Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Wicked Good Cake

A recent self inventory has led me to believe I'm utterly obsessed with Halloween for one of three reasons:
  1. I'm really a demon. Makes sense. I've never taken a flash photo without red eye. This would clear a lot of things up for me, really.
  2. I enjoy the thought of being scared but not actually being scared. Horror movies, cheesy blood and gore, it's all good during Halloween. But pop out from around the corner in front of me the rest of the year, and I will deck you.
  3. As someone with intense OCD, being able to organize and create a theme for my food is an utter delight. I enjoy coming up with creepy desserts more than normal people enjoy eating them. I also really enjoyed creating this list.
In all honesty, unless someone throws Holy Water on me and I burst into flame (I do sunburn easily though...), it's probably a combination of all three. I've been regularly bursting into a medley of Halloween songs ranging from Nightmare Before Christmas to humming the theme from Halloween. You know the one. It's pretty damn motivating when you walk the dogs at 7 a.m. and feel sluggish. Try it sometime and tell me you don't feel like you're being followed. Anyway, I wanted to cap off my Halloween baking a little early this year since we're getting ready to move again, and I refuse to throw away dessert if it isn't finished before we leave. I would eat half a cake in one sitting, so I prepared early in order to avoid an inevitable decline in willpower and expansion in sweatpants size. It's been awhile since I've made a cake. A real, buttery, drool-inducing, frosting-laden cake with all the delicious fat in the world. Attempts were made at healthy switches. And then I made Baileys salted caramel chocolate frosting and all of the sudden calorie counting went out the window. Funny how that happens...
How spellbinding!

This bewitching swirl cake with "poisoned" roses (don't worry, poison is code for Baileys) is a stellar food rendition of the best parts of Halloween: macabre and death with a delightful color scheme! What? That's not why you like Halloween? Well, you weirdo, you can still make this cake yourself to be the hit of your costume parties. It looks really hard to make, but trust me, even if you don't know your way around the kitchen, I can guide you. Think of me as your fairy cakemother, or whatever the evil equivalent of that might be. Soul-sucking pastry demon? Either way, I'm here to help. I had a blast making and decorating this cake and turned half my fingers black in the process. If I want to go as a decaying zombie for Halloween, I'm already set! This is actually a cake and a half, chocolate and vanilla mix, with salted caramel Baileys chocolate buttercream. It is to die for.
Yes, I snuck pumpkin into this. No surprise.
So remember last week when I used half a cake mix to make witch hat cookies? Good. If you don't, shame on you; you need to read my delightful scrawlings more. Well, I'm happy to report the other half of the mix gets used this week. I may be evil, but I'm evil and conscious about wasting food. I'll laugh at your ugly children, but I will reel in horror if you throw away food. Priorities. To make this bewitching cake, you need:
  • One white cake mix 
    • You can make this with box ingredients, but to get a moister, richer cake, use melted butter in place of oil and milk instead of water. Extra egg for density not needed since the chocolate cake is heavy.
  • Half a box of chocolate cake mix
    • I tried a thing here: replacing eggs with pumpkin puree. Since the recipe is halved, three eggs is not a thing I'm willing or sure how to cut in half. Instead, use 1/4 cup of pumpkin puree per egg, so in this case, 1/4 cup plus 1/8 cup. This cuts about 20 calories per egg, and you cannot taste an ounce of pumpkin, I promise.
    • Also, use melted butter in place of oil and milk for water.
  • Gel dyes in black, bright purple, and neon green 
Start by preheating your oven to 350. Grease two pans (either 8x8 or 9x9). Begin by making your chocolate cake mix with the ingredients of your choice, following package directions. Once the batter is mixed, add in enough black dye to your liking. Set this aside. In another bowl, mix your white cake mix with the ingredients of your choice, following package directions. Now, take half of your white cake mix and place it into a new bowl. Dye one bowl lime green and the other bowl of batter purple:
Also needed, more spoons than you'd use in the average week.
 Now, this is where things get fun. There's really no method to the madness here, so room for error is exponential and will still yield an amazing cake. Simply scoop up a spoonful of one color batter, plop it into one of the greased pans and repeat with the other pan. Take a spoonful of another color, plop it in to one of the greased pans and repeat with the other pan. Take a spoonful of the the final color, and plop, plop away. You want to try to overlap each spoonful with a different color of batter. Keep layering and plopping all over each pan to ensure you've got semi-even layers of colors.
So it should look like a hodgepodge of Playdough, really.
To even out your layers, tap each pan on the counter firmly until everything looks smooth. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. My two 8x8 pans took 39 minutes to cook since this is more batter than usual.
*Cue evil laughter and/or cackling*
Trust me, things may look like the world's strangest camouflage right now, but the inside of this cake is BRIGHT. Let your cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a rack to finish cooling. When you remove these cakes from the pan, take an angled spatula and separate the edges of the cake from the side of the pan by scraping the edges gently in a sawing, circular motion. Then use your spatula to gently push the sides of the cake away from the edge. This is a heavy cake with so much batter, so getting the edges free will ensure your whole cake makes it out of the pan, and you don't end up with some deformed monstrosity you have to try to pass off to your family or coworkers as "melted Frankenstein's monster."
And then you'd just get drunk on the Baileys and cry. There's no winners in that situation.
While your cakes are cooling, FULLY, in the fridge or freezer for an hour or thirty minutes respectively, it's time to make the frosting. I haven't baked with Baileys in ages, and the lid was nearly glued on. I was moments away from desperately trying to gnaw the lid off or breaking the neck off bar-fight style on the counter. Thankfully, tapping the lid with a spoon worked. Who knew I'd get so much use out of spoons today? To make the Baileys salted caramel chocolate buttercream, gather up:
  • 2 sticks of room temperature butter
  • 1 2lb. bag of powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup Hershey's cocoa poweder
  • 1 TBS vanilla extract
  • 6-8 TBS Baileys salted caramel flavor
  • Literally the rest of your bottle of black gel dye.
I made a TON of frosting because this is a very TALL cake and I wanted all of the ROSES. I ended up not using all of it, so I'd venture to guess you'd be okay with 6 cups of powdered sugar and 6 tablespoons of Baileys for a thick piping consistency. Cream your butter and add in two cups of sugar, the cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and two tablespoons of Baileys. Blend on low and blend well. Add in two more cups of sugar and two more tablespoons of Baileys. Repeat until you have enough frosting and a smooth enough consistency for piping--firm but shiny. Now, add in the black gel dye. I wasn't kidding when I said use the rest of the bottle. You want people to ask,  "How much more black could this be?" and the answer is "None. None more black." If you did not get this reference to Spinal Tap, I am painfully ashamed for you. You go get on Netflix right now and watch it.
I wanted this cake to be as black as my soul.
 Start by placing a thick layer of frosting on top of one of the cake rounds, and then place the other cake on top of this and crumb coat your cooled cake in order to keep any "show through" happening when you pipe your roses on later. Let this set for 15 minutes in the freezer.
While your crumb coat sets, place the remaining frosting into two bags loaded with a 2D tip. 1M tips will also work, but won't yield as detailed of a rose.
Guess who needs a tall cake stand because she's tired of MacGyvering kitchen utensils?

