Red Velvet Seven Layer Bars

So, there’s this baking competition coming up – my work’s annual Valentine’s Day Bake-Off.  Last year, I entered 2 of the 4 categories and won both, which was both super exciting and super surprising.  Check out that post here.  This, however, has added EXTRA pressure for this year’s competition.  Therefore, I’m on a mission to bake my way to success.  The current mission is a red-velvet infused frenzy. Continue reading

Valentine’s Day Bake-Off!

Hello friends!  This Tuesday at work, we had our annual Valentine’s Day Bake-Off.  (It was supposed to be on Valentine’s Day, but the giant snow storm delayed it.)  There were four categories: Pies, Cakes, Cupcakes/Cookies, and Other.  Now, while I am not sure I agree with the breakdown of the categories (Cupcakes with cookies!?!?!  What is up with that!?!?), the competition was great and all the participants had a great time.  Some really went all out with crazy things such as multi-tier displays and mood lighting!

Strawberry/Chocolate Cake Balls

These Strawberry/Chocolate Cake Balls had a two-tier pink cardboard display. Genius! I didn’t even know disposal displays like that existed!

Cheesecake

This Broken-Hearted Blues New York Cheesecake was the most intense display – It had blue mood lighting underneath the tray and a mini Empire State Building with King Kong coming out of the middle! It won the Pies category. (According to Food Network, cheesecakes are pies because they have a crust.) It didn’t need all that though, because it was a darn good cheesecake anyway!

The display for these Oreo Bars was less intense, but the pretty dish was still a huge step up from my cupcake carrier and square cake pan that I used as the vessels to distribute my treats!

The display for these Oreo Bars was less intense, but the pretty dish was still a huge step up from my cupcake carrier and square cake pan that I used as the vessels to distribute my treats!

This Italian Love Cake was the winner for the Cakes category.  It was so chocolaty and delicious!  I LOVED it!  It lacked the fancy display, like mine, but its chocolaty goodness was too much to resist.  Congratulations Diana!

This Italian Love Cake was the winner for the Cakes category. It was so chocolaty and delicious! I LOVED it! It lacked the fancy display, like mine, but its chocolaty goodness was too much to resist. Congratulations Diana!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes...A formidable competitor that also did not focus on the display aspect.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes…A formidable competitor that also did not focus on the display aspect, but was nice and pink for V-Day.

I’m not exactly sure what all the judging criteria was, but I know it consisted of taste, flavor (apparently there is a difference!), appearance, impression, presentation, creativity, and relevance to the theme.  I got a look at the score cards and they were intense – a full page for each submission with all the different criteria.  Each judge had a whole folder worth of material to fill out.  No wonder it took them almost an hour to get through the judging!

All the submissions...ready to be devoured!

All the submissions…ready to be devoured!

I decided to go big this year and enter two categories:  Other and Cupcakes/Cookies.  I made Red Velvet White Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl Fudge and S’mores Cupcakes.  And…drumroll please…I won both categories!  Now, while I missed the memo that the way you display your treats affects your score, I guess my flavors were good enough to win anyways.  Plus, I did decorate my cupcakes Valentine’s Day themed, and the fudge was red and white swirls.

My winning submissions!

My winning submissions!

When they announced the winners, I had actually already left the Bake-Off to go our weekly R&D meeting.  My coworker Kale (who ditched the meeting entirely!) comes into the room about 10 minutes after it started and says, “Stephanie, you won for the Cupcakes AND the Fudge!”  I was like, “Really?!?!  No, really!?!?”  I continued this same ‘discussion’ several times as I followed him out of the room and back down the hall to the Bake-Off.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure I would win ONE, let alone BOTH categories!  Plus, Kale loves messing with me, so I wasn’t convinced I had really won.  I scolded him and was like, “If you are psyching me out, that is really mean and I am going to be so mad at you!”  He assured me he wasn’t, and, upon reentering the Bake-Off, I was handed not one, but TWO prize envelopes!  It made my day, of course!

Let the judging begin!

Let the judging begin!

I try not to brag too much – 1, because it is annoying, and, 2, because I am so not over-confident in my baking skills, or life skills for that matter! – but I have to share this very exciting news because I am really proud of myself.  Last Valentine’s Day, my pink macarons fell short of expectations and did not win anything in the Valentine’s Day Bake-Off, to my slight disappointment (they are very hard to make!).  I understood though, because I took one bite of the lime cupcakes that beat me and I knew I was defeated.  Last spring, this blog was born and I promised myself to bake regularly to practice and improve my baking skills.  The goal of improving my skills was not to win the Bake-Off this year, but to improve on my new love for baking and get better at something that really makes me happy.  I may have peaked years ago in my super-soccer skills – which is something else I love – but baking is something with which I am pretty sure I have yet to reach my prime.  Winning both categories I entered for the Bake-Off this year is really just the icing on top of the cupcake for me (hehe), and more of a validation and confirmation of my year of baking and practicing and improving.  The prize was $75 per catergory, so that is $150 more in my pocket!  My year of baking has paid off – literally!

The proud winners!

The proud winners!

Down to the baking:

Now, I am going to write a post this weekend with the fudge recipe, so be on the lookout for that one!  I’ve been wanting to make fudge for awhile now though, and it turned out splendidly!  The red and white swirl effect gave it that Valentine’s Day theme I was hoping for and the judges agreed!

