Impromptu Sabbatical and Christmas Cookies

Over the past year or so, I have made an effort to post at least once a week. And for the most part, I have been successful.

However, this year’s Christmas season has totally taken over my life. No kidding.

I am talking hosting Christmas parties. Baking Christmas cookies. Wrapping Christmas presents. Even, singing Christmas carols. {Ok, so that last one was totally just in my kitchen, but still…}

And because of my severe Christmas obsession, I have neglected you. And I am sorry.

But today is Christmas and Christmas is all about love, forgiveness, and cheer. Amiright?

So Happy Christmas! I made you cookies!

Christmas cookies

When I was a little girl, I would watch my Mom bake in the kitchen for days during the holiday season. She would make all kinds of Christmas cookies. Ginger cookies for my brother. Chocolate peanut butter for my Dad. But my favorite were her sugar cookies. She would make a big batch just for me. She would roll them out very thin, cut them out into Christmas trees, stars, stockings, and candy canes, and then my brother and I would frost them.

She would make her own icing too. Mom would whip up several bowls and color them red, yellow, green, and white. We would have sprinkles and colored sugars to decorate on top. And the rule in our house was that if you broke the cookie while frosting it, then you had to eat it. You guys can see where this is going, right? By the time my brother and I were done decorating the cookies, we both had tummy aches due to large amounts of “broken” cookies.” We were so clumsy.. *wink wink*

Christmas cookiesThese cookies are known in my family as bird’s nest cookies. My mom says they are my Mama’s{my grandmother’s} mother’s recipe. The same woman that I am named after, so you know they have got to be good. ;) The thing is, these cookies aren’t just for Christmas. You could whip up a batch of these cookies any ol’ day of the year. They have only a few ingredients and are incredible easy to make.

Christmas cookiesOnce you’ve got the dough mixed up, roll about a tablespoon of dough into a circle. Then give it a good egg wash and roll it in crushed pecans. When I do this, I roll out all my dough balls first, and then move on to the egg wash and pecan step. This prevents a big mess to clean up later. I also make sure that my egg wash is good and frothy. I keep a fork handy if I have to whip it up in between cookies.

Christmas cookiesTo make the indentations for the nests, I used a small measuring spoon, but you could use the end of a wooden spoon too. You have to do this a few times while they bake to make them stick.

Christmas cookiesAfter the cookies have cooled for a minute or two , fill them with your favorite jam, jelly, or fruit spread. You can even fill them with Nutella. I choose to fill half of them with Nutella and the other half with the French black raspberry fruit spread above I received for Christmas.

Christmas cookies

From my kitchen to yours, I wish you the merriest of Christmases and the happiest of holidays!

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Apple Cider Cakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Icing

I love the rain. I often tell the Hubs that I could totally pull off living in a London flat. All I would need is a super cute pair of Kate Spade rain boots and an umbrella that even Mary Poppins would approve of. Then I could go splashing through all the puddles on my way to the local bakery. Oh, and while I sat eating my chocolate croissant, I could check out the latest Doctor Who filming down the street. Cuz you know that would totally happen. Obviously.

So today was one of those days where I totally pretended that I lived in that imaginary London flat and baked while the rain came down.

Apple Cider Cakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

I had some leftover apple cider from our orchard trip, so I decided to bake up these baby apple cakes. To spice things up, I topped them with a simple walnut streusel and added a drizzle of cinnamon cream cheese icing. Best. Fall. Dessert. Ever.

Apple Cider Cakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

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Cinnamon Brioche Bread Pudding

Cinnamon Brioche Bread Pudding

I have been a bit MIA lately and I promise I have a good reason. Sorta.

Life has been getting in the way. More specifically, ballet classes.

That’s right you guys…

I am taking ballet classes and loving it.

I feel like I am straight outta Dance Academy, although I am pretty sure that I look more like Bilbo Baggins trying to plié and what not, than an actual ballerina. But I love it and I feel pretty doing it, so the ballet slippers are staying on for awhile.

I used to be a dancer when I was a little girl and spent several years in ballet, tap, and jazz. I remember dance recitals and tutus and how nervous I would get when I had to stand up in front of allll those people {mostly just our parents and family members, but tell that to a 6-year old} and dance a 3-minute choreographed number to one of top 40′s greatest at the time. I specifically remember dancing to Janet Jackson, Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty, one year. I mean, seriously, what else would you be dancin’ to in 1990?! Rhythm Nation, am I right? Obvi..

Anyways, to make up for the time I have been away dancing, I made you some bread pudding –simple, delicious, and oh so comforting, Cinnamon Brioche Bread Pudding. Oh…and I also made you an amaretto drizzle to go on top. Your welcome.

