Cookies! Cookies! Cookies! (Plus a Christmas confetti cookie recipe)

We spent the past weekend packing up white bakery boxes filled with sweet treats. Dropping boxes off on doorsteps, ringing the doorbell, and waving enthusiastically from the car when the recipients opened the door — it was heartwarming to continue a holiday tradition with a 2020 twist.

We gift about two dozen of these boxes each year, so I’m always looking for simple, non-time-intensive ways to add sparkle, texture, and color to our treat selection. Christmas confetti cookies fit the job perfectly — they’re a humble sugar/snickerdoodle at heart, but are loaded with festive flair (aka sprinkles). I make sure to whip up an extra batch of this dough because my family can’t get enough of these cookies — they’re just so good! (I’ve included a list of all the other treats we included at the bottom of this post, with recipe links where available.)

A couple other tidbits:
Tips for baking Christmas confetti cookies:
  • You can prep Christmas confetti cookie dough in advance and refrigerate it for up to 5 days (or freeze for longer storage). I like to bring the dough out to room temperature while the oven is preheating, then roll in sugar right before baking.
  • I like to use jimmies, or the long rod-shaped sprinkles, in this recipe. The color doesn’t bleed, unlike non-pareils and other sprinkle shapes. Feel free to sub in rainbow jimmies for non-holiday-themed confetti cookies!

Christmas Confetti Cookies

Makes about 12 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 113g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 120g granulated sugar
  • 30g light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 175g all-purpose flour
  • 50g red and green sprinkles (I use jimmies — the rod-shaped kind)

To finish:

  • 40g granulated sugar

Method:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugars, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Mix on low to combine, then increase the speed to medium and cream until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle a couple times during this process to ensure even mixing.
  2. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the egg and vanilla. Increase the speed to medium and mix until smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl and paddle.
  3. With the mixer on low, add the flour. Mix just until a few streaks of flour remain, then add the sprinkles. Use a flexible spatula to stir from the bottom of the bowl a few times to make sure everything is well-mixed and there are no pockets of unincorporated flour. Cover and chill until firm but still scoopable, about 45 minutes.
  4. While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the middle and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Portion the dough into twelve ping-pong sized balls, about 45 grams (3 tbsp) each. Toss each in granulated sugar, coating completely. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets about 2½ inches (6 cm) apart.
  6. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time until the edges are set but the centers are still soft and pale, about 10 to 12 minutes. Rotate the sheet in the oven halfway through baking. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store leftovers in an airtight container.
treat boxes

Other treats included in our boxes:

Honey and Sea Salt Marshmallows

honey sea salt marshmallows

One of my favorite parts of December is turning the kitchen into a mini candy-making factory. I love giving edible treat boxes out for the holidays; and while there’s no love lost for cookies, Christmas candies are what truly excite me. Caramels, brittle, toffee, nougat, marshmallows — I love making them all.

Marshmallows might be the ultimate form of kitchen magic. You start with granulated sugar, corn syrup or honey, water, and gelatin; and somehow you end up with fluffy edible clouds that delight people of any age. You can get super creative with marshmallow flavors, though since I just make mallows a couple times a year (once in the summer for s’mores, and once around Christmas) I normally stick to either vanilla or peppermint.

This year, though, I decided to branch out and make some honey and sea salt marshmallows; and they are lovely! The honey flavor sings loud and clear, since there’s not many other ingredients to distract. I add a generous pinch of sea salt to round out the experience — not enough to make the marshmallows salty by any means, but just to give the slightest savory hint. Next time I may go truly wild and use some brewed chai to bloom the gelatin!

marshmallows closeup

Here are a few tips for marshmallow success:

  • Read the recipe through completely a couple times before starting. Marshmallows aren’t difficult to make, but they do require close attention to temperatures and working with hot syrups. Syrups wait for no one and once you hit the right temperatures you need to move on quickly to the next step. Measure everything ahead of time and prep all your equipment. This is a project best done without small children or animals underfoot.
  • Use a digital probe thermometer for gauging temperatures. I have both a Thermoworks DOT thermometer and Polder digital probe thermometer; both work beautifully (note: these are affiliate links). Make sure that the tip of the probe is fully immersed in the syrup but not hitting the bottom of your pot to ensure accurate readings.
  • Most marshmallow recipes are pretty similar in terms of ingredients. The biggest differences you’ll notice are in the temperature for cooking the sugar syrup — I’ve seen everything from 225F to 250F. I’ve been using this method from Bravetart for years (first from her sadly archived blog and then her cookbook). Though cooling the syrup may seem like an extra step, it’s safer than pouring boiling hot syrups into a mixer. Plus it ensures that the setting power of the gelatin won’t be compromised through overheating.
  • Honey foams quite a bit when boiling, so make sure you use a pot that’s at least 3.5L to avoid overflows and sadness. I recommend using a mild honey such as clover since stronger varieties can be overwhelming in this amount. You can also replace part or all of the honey with light corn syrup (by weight) for a subtler flavor or for plain vanilla marshmallows.
  • The small amount of butter is optional — it adds a little extra flavor and tenderness.
  • While you want to whip the mixture sufficiently so your mallows are nice and fluffy, don’t whip too long or the mixture will start setting in the bowl. This makes an already sticky process even messier, plus you end up losing more marshmallow than necessary to the bowl and beater. I like to pan the mixture when it’s fluffy but still sliiiightly warm and a little fluid. A greased flexible bowl scraper is by far my favorite tool for scraping the marshmallow out of the bowl and into the prepared pan.

