Kitchen Experiments: Baked Cinnamon Apple Chips

So far, I’ve been all about apples this fall. Besides the two awesome recipes I’ve posted thus far, this one is a favorite: the simple and delicious baked apple chip.

It all started years ago, when I bought a bag of apple chips that brought like, three in the bag. I loved them but was outraged by the fact that the bag was practically empty. As usual, I uttered an “I can probably make this myself but way better” and started planning. After I figured it out, I made so many and so often, I got sick of them. It’s been quite a minute but I decided to bring them back; for old time’s sake.

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For apple chips, you don’t need many tools and they aren’t as fancy as you may think. First, you need your apples (obviously), a cutting board, and knife. You can use any apple you’d like but I’m very partial to the Granny Smith. For you lucky ducks who have a full sized mandoline, you can skip this step. I cut them so it’s easier for me to core and slice but if you have an apple corer, this is the time to use it. For those like me who don’t have a full sized mandoline, it’s time to cut the apples. I like quartering them to remove the core. That, and a quartered apple is easier to slice once cored.

Now that the apple is quartered, let’s core. Place an apple quarter on one of its flat sides. Introduce the knife to the apple at an angle (like maybe 45 degrees?) and slice out the core. Sounds weird to explain it like this, so I hope the pictures helped! Once that’s done, we can move on to slicing.

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At this point, if you’ve got the knife skillz, you can do it by hand. I do not, so I use a hand mandoline. I call it the ‘handoline.’ Catchy, right? I love slicing with it because I get kind of uniform slices every time. I say ‘kind of’ because depending on the amount of force used when slicing, the end product can end up either too thick or thin. Speaking of which, if free handing, make sure they’re all about the same thickness. This is crucial to the apple chip’s chippyness. And for safety’s sake, use the hand guard. Yeah, I know I’m not using mine but do as I say and not as I do. SAFETY FIRST.

Now that all the apples are sliced, let’s talk toppings. If you’re a purist, you can lay them out on the baking sheet and bake them as is. I’m not, so I like topping mine with cinnamon sugar. I use about two tablespoons of sugar to 1/2-1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon per apple. The amount of cinnamon varies, depending on how festive I’m feeling. You can pretty much go either way here, and top them however you like. Toss the slices in the sugar and cinnamon, making sure they’re all somewhat coated. On prepped baking sheets (prepped = lined with parchment), lay out your slices carefully. Make sure they’re as close as possible without touching. This isn’t one of those recipes where you can get away with throwing everything on the pan all haphazardly. Take the time to line them up.

At this point, you should’ve had your oven preheating before you even started. For those keeping score, it’s at a whopping 250 degrees fahrenheit. I know what you’re thinking; “does my oven even go that low?” Yes it does! Believe me, I thought mine didn’t either. Now, place your apple soldiers into the oven and bake for AN HOUR AND A HALF. Why so long? Well, apple chips get their chipyness from being dehydrated in the oven. The low temperature and long bake time makes it so the dehydration is done carefully and evenly, so the apples hold their shape and are crisp when done. You really can’t crank the oven up with shorter times to speed up the process. It won’t work, and your apples will burn. Patience, grasshopper. You shall be rewarded.

Midway through baking, flip the slices over and rotate the pans in the oven. Also, watch the apples as they can burn if you don’t. Believe me, I know. After that painstaking hour and a half is over, it’s time for the slices to cool. This is also crucial because out of the oven, the slices are still floppy and not very chippy. We don’t want that. Let them sit on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes, and watch your previously floppy apple crisp with delight. The apples turn into chips that still taste very much like apples, with a slight sweetness from the sugar and a hint of spiciness from the cinnamon. They are extremely addicting, so make a lot!

Coolin' chips

Coolin’ chips

I’m glad I brought these back from the mental grave I dug them into. It reminded me of why I started making them (and also why I stopped). I can’t hate them though; they are the perfect snack.

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Baked Cinnamon Apple Chips

Makes about four cups

  • 2 large apples (I love using Granny Smith)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 250F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. On a cutting board, quarter and core the apples. If you have a full sized mandoline, feel free to core the apples (with a corer) before slicing. Or, you can slice them without coring.
  3. Once quartered and cored, begin slicing the apples. You may do so with a knife or with a hand mandoline (handoline!).
  4. Place the apple slices in a large bowl and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar. Gently toss the apples to evenly coat. Carefully place the apple slices on the prepped baking sheets as close as possible without touching.
  5. Bake the apple slices for an hour and a half, flipping the slices over and rotating the pans halfway through baking. The apples are done when they look a little wrinkly and are dry to the touch.
  6. Cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes before devouring. Any leftovers keep well in an airtight container for a couple of days.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Please watch them while they bake! Multitasking while baking this batch caused me to burn half. Again, do as I say…
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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola

I left you guys with an amazing granola bar recipe a couple weeks ago, and am back with another. This one isn’t for bars, though but is equally as delicious.

