Chocolate Pie & a Warm Pup – the City Stripes Dog Sweater

In early January, my friend Kelli had a wonderful idea. We decided to chase our winter blues away and celebrate the tiny amount of time I had left before my semester started again by baking chocolate fudge pie.

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This girl right here is just full of good ideas. If it’s any indication of just how good of an idea this was, this is the first real opportunity that I’m having to post about it because of school and work and nonsense, despite the fact that it happened 3 months ago.

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We took the chilly day as an opportunity to learn the finer points of pie crust-making, focusing on proper rolling and fluting technique, which are the fiddliest and best parts, of course.

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Such concentration!

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It was worth it.

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Look at that pie-making pride! Well-deserved, indeed.

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I don’t really have a recipe or anything to share, just wanted to brag a little bit about how freaking delicious that pie was. However, during our pie-making, Kelli and I were bemoaning how cold it was this winter, and we got onto the topic of dog sweaters.

Kelli is the greatest dog lover that I know, and that’s really saying something. She loves all pups, especially her tiny Ellie, and we spent part of the afternoon brainstorming on Ravelry what new sweater I would knit for her in order to keep warm during the rest of the winter.

I have never knit an article of clothing for an animal before, primarily due to two facts. One, I am allergic to dogs and cannot spend much time around them without dissolving into a sneezing, wheezy mess. Two, I own two cats, both of which have a history of handily annihilating any object placed on their person, except for a collar. (And even then, only select collars.)

We settled on Lion Brand’s City Stripes Dog Sweater pattern after falling in love with its stripey, squishy goodness, plus the fact that it has a wide range of sizes and fit modifications built into the pattern.

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I am not normally a huge Lion Brand fan, but Wool-Ease Thick & Quick can be downright delightful when it’s combined with the right pattern.  Kelli told me that she wanted neutrals, blues, and golds, and I think I hit the jackpot.  The colors we went with were Sky Blue (106), Mustard (158), and Barley (124), and when they’re striped up all nice, they remind me of a very fancy private school uniform.

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Wool-Ease is soft and squishy and bouncy, perfect for making those stripes pop. I was quite enamored of the wrong side, as I often am. Knitters know, sometimes the wrong side, the inside, is prettier.

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But the right side, hoo boy, it’s nice, too.

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Plus, Wool-Ease is machine-washable, an essential element when knitting anything that’s going to spend the majority of its worn life just a few inches from the ground.

I pretty much followed the pattern exactly as written for the smallest size (the 18″ chest), due to Ellie being a very tiny pup. I carried all of the colors up the side, which all disappeared conveniently in the seaming.

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The only change that I made was in the binding-off. I used a larger needle just for the bind-off rows on each piece (I’m pretty sure I used a size 17 for this, but, as usual, I neglected to write down this important information). When I bound the stitches with the original size 13 needles, it just seemed like it wasn’t stretchy enough to fit comfortably over the head of a squirming animal. Redoing it with the larger needle size made it nice and stretchy without deforming the overall shape. I decided to try it out on the most unwilling participant I could find, just to be sure.

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Trip tolerated it for a whole 5 seconds before deciding that both it and I needed to be destroyed. I’m pretty sure that that solidified my #1 place on his future hit-list, but he looked so cute I couldn’t resist.

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But how did it go with Ellie?

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Awwwwwww.

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Such a warm and cosy pup.

Now that the weather’s gotten warmer, and it actually feels like spring around here (which feels more like summer to everyone else in the country), I know that Kelli and Ellie don’t need their sweater as much, but I have faith that it’ll last them for a long time to come. As for me, it is very tempting to use the 1/2 skeins I have left of each color to make a kitty sweater, but I think I’ll take the safe option and make a blanket for them to destroy. They’ll love it.

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Black Forest Pie

In my last post, I made mention of a pie. A pie that would be the first post of the year. A pie that sounded so tantalizing in my mind that I just had to make it, and force my family to eat it on Christmas, no less.

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A pie that delivers three different hits of chocolate right to your face, plus layers on fluffy whipped cream and a decadent cherry topping. Yes, ladies and gents, it’s Black Forest Pie.

Let’s pretend that that’s not something I just made up, okay? I have no idea how the actual Black Forest in Germany and the type of ham and chocolate and cherries all got mixed up together, but damn if it doesn’t make for an amazing pie experience.

This one takes a good long time, too, with multiple cooking and baking and cooling and chilling steps, so please make sure you read all the way through before you start. Don’t end up with a runny, melted pie and sad guests.

