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Salted Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookies

  There are quite a few things that run through my head late at night, and a lot of times they have something to do with food.  I've gotten some of my best recipe ideas right before I fall asleep, sometimes even in my dreams, ya know.

  Anyway, I was visualizing pressing down peanut butter cookie dough with a fork, creating that lovely criss cross pattern.  Somehow this segued into pressing down cookie dough with a pretzel...and then sprinkling on a little extra sea salt.

  I might be the only one who thinks this is the best idea ever, and I did end up using a fork to flatten the dough initially anyway, but salflksdg;hasdlcken;aoishegea.sde.

  These were really freaking good.

  I went ahead an used a new cookie recipe, and with just the right amount of baking the cookies came out incredibly soft and delightful.  The pretzels stayed intact, and the salt really brought out the peanut butter.  The crunch of the pretzel against the velvet-y cookie is just....UGH.  I can't.
  I know a lot of people roll their cookies in sugar before baking, but I skipped that because I was really going for the sweet & salty route.  And now I don't think I can ever really go back...

  My peanut-butter-cookie-hating mother and sister would not stop eating these, I had to reserve this plate so I had something to actually take pictures of.  These barely lasted a day, my friends.

  What these have to do with Thanksgiving fare I could not tell you, but our holiday is very much up there on the chill scale this year and I just couldn't wait to share these delightful things.

  And I am a thankful girl.  Friends, family, crazy late night food ideas and all that jazz.  These cookies are proof that my creative juices are yet flowing, and that's always an encouragement for me.  The last few posts have definitely been a little more in depth, so I'm thinking it's a good move to just give you a new idea and some pretty pictures and be done with it.  Happy days, my friends, don't stress too much but do eat lots.

Salted Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookies
Yield: about 15-20 cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature*
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (such as JIF Creamy)
  • Pretzels and coarse sea salt, for topping

In a medium bowl, toss the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together.

Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the softened butter and both sugars together on medium speed until smooth.  Add the egg and mix on high until combined, about 1 minute.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.  Add the vanilla and peanut butter and mix on high until combined.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix on low until combined.  Dough will be thick, yet very sticky.  Cover dough tightly and chill for at least 3 hours (and up to 2 days) in the refrigerator.  This is super important, so the dough can hold its own in the hot oven later.

When you're ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F degrees.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  

Roll balls of dough (about 1 tablespoon per cookie), place 2 inches apart on the baking sheets.  Press fork into the tops to slightly flatten and create the criss-cross pattern.  Top each cookie with a pretzel and sprinkle with sea salt.  

Bake for 9-11 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking, or until the cookies are very lightly browned on the sides.  The centers will look very soft and undone, that's what we want!  Remove from the oven and let cool on baking sheet for about 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.  Cover cookies and store at room temperature for up to 1 week.  Baked cookies and rolled cookie dough freeze well, up to 3 months.

Sources: cookie recipe slightly adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction, pretzel idea an Indigo Scones original


Mini Tiered Red Velvet Macaroon Cake

  Hello hello hello.  Guess what? 

  I'm in my 20s!  Yay!  Not 21, just 20, but yay!  That's kinda cool, kinda weird.

  I had a rough week last week, I've been having some up and downs in general.  But right now, right now is good.  I've had a quote stuck in my head lately that goes along the lines of "Wherever you are, be all there."  I guess it's a live in the moment kind of thing, but just a wee bit more introspective than YOLO.  I get into bad habits of worrying, fretting, and all that.  Then I find myself looking back and realizing I never let myself enjoy the really good times I have had as much as I could've, either because I didn't realize how good they really were at the time or because I was busy thinking of something else my daydreaming worrying brain conjured.  

  So EFF THAT let's eat cake and sit in cafes and watch grumpy little Wisconsin-ers dash about in the first flurries of snow.  Sometimes Starbucks is my saving grace, there is almost nothing a good dose of people watching can't fix.

  It's so weird to think that just last year I was celebrating my 19th in a dorm, halfway trying to have a good time with everyone.  I remember sitting in my 9:30 AM English class the morning of and thinking of the story about how a girl got broken up with on facebook in the middle of class, and ran out crying.  Thus, the professor explained her ban of computers for note-taking.  At the time I had laughed with everyone else, but just then I felt a strong sympathy for that girl.  I spent the rest of the day with sweet people that trekked to Culver's to buy me an ice cream cake (and we're talking broke college students), and I was feeling a little stronger just then.

  A year later I'm not sure what to make of all of it still, it's a season of life I can't wrap my head around and somehow can't believe is over.