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The same week I posted about these bars, Dana from Minimalist Baker, posted this super simple recipe for granola. If you don’t know who Dana (or her husband John) is or what Minimalist Baker is about, check out their blog right here. I love receiving their emails about new recipes because as the blog title says; their recipes are minimalistic and delicious with little to no effort, and there are no laundry list of ingredients. They keep it simple, straightforward and their pictures are mouthwateringly beautiful. I knew that when I saw this recipe in my inbox, despite the fact that I had just posted granola bars, I had to make it. It was like fate or something. Either way, I got it done.

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Dana’s recipe is already as simple as it gets in terms of ingredients and process. The recipe as is happens to be vegan, which is awesome already, and can even be gluten free. I am neither of those things, so the only non-vegan ingredients in mine was dark brown sugar and real chocolate chips. Another thing I love about this recipe is that you aren’t limited to using the mix-ins listed. I don’t know if Dana intended to make this recipe customizable but I can already think up several variations that would be awesome with this same formula. What I’m trying to say is that this won’t be the last time you’ll see granola on this blog!

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I love putting my granola on Greek yogurt but this stuff is good on its own, in a bowl with milk, or maybe even atop a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s crunchy and super peanut buttery. The coconut oil in there adds an extra hint of nuttiness; which was already there from the toasty and golden brown oats. It’s not super sweet, so it doesn’t overwhelm the palate. And the chocolate chips are a nice unexpected explosion of creaminess with each bite.

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I’ve been piling it on my yogurt since I made it, and am secretly hoping the stash is never ending. At least I have an idea of flavor combos to make next!

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola – barely adapted from Minimalist Baker

Serves 10 (ahem, if you’re lucky)

  • 3 cups + 2 Tbsp rolled oats
  • 2 Tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup creamy natural salted peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar
  • Pinch of salt (optional)
  • 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 340F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the oats and the brown sugar together. Set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine the melted coconut oil, peanut butter, agave, and the salt (if adding) over low heat. Stir until just melted and combined.
  4. Pour the peanut butter mix over the oats and quickly stir to incorporate. Make sure all the oats are moistened. Spread oat mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Evenly distribute the oats on the pan, and bake for 18-22 minutes or until golden brown. Stir once after the first 15 minutes, and stand by to make sure it doesn’t burn!
  5. Remove from the oven and toss to release the heat. Cool completely on the pan.
  6. Either on the pan, in a large bowl, or directly in your storage container of choice, add the chocolate chips and stir. Enjoy your super easy and delicious granola any way you please! Keeps fresh for up to two weeks. Freeze after that.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Measure the coconut oil in your measuring cup before the peanut butter. That way, your measuring cup is already greased which will make the peanut butter easier to pour out of the cup!
  • I added a pinch of salt into the mix for funsies but feel free to omit it. 
  • Make sure the granola is completely cool before adding the chips!

Granola Bars

Granola bars, to me, are the perfect snack. Granted, I wouldn’t eat them alone as a snack but they go so well with a piece of fruit or alongside a sandwich for a quick lunch. When I started college, I made sure I always had something on me and granola bars were my go-to. I had my first energy cereal bar from the school store one day in class. I’ll never forget that because it was a bit of an experience. I sound like a crazy person even saying that I had an ~experience~ with a granola bar but entertain me for a minute. I never had one of those before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I even remember the flavor; chocolate brownie. For comparison’s sake, I imagined that it was supposed to taste like a brownie so that’s what I used to figure out if it was tasty or not. I loved it. It had all my favorite things; chocolate, oats, and sugar so what’s not to love? I went back to my school store several times after that to try the rest of the flavors. I even looked up their website to see what else they had to offer and went on the hunt for all the flavors at different stores.

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Now, I don’t think I’ve met a bar I didn’t like because I think I’ve tried all of the different brands and kinds of bars out there. Every single one that I’d come across, I’d look for them in stores and try them. Honestly, I still do that. I love trying different things like that, just to see what all the hype is about. Anything from cereal bars, meal replacement bars, and even protein bars have gone across my lips. The best part about trying all these bars, aside from the variety, was their portability. I needed to have one in my bag at all times in order to stop any impending hunger signs on the spot, even after graduation.

These days, I still carry some sort of bar in my bag; along with a giant bottle of water and maybe even an apple. I even buy my favorites in mass quantities so I have something to snack on while at work. However, since my folks are away and my stash is quickly depleting, I decided to make my own.

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Now, these were a long time coming. Even before I bought my last box of bars, I had been thinking about making my own. The only thing stopping me was that I couldn’t decide what to put in them! See, granola bars are a grab bag of stuff. Besides the required oats and nuts, it’s basically a free for all. I took what I had in my cupboard and went to town. These aren’t inherently healthy but I like to think that because they’re homemade, it cancels out. I tried my best to keep it sorta healthy but that factor is up to the eater to decide. I put all my favorites in here; oats (which are a given and required), raisins, cinnamon, chocolate chips, peanut butter, and nuts. I kind of cheated with the nuts because all I had were some nut clusters, which I chopped up and threw into the mix. Then I switched the butter for some melted coconut oil; one of the trendy fats that are really good for your body on the inside and outside. I also used agave; a sweeter and less viscous alternative to honey. And just for funsies, I used half brown and half white sugar.