Cinnamon Brioche Bread Pudding

This recipe uses Cinnamon Brioche from the amazing Amelie’s in Charlotte, but you can use any sort of hearty bread, like challah or even sourdough. If you can’t find challah or brioche in your area, like me, just ask your local bakery. Sometimes they will make a loaf or two for you or they might even make it a couple times a week and you might just be missing it.

Cinnamon Brioche Bread Pudding

The only thing that would make this cinnamon bread pudding even better would be the Amaretto drizzle. It takes minutes to make and the warm, sweet sauce is the perfect compliment to this ever-so-comforting bread pudding.

Just mix 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1/2 cup Amaretto, and a stick of butter in a medium saucepan on low-medium heat. Stir together until the sugar has dissolved and then drizzle over the bread pudding. Easy Peasy. Lemon Squeezy.

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Pumpkin Spice Chai Hot Chocolate

Pumpkin Chai Hot Chocolate

We finally made our way up the mountain last weekend to pick a few apples. We took the Hubs ‘rents with us because they just so happened to be in town for the annual trip. After we walked around the orchards for a bit, we grabbed our apples and apple-cinnamon doughnuts{because you can’t leave Skytop without doughnuts, obvi..}, and made our way into town. A friend of mine had recommended the infamous French Broad Chocolate Lounge in the heart of Asheville, so after a quick lunch at Farm Burger, we stopped in for a bit of chocolate-y goodness.

The place reminds me of an edgy, little coffeehouse I used to go to in high school. It had local artwork on the walls, a giant chalkboard outlining all of its daily specials, and a very large case of truffles, cakes, cookies, and chocolate bars. Everything is handmade in-store and total amazeballs.

My friend said I just had to order a liquid truffle…yes, you heard me right, I said liquid truffle and it is exactly what is sounds like. It comes in a little espresso cup with an itty-bitty spoon. I ordered their masala chai, while the hubs ordered their maple with sea salt. It was so creamy and rich, that I almost couldn’t finish it…yeah, as if. I think if it had been up to me, I would have switched with the Hubs, but both were very good. His Dad ordered a masala chai hot chocolate and that got me thinking..

I love chai.

Even more so, I love the Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Latte that Tazo has available for the fall season.

And who doesn’t love hot chocolate.

So when we got home, I combined my love of pumpkin spice chai and hot chocolate.

Pumpkin Chai Hot Chocolate

I choose to make my hot chocolate creamy like the liquid truffle by using heavy cream and 3 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate and then adding 1/4 cup of Tazo Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Latte concentrate. Then I whipped up a batch of Pumpkin Spice Chai whipped cream to top my hot chocolate with. Who could ask for more? And if you could, why would you?

Pumpkin Chai Hot ChocolateExcept maybe if you wanted a small box of Pumpkin Spice Truffles courtesy of French Broad Chocolate Lounge to go along with your Pumpkin Spice Chai Hot Chocolate. Which I totally do..

Pumpkin Chai Hot Chocolate

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Oatmeal Pumpkin Spice Cookies

I have been spending all my free time lately catching up on Breaking Bad. I was never a fan when it was on because, well,  I am not a big T.V. person. But all the hubbub about the season finale a few weeks back caught my eye and I have been watching it on Netflix ever since. I mean, it is ridiculous. The other night I stayed up until midnight with an early wake up time of 5 am just to make sure if Hank, one of the characters, survived. Like I said, total crazy obsessed.

If you have never seen the show, it is about a high school chemistry teacher who finds out that he has stage 3 lung cancer. The doctors basically tell him to start making funeral arrangements and it is then that he realizes that he needs to find some way to provide for his family after he his gone. So he becomes a meth “cook” with a former student, Jesse Pinkman. After he goes to treatment and then into remission, he finds himself deep in the drug cartel and unable to escape. Gripping, isn’t it??

Anyway, it has totally taken over all of my free time.  Well that, and a 14-hour Raleigh field trip and oh, preparing for first term conferences. Thus preventing me from making a post since the Monday before last.

But the wait is over, my friends. I have discovered the cookie of all cookies. The perfect fall treat. May I introduce you to…

Oatmeal Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Oatmeal Pumpkin Spice Cookies

This recipe makes 3-3 1/2 dozen and let me tell you, they were gone in days. And it wasn’t just me. I swear.

I think it’s the combination of white chocolate chips, spices, and pecans that take this ordinary oatmeal pumpkin cookie to the extreme.

And that’s when they basically became my favorite cookies ever.

Oatmeal Pumpkin Spice Cookies

They are so addicting. It sorta reminds me of Heisenberg’s infamous blue ice. They are 99.1% pure awesomeness.

Oatmeal Pumpkin Spice Cookies

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Autumn Wreath Tutorial

My Mom is a bonafide crafting genius.

When I was 3, she cut out tons of paper Mickey Mouses, just so that she could glue them altogether to make a 3D Mickey Mouse bow for my birthday. See, even then I was obsessed with the Disney.

