Lighten Up!: Sweet Potatoes with Crumble Topping

Every time I’m in the kitchen with my mom, it’s sure to be a good time.  Yes, because I’m spending time with her and catching up (though we talk on the phone daily). But mostly because we spend half of the time making dumb comments, intended or not, and laughing.  You’ll read a few of the latest in the next few posts.

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Mine was fantastic because I was able to get a couple days off to spend with family.

Well, and the food was great.  Let’s be honest, that alone makes it a good day.

Usually, my job is to make the turkey and help with a select few things.  This year, my aunt took over the turkey, which meant it was 100% cooked and no pieces had to be microwaved.  Apparently my family prefers their turkey sans salmonella.

I know, they’re picky. 😉

But I really appreciate that she cooked the turkey, lots of other yummy things, and had our family over at her house for Thanksgiving.  (Thanks, Aunt Chrissy!!) Plus, I got to focus my attention on sides and revamping my sweet potato recipe!

I love sweet potatoes.  Like, I don’t make them for myself often because I’ll eat them all.  That and because I can’t be trusted around an open bag of mini marshmallows. And my sweet potatoes recipe has always been good, but nothing really awesome.  Maybe because it was MUCH lighter than your traditional southern yams recipe.  (It IS my recipe after all)

Now I have a new version to offer that is, really, just as light.  But with far more flavor, texture, and looks prettier. Which, lets face it, means everything in the blogging world.  A pretty picture can really mean the difference between “Oh yes, I’ll try that recipe” and “A post with no pics?? Booooring!!”

So I bring to you the new and improved sweet potatoes recipe, with pictures. 🙂

Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallow Crumble

Makes 6 servings

  • 40oz can yams in syrup, drained and rinsed
  • Zest of 1 orange (~2 Tbsp)
  • Juice of 1/2 orange (~1/4 cup)
  • 1  1/2 Tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons light pancake syrup
  • 1  1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    Topping:

    • 1/4 cup instant oats
    • 2 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
    • 2 Tablespoons flour
    • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    • Dash nutmeg
    • 1 1/2 Tablespoons butter, melted
    • 1/2 Tablespoon canola oil
    • 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
    • 1 cup mini marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a medium bowl, mash together the drained and rinsed yams (sweet potatoes), orange zest, and orange juice.  Mash until desired texture.  Add brown sugar, syrup, and vanilla.  Mix well.

Spread mixture into the bottom of a 9X9 inch baking dish.

In a separate bowl, mix oats, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Add melted butter and oil.  Mix together until well incorporated and crumbly. Add walnuts and marshmallows and mix well. 

Sprinkle onto top of the sweet potatoes.

Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes.  Then place under broiler on high for 1-2 minutes or until marshmallows become slightly browned.

So there you have it, a little lighter than most traditional sweet potato casseroles. Not sure of the exact nutrition information because there isn’t information for drained and rinsed canned yams.  Bummer…

Let’s just say it’s lighter, very little added fat…even though there is a fair amount of sugar between the brown sugar, marshmallows, etc.  But still, lighter.  And still delicious! Hooray!

Back soon with an updated post on our family’s banana pudding recipe!

How to: Make Cake Balls

It’s about that time, folks.  Time for baking extravaganzas! The holidays are just around the corner (or we’re in the middle of them after Halloween…whatever) and it’s time for parties, potlucks, and pretty desserts.  Sorry, went with the “p” theme there. Perfect!  Okay, I’ll stop now.

If you’re looking for something that’s a crowd pleaser, that won’t take forever to make, you’re reading the right post.  Cake balls are the perfect two-bite dessert that most people love and they’re super portable.  They also happen to make wonderful gifts in themed pastry bags or boxes.  All hail the inexpensive, homemade gift!!

And yes, they’re pretty easy.  But it’s a step-by-step process, and many sites have “how-to” posts for them.  Here’s how I make mine:

You’ll need:

  • Your favorite cake, baked. One 8″ layer yields ~28-30 cake balls.  Two 8″ layers (1 boxed cake) yields ~56-60 cake balls
  • Frosting- 1 can or ~1.5 cups frosting for two 8″ layers of cake
  • Almond bark or other candy coating
  • Cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
  • Cookie scoop
  1. Bake your favorite cake.  Whatever flavor you like (not cheesecake or angel food cake, obviously). I chose chocolate cake for my last batch.
  2. Allow cake to cool until cool enough to handle.  Crumble cooled cake into a large mixing bowl.  Really large. I use my mixer’s bowl for it.
  3. Add frosting to crumbled cake.  The proper ratio is two 8″ cake layers to one can (about 1 1/2 cups) of frosting.
  4. Stir until well combined.
  5. Using a cookie scoop, scoop out heaping tablespoons of cake/frosting mix.  Roll into a ball and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  6. Refrigerate until fairly stiff.  I typically refrigerate overnight because it’s easiest.  However, fridge for an hour or so (or freezer for 1/2 and hour to one hour) would most likely be enough.
  7. Once cake balls are properly chilled, melt your candy coating.  My favorite is almond bark because it melts beautifully and can be colored with candy colors. *Note:  You have to use candy colors, not regular, water-based food coloring.  The oil-based candy colors won’t make the coating seize and become clumpy.  However, I also regularly use candy melts that are already colored.
  8. If you’re making cake pops instead of plain cake balls, dip about 1/2 inch of a popsicle stick (not the brown craft ones) into the candy coating.  Insert about 3/4 of the way through the chilled cake ball.  Repeat for all.  Refrigerate another 15 min or so.
  9. Dip cake balls.  If the candy coating becomes too cool and isn’t runny enough, pop it back in the microwave for 15 second intervals until warm enough. It should be runny enough to drizzle off of a spoon, but not so hot that you burn yourself or it doesn’t coat the cake ball.
  10. If I’m going to drizzle over the top of the cake ball to decorate it, I dip half of the ball, then go back and dip the other half to make it easier to hold and dip.  And less messy. However, this does not yield the prettiest results, so do this only when necessary. 🙂
  11. Allow coating to cool and harden at room temp.  Or you can pop it in the fridge for a while.  However, do NOT put them in the freezer.  It will cause there to be condensation on the cake balls when they come back to room temp.
  12. Decorate as desired with drizzles of the same candy coating, or a variety of colors.  And please don’t be like me and forget to take a picture of the final product.  Sorry about that.
    Or you could make them super fancy, like these dressed up cake balls:Or maybe these ninja turtle cake pops:

So now, when someone asks you to bring a dessert for a potluck, work party, whatever…you should try to make/bring cake balls!

Have you made these little treats before?  What has been your favorite cake ball or cake pop decoration?

Tiramisu Trials

I adore exploring foods from different cultures.  Especially when I’ve had the real thing in its country of origin. And since staying at home is far cheaper than flying around the world, I challenge myself to recreate my favorites.

Yesterday, I attempted to tackle tiramisu, an Italian classic. I foolishly thought it would be labor intensive, yet simple.  I mean, if it were super difficult to make, it wouldn’t be so common.  Right?  …..WRONG!

Now, I’ve had a few kinds of tiramisu.  And, as it turns out, there are as many variations of this classic as there are different recipes for banana pudding in the South.  (That is a LOT, for those who aren’t from these parts.)  I’m sure each Italian family has their own recipe for tiramisu.  But they all have similar components.  Layers of espresso-soaked ladyfingers, creamy and slightly sweet custard, and a dusting of either cocoa powder or shaved chocolate on top.

My favorite tiramisu was from a little restaurant in Rome.  We had a wonderful dinner there, in a room that looked like a family’s backyard. Dinner was served family style and we each ordered different desserts so we could share.

Almond torte (left) and the coveted tiramisu

By the end of the night, the entire restaurant was singing and waving their napkins to the live music.  We may or may not have been served wine…

Crowd got a little rowdy.

Setting out on this little journey, I just knew it would take me back to Italy.  Then I looked at the recipe.  Now, granted, I used this recipe from Cooking Light that isn’t a dead ringer for the classic. But have you seen the calories in the legit stuff??

Now let me say, I’m a somewhat lazy cook.  If it requires a double boiler or a candy thermometer, I’m out. This one required both.  But I sucked it up and tried.

Ta-da!!

The good news is that I discovered a new respect for all Italian grandmothers that can whip this up in their sleep.

Now here’s the bad news:

  1. I didn’t have espresso.  I used coffee from my Keurig because the only ground coffee I had left was coconut creme flavored, which I thought would ruin the tiramisu’s authenticity.
  2. I have insufficient cookware.  With all of my baking pans, you’d think I’d have one that would work for this dessert. ….I don’t.
  3. My ladyfingers were moldy!! And I’d bought them that day. Nothing ruins a tiramisu like the flavor of some bread mold. Mmmm scrumptious. Luckily, 1/2 of the package (wrapped individually) was safe. Thank you to Trader Joe’s for refunding my money.
  4. Turns out, fewer ladyfingers means a runny tiramisu.

So what did I learn?  Well, it turned out to be really delicious.  Though I think I’ll leave it to the experts, and hang up my tiramisu hat.