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I wasn’t expecting these bars to be this delicious, in all honesty. Reminiscent of these things but baked and better! Mine got nice and toasty in the oven, which added some crunch and a touch of extra nuttiness. Swapping the butter for the coconut oil was genius too because there was just a slight coconut-y taste; it made me wish I had shredded coconut to add to it! The raisins added some much needed fruitiness and chew, while the nuts added another element of crunch, and the chocolate chips just added chocolate. After trying the first bite, I couldn’t stop thinking about other flavors and mix ins I could shake up this recipe with! They are seriously one of the best homemade bars I’ve had (and made), and I can’t wait to take them everywhere with me.

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Granola Bars – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • 1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup oat flour made from 1/3 cup finely ground rolled oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups combines of dried fruits, nuts, and chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup natural, smooth and unsalted peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup agave
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon water

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan, or coat with a non-stick spray.
  • Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, vanilla, melted oil, liquid sweeteners, and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry until the mixture is evenly moistened and crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing them in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan.
  • Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges. Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack. Once cool, use a serrated knife,  bench knife, or really sharp chef’s knife to cut the bars into squares or bars. To store, wrap the bars individually in plastic or stack them in an airtight container.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Word to the wise, the bars get stiff in the fridge and may be hard to eat. If you have time, let them sit out for 10 minutes or so before eating.

Coconut Lime Scones

Summer has entered the building. I don’t know, I feel like we skipped a season. Spring was barely here, with all these weird cold fronts that happened when we were supposed to have cool weather. It’s like it went from winter to summer without any notice! While I can’t get spring back, might as well revel in the summer.

To me, summer equals refreshment. Not so much with the weather but with food. It’s the best time to enjoy seasonal offerings like fresh fruits and vegetables when they’re in their prime. While I patiently wait for my seasonal farmer’s market to come back for the season, I thought about making some scones.

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Normal people usually avoid turning on their ovens during the summer. I am (apparently) not normal. I love scones, and more in the summer. I got my first taste of scones at my local farmer’s market. One of the little booths is from a bakery, and they have a ton of freshly baked goods. Anything from fresh bread, muffins, and cookies, to fresh honey and jam. My sister and I used to get their giant peanut butter cookies, courtesy of my mom when she used to do the shopping. When my sister and I started going, we decided to try all the other things up for sale.

One of the first things we tried were her pumpkin scones. They were moist, flaky, and warm. It was weird having a fall offering in the middle of a sweltering July but it was so good! It had that essential scone taste. It’s weird to describe but good scones have this like, signature taste. It’s the one thing that identifies a good scone from a biscuit (because you knew scones and biscuits were related, right?) I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out what the hell was the product of that ~taste~ and realized the common denominators in scone recipes: cream and butter.

The key to scones (and biscuits) is cold cream and butter. Super simple and super essential. Both of these fats need to be cold when incorporating because they’ll help create those flaky and delicious layers found in scones (and biscuits). Once I figured that out, I thought about what different kinds of flavors I can stuff in a basic recipe. Like a sign from the food blogger heavens, Deb (from Smitten Kitchen) posted this the other day. And just like that, I was making coconut lime scones.

Coconut and lime go SO WELL together. Like, you have no idea. Bonus if the coconut is toasted. Now, think about those flavors; enveloped in a neat package filled with butter and heavy cream, and iced with a coconut lime glaze. Close your eyes and imagine the flaky and buttery layers, hiding a tropical paradise in every bite. Can you taste the vacation in your mouth? Because that was me with these scones. The tart and nutty flavors of this scone made up for the fact that I actually had to turn on my oven to make them. While they may work better with a cup of coffee or something, I would not have minded a lovely cocktail to go with them (piña colada anyone?) I totally won’t judge you if you do 😉

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Coconut Lime Scones – adapted from King Arthur Flour

Makes about 16 scones

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter
  • 2 cups shredded sweetened coconut, toasted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons lime zest
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup cold heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter just until the mixture is unevenly crumbly; it’s OK for some larger chunks of butter to remain unincorporated. Stir in the cooled toasted coconut.
  2. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, lime zest and juice, vanilla, and cream. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until all is moistened and holds together.
  3. Using a muffin scoop or a large spoon, scoop mounds of dough onto the prepped baking sheets. Bake the scones 25-30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove them from the oven and let them sit for 4 to 5 minutes to firm before removing them from the pan. Glaze, if desired, once completely cooled.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Freeze the stick of butter for a couple hours and shred it into the dry ingredients. Super nifty tip that helps keep the butter super cold and requires less handiwork. 
  • For the glaze, I mixed about 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, freshly squeezed lime juice, a touch of heavy cream, about 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract and three drops of coconut extract. It made enough to glaze about six scones. 
  • If the dough seems too wet or soft, freeze the scooped scones for about 10 minutes before baking; helps them keep their composure and aids in making them super flaky. 

