Basic Buttercream Icing

Basic Buttercream Icing, after nearly 20 years of experimentation, is the frosting recipe that I am finally going to commit to as my favorite. Some recipes call for powdered meringue, which can be difficult to find. Others call for cooking to specific temperatures, which to my way of thinking just increases the number of places where I might potentially screw something up. Still others are easy but make a frosting that is either too dense or too light to be considered decadent. This recipe has none of these shortcomings. It calls for basic ingredients that I can get at my regular grocery and which I keep on hand anyway. It’s nicely fluffy but still rich. The basic recipe makes vanilla frosting, but we easily made it chocolate by adding 2/3 C melted and slightly cooled chocolate chips at the end. Melted chocolate works better than cocoa powder because the powder can make frosting oddly gritty. Try your chocolate frosting on Crazy Cake. Chocolate or vanilla, making your own frosting is tastier, cheaper and more flexible (you can make the amount you actually need) than using pre-made, and you get to lick the beater when you’re through.

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Chocolate Cobbler

Chocolate Cobbler was a revelation when we tried it recently. It calls for pantry staples that we always have on hand anyway, and is reminiscent of lava cake without the difficulty and guess work. Since it is a dessert served family-style, it would be great for large gatherings, but keeps well in the refrigerator if you’re just making it for a small group. It calls for self-rising flour, but you can make your own if, like us, you don’t keep self-rising flour on-hand. The recipe does call for between 3/4 C and 1 C of water, and given our experiences and some of the reviews, I would stick to the lower end of 3/4.

Where was this recipe when I was pulling all-nighters in college?

Christmas Cut-out Cookies

While searching in vain for the original source for this recipe, I came to realize that there are almost as many sugar cookie recipes as there are bakers in this world. Does this world really need yet another sugar cookie recipe? Yet, before I found this recipe I thought sugar cookies were bland and oddly reminiscent of cardboard. I never really liked them before I found these. Soft, sweet and slightly chewy, these cookies are not just fun to make — they are delicious to eat! I was first introduced to this recipe when my now 12-year-old was a young toddler involved in a playgroup. The host of the playgroup Christmas party that year served these cookies. I liked them so much that I asked her for the recipe, and I have made them almost every year, since.

Christmas Cut-out Cookies

Ingredients

3/4 C butter or shortening (or a combination of both)
1 C sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

Directions

Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla and eggs. Sift dry ingredients and add to mixture.

Chill dough for at least an hour.

Roll out, thick, onto a floured counter top and cut out using cookie cutters dusted with flour. If you roll the dough too thin, you won’t get the right texture.

Bake on parchment paper-covered cookie sheets at 400 degrees for 6 – 8 minutes. Take the cookies out of the oven before they turn light brown. You want them chewy and moist!

Frosting

3 C powdered sugar
1/3 C butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 Tbs milk
Food coloring, optional

Directions

Sift powdered sugar and mix with butter. Stir in vanilla and milk. Beat until smooth & fluffy. Add food coloring if desired.

Mary’s Ginger Molasses Cookies

Mary’s Ginger Molasses Cookies always causes an argument between my husband and I because he says that I underbake them. I have explained time and again that these are intended to be a soft, slightly chewy ginger molasses cookie, not a gingersnap. Over the years, my methods for tracking recipes has changed and while I keep careful records now, this wasn’t always the case. As a result, I have no idea who “Mary” is or where I got her recipe. It is, however, my favorite, not the least of which because it calls for oil instead of butter or shortening. I do use canola oil instead of the safflower oil called for, simply because that’s what I keep on hand. Wherever you are Mary, thank you. I love these cookies.

Mary’s Ginger Molasses Cookies –makes 2 to 2 1/2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

2/3 C safflower oil
1 C granulated sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
4 Tbs molasses
2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 C granulated sugar, for rolling

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine oil and sugar; add egg and beat to blend. Stir in the molasses. Add the flour and other ingredients except the last 1/4 C of sugar.

Roll spoonfulls of cookie dough into balls and roll in the 1/4 C sugar to coat. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 – 12 minutes.

Notes: Be sure not to overcook these or they will be hard. If cooked just right you will have a nice soft center with a slightly crisp outside. The cookie should have cracks all over the top when it is complete.

Chocolate Pudding

Chocolate Pudding is one of those recipes that make me wonder at the existence of mixes. The ingredients are everything I have on hand anyway, and it doesn’t take more than 10 minutes from start to finish. I usually make this dairy-free, using vanilla almond milk, but you could totally just use regular milk if that’s what you prefer. It does call for a bit of margarine or butter, but if you are eating dairy-free, chances are you have some dairy-free margarine already on hand. The pudding just needs an extra bit of fat to make it creamy. For vanilla pudding, just leave out the cocoa and add an extra teaspoon of vanilla.

Chocolate Pudding

Ingredients

1 1/2 C granulated sugar
1/2 C cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C cocoa powder
4 C milk (vanilla almond milk works well)
4 Tbs margarine or butter
2 tsp vanilla

Directions

Combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt and cocoa powder in a medium-sized saucepan. Whisking constantly, drizzle in the milk as one continuous stream. Place over medium heat and continue whisking. After the mixture comes to a boil, cook it until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the margarine and vanilla.

Chill before serving. Makes 8 servings.

Magic Shell

Magic Shell came as a revelation. It is an ice cream sauce from the depths of my childhood, only this is a bona fide recipe. Other than the ice cream you put it on, it has exactly two ingredients, both of which are things that already exist in my pantry as a matter of course. Coconut oil is also in another of my favorite recipes, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies . And who doesn’t have chocolate? The recipe says to use the microwave, which I’m sure works fine, but we always use the stovetop. I hate repeatedly opening and closing the microwave door.

Steamed Chocolate Pudding Cakes

Steamed Chocolate Pudding Cakes can be served fresh out of the oven, but we prefer them made ahead and chilled. The first round we always have as dessert after dinner, but leftover cakes are fabulous for breakfast the next day with a hot cup of coffee. We aren’t long on ceremony, so we always eat them right out of the ramekins. Extras are easier to store in the refrigerator this way as well. Making these perfectly right can be tricky. You have to make sure to stir in the whipped egg whites completely, without deflating them too much. Then you have to cook them through without overcooking them. If you overcook them the texture becomes tough, rather than smooth, decadent chocolate, and you get weird bubbles on the top. If done right, however, these are magic.