Honey and Sea Salt Marshmallows

Makes about thirty-six 1 1/2″ marshmallows | Adapted from Bravetart

Ingredients:

For the marshmallows:
  • 21g (3 Tbsp) powdered gelatin
  • 115g (1/2 c) cold water, for blooming gelatin
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 115g (1/2 c) water, for the sugar-honey syrup
  • 140g (1/3 c plus 2 Tbsp) good-quality, mild honey
  • 340g (1 3/4 c) granulated sugar
  • 5g (3/4 tsp) fine sea salt
  • 14g (1 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted (optional)
To finish:
  • 30g cornstarch
  • 30g icing sugar

Method:

  1. Prepare the pan: Lightly grease an 8×8 square pan with cooking spray.
  2. Bloom the gelatin: In a small, wide bowl, mix the gelatin with 115g (1/2 c) cool water and the vanilla extract. Stir to combine, making sure all the gelatin is saturated. Leave to bloom while you prepare the sugar-honey syrup.
  3. Cook the sugar syrup: In a 3.5 or 4 L heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the remaining 115g (1/2 c) water, honey, sugar, and sea salt. Stir to combine. Place over medium heat. Stir occasionally with a heat-proof spatula or fork until the mixture starts bubbling, then stop stirring (stirring a boiling sugar syrup can encourage crystallization). Clip on a digital thermometer and continue cooking the syrup until it reaches 245-250F.
  4. Cool the syrup: Once the syrup reaches temperature, pour the syrup into the bowl of a stand mixer, using a flexible, heat-resistant spatula to scrape the pot. Let the syrup cool until it registers 212F, about 5-6 minutes.
  5. Whip the marshmallow: Once the syrup has cooled to 212F, scrape the bloomed gelatin into the bowl. Carefully transfer the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium low until the gelatin has melted, then increase the speed to medium-high and whisk until the mixture is fluffy, thick, and roughly tripled in volume, about 8-10 minutes. The bowl should be slightly warm to the touch. If adding the butter, reduce the speed to low and drizzle in the melted butter; then increase the speed back to medium high and mix for a few seconds just until incorporated.
  6. Pan, cure, and cut the marshmallow: Use a greased spatula or flexible bowl scraper to scrape the marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan. Let sit, uncovered, for at least 4 hours (preferably overnight) to “cure” or set the marshmallow.
  7. When ready to cut, sift together the cornstarch and icing sugar to make the marshmallow dust. Sift some of the dust over a cutting board, then invert the pan with the marshmallow onto the board, gently tugging it free with your fingers. Sift more of the marshmallow dust over the marshmallow. Use a thin, long knife to cut the marshmallows into 6 strips (or whatever size you’d like); then cut each strip into 6 even pieces. Clean the knife between cuts for best results. Toss each marshmallow in the remaining dust to ensure it doesn’t stick. Store marshmallows in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
honey marshmallows on tray

Caramel-stuffed ginger molasses cookies

Ginger molasses cookies are always at the top of my holiday must-bake list. My favorite recipe is generously spiced, chewy, and instantly makes the house smell like Christmas. On a whim I stuffed a batch with some salted butter caramels I had leftover from some recipe testing. Best/worst idea ever: best because the caramel levels up a cookie I thought couldn’t be improved — the caramel adds another level of chew in addition to a surprise hit of sweetness. Worst because these have sort of ruined me for the “regular” version.

A couple of notes:

  • You can use any kind of chewy caramel candy for stuffing, though I like to an extra dark one that has just a hint of bitterness.
  • You can refrigerate the dough (stuffed or unstuffed) for up to 5 days. I like to bring the dough to room temperature while the oven is preheating and toss in sugar right before baking. I haven’t yet tried freezing this dough with the caramel stuffing but will update this post when I do.

Caramel-stuffed Ginger Molasses Cookies

Makes about 13 large cookies | Adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

  • 125g all purpose flour
  • 75g bread flour
  • 50g rye flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 3/4 tsp freshly ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
  • 65g granulated sugar
  • 50g dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 113g unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 113g fancy molasses (not blackstrap)

To finish:

  • 40g turbinado sugar
  • 40g granulated sugar
  • 13 chewy caramel candies, storebought or homemade (mine were roughly 3/4″ squares)

Method:

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, spices (except for the fresh ginger), and salt.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar and dark brown sugar. Add the grated ginger and rub it into the sugar with your fingers to distribute.
  3. Whisk in the melted butter, molasses, and egg to combine.
  4. Add the dry ingredients and mix just to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm the dough up slightly to make it easier roll. (If refrigerated longer than an hour, let stand at room temperature for 15-20 minutes to soften slightly.)
  5. While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 375F with a rack in the center, and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine the turbinado and granulated sugar in a small bowl.
  6. Divide the chilled dough into 26 equal portions (25g each).
  7. To stuff the cookies, take two portions of dough and flatten each into a thick disc. Take a caramel and press it gently into the middle of one piece of dough (trim or squish the caramel to fit, if needed), then place the other piece of dough on top. Pinch the edges of the two pieces of dough together to seal in the caramel, then roll gently between your hands to form a ball. Repeat the process with the remaining dough.
  8. Roll each ball in sugar and place on the prepared baking sheets about 2.5 inches apart. (Cookies will spread a bit so leave plenty of room!)
  9. Bake sheets one at a time for about 9-11 minutes, rotating halfway through, until cookies are puffed and starting to crack and the edges are set. Cool on the sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Triple Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

triple chocolate peppermint cookies

Apologies to the half can of pumpkin still sitting in my fridge: I have moved on to candy canes and gingerbread. We’re normally a “Christmas starts in December” family, but it’s 2020 and anything goes. We picked out our tree and hung the stockings; the kids are busying themselves cutting snowflakes and making garlands.

These triple chocolate peppermint cookies made their first appearance in our annual treat boxes last year, and I think they’ve earned a permanent spot in the holiday baking rotation. They’re simple but festive — a great option for making with kids and for munching on during tree trimming or a favorite holiday movie.

A few notes:

  • If you’ve hung around here much you’ll know I like a bit of rye in my chocolate baked goods — its earthiness helps enhance the chocolate flavor. You could also swap out the rye for buckwheat — also delicious! But if you don’t have those flours on hand, just replace the rye with an additional 50g all purpose flour.
  • These cookies do best after a rest in the fridge to help hydrate the dough and prevent excessive spread. But I understand the need for instant gratification — if you just HAVE to have a cookie right away, stick the preformed dough in the freezer while you preheat the oven to quicken things along. They’ll likely still spread a little more than if you wait the full 3 hours, but it’s not the worst thing ever.
  • While I’m typically a dark chocolate lover, I really enjoy the mix of chocolates in this cookie. Using all dark chocolate can be a little intense — the pops of milk and white bring a little hit of extra sweetness. But as always, adjust the ratios to your tastes!
  • Peppermint extract varies in intensity from brand to brand, and too much can make your baked goods smell and taste like toothpaste. I used Club House pure peppermint extract here and this level was perfect for me, but if you have an especially potent brand you may want to start with a little less.
triple chocolate peppermint cookies hand

Triple Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

Makes about 12 cookies | Adapted from Baked to Order

Ingredients:

  • 113g (1/2 c) unsalted butter, cubed
  • 4g (1 Tbsp) finely ground espresso (or 1 tsp espresso powder)
  • 80g chopped bittersweet/dark (70%) chocolate, divided
  • 100g (3/4 c plus 1 Tbsp) AP flour
  • 50g (1/2 c) whole rye flour
  • 25g (scant 1/4 c) Dutch processed cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
  • 90g (scant 1/2 c) light brown sugar
  • 68g (1/3 c) caster sugar
  • 1 large egg, cold
  • 1 large egg yolk, cold
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
  • 30g (1 oz) chopped semisweet/milk chocolate
  • 30g (1 oz) chopped white chocolate
  • Crushed peppermint candies/candy canes, for garnish

Method:

  1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. You’re not trying to brown it or drive off any moisture, so don’t let it boil — pull it off when there are still a couple unmelted bits left and let the residual heat finish the job.
  2. While the butter is melting, place the espresso powder and 50g of the chopped bittersweet chocolate in a large bowl. Once the butter has melted, pour it over the espresso-chocolate mixture. Whisk until the chocolate has melted. Let cool for about 5 minutes.
  3. Whisk the sugars into the butter until smooth and combined, followed by the egg and egg yolk. Whisk in the vanilla and peppermint extracts.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and fold together until just combined. When just a few streaks of flour remain, add the remaining 30g dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate. Mix just until evenly distributed.
  5. Portion the dough into ping-pong sized balls, about 55 grams (3 tbsp) each, onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. (If the dough is too soft, cover and chill for about 30 minutes before scooping.) Cover and chill at least 3 hours, or up to 3 days.
  6. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with a rack in the middle and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets about 2½ inches (6.4 cm) apart and sprinkle the tops with crushed peppermint candies.
  7. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time until the edges are set but the centers are still soft and barely set, about 11 to 14 minutes. Rotate the sheet in the oven halfway through baking. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store leftovers in an airtight container.

Lemon Pie Bars with Strawberry Meringue

lemon bars with strawberry meringue

I have had so many requests for this recipe since posting this photo on Instagram, so I am sharing it with you today with one caveat: I have only tested this recipe once as written. Generally I make all recipes I post here at least twice before sharing so I can ensure it’s repeatable and work out any kinks. But I just released a cookbook and honestly, I’m so tired!

However, I realize that many of you may want to attempt this over Thanksgiving and holidays, so I’m sharing what I did along with some notes. I do plan to retest these again and will update the recipe accordingly if needed.

