Summer Sweets: Fresh Cherry Marshmallows

19 Aug

Have I mentioned lately how much I love summer? Okay sure, the other seasons have their benefits. The warm spices of autumn, the hearty meals of winter, and the sweetness of early spring vegetables are awesome. But summer has all sorts of fruit and vegetable gifts for me to play with in the kitchen. And their seasons are fleeting, so it’s important to make the most of them while they’re around. That’s why this is the first of TWO recipes utilizing one of my favorite quick-to-disappear delights: Fresh sweet cherries.

Now sour cherries are delightful too, but you only usually see those here in June. Deep, dark red sweet cherries carry on a little longer through the summer. And while my first choice is always to eat them fresh, I do love using them for jams, sauces, and baked goods as well.

Using them for candy-making, on the other hand is a bit more of a challenge. Fruit has a lot of water and some fruits have a great deal of their own pectin. Those factors (and others, like acidity) can really throw off a candy recipe. So I did two things. First, I decided to update my marshmallow recipe. As they do, my methods and techniques have evolved since I first posted it several years ago. Second, I did some research to find out how, where, and when adding some fruit puree to the recipe made the most sense. And very soon, I had a batch of fluffy, fragrant marshmallows with a gentle cherry flavor.

Let’s whip’em up!

Fresh Sweet Cherry Marshmallows

  • 1 1/4 cups water, divided
  • 1/2 cup cherry puree (from 1 heaping cup fresh cherries)
  • 4  ¼ oz. envelopes unflavored powdered gelatin (about 3 tbsp. + 1 tsp.)
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch

Sift the powdered sugar and cornstarch together in a bowl and set aside. You will need this mixture a few times throughout the process, so have it standing nearby.

Grease a 9×13 in. pan and give yourself some extra insurance by lining the bottom with parchment paper. Then grease the parchment and dust the whole pan with the powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture. Make sure it’s totally coated.

Grease a spatula or a large offset palette knife and set it aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the cherry puree with ½ cup of the water. Sprinkle the unflavored gelatin on top and briefly stir to combine. Let it sit for at least five minutes.

Prepare the syrup by combining the remaining water, sugar, and corn syrup in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, and then attach a candy thermometer and cook without stirring until the syrup reaches 240 degrees F.

While the syrup is cooking, give the fruit puree/gelatin mixture a stir to make sure the gelatin is well-distributed.

Once the syrup reaches 240 degrees F, turn the stand mixer on low speed and slowly stream in the sugar syrup. Once you’ve poured it all in, slowly increase the speed to its highest setting and whip for 11 minutes.

The mixture will cool down, greatly increase in volume, and slowly turn from syrup into fluffy marshmallow.

After the mixture is whipped, use your oiled spatula/palette knife to spread it into the prepared 9×13 in. pan and smooth the top. Dust the top with more of the cornstarch and powdered sugar mixture and let the marshmallows set for 8 hours.

Turn the slab of marshmallow out onto a cutting board and peel back the parchment paper.

Cut into squares of any size using a pizza wheel or an oiled bench scraper. I find that it helps to dip the pizza wheel into the cornstarch and powdered sugar mixture after cutting each row. Your cuts will be much neater.

As you cut, toss the squares in the cornstarch/powdered sugar so that all sides are coated. This keeps the marshmallows from sticking together.

Store in a sealed container away from heat and humidity, and start thinking about all of the great cherry s’mores you are going to make.

The fragrance of these is just incredible, not to mention the soft, creamy texture when you bite into one.

Not a cherry lover? That’s alright! Strawberry and blueberry purees also make great marshmallows. And if you’re looking for something more traditional, simply omit the fruit puree, use 3 envelopes of gelatin instead of 4, and add a tsp. of vanilla extract when there is about 1 minute of whipping time left. That will get you the classic, bright white vanilla marshmallow that’s ready for a skewer and a bonfire.

I hope you find some of your own sweet tastes of the season to whip into this tasty confection. Keep your eyes peeled for another cherry delight here soon!

Ciao for now,

Neen

 

Practice and Patience: (Award-Winning!) Pecan Pie

16 Aug

One of the things I don’t mention enough on this blog is how many iterations recipes go through before I post them here. I want to make all of the mistakes and find better, more efficient ways to do things so that you don’t have to go through that process. There is so much clumsy struggle behind pretty results sometimes.

