Monday, May 28, 2012

{Recipe} Chocolate Chip Cookies

We spent our Memorial Day weekend locked in the house due to lots of rain & wind from a tropical storm. So baking up some cookies was one of the fun ways we passed the time!

My favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe is the classic Nestle Toll House recipe...but I make ONE change. After experimenting with using all butter (as per the original recipe) and all shortening (another recipe I tried), I finally discovered that I prefer how the cookies turn out using both. I get just the right amount of buttery flavor, but the addition of the shortening helps keep the cookies fluffier without being greasy. Here's the recipe along with my cookie baking tips!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick softened)
1/2 cup butter-flavored shortening (1/2 stick)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups chocolate chips (any flavor) {I used dark chocolate & white chocolate chips for these cookies}

-preheat oven to 375 degrees F
-line a baking sheet with parchment paper
-In a bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and salt & set aside
-In stand mixer (or using a hand mixer), mi butter, shortening, sugars & vanilla until creamy
-add eggs one at time, mixing well after each one
-add flour and blend until fully combined
-add chocolate chips and mix in by hand with a large spoon
-drop spoonfuls of cookie dough onto baking sheet
-bake for appx 10 minutes (see my tip below)
-remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet for a minute, then remove to baking rack to cool completely

I like to use a small scoop to measure out my cookie dough because it's super easy and less messy. It also helps keep your cookies more uniform in size. You can find a similar cookie scoop in the baking aisle of your craft or department store.
I ALWAYS use parchment paper to bake my cookies on. It keeps them from sticking and from burning. Letting the pan cool for a few minutes between batches will keep your cookies from spreading. Or use two baking sheets and switch them between batches.
The key to keeping your cookies from over-baking is to take them out of the oven just before they are browned. When they are just beginning to brown and look almost done, take them out! 
They will continue to bake on the cookie sheet after you take them out of the oven, so this ensures that they don't get over bake and end up being too hard and too brown.

Warm cookies equals love on a plate.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Florida Gator Cake {University of Florida}

I live in Jacksonville, Florida where the Florida Gator fans are so high in number that you would swear we had a campus right here and not just under an hour away! The very sweet (& HUGE Gator fan) Nikki of the event planning company Great Gatherings contacted me to make a cake for her dad's needed to be a Gator cake of course!

Now that Gator topper was very naughty and did not make it to his intended destination in one piece! After all the time spent on him, it was definitely a heart-breaker! But Nikki was sweet & gracious and told me how delicious the cake tasted and how everyone loved it anyway.

I'm wondering if that topper knew I was married to an FSU Alumni and was just being spiteful ;)

Later Gator!

Monday, May 21, 2012

S'mores Cake in a Jar

Who doesn't love s'mores...and a s'mores cake is super yummy. Now put that yummy cake in a jar and you've got an adorable treat for a summer party!

Head on over to Piggy Bank Parties where I'm sharing the recipe & tutorial for this yummy treat!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Remembering my mother

I tried to write this post for Mother's Day last year, but this blog was too new and I wasn't yet ready to open up my heart and share my feelings. But now my blog feels like home to me and so I felt ready to write this post...

Mother's Day is this weekend and my daughters are excited for whatever plans they are cooking up with their Daddy...scurrying around and whispering secrets. I'm looking forward to the sweet things they have planned, but my thoughts as always, turn to my mother...

My family is Cuban and my mother, along with my father and siblings immigrated to the U.S. in the late 60's. I was born a few years later in Chicago...a far cry from tropical Cuba! My mom was everything you imagine a Latina mom to be...she was passionate, a fantastic cook, loud, funny, quick to hug and slow to judge. She was a woman of strong faith and she walked the walk when it came to her beliefs.

