Moravian Sugar Cake

We are only a few days from Easter, and the promise of new life is everywhere—from the blossoming daffodils and buds on the trees, to the cheerful song of so many birds outside my open window. I am nervously awaiting my first dose of COVID vaccine tomorrow and feeling an odd sense of disbelief that we are finally seeing real light at the end of this pandemic tunnel. Easter feels even more special this year, and I cannot stop myself from baking up something delicious and, in these parts, so appropriate for Easter.

Last weekend, my husband and I took our dog for a stroll through one of the oldest parts of our city, where it always feels like Easter to me. Old Salem is a precious gem in the apron pocket of our downtown; amid all the tall, modern buildings—including the old R.J. Reynolds Tobacco headquarters, which was the prototype for New York’s Empire State Building—you’ll find this quaint and humble community, established in the late 1700s by the Moravians, Protestant refugees from what is now the Czech Republic. Only a few steps from the bustling noise of downtown, a visit to Old Salem is like stepping back in time 250 years.

Beyond the cobbled streets, brick-lined sidewalks and meticulously restored houses, shops and tour buildings, you’ll arrive at Home Moravian Church and the gated entrance to God’s Acre, the final resting place of the people who founded this community so long ago.

It is here, in God’s Acre, that thousands of residents of all religions gather on Easter morning for what is believed to be the oldest sunrise service in the U.S. Under non-pandemic circumstances, you’d find yourself among the throng, shuffling along behind the brass choir and witnessing the beauty of the sun rising in the east above this expansive graveyard. This year, as last, the observance is limited to a livestream event, complete with the usual music and liturgy—and all are welcome to join virtually. Rise and shine—this Easter service begins at 6:15 a.m. Eastern. The weather is expected to be chilly, but beautiful.

In non-pandemic times, the faithful would gather here before sunrise for Easter worship.

At Easter, everyone around here is a little bit Moravian, and though there will be no crowd gathered at sunrise, we can still enjoy this delightful sugar cake, a favorite Easter tradition. And I hope this recipe will help you enjoy it as well, wherever you live and whatever you believe.

Moravian sugar cake is a specialty of this local culture—it is sort of a mashup of streusel coffee cake and buttery brioche bread, and thick with the sweetness of brown sugar and warm cinnamon spice. I have enjoyed this treat since my arrival in Winston-Salem 33 years ago, but until recently, had only purchased the mass-produced version of it that is usually so popular at Christmas. Little did I know that it is easy to make at home, and so much better! Mashed potatoes lend a unique softness to this yeasted cake, and the technique of pressing fingers into the dough (as you would when making focaccia) is what coaxes the buttery brown sugar-cinnamon mixture to form deep, pillowy pockets.

The cake is light, airy, sweet and buttery. And that topping, oh my! You can see how deeply the brown sugar melts into the dimpled dough. This is what Easter tastes like to me.

In addition to the generous crust of sweetness on top of the cake, the dough itself is rather heavy on sugar, which gives the yeast a real run for its money—under most conditions, yeast does not thrive in such a sweet dough, but, as you’ll soon see, the potatoes help in that regard as well. Come along, let’s make some!


Adapted from P. Allen Smith’s Moravian Sugar Cake
This recipe makes two 8 x 8″ cakes

Ingredients

2 1/4 tsp. instant dry yeast (one standard envelope)

3/4 cup mashed russet potato, boiled without salt and cooled to room temperature

3/4 cup whole milk, scalded and cooled to room temperature

1 egg, room temperature

2/3 cup cane sugar

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour* + 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (see notes for tips)

1 tsp. salt

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

Topping

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. pie spice, optional

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter and 3 Tbsp. salted butter, cold*

*Notes

My guide recipe called for 3 to 4 cups of flour, which is a very wide range. If you measure the flour properly; that is, following the “fluff, sprinkle and level” method, you will use almost exactly 4 cups total. I measured out the full amount and added it gradually as suggested, and ended up with about a tablespoon left over. Also, I never, ever use only white flour in a recipe, but if you do not have the whole wheat pastry flour, feel free to use the total amount in all-purpose flour.

As with most baking recipes, a little bit of salt plays up the important flavors of the food, so I used equal parts salted and unsalted butter in the topping.

Instructions

  1. Combine mashed potatoes (they should be somewhat wet) and yeast in a small bowl. Cover and let stand at room temperature for about 2 hours. The sugar in the dough will make the yeast work extra hard for moisture, so the mingling with the potatoes gives it a leg up before that part of the recipe begins.
  2. Transfer potato-yeast mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add milk, sugar and egg, stirring to blend completely.
  3. Measure out the total amount of flour, and scoop about 1/2 cup, leaving 3 1/2 cups in the bowl. Add salt to the larger bowl. You may not need the full amount of reserve flour, but you want to have the total of salt in the recipe.
  4. Add flour to mixing bowl, 1/2 cup at a time, blending thoroughly after each addition. The ideal dough will be even consistency and tacky, but not too sticky. Dough should pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl while kneading.
  5. Add softened butter, a tablespoon at a time, kneading to fully incorporate each addition before adding more.
  6. With lightly oiled hands, divide total dough between two buttered, 8 x 8” baking dishes, such as Pyrex or metal cake pan. Spread dough evenly to the edges of each pan. Cover loosely with plastic and rest cakes at least 90 minutes, until cakes are nice and puffy.
  7. Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine brown sugar, cinnamon and pie spice. Cut in cold butter to evenly distribute through the sugar mixture. You can use a pastry blender, a fork or a few pulses in the food processor.
  8. With lightly oiled hands, gently press your knuckles into the cake dough. Follow a random pattern, with plenty of indentations, but also plenty of high spots. The goal is to create deep pockets for the butter-sugar mixture to sink into, without deflating the entire cake surface.
  9. Scatter the butter-brown sugar mixture evenly over the cakes. The sugar mixture does not need to be pressed into the indentations; it will find its own way during baking.
  10. Bake cakes for about 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through for even baking. Cool cakes in the pan several minutes before cutting. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Want to make this recipe?


Irish Cream Chocolate Cheesecake

The only thing I can think of to make a chocolate cheesecake better is a little bit of booze, and the only thing that can top that is to make it no-bake. Done and done. This easy, no-fuss dessert comes together quickly, and it doesn’t require gelatin or any special measures to set up firmly. Chocolate-flavored graham crackers provide a dark, flavorful base for this cheesecake, and the filling is sweetened cream cheese accented with a ton of chocolate and a wee bit of Irish cream liqueur. I’ve used My Dad’s Homemade Irish Creme, the same as we made at Christmastime, but if you want to make it super easy, make a quick run to the liquor store for a small bottle of Bailey’s.