 Starting at the bottom of your cake, pipe roses all the way around the entire cake. To pipe a rose, start with your frosting tip about half an inch up on the cake. Start piping a small mound and swirl out and around until you complete one circle. Try to go around twice. Here's an amazing video to help. Once you've created the first row of roses, start immediately above. You'll have three layers total on the sides of the cake. If you see blank or open spaces, pipe small stars in them by gentle pushing on the piping bag and pulling away quickly.
Honestly, another way to not use SO much frosting would be to layer the top of the cake in orange or black sprinkles when the frosting layer is still wet. But I like what is traditionally known as a "buttload" of frosting on my cake.
Buttloads never looked so good.
 Finish off by piping roses on the top of your cake. Again, any areas where you have weird space or can't fit an entire rose, feel free to pipe little stars or overlap roses on top of one another. This design is incredibly forgiving, but it still turns out to be breathtaking:
Just call me Wednesday Addams 'cause I would love a bouquet of roses this color.
Lest we forget, the real magic of this cake is on the inside. Now, depending on how you make the cake and what healthy substitutions you make will account for your calorie content. But if you made it (strangely) exactly as I did, count about 400 calories a slice. I will gladly skip an afternoon snack to accommodate this cake. Baileys chocolate buttercream people. This doesn't come for free, but it is delicious. Plus this is a huge cake, so it will yield 16 slices easily. Unless your goal is to Homer Simpson it up for Halloween or go as a bloated corpse, I recommend the 16-slice ratio for this cake.
IT'S ALIVE! ...with color.
I was so giddy with delight when cutting into this cake. I probably shouldn't be that happy when wielding a large knife, but it is what it is. This cake looks so freakin' Halloween-y on the inside I died. But then I came back to life because that's what demons that have an entire cake to eat do. It's not all stealing souls and bargaining, there is actual work on occasion. Clearly it's been awhile since I made a regular, full on cake with little care about caloric intake. When I ate a slice of this, I was reminded why chocolate + vanilla + boozy frosting = the greatest gift to taste buds next to ice cream. You know what would go great with this cake? Ice cream. Yep. Try it. Tell me how good it is because I'm still in a land Blue Bell forgot. Either way, this cake looks beautiful as a party centerpiece before you cut it open to receive massive amounts of applause. I know I called it a bewitching swirl cake with poisoned roses, but this could just as easily be called "Leftover Frank" or "Frank's Remains." You know, because the color scheme accurately reflects the cartoonish rendition of Frankenstein's monster. I say go big or go home with the ghastly, ghoulish delight you can only pull off on Halloween because the other 364 days of the year if you want to wear a witch's hat and say things like, "I smell children" when you're in a shopping mall, people will judge and/or commit you. But enjoy your Halloween celebrations! We'll be doing it up big here in the ABQ for our last weekend here. So I'll be taking a break from blogging until mid November when we're settled in Florida. If I'm melting from the heat, butter for baked goods will be, too, so I'll see you back here then 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
...Frankenstein's monster, is that, you?
Oh hush, don't be surprised the English teacher obsessed with Halloween knows Frankenstein was the doctor and not the monster. I told you, you need to read more...