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Oatmeal raisin cookies are my #1 favorite cookie. I’m talking about homemade cookies, because if this were the store bought category, Oreos will forever remain #1. Overall, they’re both tied. To me, oatmeal raisin cookies are superior to chocolate chip or sugar. There’s just no way any other cookie is better. I know there are thousands of people who disagree but I will fight to the death for oatmeal raisin cookies. I think the best thing I’ve heard from an oatmeal raisin cookie hater is that they suck because the raisins are and taste like deception; they apparently could’ve been chocolate chips.

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Oatmeal raisin cookies: deceptively delicious

I honestly don’t understand the hate or why they’re compared to chocolate chip cookies. They’re both awesome in their own right but oatmeal raisin cookies are just better. I mean, think about it. An oatmeal raisin cookie could be excused for breakfast. How many people can say they have chocolate chip cookies for breakfast? None. You say you had an oatmeal raisin cookie and people will only half-heartedly disapprove.

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Like, just look at an oatmeal raisin cookie. There’s tons of oats in there, which are whole grains with tons of fiber to help keep you full for a while (ahem, if you eat enough of them). Then there’s the raisins; not only delicious but could also count as a fruit serving (or at least part of one). And the cinnamon in there? Helps speed up your metabolism (don’t quote me on that). Look, I’m not saying that it’s a complete breakfast but they definitely have the potential to be.

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Besides the main ingredients, an underlying characteristic of an oatmeal raisin cookie is its soft and chewy texture. Do not come to me with crunchy oatmeal cookies. I’d probably still eat it but I wouldn’t enjoy it too much. Oatmeal cookies of any kind should be soft, tender, and chewy. The oats have a lot to do with this, but I think it’s all the awesome brown sugar and the tiny bit of flour in there. The key to these cookies’ thick and chewiness is actually a trip to the fridge. Deb (the genius behind this recipe) says that chilling the dough for a bit before baking helps the cookies keep their composure during baking; allowing them to stay tall, thick, and chewy. This is important because it helps firm up the butter in the cookie, meaning they won’t spread out like crazy on the cookie sheet.

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I think my opinion is obviously biased but these cookies are several kinds of awesome. They were nice and thick, with the slightest crunch on the crust. Underneath that layer is the chewy haven that can only be found in oatmeal raisin cookies. The raisins add to that chew, lending their deep and fruity flavor. The hint of cinnamon rounds out the chew with a smidgen of warmth and then BAM, you just had the best oatmeal raisin cookie you’ve ever baked. So good, you’ll want another. SO GOOD, you’ll want to eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Go ahead, I won’t judge. They’re almost a complete breakfast anyway.

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Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 23 cookies, 1 3/8″ in diameter

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup raisins

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar for about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla and the egg, mixing until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until combined. Stir in the oats and then the raisins.
  2. Chill the dough for at least 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a cookie scoop or a tablespoon, scoop out balls of dough onto the prepped sheets and place at least two inches apart. Bake for 10-14 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Cooking times vary depending on how cold the dough is. Let cookies cool on the sheets for a couple of minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I added whole wheat flour and more cinnamon than the recipe called for. Feel free to reduce the cinnamon and use all AP flour
  • I like tossing the raisins in a bit of the flour before mixing them in, so that they won’t sink. Not sure if that happens in cookies but I do it anyway (really good to do for cakes and such for raisins and other heavy stir ins)
  • Deb has cookie dough freezing instructions in her original post, check that out if you’re interested
  • She also likes adding chocolate chips (gasp!) and nuts to her oatmeal raisin cookies. Add at your own discretion 

Baked Mini Doughnuts

Doughnuts have been on my to-make list for what feels like an eternity. It’s one of those simple desserts that seems approachable but is really elusive; at least to me. Doughnuts (or donuts) are really flippin’ delicious. My favorite is probably jelly because hello, raspberry filling plus granulated sugar on a puff of fried dough is just perfection. Of course, I’m talking about Dunkin’ Donuts. The words “perfection” and “Dunkin'” don’t really belong in the same sentence (or even alluded to it), but I digress. What makes doughnuts delicious is that it’s fried dough, and therein lies my first roadblock.

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I don’t really have a problem with fried food. Some of my favorite foods are fried (ahem, fries) but there’s just something about boiling something in scorching hot oil that turns me off. Essentially, I have a fear of frying. Hot oil is kind of scary. Not only that but if you don’t have the proper equipment and environment, deep frying is a recipe for disaster. As much as I wanted to try frying, I didn’t want to risk it at the expense of our tiny kitchen/apartment. The obvious alternative is to bake them.

I don’t know about you guys but baked doughnuts are somewhat of a copout. Especially those made in donut pans. I still think it’s ridiculous to have a specialty pan for these sort of things, like those whoopie pie pans that now exist for some reason. I can’t justify a donut pan purchase, despite the fact that I really want a pair. Doughnuts made in those contraptions are like a donut shaped cupcake/muffin; it’s just not the same.

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That’s why I smiled like an idiot when this recipe graced my inbox a couple weeks ago. I read the recipe and it seemed easy enough to pull off in an afternoon, and had potential to be delicious. I was also happy about the presence of yeast in the ingredients. Doughnuts usually take yeast, so I had a feeling these were gonna be for real.

