Category Archives: Sweets

Aura’s Christmas Cookies

Decorated Sugar Cookies

Merry Christmas!  Okay, I’m a little late with this post but for those of you who are already thinking of what cookies you will make for next year’s treats, here is a basic sugar cookie and icing recipe.  I grew up decorating sugar cookies with my mom who spent hours perfecting her cookies.  Being the traditionalist that I am, I decorate my cookies close to exactly like my dear mom (though not quite as well) and look forward to many more years of trying to perfect the art of the sugar cookie.  I’ve added to my mom’s repertoire–the Michigan cookies are a big hit around these parts!


I use a basic sugar cookie recipe and basic icing recipe from Martha Stewart for mine.  Note that these turn out quite crispy so if soft and chewy cookies are your thing, you won’t get that with these.  But if you are looking for a thin, crispy, buttery and sweet cookie–look no further!


Sugar Cookies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Icing (see recipe below)
  1. In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt.  With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; beat until combined.  Divide dough in half; flatten into disks.  Wrap each in plastic; freeze until firm, at least 20 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment.  Remove one dough disk; let stand 5 to 10 minutes.  Roll out 1/8 thick between two sheets of floured parchment, dusting dough with flour as needed.  Cut shapes with cookie cutters.  Between each cutting, dip the cookie cutter in flour to prevent sticking.  Using a spatula, transfer to prepared baking sheets.  If dough gets soft, re-chill for ten minutes or so.  Reroll scraps; cut shapes until the dough is gone.
  3. Bake, rotating halfway through, until edges are golden, anywhere from 10-15 minutes depending on the size.  Cool fully on wire racks before icing.

Basic Icing Recipe

  • 1 and 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk or water
  • 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
  1. Place sugar into a bowl and whisk the liquids into the sugar until smooth but thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  If too thin, just add more sugar.  If too thick, just add more liquid.  Easy!  I place small amounts of icing into several bowls and use gel food coloring to make multiple colors and shades of each color.  Ice the cookies and let icing harden at least 20 minutes.  I let them sit overnight to harden fully so they hold up in boxes of treats.

Goat Cheese Chocolate Truffles


Oh holidays…why do you always sneak up on me?  This Friday I frantically rolled 100 goat cheese truffles (while juggling making chocolate-peppermint popcorn, white-chocolate dipped pretzels, and putting the finishing touches on biscotti, decorating sugar cookies, and boxing it all up nice and pretty).  I have to say…I went a little crazy.

It happens to all of us, right?  But I may have crossed the line.  I actually went all grinchy and said “I’m not doing Christmas treats next year.”  Yowzas!  Strong words from such a little lady!

I’m happy to say that I got some cute elf help on my project and by the time 7pm rolled around, we were delivering boxes of goodies to some of the good little boys and girls beloved by me.  And the feeling of cheer, the smiles on faces, and oh! the hugs.  Let’s just say I’d do it all over again.  And again.  And again.

If you love goat cheese, you will love these truffles.  They have a moderate but not overbearing sweetness to them balanced with the tanginess of the goat cheese with a smooth finish.  Very satisfying.  These truffles have been a big hit around these parts lately.  Friday was actually batch three for this gal!

I really hope this recipe finds its way into your hearts and homes.  One regular sized-batch takes about 20 minutes hands on.  Worth every minute!

Goat Cheese Chocolate Truffles

Goat Cheese Chocolate Truffles

Makes about 20–easily double or triple the batch for more!

  • 8 oz plain goat cheese (to change things up, you can use honey goat cheese, orange goat cheese…any flavor that is not savory); room temperature
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla, almond, or orange extract
  • 8 oz semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
  • Dutched cocoa, almond meal, or finely shredded coconut for rolling
  1. With a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat room temperature goat cheese with the powdered sugar; 1-2 minutes on medium.
  2. Add extract and beat until blended.
  3. Meanwhile, in a double boiler or a metal bowl over a pan with 1/2-1 inch of simmering water, melt the chocolate.
  4. When the chocolate is melted, mix with goat cheese blend until incorporated fully.
  5. Put mixture into the refrigerator for a couple of hours until firm but still scoopable.
  6. Scoop mixture into balls with a spoon or a melon baller.  Roll in between palms of hands to form a ball.
  7. Roll in dutched cocoa, almond meal, or coconut flakes.
  8. Refrigerate for 1/2 hour before enjoying.