And that is the case with the pecan pie we’re going to make today. I have had it all happen. Melted crust, over-browned crust, greasy crust, soggy bottom crust, soupy filling, over-set filling, sunken top…you name it, I’ve been visited by it at some point. Every time I’d make this pie, there would be a dozen notes added to whatever caramel and butter stained piece of paper the recipe was printed on. One day, it came out just so. It sliced so beautifully, the filling set, but not too firm. The crust was delicate, but sturdy enough to accommodate the weight of the filling, and the whole crust was golden with not a burnt spot in sight. Immediately I made sure that the recipe was written down, complete with method notes. Obsessive? Maybe.

But it turns out a beautiful, delectable pecan pie every time. I’ve streamlined the process a lot, and though there’s a bit of time spent with the crust, it’s mostly just patiently waiting for it to chill between steps.

Let’s bake!

Pecan Pie

Crust  

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ tbsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter (very cold)
  • 2-3 tbsp. ice water

Filling

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 4 eggs (well beaten)
  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 4 cups toasted pecan halves (chop 2 cups of these)

 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In the bowl of a food processor combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add butter and pulse until the pieces are pea sized and smaller.

Sprinkle on 2 tbsp. of the ice water and pulse the dough just until it adheres together when pinched between fingers.

If too dry, sprinkle on more water and pulse again. Gather dough into a ball, flatten into a disc, and chill for 30 min.

Roll dough out between 2 sheets of parchment paper into a 12” circle and then move to a baking sheet and chill for 10 min.

Peel back the top piece of parchment and gently fold the pie dough over a rolling pin. This will help you lay it in the pan without stretching.

Fit the dough into 9 in. pan and trim edges, flute or crimp as desired. Freeze the crust for 15 minutes to firm it thoroughly.

Line the pan with a piece of parchment and pour in a bag of dried beans to use as weights. Bake with weights for 15 minutes, then remove weights and parchment and bake for another 10 min. Move crust to a wire rack while you prepare the filling.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

Melt the butter over medium-low heat and then cook, stirring, until it is lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, salt and cinnamon, then add eggs and whisk until smooth.

Slowly pour butter into the sugar mixture, and whisk to combine.

Stir the chopped pecans.

Pour the filling into pie crust.

Line the top of the filling with the remaining pecan halves in concentric circles. Cover the edges of the pie with aluminum foil or a pie shield to prevent over-browning.

Bake for about 50-60 min., or until the filling is just set. Start checking for doneness right at 50 minutes. The filling will jiggle a little bit but should not be sloshy. Cool completely before cutting.

Why no slice here? Well, this one was headed to the county fair, but I’ll try to get a picture of it cut when I go to the fair this weekend.

Update: This pie made me the GRAND CHAMPION of the baking competition at the 2018 Arlington County Fair!

The way I see it, all of this is play and creativity. And if you approach cooking that way, you’ll never stress over the messes, accidents, or mishaps. You’ll just write yourself a note and fix it next time. Just wait for it and always, always keep learning. Eventually, you’ll stumble upon that perfect bite. And it will be so worth it.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Leftover Treasures: Arancini

12 Aug

There are a lot of clever ways to revive leftovers, but one of my favorites makes a new dish that can be even better than the original. I am talking of course, about arancini, Sicily’s perfect little fried rice balls.

The name translates from Italian and Sicilian to mean “little oranges” for the shape and color of the finished product. They’re said to have originated in 10th century Sicily, and later gained popularity as a food eaten on the feast of Santa Lucia. “Arancini are a traditional food for the feast of Santa Lucia on 13 December when bread and pasta are not eaten. This commemorates arrival of a grain supply ship on Santa Lucia’s day in 1646, relieving a severe famine” [1]. Today, arancini are so popular that most food outlets in Sicily sell them year-round.

Though meat in tomato sauce (ragù) and mozzarella are a traditional filling, variants are sold all over Sicily. Like any good leftover application, they are malleable enough to accommodate what you have on hand. These deep-fried delights are the answer to “I made a full recipe of risotto and only needed to feed 1 or 2 people. What now?”