I used a springform pan for this dessert, but I’ll bet you could also make it in a pie plate with sloped sides for easy serving. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and fresh berries or a little bit of Jameson-spiked whipped cream. Or, do what we did and just dig in.

This is a wonderful, sweet finish to our St. Patrick’s Day celebration!

The filling is smooth, creamy, silky, dreamy. It is reminiscent of a mousse, but richer!

Ingredients

1 sleeve + 3 chocolate graham crackers

4 Tbsp. salted butter, melted

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted (plus a bit extra to grease the pan)

Line the bottom of an 8” springform pan with parchment paper, cut to size. Rub unsalted butter on the parchment and sides of the pan. Break up the graham crackers into a food processor and pulse into rough crumbs. Pour in the melted butter and pulse a few times to combine. The mixture should look like wet sand. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan and up the sides about an inch. Refrigerate the pan for at least an hour to firm up the buttered crumbs.

For best results, measure out your refrigerated ingredients ahead of time and allow them to come to room temperature before you begin.

Cheesecake filling:

10 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

6 oz. milk chocolate chips* (see notes)

8 oz. pkg. plus 1/2 of second pkg. full-fat cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup (superfine) caster sugar

1 1/2 cups heavy cream, room temperature

1/4 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur*

*Notes

At our house, we really love the flavors of darker chocolate, but blending with milk chocolate is important for texture. Darker chocolate has lesser amounts of cocoa butter, and it can become gritty in recipes. To ensure the creamy, smooth texture that is a signature of cheesecake, it’s best to include some portion of milk chocolate.

Bailey’s Irish cream liqueur is the simplest thing to use in this recipe, but if you have time to make your own (using My Dad’s Homemade Irish Creme recipe), there’s an advantage to doing so. The homemade Irish creme is twice as thick (less watery), so I was able to incorporate two additional tablespoons of that crazy good flavor.

Instructions

Here we go with a visual walk-through, and full written instructions are included at the bottom.

  1. Bring a saucepan of water to a simmer. Place a heatproof bowl over the pan and add the semi-sweet and milk chocolate chips. I used a steamer insert in between, as an extra measure to keep the heating gentle. Do not let water or condensation into the bowl with the chocolate. Heat until chocolate melts, stir it smooth, then let cool slightly. I transferred the melted chocolate to a second bowl to cool it more quickly.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add caster sugar to the cream cheese, scraping down the sides as needed so that sugar is fully blended. The superfine sugar will dissolve pretty quickly.
  3. Lightly whip heavy cream in another bowl until thickened, but not peaked. Stir in Irish cream.
  4. Fold cooled chocolate into cream cheese mixture, then stir in the spiked whipped cream mixture.
  5. Spoon or carefully pour the filling mixture into the springform pan over the chilled chocolate crust. Smooth the top, cover and chill at least two hours, preferably overnight.
  6. To serve, run a hot knife around the edge of the cheesecake filling to separate it from the sides of the pan. Carefully release springform ring and transfer cheesecake to a serving plate. Cut into slices as garnish as desired.

It’ a boozy little slice of Irish heaven.

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New York Cheesecake with Spiced Cran-Cherry Topping

One day, I’ll learn that if I’m going to ask my husband, Les, to pick a dessert for me to make, I should make it a multiple choice. When I gave him free rein to decide on dessert for our tiny Thanksgiving for two, I imagined he’d choose from the obvious traditional sweets. You know, maybe pumpkin pie or bourbon pecan pie, or maybe this would be the year he’d ask for the apple cranberry pie I’ve mentioned for the past three Thanksgivings. Nope.

“Make a real New York cheesecake,” he said.

Cheesecake? C’mon, that’s not a Thanksgiving dessert. But maybe I could do a maple cheesecake with a caramelized apple topping, and that would be delicious and appropriate for Thanksgiving. But my hubby was clear about it: he was craving the authentic New York-style cheesecake—tall, dense and creamy. Oh, and topped with bright red cherries. His memory was based on the desserts made by one Miss Grimble, who was apparently an institution in the city of his youth. Not to set the bar too high, right? I’m good at researching, so I was on it.

Most recipes for this style cheesecake require baking in a water bath, which promotes even baking and a smooth top without unsightly cracks. That made me nervous right out of the gate. I know for certain that my springform pan is not watertight, a truth I learned when a birthday quiche I made for a gal pal a few years ago leaked out all over the oven. I wasn’t up for a repeat of that performance, for sure. And I was also insecure because there were differing opinions about the right temperature to bake a New York-style cheesecake. Some “authentic” recipes insisted the cake should bake in a water bath at 500° F for the first few minutes, then about half that temperature for almost an eternity. Other “real cheesecake” recipes said skip the water bath and just cool the cake in the oven to avoid the cracking on top. With so many opinions, I made the only decision that felt safe: I searched the King Arthur Baking Company website, read all the way through their recipe instructions as well as the accompanying blog post written by baking expert P.J. Hamel, and then I donned my apron and got to it.

The King Arthur recipe included instructions for a shortbread cookie-style crust, which I promptly replaced with a homemade graham cracker base (Les swears this was how Miss Grimble did it) and the blog post suggested two major rules for perfect cheesecake: start with room temperature ingredients, and don’t whip air into the filling mixture. One thing that attracted me to this recipe was that it did not emphasize a need for a water bath. Whew.

This turned out to be one of the tastiest and prettiest desserts I have made at home, and I did find a way to adapt it to the flavors of the season. Les got his cherry topping, but I spiked it with fresh cranberries and real cinnamon. We both loved it, and the cranberries are making it a festive dessert option all the way through the rest of the holiday season.

I’m glad my hubby requested this. It was delicious! 🙂

Adapted from NY Cheesecake | King Arthur Baking

Ingredients (crust)

1 sleeve honey graham crackers

1 handful ginger snap cookies (I used Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger cookies)

1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

Pinch of kosher salt


Ingredients (filling)

4 packages (8 oz. each) full-fat cream cheese*

1 3/4 cup organic cane sugar

5 large organic eggs*

1 tsp. real vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. Fiori di Sicilia flavoring*

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 cup full-fat sour cream*


Ingredients (topping)

2 cups frozen dark sweet cherries

1 cup fresh cranberries, rinsed and sorted

1/4 cup pure cherry juice (or water)

1/4 cup organic cane sugar

1 cinnamon stick, about 4” long (or a few pinches ground cinnamon)


*Notes

The most helpful thing I learned from the King Arthur experts is the importance of bringing all ingredients to room temperature before blending. This helps prevent clumping of the cream cheese and ensures the cheesecake mixture is the best temperature headed into the oven. Plan wisely, and take all the refrigerated ingredients—cream cheese, eggs and sour cream—out of the fridge at least a couple of hours before you begin.

