor wouldn’t be too bad either. I sometimes wonder though what other desserts they can be turned into and then recently I found the perfect recipe to use a box of pistachio pudding, a Pistachio Quick Bread. Combined with a package of white cake mix and a few other ingredients you have two delicious loaves in less than an hour. For a little more texture and crunch add in a cup of chopped of pistachios to the batter, or scatter them along the top of the batter before baking. I’m looking forward to trying this recipe with a box pumpkin spice Jell-O (I finally found them at the supermarket, as you may recall I used my last box to make a Chocolate Roll Cake with a Pumpkin Mousse Filling) and a box of yellow cake mix. Baking from scratch is great, but, taking short cuts and sprucing up a box of store bought cake mix is never a bad thing.

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Pistachio Quick Bread

Ingredients:

1 Box White Cake Mix

1 3.4 oz. package of pistachio pudding mix

4 large eggs

1 cup sour cream

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup canola oil

 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray 2 8×4-inch loaf pans with baking spray (or grease with butter) and set aside.

In a large bowl combine the cake mix and pudding mix. Add the eggs, sour cream, water and oil. Beat on low for 30 seconds to combine and then raise the speed to medium and continue mixing until well blended (the batter will be thick)

Divide the batter amongst the two prepared pans and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the middle come out clean.

Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then remove from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

The original recipe included a cinnamon sugar swirl which I decided to omit. The link for the recipe with the swirl is below.

Recipe from Taste of Home

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

Are you all set for Christmas? Are your gifts wrapped? Cards in the mail? Cookies baked? Or, are you looking for just one more treat to make? If so, you should try these Chocolate Truffle Cookies.  They are chocolaty without being overly sweet thanks to the addition of unsweetened chocolate, which helps to offset the sweetness of the semi-sweet chocolate and sugar.

One thing you will definitely need to make these cookies is time. Once the batter is made it needs to be refrigerated for at least 3 hours so it can become firm enough to handle, but, it’s worth the time. The final result is a cookie similar to a truffle, firm on the outside and soft on the inside.

These cookies were part of a box of treats I mailed to a friend. Included in the box were the Chocolate Covered Pretzels and Candied Nuts I posted about earlier this week. Also included were Peanut Butter Blossoms. All wonderful homemade treats to gift to anyone on your list and can easily be made this last weekend before Christmas.

 

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

Ingredients:

12oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1/3 cup unsalted butter, cubed

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup flour

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)

 

Directions:

In a microwave, melt 1 cup of the chocolate chips, unsweetened chocolate and butter; stir until smooth and let cool for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl beat the sugar and eggs on medium speed until well blended. Beat in the cooled chocolate mixture and vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Gradually beat this into the chocolate mixture. Once fully incorporated stir in the remaining chocolate chips.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a cookie scoop, scoop the dough (it will be quite firm) and then roll into a ball and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies have puffed and are set. Cool on the pan for 3 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if using.

Recipe from Taste of Home

Freezing Cookie Dough

I knew I would be pressed for time this year when it came to baking cookies for Christmas, so, I decided to do something I’ve never done before and was always skeptical of doing… freezing cookie dough. I normally have a good day or two to bake, but, the way things are falling this year I am only going to have one good full day to bake all of my cookies and I just knew that it wouldn’t be enough time due to the fact that I have a few other things to take care of that day as well. So, currently there are about 6 or 7 different batches of drop cookies in my freezer along with the dough for these Checkerboard Cookies . And, there is also a batch of Gingerbread People ready to be popped in the oven. I also went out and purchased some extra-large baking sheets. I am sure you have seen them, the Wilton Mega-Sized Baking Sheet. As you can tell, I am serious about baking these cookies in record time.

So, let’s talk about freezing cookie dough. Were or are some of you skeptical like me about it? Or, is it something you have been doing for years and are shocked to read my apprehension about it? The best cookies to freeze are drop cookies and slice and bake cookies. You can also freeze the dough for roll out cookies (sugar cookies, gingerbread people, etc.), but, I would suggest rolling out the dough and cutting it into your desired shapes first and then freezing it. That’s exactly what I did with the Gingerbread ones. Using a freezer-safe container, I lined it with two pieces of plastic wrap lengthwise and widthwise leaving a few inches of overhang. I layered the cookies in the containers making sure they were flat and placed a piece of parchment paper between each layer and on the top layer. Once filled, I wrapped the plastic wrap over the top layer making sure to press out any air. Topped the container with the cover and placed it in the freezer. You could freeze the entire disk of dough as well, but, I personally think that the time spent waiting for it to defrost would be better spent just making the dough to use immediately. My plan for these is to let them thaw a little and then press mini M&M’s into them before baking and then ultimately decorating them with royal icing.

