Cream Cheese Thumbprints

I fully intended to have a week-long cookie marathon before/during/after Christmas, but with everything going on it sort of got pushed to the back burner. But, at least in my book, you don’t need an excuse like the holidays to make cookies.

Pretty much for as long as we’ve been together, Billy and I have always baked something a little special for our families around the holidays. For the past two years, we’ve done an array of cookies and made little goodie bags to distribute after dinner. This year, these cream cheese and jam thumbprints were on the top of my list. I think thumbprints are a must-have cookie around the holidays, and this recipe seemed like something a little more special…perfect for that special time of year (or, for all 365 days of the year).

Cream Cheese Thumbprints

{Print this Recipe}
Here’s what you’ll need:
Makes: 5 dozen
– 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
– 3 oz. cream cheese
– 1 cup sugar
– 1 egg yolk
– 3 tsp vanilla extract
– 2 1/2 cups flour
– jam (any flavor you prefer)

Instructions:
In a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla until well combined. Finally, mix in the flour a little at a time until thoroughly combined. Cover the mixture and refrigerate for about an hour, or until it’s easy to handle.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

When the dough is ready, begin shaping into 1-inch balls and place about two inches apart on an (ungreased) baking sheet. After all the dough has been formed into balls, begin creating the thumbprints and filling with jam. (The recipe suggested using the end of a wooden spoon, but I found it easier to use a knuckle or my thumb). Be careful when making the indention not to reach the bottom of the dough, otherwise the jam will leak out. Fill the thumbprint with about 1/4 teaspoon jam, or as much as will fit. Bake the filled cookies at 350 for 14 to 16 minutes, or until set and golden on the bottom. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool and store in an air-tight container.

Of all the cookies we made this holiday season, these were easily my favorite. The cookie was soft and chewy with a perfectly golden, crisp bottom. They had a delicious buttery, creamy texture that paired perfect with the jam filling. I literally could eat these all day long. We used strawberry and raspberry jam, and both were delicious (though, the strawberry were better in my opinion). I imagine these would be good with pretty much any flavor jam under the sun.

If there’s one of our Christmas cookies you try, this should definetly be the one — I promise you won’t be disappointed. And, since it’s not really a Christmasy cookie, you have no reason not to make these right now. Yes…they’re that good.

This recipe was featured in a 2009 holiday cookie magazine from Taste of Home, but you can also find it on the Taste of Home website.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes

A few weeks ago, Annie’s recipe for chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes came across on my Google Reader and I immediately starred them knowing I’d make them next time I had an excuse to feed people a delicious dessert. It didn’t take long to find a reason to make them, since my mom’s birthday was only weeks away. So this past weekend when we got the family together to celebrate, I didn’t hesitate to pick up the dessert duties. I made the cookie dough cupcakes fresh Saturday morning and they were more than a hit on Saturday night. I can’t wait ’till the next time I have an excuse to make these little pieces of heaven.

There’s not much that beats a great dessert, especially one that involves chocolate. But these cupcakes are seriously one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten (and coming from this sweet tooth body, that’s saying a lot!). Even Billy, the hater of all things chocolate, liked them! I never thought I’d say this…but they may even be a contender to my all time favorite dessert. These cupcakes had three main components, the actual cake, the cookie dough filling and the frosting. Looking at the recipe, they seemed like they might be a lot of work, but they were actually pretty simple to make — just a little time consuming. In the end, though, they were worth every minute they took (and more).

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes

{Print this Recipe}
Here’s what you’ll need:
Makes 24 Cupcakes
Cookie Dough Filling
– 4 tbsp butter, at room temperature
– 6 tbsp brown sugar, packed
– 1 cup plus 2 tbsp flour
– 7 oz sweetened condensed milk
– 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
– 1/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
Cupcakes
– 3 sticks, at room temperature
– 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
– 4 eggs
– 2 2/3 cups flour
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 1 tsp baking soda
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1 cup milk
– 2 tsp vanilla extract
– 1 cup chocolate chips
Frosting
– 3 sticks butter, at room temperature
– 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
– 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
– 1 cup flour
– 3/4 tsp salt
– 3 tbsp milk
– 2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions:
(you can use either a hand or stand mixer for all of the mixing in the following steps)
We started by making the filling because it had to chill for at least an hour before we could fill the cupcakes. To make the filling, cream the butter and brown sugar in a medium-sized mixing bowl until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Next, beat in the flour, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla until incorporated and smooth. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate about an hour, or until the mixture has firmed up.

While the cookie dough filling was chilling, we made the cupcakes and the frosting. First things first, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two cupcake pans with paper liners (a total of 24).

For the cupcakes, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together and set aside. Cream the butter and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Next, begin adding the eggs and mixing in, one at a time, beating well after each addition (scrape down the sides of the bowl between each addition to make sure everything gets properly mixed).