Fiori di Sicilia is a specialty ingredient I purchase from King Arthur Baking Company. You may not have heard of it, but you would find the citrus-vanilla flavor reminiscent of Italian panettone or a frozen creamsicle treat. The ingredient is not essential for this cheesecake, but I love the “special something” it brings to desserts. This was my substitute for lemon zest in the original King Arthur recipe.

The recipe that inspired me did not require a water bath, but P.J. Hamel suggested in her “cheesecake tips” using cake strips, which are soaked and wrapped around a cake pan to promote even baking. Find these online or at a gourmet kitchen store, or give the recipe a go without them. I already had them, so I used one and it worked great.



Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Butter the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan, then cut a piece of parchment paper to size for the bottom, and butter the parchment.
  2. Use your hands to break the graham crackers and ginger snaps into smaller pieces. Pulse into fine crumbs in a food processor or use a rolling pin to smash them into fine crumbs in a large zip-top bag. Pour melted butter into crumbs and stir to mix well. It should resemble the texture of wet sand.
  3. Press crumbs firmly into a springform pan, evenly covering the bottom and about a half inch up the sides. I used the bottom of a small glass bowl to compress the crumbs.
  4. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes, then remove pan and allow crust to cool at room temperature.
  5. In a stand mixer on the lowest speed, beat cream cheese and sugar until well blended. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat again briefly.
  6. Beat in vanilla, Fiori di Sicilia (or lemon zest) and salt.
  7. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until blended and scraping bowl after each egg.
  8. Stir in sour cream and give the mixture another thorough scraping.
  9. Carefully spoon in part of the filling mixture, taking care to not disturb the crumb crust. Gently pour in remaining filling and use rubber spatula to smooth the top of the cheesecake.
  10. Reduce oven temperature to 325° F and slide the cheesecake into the oven on a center rack. Bake 50 minutes, or until filling is set around the edges and slightly jiggly in the center. Turn off oven and prop door open, allowing cheesecake to cool slowly. This will help prevent the top of the cheesecake from cracking.
  11. When cheesecake is completely cool, cover cheesecake with aluminum foil and refrigerate at least overnight.

Cinnamon Cran-Cherry Sauce

Combine frozen cherries, cranberries, sugar and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan. Stir and cook over medium heat until it reaches a low boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Berries and cherries should be softened and thickened. Transfer mixture to refrigerator overnight. Try not to eat it all with a spoon!


To serve

When cheesecake is completely cooled and chilled, run a clean knife carefully around the inside of the springform pan, then release to plate the cheesecake. Cut into wedges and top with cinnamon cran-cherry topping.

Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to a week. We found that we liked the flavor and texture even better after a few days in the fridge. Enjoy!


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You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the products or companies I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or products for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion about recipes, products and gadgets. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 🙂


My Gram’s Molasses Cookies

Childhood is one of the greatest examples of selective memory banking ever. I remember the smells and sounds of baking these molasses cookies at my grandma’s house, all the way back to when I needed to stand on a chair to reach the counter and make the cookie shapes. What I don’t remember is working so hard to get the dough right. Perhaps I’m overthinking it and not taking a simple, intuitive approach. Or could it be that these were a cinch for Gram because she made them all the time and I haven’t dared an attempt for 25 years?

As I was rolling out the dough for these—my favorite cookies ever—I found myself missing the metronome-like cadence of the cuckoo clock that hung on the back wall of my grandparents’ family room, and the rising aroma of potatoes simmering on the stove, much less the patient encouragement of Gram saying something like, “That’s it, now change direction and roll it the other way—good job.” What I had last weekend at my house was the sound of Led Zeppelin blasting from the Bose speaker in the next room, me cursing up a storm and vowing to NEVER make these freaking cookies again, and my husband and the dog just staying the heck out of the way. Yes, I’m certain that Gram had this process down to a science, and she probably handled all the hard parts of this exceptional recipe and let us grandkids show up just in time to have all the fun.

This was the first time I’d flown solo on this family heirloom recipe for Molasses Cookies—and yes, I do believe it should be capitalized, same as a classic novel or an epic film, because they’re just that good. For as long as I can remember, visiting my Gram’s house (anytime, but especially at Christmas) meant that I could reach my short, grubby fingers into the brown and tan beanpot she used as a cookie jar, and pull out one of these super-sized, super soft, sugar-crowned molasses cookies. Several years ago, I spotted a similar bean pot in an antique store and bought it without even checking the price tag. Last year, I found another bean pot and sent it to my younger cousin, Brad, who was my sidekick for so many baking adventures at Gram’s house. Just after we lost Gram in the summer of 2019, I found on Etsy a sweet creative soul who helped me turn our family recipe into a tea towel keepsake. Yes, these cookies deserve serious respect.


Brad and I have been reminiscing a great deal as the holidays approach, and though he was eager to share other memories of Christmas with Gram, he deferred to me the task of recreating her wonderful cookies. I’ll admit that I was terrified.

Mixing the dough was not complicated. It was just a little confusing, without solid direction on which order to add certain ingredients. The recipe card says, in Gram’s distinctive scrawl, “Mix. Chill at least overnight.” A more thorough explanation might have suggested first creaming together the butter and sugar, then adding eggs one at a time, blending completely after each one, and scraping down the sides, etc., but I suppose that knowledge is meant to be in my genes (and apparently it is). I did OK to that point, but lost my confidence when I got to the baking soda. Oh, how I wished I could just call her up and ask, “should the soda be dissolved in boiling water, or just hot tap water? Also, is it alright if I use butter instead of shortening? And the card says 6 or 7 cups of flour, but how do I know when the dough is right? I’m so confused, Gram, and I need you here.”

For these challenges and more, I had a helpful assist from my aunt, who offered her own experiential wisdom, plus a bonus family history lesson that I never knew. It seems that my great-grandmother, original author of this recipe, ran some kind of underground cookie business. These molasses cookies and her famous-to-our-family sugar cookies were her top sellers. Great Gram also saved up her own money to buy laying hens, and had an eggs-for-sale business. She was an entrepreneur long before women were supposed to be! I do remember the old hen house in back of her house, come to think of it. And suddenly, I realized again that these are big family shoes to fill.

I took deep breaths and followed the advice Gram gave me so many times on so many things—she’d say, “try it and see.”

