Buttery Cream Wafers


I first had these cookies several years ago. I was teaching a bread baking class to friends from church and their friends. While we were waiting for the bread to rise we snacked on some of the cookies one of the women had brought to share.

The cookies were rich and buttery, but not very sweet. Most of the sweetness came from the filling sandwiched between the shortbread-like cookies. I immediately asked for the recipe. And then I didn’t make them until now. That is how baking goes sometimes.

I did change the original directions just a bit. They were cut-out cookies, which I really don’t like making. I just don’t have the patience for the process. And the re-rolled scraps are never as good as the rest of the cookies. I prefer to make logs and slice off the cookies – faster and easier.

Just one note: if you follow my directions, the edges of the cookies aren’t quite as neat as  cut-out cookies would be. I’ll take a few ragged edges for the ease of slicing the logs. We sliced and baked the cookies in about twenty minutes. If you really want perfect edges, you can certainly roll out the dough.


The original recipe has a simple butter and sugar combination for the filling. I added cinnamon to half the filling mixture. I liked the subtle spiciness next to the delicate buttery flavor of the cookies. I included the cinnamon variation in the recipe.

I also like the cookies unfilled. They are a nice contrast to sweeter cookies on a cookie platter. Sometimes butter and cream can do the job all by themselves.

Print the recipe here.

 Buttery Cream Wafers
From the Cook’s Life
Makes about 25 sandwich cookies

You can fill these your favorite icing if you prefer.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
⅓ cup heavy cream
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar, approximately

¼ cup (½ stick) butter, room temperature
¾ cup powdered sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Cinnamon Filling Variation:
Add ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon to the filling. Beat until it is uniformly mixed, with no streaks of cinnamon.

Don’t preheat the oven. The dough needs to chill before baking.

Beat the butter until creamy. Mix in cream and flour.

Divide the dough in half and place each half on a sheet of plastic wrap. The dough should be relatively easy to handle, though greasy. Shape each half into a log about 1 inch in diameter. You don’t have to be exact. Try to keep the logs uniform so your cookies will all be about the same size.

Wrap the dough logs in the plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours until dough is firm. You can refrigerate the dough for several days, or freeze for up to a month. If you are storing for the longer period of time, slip the plastic covered logs in a plastic bag or airtight container to keep them from drying out.

When ready to bake preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place granulated sugar on a large plate or piece of waxed paper or parchment. Slice the logs into ⅜ to ½-inch thick rounds. Press each flat side into the sugar and place on ungreased baking sheets. Prick the top of each with a fork a few times.

Bake 7-9 minutes, or until firm, but not browned. Cookies are fragile. Let them cool a few minutes on the pans before transferring them to wire racks.

While cookies are cooling, beat filling ingredients together until light and creamy. Spread filling in a thin layer on half of the cookies and top with the remaining cookies.

Store in an airtight container for several days. Freeze for longer storage.

Toffee Bars


The Christmas baking season has started for us. We were busy baking last weekend and already have gingersnaps, almond shortbreads and chocolate chip doodles in the freezer. When we were planning what to bake this year, we thought we would add a few different recipes to the mix, in addition to our old standbys.

Toffee bars are an old favorite that we haven’t made for a few years. I first made them when I was in high school and then somehow lost the recipe. Rich and I later found a similar recipe on the back of a condensed milk can. Since then we have tweaked the recipe and directions a bit.


The bars start with saltine crackers as the base. I love how the crackers’ layers separate a bit as they soak up the butter from the bottom and the toffee from the top. Butter and sugar elevate most anything, even plain Jane saltine crackers.

The toffee bars really play up the contrast between salty and sweet. I prefer to use salted butter and ordinary saltines in these bars, to offset the sweetness of the toffee and the chocolate. If you really don’t like the salty-sweet thing, you could use unsalted crackers and unsalted butter, but the bars might taste a little flat.


As we have made these over the years we have reduced the baking time again and again. The shorter baking time helps the toffee layer to stay soft instead of chewy and overly sticky. We like the texture contrast between the crispy cracker, the soft toffee and the harder chocolate layer.

These go together in minutes and are pretty much foolproof. They are different than the usual Christmas cookie offering and they just plain taste great. You can’t go wrong with buttery, sweet toffee and chocolate.