A few notes:

  • I made these bars with a pretty thick base, which I liked. However, I suspect most people would prefer it a little thinner so the recipe amounts below reflect that. If you’re team extra-thick base, multiply all amounts by 1.45.
  • I realize having a couple extra egg whites leftover from the filling may be annoying. However, I really liked this ratio of filling to meringue! The filling is bright and tart and stands up well to the sweet topping. I freeze extra egg whites for future meringue / financiers / macarons or macaroons or just add them to a batch of scrambled eggs. If you want to use just 4 eggs total, then multiply all filling ingredients by .67. (Sure, you could make a bigger batch of meringue but honestly I feel it would be overkill. But your bars, your ratios!)
  • Did I mention I just released a cookbook? Baked to Order is available now, wherever books are sold! And if you’ve bought the book and are enjoying it, would you consider writing a review on Amazon? Reviews are incredibly valuable and help others find the book more easily. THANK YOU for your support!
lemon pie bars strawberry meringue

Lemon Pie Bars with Strawberry Meringue

Makes one 9×5 loaf pan (about 8 big slices or 16 squares) | Filling adapted from Bravetart; meringue inspiration from Erin McDowell

Ingredients:

For the graham cracker crust:
  • 120g graham cracker crumbs
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 12g light brown sugar
  • 42-56g unsalted butter (as needed), melted
For the lemon-elderflower filling:
  • 250g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 53g cornstarch
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • Zest of 3 lemons
  • 170g freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 340g water 
  • 42g elderflower liqueur (such as St. Germain)
For the strawberry swiss meringue:
  • 30g freeze-dried strawberries
  • 180g granulated sugar
  • 120g egg whites
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • Pinch of kosher salt

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven and prepare the pan: Preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle. Line a 9×5 loaf pan with parchment paper leaving 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) of overhang on the long sides for easy removal. Lightly grease the pan and parchment. Secure the edges of the parchment with metal binder clips, if desired, to make assembly easier (they keep the parchment paper from flapping around).
  2. Make the graham cracker crust: In a small bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, salt, and sugar. Add about 42g (3T) of melted butter and stir to combine. You’re looking for a wet sand consistency — when you squeeze a bit of the mixture in your hand, it should hold together easily but not feel overly greasy. The amount of butter needed can vary depending on the brand of crumbs and how finely ground they are. Add more melted butter as needed, a teaspoon at a time, until you reach the right consistency.
  3. Transfer the crumb mixture to the prepared pan and use a small glass or measuring cup to press it along the bottom of the pan firmly and evenly. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until fragrant and just set. Transfer to a wire cooling rack.
  4. Make the lemon-elderflower filling: Set a sieve over a medium heatsafe bowl. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, salt, and cornstarch until well combined. Add the egg yolks, zest, lemon juice, water, and liqueur and whisk to combine.
  5. Cook over low heat until steaming, whisking constantly. Raise the heat to medium-low and continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble. Once the bubbles appear, continue whisking and cooking for two full minutes (set a timer! It’s important to not skimp on the time or the filling will not set properly). Take care as the mixture will sputter and spit a bit.
  6. Strain the filling into the prepared container to remove the zest, then scrape the filling over the prepared crust. Cool at room temperature until a skin forms over the surface, about 30-45 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the filling is cold and fully set, at least 4 or up to 24 hours.
  7. Make the strawberry meringue and assemble the bars: About an hour before serving, remove the bars from the refrigerator and transfer to a serving plate. Discard the parchment.
  8. To make the meringue, fill a medium saucepan with 2-3 inches of water and bring to a simmer. While the water is heating up, combine the freeze-dried strawberries and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the strawberries are ground into a fine powder. Transfer the strawberry-sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk in the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt.
  9. Place the bowl on top of the saucepan to create a double-boiler—this heats the egg mixture gently to avoid scrambling the eggs. The base of the bowl should not touch the simmering water.
  10. Heat the egg white mixture, stirring frequently and scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl with a heatproof spatula, until it reaches 165°F (74C) on an instant-read thermometer. The mixture should be quite thick and the sugar completely dissolved.
  11. Remove the bowl from the double-boiler and transfer to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on high speed until the meringue has increased in size 3-4x times and holds glossy medium-stiff peaks, about 4-5 minutes. (It will still be a little warm — don’t overbeat or the meringue can get a little gooey and difficult to spread.)
  12. Immediately scrape the meringue on top of the lemon filling and use a spatula or spoon to spread it over the top. Swoop and swirl as you desire.
  13. To serve, use a hot, sharp knife to slice (clean the knife with a hot, damp towel between cuts). The bars are best served immediately. Refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight container.

Coffee date squares

I’ve been leaning hard into nostalgic bakes lately; and these coffee date squares are my latest crush. An oat-flecked bar cookie with a layer of sweet date filling, date squares make a perfect sweet bite alongside your warm beverage of choice.

Date squares are popular coffeehouse fare here in Canada. Apparently in some parts of the country they’re known as “matrimonial cake” — possibly because the varying flavors and textures mirror the complexities of marriage (I know…it’s a stretch), or maybe because they were frequently served at weddings.

Name speculations aside, these old-fashioned treats are simple to make and enjoy. I’ve added coffee to help balance the sweetness of the dates, but these bars just call for personalization. Try simmering the dates in a mixture of water and orange or lemon juice (add some orange zest to the crumble if you want to play up the citrus notes!), or swap in your favorite medley of warming spices.

