Not for the dogs: Chocolate Winter Bark

I know I’ve posted a bark recipe already (and it’s below) but I wanted to show you one example of all the many ways that you can very easily make chocolate bark fit into all different holidays.

I think the blue and white is so pretty together, which I call my “‘winter bark” but it could also be used if you’re participating in Hanukkah festivities.

Blue and White Bark Candy Melts
Bag of Candy Melts for your reference

In this post, I wanted to provide more pictures actually walking through step by step how it’s done but also will also just provide a reminder on working with Candy Melts.

Blue and White Bark White
1. Spreading the melted white Candy Melts
Blue and white bark swirled
2. Adding in the blue and giving it a swirl
Blue and White Bark Sprinles one
3. Sprinkling on the first layer of toppings (snowflake sprinkles)
Blue and White Bark Sprinkles Two
4. Sprinkling on the second layer of toppings (nonpareils)
Blue and White Bark Broken
5. Third layer of topping (blue sugar sprinkles) and breaking the bark into pieces

1 package white chocolate almond bark, melted
1/4 cup blue candy melts, melted (or color of your choice)
Optional candy of your choice! For this bark, I used white snowflake sprinkles, white nonpareils, and blue sugar sprinkles

Lay out all of the candy toppings you’ll use because the chocolate will dry very, very quickly.

Place a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie tray, just to steady everything and have a place for it.

Once the chocolate is all melted, pour the white chocolate onto the parchment paper and with a spatula, spread it towards the four corners, in a rectangle shape, creating a thin layer, which will be the canvas. Then take the blue candy melts and, with a spoon, drop small dollops around the layer of white chocolate. Take a butter knife and drag it through the blue chocolate to create a swirl affect.

Very quickly, spread your sprinkles over the top and gently press in to so it holds as it hardens.

Once hard (it should take less than five minutes and depends on how thick the chocolate is), gently use your hands to break off bite-size pieces of the chocolate.

Yield: The chocolate bark will easily feed 10 people

Yes We Can Pecan Pie Truffles

If you haven’t noticed, pecans are my jam. My fiancé says it’s because I grew up in the South, but I think it’s because they’re yummy (though, just generally, he could probably live without any nuts).

I found this recipe on the New York Times website and usually I find that what they have there can be unnecessarily complicated, but this looked easy (again, lazy = me) and straightforward.

Pecan Pie Truffles choclate

These Pecan Pie Truffles taste exactly like a pecan pie. The pecans are toasted so they have a nice warm, nutty flavor and combined with the sweet maple syrup to trick your tongue into thinking it’s pie and the dark chocolate coating is a nice offset to all the sweetness inside.

2 1/2 cups pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (from about 8 whole graham crackers)
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
7 ounces dark chocolate

In a medium bowl, stir together pecans, graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar and salt until well combined. Add maple syrup, and vanilla, stirring thoroughly. Use your hands to make sure the mixture becomes fully incorporated.

Form mixture into walnut-sized balls, then place on a cookie sheet and freeze for 2 hours.

In the top of a double boiler or in a medium stainless steel bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water, melt chocolate (we recommend tempering the chocolate, but if you don’t, they’ll still be delicious, just a bit messy). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Dip the frozen balls into the melted chocolate, then place onto prepared baking sheet. Let sit for 15 minutes or until firm.

Yield: 24 Truffles

Deck the Halls with Cranberry Gingerbread

During the holidays, I really like making gingerbread and even though I’m not a big fan of the flavor, I really feel like it’s the epitome of holiday desserts. It’s has a lot of winter spices including cinnamon, all-spice, ginger and of course the dark rich flavor from the molasses.

Sticky Cranberry Gingerbread Cranberry Sauce

In this recipe, I also added candied ginger and a cranberries that were cooked down into almost a cranberry sauce (it’s not quite thick enough for that, but if you let it cook down more and added a little orange zest and orange juice you’d be all set).

