The tradition of enjoying the Nutcracker Ballet at Christmastime is another thing the pandemic took from us. I’m not sure when I’ll ever feel safe sitting close to people in a theater for ballets, plays or movies. In the meantime, I can enjoy the music at home and share some Nutcracker inspired treats with you.
The Nutcracker Land of Sweets is a magical theme that has me mesmerized. Gingerbread, candy canes, gumdrops and billowy clouds of pink frosting are what dreams are made of. And that’s exactly what these dreamy cupcakes are made of. The cupcake flavor is a subtle spice cake. The recipe is adapted from a Martha Stewart cake recipe I made last summer. The original cake was paired with blackberry jam, but I knew plum jam would be perfect for these cupcakes. I topped them with a mildly sweet, fluffy Swiss meringue buttercream.
Part of the fun of making these cupcakes began at the store as I collected the sweets to decorate the cupcakes. Another perk of the job is taste testing the candy. I discovered that purple spice drops are licorice flavored and red spice drops are cinnamon. Who knew?
The Nutcracker Land of Sweets Cupcakes
Spice cupcakes filled with plum jam, topped with fluffy pink frosting, gingerbread men and Christmas candy, and dusted with sugar snow
Combine egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl. Set over a pan of gently simmering water.
Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and temperature of 160ºF is reached.
Transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand mixture with a whisk attachment. Whisk on low speed, gradually increasing to medium-high speed. Whisk until glossy, stiff peaks form and mixture reaches room temperature.
Turn mixer to medium-low speed. Add butter, a few pieces at a time, allowing the butter to fully incorporate each time before adding more.
Switch to paddle attachment. On low speed, mix in vanilla, salt and food color. Continue mixing on low speed for a few minutes until smooth.
Pecan pie was my mom’s favorite, but she didn’t bake pies, so I always used to bake her one for Thanksgiving. One year, I made a chocolate version. It was delicious, but let’s just say it wasn’t user friendly. It was gooey and hard to serve. Over the years, it eventually morphed into these Maple Pecan Brownies. The brownie version is still delicious, rich and gooey with toasty pecans, but much more user friendly.
I used an 8-inch square baking pan for the batch in the photo because I wanted the brownie squares to be thick. You can also use a 9-inch square pan and you’ll get a few more squares out of it, but they’ll have less height. Keep in mind that the baking time will be shorter for the 9-inch pan because the batter will be spread thinner.
The biggest challenge of this recipe is the baking time. The initial time in the oven is to partially bake the brownies. The top should be set before adding the pecan topping. This will take anywhere from 20-30 minutes depending on your pan and your oven. Mine took 28 minutes. The second baking time is to set the pecan topping. This will take about 20-25 minutes. You will notice that the top will be deep brown and the center will stop jiggling. Another way to test doneness is with a food thermometer. The internal temperature will be about 190ºF. Click here to find an instant read kitchen thermometer.
Enjoying Maple Pecan Brownies with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee is a must. Thinking of it brings back memories. I can practically smell my dad brewing the coffee to go with his brownie.
Maple Pecan Brownies
Rich, gooey brownies topped with pecan pie filling
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line an 8-inch or 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, overlapping the sides an inch or two. Spray parchment paper with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, stir together melted butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until well combined.
Stir in eggs and vanilla, one at a time, until well combined.
Stir in cocoa powder, baking soda and salt until well combined.
Stir in flour just until combined.
Spread batter into prepared baking pan. Bake just until top is set, about 20-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare pecan topping.
When brownie top is set, remove from oven. Gently pour pecan topping around the outer perimeter of brownies, to avoid making brownies sink in the middle. Evenly distribute the pecan topping over the top gently with a spoon.
Return the brownies to the oven and continue baking until the topping is set, about 20-25 minutes. Brownies will stop jiggling and topping will look deep golden brown. Internal temperature will be about 190ºF. (If your topping starts to brown too much on the edges before the inside is done, apply aluminum foil around the edges as you would with a pie.)
Remove from oven and cool completely before cutting, about 2- 2 1/2 hours.