Oh who am I kidding…I now have a personal vendetta against this dessert and will master it some day. Off to get non-moldy ladyfingers….

The Perfect White Cake Search

Everyone knows about it, and everyone’s had it before….white cake. The staple.  The safe bet, because most people are picky about their cake flavors.

It being such a classic, you would think that every self-respecting cake decorator would have their favorite white/vanilla cake recipe.

But that’s so not true.  And, surprisingly, white/vanilla cake is possibly THE most difficult cake to make.  Why? Because there isn’t a flavor to cover up the cake’s imperfections.  It has to be sweet enough, but not too sweet.  Vanilla tasting, but still mild flavor. And the perfect crumb because, let’s be honest, it’s much easier to make a moist cake if you’re adding some other flavors to the thing.

It’s cake, but without all of the bells and whistles.  Unless you make it look like this….

Sweet 16 at Tiffany's

But even after you look past the pretty decorations, it’s still just white cake, and it has to be good.  Because everyone knows what it should taste like, and people are critical with their childhood favorites.

Lately, I’ve still been searching for the perfect white/vanilla cake recipe.  I don’t normally share the recipes that I use for Little Bit Sweet, the baking business. (Yes, I’m keeping secrets from you…sorry)  But now that I’ve discovered a better version of my old white cake recipe, I’ll share a couple of the old ones for you to try.  These were good, but just not what I was looking for.

Here’s the one I’ve been using for the past year or so:  Simple White Cake

Analysis:  It’s really good!  But it’s much more dense than I’d like.  And I often decreased the amount of sugar because it forms a bit of a sugary crust on the cake itself when it bakes.  Not a bad thing, but it makes it more difficult to carve into shapes like this:

And the latest recipe tried: Veganbaking.net

Analysis:  It’s good. And it’s vegan, which is a plus for my needs as I have vegan friends and clients.  Nice crumb/texture.  But just wasn’t….right.  A little “flour-y” tasting for me.  Not a ton of vanilla flavor to it. Like I said before: it was good, just not the quintessential white cake I was wanting.

So, alas, I go back to the drawing board again.  I like the white cake recipe I’m now using, but it could always be better.  I want the white cake that brings everyone back to their childhood.  Meaning their grandma’s recipe or mom’s recipe….not the white cake you’d get at the grocery store for your birthday cakes 😉  Not that there is anything wrong with those!! I love them.  They’re just not the perfect white cake…

Shortcut Mini Fruit Pies

Sometimes, you have to exploit technicalities.  For instance, technically I haven’t had Starbucks all week…because I’ve only had it the past three days. 😉  And technically things are “home baked” even if you take shortcuts.

Like these mini pies.  I have no shame in the fact that I used store-bought pie crust and canned pie filling.  (Ok, a tiny bit of shame about the canned pie filling because it’s a gloopy mess and I should have made something better-for-you out of fresh fruit)

But overall, not much shame. They were, in fact, baked in my home.  Therefore, they are “home baked.”

I’ve said this type of thing in a previous post as well.  I’m all for shortcuts when I’m short on time…or feeling a bit lazy. Life is busy!

So if you’re like me and want something quick and easy that is still a show stopper, these mini pies are for you.  Super simple and they don’t take very long to throw together.  Here’s how to create them:

Mini Individual Pies

You’ll need:

  • 2 Ready-to-bake pie crusts
  • 1 can ready-made pie filling (I used blueberry) OR make your own filling
  • 1 egg white
  • ~1/4 cup granulated sugar

Thaw pie crusts at room temperature for 30-45 minutes, or until you can roll them out without them breaking. Roll pie crust onto a floured cutting board.

Using a glass, cut out little circles.  Try to cut them out as close together as possible, to get as many mini pies as you can.

Repeat with the second pie crust.

Smush together (how’s that for technical language) remaining pie crust scraps, roll it out on a floured surface, and cut as many extra circles as possible.  There will still be a tiny bit of pie crust left over, but oh well. I was able to cut a total of 38 circles.

Transfer half of your mini crusts to baking sheets lined with parchment paper, leaving about 1 inch between each crust.

Carefully spoon ~1-2 tsp pie filling into the center of each crust.  You want to have about 1/2 inch around the outer edge to seal the top and bottom crusts, so try not to over fill your pies.

Mix a little water with the egg white to make an egg wash, and brush the edges of each pie crust with the egg mixture.

Top each pie with another mini pie crust.  Use a fork to press the edges together, and to make a pretty little edge.  Brush the tops of the pies with a little more egg wash. Sprinkle each with a little sprinkling of sugar.