—–

Black Forest Pie
this pie is not a lie

(with a little assist from Betty Crocker, the Food Network Magazine Mississippi Mud Pie recipe, and the Genius Kitchen Cherry Sauce recipe)

Ingredients:
Chocolate Cinnamon Graham Cracker Crust:
1 1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate graham crackers (about 18 squares)
1/3 cup butter, melted
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Brownie Bottom:
(BIG IMPORTANT NOTE! This makes enough brownie batter for two pies! Make as directed, divide in two, and freeze the remaining portion to make another pie later. Or divide the following in half if you want to make just one, if you can split an egg in half.)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into pieces
2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp. flour
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
2 tbsp. coffee-flavored liqueur
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs

French Silk Filling:
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and then cooled
3/4 cup egg substitute (Egg Beaters!)

Whipped Cream:
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. sugar

Cherry Topping:
4 cups cherries, pitted and sliced
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch
dash of salt
1/3 cup water

Directions:
Crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl until well-incorporated. Press mixture firmly against the bottom and sides of a 9″ deep-dish pie pan.

Bake for approximately 12 minutes. Allow to cool while preparing brownie bottom mixture.

Brownie Bottom:
Change oven temperature to 375 degrees. Melt chocolate and butter together in a double-boiler over medium heat. Remove from heat, stir in flour and salt, and mix until smooth. Stir in sugar, corn syrup, liqueur, and vanilla extract, and mix until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition until smooth.

Pour half of mixture into prepared crust (and freeze the rest for more brownie goodness later, as stated above). Bake for approximately 30 minutes, until mixture is set. You might see some cracking, and that’s okay.

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Cool for at least 2 hours before moving on to the next step.

Filling:

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In medium bowl, beat sugar and butter with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and cooled chocolate. Gradually add in egg substitute and beat on high speed until mixture is light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).

Pour into cooled prepared crust with brownie bottom and spread evenly.

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Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, while you make your cherry topping.

Cherry Topping:
Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan and stir in water.

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Add the cherries, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce darkens and thickens to your preference.

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I really cooked it down, nearly 30 minutes, until it was super dark and purply and thick, almost like black cherries. Allow this to cool to room temperature while the pie is chilling.

You might have a whole bunch left over, so I made the sacrifice and did the research in order to tell you that it’s also freaking amazing on top of vanilla ice cream.

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Just try not to eat it all before the pie is ready.

Finishing it Up:
When the pie is finished chilling and the cherries are cool, you’re ready to put it all together into a ridiculous tower of pie.

First, take the pie out of the refrigerator and let it sit for 10-15 minutes before cutting it while you make the whipped cream. Then, combine the whipped cream ingredients in a chilled bowl, and whip cream on high speed until fluffy and spreadable.

Cut yourself a slice of pie! You’re going to need a sharp knife and some patience to get that first piece out because of the thick layer of chocolate on the bottom, so take your time. Then, add a dollop of whipped cream and a spoonful of cherries.

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Then eat!

It’s a super rich and chocolatey affair. After I made this, Dan said, “Why would you even bother making any other kind of chocolate pie? This one is all you need.”

Hell yeah.

Little Lebowskis – Dark Chocolate White Russian Cupcakes

I appear to have acquired for myself a reputation for making boozy desserts. I have absolutely no idea how that could have possibly happened.

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My friend Samantha recently moved away from New Orleans to Chicago, and for her going-away party, I asked her if she’d like for me to bake anything. She said that she didn’t care what the baked good was, as long as it was filled with alcohol, preferably White Russian-flavored.

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I was prepared with a ridiculous amount of Kahlua, but, as usual, some research was in order. I was going to be bringing this dessert to a bar (appropriately enough, considering the contents), so it couldn’t be some sort of giant cake or frozen thing. Cupcakes seemed portable and appropriate. Clicking around brought me to the Collegiate Baker‘s Chocolate Kahlua Cake, a thing of beauty that absolutely begged to be modified into cupcakes.

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All of the elements were there: chocolate, Kahlua, and even more Kahlua.

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As for the cupcakes part, the only modification that I made was to divide the batter into liners in a cupcake pan (obviously), and baked them for a slightly longer period of time (about 33 minutes, as opposed to the 25 in the original recipe). I’m not sure if the longer time comes from a slightly taller cake or from the fact that my oven is a lying liar all the time, but things worked out nicely.

Just a note, you end up filling the cupcake liners slightly higher than you think you need to because these don’t rise very much at all. Just go a little bit higher than the standard 2/3rds, and you’ll be just fine. You’ll get 18 cupcakes, plus a tiny 1/2-sized 19th cupcake just for you to enjoy.

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This tiny half-cake ended up being super important to the process here. Dan and I split it when the cupcakes had cooled sufficiently, and we discovered that, although the chocolate and coffee liqueur flavor was pleasing (that’s too weak of a word…it was freaking dense and delicious), it was not what you’d call boozy really. It didn’t have that little bump of tang and flavor that I’ve come to associate with those types of desserts.

