Simple(y awesome) Banana Bread

Two posts in the last 12 months; having a baby really does change things (almost totally for the better). I may have neglected this space but I have still been spending a great deal of time in my other favorite space: the kitchen.

My sweet tooth is as pronounced as ever and I can no longer blame it on post-baby hormones and nursing. Instead, I’m chalking it up to necessary research for The Rainy Day Baker (to which I am totally recommitted thanks to a pep-talk from the one, the only DVH) and that brings me to banana bread.

Banana Bread close up

I found this recipe on the Bon Appetit site few months ago and I’ve made it at least five times since. What can I say other than we continuously have over-ripened bananas sitting on the counter just asking to be used.

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Monster Cookies for the Indecisive

monster cookies 1A few years ago a coworker brought into work what she called dream cookies. She gave me the recipe, I filed it away, and forgot about it until recently when I was staring at an empty cookie jar and a blog that desperately needed a good update. I remembered her dream cookies because they pull together peanut butter cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and m&m cookies into one chewy bundle of sweetness that completely does away with having to make any sort of decision. One should never have to make a decision when the cookie jar is running on empty. AMIRIGHT?!

As it turns out, little recipe research uncovered that my coworker’s dream cookies are almost an exact replica of what’s floating around on the web as monster cookies. Both are sufficient titles.

Couple notes about the recipe: Continue reading

Meet baby Lennon

I haven’t posted to The Rainy Day Baker in five months but as much as I miss sitting down to write about the satisfying sweets and other dishes we’re trying at home, I can’t say I regret spending my non-working hours instead with our now four month old daughter, Lennon.

Lennon Kate

Lennon was born in October and got to enjoy a few warmish fall weeks before this heavy winter dropped in. We’ve spent the really cold days happily holed up in the house, playing on the activity mat, leisurely mastering rolling over, and of course, baking whatever cookie or dessert mom had a hankering for. (Honest to God, I had no idea how hungry nursing would make me and all I want are sweet things! I didn’t have cravings during my pregnancy but I really do now!)

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Baked Pumpkin Spice Donuts

I picked up a donut pan a few weeks ago and have been dying to try it out. I’ve never made baked donuts and wasn’t expecting the results to be anywhere near similar to a traditional fried donut, but was pleasantly surprised by the texture and flavor that resulted.

I chose pumpkin spice as the flavor for this first batch because I was scared anything vanilla based would just taste like a cake or cupcake in a donut shape. Plus, with all the “pumpkin spice latte” talk that’s been flying around I’ve had it on my brain. Isn’t it more about the spice than the pumpkin, though? When it comes to Autumn-time, nothing seems more in-season than nutmeg, cinnamon, and all spice.

Pumpkin Donuts 800

 

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Anniversary Carrot Cake

Celebration Worthy Carrot Cake

Carrot cake has been a long standing favorite for DVH and I. Our wedding cake topper was carrot, which we enjoyed on our first anniversary last year (after peeling off all the fondant), so it only seemed appropriate to celebrate our second anniversary this week with a carrot cake…and I knew exactly which recipe I was using.

For my wedding shower, DVH’s Aunt Rosemary gifted me a cake stand along with the recipe for her Aunt Pearl’s famed carrot cake. Fast forward two years later and I still hadn’t tried my hand at it. Shameful.

Since our anniversary fell on a Monday this year, we didn’t have any grandiose, day-of plans. We both went to work and then met back at home for…wait for it…grilled cheese sandwiches and a DVRed movie. BUT, to sweeten the evening up just a little DVH had purchased two bottles of champagne (one of which was non-alchoholic for yours truly), and I had prepared the carrot cake.

Carrot cake and champagne

It’s not all that often I bake layer cakes (the last one I made was for Easter two years ago, a blueberry cake with lemon icing) and I was surprised to open my cupboard to only find only one cake pan. Sure that I had more I did a thorough search of the kitchen cabinets and came up empty handed. I wasn’t leaving the house to buy more so I proceeded to bake each of the three cakes one at a time.

Fortunately, this gave me the opportunity to fine-tune my bake times and to perfect the implementation of this easy trick to prevent cakes from baking with a domed top.

As far as bake times go, the recipe called for 45 minutes in the oven. As mine seems to run extra hot, 28-30 minutes was all each cake needed.

The only other omissions/additions I made to this incredible recipe were:

Raisins Omitted. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a huge fan of raisins in my baked goods (with one exception, which I will post about down the road). So while I did include the chopped walnuts, I did not include the raisins. The choice is all yours.

Icing Added. Unlike so many of my friends, I am an icing lover.  All those piped frosting flowers on your piece of birthday cake? Scrape them onto my plate if you’re too adult to eat them. Want to share a piece of cake? Okay – I call the top. Cream cheese icing? Forget sharing at all.

Bottom line – I made a recipe and a half of this icing so that I could spread it on thick between the layers and still have plenty for frosting the outside. There was about a 1/2 cup left over, its currently in tupperware in my refrigerator just waiting for me to have a weak moment.

