Mini Vanilla & Red Velvet Layer Cake

My daughter and I are obsessed with mini cakes. My mom gave me 6-inch cake pans for Christmas and we have been waiting for the perfect occasion to use them. Yay for Valentine’s Day! 🙂 ❤ I will admit that I’m not sure if a 3-layer cake is truly “mini”…. but it was really cute.

Some math is involved in order to adapt a recipe to make a mini cake. In this case, the vanilla cake recipe, originally for an 8-inch layer cake, was reduced to 57%. I made the red velvet cake, originally for 12 cupcakes, in its entirety in order to make additional cupcakes. The icing recipe makes enough to generously frost the layer cake as well as the cupcakes.

The vanilla cake recipe was adapted from The Vanilla Bean Baking Book: Recipes for Irresistible Everyday Favorites and Reinvented Classics by Sarah Kieffer. The red velvet cake and cream cheese frosting recipes were adapted from Martha Stewart Living.

For the Vanilla Cake Layers:

Yield: Two 6-inch cakes

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 3/4 pure vanilla extract
  • 5 1/2 T sour cream
  • scant 2 T buttermilk
  • 162 g all-purpose flour
  • 169 g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp plus generous 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp plus generous 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp plus generous 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 9 T (129 g) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces

For the Red Velvet Cake Layer:

Yield: One 6-inch cake and 5 standard cupcakes (Alternatively, 57% of the recipe can be made to just make a single cake layer, if desired.)

  • 148 g (1 1/4 cups) cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
  • 1 large egg, room temperature (can put in a bowl of warm water to quickly change the temperature)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red gel-paste food color
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

To Make the Vanilla Cake Layers:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Butter two 6-inch cake pans and then line them with parchment paper. Butter the parchment and then flour the pans. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, sour cream, and buttermilk.
  4. In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt on low until combined.
  5. With the mixer running on low, add the butter one piece at a time, beating until the mixture resembles coarse sand.
  6. With the mixer still running on low, slowly add half the wet ingredients. Increase the speed to medium and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds.
  7. With the mixer running on low, add the rest of the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.
  8. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 20 seconds. (The batter may still look a little bumpy.)
  9. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and use a spatula to mix the batter a few more times.
  10. Divide the batter between the cake pans. Each well should be about halfway full. (I weigh them to make sure that the batter is evenly distributed. Each pan had about 360 g of batter.)
  11. Using an offset spatula, smooth the tops. Tap the pan gently on the counter 2 times to help get rid of any bubbles.
  12. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  13. Let cool for 30 minutes in the pan. Then, remove from pan, remove the parchment paper, and let cool completely before frosting.

To Make the Red Velvet Cake Layer & Cupcakes:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection. Place 5 cupcake liners in a standard muffin pan. Butter one 6-inch cake pan and then line it with parchment paper. Butter the parchment and then flour the pan. Set aside.
  2. Sift together cake flour, and cocoa; add salt and whisk to combine.
  3. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, whisk together sugar and oil until combined.
  4. Add the egg, beating until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
  5. Mix in food color and vanilla.
  6. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and whisking well after each.
  7. Stir together the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl (it will foam); add mixture to the batter; mix on medium speed 10 seconds.
  8. Place 350 g to 360 g batter in the prepared cake pan, about halfway full. Divide the remaining batter evenly among lined cups, filling each about three-quarters full.
  9. Bake the cake pan, rotating halfway through, about 23 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean. Transfer to wire racks to cool for 30 minutes before removing from the pan to cool completely.
  10. Bake the cupcakes in the center of the oven for about 17 to 18 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

Yield: 4 cups, enough to frost 1 6-inch cake and 5 cupcakes

  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 pound (4 cups) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • gel food coloring, if desired
  • decorative sprinkles, if desired
  1. Beat butter and cream cheese with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low.
  2. Add sugar, 1 cup at a time, and then vanilla; mix until smooth. (I sifted 1 cup of sugar at a time prior to adding it to the butter-cream cheese mixture.)
  3. Tint the frosting with food coloring, if desired.
  4. Fill between the cake layers and the frost the top and sides of the cake. Using a pastry bag with a large fluted tip, pipe onto cupcakes in a circular motion, starting on the outer rim.
  5. Decorate with sprinkles, if desired.
  6. Refrigerate the cake (and cupcakes) prior to serving.