Sticky Cranberry Gingerbread Batter

You could very easily make this gingerbread into a bundt cake or layered cake (though gingerbread is pretty dense so be prepared for that) for the holiday but I chose to do squares so I could take it to a town meeting we were headed to.

As soon as you bite into this gingerbread you will get the warm Christmas spices singing along with the sweet and tart cranberries in a soft, yet full bodied gingerbread texture with a crispy and crunchy top layer. This sweet and sticky treat will go fast and leave you and your loved ones wanting more.

2 cups frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup molasses
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 eggs
tablespoons ginger

Heat oven to 350 degrees and line a 9×9 square baking pan with parchment.

In a saucepan, stir together cranberries, granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon water. Stir the cranberries over medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved and cranberries form a sauce that is syrupy and bubbling, about 10 minutes. About half the cranberries should be broken down.

In a separate saucepan, stir together the butter, brown sugar, milk, maple syrup and molasses over medium heat. Bring it to just barely a simmer and then remove it from the heat. Don’t let it come to a boil, or the mixture could curdle.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, baking soda and black pepper. Beat in the butter-maple syrup mixture and then beat in the eggs. Stir in the ginger.

Scrape the batter into the pan. Drop dollops of cranberry sauce onto the surface of the batter. Drag a knife through the batter in a swirly design to marble. Transfer pan to the oven and bake it until the top is firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire baking rack and let the cake cool completely before eating it.

Yield: 16 pieces

Minty, Merry, and Bright

I love peppermint. When I was younger I would eat the round red and white candies by the HEB (Texas grocery store) -brand bagful. When I was in my middle school CCD class at St. Thomas Moore Catholic Church, I remember my teacher was offering our choice of full-sized candy bars for every paragraph of the Nicene Creed that we memorized and said in front of the class. At the beginning of the year when she asked me what I wanted, after everyone else made requests for snickers, twix, and reese’s, I announced peppermints – and by the end of the school year, I walked away with five bags of those suckers.

Peppermint Brownies Andes

So peppermint is one of my favorite things to cook with, especially around the holidays. I brought these Chocolate Peppermint Brownies along with a Eggnog Cranberry Bundt Cake to my future sister-in-law’s Cape Cod friends holiday party and they were a big hit. I even saw my fiancé’s brother, who is not a sweets person, sneak one when he didn’t think anyone was looking (shhhh). They’re more fudgy than cakey, have a gooey chocolate ganache on top, and with the andes mints in the batter and the peppermint on top, they are also crispy and crunchy — they’re right up my alley!

Peppermint Brownies Pan

6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Andes mint chips
Ganache and Topping
4 oz. dark chocolate
¼ cup heavy cream
Crushed candy canes
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line with parchment and lightly grease an 8×8” baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together.

Put the chocolate and butter in a large glass bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir, and repeat until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Add the sugars and whisk until completely combined. The mixture should be room temperature before adding the eggs.

Add the 2 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and peppermint extracts and stir.

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate and then fold in the Andes mint chips. Spread the batter in the prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs attached. Cool brownies completely.

Heat the heavy cream for 30 seconds in the microwave until bubbling. Add the dark chocolate and let sit for 1 minute before stirring until smooth. Spread evenly over the cooled brownies and sprinkle with crushed candy canes.

Place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or until the ganache is set before cutting into 16 equal squares with a very sharp knife.

Yield: 16 brownies

Dessert and Breakfast: Eggnog Cranberry Bundt Cake

My future sister-in-law is a holiday party hosting champ. At their house, she and my fiancé’s brother host a Cape Cod friend holiday party (they have a seasonal house about a block away from ours, but more on that later), New Years Eve for her family and my fiancé’s family, and an extended family party in the days after Christmas. This of course all while planning Christmas festivities for her boys and working as a nurse at a local college. I would consider hosting one of those parties an achievement, so my hat’s off to her!

