Red Velvet Cookie Cake

I’ve never really thought about it before, but cookie cakes have played kind of a major role in my life.

It started in high school. Junior year when my husband and I were dating, there was a Sadie Hawkins’-style dance called MORP (backwards prom). Everything about it was supposed to be the opposite of the regular protocol for school dances. Instead of dressing up in our fancy best, couples were supposed to dress exactly alike. (This was much trickier in the ’90s, before the age of gender neutralized clothing.) The dance was casual instead of formal; even the photo backdrop was a departure from the usual Grecian columns and silky fabrics:

Ah yes, here we are, dressed alike and casually hanging out on our garland-draped ATV. (Who comes up with this stuff?)

The final detail of MORP was that the girl was supposed to ask the guy to the dance in some clever way. I guess food has always been my love language, because I decided to present my then-boyfriend-now-husband with a cookie cake popping the question in frosting. Unfortunately, “Will you go to MORP with me?” was too long to fit on the cookie I ended up ordering, and instead, I remember it just had the word MORP with a giant question mark.

MORP?

Good thing he knew what I was talking about, or he probably would have thought I was suffering from some sort of delicious aphasic episode.

Fast forward several years. When we found out I was pregnant with our first child, we figured we’d break out the old cookie cake communication trick to inform my husband’s parents of their new grandparent status. We had been tasked to bring dessert to Sunday dinner. Imagine my in-laws’ surprise when they read the happy news in frosted lettering. Good memories.

With this history, cookie cakes have always held a place in my heart as special occasion desserts. So the other night when a friend and her daughter joined us for dinner, I decided a red velvet cookie cake sounded like just the delectable treat to serve after dinner.

When our visiting friend and I took our first bites, we looked at each other and went, “Oh. WOW.” The subtly flavored chocolate cookie dotted with white chocolate chips and covered with smooth cream cheese frosting made for an amazing finish to dinner. Cookie cakes for the win once again!

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, or for any special occasion, consider this decadent dessert. You don’t even have to spell out any messages on it. It’s special enough all by itself.


Print Recipe
Red Velvet Cookie Cake
Perfect for Valentine's Day, this frosted red velvet cookie cake is a decadent treat!
Servings
small slices
Ingredients
Servings
small slices
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10-inch tart pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add egg, egg yolk, vanilla, food coloring, and vinegar and mix to combine.
  2. Add flour, cocoa powder, corn starch, baking powder, and salt and mix until just combined. Stir in white chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan, smoothing the top of the batter until even. Bake 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, make the frosting: In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, then vanilla and milk, until smooth and spreadable.
  4. When cookie cake has completely cooled, spread frosting in a smooth layer on top. Sprinkle with colored sprinkles, if using. Keep refrigerated.
Recipe Notes

Cookie cake adapted from Just So Tasty. Frosting from Betty Crocker.

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Almond Milk Nutella Pudding

Nutella pudding

Are you a milk drinker? If you are, how much milk do you drink a day? If you’re not, how much dairy do eat in a day?

At last year’s Nutrition and Health Conference in Denver, I heard a fascinating talk from Walter Willett, Department Chair of Harvard’s School of Public Health, about how much dairy we all actually need on a daily basis. The marketing messages we grew up with that milk “does a body good” and to get “3 A Day” servings of cheese, milk, or yogurt may have been simply that: marketing. Willett’s conclusion, based on numerous studies, was that one serving of dairy a day is probably plenty for most adults. We do of course need to be mindful of consuming enough calcium and vitamin D overall, but as an animal product, dairy has a pretty high calorie and fat price tag for the delivery of these vital nutrients.

While there’s still more research to be done on the merits (or pitfalls) of eating lots of dairy, and what fat percentage to choose when we do, since hearing Willett’s talk I’ve tried to simply become more conscious of how much dairy I consume daily. It’s led to the discovery that I’m a bit of a dairy-oholic. While drinking straight milk frankly grosses me out, my daily cheese/yogurt/ice cream consumption can overstep its bounds even before lunchtime.

Yesterday, for example… I was craving something sweet. The jar of Nutella in my pantry was seductively calling my name, but, wanting to at least maintain my illusion of refinement, I thought, what if I make something with the Nutella instead of just eating it straight from the jar like a desperate PMS-ing college student? Something like a pudding, perhaps! As I thought about my day of eating up until that point, however, I realized it had already been pretty dairy-heavy. So, while there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with dairy, would it be heretical to make a pudding without something other than regular milk, thereby cutting some fat and calories? Could it turn out creamy and delicious if you made it with, say, almond milk instead of cow’s milk?

