Archive | Sweets & Treats

Recipes for baking, celebrations and sending in college care packages

Lemonade and Limoncello Blondies

Lemonade and Limoncello Blondies

Lemonade and Limoncello Blondies

Sometimes serendipity hands you a prize, and these blondies are just that…a prize.  While on a phone conversation with my daughter, she interrupted me by saying “Just what are lemonade brownies?”  What?  Who said anything about lemonade brownies.  Not me.  HOWEVER, we both decided that sounded like something we’d like to taste.  After experimenting with four different blondie recipes, I created this Blondie…a lemony, tender blondie with a Limoncello-spiked frosting.  A winner!

Perfect Blondies for Easter

Lemonade and Limoncello Blondies

Lemonade and Limoncello Blondies

Initially I thought I would ship these blondies to my college kids in an Easter care package.  As I was experimenting with the different recipes trying to create nirvana blondies (hey I like that name, maybe that’s what I’ll call them), I received a surprise package of Easter cookies from Cookie Temptations.  Well, the blondies are scrumptious in taste, but as far as festive decor goes the cookies won hands down for the care package.  So….I decided to save some blondies out for Easter treats for the hubby and I, and then freeze the rest for a future care package for the kids.

Click here if you would like to see the Easter College Care Package post.

Recipe for Lemonade and Limoncello Blondies:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp Fiori di Sicilia oil (optional, but really smells great)
  • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

*For Icing:*

 

  • 1 cup powderedsugar
  • 2 Tbsp butter, room temp
  • 2 Tbsp Limoncello
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • lemon zest from lemons for garnish (can also use orange zest for more color)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 8 x 8 baking pan with cooking spray, or alternatively, line the pan with parchment paper making sure it comes above the edge of the pan.
  2. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes)
  3. Turn the mixer to low speed and add eggs, one at a time, mixing until thoroughly blended in.
  4. Add lemon juice, lemon zest and Fiori oil (if using) to the mix and blend until just combined.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Fold this dry mix into the lemon batter with a slotted spoon until blended.  Do not overmix.
  6. Spread the batter evenly in the pan and bake for 15-20 minutes until just set, or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.  Edges will be light brown.  Remove from oven and cool on a rack.
  7. When blondies are completely cooled remove from pan.  Whisk together all of the icing ingredients except the zest and spread over the top of the blondies with a knife (can blend the icing ingredients together in mixer if preferred).
  8. With a microplane grater held over the top of the iced blondies, grate lemons and oranges, letting the zest fall lightly on the icing.

 

Happy Easter!

 

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Easter College Care Package: 2014

Easter treats from Cookie Temptations

Easter treats from Cookie Temptations

As I was considering what to put in my college kids’ Easter Care Packages this year, I got an unexpected treat.  A unique cookie company called Cookie Temptations customizes gourmet sugar cookies with fine chocolates and they sent me a personalized package to review.  What fun it was to have the tables turned for once and be the recipient of a beautifully packaged surprise box sent to me in the mail.  It reinforced how loved my big college kids must feel when they get my care packages.

A Change in DIY College Care Packages to “Semi-Homemade”

Easter basket from Cookie Temptations

Easter basket from Cookie Temptations

To date all of the care packages I have sent have been home-made and customized to my kids’ individual tastes and preferences.  I believe they appreciate the “unique-to-them” personalization that you just can’t get from the commercial college care package online sites.  I am however, as busy as the next mom with a career and obligations, and these customized cookies allowed me to give my kids some edible treats, to which I could then add the personal touches of individual Easter presents.  Nice.  No baking, freezing and wrapping this time around.

I don’t do many product reviews and was a little nervous about it.  What if I didn’t like the product, but didn’t want to hurt their business?  I decided to just give a review if it was great, and ignore it if it wasn’t, rather than giving a bad review.

Happily, everything about this product was great.  It came beautifully packaged, with each gourmet cookie wrapped and whole (not broken).  There were explicit directions on how to freeze and how to keep the cookies fresh. The customization part was the best.  I could see using these as client gifts with my business name customized on the cookies.  They were shippable.  And, last but not least, the taste was wonderful.  All in all, a great addition to the Easter Care Packages, and one I will probably use again!