Print the recipe here.

Toffee Bars
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 50-60 small bars

Don’t be tempted to try these with anything but butter. You need it for both the flavor and the texture.

1¼ cups butter (2½ sticks), NO substitutions
45-50 saltine crackers
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1½ cups semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Melt ¼ cup (½ stick) butter in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Pour into 12 by 17 inch baking sheet, or two 9 by 13 inch pans. Tilt pan to cover evenly with butter. Arrange crackers over butter in one layer, breaking crackers if necessary to fit.

In the same saucepan, melt remaining 1 cup (2 sticks) butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add condensed milk, stirring until combined.


Pour toffee mixture slowly over crackers and spread evenly. Bake for 5-10 minutes. Keep a close eye on them after 5 minutes. When the bars are done the entire top will be bubbly and the edges will just be starting to darken slightly. Don’t cook longer, or the toffee will have a burned taste and be too chewy at the edges.


Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the top of the hot toffee. Let stand 5 minutes, until chips are glossy and soft.


Spread melted chips evenly over the bars. Let cool at room temperature for several hours until chocolate is set. Refrigerate or freeze to set chocolate faster.

Cut into small squares once the chocolate is set. Store bars in an airtight container, with parchment or waxed paper between layers. These keep at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.

Fudgy Toffee Brownies


These brownies should be called, “The Brownies That Must Not be Named.” I apologize to J.K. Rowling. The minute you even talk about the brownies, your blood sugar will rise and your arteries will clog just a bit. But they are worth it.

I started out with the idea of making caramel swirl brownies for Rich for his birthday. I wanted to make them even more of a special treat, and make the caramel for the topping. I have never made caramel candies, only caramel sauce, so I went in search of a recipe online. I should have done a tiny bit more research into the chemistry of candy making before deciding on a recipe. And of course, no recipe I found did exactly what I wanted, so I tweaked one recipe and combined it with another, which is a big no-no in making a new recipe. The kitchen gods were smiling though, so the results were fabulous, though unexpected.


The caramel cooked up into a thick sauce-like concoction. Halfway through the brownie baking time, I drizzled them with our caramel attempt and a sprinkling of chocolate chips. Once they came out of the oven I added a sprinkle of very coarse salt.


The brownies baked up soft and fudgy, with a buttery lusciousness supporting the expected chocolate. The topping reminded us of a soft toffee, with a thin, crackling crust on top and a sugary toothsomeness under the crust.

The topping made more than I needed for the recipe. I kept the proportions the same in the posted recipe, so you will have leftovers too. Once cool, the mixture thickened into a sweet mass of soft praline-like candy that is wonderful on pretzels, graham crackers and fingers. I’m sure you’ll figure out how to use it.


Download or print the recipe here.

Fudgy Toffee Brownies
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 12-15 brownies

I topped the brownies with chocolate chips and coarse salt. They were icing on the cake, so to speak. Feel free to leave them off.

Toffee topping:
1¼ cups sugar
¼ cup water
5 tablespoons heavy cream
5 tablespoons salted butter, cut into 5 pieces
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
6 tablespoons salted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour

Additional toppings:
¼ cup chocolate chips, optional
coarse salt, optional

Make the toffee topping before making the brownies. Stir the sugar and the water together in a 2-3 quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Swirl occasionally or stir very gently. Do not scrape down the sugar that collects on the sides of the pan, or you might re-crystalize the mixture and have to start over. Measure out the cream and the butter and set them next to the stove.


Once sugar comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium or slightly higher. Swirl the pan or stir only if one part of the mixture starts to darken before the rest.


The sugar will turn golden and then amber colored. Try to let it darken until is a dark amber or caramel color, but not dark brown. Watch it. It can go from dark amber to black in no time. The whole process should take about 10 minutes from the time you turn on the heat.


Remove the pan from the heat and add the cream. It will bubble up and the cream may seize into a hard mass for a second. Don’t panic. Just stir fairly quickly, without splashing, and it will combine.


Add the butter, once piece at a time, and stir it in as it melts. Keep stirring until all the butter mixes in. Add the vanilla and stir again. Set the toffee topping aside to cool while you make the brownies.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch square pan.

Melt the chocolate and the butter together in a large bowl in the microwave. This should take about 60 seconds on high power. Stir until the chocolate totally melts and the mixture is smooth.