A few notes:
  • I use a food processor to make the crumble mixture for speed’s sake, but if you can also rub the butter in by hand. In general, I prefer using cold butter (vs. softened or melted) for crumb bars and streusels as I find the crumbs hold their shape well and have my ideal firm-but-tender texture after baking.
  • If you don’t want to use nuts, you can swap in an additional 45 g (1/2 c) oats instead (add them at the end with the rest of the oats).
  • You can use plain all-purpose flour for the crumble, but I think whole grain flour adds extra character and flavor to these bars! I’m a big fan of Flourist sifted Red Fife in baked goods, but you could try white whole-wheat, a mix of all-purpose and whole grain, or all whole grain for a heartier texture.

Coffee date squares

Makes one 8×8 pan

Ingredients:

For the coffee date filling:

  • 300g (1 3/4 c) dried Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
  • 200g (3/4 c plus 2 Tbsp) freshly brewed coffee
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

For the crust and crumb:

  • 188g (1 1/2 c) flour (I used Flourist sifted Red Fife)
  • 45g (1/3 c) toasted walnuts or hazelnuts
  • 1 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 100g (1/2 c) light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp finely ground coffee
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 200g (14 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed and cold
  • 90g (1 c) rolled oats (preferably regular, not quick)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle. Line an 8×8 square pan with two criss-crossed pieces of parchment paper, leaving a few inches of overhang on all edges. (This makes it easy to remove the squares from the pan later.)
  2. Make the coffee date filling: In a medium saucepan, combine the chopped dates and coffee. Cook over medium heat, stirring and mashing the dates frequently, until the dates have broken down and the mixture is thick and relatively smooth, about 10 minutes. Add the baking soda and stir to combine thoroughly. Scrape filling into a bowl and let cool while you continue with the recipe.
  3. Make the crust and crumb: In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, nuts, salt, sugar, ground coffee, and spices. Pulse several times until well combined. Scatter the cold butter over the top and pulse until the mixture starts to form small clumps. Add the oats and pulse just a few times to incorporate — you don’t want the oats to completely break down as they add a nice texture.
  4. Assemble and bake the squares: Transfer approximately 2/3 (400g) of the crumb mixture to the prepared pan. Use a small glass or measuring cup to press the crumbs firmly and evenly across the bottom. Bake for 10 minutes, or until just set.
  5. Use a small offset spatula to spread the date filling evenly over the par-baked base (no need to let the base cool) and sprinkle the remaining crumbs evenly over the top. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 22-30 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing — I find chilling the bars in the fridge for a couple hours makes slicing a breeze. Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 5 days or freeze for longer storage.

Small Batch Ruffles Marshmallow Treats

ruffles marshmallow treats

This is for the dip-your-french-fries-in-ice-cream and salted caramel folks out there — Ruffles marshmallow treats! I first tried this magical sweet-and-salty combo at Bake Shoppe in Toronto, a local favorite known for their nostalgic bakes and quirky-chic vibe. (Their retail store has since closed, but I hear they’re “baking up” some exciting new plans. Sorry not sorry.) Their ruffles marshmallow treats were a fan favorite, not just as bars but as cakes. If you’re raising an eyebrow, well, don’t knock it before you try it.

I made a small batch of these no-bake Ruffles marshmallow treats for Halloween, since my kids decided that this year needed to be all about marshmallows (we have plans for a marshmallow roast in place of trick-or-treating, provided the weather doesn’t pull a Canada and give us our first snow). These are so easy and fast to make — the perfect last-minute treat.

A couple notes:
  • As with my rice krispie treats, I level up these squares with browned butter. You can just melt the butter if you want, but that toasty goodness really does add a little something-something.
  • I also like holding back some of the marshmallows and folding them in at the end for some textural variety. Again, totally optional.
  • I’m sure you could make this with a mix of Ruffles and rice krispies; you’ll just want to use ~3 cups worth of dry ingredients for this amount of marshmallows. Note that Rice Krispies weigh less than chips per cup (about half as much), so don’t swap by weight or your mixture will probably be too dry. (Refer to the rice krispies treat recipe for a measurement guide.)
  • Feeding a crowd? Double all the ingredients for an 8×8 or 9×9 pan.

Small Batch Ruffles Marshmallow Treats for Halloween (or any time)

Makes one 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 or 9×5 pan (about 8 squares)

Ingredients

  • 56g / 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 200g / 4 cups mini marshmallows, divided
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150g / 3 cups crushed Ruffles-style potato chips
  • Edible eyes (optional)

Method

  1. Line an 8 1/2×4 1/2 or 9×5 loaf pan with a parchment sling. Measure out all your ingredients — this is a quick and simple recipe, but once you start, you do need to move quickly!
  2. Brown the butter: Cube the butter and place it in a medium, light-colored pot over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, turn the heat up to medium-high. Stir frequently with a heatproof spatula, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan as needed. The butter will crackle, foam, turn clear gold, then finally start browning. It’s done when the crackling subsides and you smell toasted nuts.
  3. When the butter has browned, immediately take the pan off the heat and add the salt, vanilla, and all but a large handful of the marshmallows. Stir constantly until the marshmallows are melted and you have a smooth mixture. If the residual heat from the butter isn’t enough to melt the marshmallows completely, place the pan back over low heat and keep stirring until they are.
  4. Add the crushed chips and stir until evenly coated with the marshmallow mixture. Stir in the remaining handful of mini marshmallows.
  5. Immediately scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and, using a greased silicone spatula or a piece of greased parchment/wax paper, press it firmly into an even layer. Decorate with edible eyes, if desired. Let cool completely at room temperature before cutting into squares. Store in an airtight container and eat within 3 days.