My mom was a character and I like to think I inherited some of her silliness! She would break out into song at any given moment. She was a terrible singer (which I definitely inherited) and she knew it and that just made her sing even louder! Once when she was singing her heart out in church, I couldn't help but tease her a little. She smiled at me and said "I'm singing for Jesus, I don't care what anyone else thinks" and just sang louder! That was just how she rolled...not really caring too much about what others thought of her.
She loved to quote movies...Gone with the Wind was one of her favorites. She loved quotes of any kind really...from the more serious poems of Jose Marti (the Cuban poet & revolutionary) to irrelevant TV shows & commercials...she had a quote for everything. Despite so much sadness in her life (stemming from many heartbreaks including leaving her entire family behind in Cuba and never seeing them again)...she still managed to find joy in each and every day.
She was a "domestic Goddess" in every sense of the word. She could cook ANYTHING. I mean that woman would open an empty refrigerator and somehow magically put a yummy dinner on the table. She gardened and grew beautiful flowers and plants. She could really sew. She sewed many of our clothes growing up...including my sisters wedding dress, bridesmaid dresses and my prom dress. I have her sewing machine tucked away and one of these days I hope to do it justice and learn to use it.
I inherited none of my mother's one. I learned to bake.
My mom loved for me to bake! For some reason she had zero interest in teaching me to cook (a skill I still am mostly lacking) but loved to help me whip up some sweets. I started baking cakes at the age of 9 and she encouraged me greatly in this area. She really loved for me to bake cookies and by high school, she had me baking and putting together Christmas gifts for her coworkers each year.
My love of birthday cakes comes directly from her. We didn't have money for many luxuries growing up, but even if there weren't alot of presents a birthday always included a homemade cake. To this day, I still cling to the strong belief that a birthday is not a birthday without a cake! Now for all her culinary skills, my mom didn't bake cakes from scratch. She was fiercely loyal to her Betty Crocker. Birthday cakes were typically yellow cake with chocolate frosting...although every now and then she would try something new. Like the year she tried the jello rainbow cake recipe she cut out of a magazine...I thought that was the coolest thing ever! I still have many of her cake pans and tools and they make me feel like she's in the kitchen with me each time I use them.
I miss my mom. I miss her constantly. When you lose a parent, you move on with your life, but it's a wound on your heart that never quite heals and can be ripped open suddenly...without notice...leaving you feel like a vulnerable child. She passed away when I was 2 months pregnant with my oldest daughter. My baby's birth was a bittersweet one as I so much wanted my mom to hold my precious girl. My deepest regret in this world is that my daughters will never know the amazingly loving person my mother was. She would have adored my girls...she would have showered them with the same unconditional fierce love she showed me.
It's been almost 7 years since we lost her. She suffered from Alzheimer's for the 7 years before her death...7 years full of some of the worst heartache I've ever known. Sometimes I have to close my eyes and really concentrate to remember life before she became ill. I try not to dwell on the years when she was sick...despite the fact that those are the freshest memories. But that's a story for another post...
I wonder what she would think about the person I am now...about my life...the mother that I am. I wonder what she would think of the cakes I'm making now. I think she would have been proud. I know she would have been thrilled that I ventured into business for myself...she encouraged my independent spirit for as long as I could remember. My mom was always my biggest fan...celebrating everything I did with passionate support! 
Despite the fact that I am forty years old, there are days when life gets too complicated, too heavy with burden and the little girl in me longs for my mom. I long to curl up next to her on the couch...for her hugs of encouragement...for the wisdom of her perspective...for her unconditional love.
I look at my beautiful daughters sitting next me and I hope that I show them that same love...that they will grow strong and happy with the security of my love as their foundation. I hope that they will be fearless in pursuit of their dreams knowing that no matter what, I will be here to cheer them on. That I am and always will be, their biggest fan!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fiesta Baby Shower Cake

I was recently asked to make a baby shower cake for a fun loving couple! The "belly cake" is a very popular baby shower cake style and since this party was being held on Cinco de Mayo, I was asked to incorporate some FIESTA elements into the belly cake design!

The cake flavors were chocolate with chocolate Swiss Meringue and Vanilla with strawberry cream cheese.

Congratulations and Ole!

Monday, May 7, 2012

White Ruffle Cake

Last week I was asked to make a cake for a little girl's first communion...can I tell you how much I loved this cake?

I LOVE ruffles and I think I've decided that white ruffles are my favorite!

Inside the cake was a chocolate cake with salted caramel filling (my most popular flavors). A bright purple ruffled flower added a fun pop of color to the cake.

A sweet cake for a special celebration!