Begin adding the dry ingredients to wet ingredients, alternating with the milk. Make sure to begin and end with the dry ingredients, mixing each addition just until incorporated. After all the dry ingredients and milk have been incorporates, mix in the vanilla. Finally, fold in the chocolate chips with a spatula.

Fill the prepared cupcake pans about 2/3 of the way full. Bake at 350 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into a the center of a cupcake comes out clean. You may want to rotate the pans halfway through the cooking, but it’s probably not necessary. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan for about five minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes cooled, we made the frosting — the last component to these amazing cupcakes. To make the frosting, beat together the butter and brown sugar in a medium-sized mixing bowl until creamy. Mix in the powdered sugar until smooth. Next, beat in the flour and salt until completely incorporated. Finally, mix in the milk and vanilla extract until the frosting is smooth and creamy.

At this point, the only thing left to do is to assemble the cupcakes. First, cut a cone-shaped portion out of the top center of each cupcake. Fill each hole with a chunk of the cookie dough, cut the cone off of the cutouts (saving only the top circular part of each cutout) and cover the hole back up. Frost the cupcakes and garnish with a few chocolate chips. Refrigerate the cupcakes until ready to serve.

I really can’t even describe how amazing these cupcakes are. I’m not a huge cupcake fan, but I could seriously eat these any day of the week. The cookie dough center was chewy and a perfect little ball of chocolate chip heaven. It reminded me exactly of the little cookie dough balls in cookie dough ice cream, only better (because it was homemade, of course). The cupcake itself was fluffy and cakey. I thought it tasted just like a chocolate chip cookie, only with a cake texture. The frosting was really tasty, but I actually thought the cupcakes would have been just as good without it.

The one thing I would do differently next time is use mini chocolate chips throughout. I thought the regular-sized chips were a little too big for the cupcake. Nevertheless, the final product was beyond delicious, and something I’ll make time and time again. The birthday girl (and the rest of the family) absolutely loved them, too. Thanks, Annie, for the recipe!

For those of you who don’t already, make sure to check out Annie’s Eats for this and other delicious recipes!

Pumpkin-Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

This is the first holiday season that I’ve actually been excited about baking. I’ve never been much of a baker, and for the most part I still leave most of the baking up to Billy, but the results are always so darn tasty that it’s hard to resist. And what better time to bake and try new recipes than the holidays, right?

I’ve never been a huge fan of pumpkin pie (I know what you’re thinking…who doesn’t love pumpkin pie?) and Billy doesn’t eat it at all. So this year I decided I’d find a new pumpkin-related dessert and give it a shot. Turns out it only took one try to find a success — Better Homes and Garden’s pumpkin-chocolate cheesecake bars were a huge hit at both families Thanksgivings. They’re definitely worth the time they take, so I encourage you to give them a try for Christmas or keep them in mind for next year!

Here’s what you’ll need:
Crust
– 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
– 1/4 cup sugar
– 1/3 cup butter, melted
Pumpkin
– 2 (8 oz.) packs cream cheese
– 1 3/4 cups sugar
– 3 eggs
– 1 cup canned pumpkin
– 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or a mix of cinnamon, cloves and ginger)
– 1/2 tsp vanilla
– 1/4 tsp salt
Chocolate
– 1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
– 2 tbsp butter
Topping
– 1 1/4 cup sour cream
– 1/4 sugar
– chocolate pieces and nutmeg (for garnish)

This recipe is done in phases, so at first glance it seems like its going to be a beast. In actuality it’s really pretty easy, it just takes time and there’s a lot of waiting in between steps. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

The first step in the process is to make the “crust.” In a small bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and the first 1/4 cup of sugar. Stir in the 1/2 cup melted butter and press evenly into a greased 13×9 pan. Set aside.

Next, combine the cream cheese and 1 3/4 cups sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat on low speed until completely combined before adding the next egg. Once combined, add the pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla and salt. Beat on low speed until completely combined. Remove 1 1/4 cups of the mixture and set aside.

Meanwhile, combine the chocolate and 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan. Over low heat, stir constantly until completely melted. Whisk the 1 1/4 cups of the pumpkin mixture into the melted chocolate and butter. Once combined, pour over the graham cracker crust and spread evenly across. Bake at 325 for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and pour the remainder of the pumpkin mixture over the baked chocolate layer. Return to the oven and bake (still at 325) for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the pumpkin has puffed up and the center has set. Remove from the oven and cool, in the pan, on a wire rack for 30 minutes.

Finally, combine the sour cream and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl. Carefully spread over the pumpkin layer and continue to cool. Once the bars are completely cool, cover and refrigerate for at least three hours before serving. Cut into bars (24 to 36, depending on size) and garnish with chocolate pieces and ground nutmeg.

