Patron XO Cafe Cupcakes

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I love baking for birthdays. Nothing beats a cake from scratch or batch of cookies. Maybe it’s lingering childhood memories of homemade (never store bought) birthday cakes. I made these simple chocolate cupcakes for my roommate’s birthday in August. The cake is an old recipe from Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca, New York. The original did not involve soaking the cake in coffee-flavored tequila (that’s my twist). Patron XO Cafe is a rich, sweet coffee/chocolate liqueur that is the perfect addition to buttercream frosting – it’s just boozy enough to feel worthy of a birthday.

Chocolate Cupcakes

Loosely adapted from Moosewood Restaurant

  • 1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 cup cold water or coffee
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Patron XO Cafe liqueur


Adapted from Magnolia Bakery

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 6-8 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 cup coffee liqueur (I used Patron XO Cafe)
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract or vanilla  bean paste
  • Pinch Kosher salt


Heat oven to 375F. Line a cupcake pan(s) with 12 liners. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. In another bowl, whisk together the oil, water or coffee and vanilla. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk to combine. When the mixture is smooth, stir in the vinegar and thoroughly combine. Divide the batter amongst the 12 cupcake liners. Bake for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

With a toothpick or skewer, poke a few holes in the top of each cupcake. Using a pastry brush, coat each cupcake with the liqueur. This is called imbibing and it will allow the flavors to really soak into the cupcake.


Beat butter and a few cups of sugar until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Gradually add the rest of the powdered sugar, alternating with coffee liqueur, until frosting is thick, creamy and fluffy. Take your time with this, you really want to fully incorporate the sugar before adding more. You may not need all the sugar. Add vanilla and a pinch of salt. Transfer to a piping bag with a star tip or frost the cupcakes by hand. You may have extra frosting. It will keep for a few days in the fridge. Just allow it to come to room temperature before using.

Monster Cookies

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Peanut butter-oatmeal-M&M cookies. Need I say more?

These cookies hail from Kelly Senyei’s wonderful site, Just a Taste. Thick, chewy and peanut buttery, these are not the ones you set out for afternoon tea. They’re the ones you bring in a Tupperware to a friend’s for a New Girl marathon. Or on a road trip. Or anywhere, for that matter.

I used commercial PB –  Skippy is my favorite for baking. I suppose you could use natural peanut butter, but the texture might be more crumbly. These cookies do not contain flour, but rely on old-fashioned oats to bind the dough together. I used M&Ms (Easter colored!) but you could sub in (or add) chocolate chips, toffee chips or any other tasty bit that you have lying around.

These go really well with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk. And your DVR lineup.

Monster Cookies

Recipe adapted from Just a Taste

1 cup white sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
½ cup butter (1 stick), at room temperature
3 eggs
1½ cups peanut butter (smooth or chunky, I used Skippy)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4½ cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup M&Ms (mini or regular)


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Cream together the white sugar, brown sugar and butter with an electric mixer.
  3. Beat in the eggs, peanut butter, vanilla, baking soda and salt.
  4. Stir in the oats and M&Ms.
  5. Scoop 2-to 3-tablespoon mounds of the dough onto a parchment paper- or Silpat-lined cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes.

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Brown Butter Brownies

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I first made these simple chocolate brownies last Valentine’s Day. They were topped with dulce de leche ice cream and washed down with lots of champagne (gal pal holidays at their finest). They were so good, I found myself turning to the recipe about once a month. Dressed up with Maldon sea salt, they were perfect for dinner parties. Spiked with espresso and more dark chocolate, they made the trip to Long Beach Island.

If you’re looking for a cake-like, vaguely chocolate, somewhat sandy brownies, don’t make these. These are intensely chocolatey, rich, dense. They rely on a combination of brown butter and cocoa powder and very little flour. What I like most (besides their taste) is their versatility. For holiday appeal, I added a dash of peppermint extract to the batter and covered them warm with crushed candy canes. Wrapped in parchment and cellophane, they’d make a great gift.

