The crème de la crème of frozen desserts – creamy spiced pumpkin ice cream on a layer of caramel sandwiched between the chewy perfection of oatmeal cookies. The whole creation is dipped in a rich, crunchy chocolate coating.
December may not be the time that most people think of ice cream. But in our home, this is the time of the year when camping and fishing gear are stowed away and the stormy weather outdoors has us working on projects inside. One of my favorite winter hobbies is creating with baked goods.
I’m not sure what caused me to think of It’s Its, but somehow they overtook my thoughts last weekend. It’s Its are a San Francisco frozen creation that I was introduced to during a visit to the great city while in high school. It is really a simple dessert – vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two oatmeal cookies and dipped in chocolate that instantly hardens. Simple but a perfect balance of flavors and textures – the ingredients have so much flavor and the cookies have the best texture. The sandwich is messy enough that you have to pay attention to the potential loss of ice cream, chocolate bits and cookie, but it manages to stay together long enough so you never lose one little bit.
This time of the year, I’m drawn to pumpkin-flavored creations. This being the case, I have a quart of homemade spiced pumpkin ice cream tucked away in our freezer. I also had a jar of caramel topping in the fridge. An It’s It-type dessert made with this ice cream and topping seemed like a winning combination. All I needed was a chewy oatmeal cookie and a chocolate dip that hardens and then cracks just right to turn this memory into a reality with a pumpkin-caramel twist.
Let the experiment begin!
Would the caramel be too hard? Would the frozen cookies remain chewy? Would the coating have that wonderful crunch? The answer, as you’ve probably guessed, is a resounding Yes! They are a bit time consuming to make because of having to wait in between steps for freezing. It’s totally worth it. After all the time put in to making these at home, we have eight delicious ice cream sandwiches to enjoy and to share with friends.
Pumpkin Caramel Ice Cream Sandwiches
- 8 scoops pumpkin ice cream (click here for recipe)
- 16 oatmeal cookies (see below)
- caramel ice cream topping
- chocolate dipping sauce (see below)
- Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Pair up oatmeal cookies so that cookies are of equal sizes.
- Spread caramel topping on one side one of the pair of oatmeal cookies.
- Place one scoop of ice cream atop caramel topping.
- Sandwich second cookie atop ice cream.
- Place sandwiches on prepared baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes.
- While sandwiches are freezing, prepare chocolate dipping sauce.
- Use a pair of forks to maneuver sandwiches. Place one sandwich at a time into dipping sauce. Flip sandwich. Remove from dipping sauce and place back on parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Repeat with all sandwiches.
- Freeze for one hour.
- Enjoy right away or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and keep in the freezer until you are ready to eat.
Chewy Oatmeal Cookies
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla
- 1 egg
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ¾ tsp cinnamon
- 1 ½ cup rolled oats (instant or regular)
- Combine butter and sugars. Mix well.
- Add vanilla. Mix well.
- Add egg. Mix well.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.
- Mix flour mixture into butter mixture.
- Stir in oats.
- Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes.
- Heat oven to 375° F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Scoop out dough and roll it into 1-inch balls. Place balls on prepared baking sheet.
- Flatten cookies with fingers, or base of a flat glass. Use a small amount of water on your fingers or on the bottom of the glass to prevent sticking.
- Bake cookies for 8 minutes.
- Allow to cool in pan for a couple of minutes. Finish cooling on a wire rack.
- 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 ½ tbsp coconut oil
- Place chips and coconut oil in top of double boiler.
- Melt mixture over simmering water.
- Stir thoroughly.
- Use coating immediately in above recipe.
Moist chocolate cake infused with orange topped with super creamy rich chocolate buttercream frosting…. happy birthday to me!
Another stellar recipe from my Williams-Sonoma Baking book. I can’t say enough good things about this cookbook. Every recipe is great. In addition to being great recipes, they are also great bases to build from or tinker with. For my birthday, I had narrowed down my celebratory dessert to three chocolate wonders from this cookbook. The combination of chocolate and orange is my all-time favorite, so the chocolate orange cupcakes won. The picture says it all – these delicious little cakes will start a party just by showing up.