For starters, I halved the recipe, which is a little tricky given that the original calls for 3 eggs, but I’ll explain what I did when we get to the instructions. Gram’s recipe card lists shortening, which was a common ingredient when money was tight (and before research showed how awful the stuff is), so I subbed in real unsalted butter. I never bake anything with only white flour, so I swapped about a third of it with whole wheat pastry flour, which is nice and soft and perfect for cookies, quick breads and pastry dough. Finally, to aid in keeping the dough soft, I used a combination of white and brown sugar, hoping that the latter would help compensate for the softness that would be lessened with the butter swap. Yes, I think Gram was also my first science teacher.

This was it for ingredients, plus the eggs. Be sure your baking powder is fresh for any cake or cookie recipe.

This is at least a two-day recipe (the dough must be thoroughly chilled), and several kitchen tools will be needed on baking day. I recommend review of the entire recipe before committing to the baking step. Once you begin rolling the dough, things move quickly and you’ll want to have your ducks in a row.

The ingredients list reflects my own changes I made to the recipe, and I’m certain my grandma would have approved these choices. 🙂


Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, but not room temperature

3/4 cup cane sugar* (see notes)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 large eggs*

1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. molasses (unsulphured)

3 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in 1/2 cup hot tap water

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour* (measure for success; see notes!)

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour*

3 tsp. ground ginger*

1 tsp. baking powder*

1 tsp. salt

Coarse sugar for decorating


*Notes

For all baking and cooking, I prefer organic cane sugar, which is not as processed as common white sugar. The fineness of cane sugar varies by brand, and I’ve found the Florida Crystals brand to be my favorite, as it is closest in texture to typical fine baking sugar. It’s slightly tan in color, compared with pure white sugar that has been heavily refined.

My recipe adaptation is half the original recipe, which called for 3 eggs, meaning I had to get to 1½ eggs. Here’s how to divide one of them to get the proper amount: crack 1 egg into a glass measuring cup, and beat it well to fully blend the white and yolk. Note the total volume of the egg, and pour half of the volume into a separate bowl for another use. Voila!—half an egg. Add a whole egg to it, beat lightly and you’ll be ready to go.


One of my grandma’s golden rules of baking was correct measuring of flour, so listen up. Always begin by sifting or fluffing up the flour before you measure. Spoon the fluffed flour over your measuring cup and fill to overflowing. Then use the back of a knife to scrape off the excess flour. Do not plunge your measuring cup directly into the flour bag or canister, or you will not have successful cookies.


Whole wheat pastry flour is a low-protein variety of flour, and can be substituted 1:1 for all-purpose flour in many recipes. It doesn’t have the strength needed for yeast-risen breads, but it is perfect for cookies, quick breads, pancakes and pastry dough. It also meets one of my primary goals of introducing whole grain into our foods. For this recipe, the whole wheat pastry flour is approximately 1/3 of the total flour in the cookies. If you prefer, combine for a total amount of white, all-purpose flour.

Ginger and baking powder both lose their power after a period of time. Ground ginger should provide a pleasant “zing” to the cookies, and active baking powder is needed for leavening. If you can’t remember buying the containers you have, they are probably too old. This is less a concern for the ginger, as that will only affect flavor. Baking powder that is old will give you poor results, because your cookies won’t rise during baking. I use aluminum-free baking powder with excellent results.


Dough Instructions


  1. Using a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer, cream together the softened butter and both sugars. If you want to go old-school, as my great grandmother would have done, you can do this in a large bowl with a good strong wooden spoon, and it would help you to have biceps like Rosie the Riveter. The mixture should be beaten until it looks uniform and slightly fluffy.
  2. Combine all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flour in a medium bowl. Scoop out a heaping cup of the flour blend to a second bowl, and add the ginger, baking powder and salt, stirring to combine. This ensures the ginger and leavening agent will be evenly mixed into the dough. Set both flour bowls aside.
  3. Add beaten egg mixture, half at a time, to the creamed butter-sugar mixture. Beat until well blended, and stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
  4. Dissolve baking soda in hot water and set aside briefly.
  5. Add molasses to the creamed mixture and beat until fully blended.
  6. With mixer running, slowly pour in the soda water. This mixture looked very unorganized and messy; it reminded me of quicksand.
  7. Add the second bowl of flour (with ginger and baking powder) to the molasses mixture and stir until blended. Stop mixer and scrape down the sides. Stir in remaining flour, a few tablespoons at a time, until all flour is blended. Scrape down the sides. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate at least overnight, or preferably a day or two.

On baking day, gather your supplies:

  • 2 or 3 large cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper
  • Rolling pin (a round wine bottle works nicely in a pinch)
  • Dough mat (or board, or a really clean countertop)
  • Cookie cutters (preferably round, or anything not too intricate as the cookies will spread)
  • Extra flour for dusting (keep it handy, you’ll use this a lot)
  • Paper towels for wiping your hands
  • Small, thin spatula to assist with moving cookies to baking sheet
  • Large spatula for moving baked cookies
  • Cooling racks (at least two will be helpful)
  • Coarse-grained sugar for decorating (I used turbinado sugar)
  • A baking timer
  • Christmas music for inspiration (I recommend Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” soundtrack)
  • A glass of wine (seriously, I found this very helpful when things got ugly)
  • My aunt on speed-dial (oh wait, that was just for me!)
Best Christmas music, ever!

Baking Instructions

Preheat oven to 450° F (much hotter than most cookie recipes, and they bake fast)

Generously flour your rolling mat or board, and begin with about 1/4 of the chilled dough. Put the rest back in the fridge until you’re ready for the next batch.

Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. My aunt suggested that I use “a lot of extra flour,” and I think she meant to say, “Make it look like you had a blizzard in the kitchen.” You need a lot of flour to keep this ultra-soft dough from sticking. Roll it gently to about 1/2” thick.


Dip your cutter gently into the cookie dough bowl, then liberally into the extra flour to prevent sticking. Cut as many shapes as you can from the first rolling, and transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheet. Aim for only 6 cookies at a time, as they will puff and spread quite a bit during baking. Knead up remaining dough scraps and add them to the next batch.

Generously sprinkle each cookie with turbinado sugar.


Bake for 5 to 8 minutes (depending on your oven) until cookies are soft and puffy but not brown on the edges. Transfer cookies as quickly as possible to a cooling rack. Place the hot cookie sheet somewhere to cool.


Prepare a second batch of cookies on the extra pan. This whole scene was very stressful for me, and I found myself wondering how my grandma did this with such grace and ease, and with excitable grandchildren “helping.”