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤

I made these delicious cookies for my daughter and some of her friends for their Valentine’s (Galentine’s!) Day celebration. Tanya Ott, the amazing baker of globalbakes.com, promised that they would hold their shape and she was right. I was so pleased! 🙂 Because the dough does not contain a rising agent, the cut out shapes stay completely intact while baking.

The cookie recipe was adapted from globalbakes.com. I made half the recipe, used fine sea salt, increased the chilling time, and baked the cookies in a convection oven. Tanya’s blog has many informative videos with amazing royal icing techniques and ideas. I highly recommend checking it out. 🙂

The royal icing recipe is from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook.

For the Cream Cheese Sugar Cookie Dough:

  • 227 grams (1 cup; 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 114 grams (4 oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 200 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 337 grams (2 1/4 cups plus 2 T) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and cream cheese until well blended and smooth.
  2. Add the sugar, vanilla extract, and egg yolks, and mix until just combined.
  3. Add the flour and salt, and mix to form a soft dough.
  4. Shape the dough into a ball, press into a 1/2-inch disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until firm.
  5. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into desired shapes with cookie cutters, and place them on a plastic wrap-lined cookie sheet. Place another layer of plastic wrap between each layer of cookies. (I stack similar shapes on top of one another.)
  6. Chill for at least 15 minutes. (I chilled the cut shapes overnight.)
  7. Preheat the oven to 350F, preferably on convection. Line 2 or 3 baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking sheets.
  8. Place the chilled cookies one inch apart on prepared baking sheets. (Bake cookies of similar size at the same time.)
  9. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until light golden brown around the edges. Bake time will vary with the size and thickness of the cookies. Allow to cool completely before frosting or decorating.

For the Royal Icing:

  • 1/2 pound (8 oz) Confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 1/2 T meringue powder
  • liquid or gel-paste food coloring
  • sanding sugar or sprinkles, as desired
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugar, meringue powder, and a scant 1/4 cup (4 T) water on low speed.  Beat until mixture is fluffy yet dense, 7 to 8 minutes.
  2. To thin the icing for flooding (filling in areas with additional icing), stir in additional water, 1 teaspoon at a time.  Test the consistency by lifting a spoonful of icing and letting it drip back into the bowl; a ribbon should remain on the surface for 5 to 7 seconds.
  3. To tint icing, dip a toothpick or wooden skewer into food coloring, and gradually mix it in until the desired shade is reached. (I used 3 shades of pink once the icing was “flood” consistency.)
  4. Using a pastry bag fitted with a small round tip, pipe a border around each cookie. Then, thin the icing to a flood consistency and fill in the border. (I used a larger tip to fill in the cookies.)
  5. Decorate with sanding sugar or sprinkles before the icing has set, if desired.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Brown Butter Buttercream

Sarah Kieffer is an absolute GENIUS. Incorporating brown butter in buttercream!?!? I’m upset that I have never thought of trying it.

These were quite possibly the best cupcakes I’ve ever made. The cake portion was delicious- moist and tender, but the icing really put the cupcakes over the top. It was incredibly light and flavorful. I may have to make them again for Valentine’s Day. ❤

The recipe was adapted from The Vanilla Bean Baking Book: Recipes for Irresistible Everyday Favorites and Reinvented Classics by Sarah Kieffer. I halved the recipe and made 12 cupcakes. (I now regret not making 24!) I also used fine sea salt. Amazing.

Yield: 12 frosted cupcakes (with about 2 cups buttercream)

For the Cupcakes:

  • 1 1/2 large eggs (I used a scale to measure 1/2 an egg)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 T pure vanilla extract
  • 6 T sour cream
  • 2 T buttermilk
  • 1 cup (142g) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (149g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick, 114g) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces

Note: If doubling the recipe for 24 cupcakes or 2 8-inch round cakes, use 297g sugar and 227g butter.