I will probably get yelled at by some people for saying this, but these bars were way better than pumpkin pie. Every single day since Thanksgiving I’ve been craving these stupid bars. They’ve got so many different layers of flavor and texture, but they all work together to form an overall great dessert. The texture of the pumpkin and cream cheese layer is so smooth and creamy and the graham cracker and chocolate layers give it a little crunch. Pumpkin is definitely the star of the show here, but each layer really adds to the flavor of the bars. These bars will most definitely be a Martin family tradition from now on!

I got this recipe from the 2009 Holiday Recipe Collection edition of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. I couldn’t find the recipe anywhere online. Hopefully you can trust my rendition enough to try them anyway. 🙂

Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Cannoli

I’m late, I’m late…for a very important date! With all the Thanksgiving shenanigans, I completely spaced what day it was and didn’t have time to post about every Italian’s nightmare — horrible cannoli.

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100 percent verbatim from either book.

Despite the fact that I’m Italian, I have never made cannoli. I’ve eaten plenty of them, though, so I know exactly what they’re supposed to be like. Mine definitely did not turn out like “true” cannoli.

The dough, though easy enough to make, was so difficult to work with. In order to get perfect cannoli shells, the dough was to be rolled paper thin. No matter how hard I tried or how long I worked at it, I could not get that stuff to roll out! I’m not sure if it was something I did wrong (added too much liquid, maybe not enough?) or if it’s just a difficult dough. Either way, I decided to try frying them anyway and they just didn’t turn out right. They were too fat and didn’t blister at all. From what I could tell, the taste was right on, but the texture definitely wasn’t (too fat, not crunchy enough, etc.).

I made a traditional ricotta filling (with a little mascarpone to help the texture) and mini chocolate chips. The filling was awesome. So good, in fact, that I was eating it with a spoon in between filling the shells. I guess that made up for the shells being not-so-perfect, but it still wasn’t goon enough for me.

I fully intend to give the cannoli another try, but I think I’ll use a pasta roller to try and get the dough extra thin. Any tips from other Daring Bakers or cannoli makers would be greatly appreciated!

Recipe Link: Cannoli

Carrot Cinnamon Dog Treats

I’ve been in the baking mood lately and I’m not sure why…I’m typically not a baker. Never the less, I thought it was only right to let Kramer share in the goodness that is baking. I know you’re probably thinking that I’m nuts, but this isn’t the first time we’ve made our dog treats (I know, that makes me look even more nuts). He loves homemade treats — and they’re better for him than most anything we could get at the store. We get all our dog treat recipes from a nutritional guide and cookbook specifically for dogs called Better Food for Dogs. It’s a great book and has really helped us learn about the specific nutritional needs for dogs. On the plus side, Kramer loves the finished products of everything in this book (we haven’t tried the meals, just the treats).

One of Kramer’s favorite treats from the book are the carrot cinnamon“cookies.” (Sometimes they smell so good in the oven that I’ve thought about trying them myself — I’ve refrained though.)
Here’s what you’ll need:
– 4 cups whole wheat flour
– 1/2 cup cornmeal
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– 1 cup chopped carrots
– 1/2 cup water
– 2 tbsp canola oil
– 2 tbsp honey
– 1 egg
– 1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Baking dog treats isn’t any different than baking human cookies…believe it or not. First you’ll combine the dry ingredients — the flour, cornmeal and cinnamon — in a small bowl. Next, combine the carrots, water, oil, honey, egg and vanilla in a food processor and puree until smooth. Pour the carrot puree over the dry ingredients and stir until well incorporated.

Leaving the mixture in the bowl, kneed with your hands until the dough starts to hold together on its own (you may need to add more water). Once a dry dough is formed, transfer to a lightly floured surface and roll out until it’s about 1/8 inch thick. Use a fork to poke holes all over the dough, then cut into bite-sized pieces based on the size of your dog (you can either use cookie cutters or a pizza cutter). Place the pieces about 1/2 inch apart on a baking sheet. Depending on the size of your dog, you’ll end up with a ton of treats.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until firm. Let cool completely (still on the baking sheet), lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes or until the treats are hard (you want them to be crunchy, just like you would find in the store). Transfer the treats to a cooling rack and let cool completely before serving or storing.

Kramer would do anything for one of these “cookies.” He loves them and we love giving them to him because we know they’re healthy and we know exactly what goes into them. Baking for a dog sounds like a lot of work, but I think it’s worth it — and it’s also kind of fun! If you love your four-legged friends as much as we love ours, I would recommend that you pick up a copy of Better Food for Dogs and try out one of the cookie recipes yourself. If you’re a dog-treat baker, drop a line and let me know about some of your favorite recipes!

P.S. For a lower-fat version of this recipe, substitute the 2 tbsp. oil for 2 extra tablespoons water. Also, if you have a small dog you might want to consider cutting the recipe in half. The finished treats only last about a month and the recipe makes a lot of cookies. Another option is to freeze half the dough and bake it off another time.