Chocolate Orange Cupcakes
- 3 tbsp Dutch processed cocoa powder
- ¼ cup hot water
- 1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- zest of 1 orange
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup buttermilk, at room temperature
- ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
- ¼ unsalted butter, melted, at room temperature
- 6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Line 12 standard muffin cups with paper liners.
- In a small bowl, stir cocoa with hot water until it is dissolved. Set aside.
- Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in medium bowl.
- Mix orange zest into flour mixture. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk eggs and granulated sugar together.
- Whisk in buttermilk and vanilla.
- Whisk in cocoa.
- Whisk in melted butter.
- Stir in flour mixture.
- Spoon batter into each muffin cup. Fill each cup about ½ full.
- Bake cupcakes until puffed and a cake tester inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 15 – 20 minutes.
- Let cool completely on wire rack. Remove cupcakes when pan is cool.
- Make frosting. Put chocolate chips in top of double boiler. Melt chocolate over simmering water. Let cool to room temperature.
- Beat butter and confectioner’s sugar until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes.
- Beat in melted chocolate until well-mixed.
- Fill a pastry bag fitted with a 12mm star tip (1/2 inch) with frosting.
- Pipe a spiral on top of each cupcake.
- Refrigerate the cupcakes until 30 minutes before serving to set the frosting.
Tis the season for decadent desserts! Imagine a bite of smooth, sweet almond swathed in fresh raspberry jam atop flaky layers of buttery piecrust. Oh yeah!
Sure, our Thanksgiving always ends with Jack’s pumpkin pie. It’s a delicious tradition we don’t skip. When we plan the big feast, one dessert never seems to be enough. Some years, the second dessert has been a caramel apple pie, a lemon meringue pie or even a chocolate layer cake. This year, I really wanted to use almond paste that I sent out in our annual shopping. It’s an ingredient I rarely use, but love so much. Many years ago, when I first discovered bakeries and baked goods, I would always go for almond croissants. The combination of the sweet, smooth almond paste and the buttery, flakey croissant were irresistible. This tart has the same elements along with an added bonus – homemade raspberry jam. Some of the jam I made this year was a freezer jam. In other words, it wasn’t cooked. The fresh berries are stirred with some sugar and pectin and put straight into the freezer. This method of making jam preserves the fresh bright flavor of the raspberries straight from the vine.
The tart starts with a buttery, flaky piecrust that is partially blind baked to keep it light and airy. The crust is brushed with jam and then covered with an almond paste mixture, which is the main event. The whole tart is sprinkled with almond slices which provide the finishing touch. What a delicious combination! We all enjoyed the beautiful and delicious addition to this year’s table. Sadly, it is now just a fond memory.
Raspberry Almond Tart
- pie dough for one crust
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 8 oz. almond paste, cut into small cubes
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 cup all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup good quality raspberry jam
- 1/3 cup sliced almonds
- Roll out dough to a 12-inch disk. Cover a 9 ½ inch tart pan or a 9 inch springform pan.
- Trim off excess if using a tart pan. If using a springform pan, trim off dough 1 ½ inches up the side of the pan. The dough will shrink when baked, so make sure to extend the dough higher than you want your end product.
- Freeze the shell for 30 minutes or until firm.
- Place oven rack in lower third of oven. Preheat to 375° F.
- Partially blind bake shell for 20 minutes. Shell will be done when it is pale gold and dry looking.
- Remove pan from oven and cool on a wire rack.
- Reduce oven temperature to 350° F.
- In a large bowl, beat butter until smooth.
- Add almond paste, a couple pieces at a time. Continue beating until smooth. Add more pieces and repeat beating. Continue with remaining almond paste pieces.
- Add sugar to almond paste mixture and beat until smooth.
- Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
- Stir in flour.
- Spread jam evenly on base of tart shell.
- Spoon almond mixture atop jam. Smooth the top.
- Sprinkle almond slices evenly over tart.
- Bake until filling is golden and the middle is firm, 35-45 minutes.
- Cool on wire rack.
Serve at room temperature.