When the Hubs and I got married, she painted over a hundred glass candle votives with intricate flowers and then attached a hand-cut paper heart that read our names and our wedding date.

And over the years, I have had the opportunity to con, snag, or plead for one of her beautiful handmade, hand-painted wreaths that encompassed a season or holiday. I mean, really, you outta see these things. There like magical.

This year, I thought I could channel my inner crafty and create my own Autumn wreath. I came up with three basic requirements for my wreath. One, I knew it had to be simple, because well, I like simple. Two, it had to have a little glitter. And three, it had to be inexpensive, because the Hubs said so.

So this is what I came up with…

Autumn Wreath Tutorial

 Simple. Glittery. Inexpensive.

Autumn Wreath Tutorial What made this wreath so inexpensive was that I made all of the flowers out of shimmery ribbon. I mean, the total cost was around $21 for the wreath, ribbon, black letter, and one large box of fall potpourri.

Autumn Wreath Tutorial So today, I am going to show you how to make easy ribbon flowers.

Autumn Wreath Tutorial Start by cutting your ribbon anywhere between 12-18 inches in length. Just remember, the longer the ribbon, the bigger the flower.

Autumn Wreath Tutorial Fold your ribbon in half.

Autumn Wreath Tutorial

Then start rolling it into a little bud. This will be the center of your flower and it should be about the size of your thumb nail. Go ahead and secure it with a little dollop of hot glue.

Autumn Wreath Tutorial

To get that rose look, you will want to start folding over the ribbon, securing it with hot glue every few folds.  The hot glue will prevent it from unraveling or coming apart.

Autumn Wreath Tutorial After a few folds, you will begin to see the flower coming together.

Autumn Wreath Tutorial Keep folding and hot gluing.

Autumn Wreath Tutorial Glue the remaining part of the ribbon towards the back of the flower. When you glue it onto the wreath, no one will see it anyway.

Autumn Wreath Tutorial This large box of potpourri was around $4 and made perfect accents for my autumn wreath.

Autumn Wreath Tutorial The black H came already painted and ready to go. The Hubster secured it on with wire and I reinforced it with hot glue.

Autumn Wreath Tutorial

Place your new ribbon flowers, fall potpourri accents, and letter where ever you’d like. You can’t go wrong. Most of all, have fun with it.  I would love to see what you come up with! Send your photos to my Bake No Prisoners Facebook page and I will post them in the next few weeks.

Easy Banoffee Pie

I think the Hubs purposely doesn’t eat the bananas I bring home from the market.

Let me tell you the story.

Once upon a time, an amazing baking princess decided that her prince needed more potassium in his diet. She felt it was part of her royal duties to make sure he ate a somewhat nutritious breakfast, so she brought home a bunch of delectable  bananas. For days, they sat on the royal counter, turning brown by every minute that passed by. At the last moment, to save the bananas from impending doom, the princess decided to use them to make his favorite dessert –Banana Pudding –but alas, she did not have what she needed to make it and the carriage was out at Best Buy.

Instead, she made him a traditional English dessert, well, sorta….

Easy Banoffee Pie

The original Banoffee Pie has a crust made of crumbled biscuits and butter. I decided to use a graham cracker crust because you know, I didn’t have any crumbled biscuits lying around the castle.

Easy Banoffee Pie

The key to the whipped topping is to make your own. If you try to use a canned whip cream, then it will deflate and make a mess. It is super duper easy, cheaper than store-bought, and tastes sooo light and fluffy that you might never go back to the can again.

Easy Banoffee Pie

Once the pie was presented to the prince, all order was restored in the kingdom, and all the townspeople rejoiced. The End.

Easy Banoffee Pie

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Easy Banoffee Pie

 

Butter Beer Pound Cake

Living in a small town has its ups and downs.

For example, I can go anywhere in town and it is almost certain that I will run into someone I know. We might grab a coffee or just catch up for a few minutes, but it’s nice to see a familiar face when I am out and about. That’s also a bad example because if you are au natural and in your sweats, then you are almost guaranteeing that you are going to run into someone you know. It has totally happened. On several occasions.

Another example is the festivals. We almost always have some sorta block party or festival going on. I love all the one-of-a-kind crafts, food vendors, and the classic rock bands you find at a small town festival. And they come up with all sortsa reasons to get together. It could be an art walk or a fall festival or even a party to celebrate the woolly worm. That’s happened too.

One of the worst things about living in a small town is that when you are a baker/girly geek/collector of all things nerdy, it is hard to find what you are looking for. A few weeks ago, I thought I would get a heads start on my Halloween baking. I wanted to buy a 4-pack of Butter Beer at my local grocery store. Before I even step foot in the store, I looked it up to make sure they would/could carry it. It is a bit of a hike to get to a good grocery store, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t go for nothing. I did. Go for nothing. They didn’t have it nor could they order it.