Risotto already has such a wonderful depth of flavor that we don’t need to do much at all to make it something special again. Arancini are simple to make, freeze well, and fry up in less than five minutes. Sound good? Let’s go for it.

Mushroom and Cheese Arancini

Ingredients

  • Well chilled leftovers from 1 recipe Mushroom and Romano Risotto (about 3 cups for me). You can certainly use other varieties of leftover risotto, just make sure you chill it well so that it’s firm.
  • 3 eggs (2 beaten in one bowl, 1 beaten in another)
  • 2 oz. mozzarella cheese (or other melting cheese), cut into ½ in. cubes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • Neutral oil such as peanut or canola for frying (enough to measure at least 2 in. deep in a saucepan)

Put the flour, 2 beaten eggs, and bread crumbs into separate bowls and arrange on the counter in that order. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat one egg and mix it into the chilled risotto.

Take 2 tbsp. of the risotto and flatten it gently into your palm. Place a cube of mozzarella in the center and then gently close your hand to surround the mozzarella with risotto. I also roll the ball between my hands a few times to get a nice compact shape.

Dip the ball into the flour, shaking off excess.

Next, dip it into the beaten egg, letting the excess drip off.

Finally, roll the ball in the panko breadcrumbs and place on the parchment-lined baking sheet. I got 18 from 3 cups of risotto. (Yes, yes, there are only 17 in the picture. One was not-so-elegantly dropped.)

At this moment, I realized that I am one human with a somewhat small appetite and what on earth was I going to do with a dozen and a half arancini? Thankfully, these freeze well. If you need to do so, freeze them on a baking sheet until firm, and then move to a freezer bag. They’ll take a little longer to fry from frozen, but will be just as excellent. Win!

If not freezing, chill the arancini in the refrigerator for at least an hour before frying. They will hold their shape much better.

Prepare to fry by filling a saucepan with at least 2 in. of neutral oil. Clip a thermometer to the side of the pot and make sure the probe is at least ½ in. into the oil. This is important because greasy fried food is not what we’re after. Use an accurate thermometer, fry at the correct temperature, and the food will only absorb a very small amount of the oil. I’ve measured on a few occasions, and it’s usually only a few tablespoons total.

Bring the oil to 350 degrees F over moderate heat. You may be tempted to use high heat to get it there, but don’t. It will be harder to control the temperature later.

Fry the arancini 2-3 at a time to keep the oil temperature from dipping. They will cook in 2-4 minutes, depending on size. Remove when they are a deep golden brown. Bring the oil back to 350 degrees between batches.

Now you get a second course of your delicious risotto with added crunchy crust and gooey mozzarella center.

I mean, just check out that cheesiness:

They’re a great appetizer or lunch alongside a simple tomato salad. Now no delicious risotto leftovers need ever go to waste. And that feels pretty great.

Ciao for now,

Neen

1. Giuseppina Siotto, Vegetaliana, note di cucina italiana vegetale: La cucina vegetariana e vegana, 2014, ISBN8868101858, chapter 14

State Specialties: Smith Island Cake

11 Aug

Chincoteague Island holds some of my favorite foods. The fried chicken and barbecue from Woody’s, scallops from Gary Howard, and crabs and hushpuppies from the aptly named Crab Shack. Not to mention the multiple farmer’s markets, a donut truck, and various small bakeries and ice cream shops.

It’s also the first place I discovered one of the tastiest regional specialties I have yet to try: Smith Island Cake. While they come in many flavors, the common theme among them is the towering number of individually baked (not split) layers, 8-14 of them as far as I’ve seen. The cake is officially designated as the state dessert of Maryland and the most popular variety features a cooked chocolate fudge frosting (though my mother-in-law would have made a strong argument for the coconut variety that she LOVED).

I shared a slice of one of these with my family on one perfect island day and it was a heavenly treat for sure. I’ve wanted to make one ever since, but kept putting it off because I just didn’t have the time. Then Joe went to Las Vegas for a weekend with his friends and I got bored, so things happened.

I’ve done my best to streamline the baking method. The batter and frosting are both pretty simple, you won’t even need a mixer for anything, just two big bowls and a saucepan. No splitting of layers, hooray! And you can take your time with this. The cake batter and frosting are both resilient, so don’t stress.