For the Brown Butter Buttercream:

  • 1/4 pound (1 stick, 114g) unsalted butter for browning
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick, 114g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 oz (27g) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 T heavy cream
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 cups (226g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted

To Make the Cupcakes:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Line a standard cupcake/muffin pan with 12 liners. Set aside. (If making a round cake, butter and flour the pans and then line them with parchment paper.)
  3. In a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, sour cream, and buttermilk.
  4. In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt on low until combined.
  5. With the mixer running on low, add the butter one piece at a time, beating until the mixture resembles coarse sand.
  6. With the mixer still running on low, slowly add half the wet ingredients. Increase the speed to medium and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds.
  7. With the mixer running on low, add the rest of the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.
  8. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 20 seconds. (The batter may still look a little bumpy.)
  9. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and use a spatula to mix the batter a few more times.
  10. Using a large cookie scoop (mine is 3T), divide the batter between the cupcake wells. Each well should be a little more than halfway full.
  11. Using an offset spatula, smooth the tops. Tap the pan gently on the counter 2 times to help get rid of any bubbles.
  12. Bake for 16 to 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (I baked mine for 17 minutes on convection.) (If baking cake in an 8-inch pan, bake for 17 to 22 minutes.)
  13. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting. (If using a round cake pan, let cake cool in the pan set on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Then, remove to let cool completely.)

To Make the Brown Butter Buttercream:

  1. Have a small, heatproof, freezer-safe bowl set next to the range.
  2. Melt one stick of butter in a light-colored, heavy bottomed skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat. Swirl the butter around with a rubber spatula as it melts and starts to bubble.
  3. When it starts bubbling, increase the heat to medium and keep stirring the butter until it boils and begins to foam, about 3 minutes. It will smell nutty and you’ll start to see little brown bits on the bottom of the pan. *Keep stirring, making sure to genly scrape the bottom of the pan with the spatula as you do so. At this point, the butter will begin to quickly change from light brown to dark to burned, so keep a close eye on the pan.*
  4. Once the butter and browned bits are golden brown, remove from the heat, and immediately pour the brown butter and the toasted bits and flecks from the bottom of the pan into the reserved heatproof, freezer-safe bowl.
  5. Let the brown butter cool in the bowl for 10 to 15 minutes at room temperature. Then, place the bowl in the freezer and let chill until solid, about 30 minutes.
  6. When the butter is solid (but not frozen!), transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle.
  7. Add the remaining 1/4 pound (1 stick) of room temperature butter to the brown butter in the mixer bowl and beat on medium until smooth.
  8. Add the cream cheese and beat on medium until smooth and creamy.
  9. Add the heavy cream, vanilla, and salt and mix on low to combine.
  10. With the mixer running on low, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until combined. (I turn the mixer off in between additions of sugar.)
  11. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary, 6 to 8 minutes.
  12. Using a cookie scoop (I used a 3 T scoop), place a heaping dollop of buttercream on top of each cupcake. (Alternatively, use an offset spatula to ration the icing.) Spread the buttercream over the top decoratively, as desired.

Note: Frosted cupcakes should be refrigerated if not serving right away. Bring to room temperature prior to serving.

Buttery Apple Crêpes with Cinnamon Custard & Salted Caramel Sauces

Crêpes have always been special to my family because my dad made them for breakfast on Sundays when I was growing up. We always make sure to have them at least once a year- on Christmas morning. We typically eat them simply sprinkled with sugar and occasionally with jam or fresh fruit as well.

I made these fancy crêpes for our celebratory Valentine’s Day dessert from a crêpe cookbook that my sister gave me for my birthday. ❤ I loved the browned butter in the crêpe batter. As a sauce fan, I also loved that these crêpes were served with two wonderful sauces.

This recipe was adapted from Crêpes: 50 Savory and Sweet Recipes by Martha Holmberg. I made the sauces and crêpe batter a day in advance. Delicious!

Yield: Makes 6 to 8 filled crêpes plus extra crêpes and sauce

For the Salted Caramel Sauce:

Yield: 3/4 cup (180 ml)

  • 100 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp light corn syrup
  • 6 T heavy cream or crème fraîche
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1/8 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp coarse salt or coarse sea salt
  1. Put the granulated sugar, corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons of water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring just until the sugar is beginning to dissolve.
  2. Let the mixture boil without stirring, occasionally swirling the pan, until it is a deep amber, very fragrant, and you can see tiny wisps of smoke, 4 to 12 minutes. Watch carefully!
  3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and carefully pour in a small amount of the cream; it will bubble up furiously. Whisk in remaining cream a little at a time so it doesn’t bubble over.
  4. Whisk in the butter, vanilla, and salt until the caramel is very smooth.
  5. Transfer to a serving bowl and let it cool to room temperature; it will thicken as it cools.
  6. Serve warm or at room temperature. (I made it a day in advance and refrigerated it overnight. I brought it to room temperature prior to serving.)

Note: Stored in an airtight container, the finished sauce will keep in the refrigerator for 1 month or in the freezer for 3 months.