So, after the cakes were totally cooled, I went ahead and remedied that by poking a bunch of holes in the top of each cupcake…

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…and brushing them with straight Kahlua to soak in. Each one got a good, full brushful, plus some extra drops drizzled into those gorgeous cracks on top. I think I used slightly less than 1/2 cup for all 18 cakes.

Then, I let that soak in while I made the frosting.

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Southern Living’s White Russian Frosting, because you don’t mess with perfection.

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It’s ridiculous how good this stuff is. And a warning, you’ll end up with way too much for just cupcakes, unless you are some kind of champion cupcake decorator who knows how to pile that stuff up way high. I think that I probably only used about half of the recipe, and the other half is currently sitting in my refrigerator, calling to me softly every time I walk by.

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Now, I am intimidated by frosting cupcakes. But if you are a close reader, you are probably not surprised by this information. This time, however, I had the frosting mojo. I was on a roll, making perfect little spirals with perfect tiny curls on top.

Until.

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My frosting bag betrayed me. Split right up the side. And then at the tip while I attempted to salvage the existing frosting and rescue the tip. While I scrambled to rig up a Ziplock bag to save the entire operation and not lose the frosting mojo, Dan took some artistic shots.

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Dang. I’m still proud somehow.

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Back on track.

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I was even smiling, and you know that rarely happens in my kitchen.

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Then, for the finishing touch, everything got sprinkled with some bittersweet chocolate shavings. You could make some chocolate curls for yourself, or you could go with my cheating, hacky version and buy some super fancy hot chocolate from Williams-Sonoma and use that instead. It’s delicious sprinkled on top of ice cream, too.

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Hooray! I sent out the call on social media for friends to help me with the name for these, as I couldn’t think of anything that was remotely clever or didn’t sound exactly like every other cake on the Internet. There was so many funny and interesting suggestions, but what really stuck out was how many people mentioned The Big Lebowski and the Dude.

I kicked myself for not thinking of that first, and then used elements of a bunch of suggestions to come up with Little Lebowskis, after the urban achievers in the film. And proud we are of all of them. (Do it in your best Maude voice.)

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Sam became the keeper of the cupcakes once they appeared at the party, and her smile makes me think that I did a pretty good job.

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I know that the quality of these pictures is bad, but bars are dark and no one else in the world cares if you like to take pictures of your food.

Anyway, the first bite of these is super dark chocolate and sweet buttercream. Then, the Kahlua kicks in and warms everything up, and makes everyone make the same simultaneously surprised and satisfied face. I’m going to have to make them again to use up all that extra frosting.

A Very Very Very Happy Pi Day 2015 to You! Chocolate and Cream and Berries? Oh My!

Any day that ends with the top news item on your Facebook feed being “mathematical constant celebrated” is definitely a good day. And any day that ends in pie. Especially this one.

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Pi Day is today! I always make it a point to celebrate the day. The greatest nerd holiday short of May the Fourth. (Anybody? You know who you are. Be proud in your nerd-ness.) I could tell it was coming up because there was a drastic increase in hits on the blog for my Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie, and if you are making it to celebrate today, I can’t think of anything that would make me happier.

I made a pie to celebrate yesterday, but waiting until today to post it keeps my nerd cred intact, yes? My reasons for making it yesterday? Because I had to hang out with some awesome sick children and give them medicine and take their vital signs for 12 hours today. That’s why.

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Anyway.

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This pie is not all that different from that previous glorious strawberry-chocolate wonder, mostly because I am bad at making up new things with any sort of confidence, but also because it’s really hard to go wrong with French silk and fresh fruit. And chocolate cinnamon graham cracker crust, of course.

But.

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Before we get to the recipe, I have a bone to pick with the (presumably) good people over at Baker’s. Now, I could already say something to you guys about the fact that these boxes used to contain 8 oz. of chocolate (double the chocolate!) for the same price, but I’m not going to harp on that. What I am going to say is that this is a box of lies.

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EASY BREAK BAR? LIES! Go back to those fantastic little individually-wrapped squares that caused me absolutely no shouting or anger. Please. There’s only so much I can take.

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Recipe now? Or, as I learned today from people from Germany looking for pie on my blog, rezept now? No problem.