  I was told recently that I have a tendency towards the daydream-y romantic state of being, and for once it wasn't in a mocking fashion.  Maybe that makes me hard to date, but maybe that's just quite alright for now.  Because I'm so detail-oriented and super fricken ultra sensitive, I notice a lot of things most don't.  Granted, I still trip over crap and hit the curb once in awhile, but I think that's a different set of senses...
Anyway, between that and a filtered reading of this article I found, I think I'm starting to be ok with myself and my fluctuating tendencies.

  So I'm embracing things a bit more.  Like how my idea of a perfect birthday is spending the day in a kitchen making my own cake, half-ignoring my phone and the obligations that go along with it, and then celebrating the night hours with some really good Irish food and awesome awesome friends.  And I was even okay with the few that bailed on plans, because I've learned the hard way that you can't invest your happiness in people and things and feelings that just aren't there.  

  So for my birthday I went red again, embracing a darker version of the color I sported for most of my solo college year.  I'm letting my hair grow out and do it's thing, even when it gets pretty wild.  People seem to like it like that, and to be honest, I kinda do too.  With the return of the red I thought of this deep red cake that the genius Molly Yeh came up with, and I decided to put my own spin on it, because somehow traditional birthday cake and I just don't really fly.

  I honestly couldn't be happier with how it came out.  It's a slightly toppling, imperfect, unique little cake.  It's the right amount for just a handful of special people.  The tangy red velvet flavor is captured perfectly and the whole thing is basically a big, super coconut-y macaroon with fluffy vanilla bean cream cheese frosting.

  I used a 6-inch pan for the bottom layer, and then greased a 2 and 3-inch biscuit cutter for the next two layers, wrapping the bottom and sides of the cutters with a decently-sized piece of foil so nothing would ooze out the bottom.  And it worked! :D

  This took comparatively little time to come together, and the tiny layers are very ideal to work with.  But if you aren't feeling all the fussiness, this can also make a single 8-inch cake.  Also, I went for a rustic look and didn't frost the sides, because this thing is reallly really rich!  But not so rich that I didn't have a few forkfuls for breakfast the next day, ya know...

  So happity birthday to my up and down self that feels both the good and bad ever so much, I wonder where I'll be celebrating this time next year?  Ain't life an adventure.

Find the sun, force the moon
Loose the earth
For dreams come to those who let them in their guarded room
Open wide your winged-eye
Spirit drives – to catch your truth
For spirit thrives where darkness comes to challenge you
Be more than words
Be more than strength and kind
Be love and blind
To those who come to you
Sing something new
Belief is wet and ghost
Yet, loves the most of what we do
Don’t cast away, don’t cast away
Don’t let them cast a role for you

-Future Islands sings what I can't say

Mini Tiered Red Velvet Macaroon Cake
Yield: one mini tiered cake, or one 8 or 9-inch layer

Ingredients for the cake:
  • One 14-ounce bag sweetened, shredded coconut
  • 1 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon red food coloring
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Ingredients for the frosting*:
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, chilled
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Big pinch of salt
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • One vanilla bean, split lengthwise 
  • Sprinkles for decorating
*You're going to have a little leftover frosting, sorry/not sorry, I like to play it safe

To make the cake, preheat oven to 375 F.  Grease one 6-inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment (grease parchment as well), then grease a 2 and 3-inch circular biscuit cutter and wrap the outside and bottom with a piece of foil, grease the foil as well.  Set the biscuit cutters onto a baking sheet.  Alternatively, grease an 8-inch cake pan and line bottom with parchment, grease the parchment as well.  

In a large bowl, mix together the coconut, condensed milk, vanilla, cocoa powder, and food coloring.  In a separate bowl, combine the egg whites and salt.  Beat the eggs using an electric mixer until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes.  Gently fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture, about 1/3 of them at a time, and then distribute the batter evenly among the pan(s), spreading it out with a spatula for a smooth top.  Be sure to place the pan with the biscuit cutters near the top 1/3 of the oven, because the foil-lined bottoms will burn a little.  Luckily, you can cut them off later!  Bake for 30-45 minutes, keeping in mind that the smaller layers will get done first, or until the tops begin to brown.

Let cakes cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then run a butterknife around the edges to loosen.  Turn the 6-inch cake out onto a wire rack, then unwrap the foil from the biscuits cutters and gently pop out the little cakes to cool as well.  When the cakes cool, you may find that the foil-lined ones burned a bit at the bottom (especially with a gas oven), simply slice them off with a large, sharp knife.  

You can frost the cake and eat it as soon as it’s cooled to room temperature, or you can wrap the layers individually in plastic wrap and stick them in the freezer overnight before decorating (they can also be prepared in advance and kept in the freezer for up to a week). 

