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Big News!

I am really excited that my blog has moved!  Come over to the new site: KeepItSweetBlog.com and check it out!

If you currently subscribe to the Keep It Sweet emails, you will need to re-subscribe.  For Google Reader followers,  you will need to update the URL.

Special thanks to Julie at Savvy Eats for doing all the work.  She transferred the entire blog and did the site design, too.  Check out Savvy Blog Services if you are looking for help moving or doing design work for your blog.

Twix Gone Wrong

For Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be fun for Matt and I to make a homemade version of one of his favorite candies, Twix Bars.  I’d seen a ton of great-looking recipes around the blog world and thought it would be a good idea to take ideas from them but make my own version.  You can see different examples of homemade Twix Bars on Mangio Da Sola, Hoosier Homemade, Chocolate and Carrots, and Not Without Salt.

I started with the Mangio Da Sola shortbread crust, easy enough

shortbread crust

I thought that using packaged caramels would be a really easy shortcut for the middle layer; I guess I forgot how hard they get so quickly

caramels

Topped the caramel with salt, because I am kind of obsessed with that combination

caramel salt layer

And then melted milk chocolate; here you really can’t go wrong

 

chocolate layer

The first problem was getting the bars out of the pan; the shortbread was too crumbly and cutting through the caramel was tough

done 1

I think a foil-lined pan would have been better

done 8

These would have been so much better with a layer of caramel sauce or filling, instead of melted caramel candies (unless breaking a tooth is your goal)

done 5

We tried to eat them but it just wasn’t worth it, I may have eaten the entire layer of milk chocolate off the top… wasting chocolate is just wrong!

done 6

Have you had any desserts gone wrong recently?

When I saw Lauren’s suggestions for Valentine’s Day treats included this cookie, I knew I had to try it!  Lauren has a wonderful blog that makes incredibly delicious and healthy versions of food that everyone loves.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have any chocolate peanut butter on hand, but I did have some of this chocolate almond butter on hand.

chocolate almond butter

Since I wanted to make the cookies immediately, I decided to adapt her recipe for what I had on hand and make Flourless Chocolate Almond Butter Cookies.

cookies 22

Reasons to make these cookies:

1. They are deliciously light and fudgey at the same time.

2.  This is the easiest cookie recipe I have ever made.  3 steps, that is it!

3.  Portion control!  This recipe makes 8 cookies.  If you are nervous about eating the entire batch, you can’t get yourself into too much trouble*.  The cookies are pretty big, too.

*Each cookie comes out to 5 weightwatchers points+, as a result, the entire batch is 40 points+ which is less than the extra weekly points you get.  cookies 9

Step 1:  Mix together almond butter, brown sugar, whisked egg white, baking soda, vanilla extract and salt

all ingredients in bowl

Step 2:  Stir in chocolate chips

add choc chips

Step 3:  Bake cookies

dough on pan

Did I say they were easy?

cookies 18

Flourless Chocolate Almond Butter Cookies

Adapted from Healthy Food for Living

Makes 8 cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup chocolate almond butter

2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed

1 egg white, whisked

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

Mix together almond butter, brown sugar, whisked egg white, baking soda, vanilla extract and salt

Stir in chocolate chips

Use a cookie dough scoop or tablespoon to shape 8 cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper

Bake for ~12 min or until tops of cookies are no longer loose

cookies 3

What is the easiest dessert you have made?