 

Back to the drop cookies and slice and bake variety…. For the drop cookies I simply made the dough, rolled the dough into balls (scooping it with a cookie scoop) and then placed it on a baking sheet. Since the dough was going in the freezer and not in the oven I was able to place the dough really close together on the baking sheet. I just made sure none of them were touching which could ultimately lead to them freezing together. I then placed the sheet in the freezer for a few hours until the dough was thoroughly frozen. Once frozen, I transferred the dough to a freezer-safe plastic zip bag. I labeled the outside of the bag with the type of cookie it was. Since I wasn’t planning on leaving it in the freezer too long I opted not to include the date, oven temperature and baking time on the bag as well. The suggested length of time for leaving dough in the freezer is 3 months. I actually baked a batch of one of the cookies this weekend and I am happy to say it was a success. To bake them, I placed the dough on a parchment lined baking sheet 1 to 2 inches apart and increase the suggested baking time by 1 to 2 minutes to account for the dough being frozen. The cookies baked perfectly and tasted like I had just made the dough that morning. That’s really what my fear was (and still is to a certain extent), that the cookies will somehow have a weird flavor from the dough being frozen.

 

For the slice and bake cookies, you can follow your directions and form the dough into a log, wrap it in a few layers of plastic wrap, place it in a freezer-safe bag that has been labeled and then freeze it. It’s not necessary to refrigerate the dough prior to freezing as most slice and bake cookies require prior to slicing. To bake these cookies, let the dough sit at room temperature unwrapped for 10 to 15 minutes. The dough should feel cold to the touch, but soft enough that you will be able to slice it. Slice and bake per the directions, once again adding an additional minute or two to the time.

Since my test batch was a success I am little less unnerved by the process. Fingers crossed I will still be singing high praises come Sunday when I bake quite a few more batches.

Chocolate Covered Pretzel Rods

Sweet & Salty is as good a combination as you can get and there’s no better way to get satisfy that craving for both than with chocolate covered pretzels. If you’re looking for a last minute treat to give your loved ones this Holiday season these may be the answer. You only need three ingredients to make them, pretzels, chocolate and a topping (if you choose). Now, when I’ve made chocolate covered pretzels in the past I’ve used the mini pretzel twists and while they taste good I always have an issue with getting the excess chocolate to drip off… It never does. I never end up with pretzels that are nice and evenly coated with chocolate, there is always one or two spots that has a little too much. As I mentioned, they taste good, but, I am just not 100% happy with how they look. This year, I decided I would make chocolate dipped pretzels rods rolled in sprinkles. Figuring that the sprinkles could easily cover any imperfections with the chocolate. Which it did!

Now, I know a lot of directions for chocolate covered pretzels call for a bit of shortening to be added to the chocolate when melting, I have never done this. From what I have read the shortening creates a smoother and more manageable consistency of chocolate – which I suppose would be ideal for the chocolate covered pretzel twists – but, I have also read that it can alter the flavor of the chocolate and that sometimes the chocolate doesn’t harden as well, so I stick with plain old chocolate. If I find that the chocolate is beginning to thicken too much while I am working with it I pop it back in the microwave for a quick 10 seconds just to get it smooth again. Not much longer because I don’t want to scorch the chocolate. Oh, and I melt my chocolate in the microwave as well. I have melted chocolate in my own make-shift double boiler – I place a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water – but, I find the microwave quicker and with less clean-up. I simply pour a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips into a microwave-safe bowl (I normally use a silicone one) and heat it for 1 minute. I give it a good stir and continue melting the chocolate in 30 second intervals, stirring the chocolate between each zap in the microwave. I don’t melt the chocolate completely in the microwave. Once it begins to melt stirring it will help melt the rest of the chocolate into a smooth mixture. For dipping pretzel rods you want to use a small bowl that is pretty deep so you can get a lot of the pretzel rods coated in the chocolate. As you go along and find yourself with less and less chocolate but pretzel rods remaining you can use a spoon/knife to spread the chocolate on to the rod.

Once the chocolate is ready I pour my sprinkles onto a rimmed baking sheet and push them to the center of the pan. Using a baking sheet will make it easy to roll the pretzel rods in the sprinkles. I set up another baking sheet with wax paper to place the rods on once they are dipped and sprinkled. And then I simply dipped a rod into the chocolate and then rolled it in the sprinkles. I then placed it on the wax lined paper so it could set and once I was done I placed the entire pan in the refrigerator to be sure that the chocolate would harden.

Here are some tips that may help you get a good coating of chocolate on your pretzels… If you have too much chocolate and it’s just not dripping off use a butter knife to smooth it out, or, another pretzel rod. I did the latter a few times. I simply rolled the pretzels next to each other over the bowl to coat the one without the chocolate. For those rods that I wasn’t planning on rolling in sprinkles I actually rolled it on a sheet of wax paper to smooth the chocolate out and then placed them in the refrigerator so the chocolate could harden and then drizzled them with the red and green chocolate the following day. To do so, I melted candy melts and then poured it in squeeze bottles and drizzled the chocolate over the pretzels and once again placed the sheet back in the refrigerator so the drizzle could harden.

My apologies for not having step-by-step pictures, but, I made these late at night (a lot later than I had planned since my car decided to act up that day and I had to be towed from work to the mechanic and then have a friend bring me home… thankfully my car was fixed and back on the road the following day!) and I have learned that late-night pictures are not good for blogging!

So, to recap, all you need for these Chocolate Covered Pretzels is a bag of pretzel rods (I used a 12oz bag that had about 30 good (unbroken) pretzel rods), a 12oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips, and to decorate sprinkles, candy melts, chopped nuts or coconut. You will also need wax paper, at least 3 baking sheets and a bowl to melt and dip the chocolate.

Happy Dipping & Rolling!