Best Carrot Cake

I think it’s safe to say that I will never go looking for an alternate carrot cake recipe. Aunt Pearl really knew what she was doing when she perfected this one and, much like DVH, it is the only one for me.

(By the way – the alcohol free champagne I had is called Fre and is a pretty darn good substitute for the real thing! Did a great job of putting me in celebration gear!)

Aunt Pearl’s Carrot Cake
Source: Aunt Ro’s Aunt Pearl

CAKE:
1 and 1/2 cups vegetable oil

2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons cinnamon
3 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups grated carrots (I used about 5 and a half carrots)
1/2 cup raisins and/or nuts (optional)

CREAM CHEESE ICING:
1 stick butter or margarine, softened
8 oz. cream cheese

1 package 4-X sugar (I couldn’t find 4x, so I used the regular 10x)
2 teaspoons vanilla

Combine the sugar and oil; add eggs.
Sift flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together.

Add sugar mixture and beat well.
Add vanilla and grated carrots.
Next, add nuts and raisins.

Pour into three (8-inch) cake pans which are well greased and floured.
Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 45 minutes.
(Mine took less time!)

To prepare the icing, beat together the softened butter and cream cheese.
Add sugar and vanilla; beat until you reach a good spreading consistency.

Assemble the cake with icing between each layer.
Evenly frost the top and sides of the cake.
Top with additional chopped walnuts (optional).

 

Sugar Cookie Bars

Sugar Cookie Bars

Quick and easy is the name of the game when it comes to summer-time baking. Or weeknight baking, for that matter.

With this recipe, the rolling, cutting, and icing of typical sugar cookies is simplified into a brownie-like pour and spread method resulting in a thicker, chewier, more heavily iced treat!

While I had intended on following the recipe, keeping it simple, and just cutting these into bars, I was too tempted by my festive star-shaped cookie cutter (Independence Day is less than a week away, after all). So, after the tray came out of the oven and cooled, I  tried it a few times.

Star Shaped Sugar Cookie Bars

The results: While the shapes came out with ease, it was harder to get the icing to look as nice or be as thick (had I iced them before using the cookie cutter I would have lost it in the depth, so that wasn’t an option!) and trust me, the thick icing is a must! Similar to the Lofthouse Cookies, the bar is less sweet so that the icing can make up for it (and it does…it soooo does).

Sugar Cookie Bars

Sometimes a recipe just doesn’t need any major modifications, ya know? There is one thing I’ll do differently the next go-round and that is to adjust the baking time.  15 minutes was what the recipe called for, and since I like a doughier texture I’m going to try and knock it down by a few minutes.

As far as baking pans go, I used a jellyroll pan, which was larger than what was suggested, still kept the bars to a reasonable thickness, and also made them go a little further in terms of quantity once cut.

Need some other ideas for your Fourth of July celebration? Here’s a few Pinterest finds that caught my eye:

Bobby Flay’s Sliders with Chipotle Mayo (Foodnetwork.com)

Red, White, and Blue S’mores (momdot.com)

Berry Spritzer (marthastewart.com)

Red, White, and Blue Trifle (celebrationsathomeblog.com)

Ranch BLT Pasta Salad (cinnamonspiceandeverythingnice.com)

Red, White, and Blue Tart (BHG.com)

Sugar Cookie Bars
Source: The Curvy Carrot

COOKIES:
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
5 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

FROSTING:
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of sea salt
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
5 tablespoons milk
Food coloring
Sprinkles or other cookie decoration

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Line a rimmed jellyroll pan or brownie pan with parchment paper (I used foil) and set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar at a medium-high speed until light and fluffy (approximately 2 minutes)
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing at medium speed after each addition.
Add the vanilla.

In a separate, large bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda.
With the mixer at a low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture.
Mix until thoroughly combined.

Using a rubber spatula, spread the cookie dough onto the baking sheet as evenly as possible.
Bake for 12-15 minutes (depending on your desired texture/doneness) or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Let cool completely.

When ready to ice the bars, beat the butter until light and fluffy using your electric mixer.
Add the vanilla and mix well.
With the mixer at a low speed, carefully add in the confectioners’ sugar one cup at a time.
Add the milk and mix until smooth.

If using food color, add that to the icing now and mix until incorporated throughout.
Frost and decorate your cookies any way you desire!

Mrs. Koester’s Outrageous Brownies + A Baby Update

Favorite Brownies

A few years ago, some good friends got married on a Friday night and it was a party.

And then, on Saturday, they had all of their guests over to their house for a follow-up celebration which turned into a party equally as fun as the one the night before, though slightly more rambunctious. But for the sake of this blog, all you need to know is: on that fateful day I was introduced to the lovely Mrs. Koester and her Outrageous Brownies.

Looking back, I can’t remember just how many brownies I consumed over the course of the afternoon (and well into the evening), but I sincerely hope that the bathing suit I was donning kept me somewhat conscious of my intake.