Monday, October 10, 2016

Just What the (Witch) Doctor Ordered.

My family's zest for Halloween can probably be traced back to the 1993 classic, Hocus Pocus. I'm sure this is the same for just about any kid that had the privilege of growing up in that era. Although we were supposed to fear them, the Sanderson sisters were actually pretty bitchin. They had amazing clothes, wicked brooms (or vacuums in some cases), and the hair...well, the whole reason none of them wore hats was because of the works of art occurring on their heads. Namely, Bette Midler's coif. I'm fairly certain her hair actually has a supporting credit role on It was just that iconic of a 'do. So I don't blame them for not wearing hats. You don't spend six hundred years perfecting a style so bold only to cover it up. But for standard witches, the images conjured up consist of green skin, noses that make Barbara Streisand's quiver in fear, and, of course, the pointy hats. A witch may only be as evil as her hat is pointy, so they need to make them count. I was having a wicked time (see what I did there) coming up with a few desserts to begin the celebration of Halloween in our house. For some of you, it's only a night...for me, it is a month-long endeavor culminating in over-the-top costumes, enough candy to murder a horse, and decorations so creepy no one will come to your front door. Really, minus hiding from children in a dark house, it's perfect. I have never made anything witchy themed, so I decided this was the year. I didn't want to bring out the big guns yet (a.k.a., cake), so I settled on yet another handheld dessert. It is the season of handhelds here on the blog, apparently.
But so delightfully evil and appropriate.
While they look sinful(ly delicious), these little chocolate witch hat cookies only knock you back about 60 calories per cookie. What sorcery is this? Well, it's all about the ingredients. Simplicity is key here, but we'll get to that in a moment. These are a lot of fun to make. Start to finish it took me just a hair over two hours. If you get the whole family on board, you can churn these out in half the time. Just watch out for thieves that eat raw cookie dough. They're the real menace. Burn them at the stake. A little too far? No one gets between me and a completed dessert. Not only are they a fun addition to any Halloween party, gathering, festival, or in my case, just for the Hall-o-it, they're devilishly good. Any cookie with a base of Devil's Food cake is going to turn out just fine in my book.
Bonus: tons of leftover Kisses!
Seriously, the recipe here is ridiculously simple. I could tar and feather myself for not realizing how unbelievably easy it is to make cookies out of cake mix. The possibilities are endless!! But for these witch hats, gather up:
  • 1/2 a box of Devil's Food cake mix
  • 1/4 cup of margarine, melted and cooled
  • 1 egg at room temp
  • 3 tablespoons of vanilla or white-colored frosting (out of the can is actually okay for once)
  • 21 Hershey kisses
  • Gel dyes in purple, lime, and orange or whatever spooky colors you prefer
  • Small glittery sprinkles in purple, green, and black or whatever spooky colors you prefer
  • For the hat buckle I used skeleton sprinkles found in the seasonal aisle at Smith's/Kroger
This recipe makes 21 cookies.You can easily double the recipe to make 42 cookies if you're actually trying to lure children to your home to suck out their souls and retain everlasting youthful beauty, and I mean, who isn't these days.