I’m kind of obsessed with caramel lately, especially when there is salt involved.

frosted cupcake 3

Ever since I made these bars a few months ago, caramel has been on the top of my list for delicious dessert ingredients.  There is something about the rich flavor and silkiness that keeps you going back for more.  After seeing this Caramel Sauce at Trader Joes so many times, I finally gave in and bought a jar.  In order to keep myself from eating the entire thing with a spoon, I figured I should use it in a recipe.

caramel sauce

What better way to use the sauce than in buttercream?  It creates a delicious icing that has the perfect hint of salt and caramel flavors, but not in an overwhelming way.  To keep the buttercream from being too sweet, I used cream cheese as a thickening agent.  That way, I didn’t have to use too much extra sugar.

frosted cupcake 12

This Salted Caramel Buttercream would go well on top chocolate or vanilla cake, maybe with some sort of peanut butter filling.  I used it to ice some low fat vegan chocolate cupcakes.  It’s all about balance;-)

Start with room temperature butter and cream cheese

butter and cream chs

Beat them in a mixer on high for a few minutes, until light and fluffybutter cream cheese creamed

Add confectioners’ sugar carefully, when mixed in turn mixer back to high speed

add sugar

Beat in vanilla

add vanilla

Then add the caramel sauce add caramel

Beat on high speed until all ingredients are well combined; if frosting is too liquidly, add extra sugar

caramel buttercream

Use to top cake, cupcakes or eat with a spoon

frosted cupcake 8

Salted Caramel Buttercream

Ingredients:

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened

1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened (I used reduced fat)

2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar*

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup salted caramel sauce

Directions:

Beat butter and cream cheese in a mixer on high for a few minutes, until light and fluffy

Add confectioners’ sugar carefully, when mixed in turn mixer back to high speed

Beat in vanilla

Then add the caramel sauce; beat on high speed until all ingredients are well combined

*If frosting is not firm enough at this point, add more confectioners’ sugar, 1/2 cup at a time

frosted cupcake 6

Have you found any new products for baking recently?

frosted cupcake 13

My sister’s 23rd birthday is coming up, and she is having a cocktail party* to celebrate.  The color scheme for the evening is black and white so I am helping out by baking desserts with those colors.  The first thing that came to my mind was black and white cheesecake bars.  That is slightly ironic given that Jessica doesn’t like cheesecake.  However, she doesn’t eat gluten either, so most of the desserts are not even for her.

*way for twenty-somethings to get drunk and feel classy

cheesecake 6

I started by adapting this recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars.  I swapped gingersnap crust with Oreo and got rid of the pumpkin.  But then I thought, how could make it even more special?  Instead of using just a plain cheesecake layer for the “white”, I made it vanilla bean.  Wow, this took the dessert to a whole new level.  I’d never baked with vanilla bean before and I think I might be hooked!  When you take a bite of the Chocolate and Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Bars, you get a sweet creamy layer and then that chocolate crunch from the crust.  The rich chocolate cheesecake layer comes through next, but then when you think you are done, the vanilla bean kicks in.  Layers of flavors are what make desserts stand out.  Make these.

vanilla bean 1

To make the crust, grind up about 17 Oreos in a food processororeos in food processor

Set cookie crumbs aside

oreo crumbs

Melt butter; add melted butter and sugar to cookie crumbsmixing crust

Press mixture into a 9×13 pan lined with tin foil and cooking spray; spread evenly using fingers to push down crust mixture and set aside

crust in pan

To make your cheesecake filling, beat cream cheese in mixer until light, creamy and lumps are gone (about 5 minutes)

cream cheese cream cheese creamed

Add granulated sugar and combine on medium-high speed well until light and creamy

sugar and cream chs creamed

Beat in eggs, one at a time, on medium speed

add egg

Mix in flour on medium speed

add flour

Add your vanilla extract and salt and beat until your mixture is thick and creamy add vanilla extract

Now, separate 1/2 of the cheesecake filling and set aside in a separate bowl

Split the vanilla bean open with a sharp knife

vanilla bean 2

Scrape out the awesomeness of the vanilla bean with the back of the knife

vanilla bean 3

Add vanilla bean to the batter and stir

vanilla bean batter

Melt chocolate chips and butter in a small saucepan over low heat or in the microwave; mixture will get very thick chocolate and sugarmelted butter and sugar