One Change: Walnut Cinnamon Biscotti

Walnut Cinnamon Biscotti

I just listened to a wonderful TEDx talk by Sarah Britton, the author of one of my very favorite food blogs, My New Roots.  The TEDx talk was called “One Change” and in it, Sarah talks us through the idea that one small change in the kitchen can have life changing consequences.  Food, she argues, is life sustaining and life changing.  What you reach for in the grocery store is an important choice with long term consequences.  ‘More than fuel, food can be a powerful medicine.’  Sarah reminds us that whole foods make us feel better and they simply taste better.  At the end of the talk, Sarah shows the audience how, in a matter of minutes and with the most basic of kitchen tools, you can make your own nut milk at home.  Not only is it cost-effective, it tastes better and it empowers you, both in the kitchen and in your life.

I must have nodded my head 98 times while I was listening to that talk.  I couldn’t agree more.  It is so fulfilling and empowering to me to make my own foods from scratch.  I get so much joy from experimenting in the kitchen and my successes are shared with friends and family as I make the rounds calling and urging them to please try this at home.

Coincidentally, I was listening to Sarah’s talk while making this week’s Food Matter’s Project recipe (chosen by the ever-adventurous and darling Margarita at Let’s Cook and Be Friends).  Coincidentally, it was my very first time making biscotti.  And perhaps not coincidentally, I plan to continue making my own biscotti for years to come.  One change.


Biscotti rarely calls to me at a bakery.  Next to all of the more gooey, more creamy, more sweet sweets, biscotti fails to convince.  Maybe it was smelling the biscotti baking in my own kitchen, maybe it was discovering just how easy it is to make, or maybe it was simply the fact that I made it myself (!) that I find myself hooked.  Biscotti instantly found its way onto my list of food gifts to make for friends and family at the holidays.  Biscotti instantly found its way into my heart and into my Sunday morning coffee routine.

This recipe is great because there isn’t too much sugar (next time I will experiment with using agave or sucanat and see how that goes) but it still ends up being satisfying.  For my holiday gifting, I plan to dip some biscotti in dark chocolate to make it more enticing but for me, this simple version is the perfect starting point and perfect in itself.  Sitting in my window seat with my cup of pour-over coffee, I’m in a happy place.


Please share with me any of your own cooking revelations.  Is there anything you always used to buy but now only make at home?  In the meantime, please try this at home!

To read about what other great biscotti ideas the Food Matter’s Project bloggers came up with, head here.  To get a quick visual scan of everyone’s creations, head on over to our Pinterest site.


Walnut Biscotti; from Mark Bittman’s Food Matters Cookbook

Makes 2 to 3 dozen; Time:  1 and 1/4 hours, mostly unattended

Even without eggs and butter, these biscotti aren’t too dry, and they maintain their pleasant texture for days.  Serve with coffee or tea.

  • 1 and 1/3 cups walnut halves
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 and 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • Vegetable oil for greasing pan
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F.  Put half the walnuts in a food processor and pulse until finely ground.  Transfer to a large bowl and add the remaining walnuts along with the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; mix well.  Add the honey and 3/4 cup water and mix until just incorporated, adding a little extra water if needed to bring the dough together.
  2. Lightly grease 2 baking sheets with a little oil and dust them with flour; invert the sheets and tap them to remove the excess flour.  Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a 2-inch wide log.  Put each log on a baking sheet.  Bake until the loaves are golden and beginning to crack on top, 30 to 40 minutes; cool the logs on the sheets for a few minutes.  Lower the oven temperature to 250°F.
  3. When the loaves are cool enough to handle, use a serrated knife to cut each on a diagonal into 1/2-inch thick slices.  Put the slices on the sheets, return them to the oven, and leave them there, turning once, until they dry out, 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool completely on wire racks.  Store in an airtight container for up to several days.

Baked Pumpkin-Orange Custard

At thirty one, there are certain things I have come to understand about myself.  I am never going to be a ‘morning person.’  I prefer reading to watching and can sit in silence all day as long as my hands are full.  If I like how something tastes, feels, looks, I always want more of it…beyond reason (I’m looking at you, Salt of the Earth Smore).  I’m never going to get that growth spurt I always wanted.  I like my pumpkin pie without the crust.