Repeat this process until all cookies are baked. You should have flour everywhere (including your hair), about 5 molasses-coated spoons stuck to the counter, a sink full of bowls and random sticky objects, a dining table covered in molasses cookies and an empty wine glass bottle. If you’re crying, well, join the club. If you’re crying and laughing simultaneously at the end of it all, you get bonus points and a commemorative recipe tea towel.


Is it OK for me to share your recipe, Gram?

She would say—no, wait, she would sing, “Oh, ya, sure!”


Pumking Ice Cream

Didn’t I promise this would happen, when my beloved Pumking ale was released this year? I have been obsessed with the idea of turning this seasonal spiced ale into an ice cream, and here I’ve gone and done it!

Many of the recipes I make are merely altered versions of something I’ve made before. In this case, I followed the lessons I learned when I made the Black Mountain Chocolate Stout Ice Cream I shared back in the summer. As with that recipe, I’ve reduced the beer to intensify its flavors, giving immeasurable boost of pumpkin-y-ness to my standard custard-based ice cream. Throw in a fair amount of pureed pumpkin, and what do you suppose I got?

I can’t wait to dig my spoon right into this!

The pumpkin flavor is amped up three times—first with pure pumpkin puree, and then with the infusion of the pumpkin butter, which is essentially cooked pumpkin with sugar, spices and lemon juice. Finally, the Pumking ale accents the ice cream with a spiced and slightly hoppy flavor that is exactly the right balance to the sweet richness.

Triple threat! The reduced Pumking, pumpkin puree and pumpkin butter will each bring their own flavor to the party.

The other ingredients are straight off my go-to list for homemade custard-based ice cream. Equal parts whole milk and heavy cream, three egg yolks, just shy of one cup of sugar. I heated the milk and cream, plus half the amount of sugar, to the just-barely-boiling point.

While that was working, I whisked the egg yolks together with the remaining sugar until it was lighter in color and fluffed up in volume. Sometimes I do this in my stand mixer, but this time it worked fine in a glass pitcher bowl and a little elbow grease.


I gradually streamed half of the hot cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking the whole time to prevent scrambling the eggs. Then, I returned the tempered egg mixture to the pan with the remaining cream mixture, and cooked (stirring constantly) until the custard was slightly thickened and coated the back of my wooden spoon.

The cooked custard mixture went back into the pitcher bowl, and I blended in the pumpkin puree, pumpkin butter and reduced Pumking ale. As always, I laid plastic wrap directly on top of the custard (this prevents a skin forming on top, and also prevents condensation that could screw up the texture of the finished ice cream. Into the fridge for at least 8 hours (I usually leave it overnight), then into the ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Here’s how the rest of the recipe went:

This ice cream surprised me with its super-creamy, unbelievably pumpkin-y flavor and texture. You don’t taste beer in the ice cream—just a complex layered flavor that seems more complicated than it was.

As Thanksgiving desserts go, this is a winner, not only because it’s delicious and satisfies the desire for a rich, creamy pumpkin dessert, but also because you can make it several days ahead to free up time in your schedule for more pressing dishes.

Serve it in an ice cream cone or bowl, or on top of a square of gingerbread or a brownie or a big fat oatmeal cookie or…OK, straight from the container. Why the heck not?

Just like this. 🙂

Ingredients

8 oz. Pumking spiced ale (or another pumpkin seasonal ale)

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

3 egg yolks

3/4 cup organic cane sugar, divided

1/2 cup pure pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

1/4 cup Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter* (see notes)

1/4 cup crushed ginger snap cookies (optional)

1 oz. vodka (optional, for texture; this is added during final minute of freezing)

*Notes

If you cannot get your hands on the Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter, I would recommend increasing the puree to 1 cup, and cook it with a couple tablespoons of brown sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice and a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spices. Cook until it’s caramelized and thickened, then refrigerate overnight before adding it to the ice cream. It won’t be exactly the same, but darn close.

This tastes exactly like a frozen scoop of creamy, spicy pumpkin pie.

Want to make this recipe?

Follow the steps and pictures above, or click to download a copy for your recipe files. Please let me know how you like it!


Leftover Snickers Brownies with Sea Salt

OK, who else got stuck with a bunch of candy after disappointing trick-or-treater turnout? The whole neighborhood was abuzz last week about whether (or how) to participate in Halloween this year—do we go ahead and buy candy? Will there be any kids? Is it even safe to do it this year? Without a pandemic playbook, we were all just guessing, but the consensus was “let’s give it a go.”

So Les and I scrubbed our hands, dumped our bags of candy into a wide bowl with our long-handled BBQ tongs, placed our face masks on standby and flicked on the porch light to signal our intentions. Mr. Bones did his best to draw them in with his spooky presence and vacant gaze. But when the clock showed 9:30, we gave up, having given out exactly seven pieces of candy—all to one adorable little witch princess.

See you next year, Mr. Bones!

It’s not that much of a surprise, and in some ways I’m relieved because it proves that our community has done a good job of recognizing the safety issues of COVID. Despite our preparation and “no contact” method of distributing the candy, we ended up with nearly as much as we started. In previous years, Les has taken our leftover candy to share with his co-workers, but that standard fallback doesn’t work this year, either.

I guess I had it coming, this big pile of leftover Snickers—just last week, I was re-living the childhood trauma of my father’s annual raids on my Halloween candy, under the guise of a “safety check.” Is this the universe’s clever way of paying me back after all these years?

Though it is true that Snickers has always been my favorite candy bar, there’s a limit to how many of them I can eat before I get bored. I fired up the idea machine in my brain, and these easy-to-make brownies were born. They are the best of both worlds. Rich, dark, soft chocolate-y brownies and sweet, salty, peanut-y candies. What could possibly go wrong?

Ooey gooey, chocolate chewy!

Ingredients

Ghirardelli dark chocolate brownie mix (or your favorite, plus ingredients listed on the box instructions)

10 fun-sized Snickers candy bars (not the “minis”)

Coarse sea salt


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven as instructed on brownie mix. Prepare baking pan as directed.
  2. Cut up candy bars into small bite-sized pieces.
  3. Make brownie mix as directed by box instructions.
  4. Fold in candy bar pieces, then spread batter into the prepared baking pan.
  5. Give the batter a light sprinkle of the coarse sea salt.
  6. Bake as directed on brownie mix and cool completely before cutting.

I need a big glass of milk! 😀

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The Best Bread Pudding

It strikes me funny that a dessert as simple and humble as bread pudding shows up so frequently on upscale restaurant menus. Rarely do you find it an option in a sandwich shop or a casual dining joint. But go to a “nicer” place, and there it is—usually spiked with some kind of liqueur and almost always drenched in a rich creamy sauce. They can make it as fancy as they like, but as far as I’m concerned, my grandmother set the bar on bread pudding. Hers was never quite the same twice, but it was always delicious.