Recipe adapted from The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book
Warm from the oven or cooled and ready for a party, these crispy little wafers with a hint of sweet, a hint of wheat and a touch of salt are sure to please.
A Thanksgiving gathering at our house prompted me to come up with an appetizer that I could conjure out of our bush kitchen. In other words, I couldn’t pop over to the nearest grocery store to pick up phyllo dough or other fun ingredients that I might have available back when I lived in a city.
A great ingredient we do always have on hand is salmon – in this case I had in mind a jar of smoked salmon. We also happened to have a block of cream cheese in our freezer. Mix those two and you have a show-stopping spread. Yummy appetizers with smoked salmon spread can be served on many tasty items – mini bagels, crepes, crostini, and of course, crackers.
I love making homemade crackers. They have a satisfying crunch and flavors of their store-bought siblings. But the homemade versions lack the stabilizers and other mystical, less than healthful ingredients. These thin wheat crackers are no different.
You can simply roll out the dough with a rolling pin, but in this case I ran the dough through my pasta roller. The pasta roller not only produces thinner dough than I can achieve with a rolling pin, it also creates more uniformly even dough resulting in more evenly baked crackers.
By the time Jack’s perfectly roasted chickens came out of the oven, three dozen crackers and a bowl of smoked salmon spread were gone!
Homemade Thin Wheat Crackers
- 1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter, frozen
- 1/4 cup ice cold water
- Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and paprika in a medium bowl.
- Grate frozen butter into flour mixture using a cheese grater.
- Cut butter into flour mixture using two knives to form smaller bits of butter. Mixture is ready when butter bits are the size of small peas and the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal.
- Add water, stir with fork until dough comes together. If dough seems too dry, add additional cold water by tablespoons until dough comes together. Knead once or twice. Don’t over knead.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Divide dough in half. Lightly flour work area. Roll out dough into a very thin rectangle.
- Cut dough into cracker shapes. I used a pastry wheel to cut one batch and a knife to cut the other. Both worked well.
- Use a fork to prick crackers several times.
- Place crackers on prepared baking sheet. They can be close together as they won’t spread.
- Optional: I sprinkled the crackers with more salt before I baked them to add to the look and to provide additional flavor.
- Bake crackers until crisp, about 7 minutes. Flip crackers and bake an additional 7 minutes. If your crackers are thicker, you may need to bake a bit longer.
- Cool on wire racks. Repeat process with second half of dough.
- Enjoy crackers right away. Store extras in an airtight container to keep them crisp.
The addition of sourdough gives these bagels texture and flavor.
I’m been really happy with my sourdough starter. I’ve used it for pancakes, waffles, and English muffins. Every week, I use this delicious starter to turn out two beautiful loaves of sourdough bread to accompany many of our meals. Recently, I finished a batch of homemade lox. I wondered what would happen if I included some of my trusty starter in my bagel recipe.
Wow. What an improvement. The resulting bagels have a subtle sourdough flavor. But the flavor wasn’t the main improvement – it was the texture. These bagels have a perfectly soft interior and a perfectly chewy exterior. We couldn’t believe the difference from an already tried and true recipe. I’ve made the recipe twice now with the same happy results. It’s a keeper!
Sourdough Chewy Bagels
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups warm water (105° F/40° C)
- ½ cup sourdough starter
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 qts water
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
- toppings such as poppy seeds, toasted onions, sesame seeds, etc. (optional)
- In a large bowl, stir together yeast, 1 1/2 tbsp sugar and water. Let sit for about 5 minutes to make sure the yeast is good. (It will foam.)
- Stir in sourdough starter
- Stir in salt and the flour, 1/2 cup at a time. The last 1/2 cup, you will need to knead in by hand.
- Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.
- Coat the inside of a large bowl with oil and place the dough inside.
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise until doubled, about an hour.
- Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Cut dough into 8 equal pieces.
- Roll pieces into balls.
- Flatten balls slightly.
- Poke your finger through center of each ball and twirl dough around your finger to enlarge the hole.
- Place bagels on parchment-lined baking sheet to rest.
- Bring 3 qts water to boil in large pot. Stir in 3 tbsp sugar.