Click here for more information on Cookie Temptations.

A Recipe for Homemade Easter College Care Package Treats:  Lemonade Blondies

Lemonade and Limoncello Blondies

Lemonade and Limoncello Blondies

 

For the diehard DIY person, I did make some wonderful Easter Blondies.  They are Lemonade Blondies with a Limoncello Frosting.

You can find the recipe here.

 

 

 

 The Rest of the Easter College Care Package (Beyond Food)

Easter Care Package for the College Girl

Easter Care Package for the College Girl

Since my son is coming home for Spring Break I decided to just send the Spring/Easter Care Package to my daughter, who is a graduate student in Denver, CO.  She is living (and cooking) in her first apartment this year so I try and help her out with things she might need in the kitchen.  She is also a poor grad student, so money is what she’s always looking for.  Since she shops at the farmers’ markets a lot I also added a sturdy farmers market bag (not pictured).  I think she’ll be happy with her package.

The boy is never one to be left out of care packages, so I divided the cookies and treats in half and he’ll get his surprises when he comes home.

Happy Easter all!  Did you cook up anything special for Easter dinner or for Easter treats?  Any care package online sites you’re really happy with?

Please leave a comment and let me know….and thanks for reading this.  If you like this type of content you can sign up for our monthly email over on the sidebar.

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Valentine’s College Care Packages: 2014

You can always find a special day to send a care package to your kids at college, whether it be an official holiday, final exam week, preparation for study abroad or just an “I miss you” package.  The trick is making it a surprise.  Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays however, where the expectation is high that the college kid will get something, even if it is a card with a few bucks in it. Here are some recipes and ideas to go beyond the card.  Enjoy….they will.

Valentine’s College Care Packages: for the Girl:

Valentine's College Care Package for the Girl

Valentine’s College Care Package for the Girl

My daughter is living in an apartment for the first time and is starting to take on cooking for herself and friends.  I thought some sturdy paper plates and decorations for cupcakes and bars she might take to a potluck would be appreciated.  I added some gel decor for her windows and some homemade Valentine’s Day treats, and voila…she’s ready for Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s College Care Packages: for the Boy

 

Valentine's College Care Package for the Boy

Valentine’s College Care Package for the Boy

The boy is always in need of money (especially now that he has a new girlfriend), so the Valentine box full of chocolates was turned into a Valentine box full of money.  I think he will be pleasantly surprised when he opens it.  I added some useful items for him, like laundry pods, hot sauce and a coffee filter basket and his package was good to go.

Valentine’s College Care Packages:  The Treats:

Red fruit, chocolate and hearts were, of course, the thematic leaning of the shippable brownies and cookies.  All of the recipes can be found at this post, but here are a few photos of the end products:

Strawberry Brownies with Rosewater Frosting

Strawberry Brownies with Rosewater Frosting

 

Valentines Peanut Butter Blossoms

Valentines Peanut Butter Blossoms

 

 

 

Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies

Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sweet Treats for Winter Care Packages

sweets for the winter college care package

sweets for the winter college care package

Lots of baking going on this time of the year, but how much of that goodness can you ship to your college student (or other loved one) to have it arrive fresh and in one piece?  Here are some treats that I shipped to my college student in a winter care package.  The thank you call confirmed they were a hit with the suite-mates as well.

Recipes:  Sweet Treats for Winter College Care Packages

Sometimes candy-making is avoided because using a candy thermometer is not a common kitchen tool, like a zester or a mixer.  I rarely make candy, but all of the recipes below were pretty easy and they all turned out the first time.

Two main things to be aware of that will help immensely:

  1. You have to work fast once the candy has reached the right temperature, so make sure and have all utensils, potholders & baking sheets prepped and ready, and;
  2. The candy gets really, really hot so be careful not to get any on your skin (it will burn).  Make sure the thermometer is secured well on the pot (an alligator clip works well for the round thermometers) so you don’t have to be moving it around, make sure the pot is the right size so the thermometer reaches down to the candy syrup, and try to get someone to help you when it is time to pour it out onto a baking sheet.