For the Cinnamon Custard Sauce (Crème Anglaise):

Yield: 1 cup (240 ml)

  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) whole milk
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 50 g (1/4 cup) lightly packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of coarse salt or sea salt flakes
  1. Heat the milk and cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat until it’s just beginning to steam. Watch carefully! Don’t let it boil- it will change the flavor.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl with a spout, whisk together the egg yolks, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt until well blended but not foamy.
  3. Slowly pour half of the hot milk-cream mixture into the bowl with the egg mixture, whisking constantly and quickly.
  4. Return the pan with the remaining milk and cream to the heat and whisk the yolk-cream mixture into the pan.
  5. Switch the whisk to a heat-proof rubber spatula or a wooden spoon, and gently cook the sauce, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan, until the custard thickens and registers 175 to 180 F (80 to 82 C) on a candy or instant-read thermometer.
  6. Transfer to a serving bowl and let cool to room temperature. Chill in the refrigerator until cold, about 2 hours.

Notes: Half & Half can be substituted for the combination of whole milk and heavy cream. The finished sauce will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator.

For the Sautéed Apple Filling:

  • 4 T (55 g) unsalted butter
  • 4 firm, tart apples (800g / 1.75 lbs) such as Braeburns, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch (12mm) dice (I used 4 large (840g) Ruby Frost apples)
  • 75 g (6 T) granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of coarse salt
  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. When the butter is foamy, add the apples and cook, stirring occasionally, until they’re almost tender, 5 to 8 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle the apples with the granulated sugar, cinnamon, and salt and cook, stirring often, until the apples are tender when pricked with a fork, 3 to 4 minutes more.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and let the apples cool slightly.

For the Brown Butter Crêpes:

Yield: 15 to 18 8-inch crêpes

  • 1 3/4 cups (420 ml) whole milk (can add up to a total of 2 1/4 cups (540 ml) to adjust consistency)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 190 g (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 6 T (85 g) unsalted butter
  • butter or vegetable oil, for the pan
  1. In a small pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Continue to cook until the butter turns golden brown and smells nutty and delicious. Pour melted butter and browned milk solids into a glass measuring cup with a spout to cool before using.
  2. Put 1 3/4 cups milk (420 ml), the eggs, and salt into a blender. (I used a Vitamix.) Process for a few seconds to blend.
  3. Remove the lid and add the flour. Cover and blend until very smooth, about 20 seconds.
  4. Remove the lid, pour in the browned butter- including the toasty brown milk solids, cover, and process until combined, about 10 seconds more.
  5. Transfer the batter to a large glass measuring cup with a spout.
  6. Let the batter rest at least 5 minutes and up to 24 hours. (If resting for more than 30 minutes, store in the refrigerator.)
  7. Before making the crêpes, test the batter’s consistency: it should be as thick as heavy cream but not as thick as pancake batter. If it’s too thick, whisk in up to 1/2 cup (120 ml) of the remaining milk.
  8. Heat an 8-inch (20 cm) crêpe pan over medium-low to medium heat until it’s hot enough to make a drop of water sizzle upon contact. (I always check to make sure the base of the handle is hot.)
  9. Using a heat-proof brush, coat the pan with oil. (Alternatively, use a folded paper towel to coat the pan with 1/2 teaspoon of butter. The butter should sizzle but not turn brown. Adjust the heat of the pan, if necessary.)
  10. Using a ladle, pour about 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the batter into the center of the pan, and at the same time lift the pan from the heat, tilting and turning it in all directions sos the batter spreads evenly across the bottom of the pan in a thin circle. (If the crêpe has any holes in it, quickly add a few drops of batter to fill them in. If there is excessive batter, immediately pour the excess back into the bowl of batter.)
  11. Cook the crêpe until the edges begin to dry and lift from the sides of the pan and the bottom is nicely browned, about 1 minute.
  12. Use a table knife, slim spatula or your fingers to lift the crêpe and quickly flip it over. Smooth out any folded edges or pleats and then cook unit the center is firm and the second side is browned, about 20 seconds more. (The first side is almost always prettier and more evenly browned so it is noted as the presentation side.)
  13. Slide the crêpe from the pan onto a large plate.
  14. Repeat with the remaining batter, adjusting the heat and wiping the pan with more oil or butter as you cook.
  15. The finished crepes can be stacked on each other as they are done.