Of all the cooking lessons Gram gave me in her small upstate New York kitchen, one of the most important—that she lived out every day—was to “waste nothing.” As a survivor of the Great Depression, she saved things that most people threw away, including scrap pieces of aluminum foil, fabric remnants, even used twist ties. But the best things she saved went into a bread bag in her freezer, until she had collected four cups worth, enough to make a batch of her famous bread pudding. End pieces of stale bread, that last uneaten sweet roll and even the occasional hamburger bun were revitalized into a delicious, custardy dessert that was cinnamon-y and sweet and tasted like a day at Gram’s house.

I was taken aback recently to realize that I only have four handwritten recipe cards left to me by my cooking mentor, but I’m thrilled that one of them is titled “Basic Bread Pudding.” When I got the news last summer that she had passed away, just as I was awaiting delivery of my new gas range, I pulled out every bread scrap we had in the freezer, and this pudding is the first thing I baked in it.

Like everything else she made, Gram’s recipe for bread pudding is flexible; it’s meant to make use of whatever ingredients you happen to have on hand. The formula is simple, and you can dress it up (or not) however you like. If you like it more custardy, she had a suggestion for that on the back of the card (I’ve included it below, as a direct quote from Gram).

In honor of what would have been Gram’s 99th birthday this week, I’m proud to share her recipe with you. She would have been tickled pink, and also a little surprised, because to her, bread pudding was a given.

No matter what I add to the recipe, somehow it always tastes like Gram made it! ❤

There’s a reason that bread pudding today is showing up on upscale restaurant menus. It’s rich, dense, custardy, and so, so comforting. You can flex the flavors to match the season, serve it warm with a creamy sauce or chilled, straight from the fridge. Frankly, I’m in favor of having it for breakfast. Bottom line, it’s a fantastic dessert that you can make yourself, and (by way of my pictures and descriptions) my grandma is going to show you how easy it is.

For this batch, I’ve followed Gram’s lead in pulling some scraps from the freezer. I made sourdough challah a couple months back, and I also found some leftover cinnamon rolls, just minding their own business in the freezer. I swapped out the raisins for chopped dates and dried apples, and some of the cinnamon for cardamom. Oh, and I also boozed them up a little bit by soaking the dates in some Grand Marnier (of course, I did).


Ingredients for “Basic Bread Pudding”

2 cups milk

4 cups coarse bread cubes

1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 cup sugar

2 beaten eggs

1/2 cup raisins (or other fruit)

1 tsp. cinnamon or nutmeg

Pour into 1 1/2 quart casserole. Set in pan of hot water. Bake at 350° F for about one hour or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

For more “custardy” pudding, use 4 cups milk and reduce bread cubes to 2 cups.

Gram (on the back of the recipe card)

Follow along, to see how easy it is to create this luscious dessert! You’ll find a downloadable recipe to print at the end of the post. Enjoy!


I suppose you want to know about the rich caramel sauce that’s drizzled all over the pudding? It’s salted caramel sauce, which I might have made from scratch (but didn’t). This time, I took an easy shortcut by warming salted caramel ice cream topping in the microwave with a few tablespoons of heavy cream. It thinned out nicely and provided the perfect finishing touch. Gram would’ve loved that idea, I’m sure of it. Just wait ‘til Christmas, when I share her recipe for molasses cookies!


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Triple Chocolate Cherry Brownie Bowls

There’s dessert for the sake of a sweet tooth, and then there’s DESSERT, as is the case with this ultra-chocolate-y, cherry-infused brownie bowl, packed with “Cherry Garcia” vanilla ice cream, studded with sweet cherries and dark chocolate chunks. Oh, and I almost forgot, the cherry syrup. Over the top? Obviously! But this was a birthday dessert a few weeks ago for my husband, Les, who is himself a little “over the top” crazy about any and all chocolate and cherry combinations. And for such an occasion, during a year that has given us too much to worry about and not enough to celebrate, I went all in.

Well, almost. I did take one easy shortcut and I’m not ashamed to share my little secret with you—I never make brownies from scratch. I have a favorite box brownie mix that meets all my picky ingredient requirements, so why put forth the effort to make it “as good as” theirs, when they already have a product that is a winner every time? Ghirardelli dark chocolate is my go-to, and though the brownies are terrific as directed on the box, I sometimes can’t help but elevate them with my own “extras” to highlight certain aspects of the brownies’ personality. It’s easier than you might expect.

For these birthday brownie bowls, I’ve substituted cherry juice for the water called for on the package instructions, and I’ve added a tablespoon of dark cocoa powder plus a handful each of chocolate chunks and cut up dried cherries. That’s it. The simplest flavor swaps, resulting in the most decadent dessert my hubby could have ever asked for on his birthday (or any other occasion). Luckily, for our ever-expanding pandemic waistlines, it will be another year before we indulge to this degree. But it was kinda worth it. 🙂

Chocolate, cherries, more chocolate, brownie, cherry sauce. What could possibly go wrong?

These brownies are super-sized and shaped like a bowl, exactly right to hold a generous scoop of ice cream (which I did make from scratch, but don’t feel pressured to do so). The special shape is courtesy of a fancy-schmancy pan I bought from King Arthur Baking Company. At $30, it was a bit of a splurge, but in this most ridiculous year, I’ve been willing to invest a bit more in kitchen gadgets and ingredients to make our home meal experiences more memorable. Mark my word, it’ll pay for itself by the time the holidays get here, because I’m already dreaming up other ideas.

The pan has a no-fail nonstick coating. The brownie bowl holds a perfect scoop of ice cream.

If you’re not feeling the love for a special pan to make bowl-shaped brownies, don’t stress about it. Make the brownies in a regular pan according to the mix instructions. You can still swap in the special flavor ingredients and have a spectacular dessert with minimal effort. Remember, stressed spelled backward = desserts, and I’m all about flipping things around! 🙂


Ingredients & Instructions

1 box of your favorite brownie mix (make according to package instructions, but adjust as noted below)

Substitute equal amount of cherry juice for the suggested amount of water

Add 1 Tbsp. dark cocoa powder to the dry mix (Hershey’s special dark will do, and it’s easy to find)

Add 1/2 cup dried dark cherries, cut into smaller pieces (fold in after mixing)

Add 1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks or semi-sweet chocolate chips (fold in after mixing)

Bake as directed on the package, but if you use the King Arthur brownie bowl pan, you’ll want to cut the time in half. My brownies were perfect after 25 minutes.

Fill ‘em up!