Smith Island Cake

Butter Cake

  • 24 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp. baking powder (preferably aluminum-free)
  • 1½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 2¼ cups sugar
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 6 eggs

Chocolate Fudge Frosting

  • 6 oz. dark/bittersweet chocolate (I used 56%), chopped
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk (one 12 oz. can)
  • 9 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt

Cut 8 circles of parchment paper to fit the bottom of 9 in. round cake pans. Grease, line with parchment, and flour as many 9 in. round cake pans as you have. Test to see how many pans will fit on the middle rack of your oven. Doing this in advance will let you know how many batches you’ll be making for 8 layers of cake. I have 5 pans, so I baked in 3 batches.

If you want to simplify dividing your batter among batches, weigh the bowl your final batter will be in.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the butter, sugar, milk, vanilla extract, and eggs until well combined.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and whisk just until it comes together. It will look lumpy, like pancake batter. Let this rest for 15 minutes and then whisk until smooth.

If you are going by weight, weigh your batter, subtract the weight of the bowl, and then divide by 8 to get the amount of batter you’ll use per pan. Alternatively, put a clean bowl on the scale, use the tare function, and pour the batter into the clean bowl. Then divide that number by 8. For my batter, this worked out to just under 9 oz. per pan. I would say it was a heavy ¾ cup per pan.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pans and then tilt the pans to spread the batter evenly across the bottoms.

Bake the layers for 15 minutes or until just golden at the edges and pulling away from the pan.

Allow the layers to cool in pans for 5 minutes, and then invert onto wire racks to cool completely. I don’t have enough cooling racks for 8 cakes, but these cool fast and you can move the cooled layers onto parchment to give yourself more real estate when the next batch is coming out.

Re-grease and flour pans as needed, divide batter, and bake until you have made eight layers.

To make the fudge frosting, combine the butter, evaporated milk, chocolate, and sugar in a saucepan over medium high heat, stirring often. Boil the mixture, stirring, until thick and shiny (about 8 minutes). It should coat the back of a spoon well. Set aside to cool for about one hour, or until warm, but spreadable.

To assemble the cake, spread a thin layer of frosting over each layer. As you stack, the frosting will start to set up and keep things pretty stable.


Once you have stacked all 8 layers, spread the remaining frosting along the sides and top of the cake. If it starts to get too stiff, just re-warm it a little and it will become spreadable again. Like I said before, super resilient stuff to work with.

And…

I added a little spun sugar for a decorative top, but really this cake is about the insides. Let the frosting set up for at least an hour before cutting. Trust me, it’s worth it, because if you’re patient…


Yes, perfect, clean layers! So satisfying.

So what’s the cake like? It has a buttery soft texture and a warm vanilla flavor. The fudge frosting is something special. I love how it sets up and makes this cake so easy to slice. The flavor is a decadent, rich chocolate that’s, well, wonderfully fudgy!

I know the baking in batches is a bit time consuming, but this cake is so easy to put together once that’s done. And so very worthy of state dessert status!

Don’t be afraid to be creative. You can certainly make some vanilla fudge frosting or a double recipe of maple buttercream, peanut butter filling, or caramel sauce to sandwich between the layers. Jam or curd might be a bit slippery unless you let the layers sit in the fridge between stacking/filling, but the cherry filling from the Ribbon Cake is definitely thick enough to hold up here. You could really make some fantastic stripes, in fact I’m already dreaming about my next birthday cake.

Next time I’m in Chincoteague, I’ll have to do some extremely important and detailed research. 😉

Ciao for now,

Neen

One Night in NOLA: Salted Butter Pecan Ice Cream with Caramel Swirl

10 Aug

I don’t eat ice cream very often. I’ve made vanilla and cookies and cream versions for Joe, but usually I have a spoonful and leave it at that. I’m more of a pie and pastry person when it comes to sweets. When I think back to many birthday parties over the years, I’ve never wanted a scoop of ice cream with my cake.

But I have my moments. The craving hits every once in a while and always for the same flavor: butter pecan. And the way I see it, if you are going to treat yourself to ice cream, you should go all the way and make it everything you want. As many of my recipes are, this one is born from a memory.