Start by preheating your oven to 350 and lining a baking sheet with Parchment paper. Dump the egg, melted and cooled margarine, and half the box of cake mix into a medium bowl and blend well. Let your cake/cookie mix rest for 10-15 minutes in the bowl. Otherwise, it will be way too sticky to handle right away. Use a half tablespoon scoop (these suckers expand in the oven big time), and scoop out 7 balls of dough.
I still would recommend dousing your hands in Pam.
 Take a bowl and dump one color of glitter sprinkles into it. Roll each of the seven balls into the one color and set on a baking sheet.
Place far apart so they have room to expand. Evil takes up a lot of space.
Once set wide apart on your baking sheet, pop into the oven for 7-8 minutes. Take these 7-8 minutes to unwrap all of the Hershey Kisses to save you time later. I may be evil, but I am efficient.
So perfectly round.
I was honestly a little worried these would be a goopy mess, but thankfully I was wrong. This is one of the only cases of me being wrong on record that I do not really mind. Carefully remove the tray from the oven and add in one Kiss to the center of each cookie. Place back into the oven for 4 minutes. While these four minutes are taking forever, shape another 7 cookie dough balls and roll into your second glitter sprinkle color choice.
Are my hands still stained black from sprinkles? Yes, but I like the decaying corpse look.
Once finished cooking, carefully remove each cookie to a sheet of Parchment paper. Now add the other 7 rolled cookie dough balls back on to your baking sheet and pop into the oven for 7-8 minutes. The second you do that, take your finished cookies and roll the tops of each Kiss carefully into the bowl of glitter again. You could opt for a different color here, but I like the monochrome look. I found the easiest way to top the Kisses in glitter sprinkles was to place them one by one into the bowl and sprinkle glitter on top of the cookie and press it gently into the Kiss to get it to stick. They're pretty malleable, so no worries if you misshape. Just fix it back in place. By now, you should be ready to roll your final 7 dough balls into the final color of sprinkles.
The purple was my favorite. Vikings, baby. Don't even get me started.
While your final batch bakes, be sure to quickly roll the tops of the second batch in the second color of sprinkles. You want the Kisses to still be a little melty so things will stick. Be sure to dunk your final batch in sprinkles when done baking.
These three colors together make me giddy with spooky delight.
While your cookies are all done and working on cooling, whip up your frosting colors. I went with neons that would really pop and match my skull decorations. I took 1 tablespoon of frosting, plopped it in a bowl, dyed it one color, and loaded it up into a piping bag with a small round tip (#3). I repeated for my other two colors. I do suppose a plastic bag with the corner barely snipped would work almost as well in this case if you're without piping tips.
I think Winnifred might actually like these hats.
Once COMPLETELY cool, simply hold a cookie in your hand and trace a circular border in your preferred color around the Hershey Kiss. Make a small mound of frosting where you complete your circle. This will work as the glue for your skull buckle. Gently place him, or her, who knows, I'm no anthropologist, into the frosting mound. Repeat with the other cookies/colors and finish up!
Congratulate yourself on not eating any of the raw cookie dough by downing about three of these at once. That's normal, right?
 Told ya, easy as pie and just as tasty. Now that I know how to use cake mix to make cookies, I plan on going full mad scientist here in a few weeks when we move. Again. Because this is what happens in the military. Our time in Albuquerque may unfortunately be coming to an end soon, but I still have one crazy Halloween cake up my sleeve before we go, so be on the lookout for that. Until then, I will continue to bide my time by staring longingly at the Sandia mountains out my window and soaking in every ounce of cool weather (along with my inner monologue: "Oh look, another glorious morning. It makes me sick!"). Because when November comes, we'll be sweating it up in Florida. I'm going to have to continue to watch Hocus Pocus nightly just to remind myself I am not crazy, and fall really is a thing that exists, just not in the south. I also have to remind myself I'm not crazy because Thackery Binx is also McGee from NCIS, and this makes no sense to me. The moment I realized that about ten years ago was a very confusing time for me. I think I need a cookie to soothe the pain. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
"I smell children..."

Saturday, October 1, 2016


I need to be stopped. We're literally one day into October, and I've already crammed as much pumpkin-related food into our pantry as humanly possible. It's not just a pumpkin spice thing. I refuse to consider myself basic just because I love pumpkin flavor in general. I own no Uggs. I do not wear leggings as pants. Not once in my life have I uttered the phrase, "I can't even." I just happen to share one commonality with the aforementioned, usually bleach blonde, vest-wearing basic white girls: pumpkin is life. Fall has always been my favorite season, and I'm practically crawling the walls that all my Halloween decorations are in storage down in Florida while we're here in Albuquerque. I thought I could manage to go one year without decorating, but if I don't get to a Halloween store fast, the bloody decorations around my house will be real because my head is going to explode. Since I can't decorate yet, you better believe I've been eating my weight in pumpkin food instead...hence this week's blog. I figured it would be highly appropriate for me to share my latest creation with you, on this, the first day of October. Such a grand month deserves a grand dessert: the cinnamon chip pumpkin cookie bar.