Add chocolate to the filling still in the mixer and combine thoroughly

chocolate added

Pour chocolate batter over crust and bake for 15 minutes

chocolate layer

 chocolate layer baked

Remove from oven and pour remaining cheesecake filling on top vanilla bean batter

Bake for 33-38 minutes or until edges begin to separate from foil and middle bounces slightly when touched vanilla layer baked

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight

Remove cheesecake from pan and cut into small bars

cheesecake 8

Vanilla Bean and Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

Adapted from this recipe which was adapted from The Curvy Carrot

Makes 36 small bars

Ingredients:

Crust:

1 1/4 cups of Oreo cookie crumbs (about 17 cookies); I used reduced fat Oreos

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

Filling:

2 8-ounce packages light cream cheese softened at room temperature

1 3/4 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 vanilla bean (if leaving this out, replace with 1 tablespoon of additional vanilla extract)

Pinch of salt

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees

Line a 13×9 pan with tin foil and spray with cooking spray, set aside

To make the crust, grind up about 17 Oreos in a food processor until fine; set cookie crumbs aside

Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in the microwave and pour over cookie crumbs

Add 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar and mix until well combined

Press mixture into a 9×13 pan lined with tin foil and cooking spray; spread evenly using fingers to push down crust mixture and set aside

To make your cheesecake filling, beat cream cheese in mixer until light, creamy and lumps are gone (about 5 minutes)

Add granulated sugar and combine on medium-high speed well until light and creamy

Beat in eggs, one at a time, on medium speed

Mix in flour on medium speed

Add vanilla extract and salt and beat until mixture is thick and creamy

Now, separate 1/2 of the cheesecake filling and set aside in a separate bowl; add vanilla bean and stir

Melt chocolate chips and butter in a small saucepan over low heat or in the microwave; mixture will get very thick

Add chocolate to the filling still in the mixer and combine thoroughly

Pour chocolate batter over crust and bake for 15 minutes

Remove from oven and pour remaining cheesecake filling on top

Bake for 33-38 minutes or until edges begin to separate from foil and middle bounces slightly when touched

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight

Remove cheesecake from pan and cut into small bars

 Notes:

I used light cream cheese because I wanted a final product that wasn’t overly rich, but regular cream cheese would work as well

When cutting the bars, I recommend cleaning your knife with a paper towel between slices to keep from contaminating the layers with one another

cheesecake 11

Do you have any expensive ingredients that you can’t live without?

My First FAQ

It was fun seeing all of the questions you had!  I love that I write a blog that is primarily about dessert and I got several questions about my exercise;-)  Your questions are answered below and will be incorporated into the FAQ page when the blog “makeover” is complete!

What’s your favorite kind (brand) of chocolate to bake with?

I’d LOVE to name some really fancy chocolate, but right now I work with what is convenient or less expensive.  For the most part I use Nestle (I bought a massive bag at Costco), Baker’s (it is the most common baking chocolate I find) and sometimes Trader Joe’s brand.  I compared Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips to saco’s here, but still use Nestle since it is easier to find.

If I were to bake something for a really special occasion or if the results were highly dependent on the quality of chocolate, I’d probably splurge on a better quality (more expensive) chocolate.  If anyone wants to send me some fancy chocolate, I’d gladly accept it and let you know what I think:-)

Chocolate or vanilla?

Not even a question, it will always be chocolate.

OK, the million dollar question… tell me about your photography equipment and techniques. This is the question I ask every food blogger. Trying to improve my food photos this year and looking for all the tips I can get! Safe travels!

I am almost embarrassed to answer this since I am a long way away from having any photography skills.  That said, I currently use this point-and-shoot (hopefully getting ready to splurge on a DSLR).  I bought it for our honeymoon last year and it was perfect for that trip.

The best tips I have incorporated into my photography is 1) no flash and 2) as much natural light as possible.

What is your favorite meal thus far – or favorite pieces put together to make one meal?