Using a sharp paring knife, cut 4 small vent holes in the top of each pie. This is a VERY important step…unless you like for your pies to explode in the oven.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until the pies begin to brown.

 

Serve these little guys all by themselves or along with a little vanilla frozen yogurt.  Yum!

Feel free to get creative with flavor combinations!  Others to try:  pumpkin, sweet potato, apple, cherry, strawberry, peach, the list goes on and on….

These are especially great for pot lucks.  As a matter of fact, the pies in the pictures were sent to my church get together and were perfect!  Everyone could just grab them without a big mess.

 

 

 

Gluten-free, Vegan, and soooo Delicious!!

I know what some of you may be thinking.  “Gluten free?  AND vegan?? ….does it taste good?”

But keep an open mind because I promise that these are good!  And you don’t have to make them gluten free OR vegan, but this is to give an option to those that may have to have a GF option. Those that follow a GF diet can attest to the fact that it can be very difficult to find tasty baked goods that are still GF.  But I promise it’s possible.

The original recipe for these cookies can be found on AllRecipes.com.  Click here to see it.

I then modified the recipe with egg replacer and GF flour to make it a GF & Vegan recipe.  These cookies were tested by my coworkers and got great reviews! Both from omnivores, vegans, gluten free-ers, and gluten eaters. Besides, they’re fudgy chocolate cookies…talk about a crowd pleaser!

GF Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

Adapted from recipe on AllRecipes.com

Makes ~3 dozen cookies

  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 Tbsp Ener G Egg Replacer
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups Bob’s Red Mill GF all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp Xanthan gum
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (be sure it is gluten free! No wheat starch in the ingredient list)

In a medium bowl, beat together cocoa powder, sugar, and oil.

In a small ramekin, whisk together egg replacer and water.  Add to sugar mixture and mix until combined.  Add vanilla and beat well.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt.  Slowly add to wet mixture, mixing just until combined.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill for a few hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a small cookie scoop, scoop about 1 tsp dough and roll into a ball. Roll each ball in confectioners’ sugar and place on baking sheet.  Flatten each ball a little bit.  The cookies don’t spread, but do rise.  So flatten them to about the size you’d like to see in your cookie.

Bake 10-12min, immediately moving them to a cooling rack after removing from the oven.

Estimated nutrition information (per cookie):  86 Calories, 1.7g Fat, 0.6g Saturated fat, 71.8mg Sodium, 38mg Potassium, 20g Carbohydrates, 1.5g Fiber, 13.2g Sugar, 1.1g Protein

These cookies are small but very delicious.  Keep them soft by placing a slice of bread in the container with the cookies. Strange, but it works!

Want s’more cupcakes? …thought so.

It’s 71 degrees outside!! Fall!!!!!  Well, Texas fall.  I’m loving this weather, and it puts me in the mood for all things fall.  Pumpkin carving, getting ready for the holidays, and bonfires.

And what’s better than s’mores when you have a fire in front of you?  Nothing….the answer is nothing. 🙂

 

Since I was taking goodies to work, and building a bonfire in the middle of the office is frowned upon, I had to find a way to make s’more sans fire. Cupcakes were the perfect option.

This isn’t really a “recipe” because you can change it up to fit your preferred tastes.  I made chocolate cupcakes as the base of this dessert, but you could choose vanilla or some type of graham cupcake if you’d like.  I was already making chocolate cupcakes for the PB frosting in the last post, so just made a few more chocolate for the s’mores.

These were definitely a hit!  Next time I make them, I’ll be trying them with a graham cupcake instead.  I think it would make it even better.  (If you happen to have a graham cupcake recipe, please share!)

S’mores Cupcakes

Makes 24 cupcakes

  • 24 prepared cupcakes (vanilla, chocolate, swirled, or graham…you choose)
  • 1/2 container marshmallow fluff
  • ~6oz semi-sweet chocolate chips (or 1/2 of an 11.5oz bag)
  • 2tsp vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup crushed honey graham crackers

Fill cupcakes with marshmallow fluff. Click here to see how to do that.
*Note:  if you don’t want to use the packaged stuff, you can make your own marshmallow fluff with this recipe.  But it doesn’t hold it’s shape as well and seeps into the cupcake*

Melt chocolate chips with shortening in a microwave safe bowl, melting on high at 30 second intervals just until melted.  If the chocolate seems too thick for putting on cupcakes, add another tsp shortening.

Dip cupcakes in melted chocolate or spread a little on each cupcake’s top.

Top with crushed graham crackers.

Enjoy!!