Brown Butter Brownies 

From Bon Appetit

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Line an 8×8 baking pan with foil; coat with cooking spray.
  2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until butter stops foaming and brown bits form at the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.
  3. To the saucepan, add sugar, cocoa, 2 tsp. water, vanilla and a large pinch of salt. Stir to blend then allow to cool slightly.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, whisking throughly after each addition. When mixture looks shiny, add flour and stir until thoroughly blended (may take about a minute). Stir in mix-ins (optional).
  5. Bake brownies until toothpick inserted comes out almost clean, about 25 minutes. Do not overbake!! Cool slightly then transfer to the freezer for a bit – this will make them easier to slice into clean squares.

Marbled Banana Bread

I think of banana bread as a “free” recipe. Overripe fruit, otherwise trash, is transformed into a quick little bread using items you probably have in your pantry. I have a few variations of banana bread in rotation – Melissa Clark’s version is particularly good.

Last Sunday afternoon, in a vain attempt for something sweet that a) involved chocolate b) did not use the 2 eggs destined for breakfast, I concocted this (full disclosure) vegan version. “Vegan?!” you say. Hear me out. People have been making cakes without butter or eggs for years. One of my family’s favorites, nanny’s hot water chocolate cake, relies on a few WWII-era tricks to keep it moist, using, you guessed it, boiling water.

If you like cake that masquerades as breakfast food, you’ll love this. After polishing off a good portion of it, I realized you could take this into full dessert territory with frosting. I have big plans for a peanut butter glaze next time. Nanny hated PB, but I’m sure she would approve.

Marbled Banana Bread


1 cup mashed very ripe banana (about 4 small bananas)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup almond milk (or any other milk) + 1 tsp. vinegar (this mimicks buttermilk)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour or spelt flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tablespoons boiling water, divided


Heat oven to 350 F. Prepare boiling water (no need to measure). Lightly grease an 8×4 loaf pan.

Mash the banana in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the sugars, olive oil, milk and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda and salt. Add to the banana mixture, folding gently until combined (it’s OK if its lumpy – don’t overmix).

Scoop one cup of the batter up and transfer it to a separate mixing bowl. Now, in a small tea cup mix the cocoa powder with 3 tablespoons boiling water and stir vigorously with a fork until the chocolate is dissolved. Add this chocolate mixture to the one cup of banana and mix until the chocolate is thoroughly smooth and incorporated.

Add 3 tablespoons of boiling water to the regular banana mixture and mix the batter just until relatively smooth.

Scoop alternate 1/2 cupfuls of chocolate/banana batter into the loaf pan. Once all of the batter is in, swirl it with a knife or long skewer.

Bake for 55 minutes. Allow to cool before slicing. I store mind wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and then tin foil.

-Recipe adapted from Post Punk Kitchen

Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie

Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie

Something about September makes me think about chocolate chip cookies. Maybe it’s back-to-school lunchbox memories. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m turning on my oven for the first time in months. While I love the salted-caramel-cacao-nib-rosemary-infused desserts that are so … Continue reading

Homemade Nutella

I was first introduced to Nutella, the Italian chocolate hazelnut spread, by my grandmother. Growing up, it was a novelty – and the fact that it was from Europe made it seem extra fancy. Whether slathered on toast, crackers, pretzels or quite honestly, a spoon, Nutella is downright addictive. Flash forward to college, when I spend a semester in Florence. Nutella was crazy-popular and to my delight, better than the U.S. version and much cheaper than imported peanut butter. I like to think of Nutella like instant-dessert – a dollop on anything and you’ve satisfied your sweet tooth. My version is a little thiner than the jarred variety but does the job without added sweeteners, thickeners or preservatives. Warning: this is highly addictive! And yes, that is a homemade croissant…but we’ll save that for another day!

Homemade Nutella


  • 1 cup shelled hazelnuts, toasted
  • 1 cup high quality semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (I used 62% chunks c/o Scharffen Berger)
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt


  1. In a food processor, blend hazelnuts until they reach a peanut butter-like consistency.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare your double-boiler. Bring a small saucepan of water to boil. Reduce to a simmer and place a stainless-steel bowl with chocolate directly over the stove (the bowl should fit comfortably and should be wider than the saucepan). Stir the chocolate to melt. Remove when melted. Cool slightly.
  3. Place melted chocolate in the food processor with hazelnut puree. Add vanilla and a pinch of salt and blend.
  4. Store in the fridge.