Stir in the sugar and vanilla until smooth. Add eggs and beat until well combined. Stir in flour until no white streaks remain.

Spread the brownie batter in the greased pan and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and drizzle the toffee topping all over the top of the brownies. You probably will not use all of the topping. See end of recipe for suggestions on using the remaining portion.

Sprinkle the top of the toffee topping with the chocolate chips, if using.

Return the brownies to the oven for about 15 minutes, or until middle is barely jiggly and the edges are puffed and pulling away from the sides of the pan.


Remove brownies from the oven and sprinkle with a few pinches of coarse salt, if desired. Cool to room temperature in the pan on a wire rack. The top of the brownies will crackle and parts will sink as it cools. This is fine.

Cut into small squares and serve. Store in an airtight container for several days.

You will have about ½-¾ cup of the toffee topping left over. Dip pretzels in it, warm it up and pour it on ice cream, spread it on graham crackers or just eat it with a spoon.

Mini Chocolate-Striped Cakes


Calvin often takes enough dessert in his school lunches to share with a couple of his friends. I hear back, through him, which of our homemade desserts are the lunchroom favorites. Gooey butter tarts are tops on the list so far. Even when I don’t hear the compliments firsthand, and when the compliments are from always-hungry teenage boys, I enjoy baking for an appreciative audience.

Last week, Calvin came home from school asking if we could make our own version of Little Debbie zebra cakes. One of his pals had shared some at lunch and Calvin was a fan. I don’t have to tell you what my answer was.

After some thought, I decided to use our tried-and-true white Texas sheet cake recipe for both the cake and the icing. I wanted to make the cake layers thin, so we used half the recipe and baked it in a large pan.


We used a cookie cutter to cut circles out of the big cake. Calvin lobbied for hexagons like the originals, but I vetoed that. If we had a hexagon cutter I would have done it, but we don’t. Next time I might just cut squares and skip the whole cake scraps part. But the scraps were tasty. And I used a few to make a mini trifle with some leftover pastry cream from a batch of almost failed cream puffs (more on those another day).

At first I thought the cake layers were too thin, but once we sandwiched two layers together with icing they were the perfect size. A drizzle of melted chocolate on top of the icing and they were good to go.


I iced the sides of the first cake, but then I nixed that idea. The icing was thickening quickly and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the time to ice the sides anyway. I will only go so far when copycatting a recipe. The cake and icing are both very sweet and icing the sides is probably overkill.

If you do decide you want to go all out, you will probably want to double the icing ingredients. Just be aware that the icing thickens very fast. You might have to re-warm it part way through if it gets too thick to spread onto the tender cake.


Our zebra cakes were moist, buttery and sweet. We stuck with the original recipe’s combo of vanilla and almond, but I think I want to make it all vanilla next time. For the record, Rich and Calvin do not agree.


Download or print the recipe here.

Mini Chocolate-Striped Cakes
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 12 mini cakes

If you don’t like almond extract, you can substitute an equal amount of vanilla extract for the almond extract. If you don’t have a large baking sheet, you can use two 9 by 13 inch pans. If you only have one 9 by 13, you can bake half the batter at a time.

½ cup butter (1 stick)
½ cup water
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, well beaten
¼ cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract (see headnote)

¼ cup butter (½ stick)
2 tablespoons milk
2¼ cups powdered sugar, sifted (DON’T skip sifting or you’ll have lumpy icing)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract (see head note)

3 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12 by 17 inch half sheet pan or a 15 by 10 inch jelly roll pan with waxed or parchment paper. Set aside.

Bring butter and water to a boil in a saucepan or the microwave. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. In a separate bowl, mix together egg, sour cream or yogurt and extracts.

Add hot butter and water mixture to dry mixture and stir until smooth. Add egg mixture and stir until well combined. Pour into prepared pan and spread in a thin, even layer. Bake for about 7 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the cake bounces back when touched lightly. Let cake cool, in the pan on a wire rack until room temperature.

Use a round cookie cutter to cut circles out of the cake. I used a 2¾ inch diameter round cutter and got 24 circles, to make a total of twelve sandwiched cakes. Save the cake scraps to make a mini trifle, or just eat them.

Once the circles are cut and ready, make the icing.