Chocolate and Cream and Berries? Oh My!
totally awesome recipe name from my amazing friend Amanda, picked from an impressively insane list that also included suggestions that incorporated my own name made by some of the greatest people that have ever walked the Earth

with a tiny bit of assistance from Betty Crocker

Ingredients:
Chocolate Cinnamon Graham Cracker Crust:
1 1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate graham crackers (I used one sleeve, about 18 squares)
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

French Silk Pie Filling:
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and then cooled
3/4 cup egg substitute

6-8 oz. fresh raspberries, rinsed and sorted through to find the prettiest ones

Directions:
Crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl until well-incorporated. Press mixture firmly against the bottom and sides of a 9″ deep-dish pie pan.

Bake for approximately 12 minutes. Allow to cool completely before filling.

Filling:
In medium bowl, beat sugar and butter with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and cooled chocolate. Gradually add in egg substitute and beat on high speed until mixture is light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).

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Pour into pie crust and spread evenly. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes while you prep and sort your super pretty raspberries.

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It’s not completely necessary to wear an Eddie Izzard comedy tour shirt, but it helps.

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Place the raspberries (and press them in slightly) in a pleasing pattern on top of the pie, either going with the radius-inspired wheel-spoke pattern that we did, or something even more mathematically geeky. Or you could just buy an insane boatload of raspberries and cover the whole damn thing.

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There was a little bit of back-of-the-envelope deliberation involved over here.

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Chill pie for at least 2 hours, but not before ogling your work for what seems to be an excessive amount of time to anyone slightly normal.

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Good job, you.

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Combine remaining ingredients in chilled mixing bowl and whip cream on high speed until super fluffy and spreadable.

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Slice that pie up with a mind to keep each radius centered on each slice. You get to eat a food version of a mathematical measurement!  (Or just slice however you want. You have all that power here. You could eat the entire center out and leave the crust, if you want. It’s your Pi Day.) Drop a heaping dollop of whipped cream and a few scattered extra raspberries on top, and then enjoy!

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Enjoy what’s rest of Pie Day, you lovely people. I think I’m going to go make Dan cut me another slice.

Elegant Deception with Joy the Baker’s Cinnamon Sugar and Dark Chocolate Croissants

On Saturday, I spent a ridiculous amount of time outside in a park in the cold, selling children’s books and running around and meeting authors with absolutely nothing knitted to present to them (I know. I’m ashamed of myself enough for everyone, don’t worry.) Then, I decided that the best thing to do (instead of sitting down with hot tea and studying and going to bed early, like a normal person would do) would be to spend my evening making chocolate-filled croissants to give to my co-workers at 7 am the next morning.

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I am full of great ideas. Especially if they involve egg wash and extreme amounts of cinnamon and sugar.

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It had already been a MONTH since I got Joy the Baker‘s new cookbook (and blogged all about how I made her a cat toy), and I still hadn’t made anything from it. I clearly need to sort out my priorities.

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There is an excellent recipe in Homemade Decadence that really embraces the title to me, the Cinnamon Sugar and Dark Chocolate Croissants. In this recipe, we can pretend that we are together enough in our lives to be able to whip up puff pastry at a moment’s notice, simply by purchasing boxes of puff pastry and defrosting them a few hours before we want to make croissants.  Such elegant deception.

I ran into a bit of a problem here, as the puff pastry did not want to defrost. Apparently, in addition to my oven being a lying liar and not being nearly as hot as it claims to be, my refrigerator must also be much, much colder than it should be. I let these puff pastry sheets defrost for 3 hours, and they still had ice crystals and folded creases that made them split into 3 sections, rather than the 4 that Joy wanted me to cut them into.

I felt personally responsible for the obstinance of these damn puff pastry sheets, as though I was letting Joy and the entire blogging and somehow Barnes & Noble family down by not being able to control the thawing time of butter and flour. It gets weird in my head sometimes.

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Life snapped back into focus, and I decided to roll with it and made a 3×3 sheet to get 18 slightly smaller croissants than the 4×2 sheet described. Well, smaller croissants are better than no croissants, as the time-worn saying goes.

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And aren’t they adorable?

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I swear that I wasn’t deliberately trying to flip off the camera in that one.

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Before and after. I really enjoyed how neat and tidy and efficient the pastry-rolling process made me feel.

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Basically, the idea here is that a layer of cinnamon and sugar is sandwiched between 2 sheets of flaky puff pastry, which are then cut into triangles and rolled around dark chocolate chunks to form a flaky, crunchy, sweet chocolate delivery device, perfect for adding to a breakfast buffet line. Cutting them out, rolling them up, and sprinkling them with cinnamon, sugar, and sea salt makes you feel super fancy, which is a big bonus in my book.

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Then, you put them into your lying, cheating oven and bake them until they are done (which in the real world is somewhere between 12-15 minutes, and in my kitchen topped out at 21-24…I need an oven thermometer for Christmas, you guys. It will prevent me from dismantling the thing with a screwdriver and malice in my heart).