5 Minute PB&C Crunch Cookies

Five minutes, peanut butter + chocolate. Need I say more?

No-Bake PB&C Crunch Cookies

Yield: Approx. 1 dozen

  • 1 1/2 cups high-fiber ‘twig’ cereal (like Fiber One)
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 T. peanut butter (can also sub another type of nut or seed butter)


  1. Melt chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl, stirring ever 30 seconds until melted (you can also do this over a double-boiler). Stir in peanut butter.
  2. Combine cereal and chocolate mixture in a large bowl. Scoop or spoon 1/4 cup portions onto parchment or wax paper-lined baking sheet. Freeze for 30 minutes before eating. Store in airtight container in freezer.

Will you be my Valentine? Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies

Red velvet cheesecake brownies. Who wouldn’t  like to receive these on February 14th? I’ve taken my favorite red-hued cake and morphed it into a brownie. A swirl of cheesecake on top is a nod to the customary cream cheese frosting. I cut these babies into teeny squares and placed them in mini muffin liners. How’s that for a box of chocolates?

Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies


  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2-oz dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp red food coloring
  • 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 8-oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 8 inch metal baking pan. Put a long piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, letting the parchment extend up two sides of the pan and overhang slightly on both ends. (This will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after they have baked.) Butter the parchment.

In a small, heatproof bowl, melt butter and chocolate together. Stir until combined and very smooth. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and red food coloring. Add chocolate mixture and stir until smooth. Add flour and salt and stir until just combined and no streaks of dry ingredients remain.

Pour into prepared pan and spread into an even layer.

To prepare cheesecake mixture, beat cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla extract in a medium bowl until smooth. Distribute the cheesecake mixture in 8 dollops over batter in the pan. Swirl in with a knife or spatula.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until brownies and cheesecake are set. A knife inserted into the cheesecake mixture should come out clean and the edges will be lightly browned.

Let cool completely in pan on a cooling rack before lifting out the parchment paper to remove the brownies.

Source: Sweet Pea’s Kitchen via Baking Bites

Gluten-Free Brownies

As a tribute to those following a wheat-free diet, I’ve got the dessert for you. Many gluten-free recipes call for special flours and hard-to-find ingredients, but these brownies can be made without a special trip to the health food store. What makes these  special? In lieu of flour AND butter, these babies get a little help from a can of black beans. Once you get over the whole bean-in-yo-brownie factor, you may never return to that box of G-free brownie mix again. Note: be sure to cool brownies completely before serving.

Gluten-Free Brownies

One 15 ½-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed very well

3 large eggs

3 tablespoons canola oil

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips, divided

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray an 8 X 8-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Place the black beans in the bowl of a food processor; process until smooth and creamy.  Add the eggs, oil, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract,  baking powder, and salt and process until smooth.  Add ¼ cup of the chips and pulse a few times until the chips are broken up a bit.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle the top with the remaining ¼ cup chocolate chips.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until the edges start to pull away from the sides and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan completely before slicing.

-Adapted from

Cookies and Cocktails

Scenes and recipes from our little holiday gathering…

Our IKEA Christmas Tree – a real sparkler!


Bailey’s Irish Cream Cookies, Frosted Cut Outs and Glazed Spritz

 Almond Joy Cookies

Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies (with festive drizzle!)

My “Shortcut” Sangria – punch bowl from Crate & Barrel

Mint Chocolate Cookies 

Peanut Butter Balls (Buckeyes)

Paula Deen’s Caramel Corn


Shortcut Sangria

3 Liters red wine (the cheaper, the better – I used a large jug of Carlo Rossi – $16!)

1 can apple juice concentrate

4 apples, cut into 1-inch cubes

4 oranges, 2 sliced and 2 juiced

6 limes, 3 sliced and 3 juiced

4 lemons, 2 sliced and 2 juiced

2 T. sugar

Mix apple juice with 2 cups cold water. In a large pitcher or punch bowl, combine wine, fruit, juices and sugar. Stir and chill until ready to serve, or overnight. You can also add flavored or plain vodka, a splash of triple sec or apricot brandy for a REALLY festive punch bowl.