Cherry Garcia ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s (or whatever other ice cream rocks your world)

I made my own version of “cherry Garcia,” but we usually purchase the Ben & Jerry’s brand, which is great!

Top ‘em off!

Hot fudge topping, whipped cream, or (if you’re feeling inspired) my quick homemade cherry sauce.

Cherry on top of cherries! This sauce is easy to make and also happens to be excellent on crepes or any kind of ice cream.

Cherry Sauce*:

2 cup frozen dark sweet cherries

2 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. pure vanilla or almond extract (or 1 Tbsp. amaretto liqueur or chocolate liqueur)

1 Tbsp. dark chocolate balsamic vinegar* (optional)

2 Tbsp. corn starch, mixed with 2 Tbsp. ice cold water

Heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Add frozen cherries and sprinkle sugar over the top. Stir and cook until cherries are softened and mixture is reduced and bubbly (about 15 minutes). Add extract or liqueur and stir. Blend corn starch and water until smooth, and slowly drizzle into the cherry sauce, stirring constantly. Allow mixture to come back up to full simmer, and continue to stir as it thickens further. Remove from heat. Use the sauce warm over dessert or keep in refrigerator up to two weeks.

*This time around, I strained the cherries from the sauce because they went into the ice cream. Half of the sauce was drizzled through the ice cream like a ribbon, and the rest was reserved for spooning over the brownie bowls. It was a delicious labor of love!

This one’s for you, my birthday boy! ❤

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Cherry Amaretto Upside-down Skillet Cake

A great meal deserves a sweet, delicious ending, and this one showcases the plump and luscious dark red cherries that were everywhere this summer. The cake is moist and flavorful, rich with buttermilk, almond flour, eggs and real butter, and the buttery brown sugar topping is a little on the boozy side, plus the deep, dark sweet cherries. And the whole thing is elegantly draped with a dollop of amaretto-spiked whipped cream.

YUM!

If you aren’t wild about cherries (or maybe you aren’t wild about knocking out the pits), substitute fresh peaches, plums, nectarines, blackberries—well, I think you get the idea. But these cherries!

Fresh and sweet dark cherries

To tackle the unenviable job of pitting the cherries, I purchased a nifty device that gets the job done, six cherries at a time! If you’ve ever tried pitting cherries without a tool, you know that it cannot be done without making a huge mess. In previous attempts, I’ve balanced the cherries—one at a time, of course—on the neck of an empty wine bottle, then held the cherry while shoving the end of a chopstick through it. It left holes in the cherries, the pits inside the bottle, and red juice stains all over everything else in the room, including me. It’s the reason that, for the most part, I’ve relied on frozen cherries whenever I wanted to make a cherry dessert. I adore fresh cherries, but I’d only bought them to snack on, and only when I was flying solo because the whole spitting-out-the-pits part conjured memories of the 1987 film The Witches of Eastwick. There’s just no way to do it gracefully.

Suffice to say, this $15 tool has changed the game for me. After rinsing the cherries and pulling off the stems, I loaded them into the tray and pressed the top down. Boom!

And just like that, the pits are pushed out the bottom and into a receptacle, leaving the cherries intact but devoid of pits. I finished the entire bowlful in about 8 minutes. I’m not prone to give kudos for “uni-task” tools, but this one really took the pain out of what would otherwise make me choose a different dessert. Besides, as I reminded my husband, Les, this will also come in handy when I need to pit whole olives (which I’ve never tried but now I can).

After the cherries were pitted, I got busy making the topping, which goes into the skillet first. This part of the recipe felt familiar because I’ve made a similar upside-down skillet cake with peaches. I start by melting butter with brown sugar, then adding amaretto to the mix for a subtle almond flavor that echoes what will be going on later in the cake batter. The cake is easy to make, too—cream together the sugar and butter, add the eggs and flavor enhancers, and then alternate the dry ingredients with buttermilk until it’s ready to spread over the topping. The rest of the delicious magic happens in the oven.

It’s best to invert the cake onto a plate while it’s still warm, but be careful handling the hot skillet!

This cake has a dense, but not heavy texture, and the warm almond flavor permeates every layer while the soft, juicy cherries satisfy the sweet tooth. It keeps well, too, which is always a bonus in our empty nest household. As odd as it may sound, Les and I found that we enjoyed this cake even more a couple days after I baked it—ice-cold, straight from the refrigerator. The cake part remained moist (thank you, buttermilk!), and the cherry flavor was more pronounced.

Leftovers. The cake remained moist in the fridge, and the deep cherry color seeped further into the cake. This is a delicious dessert for late summer!

Ready to make it?


Ingredients

4 Tbsp. butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup cane sugar

1.5 oz. amaretto* (see notes)

About 3 cups pitted fresh dark cherries

1 cup all-purpose flour*

3/4 cup almond flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

3/4 cup cane sugar

1 stick unsalted butter, softened but not melted

2 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. almond extract

1 Tbsp. amaretto (optional)*

1 cup buttermilk*

Whipped cream for serving, if desired


*Notes

Amaretto is an Italian, almond-based liqueur. It is lower proof than whiskey or vodka, slightly sweet and plays very nicely with cherries. If you avoid alcohol, you can get close to this flavor with almond extract. Drizzle 1 teaspoon over the cherry mixture and increase to 2 teaspoons in the cake. Real almond extract, by the way, also usually contains alcohol as a suspension for the almond flavor, but the amount will be minimal.

Remember the rule for measuring flour? In baked goods such as this, using the correct amount will really make a difference. Dipping your measuring cup straight into the flour container is a sure-fire way to have a dry and crumbly cake. I trust a kitchen scale for most of my baking, but if you don’t have one, follow the simple “fluff, sprinkle, level” method—fluff the flour with a whisk or fork, sprinkle it over the dry measuring cup to overflowing, level it off with the back of a knife.

Don’t be tempted to substitute regular milk for the buttermilk in this recipe. The acidity in the buttermilk will lend a subtle tanginess to the cake, and it also reacts with the baking powder and soda for leavening.