Probably not, though.

The texture of these brownies is so unique in that they are fudgey and yet, the walnuts and chocolate chips sprinkled in give them a rocky-road effect. They take some work, but are easily my favorite. (Secret Ghirardelli Brownies are my favorite quick and easy version.) They need to be stored in the refrigerator and are just as good cold as they are when brought to room temperature just before serving.

I was nervous to ask for the recipe; sure that it had to be family secret that could never be given to someone outside the bloodline (speaking of, all the women in this family have fabulously thick and gorgeous hair). But as I’ve come to know the Koester family, they are a generous bunch and always more than willing to let the good stuff be shared.

The Koester Ladies
From the left: Avery, Courtney, Sabrina, and Mrs. Koester

Without further ado, I give you the recipe (at bottom) for the richest, densest, nuttiest, chocolatiest brownies ever. Worth every bowl it takes to make them – promise!

Before I sign off, a quick baby update: I’m 25 weeks (and 5 days) along with our little baby girl and the doctor confirmed today that I’m still on track for my end of September due date, size-wise.

While I typically feel her move throughout the day, DVH and I have noticed that the baby’s kicks are strongest and most frequent around 8:30 pm. Admittedly, I’m usually in bed by then, and I love laying there and watching my stomach move and jolt with each kick. It really never gets old!

I haven’t had any single intense cravings, but I could eat fruit all day every day. Thankfully, all the good stuff is actually in season, so we’re stocked on berries, peaches, nectarines, bananas, grapes, and pineapple and I am lov.ing.it.

25 Weeks
Mrs. Koester’s Outrageous Brownies!

1 lb. unsalted butter
1 lb. plus 12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
6 oz. unsweetened chocolate
6 extra large eggs
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 and 1/4 cup sugar
1 and 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups chopped walnuts
Directions:
Preheat Oven to 350 degrees
Butter and flour a 12 x 18 inch baking sheet
Melt together the butter, 1 lb. of chocolate chips and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water.
Allow to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, stir (do NOT beat) together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar.
Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.
In a medium bowl, sift together 1 c of flour, the baking powder, and salt.
Add to the cooled chocolate mixture.
Toss the walnuts and 12 oz of chocolate chips in a medium bowl with 1/4 c of flour, then add them to the chocolate batter.
Pour into the baking sheet.
Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the baking sheet against the oven shelf to force the air to escape.
Bake for about 15 minutes more, until toothpick comes out clean.
Do NOT over bake! Allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate, and cut.
Notes:
1. Hershey’s chocolate chips have the best flavor with this recipe.
2. You can use 1-3 T of coffee granules. I use 1 T when using or omit granules, whichever you prefer.
3. Flouring the chips and walnuts keeps them from sinking to the bottom.
4. you can use 1-2 tablespoons of vanilla. I use 1 tablespoon.
5. It is important to allow the batter to cool well before adding the chocolate chips, or the chips will melt and ruin the brownies.
6. This recipe should be baked the night before serving (then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate, then cut into squares).
7. Brownies will stay fresh, wrapped in fridge for 1 week.

Knock-Your-Socks-Off M&M Peanut Butter Pudding Cookies

Throughout my pregnancy (18 weeks now!) I’ve had a love/hate relationship with peanut butter. I love it while I’m eating it, but then I hate the aftertaste. Of course, that’s not enough to keep me away from it altogether, especially when it comes to desserts and even more especially when it comes to these cookies.

I’ve always made a very basic peanut butter cookie. You know the type: thin, crisp along the edges, chewy in the center, and always with the fork tine crisscross on the top. Sometimes an old standard is best. But other times, like when you’re trying to impress the socks off your three-year-old nephew, something fancier is warranted.

Something like M&M Peanut Butter Pudding Cookies.

pBa

Whether their height should be attributed to the addition of vanilla pudding mix or the half hour spent in the fridge pre-baking, I just don’t know. But I love that they’re more substantial and far more gooey (in the best way) than their traditional counter parts. (The peanut butter m&m’s don’t hurt either!)

When I took these cookies to my nephew a few months ago he declared them “beautiful” and when I brought them into work for an interoffice bake sale, a single office bought the whole tray for their business meeting snack. I guess that proves these colorful cookies please kids and adults alike!

M&M Peanut Butter Pudding Cookies
(Source: Inside BruCrew Life)
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
1 box (3.4 oz) instant vanilla pudding
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup Peanut Butter M&M candies
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugars until creamy.
Add the peanut butter, vanilla, and eggs and beat again.
Sift together the pudding mix, salt, baking soda, and flour and slowly add to the butter mixture.
Stir in the chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and M&M’s by hand.
Cover the mixing bowl and chill the dough for at least 30 minutes.
Roll the dough into 1 and a 1/2 inch balls.
Bake at 350* for 9-10 minutes.
Cool on the pan for 2 minutes before removing to racks on the counter to cool completely. 
Makes 48 cookies, depending on the size of your dough balls.