Cut into squares, wiping knife between cuts. Store in a covered container.
In a medium bowl, stir together maple syrup, butter, brown sugar, egg, maple extract and salt until well combined.
Stir in pecans until well coated with maple syrup mixture.
Any respectable autumn baking recipe needs to have the three C’s. Cozy. Comforting. And of course, cinnamon! Would pumpkin-spice-anything even exist without the three C’s? I think not! These Apple Spice Cookies understood the assignment. The combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla in this cookie dough will remind you of cinnamon rolls and apple pie.
The apples in this recipe are cooked briefly on the stovetop to bring out the flavor and create the perfect texture. Dropping raw apple chunks into cookie dough or cake batter is never a good idea. If you’ve ever baked an apple pie, you know that apples release liquid as they’re cooked and that liquid will end up in your baked cookies, creating soggy spots. So definitely don’t skip this step!
These gorgeous, golden brown cookies are perfectly delicious on their own, but extra credit goes to the Brown Butter Icing for taking them over the top!
Make sure to head over to TikTok to watch the video of these Apple Spice Cookies being created.
Sometimes we need a little magic in our lives. These pretty, dainty meringue cookies sparked a bit of magic in my life that I want to share with you. It started when I washed some beautiful little violas. Watching them float in a bowl of clear water was positively therapeutic. After pressing and weighing them down with a heavy book overnight, the reveal of perfectly flat, delicate blossoms was so satisfying. The process of making meringue is also very satisfying for me. I love the moment when the frothy egg and sugar mixture magically turns to glossy, billowy sweetness.
Piping the meringue circles was fun! I traced circles on the bottom of the parchment paper to use as a guide for stress-free piping. I used white chocolate to fill the center of the meringue circles, but you can also use white chocolate chips or candy melts. You can use any small edible flowers or flower petals. Feel free to express your creativity! Try using sprinkles, edible glitter or tint the meringue mixture with a few drops of gel food color.
Fairy Tale Meringue Cookies
Meringue cookies filled with white chocolate and topped with pressed edible flowers
In early September, I saw someone announce the fall season on social media. In addition to people pointing out that it was too early for the announcement, the word police corrected the person with the word autumn. Since both terms are correct, we can call the season whatever we prefer. I think autumn is a pretty sounding word, so I’ll use it for the rest of this post. Whatever you call it, these Pumpkin Spice Mini Loaves are a perfect little celebration of the season. They have just the right amount of pumpkin spices, making them so fragrant that your kitchen will smell like cozy autumn heaven.
I call them loaves because I originally made them in mini loaf pans. They’re so cute and delicious that I often give them as holiday gifts. This year I decided to try them in ramekins and I loved the results! I used 6-ounce ramekins, but you can use 8-ounce ramekins, any size mini loaf pans, a muffin pan or even a 9-inch loaf pan. Keep in mind that baking times will differ. To find the ramekins I used, click here.
Pumpkin Spice Mini Loaves with Caramel Filling
Mini loaves of tender pumpkin bread with caramel filling and luscious cream cheese frosting
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour seven 6-ounce ramekins or six 8-ounce ramekins or any loaf pans of your choice.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well combined.
Beat in pumpkin and vanilla until combined.
Divide batter evenly into prepared ramekins. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Do not overbake. (Mini loaves or muffins bake for 15-25 minutes, depending on size. 9-inch loaf bakes for 40-50 minutes)
Cool completely if serving in ramekins or remove from pans after cooling for 10 minutes. Continue to cool on wire rack.
Make 3/4-inch well in the center of each loaf. Fill with caramel sauce. (For the 9-inch loaf, make multiple holes with a skewer. Fill with caramel.)
Top with cream cheese frosting and pumpkin seeds
Cream Cheese Frosting
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and butter together with an electric mixer until smooth.
Add vanilla extract and salt and beat until combined.
Gradually add powdered sugar and beat at medium speed until combined.
Add heavy cream and beat at low speed until combined.