Mini vanilla cake with buttermilk ermine frosting (plus a smash cake!)

first birthday cake plus smash cake

Last week we celebrated Isabelle’s first birthday. As I’ve looked back on the photos and videos from this past year and cheered her on as she’s started taking her first steps, I realize — despite the seeming never-endingness that is 2020 — time marches on.

Naturally, there was cake. We’re still sticking to very small gatherings here, so I made a petite birthday cake and a very petite one for Isabelle to “smash.” (Though let’s be honest — this is our third kid and this was hardly her first taste of cake!) It was the perfect size.

Buttermilk Ermine Frosting

Let’s talk for a minute about the buttermilk ermine frosting. If you’ve never made ermine frosting (sometimes called flour buttercream or boiled icing… uh, yum?) you really must try it! It’s fluffy and not too sweet, almost like a sturdy whipped cream in texture. This old-school frosting starts with a flour-milk-sugar roux that’s cooked to a thick paste on the stove. Once cooled, it’s beaten together with softened butter. I promise, it’s much tastier than it sounds! Ermine frosting is softer than Swiss meringue buttercream so it’s not the best for super sharp edges and intricate piping, but it’s tops for eating. Using buttermilk instead of regular milk gives it cream cheese frosting vibes; I’m totally using it the next time I make a red velvet or carrot cake!

A few notes:

  • The measurements for this cake are a bit odd because it’s scaled down / adapted from this old favorite vanilla cake recipe. The cup conversions are super awkward so I’ve just stuck with grams. I recommend baking by weight whenever possible — it’s much more accurate and quicker/cleaner than breaking out all the measuring cups! A scale is truly my favorite kitchen tool and a worthwhile investment.
  • To make the cakes pictured, I split the batter among two 6-inch cake pans and two 4-inch cake pans. For the most even layers, weigh the batter (told you the kitchen scale is handy!). Here’s how I do it: before baking, I weigh the bowl in which I’ll be mixing my batter. After I’ve finished mixing my batter, I’ll weigh the bowl with the batter, then subtract the weight of the bowl to find out how much my batter weighs. Then I divide the batter weight by however many pans I’m using. In this case, I first divided by 3 — this is how much batter I put in each of the two 6″ pans. Then I divided the remaining third of the batter between the two 4″ pans. Note that if you’re using different sized pans, they may bake at slightly different rates; though in this case all my layers finished around the same time. Not making a smash cake? You can just use three 6″ pans!
  • If you don’t have buttermilk, you can substitute plain milk (either lowfat or whole should work nicely) for a plain, delicious vanilla frosting.

Mini vanilla cake with buttermilk ermine frosting (plus a smash cake!)

Makes one 2-layer 6″ cake plus one 2-layer 4″ smash cake (or one 3-layer 6″ cake)

Ingredients:

For the vanilla cake:

  • 119g all-purpose flour
  • 136g cake flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 250 g granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 204g sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 136g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 60g neutral vegetable oil (I prefer grapeseed)

For the buttermilk ermine frosting:

  • 42g all-purpose flour
  • 140g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 255g buttermilk
  • 240g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

To assemble:

  • About 1/3 cup peach preserves (or other thick fruit jam)
  • Sprinkles, for decorating

Method:

For the vanilla cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F (175C) with a rack in the middle position. Line the bottom of two 6″ pans and two 4″ pans with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pans.
  2. In a glass measuring cup with a spout, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and 50 grams of the sour cream.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Mix on low for 30 seconds to combine.
  4. With the mixer still on low, add the butter a spoonful at a time, followed by the oil and the remaining 154 grams of sour cream. Once all the flour is moistened, increase the speed to medium and beat for about 90 seconds. The batter will be very thick at this point. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle.
  5. With the mixer on low, add half of the egg and sour cream mixture. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle. Repeat with the remaining egg mixture.
  6. Fold the batter a couple of times with a flexible spatula to ensure everything is well incorporated. Divide the batter among the prepared pans (see notes above) and smooth the surfaces with a small offset spatula. Place the pans on a baking sheet.
  7. Bake until the cakes are puffed and springy, and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 28-35 minutes. (These cakes don’t brown much.) Cool 10-20 minutes in pan and then turn out to a cooling rack. For easiest assembly, wrap each layer in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator completely before filling and frosting.