In a saucepan, bring milk and butter to a boil. Remove from heat and add powdered sugar and extracts and stir until smooth.

You need to work fairly quickly – the icing gets thick as it cools, and the cakes are tender. Spread icing on the tops of half of the cake circles. Top with the remaining circles. Spread icing on the tops of the stacked cakes. There won’t be enough icing to cover the sides of the cakes. If you really want to ice the sides, double the icing amounts and find another use for any leftover icing.

Let icing set up and harden, which probably will take about 30 minutes.

Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl for about 75 seconds on high power. Stir them halfway through. Transfer melted chocolate to a small ziplock baggie. Cut off the corner and use the baggie like a piping bag to pipe melted chocolate in stripes across the tops of the cakes. Let chocolate set up before covering cakes for storage.

Make these a day ahead of time, if possible. Cakes improve with age and are good keepers, staying moist for 3-4 days, if they last that long. Cakes freeze well.

Gooey Almond Bars


The final version of gooey chocolate almond bars in Wednesday’s post came about after weeks of experimentation. These gooey almond bars are the result of an offhand comment and a family discussion.

When I made the chocolate almond bars for Rich’s parents, they were blown away by them. As far as they were concerned, the recipe was fine as it was. Until I suggested that maybe we make them with a butter crust instead of chocolate. At least Rich’s mother and I were intrigued. The rest of the family wasn’t so sure. We took a vote and the chocolate won by one, with the votes splitting along gender lines. Of course, I was the baker, so I got veto power.

I decided to take pity on the men and made the batch of bars half and half, with one end of the crust chocolate and the other end butter. Of course then we all had to have one of each to make an informed judgment.

The butter crust only enhanced the almond flavor, highlighting the decadence of the bars without competing with the almond at all. The filling was velvety and rich, with a strong almond flavor. And it had the crackly crust on top reminiscent of gooey butter cake. The crust was just a bit softer than the chocolate and the filling was a little gooier. The different bars were baked in the same pan, with the same batch of filling for all. It was amazing, at least to me, how eliminating the cocoa from half of the recipe changed the character of the bars so much. I am still not sure which I like better, and it mostly depends on which flavor I am eating at the time.

Which do you prefer – chocolate and almond together, or almond by itself?

Download or print the recipe here.

Gooey Almond Bars
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 16-20 bars

If you have some on hand, you can substitute 7-8 ounces of almond paste for the almonds and powdered sugar in the filling. Just cream it with the butter until smooth and then proceed with the recipe.  Grinding the almonds fresh makes the filling slightly creamier, with a stronger almond flavor.

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup (½ stick) butter, melted
1 egg

¾ cup whole almonds (blanched or natural, I used blanched)
¾ cup powdered sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur, optional
2 eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan or 7 by 11-inch pan and set aside.

Make the crust first. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl or the bowl of your mixer. Add butter and egg and mix until smooth. Press or spread into prepared pan. Set aside. Set bowl aside for mixing the filling.

Grind almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor or blender until finely ground. Transfer to the bowl you used to mix the crust. Add butter and mix until combined and smooth. Add sugar, extracts and amaretto and beat until well mixed. Add eggs and beat again. Stir in salt and flour and mix gently. Pour on top of crust and spread to edges.

Bake for 25-35 minutes. The 8-inch pan will take longer than the 7 by 11 pan. When bars are done, filling will be golden brown on top and almost set. The center will still jiggle slightly when you shake the pan. If top starts to brown too fast, lay a piece of foil lightly on top of the bars to shield them a bit.

Let cool in pan on a wire rack until room temperature. Cut into 16-20 bars. Bars keep for several days at room temperature. Freeze for longer storage.

Crispy Mashed Potato Cakes

DSC_0011I’m not sure what I was thinking the other night when I made dinner. I made enough mashed potatoes for an army, or at least for another family, or two. While I was mashing them, before we had even sat down to eat them, I was already trying to figure out what I would do with the leftovers. Not sure what that says about me, but I’ll go with frugal.

My mom sometimes made mashed potato cakes when we had enough potatoes left over. She didn’t do it often, but they were always good. We didn’t usually have enough to make many, usually enough to have one or two each, with other leftovers for lunch, or with eggs for breakfast. Mom liked hers with maple syrup, which I always thought was a little weird. Her mother made mashed potato cakes for breakfast when she was a girl and served them with syrup. Who am I to argue with Mom’s tastes of childhood?