I’m no stranger to yeasted dough, considering I get down and dirty with a bowl of dough at least once a week. However, I was NOT expecting this dough to be that sticky. I had several mishaps (surprise surprise) while forming the dough into doughnuts. It was ridiculously soft and sticky, and I couldn’t lift the circles off my mat. It was a messy situation, hence why I don’t have any pictures of the process. I ended up adding quite a bit of flour and kneading the dough a bit, until it was slightly less sticky and easier to handle. I punched out my doughnuts using the same method from the Samoa recipe; a biscuit cutter and a milk cap.

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They came out looking like real little doughnuts! I even baked the doughnut holes, instead of re-rolling them into more doughnuts. In the end, I got 28 doughnuts and 32 donut holes. I was psyched about my sudden abundance of doughy rings, that I planned several different toppings. For the doughnut holes (and like, three doughnuts), I tossed them while warm in some melted butter and then in cinnamon sugar. The majority of the donuts were dunked in a simple vanilla glaze and then covered in toasted sweetened coconut. The other stragglers were either dunked in the same vanilla glaze or in some melted semisweet chocolate and topped with sprinkles.

On their own, these doughnuts aren’t anything to write home about. The dough is kind of bland and depends on the topping for any actual flavor. Despite this, the hint of cinnamon in the dough leaves you begging for more, and worked well with all of the toppings I used. I think that for next time, I will probably add a bit more flour to the dough, along with about a 1/3 cup of sugar and possibly an extra yolk. I’d also proof them after cutting them out into doughnuts.

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Overall, this was a great starter doughnut experience. I loved how the dough let the toppings shine but still brought its own subtle flavor to the mix. While I’m not ready to fry or cave and get those doughnut pans, these little rings, along with some tinkering will do just fine.

Mini Baked Doughnuts – adapted from PureWow

Makes about 2 dozen; depending on the size of your cutter

  • ¾ cup milk
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 1½ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Directions:

  1. In a small pot over medium to low hear, warm the milk, water and butter until slightly warm to the touch (about 95° to 100°). Whisk in the egg.

  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, or using a large bowl and a wooden spoon, mix the flour with the salt and cinnamon.

  3. Add the yeast and the milk mixture and mix on low speed, or by hand until the dough begins to come together; 3 to 4 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and continue to mix until the dough is smooth (it will be pretty sticky), 5 minutes more. If mixing by hand, this may take an extra 5 minutes.

  4. Transfer the dough to a large bowl lightly greased with nonstick spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until double in size, about 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350° and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

  5. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a ½-inch-thick rectangle. Using a small round cookie cutter or the rim of a small glass, cut out circles of dough. Use a smaller cookie cutter or glass to cut another hole in the center of each circle. Dip your cutters/glasses into some flour between cuts, to prevent sticking.

  6. Transfer the doughnuts to the prepared baking sheet. Brush lightly with melted butter and bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Cinnamon Sugar Topping

  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar

Directions:

  1. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a medium sized bowl.
  2. While the doughnuts are still warm, dunk them in melted butter and then toss in the cinnamon sugar. Take care not to do too many at the same time; the butter will moisten the sugar and it’ll get all clumpy and will not want to adhere to the doughnut.

Chocolate Glaze – adapted from allrecipes

  • 1/2 cup of unsalted butter
  • 10 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped

Directions:

  1. Combine the chopped chocolate with the butter in a heatproof bowl. Set over a small pot with some simmering water and melt gently. Stir frequently until melted. Remove from heat and use immediately.

Vanilla Glaze

  • 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2-6 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Sift the powdered sugar into a medium sized bowl. Whisk in the milk gradually, by the tablespoon, until it reaches your desired consistency. Stir in the vanilla extract, and use immediately.

 

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Echoing what I said above, I’d add about 1/3 cup of sugar, an egg yolk, and maybe 1/2 cup of flour to the dough next time. I’d also proof the doughnuts a second time after cutting out the shapes.
  • The recipe calls for whole milk but I used soy milk just fine.
  • For the vanilla glaze, it isn’t necessary to use all the milk; just keep adding until the glaze reaches your desired thickness.
  • For the chocolate glaze, try not to get any water into the chocolate; it’ll seize and reach the point of no return. 

 

Kitchen Experiments: Meringues

Meringues have always been one of my favorite mystery kitchen experiments. I never really understood how or what was required to make these yummy things, or how simple it actually is. My first tastes of meringue were courtesy of traditional Dominican desserts. Our birthday cakes are covered in meringue frosting, similar to seven minute icing. It is soft, fluffy, super sweet and resembles marshmallow fluff. When the cake is left out for a couple hours, the frosting begins to harden and form a bit of a crunchy shell. The longer it sat out, the crunchier it’d get. The thick layer of frosting helps preserve the cake layers underneath; keeping the cake relatively moist. As an adult, it’s still my favorite part of Dominican cakes. Sometimes, I collect my parents’ and sister’s leftover frosting off their pieces of cake and refrigerate it for a couple days so some of it would harden; giving me a mix of soft, fluffy frosting with tons of crunchy bits.