So I went home, did a bit more research, thought about ordering it online for a gazillion dollars, and then headed to my small town specialty grocer. As it turns out, they didn’t have it either, but they could order it. So I ordered two 4-packs…or so I thought. When they called me a few weeks later, they said my two cases were ready. Cases. As in six 4-packs in each case. A total of 48 bottles of Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer. As in more Butter Beer than the Hubs and I put together could drink in a month.

With all that Butter Beer, I thought about throwing a HP party. And I still just may, but for now I made you pound cake…with Butter Beer.

Butter beer pound cakeThis pound cake reminds me of all the Sprite and 7-Up pound cake recipes that are out there. I have never made one with soda before, so I just took my ole trusty pound cake recipe and altered it a bit. You know. With Butter Beer. Because I have so many.

Butter Beer Pound Cake

I even put some in my icing. Although it could totally stand alone.

Butter Beer Pound Cake

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Butter Beer Pound Cake

Pumpkin Biscoff Bread

It is no surprise to anyone who knows me, even a little bit, that the next three months are my favorite time of the whole year. All good things happen in the months of September, October, and November. Even Christmas couldn’t top all the wonderful things I am anticipating in the upcoming months.

September is when the Hubster and I head up to the mountains and pick apples for our annual apple pies. We drive on up to Flat Rock and spend the day at family run, Sky Top Orchards. It is literally on top of Mt. McAlpine and we go through fields and fields of orchards, picking our favorite gala, rome, and cameo apples. We also make sure to stop by inside where we can pick up 2 or 3 dozen of their freshly made apple cinnamon donuts, apple butter, and fresh apple cider. Then we take them all home and spend the day coring, peeling and preparing them for apple pies that I will freeze for the upcoming holidays.

October has not only Halloween, but also the Carolina Renaissance Festival. I had never been until last year and now the Hubs and I are considering buying season tickets. Well, not considering….we are. I love the food fare, shows and demonstrations, and the overall atmosphere of the whimsical and carefree lifestyle that makes up the Carolina Renaissance Fair. I even have my very own pair of elfish ears that I got last year. I swear it. And I will wear them this year. Because.

And November has the best holiday ever, Thanksgiving. In years past, the family has gotten together to have the traditional Thanksgiving feast. Mom and I get up early to get the turkey prepared and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This year, we are putting away those pots and pans and Mom, the Hubs, and I are heading down to Savannah to celebrate.

But my absolute favorite thing about all three months is that it gives me an excuse to bake with pumpkins. I could totally go ona Forest Gump rant about pumpkins. You can bake it, broil it, saute it. There’s pumpkin cookies. Pumpkin cupcakes. Pumpkin Lattes. Get the idea?

How about one more? Like this Pumpkin Biscoff Bread.

Pumpkin Biscoff Bread

I have not one, but two pumpkin bread pans. I tried to tell ya. Obsessed. I like this one best because of the baby pumpkins that are just beginning to grow. Cuteness in a pan.

Pumpkin Biscoff BreadIn addition to adding creamy Biscoff spread to the batter, I also crumbled Biscoff cookies into my steusel. It was totally worth it. I love the flavor of pumpkim with biscoff. If you have never tried biscoff cookies or creamy spread, try your specialty stores, like World Market or Williams Sonoma.

Pumpkin Biscoff BreadI also drizzled a simple icing made from milk or cream, corn syrup, vanilla, and confectioners sugar. Although it would be perfectly delightful without it.

Pumpkin Biscoff Bread

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Pumpkin Biscoff Bread

 

 

 

White Chocolate Pecan Cupcakes

White Chocolate Pecan Cupcakes

I love sugared pecans, but in all my years of baking on this planet, I have never had the opportunity to make them. I usually pick them up at a state fair or at a theme park, but it didn’t occur to me to make them myself.

Well…that is until these cupcakes.

White Chocolate Pecan Cupcakes

Now, awhile ago, the Hubs and I had picked up a bag of whole pecans somewhere passing through Georgia, I think. I honestly can’t remember where or when because I am notorious for picking up random yummy things when we travel. You should see how many jars of jams and jellies I have in my pantry. It is ridiculous.

Anyway, seeing as how I have never made sugared pecans, I honestly didn’t know how to shell them either. So I asked my super-southern-grew-up-crackin-nuts Hubs to help me out. Well, that was a big mistake. He thinks that I am just crazy for never having the opportunity to crack me open some pecans{best southern accent}. And he has told everyone so for the past week.

Well now I know and I can check that off my baking bucket list.

Ok….time for the cupcakes.

White Chocolate Pecan Cupcakes

This girl likes a thick layer of ganache, so I choose to dip each cupcake 2-3 times, letting them cool on a wire rack for a few minutes in between each layer.

White Chocolate Pecan Cupcakes

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White Chocolate Pecan Cupcakes