We had so many mashed potatoes that I decided to make potato cakes as a side dish to go with fish for dinner the next night. Cheese goes well with potatoes, so I threw some of that in, along with an egg to hold it all together. You can certainly leave the cheese out, or use more than I did. And you will have to adjust the seasonings to your tastes. Our potatoes weren’t very salty to begin with, so I added a little salt. If I had had some on hand, I would have mixed in roasted garlic. I used just a touch of garlic powder instead, since the short cooking time wouldn’t have worked well with chopped raw garlic. Fresh herbs would have been marvelous, but I didn’t have any, so we did without.

Just a little butter on the griddle and our potato cakes fried up golden brown and crispy, with soft, cheesy centers. Calvin couldn’t stop talking about how much he liked them. And it was a good thing, since we had enough left over for several lunches, even after having them for dinner. Did I mention I had made a lot of potatoes?

Note: I had enough potatoes to make a double batch of the potato cakes, which made almost twenty. I am giving you a recipe for half that, since most normal people don’t have four cups of mashed potatoes left over – except maybe at Thanksgiving. If you do find yourself with lots of mashed potatoes, just double all the ingredients in the recipe and start frying.

Download or print the recipe here.

Crispy Mashed Potato Cakes
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6 (8-12 potato cakes, depending on size)

1 tablespoon butter
1 egg, beaten
2 cups cold mashed potatoes
½-¾ cup grated cheddar cheese (I used white cheddar, any cheese will work)
⅛-¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
⅛ teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees and lightly grease a large baking sheet, or line it with parchment paper. This is to keep the first batch of potato cakes hot while you cook the second batch. If you have a griddle large enough, you can cook them all at once and skip the oven.

Melt butter in a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. While pan is heating, mix egg, mashed potatoes, cheese, salt, garlic powder and black pepper together until thoroughly combined.

Spoon small amounts of mashed potato mixture into the hot pan, flattening them with your fingers or the back of a spoon. Use a little less than a quarter cup of the mixture per cake. Or make them smaller. Don’t make them bigger or they will be too hard to turn.

Cook 3-4 minutes, or until first side is golden brown. Carefully turn mashed potato cakes over and brown the other side, another 3-4 minutes. The cakes are fragile – use care when turning them.

Remove the potato cakes to the prepared baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven while you cook the second batch.

Serve the mashed potato cakes hot. Leftovers reheat well in a lightly greased skillet.

A Trio of Vanilla Pound Cakes


Saturday was the day to do side by side tastings of our three vanilla extracts. We started with French toast for breakfast, with three egg dips for the bread – one with Madagascar vanilla, one with Mexican and one with Tahitian. I must say we couldn’t taste much difference between the Madagascar and the Mexican. The Tahitian was slightly more fragrant and slightly deeper in flavor. All in all, not an exciting taste testing experience. That isn’t to say that the French toast, dripping in butter and sprinkled with powdered sugar, wasn’t a nice way to start a weekend morning.

Later in the day I was thinking of what we could have for dessert. Saturday is our dessert day around here. I try to keep my baking confined to the weekends, at least for desserts, since I don’t have enough willpower to resist the pull of sugar and butter if there are baked goods sitting around. I decided on vanilla pound cake, so I could continue our taste testing.

The original pound cake recipe made two large loaves. I knew that we didn’t need two loaves of buttery vanilla goodness in the house. I decided to cut the recipe in half, and then divide the batter into thirds and use one type of vanilla in each. We would end up with three small loaves of pound cake – just enough to have a few tastes each before they were gone.

The recipe called for ¾ teaspoon of vanilla to make the two large loaves. If I cut the recipe exactly in half, as written, I would be using an eighth of a teaspoon of vanilla in each little loaf. That just didn’t seem like enough to me. After some discussion within the family, we decided on a teaspoon per third of the batter. For normal baking that would mean a tablespoon in the whole cake – not a small amount, but not crazy either.

The cakes baked up beautifully – golden brown, buttery and fragrant with vanilla. I was careful to keep them in the same order in the oven and on the cooling racks so I could keep track of which cake had which vanilla in it. “Madagascar, Mexican, Tahitian,” became the chant of the hour. Alphabetical order, you know.