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Look how cute they are!

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Flaky and brown and crisp on top. Dang, you fancy, mini-croissant.

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I had to sample one, of course. To make sure it was not burnt. It’s a chef’s thing.

(If you can place that movie quote, we need to hang out.)

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Lots of flaky layers and creamy chocolate inside. Hooray!

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Unfortunately, it was gone in seconds. Slightly longer, maybe, because I was taking pictures. To add to the pain, I wasn’t allowed to have anymore because they had to make an appearance at an event the next morning.

I’m definitely going to do this again, and maybe only make 4 giant croissants, filled with chocolate or almond paste. That would certainly be decadent, and I would go out of my way not to share with anybody. That would certainly be the mature thing to do. You should all go out and buy Homemade Decadence and do the same.

Toasted Coconut Brownie Ice Cream. Need I say more?

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There were a few days last week when it really felt like spring here in New Orleans. Dare I even say summer? All I know is that I saw a lot of shorts and sandals for a little while, which got me thinking of ice cream. Honestly, it doesn’t take much to get me thinking of ice cream.

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The day that I ended up making ice cream, however, ended up being the day when a cold front swept through, dumping tons of freezing rain on all of those people in their shorts and sandals. I chose to soldier on, ignoring the weather and rejoicing in my tiny amount of free time.

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I ended up taking my own advice and toasting up some coconut to go into my coconut milk base. It was definitely the right way to go.

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I had made some brownies (the always delicious Moosewood Fudge Brownies, this time without the chocolate chips and with pecans instead of walnuts because there were no walnuts to be found in my house) earlier that week, and the last two brownies were just sitting there on the counter, feeling lonely. What else could I do but chop them up and throw them in there? It was just the right thing to do. Toasted Coconut Brownie Ice Cream. I just couldn’t resist.

Toasted Coconut Brownie Ice Cream
adapted from the Hungry Mouse‘s 3-Ingredient Coconut Ice Cream

Ingredients:
2 13 oz. cans of coconut milk (for some reason, the only ones I could find this time were 13.5 oz. each, but I don’t think it caused any problems)
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut (or unsweetened, or flaked, whatever you want)
2 1/2 leftover brownies (Whatever your favorite brownie recipe is. You already know mine. I usually cut up my 8×8 baking dish into 9 pieces, so each square of brownie is somewhere around 2.5″ square.)

Directions:
Toast your coconut by spreading it in a thin layer on a baking sheet and putting it into a preheated 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes. Be sure to watch it closely and stir it often, because it browns up really quick. I only needed 5 1/2 minutes. Chop up 2 of your brownies into little brownie cubes, and then leave the 1/2 brownie to the side for crumbling.

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Dump your coconut milk (being sure to avoid spraying coconut milk all over yourself and the kitchen counter, like I did), sugar, and vanilla into a large food processor.

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Doesn’t that look a little bit like miso soup? It’s weird. Blend things up until they appear more presentable.

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Pour your coconut milk base into your prepared ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. You’ll only have to process it for about 30-40 minutes total.

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Add the toasted coconut and crumble up that remaining 1/2 brownie piece into the ice cream base when you only have 10-15 minutes left to go on the processing so that they are well-distributed.

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While you’re waiting for the rest of the spinning time, put some brownie cubes in your waiting ice cream container. This is how Jeni makes her delicious chunky ice creams, so we are taking a page from her. She is a genius.

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When the ice cream is done spinning up, pour a little bit over those brownie pieces, and then put some more brownies on top.

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Repeat.

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Until there’s no more brownies or ice cream. I made sure to cover the entire thing with a layer of the coconut ice cream base so that the brownies were totally submerged, just to avoid those brownie chunks drying out. Cover the top of the ice cream with a piece of parchment paper and then put on that airtight lid. Allow the ice cream to freeze for at least 8 hours, but overnight is best.

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We did end up trying some that night, after 8 hours of freezing, and there was still a bit of graininess to the texture. However, this had completely disappeared by the next day. It’s definitely worth the wait.

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The sweetest of the coconut and the richness of the brownies and pecans work really well together, I believe. Dan declared this the best ice cream I’ve made so far. That’s saying something.

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Now if only the weather would cooperate.

Chocolate and Orange, Together Forever – Doctored Up Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake

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Beautiful chocolate and orange above the fold? Do I have your attention? Good.

There is a well-established precedent here on this blog that I believe that chocolate + orange = holidays. Therefore, Christmas dinner this year required for me to get up early to make a decadent chocolate and orange treat for everyone to enjoy after the long day’s festivities.