This is the hardest question!  I am really indecisive and would probably give you a different answer tomorrow.  To make it a little easier, I think I’ll choose a “best day of eats” provided I had an incredible metabolism (P.S. this question made me so hungry):

Breakfast – New York bagel toasted with cream cheese (a LOT of cream cheese) with a cup of coffee (preferably eaten outside on a summer day)

Lunch- Greek salad with fresh feta cheese, fresh bread and hummus, grilled calamari

Snack- Peanut butter with berries and Greek yogurt, maybe a sprinkle of granola

Dinner- A salad with mixed greens, goat cheese, chopped dates and candied nuts with vinaigrette; fresh pasta, ideally in Italy, with clam sauce, oh and some really good wine

Dessert: Warm brownie sundae with chocolate and vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and peanut butter sauce topped with whipped cream, maybe some crunchy candy topping and caramelized bananas too

How do you have the will power not to eat everything you make????

I have to give things away or have them designated for something.  Otherwise, the baked goods haunt me and call my name at night.

I was really impressed with your healthy choices during your vegan challenge, and how often you work out. I was just wondering if you exercise every day and what kind. Since this blog is dedicated to desserts, you probably have as big a sweet tooth as me and I wonder if you binge on them as much as I do. They are my kryptonite and I find it very difficult to maintain or lose weight because of it.

Thank you!  I have to say that posting food what I ate for one week was a little scary, I don’t know how people do that all the time.  If you saw a bigger snapshot of my eats, it would probably be a bit embarrassing.  I am constantly struggling with limiting my dessert intake.  One of my goals is to be able to eat a cookie and move on lol.  Unfortunately, I get easily addicted to sugar and as a result, TRY to limit the more indulgent desserts to once a week.  Usually on a weeknight I’ll have something like a chocolate Vitatop or Skinny Cow ice cream cup to appease my sweet tooth.

I aim to workout 4-6 days a week.  It doesn’t always happen, but for the most part I’m consistent with that rate.  I go in cardio phases between the elliptical and running, right now I’m trying to get back into running.  I also like to do a circuit workout with resistance training twice a week.

What does your workout regimen consist of? It seems like you workout every morning…and with that in mind, what time do you wake up every day?

See the specifics above.  On week days, I get up around 5:45/6am to workout.  I hate getting up so early, but I could never workout at night.

I want to know if you taste the batter as you are making these most delicious treats? I know I could not resist.

It depends.  I usually taste the batter at least for quality control.  There are definitely days where go a little bit overboard with that quality control.

When and why did you go Vegan?

You can see the details of my Vegan Challenge here.  It was a week-long challenge and a great learning experience.  I definitely don’t plan on going Vegan, but I may try doing it intermittently to keep an eye on what I am putting into my body.

What is your favorite way to spend time?

I love nights just relaxing at home with my husband and sometimes friends drinking wine and hanging out, maybe playing fun board games. 

Obviously I love to bake whenever I have time and love baking with my mom. 

Oh, and in the summer, my ideal morning would be spent outside reading a book and drinking iced coffee.

Wondering where that photo was taken of you and the lobster? I have a very similar one at Jasper White’s Summer Shack in Boston. We always eat there when we’re in Boston visiting our son.

That picture was from our friends’ rehearsal dinner in Boston.  They had a Lobster Bake and brought in everything from clam chowder, to mussels to corn-on-the-cob.

What would be your ideal meal? Do you have a hard time answering that question too?

Regular blogging will be back soon with this:-)

cheesecake 17

Last weekend, the Husband and I went to Boston for a short trip to visit our foodie friends/newlyweds, Jon and Ali.  Given that they love food as much as we do, most of the weekend’s itinerary revolved around eating!  We had brunch at The Friendly Toast, tasted beers at Harpoon Brewery, dinner at B&G Oysters,  and another brunch at Buttery.  Our friends treated us well!  Last but not least, we were able to pick up lunch for the bus ride home at Flour.