We gave them their full time to cool and then we sliced each one. We were careful to keep them in order on our plates so we could do a proper taste testing. There was no doubt which one held the Tahitian vanilla. It smelled exactly like freshly made ice cream cones in an ice cream shop. We have noticed this with everything we have made with it so far, including pancakes and waffles.

The actual taste testing results were pretty similar to the French toast. The Mexican and Madagascar vanillas were pretty similar to each other, and to regular vanilla. The Tahitian was more fragrant and had greater depth than the other two. Of course, I couldn’t decide after my three pieces, so I had to have another set of three. In my defense, I had the end pieces to start, so they were smaller than what Rich and Calvin got. And the larger amount of crust, with its extra caramelization, interfered with my ability to taste the vanilla properly.

Final results – while we have yet to meet a vanilla that we don’t like, the Tahitian won hands down. The other two weren’t a lot different from our bottle of McCormick’s from Sam’s. We probably will buy one bottle of Tahitian vanilla when these three are gone.

I hope you are all as interested in our vanilla adventures as we are. Did I mention that we are already half done with the three bottles that were Rich’s Christmas gift? We didn’t open them until a few days into January – we have used six ounces of vanilla in a month. We have done a little more vanilla baking than we would have done normally, but I think that is pretty representative of our usual vanilla consumption. There are worse vices to have than an obsession with vanilla, right?

Download or print the recipe here.

Vanilla Pound Cake
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 1 loaf

I recommend letting the cake stand on its own, so the butter and vanilla can shine. But you can add a dusting of powdered sugar or a drizzle of chocolate or caramel sauce, if you like.

½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 by 4 inch loaf pan and set aside.

Beat butter and cream cheese together until fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla and beat again until light and fluffy and no longer gritty. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in salt and flour, taking care not to beat.

Spread batter in the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until dark golden brown around the edges and golden brown on top. A toothpick inserted in the middle will come out clean when the cake is done.

Cool cake in the pan, on a wire rack, for about 10 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges and turn cake out of the pan onto the rack. Let cool to room temperature before slicing to serve. Keeps well for several days in an airtight container at room temperature. Freeze for longer storage.

Family Time, Chocolate and Butter

2012-12-24 09.14.39

We have had two weeks of treats and indulgences. Our Christmas gifts from and to each other included several versions of sea salt caramels, dark chocolate bars, cinnamon and chili chocolate, mint chocolate bars, several variations on peppermint bark and a few other kinds of chocolate. We had a full turkey dinner for Christmas, complete with butter in just about everything (yes, my butter-loving mother-in-law did most of the cooking). I made both pumpkin pies and a pecan pie (of which I proceeded to eat about half). We had chocolate pudding cake one night and blueberry almond muffins for breakfast one day. And that was just the week we were in Florida with Rich’s parents.


The fun and indulgences didn’t end when we got home – flourless chocolate cake, homemade eggnog and almond Swiss cheese dip, along with a few meals out and working our way through all those chocolates we gave each other. We also fit in a few family game nights and celebration dinners.

My jeans (and arteries) are asking me to get back to a normal diet, with at least a few vegetables. We are gradually weaning ourselves off the treats and back to healthy eating – we had roasted vegetables and whole wheat pasta the other night. Oatmeal has been on the breakfast menu for several days and we are trying to get back into our workout schedules, though that has been less than successful. I am scared to get on the scale and may put that off for a few weeks more.


It was a wonderful time off, full of family time, lots of relaxation and plenty of days when we weren’t sure what day of the week it was. I love days when I can sleep as late as I want and hang out in my pajamas until late in the morning. Conversely, I also love days when I can get up early just because I feel like it, not because I have to.

Today it is back to work for Rich and dentist appointments for Calvin and me. Tomorrow is back to school for Calvin and back to the normal routine for me. I guess the glory days had to end sometime. Though I am already thinking about what to bake this weekend – maybe whole wheat bread. The thought of anything rich or sweet just doesn’t appeal, for some reason.