The S’mores Cupcakes were the same recipe I made last fall that my whole family cheated on their diets for.  I changed up the colors, making the marshmallow cream cheese filling pink, and the graham cracker buttercream red.  I even went on a hunt for pink heart marshmallows and was ecstatic when I actually found them!  They were a nice little touch, I thought.  And it even kept with the s’mores theme, too!  And then, for fun, I added some V-Day sprinkles of various kinds.  All in all, it made a delicious Valentine’s treat, also suitable for a campfire, or a random Tuesday night.  🙂  Let’s finish up with a picture or two, so I can get to writing the fudge post!

fudge

smores cupcake

Happy Belated Valentine’s Day everyone!  Much love!  ❤ ❤ ❤

Funfetti Sugar Cookies

cookies3

I think I’ve maybe mentioned it in passing, but I want to come clean about something:  I love sprinkles.  Yes, I know; I’m 5 years old at heart, and bright colors are my favorite.  I also love sugar, and baking, as you very well know by now.  From these facts, it can be inferred that I love funfetti.  It was a magical moment the first time I bit into a fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth piece of yellow cake smothered in sweet (pink) vanilla frosting, to find a plethora of colorful dots awaiting me on the inside.  It was love at first bite.  ( #loveatfirstbite…yes, I went there. )  I was hooked.

Cookie Dough

Up until two days ago, every funfetti recipe I had ever made had come from that little Pillsbury Doughboy.  But, as I’ve also mentioned in the past, since I began baking from scratch a couple years ago, it just isn’t the same pulling a box of mix off the shelf, adding a few ingredients, and voila!  While quick and easy, I bake for therapy, for pleasure, and for love.  It’s just over too quickly if I use a box mix.  So, this week I ventured into the world of from-scratch funfetti.  This adventure took the form of Funfetti Sugar Cookies.

doughball

Now, let’s be real here:  I love sugar cookies, and I love sprinkles.  Why it took me so long to combine the two, I may never know.  The point is, they’ve been introduced now and I’m hooked.  These cookies are to die for.  I mean, if you like sugar cookies, you really can’t go wrong with these.  Because these are buttery, fluffy, light and chewy sugar cookies.  The sprinkles make them all the more fun, and the possibilities with this recipe are endless.  You can make them bigger or smaller, add a frosting or glaze to them, change the sprinkle colors for different occasions, plop a filling in between two and make a sandwich…The list goes on and on.  Check out Sally’s Baking Addiction for some of her ideas of how to transform this recipe!

oven

These cookies are super easy and super delicious.  I made a triple batch in no time!  The only difficult part was trusting Sally when she said bake 8 minutes, no more!  They really don’t look done after 8 minutes (like, they seem still raw in the middle), and I reeeaaally wanted to leave them in longer, but don’t!  I made these cookies in three batches and the best batch was the final sheet when I trusted the baking gods and took the cookies out after 8 minutes.  The bottoms were barely golden, but the cookies turned out impeccable.  (Note:  All the cookies were delicious, but the last sheet was the softest and chewiest and therefore, the bestest..and still totally baked once it cooled.  Promise.)  Just trust the baking gods, and don’t press into the middle of them when you first take them out of the oven.  They are very soft at this point and you will squish your cookie to nothingness!

cookies2

Sidenote:  I got to try out my new cookie scoop for the first time with these!  While not a necessity, it does ensure perfectly-uniform cookies, and you don’t need a second spoon to get the dough off your scoop.  All in all, a great purchase.  🙂

cookiescoop

…And if Daisy is any judge of delicious cookies, she got the first one out of the oven and let me tell you – she followed me around the entire rest of the evening just hoping for another little taste of the fluffy, colorful, soft cookie heaven.  If only she wasn’t colorblind and could appreciate the delightfulness of the speckled wonder that is funfetti….

snowdaisy

…Just thought I’d share a little bite of Daisy in all her snowy puppy glory. 

Anyway, enjoy the cookies!

cookies4

Funfetti Sugar Cookies

Recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Prep time: 15 minutes
Bake time: 8 minutes
Yield:  15 cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 cups (190g)  all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar (cannot be omitted)
1/2 cup (80g) sprinkles, plus more for sprinkle on top before baking

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, cream softened butter for about 1 minute on medium speed. Once smooth, add the sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Mix in egg and vanilla. Scrape down the sides as needed. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cream of tartar.
  3. On low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in 3 parts. The dough will get quite thick by the last addition, so you may have to stir by hand at the end. Once combined, fold in 1/2 cup sprinkles.
  4. Scoop about 2 tablespoons of dough each and roll into balls. Make sure the balls are taller, rather than wide. Add a few more sprinkles on top of each ball dough.
  5. Chill the balls of dough on the cookie sheet for at least 2 hours and up to 48 hours in the refrigerator.**
  6. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  7. Bake chilled cookie dough for 8 minutes, no moreThe cookies will appear undone and very soft.  Allow the cookies to cool on the cookie sheet for 3 minutes because they will continue baking slightly on cookie sheet during this time.  Then move to wire rack to cool completely.

*If you forget to take egg out and need to bring it to room temperature quickly, place in a warm bowl of water for about 10 minutes as you get the other ingredients ready.  See my Bakeology post on eggs for more on why this is important!

**Chilling dough is important to prevent spreading in the oven and to keep the cookies plump and fluffy.

~ Cookies stay fresh for up to 1 week at room temperature, and freeze well. Dough can also be rolled into balls and frozen up to 3 months to bake at a later date.

~ This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.  I made a triple batch and got about 45 cookies!