It feels so wasteful, so insulting, especially when someone has hand-rolled a pie crust.  I have been guilted (by myself) into eating pumpkin pie crusts.  But when it comes down to it, I’d just rather have the pie without the crust so I can enjoy the creamy filling without the interruption of a thick slab of dough.  So imagine my excitement when I saw that this week’s Food Matters Project recipe, chosen by Sandra over at Meadowsknits, was essentially a pumpkin pie without the crust… with the added twist of incorporating silken tofu as well as some orange juice and zest.

The custard came together quickly and easily, just tossing everything into the stand mixer and pouring into a pie pan.  An hour later my home smelled lovely and I was tucking into some custard with whipped cream and candied ginger.

Some notes…the custard wasn’t as smooth as I had hoped it would be.  The tofu didn’t fully incorporate into the batter.  I suggest blending the tofu then adding it to the batter for a smooth finish.  I would also add 1/4 cup more sugar next time for some added sweetness–the finished product using the recipe below is lightly sweetened and could use a bit more sweetness, in my opinion.  Overall, an easy, healthier dessert I plan to experiment with, and soon!

Baked Pumpkin-Orange Custard from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Project Cookbook

  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 12 oz. soft silken tofu
  • 3 cups (two 15-oz. cans) pureed pumpkin (unsweetened and unseasoned)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • pinch of salt
  • Whipped cream (optional)
  • Sliced candied ginger (optional–I like Reed’s Candied Ginger)
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch or 9-inch square pan or pie plate with a little butter. Use an electric mixer or whisk to beat eggs and sugar in a large bowl until light. Add the tofu and beat until smooth, a minute or two longer.
  2. Add the 2 tablespoons melted butter and remaining ingredients and beat until everything is thoroughly combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake until set around the edges but still a little jiggly at the center, about 1 hour. Let cool completely before serving, or refrigerate up to a day and serve cold.

Apricot Polenta Cake

Our Food Matters Project recipe this week is Apricot Polenta Cake, chosen by Jen from Prairie Summers, a charming blog with many bright and flavorful European dishes and whole food dishes (and if you want something sweet, try her lemon cheesecake–mmmmmmm!).  And what a great choice it is!  Anything that has cornmeal in it is usually a favorite of mine and this dessert recipe is no exception.  This fruity cake is the perfect balance of rich and sweet with neither quality overpowering the flavors of corn and apricot.  It reminds me of my favorite scones from the Nantucket Baking Company–both have a great depth of flavor with chewy apricot bites and a soft and crumbly texture.

The cake took a little bit of time (chopping the apricots, cooking the polenta, beating the egg whites) but was well worth every second.  I would serve this cake with some greek yogurt or a small dollop of whipped cream on the side.  But it is also fabulous plain enjoyed with your morning coffee…trust me…for a moment this morning I forgot I had to work today!

The other Food Matters participants came up with all kinds of variations using cherries, berries, plums, and making cakes, tarts, even a soup!  To check out these and other variations, head here.

Apricot Polenta Cake; from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Project Cookbook

Time:  1 hour plus time to cool

  • 1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1/2 cup coarse cornmeal
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 cup chopped dried apricots
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8- or 9-inch square or round baking pan with a little oil.  Put the cornmeal and salt in a medium saucepan; slowly whisk in 1 and 1/4 cups water to make a lump-free slurry.  Set the pot over medium-high heat and bring almost to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and bubble gently, whisking frequently, until thick, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
  2. Combine the flour and baking powder in a bowl.  With an electric mixer (or a whisk) beat 1/3 cup oil with the sugar until creamy; add the egg yolks and beat until thick, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl as necessary (this will take 5-7 minutes).  Mix in the polenta until smooth, then mix in the dry ingredients until smooth.  Add the orange juice and apricots and stir until blended.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks (When you remove the beaters or whisk, a soft peak should fold over onto itself).  Stir them thoroughly but as gently as possible into the batter (the base batter is fairly thick and it’s okay if the whites aren’t fully incorporated).
  4. Turn the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.  Let the cake cool in the pan.  Invert it out onto a plate if you like and sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving.  Store at room temperature, covered with wax paper, for a day or 2; use plastic wrap and it will keep for an extra day or so.  (Dust again with powdered sugar after storing and before serving).