Spicy Pumpkin Seed Brittle

Spicy Pumpkin Seed Brittle - Winter Care Packages

Spicy Pumpkin Seed Brittle – Winter Care Packages

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup corn syrup, light
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups toasted pumpkin seeds, (1/2 cup saved out for the topping)
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder (can use red pepper flakes if you don’t have chipotle)
  • 1 tsp maldon sea salt (a flake salt for topping)

Directions:

  1. Prepare a 10 x 15 rimmed baking sheet by lightly coating it with oil or lining it with foil
  2. In a heavy saucepan that will be the right depth for your candy thermometer to hang off the edge of the pot and still reach the bottom, mix together the sugar, corn syrup, butter and 2/3 cup water and stir until sugar is wet.
  3. Clip the candy thermometer onto the pot and turn the heat to medium-high.  Let the mixture cook without stirring until the candy thermometer reaches 310°.  It will take about 13 to 15 minutes and the mixture will be foaming and tan around the edges.
  4. Moving quickly, turn off the heat, remove the thermometer, and use a slotted spoon to whisk in the baking soda and salt.  It will foam up.  Stir in 1 cup of the pumpkin seeds and the chipotle spice.
  5. Pour the brittle mixture from the pot onto the prepared baking sheet, tilting the pot to spread the brittle out over the baking sheet.  It cools quickly and it is messy to spread with a knife after it is poured, so try to get the brittle in a sheet the thickness you like as you pour.  Pouring instead of spreading will give it a smooth surface.
  6. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds and the flake salt evenly over the brittle.  Cool completely on the baking sheet at room temperature
  7. Invert the brittle onto a cutting board and use your hands to break it up into pieces.  The brittle can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.

Ritz Cracker Chocolate Bark (for Winter College Care Packages)

Ritz Chocolate Bark for Winter Care Packages

Ritz Chocolate Bark for Winter Care Packages

Ingredients:

  • 14 oz.Ritz crackers
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 6 oz. bittersweet chocolate,melted
  • 1/2 cup dried Montmorency cherries (tart cherries)
  • 1/4 tsp espresso powder
  • 1/4 cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped (can substitute other nuts)
  • 2 Tbsp. chocolate chips
  • 2 tsp Maldon sea salt (or other flake salt)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Line a 10 x 14 inch baking sheet with parchment paper and using your hands, crumble the Ritz crackers onto the sheet to form a layer of crackers that extends to within about 1 inch of the baking sheet rims.  Toast in the oven about 10 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and let cool.
  3. In a saucepan that is of a size that a candy thermometer will fit onto the side of the pan and still reach the bottom, heat up the sugar, honey and butter over medium-high, stirring occasionally until butter is melted.
  4. Secure the thermometer onto the side of the saucepan (an alligator clip will hold some models of thermometers, but make sure it is secured).  Cook the mixture over med-high to high heat, whisking frequently, until  thermometer reads 300° (about 8-10 minutes).
  5. Working quickly, turn off heat, stir in baking soda(it will bubble up), and pour out as evenly as possible over the Ritz cracker sheet.
  6. Cool completely.  Melt the chocolate and drizzle over the cooled cracker bark.  Immediately top with cherries, nuts, chocolate chips and seas salt (sprinkle the toppings onto the melted chocolate so they will stick).
  7. Cool until chocolate has hardened (about 15 minutes) and break bark into pieces.  Wrap and keep chilled to store for 3-5 days.