For the buttermilk ermine frosting:

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt until well combined. Add the buttermilk and whisk until smooth.
  2. Cook the mixture over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until it comes to a boil. One the mixture starts boiling, cook for an additional two minutes. It should be thick and glue-like; if you run a spoon through the middle of the mixture, the line should remain for a second before slowly filling again.
  3. Remove from the heat and use a flexible spatula to scrape into a pie plate (using a wide, shallow pan speeds the cooling process). Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to keep a skin from forming. Cool completely to room temperature before proceeding.
  4. Place the butter in a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium until very light and fluffy, about five minutes. Add the cooled pudding a spoonful at a time. Once all the pudding has been added, scrape down the paddle and sides of the bowl. Continue mixing until smooth.
  5. Switch to the whisk attachment and add the vanilla. Whip on medium speed until thick, smooth, and creamy, about 3 more minutes. Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to one week (or freeze for up to 6 months). Bring back to room temperature and rewhip before using.

To assemble:

  1. If you plan to pipe words or other decorations on your cakes, set aside a small amount of buttercream (I only needed a couple spoonfuls to pipe “One” and “1”). Transfer about 1 cup of buttermilk ermine frosting to a piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Level the cakes if needed using a sharp serrated knife or cake leveler. Place one 6-inch round on a cake board or serving platter. Pipe a dam around the edge and fill the center with peach preserves. Place the second layer cut side down. Frost the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting to lock the crumbs in, then chill for about 15 minutes. Repeat process with the 4″ cake layers.
  2. Frost the cakes and decorate as desired. I tinted my reserved frosting with a drop of Americolor Dusty Rose and piped the text using a #2 Wilton tip (I recommend practicing a couple times on a piece of parchment paper). Cake is best enjoyed at room temperature.

Small batch baked apple cider donuts

Last week I was in desperate need of a fall spice fix. I’d recently found my donuts pans while cleaning out my baking supplies and we had a two large jugs of local apple cider, so the solution was obvious — apple cider donuts!

There’s a plain baked donut recipe from the early days of this blog, and this version is a direct descendent. I remember trying several baked donut recipes at the time of that original post, and the base recipe from The Kitchn was our clear favorite. It uses both yeast and baking powder for leavening, taking a page from southern-style angel biscuits. I love the texture of these donuts — they’re light, but still have the pleasing heft of a cake-style donut thanks to a good dollop of sour cream. To “apple ciderify” the base, I swapped out some of the sugar for light brown, added a good dose of apple pie spices, and used some reduced apple cider for the liquid. I also like to use a little bit of wholegrain flour to hint at rustic heartiness.

These donuts are most delicious still a little warm from the oven, though I’ll admit to thoroughly enjoying one the next day with my morning coffee. Maybe I shouldn’t have small batched them… (FWIW, the recipe is easily doubled.)

A few notes:

  • You can use either instant or active dry yeast for this recipe. If you’re using active dry, there really isn’t a need to activate the yeast in liquid beforehand as long as you know it’s still good. If you’re unsure, you can bloom it in a couple tablespoons of the apple cider, then whisk the bloomed yeast-cider mixture into the wet ingredients in step three. (Remember to subtract the amount of cider you use for blooming from the total cider called for in the recipe.)
  • Feel free to adjust the spices to your liking. I know many people dislike cloves, but it’s a spice that reminds me of mulled cider so I like to add a pinch. Cardamom would be nice here too, if that’s your jam. I do think that fresh nutmeg is a crucial spice not just for apple-y things, but for donuts in general. Freshly grated makes all the difference.
  • The most time consuming part of this recipe is reducing the apple cider and letting it cool. If you want fresh apple cider donuts in the morning, I suggest doing the reduction the night before and letting it cool at room temp overnight.

Small batch baked apple cider donuts

Makes 6 donuts / Adapted from The Kitchn

Ingredients:

For the apple cider donut batter:

  • 100 g (3/4 c plus 2 tsp) all-purpose flour
  • 25 g (3 Tbsp) einkorn flour (can substitute whole wheat, spelt, or more all-purpose)
  • 1 tsp instant yeast (or active dry)
  • 50 g (1/4 c) granulated sugar
  • 50 g (1/4 c) light brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of allspice
  • Pinch of cloves
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal brand; use 2/3 the amount for another brand of kosher salt or sea salt and 1/2 the amount for table salt)
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 70 g (scant 1/3 c) reduced apple cider, at room temperature (see Notes)
  • 70 g (scant 1/3 c) sour cream, at room temperature
  • 28 g (2 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

To finish:

  • 50 g (1/4 c) granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of allspice
  • Pinch of cloves
  • 42 g (3 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle. Grease a 6-count donut pan (I have this one) with baking spray and dust with flour. Make sure to grease and flour the raised center of each cavity too, as that is where donuts like to stick.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, instant yeast, sugars, baking powder, spices, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the egg, reduced apple cider, sour cream, melted butter, and vanilla until well combined. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until completely incorporated. Transfer the batter to a disposable piping bag and pipe into the prepared pan. Each well should be about 3/4 full. (You can also spoon the batter into the pan, but a piping bag is much easier and cleaner.)
  4. Bake the donuts until puffed and golden, about 15 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. While the donuts are baking, whisk together the granulated sugar and spices for the topping.
  5. When the donuts are done baking, remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 2-3 minutes. Transfer the donuts from the pan to the wire rack — I use a small offset spatula to gently dislodge them, then turn onto the rack. They should turn out easily if your pan was well prepared.
  6. While the donuts are still warm, use a brush both sides with melted butter and sprinkle with the spiced sugar. Donuts are best enjoyed still slightly warm from the oven, preferably with coffee or warm apple cider.