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These days, the only way I can get my meringue fix is if I make them myself. This was definitely a kitchen experiment to me. I’ve played around with meringue several times before but never made the actual meringue cookie. For this batch, I used Food52’s non-recipe to make my meringues. I had one egg white sitting around my fridge that needed to be made into something. This non-recipe uses ratios to figure out how much of each ingredient is needed to make consistent meringue cookies, depending on how many whites you have.

The ratios are: 1 part egg whites: 2 parts sugar: .5 parts (in tsps) cream of tartar

My amounts were:  1/4 cup of egg whites (from two whites): 1/2 cup sugar: 1/8 tsp cream of tartar.

Sounds simple and straightforward, right? Well, the difficulties (if any) lie in the method. The egg whites must be room temperature before whipping to soft peaks. Before you even do that, you have to make sure your bowl and beaters are completely grease free. Feeling skeptical? Wipe your tools down with a small amount of lemon juice before whipping.

Before beginning, preheat your oven to 225F, and arrange your oven racks in either the lower and upper thirds of the oven or place one rack in the center. Low temperatures are crucial for meringues; don’t try to hike it up so they’ll be done quicker. Your patience will be rewarded.

Pour your whites in your grease free bowl with the cream of tartar and whip away with your beaters. You’ll notice how bubbly the mixture gets as you whip. For this method, the whites need to be whipped to soft peaks. What does this mean? A soft peak means that when held up, the whites can’t hold the peak. Turn off your beaters and dip them straight down into the bowl. Lift them up and turn the beaters over. The egg whites on the tip of the beaters should be soft, airy, and begin to lose their form the longer you have the beaters facing up.

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Soft, bubbly peaks

At this stage, we’re ready to gradually add the sugar. Start by adding in the sugar, while beating, by the tablespoon. Incorporate the sugar for about 10 seconds before adding another tablespoon. Keep going until all the sugar is completely incorporated. Turn your beaters on high and beat the whites into submission. The whites will have turned into meringue, thanks to the addition of the sugar. You’ll notice the mixture is now glossy, thick and slightly heavy. Continue beating until you have stiff peaks; meaning the meringue holds the peak when held up.

After you’ve reached this point, add your flavorings. I added about 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract to this batch but the sky’s the limit. You can add zest to make lemon, lime, or orange meringues. Mint, almond, or coconut extracts to make flavored meringues. You can also add melted semisweet chocolate to make chocolate meringues! The options are endless.

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Now that you have your meringue, it’s time to portion them out on a lined baking sheet. You can portion out your cookies with two spoons, a piping bag, or attempt to use a disher, like I did. It went pretty well but after a few cookies, the meringue didn’t want to come out of the disher.  I coaxed them out of the disher with a spatula and continued to portion them out. I topped mine with some sprinkles but it’s totally optional.

Once all portioned out, place your baking sheet in the preheated oven for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Yes, you read that right. This is by far, the hardest part of the recipe. I know it’s such a LONG TIME but the wait is worth it. The oven’s low temperature gently coaxes out the meringues’ moisture, leaving a crunchy, melt in your mouth cookie.

You’ll notice that the finished meringues’ shine has dulled and that they are super light in weight. That dull exterior is hiding a crunchy and sweet interior that tastes like vanilla flavored air. Weird description but I feel like meringues are what marshmallows would be if they ever got completely hard.

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Now that I know how easy it is to make these, my favorite cookies won’t be out of reach anymore. I can now experiment with different flavors and make as many or as little as I want!

Meringues Without A Recipe – adapted from Food52

Makes approximately 19 meringues

  • 1/4 cup of egg whites (from two whites), room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 225F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place your oven racks in either the lower or upper thirds of the oven (for multiple sheets) or in the center of the oven (for one sheet).
  2. In a dry, clean, medium sized mixing bowl, beat the whites and cream of tartar with an electric mixer until foamy and can form soft peaks.
  3. Gradually add the sugar, by the tablespoon, waiting about 10 seconds before adding another spoonful. Continue beating until all the sugar has been incorporated and the whites are stiff and glossy.
  4. Add the vanilla (or other flavorings) and beat to incorporate. Drop the meringues onto the prepared sheet either with a piping bag, a set of spoons, or a disher.
  5. Bake your meringues for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, rotating the pan(s) halfway through baking.
  6. Turn the oven off and cool the meringues inside the oven until completely cool. Meringues should come off the parchment cleanly. Place in an airtight container to prevent softening.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Egg whites are best separated cold but whip better when warm. Separate your eggs straight out of the fridge but leave them on the counter for an hour or so, until it’s room temp. In a hurry? Place your cold whites in an airtight container and sit the container in a bowl with warm water. Swirl the container in the water for a couple minutes or until the whites no longer feel cold. 

 

Brownies

Brownies are one of my favorite chocolate desserts. We go way back, but they have been forgotten recently as my sister and I have been on a blondie kick for the past couple of years. Yes, it has been years since I made a batch of brownies! Crazy, but true. When my sister and I were teenagers, we’d make brownies regularly. So much so, we knew the recipe by heart. There was always a box of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate in my pantry, ready for when the craving would strike. Contrary to what I might’ve stated in the carrot cake post, brownies were really one of the first things I learned to bake on my own. The carrot cake was just a resurrection of my inner baker years later.