Almond Shortbread Cookies


We first discovered these cookies a few years ago. Rich had signed up for an email Twelve Days of Cookies list from The Food Network. We got some delicious sounding recipes, but I think the almond shortbreads were the only ones we actually made. And of course, we changed the directions right from the beginning. After we made them the first time, we also doubled the original amount of almond extract to heighten the flavor. They are buttery and rich like shortbread should be, with a little extra something from the almonds.

The original recipe called for pressing the whole batch of dough into a pan and then cutting the finished cookie into wedges. Since we mail a lot of our Christmas cookies to relatives in other states, long, fragile wedges weren’t going to cut it. One of us had the brilliant idea to press the dough into muffin cups. We tried both the standard size, and minis and we decided the minis were cuter (and sturdier for mailing). We have never made them as a big cookie, so let me know how you like them if you try them that way.

We usually only make these at Christmas time and we look forward to them all year. I’m not sure why we only make them at Christmas. Part of it is we are so tired of cookies by the time New Year’s rolls around that we make anything but cookies until about St. Patrick’s Day. They also have that mystique around them that only seasonal treats have. But I think we need to break out the almond shortbreads more often – and the Russian teacakes, the gingersnaps and the chocolate doodles…  Can you tell I’m not tired of cookies yet?

Download or print the recipe.

Almond Shortbread Cookies
Adapted by The Cook’s Life
From The Food Network
Makes 60 cookies

½ cup whole raw almonds
2/3 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
14 tablespoons butter (1¾ sticks), cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups all-purpose flour

Special equipment: mini muffin pans or regular muffin pans

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. No need to grease the pans – the dough has enough butter in it to make greasing unnecessary.

Pulse the almonds and 2/3 cup sugar in a food processor until mixture resembles coarse sand. Add butter, vanilla extract, almond extract and salt and pulse until combined. Add flour and pulse until a soft dough forms.

Divide dough among mini or regular muffin cups, using about 2 measuring teaspoons of dough per cup. You can also use a small (size 100) cookie scoop.

Flatten each cookie with your finger – dampen your finger with water if the dough sticks. Sprinkle each cookie lightly with granulated sugar.

Bake cookies for 8-12 minutes, depending on size. The regular muffin tins will take less time since the dough is thinner. When done the cookies will be golden brown on the edges and bottoms, and be just starting to color on the tops.

Cool cookies about 5 minutes for them to firm up before removing them from the pans. Cool to room temperature on racks. These taste best at room temperature, not warm.

Store in a tightly sealed container for about a week, or freeze for longer storage.

Russian Teacakes


I like cookies. Well, to be honest, I like pretty much all baked goods. But I do like cookies a lot. And my favorite cookies are Russian teacakes, also known as Mexican wedding cookies. I love the shortbread texture, with its slightly crumbly, buttery richness. Add pecans and an icing-like coating of melted powdered sugar and you have cookie perfection, as far as I’m concerned. And they are quick to make, which is icing on the cake – or cookie.

These are easy cookies to make – the dough comes together in minutes. Be sure to only bake one pan at a time, and don’t put more than twenty cookies on each pan. They need to be coated with powdered sugar while they are hot, and if you bake more than twenty at a time, they will cool before you get them all coated.

My mom likes these cookies as much as I do, and she figured out that if you put the powdered sugar in a plastic bag, you can shake the hot cookies in the sugar and get them done quickly, and with little mess. Don’t do more than three or four cookies at a time, or you won’t have enough room to move them around to cover them thoroughly. And shake them gently, or the cookies will break. Or shake as hard as you like, since the cook gets to eat the broken ones.

Download or print recipe here.

Russian Tea Cakes
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 4-5 dozen cookies

1 cup butter, room temperature
½ cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup finely chopped pecans
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup powdered sugar, for rolling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat butter, ½ cup powdered sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add pecans, flour and salt and mix well.

Roll into small balls, ¾ inch or smaller. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until slightly golden and set, and cookie bottoms are golden brown. Do not bake more than one pan at a time or you won’t be able to coat them all with powdered sugar before they cool too much.

Roll cookies in powdered sugar while still hot. You can put the powdered sugar in a plastic bag and gently shake 3 or 4 cookies at a time until covered. Don’t shake too vigorously or the cookies will break apart – they are fragile until cool.

Carefully place coated cookies on racks to cool completely. You can dust with additional powdered sugar after they cool, if desired.

These keep at room temperature for weeks, in an airtight container. Freeze for longer storage.