My dad used to take me on walks in the woods to look for fairy rings when I was a child. I wanted to see a real fairy so badly! I got a book about fairies, hoping to learn more about them. Fairies love little cakes, milk, honey and butter so I’m sure these Fairy Puffs would be fairy approved.
My Fairy Puffs recipe is loosely based on an old favorite mini muffin recipe. I tweaked it quite a bit, including the addition of pink dragonfruit powder. Dragonfruit has a subtle flavor, so the bright fuchsia powder is mostly for color. But oh what a beautiful color it is! You can find dragonfruit powder in healthy food stores or online. To find the dragonfruit powder , also known as pink pitaya powder, I used, click here.
Decorating these little cuties was so entertaining! After sampling multiple variations of sparkling sugar and cinnamon sugar, I decided that dipping the bottoms of the muffins in butter and cinnamon sugar, then dipping the tops in butter and sparkling sugar gave them the perfect balance of sugar and spice. I had purchased some edible flowers a couple of days prior, and they added a pretty, magical touch. The flowers I used are called bachelor’s buttons and I got them at a local gourmet flower seller.
Here is the lemon brownie enlightenment no one asked for, brought to you by the self proclaimed lemon brownie expert, yours truly! We all know what a lemon bar is. The one we all know and love has a lemon curd filling on a shortbread crust, possibly drizzled with lemon icing. The lemon brownie is a whole different animal. Don’t mistake lemon brownies for lemon cake either. Lemon brownies contain white chocolate which gives them a rich, fudgy texture like their chocolate cousins. Now that we got that straightened out, we can sleep peacefully tonight.
May I just say that my lemon brownie credentials go all the way back to childhood? I grew up with a big lemon tree in my backyard and I constantly experimented with lemons in cooking and baking. I also experimented my way to the perfect lemonade ratio. My younger brother and I made a lemonade pact. He would pick the lemons and I would make lemonade. Our mom never bought soft drinks, so if we wanted refreshments, we had to team up! Decades ago my mom was delighted to see me making a batch of raspberry lemonade for the first time. The raspberry lemonade brownie recipe I’m sharing here has that same sweet-tart flavor we enjoyed back then.
One of my favorite things about this recipe is that there is no electric mixer needed. You can literally execute this recipe with only a wooden spoon to stir it! My other favorite thing is the burst of flavor and color from the fresh raspberries. The icing contains no food coloring. Just three raspberries will give you that luscious shade of pink!
We’ve all needed a little cheering up at times, especially this past past year. These cute, happy tarts won’t take your problems away, but they can certainly make you smile, especially if you make them for someone else. They’re super easy to make and they taste better than the ones in the box we ate as kids. You can use store bought pie dough if you want to streamline the process. Any flavor of jam or preserves you have on hand works too!
Feel free to have fun decorating these little cuties. The possibilities are endless. You can use edible glitter, purchased candy eyes or even add mustaches. Happy baking!
Have you noticed the strawberry shortcake crumble topping trend? I recently noticed many people have been sharing various versions of the crumble recipe all over Tiktok. I’ve seen the topping on cake, cupcakes and countless other desserts. Most people seem to make it using strawberry gelatin mix and vanilla pudding mix. The version I’m sharing here uses freeze dried strawberries instead. I’m not opposed to using gelatin mix, I just seriously love the tart, natural flavor of freeze dried strawberries. This topping is irresistible on these tender strawberry muffins.
Since strawberry season is in full swing, I used fresh strawberries for the puree in the muffins. Feel free to use frozen, defrosted strawberries if you cant get fresh ones.
Strawberry Shortcake Crumble Muffins
Strawberry muffins topped with strawberry shortcake crumble
Each spring, I look forward to the sight and fragrance of beautiful botanical blooms, especially cherry blossoms. Feeling inspired, I baked some cherry blossom cookies just in time for Mother’s Day. These perfectly pretty, pink cookies are easy to make and fun to decorate. You can sprinkle sparkling sugar on them before baking and call it a day or you can make some pink cherry icing and add sugar pearls or sprinkles. Either way, they look beautiful and taste delicious!
Cherry Blossom Cookies
Pink cherry flavored sugar cookies with cherry icing