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Back in the day, we had a family PC. It was supposedly for the family but really, it was just for me and my sister as we were the only ones who even knew how to use a computer. We still have one but laptops rule the house now. The PC came with a small binder of CD-ROMs that included a variety of programs; one of which was a virtual cookbook. Mind you, this was before I realized that the internet had food related websites, so I stuck to this CD-ROM dearly. It was called MasterCook 5, and it was no doubt my favorite CD to use on the computer. I’d sit there and flip through the various recipes, looking for ones with pictures and video demos. The very first dessert I made by myself was from that CD, but that’s another story for another post ;).

Anyway, the brownies were an instant fave between my sister and I. We were the only ones who ate anything chocolate in our house (still are, actually), so whenever we made these, it was just for the both of us. We’d eat them piping hot out of the oven with spoons, or room temperature and cut into squares. It was our everything.

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Over the years, we stopped baking brownies and at one point, I stopped baking period. These days, that isn’t the case but I had yet to bring back my sister and mine’s first love. When I mentioned brownies to my sister, she instantly agreed and had about as much excitement as she did back in those days. As soon as the chocolate started melting over the double boiler, I got smacked with nostalgia. It took me right back and just overwhelmed me with excitement, too.

Now, these aren’t the exact brownies my sister and I used to make but they are pretty darn close. Deb came to my rescue, again, with her brilliant recipe. This one bowl wonder uses semisweet chocolate, giving these brownies a mellow chocolate taste.  They are low on flour and sugar, which produces a dense and slightly squishy brownie. I swear, I was transported to my teenage years after taking the first bite. They were chewy, fudgey and moderately sweet. It was definitely chocolatey but not overwhelmingly so. The top was crackly and slightly crunchy; adding that little bit of texture to an otherwise soft but dense brownie. These babies were a delicious hit with everyone we shared them with; raving that they were “the best” brownie they’d ever had.  Even the non-chocolate lovers thought they were amazing! I am so happy I decided to revive my love for brownies, and for the trip down memory lane. I’m sure these will become a regular occurrence, like they used to be.

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Brownies – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes one 8×8″ pan; cut into 16 2″ squares

  • 3 ounces (85 grams) semisweet chunks
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing pan
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment, extending it up two sides, or foil. Butter the parchment or foil or spray it with a nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a medium heatproof bowl over gently simmering water, melt chocolate and butter together until only a couple unmelted bits remain. Off the heat, stir until smooth and fully melted.
  3. Whisk in sugar, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla and salt. Stir in flour with a spoon or flexible spatula and scrape batter into prepared pan, spread until even.
  4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out batter-free. Let cool and cut into squares. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I used a bit of cognac in place of the vanilla because I had run out. It was undetectable!
  • Stickler for accuracy? Use a ruler to make sure each square is even. 
  • Make sure that water does not get into the chocolate when melting over a double boiler; any water will seize the chocolate! Since you’re melting the butter and chocolate together, there’s a chance it may not happen but still, be careful!

Infinitely Adaptable Blondies

What happens when you throw in almost every single ingredient from your pantry into a bowl of batter? You get these blondies. For those not familiar with blondies, they are the chocolatey brownie’s cousin. Or its hot sister, depending on who you ask. It’s basically an amalgamation of butter, brown sugar, flour, and anything you could possibly mix in there. And no matter what you do decide to throw in, they come out unbelievable.

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Inspired by some of my leftover ingredients from Christmas, I decided to throw them all into one dessert. My sister is the blondie fan in my house, and together, we brainstormed the rest of our add-ins. I knew it had to have sprinkles and mini white chocolate chips, so that was a given. We love coffee flavored anything, so we threw some of that in there. Finally, we threw in some leftover sweetened shredded coconut I had from making macaroons. Our add-ins were set, all we had to do was get a recipe.

I went to my standby, Smitten Kitchen, for this recipe. Deb was absolutely right in naming these “infinitely adaptable” because they just are. If you think the batter can withstand it, I’m sure you can throw in all of the add-ins for a magical dessert that’s less blondie and more chunky. The recipe is ridiculously easy and can come together last minute. The best part? You don’t even need to wait for butter to soften! What makes this recipe even easier (as if that’s even possible): setting up your mise-en-place. That super fancy French term literally means “everything in its place.” For cooking and baking, it means having all of your necessary ingredients pre-measured and organized at your work station; ready to be used at will. It helps things go by way faster since everything is within reach, and helps keep things less stressful. I love having a little set up because not only does it make me feel like a real baker, but I like the whole “dump-and-ditch” of the bowls into the sink. And because having all the ingredients laid out looks super cute.