Seven Junes ago, Joe proposed to me a few days before a trip to New Orleans with my family. When we arrived in NOLA, we surprised everyone with the news, and what was already set to be a fun vacation became even more celebratory and special.

The first night there was, as expected, hot and muggy. We made our way through the French Quarter to a tiny restaurant called Green Goddess. We had an excellent meal, but for one time in my whole life, it was an ice cream dessert I ordered there that embedded itself in my brain. It was a sundae consisting of butter pecan ice cream, a caramel sauce, candied bacon, and whipped cream. And it was unreal. The ice cream was perfectly creamy and packed with buttery toasted pecans, the caramel sauce was dark and rich, and the candied bacon was smoky, salty, crunchy, and sweet. The cloud of homemade, not-too-sweet whipped cream on top was the perfect finish.

So when I got my annual(?) ice cream craving, I thought about just making butter pecan, but then I thought back to that sundae and decided it needed a caramel swirl right through the ice cream along with some crispy, salty pecans. Go all the way, right?

The best part about this ice cream is that it’s really not fussy (no egg tempering!), and all of the components can be made in advance. For me, that’s really excellent. My energy level since being diagnosed with RA has been erratic at best, so recipes that allow me to do things at my own pace are especially valuable to me.

Obviously, you will need an ice cream maker of some kind to make this recipe. Whether you roll a ball or use a electric countertop model, you’ll turn out some great ice cream. Let’s get churning!

Salted Butter Pecan Ice Cream with Caramel Swirl

Ice Cream Base

  • 1 cup cold whole milk
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups cold heavy cream
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract or 1/3 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Salted Buttered Pecans

  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • ¾ tsp. salt

Caramel Swirl

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 7 tbsp. heavy cream
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt

Method

To make the ice cream base, whisk together milk and brown sugar until brown sugar is dissolved.

Stir in heavy cream and vanilla extract or vanilla bean pulp. I also throw the empty vanilla pod in.

Pour into a lidded container (or cover the bowl) and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, though I usually let it go overnight.

To make the buttered pecans, melt the butter in a skillet. Add pecans and salt to the pan, and cook over medium low heat until pecans are browned and fragrant, about 8-10 minutes.

Remove from heat, strain off the excess butter (and save that pecan butter! It’s so good on pancakes), and spread the pecans on a foil lined baking sheet to cool.

Cool completely before use.

To make the caramel, using a heavy bottomed saucepan, bring the sugar, corn syrup, and water to a boil over medium heat, stirring just until sugar is dissolved.

Then boil mixture, without stirring, but gently swirling pan, until the syrup turns a deep amber color. Be careful, it goes from golden to burnt quickly. I like to swirl on and off the heat to keep the syrup nice and even in color.

Remove pan from heat and carefully pour in the cream and vanilla extract. The mixture will bubble up and harden a bit. Return it to the heat and simmer mixture, stirring, until caramel is smooth.

Remove pan from heat, stir in the salt and cool caramel to room temperature.

If you make this on the same day you are making your ice cream, leave it at room temperature. If you make it in advance, store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week. Warm to room temperature before use. You may need to heat it slightly to loosen it up.

Now let’s put it all together. Have ready the container you want to use, a large spoon for the ice cream, a spoon for the caramel, and a butter knife. Have your buttered pecans and caramel ready to go.

If you used one, remove the vanilla bean pod from the ice cream base.

Pour the chilled ice cream base into your ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s directions. In my ice cream maker, this takes about 24 minutes.

Pour in the pecans during the last 3 minutes of churning.

Take 1/3 of the ice cream and spread it in the container. Quickly drizzle a layer of caramel on top.

Repeat this 2 more times, and then use the butter knife to swirl the caramel through the ice cream. I ended up using about 2/3 of the caramel I made, but it did not go to waste!

Cover the ice cream and quickly move to the freezer to harden. In my freezer, it took about four hours to reach a nice hard scoop consistency. Serve as-is, or if you’re feeling special, drizzle on some extra caramel sauce, sprinkle a few chopped salted toasted pecans, and top with some maple sweetened softly whipped cream.