I’ve been hearing about Flour throughout the blog world forever.  The bakery was made famous nationally by the wonderful pastry chef, Joanne Chang(Sidenote: I didn’t know until just now that Joanne was an Applied/Math and Econ major at Harvard.  Incredible!) Anyway, I’m so glad we got a chance to check it out.  Matt picked up a sandwich and jelly-filled donut that looked delicious.  You could see the high quality of jelly when he bit into it.  I got a salad that was really only a way for me to justify dessert;-) cupcake 6

There were so many delicious looking desserts to choose from, especially the cookies and brownies.  However, when I spotted the giant Low Fat Vegan Chocolate Cupcake, I was really curious.  I was no longer on my Vegan Challenge, but I figured if they were selling a vegan cupcake, it had to be good.  The cupcake wasn’t good.  It was delicious.  It was moist and chocolaty and it was all I could do not devour it in 3 seconds flat.  I’m not saying it was good for a vegan cupcake, it was good for any cupcake.  Moist chocolate cupcakes are hard to come by and this one had me at first bite.

Okay, so in my excitement over the cupcake, I forgot to take a picture.  Luckily, I had fallen so in love with it that I immediately went on a hunt to find the recipe.  Much to my delight it exists here.  As soon as I got a chance to pick up all of the necessary ingredients, the cupcakes were in the oven.  That is barely an exaggeration because this is one of the easiest recipes I’ve made in a while!  No fancy equipment needed.

key ingredients

I was excited for my first time using the VALRHONA cocoa my parents brought back from Belgium.   The good quality cocoa powder has a richness to it that you can’t get from your average cocoa.  Additionally, I picked up molasses, which I’ve actually never used before.  It smelled a little funny (I expected a syrup aroma) but it seemed to work out okay! Espresso powder is also often used in chocolate baked goods to add a richness to the flavor.  I picked up some of that as well.

To get started, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees and line 18 regular sized muffin tins with cupcake liners.  How cute are these Valentine’s Day liners?

cupcake holders

Whisk together your dry ingredients: flour, granulated sugar, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda and salt

dry ingred 1

Add the chocolate chips and whisk them into the mixture

dry ingred 2

Set aside

dry ingred 3

Whisk together all wet ingredients: water, oil, molasses, and vanilla

wet ingred 1

The mix will look a little like balsamic vinaigrette, don’t be alarmed

wet ingred 2

Then stir the wet ingredients into the dry, do not overmix

scooping batter

Use an ice cream scoop to fill cupcake liners about halfway (about 1/3 cup of batter per cup)

batter in cups

Bake cupcakes for 8-12 minutes or until a knife comes out clean; allow to cool on a cooling rack

baked

Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar before serving

cupcake 7

Low Fat Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

Recipe from V02, created by Joanne Chang

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup cocoa powder (I used about a tablespoon less since the VALRHONA is so rich)

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (finely ground espresso beans)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (dairy-free for vegan)

1 cup cold water

1/4 cup oil canola

2 tablespoons molasses

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and line 18 regular sized muffin tins with cupcake liners

Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, granulated sugar, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda and salt

Add the chocolate chips and whisk them into the mixture; set aside

Whisk together all wet ingredients: water, oil, molasses, and vanilla

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry, do not overmix

Use an ice cream scoop to fill cupcake liners about halfway (about 1/3 cup of batter per cup)

Bake cupcakes for 8-12 minutes or until a knife comes out clean (do not overbake); allow to cool on a cooling rack

Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar before serving

Notes:

Do not leave out the chocolate chips, they add a lot in terms of texture and flavor

While these weren’t quite as delicious as the bakery’s cupcakes, they were still very tasty.  I overbaked mine probably by a minute or two (12 minutes total) and I think that made a big difference

Each cupcake comes out to 4 Weight Watchers Points+

cupcake 2

Have you eaten your way through a city lately?

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