Lovely Lemon Bars

If you are anything like me, you might have stacks of food magazines in your kitchen with a dog-eared page every tenth page or so, recipes planning to be cooked.  Every so often a page gets torn out, a more pressing interest in making or baking that particular dish.  This recipe from the August issue of Cooking Light stood out to me, not so much because I like lemon bars (which I do from time to time), but because I know so many people that love them.  And I figured this was one of those recipes that would be so much better than store-bought.  And I hope I speak for my many taste testers when I say…this recipe is a keeper!  Fresh squeezed lemon juice, pine nuts in the crust, less fat (5 grams vs. 11 grams in most lemon bars), fewer calories (124 vs. 319 in most lemon bars!), and less sugar (reduced sugar by 2/3)…all add up to some lovely lemon bars.

Lemon SquaresFrom Cooking Light, August 2012; Recipe Makeover

  • 3.4 ounces all-purpose flour (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • Cooking spray
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife.  Place flour, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, pine nuts, and salt in a food processor; pulse 2 times to combine.  Add butter and canola oil.  Pulse 3 to 5 times or until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Place mixture into the bottom of an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray; press into bottom of pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.  Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
  3. Combine granulated sugar and next 5 ingredients (through egg white) in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth.  Pour mixture over crust.  Bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes or until set.  Remove from oven, and cool completely in pan on a wire rack.  Cover and chill for at least 2 hours.  Sprinkle squares evenly with 2 tablespoons powdered sugar.

Serves 16 (serving size 1 square).  Calories: 124.  Fat:  5g (sat 1.3g, mono 2g, poly 1.2g); Protein:  2g; Carb:  18.5g; Fiber:  0.3g; Cholesterol:  30mg; Iron:  0.5mg; Sodium:  31mg; Calc:  6mg

Chocolate Tofu Pudding with Coconut Whipped Cream

Okay, if you are reading this now, I am going to say you are one of the following:  1) someone who isn’t afraid of tofu…you may even really like it, love it, or have spent your whole life eating it 2) a friend of mine who reads all of my blogs because you are so supportive and did I mention…awesome?  Go friends!  3)  Someone who is courageously trying new things, trying to be healthier and looking out for the perfect recipe that is healthy….but wait for it…..also amazingly delicious!  Whichever bucket you fell into, you are in the right place, my friends.  Because this tofu pudding is pretty tasty.  Serve it to your family and friends–they will have no idea that they are eating tofu pudding.  Yes, it’s that good.

I grew up eating tofu pudding.  My dear mom blended and poured many tofu pudding variations in her day–vanilla, chocolate, and raspberry were all household favorites.  So this tofu pudding thing is not outside of my realm of thinking.  But I wanted to find a recipe that really, really tasted just like chocolate pudding and this is it.  This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman’s Mexican Chocolate Pudding recipe.  I left out the spices because I wanted a classic pudding.  I made one other tweak and added a little bit of corn starch because I needed it to set relatively quickly.  Lastly, I added coconut whipped cream to the top for a nice vegan topping.  You can surely make this recipe vegan–just add vegan chocolate instead and you are good to go!

For those of you who are not yet familiar with Mark Bittman (his cookbook is the foundation of the Food Matters Project), check him out.  He is your friend.  He is the least pretentious cook I have come across.  He makes cooking really, really easy and wants everyone to make delicious and healthy dishes–not just fancy foodies.

Chocolate Tofu Pudding adapted from MARK BITTMAN

Time: 10 minutes, plus 30 minutes’ chilling; Yields 4-6 servings

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 pound silken tofu
  • 8 ounces high-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Chocolate shavings (optional).

1. In a small pot, combine sugar with  3/4 cup water; bring to a boil and cook until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.

  • 2. Put all ingredients except for chocolate shavings  in a blender and purée until completely smooth, stopping machine to scrape down its sides if necessary. Divide among 4 to 6 ramekins and chill for at least 30 minutes. If you like, garnish with chocolate shavings before serving.

Coconut Milk “Whipped Cream”

This ‘recipe’ is as simple as they come.  Buy one full-fat can of coconut (Lite doesn’t really work here).  Put in fridge for a few hours.  Open can.  Scoop the coconut cream off of the top and mix with a dash of vanilla and a little bit of agave or sugar to taste.  Whisk together and top your dessert!