Is it normal to have dreams about a world filled with lemon ricotta cheesecakes covered in waterfalls of dark chocolate ganache? And rivers of smooth, cashmere caramel filled with salted macadamia stepping stones? Or better yet, trees that bloom plump hazelnuts stuffed with Nutella and peanut butter rum balls? If not, then I am happy to consider myself abnormal! However, I do have a valid excuse for this ‘condition’.
I grew up in a rather sweet restricted household. My father was French and we moved to the U.S. when I was about five years old. Homemade yogurt topped with strawberries, a small wedge of a pear tart with cheese, or a tiny pieces of plain dark chocolate were considered dessert. I am not complaining about the quality of any of those selections. But during school lunches my chopped apples or mashed bananas and cream looked so boring compared to all the Little Debbie snacks and animal crackers.
My bartering skills were pathetic. Would any child in their right mind ever trade in their whoopie pie for an orange? Halloween proved to be especially difficult. I had to watch helplessly as my hard earned candy was hidden away. It would have to be earned by what seemed like insurmountable feats, such as cleaning my room or finishing a serving of bitter Brussels sprouts.
There were times when I was allowed to have cookies and brownies! We lived near a wonderful bakery and every now and then, out of the clear blue, I was allowed to pick something out from the display case. This was the time and place in which the seed was planted for my love of all baked goods. The smell of the bakery was a comforting mix of vanilla, almond, melted butter, and hot chocolate. It surrounded me like a warm, oversized sweater. I would spend what must have seemed like hours to my parents staring at the chunky chocolate chip cookies, baklava, cannoli, brownies, and sugar cookies draped in beautiful, thick icing. I made my choices with measured precision, always looking for the cookie that looked the gooiest or for the fattest brownie. The precious morsel was wrapped in crinkly tissue paper and placed inside a tiny brown bag. I could hardly wait to eat it! The bottom of the bag would sometimes become stained with butter and the anticipation was agonizing. Because I was not allowed this kind of treat very often, I learned how to savor each exquisite bite. Before I actually ate a cookie, I would study it. Marveling at the texture with it’s bumps and tiny air holes. And the way a piece of chocolate would melt gracefully into the camel colored cookie dough. Underneath the cookie I could see a delicate circle where it had once been a piece of raw dough. The oven had spread it out into a thick mound but one could still see it’s original shape. I found this fascinating! To this day, I truly believe that had it not been for these special visits to the bakery, I would not find such a profound pleasure in baking. And for that I am eternally grateful for all those days of sweet deprivation.
As the years passed, I began to bake more and more. When I was 12, I remember making a rich chocolate mousse cake with a raspberry purée. I was so proud! I had even impressed some my parents friend’s who were gourmet cooks. That was when I realized how wonderful it is to see people take pleasure in something you prepare. I love that instant of ‘reaction’ when the flavour of a bite actually hits the taste buds and the eyes light up with happiness. During sleepovers I would make an apple crisp recipe that I had found in one of The Babysitters Club books, at night we would snack on popcorn that had been drizzled with melted chocolate and caramel. In high school I would bake batches of brownies from one of my mother’s Martha Stewart book and serve them with homemade hot cocoa during study group sessions. I took an unfortunate hiatus from my oven during my years at college. My taste buds had to adapt to box cake mixes and powdered cookie dough. I had never tried frosting from a tub before, And I have to admit that it was not too bad despite the large amount of sweetness. This pseudo version of baking saw me through many days and nights of exam cramming and break-ups with boyfriends. But I always wished that I had access to a decent oven. It felt as though something was missing in my life. I landed a part-time job in a bakery during my sophomore year and I was happy to have some decent treats once again! But as anyone obsessed with baking knows, nothing can substitute making something with your own two hands.
My oven and I were reunited and became soul mates once again last November. Around late April I was surfing the web, looking for some recipe ideas. My first food blog landing was Nicole’s blog, Baking Bites. I stumbled upon a world where people were writing about their experiences with creating food and sharing it with the world. I had found my niche! These last 7 months as a food blogger have been filled with fun and frustration. There have been many moments of pride, especially as a member of The Daring Kitchen and Tuesdays with Dorie. But I have also had a few mishaps in the form of burned caramel, pastry dough’s that never quite held together, and the frustration of having some of my photos rejected on foodie sites. But I love my life as a food blogger! It has taught me a lot about baking and about myself. It has been a creative outlet and allowed me to sharpen my writing skills, take better pictures, and to ease up on my life long habit of overanalyzing every little detail. Sometimes you just have to jump into something new and not worry about what may go wrong.
One of my personal favorite recipes and also one my most popular are The Nutella Peanut Butter Pillows. I owe the springboard of it’s concept to Nicole from Baking Bites. I played around with one of her recipes and came up with these ultra-rich, gooey-centered cookie. And if you look underneath one of these cookies, you may see it’s sweet origins.
Nutella Peanut Butter Pillows
1 cup of all-purpose flour
1/3 cup of cake flour
1/2 tsp. of baking Soda
1 tsp. of sea salt
1/2 cup ( 1 stick ) butter. At room temp.
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup of smooth peanut butter
Nutella Filling Ingredients:
1/4 cup of smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup of Nutella
1/2 tsp. of sea salt
1 Tbsp. of cocoa powder
3 Tbsp. of granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. of confectioners sugar
1/4 cup of finely ground, roasted peanuts ( run through the food processor )
1/4 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. of ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. of sea salt
In a small bowl, Sift the flours and baking soda together. Whisk in the sea salt and set aside.
In a large bowl, Cream the butter. Add the sugars and beat at medium speed for about 2-3 minutes. Add the egg and beat until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the almond extract and *peanut butter.* Add the flour mixture a little bit at a time. Be careful not to over mix. Stop beating when all the flour streaks are gone. Cover and refrigerate for an hour while you make the filling and topping.
*If you lighty grease and flour the measuring cup it will be much easier to remove the peanut butter.*
To make the Nutella filling
Combine all the ingredients and mix well. You should be able to easily roll the filling into ball forms. If it is too sticky add more confectioners sugar. Set aside until ready to use.
To make the topping
Simply mix all the ingredients into a shallow bowl and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Measure out about 2 level tablespoons of the chilled cookie dough. Roll into a ball and flatten out onto the parchment paper. Roll some of the Nutella dough into a smaller ball and place on top of the cookie dough, Press in slightly. Gently fold the cookie dough over the Nutella so it is completely covered. Carefully roll into a ball and roll the ball into the topping so it has a nice coating. Place ball back onto the parchment paper and lightly press down with the bottom of a glass. Place cookies about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the edges are a light gold.
You can adjust the size of your cookies and use as little or as much filling as you want. Just be sure to adjust the baking time accordingly.