Note: To make reduced apple cider, simmer 240g (1 c) apple cider over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced to 80g (1/3 c). This is easiest to do if you weigh the pot with the non-reduced cider before starting to simmer. Subtract 160g from this number — this is your target weight after reduction. Exact time will depend on the size of your pan and how warm your stove is — start checking around 15 minutes. Pour reduced cider into a heatproof container and cool to room temperature before using. I make a little more than is called for in the recipe to account for small amounts that might be left in the pan.

Salted Malted Oatmeal Cookies

salted malted oatmeal cookies

As the mornings and evenings begin taking on a chill, I inevitably find myself adding an extra shake of cinnamon to my banana bread and searching out my jewel-toned sweaters. It’s fall, y’all — my favorite season! Even though this year continues to perplex in so many ways, I take comfort in the constants: crimson-colored leaves, fresh apples, slowly simmered soups, pumpkin patches.

There will be apple and pumpkin pies, for sure, but first — these salted, malted oatmeal cookies! These cookies are inspired by the spelt and honey oatmeal raisin cookies in my upcoming cookbook, Baked to Order — consider it a bonus variation! If you’d like to learn more about Baked to Order or to pre-order (incredibly helpful for authors these days!), please head over to my dedicated cookbook page — it has more information specifically about the book along with a list of places you can purchase all over the world. Also, I’ve got some some previews and giveaways planned closer to the launch date, so follow along on Instagram to get in on the fun!

OK, back to this recipe! To inject fall vibes into these cookies, I reached for malted milk powder, a mix of grain extracts and milk powder. (For a more detailed description, read this excellent article by Stella Parks.) Adding malted milk powder to baked goods imparts a roasty, toasty caramelized flavor — perfect for fall!

I like these cookies with lots of toasted nuts (I used pecans, but walnuts would be excellent too) and a hint of milk chocolate. Substitute a different type of chocolate if you prefer, but I enjoyed how the sweetness of the milk chocolate complemented the robust malty flavor. But your cookies, your choice!

A couple of notes:

  • A little inverted sugar gives these cookies the perfect amount of chew. I used golden syrup here — its caramel notes work so well with malt. Find golden syrup at your local British food store (many major supermarkets also carry it), or online. In a pinch you can substitute honey.
  • Malted milk powder increases browning, so it can be a little tricky to judge when these cookies are done. You want the edges to be set but the centers should be a little soft and lighter in color — the cookies will continue to set up outside the oven. Whenever I make a new cookie recipe, I like baking a single test cookie to test the perfect amount of time in my oven; that way you avoid an entire batch of over or under-done cookies.
  • A couple tips for beautiful looking cookies: first, for perfectly round cookies, use a round cookie cutter, offset spatula, or spoon to nudge the cookies into shape right after you take them out of the oven (do this right away before they completely set). Second, hold back a little bit of the mix-ins (nuts and chocolate) and stick a few pieces on top right before baking to give each cookie some visual interest. (And don’t forget the flaky salt!)
  • You can chill unbaked dough in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze for longer storage. For oatmeal cookies in general, I prefer letting the chilled dough soften at room temperature before baking (I take them out 30-60 minutes before baking, or at least while the oven is preheating if I forget to do it sooner). I find they spread better that way.
salted malted oatmeal cookies

Salted Malted Oatmeal Cookies

Makes about 15 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 113 g (½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 70 g (⅓ cup plus 1 tsp) light brown sugar
  • 70 g (⅓ cup plus 1 tsp) granulated sugar
  • 40 g (2 tbsp) golden syrup
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp espresso powder
  • 40 g (⅓ cup) malted milk powder
  • ¾ tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use 2/3 the amount for another brand of kosher salt or half the amount for table salt)
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 125 g (1 cup) all purpose flour
  • 150 g (1⅔ cup) rolled oats (not quick)
  • 120 g (1 cup) toasted pecans, chopped
  • 85 g (½ cup) chopped milk chocolate
  • Flaky salt, for garnish

Method:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugars, golden syrup, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, espresso powder, malted milk powder, and salt. Mix on low to combine, then increase the speed to medium and cream until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle a couple times during this process to ensure even mixing.
  2. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the egg and vanilla. Increase the speed to medium and mix until smooth. Scrape down the bowl and paddle.
  3. With the mixer on low, add the flour. When there are just a few streaks of flour remaining, add the oats, followed by the pecans and milk chocolate. Mix just until combined. Use a flexible spatula to stir from the bottom of the bowl a few times to make sure everything is well-mixed and there are no pockets of unincorporated flour. Cover and chill until just firm, about 45 minutes.
  4. While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with a rack in the middle and line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Portion the dough into ping-pong sized balls, about 55-60 grams each. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets about 2½ inches (6 cm) apart.
  6. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time until the edges are set and golden but the centers are still soft and pale, about 13 to 15 minutes. Rotate the sheet in the oven halfway through baking. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store leftovers for up to 3 days in an airtight container.
salted malted oatmeal cookies