Note: Leftover crêpes can be wrapped tightly and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If storing them in the freezer, lay pieces of waxed or parchment paper between them so that they don’t stick together. They will keep in the freezer for 2 to 3 months. To thaw, let the stack sit at room temperature until the crêpes are pliable, about an hour.

To Finish the Dish:

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425 F(220 C).
  2. Butter the bottom of a baking dish. (or use cooking oil spray) (I only baked 4 filled-crêpes at a time, so I used a small baking dish. If baking all at once, use a 9×13-inch baking dish. The crêpes should be tightly packed.
  3. Lay the crêpes presentation-side down on a clean work surface.
  4. Divide the apples equally among the crêpes, spooning them onto the bottom third of each one.
  5. To fold the crêpes, pull the bottom edge of each crêpe up and over the apples, then roll it up a half turn. Tuck in each side, and finish rolling up from the bottom.
  6. Arrange the crêpes seam-side down in a single layer in the prepared baking dish.
  7. Bake until heated through, 4 to 10 minutes.
  8. Spoon a thick ribbon of cinnamon custard on a dessert plate.
  9. Lay a crêpe over the custard sauce and drizzle the salted caramel sauce over the top. Serve immediately.

Ina Garten’s Pomegranate Gimlet

Here’s another treat that would be perfect for Valentine’s Day! ❤

This cocktail is composed of many of my favorites. I love a classic gimlet. 🙂 This pomegranate version would also be festive for the holidays or just tasty any other time of the year.

This recipe was adapted from Today.com. I modified the proportions to make individual cocktails. The volumes for 6 gimlets are also noted below.

Yield: one cocktail

  • 2 oz (4 T) gin
  • 1 1/2 oz (2 1/2 T) pomegranate juice (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 1/2 oz (2 1/2 T) freshly squeezed lime juice (from 1 lime)
  • 2/3 oz (1 1/2 T) agave nectar or simple syrup
  • lime slice and pomegranate seeds, for garnish

For a Crowd:

Yield: six cocktails

  • 1 1/2 cups gin
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (6 to 8 limes)
  • 1/2 cup simple syrup
  • 6 lime slices and pomegranate seeds, for garnish
  1. At least one hour before serving, place martini glass(es) in the freezer.
  2. Combine the gin, pomegranate juice, lime juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker filled with ice (for 1 cocktail) or large pitcher (for 6 drinks).
  3. If making multiple drinks, fill a cocktail shaker half full with ice and add the drink mixture until the shaker is three quarters full.
  4. Shake for a full 15 seconds.
  5. Pour the mixture into the frozen martini glasses and garnish with a teaspoon of pomegranate seeds, or more to taste, and a slice of lime.

Note: To make your own simple syrup, combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small pot and heat just until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Refrigerate until cold.

Frosted Sugar Cookie Bars

These soft sugar cookie bars were one of the most popular recipes this week on The New York Times’ website. They described them as “worth the hype” and, with their cheerful frosting and sprinkles, as “happiness in a 9-by-13 pan.” 🙂

Thanks to cream cheese in the dough, they are soft and tender- similar to Lofthouse cookies, my daughter’s favorite cookie. I made them to celebrate the release of my daughter’s middle school musical. Despite the limitations caused by Covid, the school was able to successfully stage their annual musical in a movie format instead of live performances- great. She had a lot of fun participating in the show.

This recipe was adapted from American Girl Cookies, via The New York Times, contributed by Margaux Laskey. I baked the dough in a rimmed sheet pan and used Meyer lemon juice in the frosting. I love bar desserts! They would be a crowd-pleaser served for Valentine’s Day, a birthday, or just as a special treat.

Yield: 20 cookies

For the Cookie Base:

  • 1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 2 3/4 cups/350 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 (8 ounce/225 gram) package cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups/300 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • lemon zest, optional (or Meyer lemon zest)

For the Frosting:

  • 6 tablespoons/85 grams unsalted butter (3/4 stick), at room temperature
  • 2 cups/245 grams confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream, plus more as needed (I used whole milk)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus more as needed (I used Meyer lemon juice)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, plus more as needed
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • a drop or two of gel food coloring, optional
  • assorted sprinkles, for decorating, optional

To Make the Cookie Base:

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Lightly butter (or coat with cooking oil spray) a 9-by-13-inch baking pan or rimmed sheet pan. Line the pan with parchment paper, running it up the two long sides of the pan and letting it extend past the rim by about 2 inches.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.
  4. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and cream cheese on medium speed until well blended, about 1 minute.
  5. Add the granulated sugar and beat until smooth, about 1 minute.
  6. Add the egg, vanilla, and lemon zest, if using, and beat on low speed until well combined, about 1 minute.
  7. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing on low speed just until blended, about 1 minute.
  8. Using a spatula, scrape the dough into the prepared baking pan. Using damp fingers or a greased offset spatula, spread the dough into an even layer.
  9. Bake just until the edges are starting to turn light golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the middle has moist crumbs, 20 to 25 minutes. (Do not overbake! The bars should be quite moist, and almost slightly underbaked in the middle.)
  10. Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a wire rack. Let cool completely. When fully cooled, remove the bars from the pan using the overhanging parchment paper.

To Make the Frosting:

  1. Place the 6 tablespoons of softened butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute.
  2. Add 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, beating on low speed until fully combined, then repeat with remaining 1 cup confectioners’ sugar.
  3. Add the 1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, the vanilla, salt and food coloring, if using, and beat on medium speed until the frosting is light and fluffy, scraping down the sides halfway through, about 4 minutes. Add more milk if needed to thin out the mixture. Add lemon juice and vanilla to taste.
  4. Using a spatula, spread the frosting on top, then decorate with sprinkles, if using. Cut into 20 bars and serve.

Note: I stored the leftover cookies in the refrigerator and we actually preferred them chilled.

Soft Sugar Cookies with Raspberry Buttercream Frosting

My daughter is mildly obsessed with the grocery store version of these cookies. I was always hesitant to make them because I thought that they required shortening or margarine in order to keep their soft texture. This version uses a combination of butter and cream cheese to create the soft-baked, cakey texture.

I loved the color and taste from the freeze dried raspberries in the frosting. The resulting color was pretty and fun. 🙂

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Eric Kim. I used a stand mixer and reduced the size of the cookies. They would be very festive as a Valentine’s Day treat. ❤

Yield: about 26 cookies

For the Cookies:

  • 1/2 cup/115 grams unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
  • 3 ounces/85 grams cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups/285 grams cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • sprinkles, for garnish

For the Frosting:

  • 1 cup/30 grams freeze-dried raspberries, finely ground in a food processor or spice grinder (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
  • 2 cups/245 grams confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of kosher salt

Make the Cookie Dough:

  1. In a large bowl, using a spoon, cream the butter, cream cheese, sugar and salt until smooth and fluffy. (I used a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and mixed on low-speed.)
  2. Add the eggs and vanilla extract, and whisk to incorporate some air and to dissolve the sugar crystals, about 1 minute. (I mixed the batter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on low-speed.)
  3. Stir in the flour and baking powder until just incorporated.
  4. Using two spoons or a cookie scoop, ration out 1 1/2-tablespoon/25 to 30-gram rounds onto a plastic wrap-lined baking sheet, tray, or container. Cover with another sheet of plastic wrap.
  5. Place the rationed dough in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes until the dough is no longer sticky and easier to handle.
  6. Heat oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection, and line two rimmed sheet pans with parchment paper.

While the dough chills, Make the Frosting:

  1. Finely grind the freeze dried raspberries in a food processor or spice grinder.
  2. In a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl, sift the ground raspberries, using a spoon to help pass them through, until most of the ruby-red powder is in the bowl and most of the seeds are left behind in the sieve. (Discard the seeds.)
  3. To the sifted dried raspberries, add the 1 cup butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract and salt and, with an electric hand mixer or stand mixer, mix on low-speed until the butter absorbs the sugar.
  4. Turn the speed up to high and beat until the frosting doubles in size, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure all the ingredients are incorporated.
  5. Transfer the frosting to a small container, cover tightly, and set aside. (You should have about 2 cups of frosting.)

To Bake the Cookies and Decorate:

  1. Remove the dough from the freezer.
  2. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Roll the chilled dough into even balls and flatten them slightly with your fingers so they’re about 2 inches wide and 1 inch high. Place on the prepared baking sheets. (You should get about 12 to 13 cookies per sheet pan.)
  4. Bake the cookies for 9 to 15 minutes, rotating the pans and switching racks halfway through, or until they no longer look wet on top, are still light in color and spring back to the touch. They will puff up and crack slightly.
  5. Let cool completely on the sheet pan. (They will continue to cook as they sit.)
  6. Using a butter knife or offset spatula, frost each cooled cookie with the raspberry frosting and adorn with the sprinkles.

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