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Cue Joy the Baker‘s Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake. (By the by, the photos here were taken by multiple people, none of which were me, on various phones and cameras whilst I flitted about the kitchen wearing an owl apron and a super serious face.)

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This cake, by itself, is pretty damn delicious, but this was Christmas, dammit. Game had to be stepped up. First addition? I poked holes all over the beautiful finished and cooled cake and brushed fresh squeezed orange juice (from the lonely little orange that you zest and then ignore to make the cake) all over the cake, letting it soak in.

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See? Super serious business here.

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If you’ve got tiny bits of orange pulp all over the outside of your cake, you’re doing everything right. In life and in baking.

Second addition? Get out your favorite chocolate ganache recipe. Don’t have one? Betty does, and it’s pretty great.

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Pour it all over that cooled orange-drenched cake (with aluminum foil cake stand protectors, of course), and then admire it for a second.

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Then spread things out a bit with a spatula. Did you start to smile? Stop that. Baking is a serious business.

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Lovely.

Now, we haven’t even eaten dinner yet, so we can’t dig into this cake. Besides, ganache (which WordPress doesn’t believe is a real word, by the way) needs to set, which is a cruel, but necessary, step. What do we do while we’re in that weird between-time when we can’t eat dinner or dessert yet?

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Well, in my family, you make more dessert, apparently.

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Super basic roll-out sugar cookies, again from Lady Betty.  Cookie cutters from my awesome friends Brittany and Michele made their inaugural sugar cookie appearance.

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You may think that bunnies don’t belong on a Christmas cookie plate. You are wrong.

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I don’t know why I wanted to include this one, but I really like this picture somehow. I feel as though those cookies are cowering in fear from my threatening cookie-eating presence. They are right to fear.

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After dinner, all kinds of royal icing happened.

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Again, no smiling allowed. Decorating sugar cookies with icing, candies, and sprinkles requires extreme concentration from all involved.

We made approximately 800,000 cookies. Here are a few highlights.

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The kitchen counter got a little crowded.

After all that hard work decorating, it was time for cake!

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It was worth the wait.

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I feel like this would be even better in mini-Bundt size, where you can get an even more favorable ganache-to-cake ratio. It’s all about the balance between the floral, tangy orange and the creamy semisweet chocolate. And then overloading it with a whole bunch more chocolate.

Year-end roundup is not over yet! Remember when I said something about bunnies being involved? Those cookie cutters didn’t count. We’ve got way more bunny goodness coming up. I am still excited about it, and it’s already over. That’s saying something.

Shelter in Place – Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl Pie

About a week ago, people were telling us that we were about to get hit by a tropical storm.

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Her name was Karen, she was headed right for us…and she was no big deal.

This is nothing new. If you’re from New Orleans, as I am, you learn that you don’t even start thinking about hurricane plans until you get up to a Category 2. Tropical storms don’t faze us one bit. Chances are the fall weekend will be even more beautiful than you could have even imagined if the Weather Channel is freaking out and telling you to buy a bunch of bottled water, batteries, and candles in preparation for the tropical storm ahead. This case was no exception.

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We did our duty and filled up the gas tanks and bought some bottled water and made sure that the flashlights were ready to go, and then we went about our business as usual. I had children’s faces to paint during Star Wars Day at work, dammit. Karen wasn’t going to bring us down.

The very idea of staying home during a potential hurricane situation (even one that turns out to be a whole bunch of nothing) makes a lot of people shake their heads in disbelief, I’m sure, but we have a lovely term for it that makes it seem both homey and logical (two of my favorite things)…Shelter in Place.

What sheltering in place means to me is that you have to have board games and playing cards ready. You need candles and books and ridiculously large bags of gummy candy to share with your potential shelter-mates. You need to move your mattresses downstairs and have a slumber party amidst the couches. You need to call all your friends and family and make sure they’re either safe or right in front of you. You need to pet the cats more because they can always tell that something’s up.

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And perhaps more than anything else, you need to have some pie on-hand.

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Since a large amount of hurricane season takes place in what the rest of the country experiences as fall, variations on pumpkin pie are always welcome and encouraged. This time around, I went with a little experiment in chocolate and pumpkin swirled together to keep us satisfied in the case of potential storms. Luckily, none of that happened, so we just stuffed our faces with chocolate and pumpkin and made plans for what pie to make next time.

Shelter in Place Pie
Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl – with assistance from Libby’s

Ingredients:
Chocolate & Graham Cinnamon Crust:
1 1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate and regular graham crackers (I used 12 chocolate crackers and 6 regular graham crackers to get a nice mix here)
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl Filling:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree (goddammit, I love me some Libby’s, but if you want to go for the real thing, go right ahead)
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk
2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa

Directions:
Crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir all crust ingredients together in a medium bowl until well-incorporated.