While no pigs were harmed in the making of this sundae, the savory, crunchy toasted pecans and deep, rich caramel swirl running through the fluffy, soft ice cream with that little pillow of whipped cream on top instantly took me back to that wonderful summer night. Music spilling into the restaurant from the streets, my new fiancé by my side, and my family surrounding me. My heart was full. What a profound testament to the power of foods as vessels for memory.

With Joe at Green Goddess

Recipes are little time capsules we can open at any moment, and I know this is one I will surely return to on many occasions.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Downtown Dreams: Thumbprints

8 Aug

My mom worked in downtown Pittsburgh when I was growing up. It was always a treat when I got to go visit her. We would often make our way to Kaufmann’s department store (eventually Macy’s, who took over in 2006) and the Tic Toc Restaurant for lunch. I can still remember the way their tuna melt tasted 20 years later, not because it was anything particularly ground-breaking, but because I was with my mom downtown and how cool was that??

The iconic Kaufmann’s clock

The other place we’d frequent at Kaufmann’s was the Arcade Bakery. Now, this blog has made evident my love for cookies, but there are few cookies I remember more vividly and pine for more regularly than the thumbprints from the Arcade Bakery. Thick, sandy, and decadent butter cookies rolled in sprinkles or walnuts and topped with a big piped dollop of vanilla or chocolate buttercream. If there is a thumbprint divot in the middle, you’d never know under buttercream mountain.

Thumbprint, what thumbprint??

I’ve made thumbprints lots of ways, but have never quite achieved the texture and flavor of the ones from the Arcade Bakery. Apparently the recipe was never written down and some of the bakers claim not to even have one, which honestly doesn’t surprise me. I’m completely guilty of “I don’t know how much I put in, I just did it until the dough looked right.” So that’s what I had to do through many test batches. Tweak, alter, and poke at the proportions, ingredients, and most crucially the method, until I had what I wanted. It’s not a perfect copy-cat, but it is very special indeed. And transports me back to dates downtown with my mom, so I’m more than happy.

Thumbprints, inspired by Arcade Bakery and happy memories

Thumbprint Cookies

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • ½ cup shortening, room temperature
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. almond extract
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • Sprinkles or finely chopped walnuts
  • Chocolate buttercream
  • Vanilla buttercream

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Vanilla Buttercream

  • 4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • ½ tbsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. almond extract
  • Pinch salt

For the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Beat the sugar, salt, shortening, and butter until fluffy.

Add the egg and extracts and beat until thick.

Stir in the flour just until a dough forms (it may still be in chunks).

Form the dough into ¾ oz. balls. This is about 1 tbsp. of dough. I use a rounded 2 tsp. cookie scoop.

Roll in the sprinkles or nuts. Then press down with your thumb (or something with a round edge, like a rolling pin) to form a thumbprint in the middle.

Chill them on baking sheets in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.

Bake the cookies for 15 minutes or until lightly golden on the bottoms. Move to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the vanilla buttercream, beat the butter until smooth and then slowly add the powdered sugar. Once it is all combined, add the salt and extracts and beat until thick. If this sounds familiar, it is! You can find a photo tutorial for this buttercream in the Ribbon Cake recipe.

Transfer to a piping bag with an open star tip. Or just use a plastic storage bag with the corner cut off.

To make the chocolate buttercream, beat the butter until smooth and then slowly add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder, and beat until combined.

On low speed, slowly stream in the milk and vanilla extract, then add the salt and continue beating until well combined, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Then beat on high speed until thick, about 2 minutes. Depending on the weather and temperature, you may need to add extra powdered sugar to stiffen up the frosting. On a rainy, humid day I have added as much as 1/3 cup extra.

Transfer to a piping bag with an open star tip. Or just use a plastic storage bag with the corner cut off.

To assemble, pipe a large dollop of buttercream into the thumbprint you created, swirling out over the edges and covering about 2/3 of the cookie surface.

So while the sprinkle shape might be different (I thought these coated the cookies better, but for a true replica, use long straight sprinkles), one bite and I was instantly taken back to those afternoons downtown that always felt so special.

Still and always having fun with mom!

While Kaufmann’s, The Tic Toc Restaurant, and the Arcade Bakery might be lost to time, their memories are strong in my heart. This recipe might not be the original, but it is just what I remember, and is now down on paper to share with you.

Ciao for now,

Neen