After melting the butter, everything is basically a free for all. I think you don’t even need any help from a hand/stand mixer! The only difficult time was waiting for them to bake and cool. I wanted to wait until they were completely cool because I have patience like that, but my sister thought otherwise. They were still a little warm when I cut them but they were TO DIE FOR. These blondies were chewy and fudgy; despite not being its darker and well known cousin (sister?) The top crust gets crunchy when cool, which adds dimension to this cookie; because you knew blondies were cookies, right? Despite the crazy amount of add-ins, these blondies kept their composure; even if they weren’t that photogenic. The coffee was ever present, adding a hint of bitterness to an otherwise sweet piece of heaven. With every bite, you’d get tiny hits of white chocolate and a surprise bite of shredded coconut. The sprinkles were mostly for color 🙂

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I have to say, for a whim dessert, these sold alarmingly quickly. With the success of these blondies, there’s no telling what other combinations we could possibly think of next.

Infinitely Adaptable Blondies – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 9 large bars 16 tiny squares

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

Add-ins:

For these blondies, I added:

  • about 1 cup of sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup mini white chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons espresso powder, mixed with the vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup of sprinkles (mixed in with the flour so they wouldn’t sink)

Deb’s list of add-ins include:

  • 1/2 to 1 cup chopped nuts, toasting them first for even better flavor
  • 1/2 to 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 teaspoon mint extract in addition to or in place of the vanilla
  • 1/2 cup mashed bananas
  • 1/4 cup bourbon, scotch or other whiskey (increase the flour by one tablespoon)
  • Stir 1/2 cup dried fruit, especially dried cherries, into the prepared batter
  • Top with a vanilla butter cream or chocolate peanut butter cream frosting

Directions:

  1. Butter an 8×8 pan. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, or in the microwave. Bonus if you melt it in the mixing bowl (only if your bowl isn’t metal and is microwave safe!)
  2. Mix the melted butter with the brown sugar and beat until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla.
  3. Add salt, stir in flour. Mix in any additions.
  4. Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 350°F 20-25 minutes, or until set in the middle.  Cool on rack before cutting them.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I like to add most of my add-ins with the flour, so they won’t sink to the bottom. This works well with chocolate chips, nuts, and dried fruit.
  •  For easier removal, you can place a piece of parchment in your pan before buttering the pan. Just make sure the edges are a bit longer than the rim of the pan for easy lifting.
  • These make a great game day dessert! Make different variations, cut into tiny squares for easy pickup!

No Bake Energy Bites

It’s January, which means that troves of people made the exact same New Year’s resolution; “I want to lose __ pounds this year!” No offense to those who make resolutions, but let’s be real for a second. How many people who make this resolution actually stick it out? Come January, everything and everyone is all about the diets and the “cleanses” and “detoxes.” After touting the “enjoy and indulge” messages of months prior, everyone seems to be on the same boat about losing the holiday weight gain. After a couple weeks (or even days), most people want to give up and give in.

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I personally know how hard it can be to stay on track, especially after the holidays, but seeing and hearing all this “diet” talk does the opposite of motivating. See, diets, “cleanses” and “detoxes” are all about restrictions. It’s all “Don’t eat this for x amount of time, don’t eat this kind of food after a certain time, don’t eat anything but this drink for the next week.” It’s too stressful to try and stick to all these guidelines, which are really just set ups for failures.

A healthy lifestyle is not about restricting. A common misconception people have about living healthy is that no one ever eats sweets; that it’s all fruits and veggies all day. Granted, it’s mostly that but a small part of it is about enjoying yourself and living your life stress free (at least about food). That’s the healthy part!

Anyway, these no bake energy bites are an awesome and relatively healthy snack that are as easy to make as they are delicious. All the ingredients in these babies are actually good for you! Oats are a great complex carb, which means they’ll keep you full a bit longer. The peanut butter and the coconut are both full of good fats, even though the coconut is slightly sweetened. Honey’s a natural sweetener that is okay in moderation. And chocolate is surprisingly good for you if you use the right kind! Dark chocolate is the “healthiest,” touting plenty of antioxidants; depending on how dark the chocolate is.

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One of the standout ingredients on the list is the ground flaxseed.  Not only is it a great source of dietary fiber, but it is laden with micronutrients (like Vitamin B), omega-3 fatty acids, and even more antioxidants. It’s a great addition to most baked goods and is awesome (and tasteless) in these energy bites.

When you finally get sick of hearing about all that diet talk and are ready to jump ship, remember that it’s a race rather than a sprint. A healthier lifestyle includes all of the things life throws at you, including these little bites of energy that’ll help you tackle the rest of the day!

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No Bake Energy Bites – adapted from Gimme Some Oven

Makes 20-25, depending on size

  • 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup toasted coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup ground flaxseed or wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips or chunks
  • 1/3 cup honey, maple syrup, or a honey/agave combo
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Stir all of the ingredients in a bowl, making sure everything is thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  2. Remove mix from the refrigerator, portion and roll into equally sized balls about 1 to 1 1/2″ in diameter. Store in an airtight container in the fridge; they should keep for about a week (if they last that long!)

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I chopped up a small 72% dark chocolate bar from Trader Joe’s, in lieu of chocolate chips. Use whatever you have on hand!
  • I used a disher to scoop these out. Each ball came out about 1 1/2″ in diameter. 
  • This recipe is infinitely adaptable. You can use a variety of mix ins and nut butters; anything to suit your tastes!