Why yes, it could!

I didn’t miss a thing in this Nutella pudding using almond milk in place of regular dairy. When I asked my husband for his thoughts, he said it was very tasty, too, and didn’t realize it didn’t contain regular milk. (Though it should be noted that there is a small amount of dairy in Nutella itself. If you absolutely need to be 100% dairy-free, you would need to find a different chocolate hazelnut spread than Nutella–which is possible!)

So whether you need to limit dairy in your diet for some reason, or just don’t mind shaving off a few calories in your dessert, this pudding is your answer. Dollop with a dairy or non-dairy whipped topping to your preference.

Nutella Pudding

By the way, recently on one of my tours at the Halle Heart Children’s Museum where I work, I asked a group of second graders which animals provide dairy products. With utmost confidence, one kid raised his hand and shouted: “Ducks!” If duck milk ever becomes a thing, I’m gonna call it non-dairy and say you can make this pudding with it, too.

Print Recipe
Dairy Free Nutella Pudding
A Nutella pudding made with almond milk that's still creamy and smooth!
Course Dessert
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
Course Dessert
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, corn starch, cocoa powder, and salt. Add almond milk and bring almost to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently to break up any lumps.
  2. When the mixture begins to thicken and almost boil, turn heat to low, add Nutella, chocolate chips, and vanilla and whisk until smooth.
  3. Pour into 4 individual bowls or ramekins, or one large bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Serve chilled with non-dairy whipped topping.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

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Peppermint Hot Chocolate

Peppermint Hot Chocolate

When it comes to Christmas, I am big on tradition. Really, when it comes to any holiday. There were beloved holiday experiences that repeated themselves every year when I was growing up–like gingerbread house parties, for example–and now, as a parent, I am strongly committed to instituting and observing traditions for my own family. They certainly don’t have to be the same traditions that I grew up with (I mean, dressing up like clowns for Easter is kind of weird, right?) as long as they are wholesome and relatively easily repeatable.

You may think, “Sure, traditions are fun, but they’re not that big a deal.” I believe, though, that they are a big deal because of two things they create: family unity and family identity. As for unity, when we all enjoy the same activities together year after year, it can only bring us closer to each other. As for identity, having a sense of family personality is crucial. In a world where the family gets less and less respect, we have to try that much harder to instill in our children the conviction that family is fun, positive, and–perhaps most relevant to observing traditions–unique. As my kids go out into the world, I want them to know what it means to be a Garone. I hope they come to believe it means being creative, hospitable, and community-oriented (and also appreciating Dr. Doofenschmirtz from Phineas and Ferb as the most underrated cartoon villain of all time). And when my kids grow up, I want them to recall lovingly the great times we had together and ultimately pay that forward to their own families.

This peppermint hot chocolate has become one of our Christmastime traditions, sipped alongside watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Something about these two activities in conjunction has worked its way into the fabric of our family lore. It’s been years since I switched from packaged mix to homemade hot chocolate, and somewhere along the line started adding peppermint extract to it to give it a special holiday flair. My daughter, middle son, and I think it’s spectacular. Creamy, richly chocolatey, and of course, perfectly pepperminty. The other two members of our household prefer the original version. Now we live in a House Divided: the Peppermints and the Originals. (Maybe one Christmas we should get team jackets with our preferences written on them, a la the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies from Grease.)

peppermints

originals

How’s that for family identity?

Peppermint Hot Chocolate

So whatever your family traditions at Christmastime, may I suggest making this delightful hot drink one of them? I hope it adds to your family’s sense of unity and identity. Grinch viewing optional.

 

Print Recipe
Peppermint Hot Chocolate
Course Beverage
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Course Beverage
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a small saucepan, combine the cocoa powder, sugar, and pinch of salt. Stir in hot water.
  2. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Simmer and stir for 2 minutes.
  3. Stir in milk and heat until very hot, but not boiling. Remove from heat and add vanilla and peppermint extract.
  4. Distribute evenly into 4 mugs and stir 1 Tbsp. half and half into each. Top with whipped cream, if desired.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Allrecipes.

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