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Press mixture firmly against the bottom and sides of a 9″ deep-dish pie pan.

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Bake for 15 minutes. Allow to cool completely before filling.

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Hell yeah, crust. Check that action out.

Filling:
Now, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves in a small bowl.

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Beat eggs in a separate large bowl. Stir in the pumpkin, and then the sugar and spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.

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I like to really get in there with a whisk to make sure all the lumps are out and that filling is as velvety as possible.

Divide the pumpkin batter roughly in half between the two bowls. Mix the unsweetened cocoa into one of the bowls, and really get your wrist into this because that cocoa will be resistant. Make it bend to your will.

Take your cooled graham cracker crust and get it placed before you with your two different batters. Now take a scoop or ladle of some kind that holds about 1/4-1/3 cup of batter and scoop up some plain pumpkin batter and pour that into that crust. Scoop up some chocolate batter and layer it on top. Repeat until it’s all gone.

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Pumpkin pie batter is super fluid and runny, so don’t get upset if it doesn’t layer and swirl as beautifully as you want it to. Just pour gently and give it some time, and everything will be beautiful.

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Kind of. Trust me, it looks better after it’s baked.

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See?

Bake in 425 degree oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake for approximately 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean.

Now, here’s the real hard part that Dan and I can never manage to do. Allow the pie to cool fully before cutting it up and shoving it in your mouth. Don’t get me wrong, this pie was insanely delicious while still carrying a tinge of warmth from the oven, but the flavors had truly melded into something amazing the next day after everything was allowed to rest and come together. It’s even still pretty awesome chilled.

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The whole thing tastes like dark chocolate Oreos and sweet spicy pumpkin at the same time. Cinnamon and ginger and cloves warm your nose while chocolate melts on your tongue. If Halloween Oreos actually had pumpkin-flavored filling instead of just orange food coloring, you’d start to get the idea.

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It’s even irresistible to tiny cats! So whether there’s a big storm coming or not, take this some time weekend to mix up some chocolate and pumpkin and your loved ones and shelter in place. You don’t need a better excuse.

Tastes Like a Christmas Tree – Coconut Mint Chip Ice Cream

At my work recently, we had a summer potluck situation to celebrate our Summer Reading Kickoff, and instead of baking something easy like cookies or banana bread, I chose to delve myself deeper into my new ice cream maker obsession.

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I started with some sprigs of mint from our backyard garden, not really having much else in mind than minty summer goodness.

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Those beautiful green leaves got all blended up in the food processor with the delicious coconut milk vegan ice cream base from the Hungry Mouse‘s fabulous recipe, yet again. I might be addicted to this stuff, guys.

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Things got to mixing, and it became clear that just mint alone wasn’t enough to kick off the summer with my coworkers.

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Chocolate and shredded coconut got involved, too.

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Much better.

I meant to get some pictures of the finished product right out of the freezer, but in the bustle of the day, I’m lucky I got to it before it all disappeared.

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Look at all of those little flecks of fresh mint and chocolate! Yum!

I brought magic shell and two types of cones to make a little ice cream bar, but most people just went for plain scoops. I feel silly saying it, but hearing how much people liked it and how surprised they were to taste fresh mint in homemade ice cream was just a fantastic feeling. One of my more eloquent coworkers, A.J., declared that my ice cream tasted just like Christmas trees.

He tried to explain it to me, but there was no explanation necessary, really. I totally get it. It’s fresh and bright and minty, with a little bit of the almost-bitter-but-not-really oiliness that makes me think of rosemary and basil in the best ways possible. The chocolate is dark, the coconut is chewy, and the whole thing coming together in such a lovely way was a wonderful surprise.

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Coconut Mint Chip Ice Cream
adapted from the Hungry Mouse‘s 3-Ingredient Coconut Ice Cream

Ingredients:
2 13 oz. cans of coconut milk
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 large-ish sprigs of mint (mine were each about 6 inches long)
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, finely chopped
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut

Directions:
Strip mint sprigs of their leaves and wash well. Put leaves in food processor and chop until leaves are finely shredded and are releasing their oil. Add the coconut milk, sugar, and vanilla, and blend everything together until all ingredients are well-incorporated.

Pour ice cream base into prepared ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s recommendations. Add the chopped chocolate chips and coconut during the last 10-15 minutes of processing, after the ice cream has begun to thicken. With the oil in the fresh mint, the one took a little longer than expected to set up, with the base processing for about 40 minutes by itself before I added the mix-ins. Your mileage may vary.

Pour the finished product into a freezer-safe container and cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a weird freezer-burny skin from forming. Allow the ice cream to freeze for at least 8 hours, but overnight is best.