Eggnog Cranberry Bundt Cake Batter

So when we went to their house for Round 1 of 3 (Cape Cod friends holiday party), I felt like the least I could do was bring a couple desserts. The first was this Eggnog Cranberry Bundt Cake. It’s moist on the inside with a sweet and crunchy outer layer. The eggnog glaze gives it a festive spiciness and the cranberries have a nice tart flavor (or Christmas berries as my future sister-in-law told her son when he insisted he didn’t like cranberries – of course he ate two pieces). This Eggnog Cranberry Bundt cake was a hit because of its soft and crunchy textures along with it’s sweet, tart, and full of holiday spices cake — and the best part is, it’s easy to make!

Eggnog Cranberry Bundt Cake Eggnog

This cake could also easily used as a breakfast or coffee type cake the next morning, which is exactly what we did. It also has to, my fiancé insists, be served (and made with) Hood Eggnog, which he proclaims is the best (though as we’ve come to find out, it’s only found in New England).

1 cup frozen cranberries
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup eggnog

1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons eggnog

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter 12-cup bundt pan and spray and dust it with flour.

Sift flour with baking soda, baking powder, and salt into another medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla extract, then add the eggs, 1 at a time. Mix in the flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with eggnog in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Fold in frozen cranberries and transfer batter to prepared pan, spreading evenly.

Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean and cake begins to pull away from sides of pan, about 1 hour. Cool cake in pan on rack 30 minutes. Invert cake onto rack and cool completely.

To make the glaze, combine powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons eggnog in medium bowl. Whisk until smooth, adding more eggnog by 1/2 teaspoonfuls if glaze is too thick to drizzle. Spoon glaze decoratively over top of cake; let stand at room temperature until glaze is firm, about 1 hour.

Yield: 12 slices of cake

A Lebanese Christmas Tradition: Mamouls

One of the things I’m most proud of is my family heritage — and we celebrate my Lebanese side every Christmas. My father is half Lebanese, and my family and I can trace his heritage back to a very specific place, that has a very specific culture, with an ancient language, and I’m very lucky to have gotten to grow up with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and a dad that’s really embraced that connection, mainly through food.

Mamouls recipe
My grandmother’s mamoul recipe.

One of a few things that my dad has made a couple times a year for my entire life, and always around Christmas, was a Lebanese cookie that we call mamouls. It brings me back to holidays when I was really little with my aunts and uncles, particularly when I was eight or nine to my grandparents house in Olean, New York during Christmas. I remember all of the Lebanese food with mamouls and baklava being the star of the show.


Mamouls are a filled cookie with a sweet dough and inside: pecans, walnuts, and sugar. The filling varies from person to person and in Lebanon even from region to region.


To make the shape of the cookie, we use molds called mamouls, which is where the name of the cookie comes from. Traditionally, the different molds are used to designate different kinds of fillings in the cookies. In our family, the molds obviously are used to make the cookies but are mainly for decoration since we use the same filling in all of them.

Mamouls Filling
Stuffing the dough with the nuts inside the mamouls.

While the molds are helpful, these would be entirely feasible to make without – they would be more similar to handpies and could be sealed with a little bit of egg wash, they just wouldn’t have the design on top.

Mamouls George
My parent’s dog, George, waiting for his cookie.

Overall, I would highly recommend giving these a shot. They have a soft exterior of sweet and crumbly dough that’s  sweet and crunchy on the inside and can’t be beat. It’s our family tradition that I hope inspires others as much as my family and me.

Mamouls cooked


5 cups flour
2 sticks of butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 package of yeast
Water, as needed

2 cups walnuts
2 cups pecans
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

To make the dough, in a food processor, combine flour, butter, nutmeg, salt and water. Blend until fully combined. Add last 1/2 package of yeast.

To make the filling, in a good processor, combine walnuts, pecans, sugar, and vanilla.

Roll the dough into ping-pong sized balls. Using a rolling pin, roll out each dough ball into discs. Using the mamoul, press in the dough disc, fill with a spoon full of the nut and sugar filling, and then pull the dough across to seal the cookie. Using a towel on the counter, firmly smack the top of the mold onto the towel until the cookie pops out. Repeat until all of the dough balls are gone.