Bourbon Infused Caramels with hint of Ginger

(adapted from Bon Appetit)

Bourbon Ginger Caramels in Winter Care Packages

Bourbon Ginger Caramels in Winter Care Packages

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2-3 Tbsp. bourbon (optional – use 1 tsp vanilla if you don’t want the bourbon)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. ginger spice (not root ginger)
  • Maldon sea salt (or other flake salt) for topping

Directions:

  1. Line a 8 x 8 inch baking sheet with parchment paper, leaving a 2″ overhand on 2 sides.  Spray parchment paper with vegetable oil spray
  2. In a medium saucepan (deep enough to have a candy thermometer attached to the side and reach the bottom), bring the sugar, corn syrup and 1/4 cup water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.
  3. Continue to cook mixture, swirling pan occasionally to ensure even caramelization, until mixture turns a deep amber color (about 10 min).  *Note:  You can caramelize to a lighter golden or darker amber color.   Lighter caramels are more of a simple sweet, whereas the darker red caramels have a more complex, smokier flavor.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the condensed milk and butter.  It will bubble up quite a bit.
  5. Attach the thermometer to the pan and turn the heat to medium-low.  Simmer, stirring constantly, until the thermometer reads 245° (251° for firmer caramel).  This will take about 10-15 min.  Turn off the heat and stir in the bourbon, kosher salt and ginger.
  6. Pour into prepared pan, as evenly as possible.  Do not scrape the sides because they contain solidified sugar crystals and spices that will ruin the candy’s texture.  When caramels are almost completely cooled (about 1/2 hour), sprinkle on the Maldon sea salt and let cool completely (about 1 hour to cool completely).
  7. Pull caramels out of pan using the ends of the parchment paper, slide onto cutting board and cut into squares or rectangles.  Wrap individually in parchment paper or wax paper.
  8. Caramels can be made 2 weeks ahead.  Store, wrapped, in the refrigerator to keep their shape.  They soften up at room temperature, which is great for eating, but they lose their firm shape unless you cooked them longer for the firmer caramels.
Barks and Brittles for Winter

Barks and Brittles for Winter

 

OK, that’s it for the candy session.  Onto some more ephemeral sweets for the holidays that don’t have to make it through shipping and storing.  Although I must admit, these were quite fun to munch on with my morning coffee while I  pondered what to make for Christmas dinner.

I saw one recipe that added bacon to the bourbon caramels.  Do you think that sounds good, or has everything  just gone too much bacon?  I might have to try it.

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Pumpkin Recipes for Shipping in College Care Package

Pumpkin Latte Dry Mix for Shipping in CCP

Pumpkin Latte Dry Mix for Shipping to my College Kid

I sent the Halloween College Care Package out last month, but the pumpkin craze is still really top of mind and won’t let up until that last pumpkin pie is placed on the Thanksgiving table.  With the  Starbucks Pumpkin Latte being such a major hit everywhere, I thought I’d help my college students out by sending a pumpkin spice latte dry mix that they could enjoy more frequently on a college budget (those Starbucks drinks can get pretty expensive).

Cinderella Pumpkins at HeathGlen 2013

Cinderella Pumpkins at HeathGlen 2013

As the instant pumpkin spice latte mix doesn’t take up much room in a flat rate box, I got into the pumpkin theme and loaded their box with additional pumpkin treats.  It helps to be motivated by the beautiful Cinderella pumpkins that grew like gangbusters on the farm this year, but canned pumpkin works just as well for most of the following pumpkin recipes.  I threw in a pumpkin spice scented candle for good measure.

 

Pumpkin Amaretto Quick Bread:

Pumpkin Amaretto Quick Bread for Shipping

Pumpkin Amaretto Quick Bread for Shipping

Quick breads tend to hold up well in shipping and they do not dry out for quite a while.  It took 2 days via USPS to get it to Connecticut from Minnesota and my son said it lasted for about a week after he got it.  I would recommend making quick breads in smaller, disposable aluminum bread pans if there are other treats in your package.  College kids tend to eat everything in their care package in the first couple of days and then it goes into some black hole in their dorm room and they forget about it until the mold calls upon them to find the source of the smell.  Smaller loafs seem to work better.  The recipe for this pumpkin bread is listed in and earlier post (click here to see the recipe).