A mouthful to both say and eat.

This glorious creation actually came about as a botched experiment. Like the best mad scientists, I do suffer the occasional pitfall. But instead of my creations becoming feverishly psychopathic monsters, they just turn into alternative forms of dessert. Sugar is still sugar, after all. I was attempting to make actual cookies out of these, but cookies without butter. In my insane quest to make healthy dessert, I opted for applesauce over butter. I figured if I could make brownies out of only bananas, cocoa powder, and peanut butter, I could do anything. Hubris looks about as good on me as Uggs, so when my cookies refused to let go (literally, they were too sticky to roll even with Pam-coated hands), I decided cookie bars are just as good and somehow more appropriate for fall. Possibly for dunking into warmed cider. I don't know. This was my train of thought, and it's not always last stop at Logic Express.
Lots of wonderful things happening here.
So yes, the ingredient list is a bit on the longer side here, but I can promise you, totally worth it. I nearly wept because my house smelled so perfectly like fall while these were in the oven. Few things move me to tears: a movie where the dog dies, finding a pair of PERFECT shoes but they don't have my size, or not being able to access Blue Bell ice cream..that's literally about it. Trust me when I say these cookie bars can make even the biggest grudge holder against pumpkin (like my husband) crumble under the amazing taste. I found and adapted this recipe to make it healthier. Gather up:
  • 2 1/2 cups of flour (you can try whole wheat to make even healthier)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 3/4 cup of applesauce (I used cinnamon for an added boost of fall flavor, I say unironically)
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 cup Libby's canned pumpkin
  • 1 egg at room temp
  • 2 tsp vanilla extra
  • 1 cup Hershey's cinnamon baking chips*
  • A small bowl of cinnamon and sugar mixed together
*Cinnamon chips are like a white whale...they only exist in the places you refuse to go. Namely, Walmart. Since our closest Walmart is literally one of the most dangerous Walmart's in the entire country (step it up, Detroit), I opted to order my cinnamon chips from Amazon.
I also contemplated ordering another stand month til I'm reunited with my own.

Grease a 9x13 or 8x11 pan and preheat your oven to 350. In one bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice; set aside. In your stand mixer bowl, dump the applesauce and both sugars. Blend for 2-3 minutes. Then add in the pumpkin, egg, and vanilla extra and blend well. After this, dump half the dry mix into the wet and blend well. Add in the rest of the dry mix, and stir until just incorporated. By hand, fold in the cinnamon chips.
Dump your cookie batter into the prepared pan and smooth out.
Finally, sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mix on top.
Bake in the oven for 32-35 minutes or until set but the top springs back to the touch. I tried to do the toothpick test here and kept freaking out because it seemed like it wasn't cooking in the middle...only to realize I had been piercing through melted cinnamon chips. Check me out basic white girls, I'm a natural blonde!! Let cool on a rack completely...I placed my bars into the fridge to set for 2 hours.
It wasn't an easy decision, but I wanted to eat them after dinner and not at midnight.
While the wait was long and arduous, the smell in my house remained something I will be proud of until the day I die. I ended up slicing these into 16 bars. Each bar clocks in at 180 calories. You could use larger or even smaller slice to adjust the calorie content. But 16 bars are plenty, and this way, we get to warm them in the microwave and top them with vanilla froyo because it's still a little hot out, but dammit, cold desserts are timeless in my book.
Not pictured: all the froyo.
These cinnamon chip pumpkin cookie bars are one of my favorite new inventions. Will I make them again? Probably in November. And again in December before winter solstice. The outside crisps nicely like a cookie should, but cooking them in a pan allows the insides to literally reach new heights and become a fluffy cloud of fall delight. Poetic imagery aside, they are so damn good. The pumpkin flavor is not overwhelming, and the cinnamon chips are totally worth how ridiculously hard they are to find without potentially being stabbed. I'm hoarding away the few chips that remain in the bag like some sort of rare delicacy. No shame. Blended together and baked to perfection, you can't even tell butter wasn't a part of the equation. Way to go applesauce, you're so much more useful than just filler in a 5th graders lunch! I plan to come at you guys with a few more desserts this month to celebrate fall, and of course, Halloween. I've really gotta think hard to outdo myself from the past couple years of baking, but thank goodness I have these cookie bars to keep me going. ‘Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Know that my heart will go on. Thanks, pumpkin.