To make the frosting, in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, blend the cream cheese on medium speed.  The cream cheese should be as soft and smooth as possible.  Stop the mixer and add the softened butter.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat the two together over medium speed until smooth and incorporated.  Add one cup of powdered sugar.  Blend on low until incorporated.  Scrape the vanilla beans from the pod into the mixing bowl, discard the pod.  Add remaining cup of powdered sugar and mix on low until incorporated.  Increase to medium high speed and beat until frosting is smooth and silky.

Frost and decorate as desired!  Enjoy.


Cream Cheese Apple Coffee Cake

n. a kind of melancholic trance in which you become completely absorbed in vivid sensory details—raindrops skittering down a window, tall trees leaning in the wind, clouds of cream swirling in your coffee—which leads to a dawning awareness of the haunting fragility of life. 

  That word right there, real or not, describes me exactly these days.  I don't know if it's the autumn weather or the total incomprehensibleness of near-death incidents and death itself, but everything is quaking with fragility.

  I've been thinking a lot about the number of spaces I've occupied with my quiet this year.  In the beginning I was cleaning out my old room, which seemed to receive the stamp of "old" way too fast.  My window, my keyboard, my piano stool, my creaky little bed.  The walls that had 3-4 layers of paint underneath them, each color telling a story about some phase I went through in my life.
  I went from that back to my dorm room.  Concrete walls that filtered sound all too well, my bed that was 6 feet off the ground, my desk where I spent many melancholic hours doing homework, a roommate that somehow brightened my day a little bit every time she got back from class, a neighbor that would kick my door open regularly just to come and sit with me and my moods.
  I packed that up too.  I occupied my little trailer room for awhile, adorning the cheap wooden walls with quotes to help erase the angst that the boonies of Wisconsin instill in me.
  I left for Arizona.  I had the room that was meant for an office, double doors with no locks that liked to jam and unlatch loudly.  A tiny bed on the floor, a love seat, blaze pink portable closet, and a dresser with my food props piled on top.  The loneliness felt there is still very vivid, even with an aunt that bought my sad self ice cream and little dogs with sweet kisses.
  Then I was in a guest bedroom for the Schuster season.  I fell asleep on the lower half of a trundle every night, just across from a sewing machine.  Photo albums, old clothes, and questionable puppets piled into the closets and corners.  I felt the temporary-ness of it, and I wished it was otherwise.  I had a friend at least, coming and checking on me often.  But it wasn't my home.  It wasn't a white farmhouse surrounded by fields.  It wasn't my soft grey-walled bedroom with an old, stained carpet.
  And until I can really establish myself someplace, I don't think I'm going to ever really feel that sense of home again.

  It's a hard thing to come to terms with.  It's hard realizing you took a lot of things for granted.  I remember standing by my bedroom window, looking at the U-Haul parked in our front yard.  It didn't seem real, and it still doesn't.  Even now, surrounded by house plans and new beginnings, my heart aches for the room that I thought would always be familiar and on-hand.

  And that's heartily unrealistic of me, even without moving away there's no way I could've stayed there forever.  I guess I'm feeling a little bit more lost than usual lately, and my subconscious keeps reverting to missing things that made me feel like I belong.  My house, old relationship, and messy educational college journey are just a few things that have been my haunting me lately.  Because without those things, I'm just a girl going from one space to the next, and everything is just dull.  

  I made a cake with apples, topped it with cream cheese, and then a generous amount of streusel.  It was incredibly delicious, but even eating that warm from the pan did very little for me.  I'm sleeping in late, I don't want to really "hang out," I have a temper to be reckoned with, and I'm so sucked into this void of me that I'm not even comprehending other people's problems and pains.  And it's weird.  It's really weird.  It happened even when I was at my busiest point with work, nothing makes it go away.

  I hope it stops soon, because I need to get out of this apple-baking lingering fall rut that I seem to have fallen into.  I really do...

  ...maybe a piece or two of cake will do the trick.

Cream Cheese Apple Coffee Cake
Yield: one 8x8-inch cake

Ingredients for the cake:
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon 
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups peeled and chopped apples (chopped small) 

Ingredients for the cream cheese layer:

  • 8 oz. softened cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar

Ingredients for the streusel:
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt 
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Preheat oven to 350ºF and grease an 8x8 inch square pan. 

In the bowl of a mixer, combine the butter and sugars for the cake and mix until fluffy.  Add the egg, oil, and vanilla and mix until combined.  Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  Stir into the butter mixture on low speed, mixing just until combined.  Stir in the chopped apples.  Spread into the prepared pan. 

In the bowl of a mixer or with a handheld mixer, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla for the cream cheese layer until smooth and combined.  Spread over the cake batter in the pan. 

Combine all the streusel ingredients using your hands or a pastry blender until well combined, the mixture will resemble coarse meal.  Sprinkle over the cream cheese mixture. 

Bake for about 45 minutes or until the topping is browned.  Allow to cool for about 2 hours before serving.

Sources: Yammie's Noshery