Pumpkin Chai Biscotti Recipe:

Pumpkin Chai Biscotti

Pumpkin Chai Biscotti

I was a little intimated by biscotti since I had never made it before, but it’s really just a cookie that has been toasted after baking.  The hardest part was working with a sticky dough.  I wanted a recipe that wasn’t as rock hard as some of the biscotti, but still had the crunch and the “longevity” of a classic Italian biscotti.  I pieced together many different recipes until I got what I wanted…a flavorable pumpkin biscotti that would not break my son’s teeth but would last through shipping and a college kid’s idea of storage.  Here is the recipe that I adapted from many sources, including America’s Test Kitchen and Cooking Light.

Yield:  about 24 biscotti cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp Chai spice mixture (see below)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp. orange zest
  • 3/4 cups nuts (either walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, or pistachios)
Pumpkin Chai Biscotti

Pumpkin Chai Biscotti

Ingredient Mix for the Chai Spice:

  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp freshly ground cloves
  • 1 Tbsp freshly ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp white pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Combine flour, salt, baking powder and chai spice into a bowl and mix together thoroughly with a whisk
  3. In a stand mixer, beat together sugar and eggs on high speed until thick and smooth (about 3-5 minutes).  Add pumpkin and vanilla and blend together over medium speed until combined.
  4. Add flour mixture, a cup at a time, beating at low speed just until blended.  Fold in the nuts and zest with a spoon or spatula until combined.
  5. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and get your hands wet.  Divide the dough in half and turn out onto the baking sheet, placing each half 3-4″ apart.  Shape each portion into a log about 10″ long and 3″ wide and flatten to about a 1″ thickness.  (The dough will be sticky and somewhat hard to work with; keep your hands moist to help.  I “patted” them into shape).
  6. Bake at 350 for 20 to 30 minutes, turning the pan around in the oven halfway through baking to evenly crisp the logs.  The center of the logs should be firm to the touch when done.
  7. Remove the logs from the baking sheet onto a rack and cool for 10 minutes.  Reduce oven temperatureto 325°.
  8. Using a serrated knife, cut each log diagonally into approximately 1/2″ slices (see note below for thinly sliced biscotti).  Place slices, cut side down, on baking sheet, about 1″ apart.  Bake at 325 for about 10 minutes (5 minutes for softer biscotti).  Flip cookies over and bake an additional 5-10 minutes, until crisp and golden brown.  Cookies will be slightly soft in the center but will harden as they cool.  Remove from baking sheet and cool on wire rack.
  9. Drizzle with melted white chocolate if desired.  Biscotti can be stored in airtight container for about 1 month or you can freeze them until you are ready to send.

*Note:  If you prefer crisper biscotti, let them sit overnight, uncovered in a dry space.

**Note: For easily cutting biscotti into very thin cookies, wrap the  logs and freeze them overnight.  The next day slice them as thin as desired and then do the second baking.

Pumpkin Latte Dry Mix:

While not from Starbucks, this latte  is pretty darn good without the high cost.  And it’s easy and stores up to 6 months!  Recipe is adapted from Taste of Home Christmas Annual 2009.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1/2 cup powdered nondairy creamer, spiced pumpkin flavor is you can find it
  • 1/2 cup instant coffee granules
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup instant vanilla pudding mix, pumpkin if you can find it
  • 1  tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice (less if you are using pumpkin instant pudding mix)

 

Pumpkin Latte Dry Mix for Shipping in CCP

Pumpkin Latte Dry Mix for Shipping in CCP

Directions:

  1. In a blender, combine all ingredients; blend until mixture is a fine powder.  Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
  2. To prepare hot latte:  Dissolve 2-3 Tbsp mix in hot water and stir well.  Garnish with whipped cream, a dash of nutmeg and a cinnamon stick if desired.

 

* Note:  A shot of bourbon in this for mom can be nice.

 

Pumpkin & Grand Marnier Butter:

We make a wonderful Pumpkin-Grand Marnier butter in our commercial kitchen, which we sell around the holidays (not available until 11/15).  I don’t have the recipe modified for home use yet, but if you want to order a jar, you’ll be able to find it here in mid-November.  It’s made with those beautiful Cinderella pumpkins you see at the top of the post, and it lasts 6 months to 1 year.  And yes, the college kids got some of these to share.

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