Then scoop it up and enjoy!

Baking the Holy Grail – Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie

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Like every other baker in the history of ever, I adore the movie Waitress, if not only for the delightfully quirky comedy or the lush scenes of melted chocolate pouring nearly erotically into perfectly formed pie crusts (seriously), but for the moments of stillness and calm provided by the profoundly simple act of baking a pie for someone you love. Very few moments in film stop and dwell in this world in quite the same way, and for those of us who revel in recreating these moments in our everyday lives — whether it be through baking, sewing, knitting, gardening, carpentry, book-binding, calligraphy, fly fishing…or whatever nerdy thing you can’t live without — the art of the handmade often lies not in the product, but the process. The few perfect moments you get to spend when you aren’t thinking about your bank statement or your job or the vacuuming that desperately needs to be done, and it’s just you and the craft.

In this movie, there is a holy grail of pie, the Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie. Now, we never really see this pie or hear the ingredients mentioned in any real way, but, again, like all bakers in the history of ever, I just had to make one. Here’s the clues we have to go on, succinctly put by Andy Griffith: “It could solve all the problems of the world, that pie. A thing of beauty. How each flavor opens itself one by one, like a chapter in a book. First, the flavor of an exotic spice hits you, just the hint of it. And then you’re flooded with chocolate, dark and bittersweet, like an old love affair. And finally strawberry, the way strawberry was always supposed to taste but never knew how.”

How do you resist that challenge? You can’t! You buy some baking chocolate and some strawberries, and you get to it.

My version of the Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie involves a cinnamon-spiced chocolate graham cracker crust, french silk filling, fresh sliced strawberries, and a topper of sweet whipped cream. Let’s do this.

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Chocolate graham crackers get spun up into crumbs in the food processor and then mixed up with some sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter.

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We spread out this Oreo-looking delicious stuff into our 9″ deep-dish pie pan, and then bake it up.

While that’s baking? More chocolate!

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I had never made French silk pie before, and Betty helped me out. More chocolate, butter, and sugar get whipped up with vanilla and eggs (or egg substitute, if you can’t do the raw egg thing, like me) into silky perfection.

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Spread it out into the cooled pie crust. Now, time to display some willpower and refrigerate that beast for at least 2 hours before proceeding.

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Then slice up some strawberries and arrange them as artfully as you can stand on top of the partially solidified chocolate filling.

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I’m mostly kidding on the ‘artfully’ part because that’s all going to get covered up with whipped cream in about a second.

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It doesn’t look like much all covered up, but that’s part of the fun! Anybody taking a unsuspecting bite of this beauty will be delighted by that strawberry surprise. The crunchy crust warms everything up with cinnamon and sweetness. The chocolate is rich and creamy, and the tartness of the fresh berries cuts right through, leaving you with a mouth full of spiced chocolate strawberry goodness and no room for complaints.

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Now, take care in slicing this guy. It’s helpful to refrigerate it a little bit more before slicing just to get all the layers solidified. Then be sure to use a sharp knife to cut through those strawberries and crust to get a clean slice.

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It took a try or two, but success occurred! (And that red and white striped t-shirt matching the pie? Completely unintentional, I promise.)

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Strawberry chocolate oasis success. Now, I don’t know if you can solve all of the problems of the world with this particular pie, but it will certainly get you closer.

Jinger’s Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie
inspired by Waitress, and with a little assistance from Betty Crocker

Ingredients:
Chocolate Cinnamon Graham Cracker Crust:
1 1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate graham crackers (I used one sleeve, about 18 squares)
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

French Silk Pie Filling:
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and then cooled
3/4 cup egg substitute

1/2 lb. sliced strawberries
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. sugar

Directions:
Crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl until well-incorporated. Press mixture firmly against the bottom and sides of a 9″ deep-dish pie pan.

Bake for approximately 12 minutes. Allow to cool completely before filling.

Filling:
In medium bowl, beat sugar and butter with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and cooled chocolate. Gradually add in egg substitute and beat on high speed until mixture is light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).

Pour into pie crust and spread evenly. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Resist the urge to lick the entire bowl clean. Seriously.

After filling has chilled sufficiently, arrange sliced strawberries on top of chocolate. Press the strawberries slightly into the filling, to keep the layers from slipping.

Combine remaining ingredients in chilled mixing bowl and whip cream on high speed until super fluffy and spreadable. Spread whipped cream over the top of the sliced strawberries until completely covered.

Chill entire pie for 30 minutes to an hour so that everything comes together and slices more evenly.

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Now pretend you’re in a quirky romantic indie comedy and enjoy! I think Adrienne Shelly would be proud.