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Sunday, December 29, 2013


For those of us who love to bake, there are always, ALWAYS those confections that never turn out quite right for us, no matter how hard we try. I call those confoundings my Achilles Desserts. For me, my list of Achilles Desserts(A.D.) always seem to be the sweets that I enjoy the most. Shortbread cookies make my mouth sing, but the ones I make always turn out like bland sand. What should be a smooth, creamy chocolate frosting for my Texas Sheet Cake instead turns into what I describe as shards of greasy glass. These things happen to me regardless of the multiple recipes I've tried for each one. 

That brings us to what I thought was destined to be A.D. numero uno, Italian Cream Cake. 

There's a small, Italian eatery near my house, that we frequent often. That restaurant has a house-made Italian Cream Cake on the menu that is so good that it will make you beg the owners to adopt you so that you can spend more time in the presence of.....THE CAKE. After eating THE CAKE a few times I was determined to replicate it in my own kitchen. Cake, nuts, cream cheese frosting. How hard could it possibly be??!! Turns out it was very, very hard. The recipes I tried were either too dry, or the flavoring did not live up to that of THE CAKE.

I had pretty much given up, and had come to terms with only having THE CAKE when out and about. The A.D. list had welcomed another addition. 

And then, my boss' birthday rolled around. Knowing that the man loves pecans with a near-religious fervor, I searched my files for a cake that would scream "PECAN OVERLOAD!!!!!!" (I'm having a new love affair with exclamation points, it's a sickness really. Let's hope the symptoms soon pass....!!!!!). The only recipes that filled that need was the Italian Cream Cake. I stared bitterly at the pages, and they stared back, mocking me with their A.D.-ness (it's my blog and I can make up words(and faux drama) if I want to). A first-world problem, but still a problem, to be sure. 

I threw out the useless recipes and again scoured the internet for the Italian Cream Cake that would rule them all. I'm sure you figured out that I found my saving recipe, otherwise there would be no point to this post. The cake is light and moist, the frosting is nutty and sweet without being overly so. It was a hit with my boss!!! (I will be entering exclamation point group therapy after the new year begins). I can't really compare this to THE CAKE, because they're so different from each other, but I'm satisfied with how close this cake comes to the cake of all cakes.

The recipe comes from and I cannot begin to tell you how great that sight is. It's quickly becoming indispensable to me. I've included the full link to the cake recipe below.



I'm raising my own bad-ass Santa cookie army. One of them is so tough he cut off his own nose. Beware the KKLF (Kris Kringle Liberation Front). Motto: So cute, yet so angry.

Raspberry Oat Bars: Cake mix crust + raspberry jam + oat streusel = divine.

Lemon Crumb Bars: The balance of salty crust and lemon tang are smack-your-face delicious. My 2014 prediction....forget salted caramel because here comes salted lemon. 

The list of baked goods made this Christmas is too long to include here, so that wraps another Christmas baking season. Also known as the I-claim-I-love-this-time-of-year-but-I-secretly-want-to-put-a-gun-to-my-fa-la-la-la-head holiday. In a shoutout to one of my fave Twitter follows, @ASourAppleTree, cue the Layla outro.


No matter what name you know them by, Preacher Cookies, Chewy Charlies, Cow Patties, Candy Cookies, or Poodgies, most of you will know these cookies by site. Even if you've never made them I can bet you've eaten at least one in your life. In my house they've never been known by anything more than "no-bake cookies".

These cookies seem to have taken a toehold all across the country, but from where I'm sitting, nowhere more so than the state of West Virginia. If we were to declare an official state cookie, this would be the one, hands-down. No-bake Cookies are present at every potluck, Christmas party and baby shower from Welch to Wheeling. They are available for sale near the check-out area at most gas stations and convenience stores from one end of this state to the other. And even though there isn't any baking involved, it's rare to find a local bakery that doesn't display them proudly.In some quiet, unassuming way, these cookies have crept into the consciousness of these mountains like edible tribbles.

It's no accident that this cookie is so popular, after all, it has a lot going for it. The texture is soft,almost fudge-like. Then you have the nuttiness of the peanut butter, that pairs so well with the chewiness of the oats. They're so easy to prepare that you can literally have a dozen cooked and ready to eat within 30 minutes. And their versatility lends them to being customized to suit a variety of tastes. You don't like cocoa? No problem there are recipes out there that tell you how to make peanut butter their primary flavor. Not happy with the oats? Substitute coconut instead. Think they would benefit from nuts or raisins? Go for it. I've tried a wide variety of extracts in place of the original vanilla that the recipe calls for, all of them bringing something new to the party (almond extract has become my favorite, but orange extract runs a close second).

Just because they're easy to make, doesn't mean that things can't go wrong. Undercook them and they won't firm up enough to actually be called a cookie. But eating them with a spoon doesn't make them any less delicious. Overcook them, or add too much peanut butter and they will become miniature, tooth-chipping, boulders. Again, still edible, but the texture and coloring are unpleasant. They should be soft and pliable but still solid enough to hold in your hand without breaking. The coloring should be a deep, chocolate brown.

When I think about the cookies of my childhood, this one dominates those memories like no other. I think their praise is long overdue.

No-Bake Cookies

2 - cups granulated sugar
4 - tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 - cup butter
1/2 - cup evaporated or whole milk
1/4 - teaspoon salt
2 1/2 - cups quick or old fashioned oats
1/2 - cup creamy peanut butter
1 - teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium sized sauce pan over medium high heat add butter. sugar, cocoa powder, milk and salt.

Stir until butter is melted and ingredients are incorporated. Bring to a rolling boil, and boil for 1 1/2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter until completely melted Add vanilla and oatmeal, mix well.

Working quickly before the mixture cools drip by tablespoon (I use my small cookie scoop) onto wax paper.

Let cool completely on waxed paper. Remove the cookies when they have set up.