- Place 4 bagels in boiling water. Boil for 1 minute. Flip bagels and let boil for another minute.
- Place boiled bagels on clean, dry towel.
- Place remaining 4 bagels in boiling water. Repeat boiling process with these bagels.
- Take bagels from towel and place them on parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Preheat oven to 375° F (190° C).
- Brush bagels with beaten egg.
- Sprinkle desired toppings on bagels (poppy seeds, sesame seeds, charnushka, minced dried onion and minced dried garlic are some of our favorites).
- Bake in preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes, until browned.
Instant oatmeal packets – overly sticky-sweat on their own – can be transformed into moist, tasty, healthy breakfast treats.
I really hate to see food wasted. So when we recently discovered several instant oatmeal packs fated to be thrown out, I grabbed them up thinking they might make decent breakfast fare for backpacking. Unfortunately, as it turns out the oatmeal is way over-processed and there’s far too much sugar. So I began thinking about how else they might be used. Muffins! I added leftover trail mix to the batter as well as to the topping to add some crunch and flavor. Moist and flavorful, these muffins along with some fruit and freshly brewed coffee make for a quick and delicious breakfast. In fact, we’ve found ourselves snacking on them throughout the day!
Maple and Brown Sugar Oatmeal Muffins
- 3 tbsp all purpose flour
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 cup nuts, chopped coarse
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 packets flavored instant oatmeal
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup milk
- 3/4 cup plain yogurt
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 tbsp real maple syrup
- 1 cup trail mix, chopped coarse
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease 12-muffin cup tin.
- In a small bowl, combine all streusel ingredients. Mix with fork until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Break larger pieces. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, add first 5 muffin ingredients. Mix together using a whisk.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, yogurt, oil, vanilla and syrup.
- Mix wet ingredients into dry.
- Fold in trail mix.
- Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin. Each cup will be about 2/3 full.
- Sprinkle streusel topping on each muffin.
- Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. When done, a wooden pick inserted into center of muffin will come out clean.
- Let cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes before serving.
Warm and gooey, straight from the oven. Watch out – this cookie has been found to be highly addictive.
Several years ago, we were introduced to the cast iron skillet cookie. This giant chocolate chip cookie is best served nearly straight from the oven. No need for fancy serving dishes, we were handed spoons and in mere moments the 10-inch cast iron pan was emptied.
This terribly addictive cookie came back into my thoughts during our last trip to Anchorage. Jack and I went to a restaurant where we were served a delicious skillet breakfast of country fried potatoes, a fried egg, and an Alaskan reindeer sausage all presented in a cute, single-serving cast iron pan. That presentation was as clever as it was practical. The mini-skillet was the perfect serving size for one and kept the breakfast piping hot. We could imagine all kinds of tasty creations that would work perfectly in these clever pans. When we got home, I ordered two, and was pleasantly surprised to find that they are relatively inexpensive.
When the pans arrived, the first order of the day was a skillet cookie… but not just any skillet cookie. We love the flavor of bourbon. It happens to perfectly complement the buttery, carmely, flavors of a chocolate chip cookie. (See our post about melty chocolate chip cookies.) So I decided to punch up the skillet cookie with a bit of bourbon. After a couple of different successful experiments, I came up with just the right balance of ingredients for my recipe.
The bad things about this cookie? It is ridiculously delicious. We found it impossible to eat part of it and save the other part for later. It is easy to make, which only contributes to the addiction problem. And if you happen to have some rich vanilla ice cream to scoop on the top? You may as well call your boss and tell him/her that you won’t be coming in this week.
With fair warning, I give you the –
Bourbon Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie for Two
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 8 tsp granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp egg, whisked
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp bourbon
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- pinch salt
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350° F (180° C)
- Have a 6 1/2” cast iron skillet available
- Whisk melted butter with sugars
- Whisk in egg
- Whisk in vanilla and bourbon
- Stir in flour, baking solda and salt
- Fold in chocolate chips
- Pour batter into cast iron skillet
- Bake for 20 minutes. Cookie will be puffed up and will have pulled away from edge when finished.
- Let cool slightly. Serve while still warm plain or topped with creamy vanilla ice cream.