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Place a 10” cast iron skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter, then add the brown sugar and cook until the sugar is dissolved, and the mixture appears lightly foamy.
  3. Pour in the amaretto and swirl gently to evenly distribute throughout the butter and sugar mixture. Remove from heat and arrange the cherries close together over the mixture.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, almond flour, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon.
  5. In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until it’s evenly combined and fluffy. Add one egg and beat until smooth, repeat with the second egg. Then, beat in vanilla and almond extracts, plus additional amaretto, if desired.
  6. Beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture, blending only until dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Beat in half the buttermilk until smooth. Repeat with flour and buttermilk, then the remaining flour.
  7. Pour the batter evenly over the cherries in the skillet. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula to evenly distribute the thick batter.
  8. Slide the skillet into the oven and bake about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  9. Allow cake to cool at least 15 minutes before inverting it to a large serving platter. To do this successfully, first slide a butter knife around the edges of the cake, to loosen any areas where it might be sticking. Center the plate, face-side down, over the skillet, then carefully hold the skillet and plate together and turn them over. I’ve found this to be easy, as long as you don’t allow the cake to cool too long. If it sticks too much to release, turn the pan right side up again and briefly heat it over a low burner. This will melt and soften the butter again for easier release.

Allow the cake to cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream (spike with amaretto, if you wish).

Store leftovers in the fridge, covered with foil or plastic wrap.

This recipe makes about 8 servings, and a dollop of fresh whipped cream is a perfect topper.

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Two Fun Ways to Celebrate National S’mores Day!

Not that there’s anything wrong with just plain s’mores. I love them, personally. The crispy graham cracker, melty gooey chocolate and perfectly toasted (or “accidentally” burnt) marshmallow, all pressed into one delicious little sugar sandwich bite—takes me straight back to 1977 and Allegheny State Park in the middle of summer family camp.

But that was a long time ago, and although I still love the idea of s’mores in my grown-up years, I’m less inclined to imagine making a campfire or even firing up the chimenea on our patio. I mean, it’s the middle of summer, you know? I’d rather crank the oven up to 450° F because inside, I have air conditioning. And why would I do something as simple as s’mores, when I can over-complicate them into something more visually decadent?

Consider instead these two tasty treats, bearing every last detail of s’mores, but without the campfire smell permeating your clothes, without the bugs and without smoke getting in your eyes. First of all…


S’mores Pizza!

Oh yes, all the flavors of the campfire classic.

Warm and gooey, stupidly sweet and completely kid-friendly. If I had kids, I would expect them to want this for sleepover parties, or maybe even in lieu of a birthday cake.

For the crust, I leaned on my pals at King Arthur Baking (did you notice, they changed their name!), and did a quick modification to their recipe for whole wheat pizza crust. Who knew that every kid’s favorite cracker is whole grain? Yes, whole wheat flour is also sometimes called “graham flour,” and it’s the basis for graham crackers, so it also will be the base for my s’mores dessert pizza. I took the King Arthur recipe, cut it in half, converted for sourdough, increased the sugar by four times and swapped in coconut oil.

This crust took a good while, because it’s a slow-ferment yeast bread, and the sourdough conversion and extra sugar slowed it down even more. I was OK with this delay because I’m a bread nerd. If you want something quicker, pick up some whole wheat dough at Trader Joe’s, or go with a basic chocolate chip cookie dough, but use whole wheat flour and save the chocolate chips for a topper. In fact, I want to make my next s’mores pizza that way to appease my husband, who has s’mores apathy. This is not his fault. First of all, he was not a Girl Scout. Secondly, he was raised in NYC, and they didn’t exactly have campfires on the fire escape of his apartment building. But if the s’mores are piled onto a giant cookie? That, I suspect, would be right up his alley. I might even go nuts next time and pile the s’mores toppings onto a brownie base. For crying out loud!

For the toppings here, I got things started with a thin slathering of Nutella. I know, hazelnut is not “traditional” for s’mores, but I haven’t found a spread that is only chocolate, so it’ll have to do. Besides, you barely taste the hazelnut underneath all the other stuff that is traditional for s’mores—the graham crumbs, chocolate bits and (of course) the pillow-y miniature marshmallows.

Want to try it? Check your pantry for these items, or mask up and head to the grocery store to get them.


Ingredients

Whole wheat pizza dough or cookie dough substitute

Nutella or similar chocolate spread

Graham crackers, some crushed, some pieces

Chocolate chips or chocolate chunks (I used semi-sweet for my experiment, but I think milk chocolate would melt better)

Miniature marshmallows

A big glass of cold milk (trust me, you’ll want this after a big sticky slice of s’mores pizza)


Instructions


And then, into a 450° F oven, just long enough for the chocolate to melt and the marshmallows to get toasted. This didn’t take long, maybe 5 more minutes.

The marshmallows got SO puffy during the baking!


This pizza satisfied my once-in-an-adult-blue-moon craving for s’mores, but I will tell you honestly that the end result (by the time I finished taking pictures and slicing it) was a bit on the chewy side, which was oddly addictive for me, but my hubby did not love it and it was a total “no-go” as leftovers. The best thing about real s’mores is that they provide immediate gratification, a fleeting taste of pure and simple decadence.  Once a marshmallow has been toasted then allowed to cool, it becomes overly sticky and loses the gooey deliciousness that makes a simple s’more so ridiculously good. So, if you intend to give this a go, may I suggest you have a few hungry friends nearby (safely distanced, of course) and ready to indulge? Everyone grab a slice and eat it, straight from the oven.


Or, if your properly distanced friends are all members of the over-21 crowd, lean into this adaptation instead:

S’mores Martini!

For adult s’mores lovers, only.

The distinct flavors of your favorite summer camp treat, with vanilla and chocolate spirits, and neatly dispensed in a chilled 4 oz. glass, complete with graham crumb rim and floating a toasted mini marshmallow garnish.

Kumbaya, y’all.


Ingredients

1.5 oz. vanilla vodka (I used Absolut)

1.5 oz. crème de cacao (light or dark, but not creamy)

Graham crumbs

Mini marshmallows

You will also need a petite cocktail glass and a kitchen torch or stick lighter. A cocktail mixing glass or shaker will be helpful, or improvise with a glass measuring cup.


Instructions

  1. Combine the vanilla vodka and crème de cacao in a cocktail mixing glass (or a bowl that is wide enough to dip your glass rim into). Carefully lower the rim of your chilled cocktail glass into the alcohol mixture, then roll the edges into the graham crumbs until coated all around. Put the glass in the fridge or freezer while you prep the marshmallows.
  2. Arrange the mini marshmallows in a heated cast iron skillet, and use a kitchen torch or stick lighter to gently “toast” the edges of the marshmallow. Watch it closely to keep them from burning (unless you like the burned edges, as I do). The goal is to get a nice toasty color on them and help them stick together in a cluster. Use a small spatula to transfer the garnish to a plate or cutting board to cool.
  3. Add ice to the cocktail mixing glass (or pour the alcohol from the bowl into a shaker with ice) and stir (or shake) about 20 seconds, until the outside of the mixing container is frosty. Strain into the cocktail glass. Top with marshmallow garnish.