Place the mamouls on a parchment-lined tray. Using a toothpick, prick the top of each cookie twice to allow the steam to come out. Bake 10-12 minutes and let cool for five minutes. Enjoy.

Yield: 55 cookies

“Better than Apple Pie” Apple Bars

My fiancé and I were getting ready to leave Cape Cod for North Carolina to spend Thanksgiving with my parents so we were running through whatever produce we had left in the house and voila: apple bars!

The great thing about these is that I already had everything in the fridge and pantry which I LOVE in a recipe (if you haven’t noticed, I’m not big on fussy) so these were perfect!


Apple Bars Raw
Pressed streusel-dough topping before baking


The night that we were leaving town, we had a town meeting to stop by so it was a perfect place to drop these babies off. Now, my fiancé thinks that the best part of an apple pie is the bottom crust for its thickness, softness, and decadent warm fall spices like cinnamon and nutmeg from the filling. I’m going to be bold and say that this beats most apple pie recipes, because structurally the buttery streusel -dough top crust mirrors the bottom crust of an apple pie and it’s easily more transportable than your — you can bring these on the go and munch on them wherever you are.


2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Apple Filling
3 apples, peeled, quartered, cored, and sliced 1/8 inch thick (preferably granny smith)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

For the crust, mix butter, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until light and creamy. Sift the flour and salt together and, with the mixer on low, slowly add to the butter-sugar mixture, beating until combined. Press 2/3 of the dough into the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of a greased 9×9 pan. Refrigerate for 20 minutes. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the crust is golden brown, and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, put the mixing bowl with the remaining dough back on the mixer, add the walnuts and cinnamon, and mix on low speed to combine. Set aside.

Reduce the oven to 350 degrees.

For the apple filling, combine the apples and lemon juice in a very large bowl. Add the granulated sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and mix well. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan, add the apples, and simmer over medium to medium-low heat, stirring often, for 12 to 15 minutes, until the apples are tender and the liquid has mostly evaporated. Spread the apples evenly over the crust, leaving a 1/2-inch border.

Pinch off medium pieces of the remaining dough and press with your fingers to flatten.  Place them evenly on top of the apples (they will not be completely covered). Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the topping is browned. Cool completely and cut into bars.

Yield: 12 apple bars


An Italian Favorite: Grape and Olive Oil Cake

I’ve actually never made anything with grapes before, nor have I really seen a dessert with grapes in it, so when I found myself with a bunch of red, seedless grapes, my initial thought was to make a frosted white cake cake with grape decorations. Then I thought, no I can do better.

Grape Olive Oil Cake Mix

My next thought was how about a galette (kind of a flat, free form pie), but then I knew I wanted to share it so maybe not. So I continued to think about what would go well with grapes and was inspired by a friend of ours who’s Italian – so voila: olive oil cake with grapes roasted inside with a honey sauce!

Large Grape Olive Oil Cake

As you’ll see, I actually made mine into bars but this would be super easy and festive holiday dessert to make in a round, or even bundt, cake pan for your gathering! It’s a very moist cake because of the olive oil and the grapes provide a great pop of sweet juicy flavor as you bit into it. The honey with the ginger on top just makes the flavor sing a lovely Italian holiday tune.

Box Grape Olive Oil Cake Close Up


4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing the pan
3/4 cup sugar 
2 large eggs 
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
1/4 cup whole milk 
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
3/4 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 cup small red seedless grapes

3 tablespoons honey 
2 teaspoons ground  ginger
1/2 cup small red seedless grapes
Juice from half a lemon


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Thoroughly grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch cake pan.

To make the batter, in the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar on high speed until they lighten in color, 5 to 8 minutes. Slowly beat in the eggs one at a time, then pour in the olive oil and milk and mix to combine.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Pour the lemon zest over the flour mixture.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to fold the dry mixture into the egg mixture. Fold in about 1 cup of the grapes. Stir only enough to blend and gently so as not to bruise or break too many grapes.

Pour the batter into the buttered pan and place it in the center of the oven. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let it cool for about 10 minutes in the pan.

Meanwhile, combine the honey and ginger in a small saute pan. Bring to a light simmer over low heat. When it bubbles, thickens and turns light brown, 2 to 3 minutes, add the remaining 1/2 cup grapes and the juice from 1/2 of the lemon. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Serve slices of the cake with some of the grape-ginger sauce spooned over it.

Yield: 12 cake bars

Spice it up with Spice Cake and Brown Sugar Frosting

Last weekend, I had the urge to bake AND use these adorable fall baking accessories Amazon so kindly delivered to me. Luckily my future nephews were coming with their parents to close up their seasonal house for the winter so it was the perfect opportunity.

Spice Cake decorations
Cute Fall baking accessories!

Later, after delivering said cupcakes, my future sister-in-law texted to say that the boys told her that “Ashley is so good at cooking! I definitely want HER for an auntie!” Which, as said future auntie, was such an amazing thing to hear.

Spice Cake Mixer
Creaming together the sugar, brown sugar, and butter.

I too felt like these cupcakes and the frosting turned out really well. The cake is the perfect light and fluffy consistency with the warm Fall spices from the nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cinnamon and the brown sugar frosting couldn’t pair any better (or be more simple to make) than it does.


1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream

2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons milk

To make the cake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with baking liners.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Stir together and set aside.

Add butter, brown sugar, and sugar to an electric mixer to mix together until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add vanilla extract and stir until combined.

Slowly add the dry ingredients into the electric mixer until incorporated. Last, add the sour cream and mix until just folded in.

Scoop batter into the cupcake liners. Bake 18-20 minutes and cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, mix together the butter and brown sugar until creamy. Add the vanilla and powdered sugar on a low until combined, then continue at a higher speed until creamy. Add the milk one teaspoon at a time until you have the desired consistency for piping or slathering.

Yield: 12 frosted cupcakes

Turn that Frown Upside-Down Apple Cake

My fiancé and I were headed to have dinner with some friends of his from college (I won’t say what years that may have been) and their two boys. I was extra excited because my Food and Wine Baking Bucket Bucket List Challenge Apple Upside-Down Cake (month 8, whooo) was going to be the perfect, caramel-apply dessert to bring — and it’s easy to make!

Apple Cake Sugar
Bringing the sugar to 360 degrees or until amber colored

My favorite thing about the whole night (besides the cake) was when our friends’ two-year-old son told the same knock-knock joke to us over literally thirty times. It went something like this:

Ben: knock-knock
Me: Who’s there?
Me: Ghost who?

Over and over again until I was actually crying because I was laughing so hard – it was pizza, apple cake, lobster tail pastries, and adorable Ben’s leftover Halloween joke that ended up making the night great.

Apple Cake with Sugar

Back to the cake though, I have to admit: I was not a fan of the Food and Wine recipe I linked to above. It seemed too complicated and cumbersome for my taste so after looking looking over about a dozen similar recipes, I came up with the below that I hope you’ll enjoy. If you’re familiar with an apple tatin, it’s similar, except instead of puff pastry, it’s made with cake. And it’s best served warm so the touch of spice cake acts like a warm pillow while the apples and caramel melt together in your mouth.

Apple Cake Close Up

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the dish
1 1/2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced into 12 pieces
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Confectioners’ sugar


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Generously butter a 9-inch glass pie dish and arrange the apples in concentric circles, packing them tightly.

Combine 1 cup of the granulated sugar and 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan and cook over high heat until 360 degrees on a candy thermometer or until it turns a warm amber color swirling the pan but not stirring. Pour evenly over the apple slices.

Meanwhile, combine the 6 tablespoons of butter and the remaining 3/4 cup of granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Lower the speed and beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Add the sour cream, zest, and vanilla and mix. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and add it to the electric mixer, just until everything is wet.

Pour the cake batter evenly over the apple slices and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes in the dish and then invert the cake onto a flat plate. If an apple slice sticks, just peel it off and replace it on the cake. When completely cooled, dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Yield: 6 decently sized slices