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    You can keep your raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, because excessive delicious baking is one of my favorite things! I never really cared for gingerbread cookies, but my little friends wanted to make them, and I am not one to pass up a chance to bake! I found this recipe from McCormick, and was very pleasantly surprised. The cookies have a mild flavor, rather than the spicy gingerbread cookies I was used to, and the smooth and creamy cream cheese frosting really balances out the gingerbread.
    The cream cheese frosting also works for cakes, or you could also use it as a delicious dip for strawberries or graham crackers. Mmm....

Ingredients for the Gingerbread Cookies:
3 c flour, plus more for rolling
2 t ground ginger
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t baking soda
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t salt
3/4 c butter, softened
3/4 c brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 c molasses
1 egg
1 t vanilla extract

Directions:
    Combine flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl. 

    In another large bowl (I used my stand mixer), mix the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Then add molasses, egg, and vanilla extract, and mix well. Gradually add the dry ingredients until everything is well mixed. Take the dough out of the bowl, and flatten it a little bit, into a thick disk between two sheets of plastic wrap. Put the whole thing in the fridge, and let it chill out for at least 4 hours, or overnight if you're tired...

    When the dough is ready, it will be pretty stiff. If it crumbles a little bit, don't worry, it will go back together as you work with it. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and roll out the cookie dough to about 1/4 inch thickness on a floured surface. As the dough warms, it becomes stickier, so don't be afraid to add more flour to the work surface. I had to add a lot, but don't worry, it won't compromise the flavor. Cut the dough into cookie shapes with your favorite cookie cutters, and place them on a cookie sheet. 

     Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the edges juuuuuuust start to brown. If you've ever heard the story of the Gingerbread Man, you know not to open the oven door early! When you do take them out, let them cool on the pan for just a minute, and them move them to a wire rack. If you leave them on the pan, they may stick and become almost impossible to get off the pan in one piece. Let them cool completely before even thinking about frosting them. Trust me. Their sad, melty little faces will fill you with guilt if you frost them while they're still warm.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

Ingredients:
8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c butter, softened
3 c powdered sugar
2 t vanilla extract

Directions:

    Mix together butter and cream cheese. Slowly add powdered sugar and vanilla extract, and mix everything together until the texture is consistent. 

    I scooped it into a ziplock bag, cut off a corner, and piped it onto the cookies. And then I ate all the leftover frosting with a spoon because it's flipping delicious!

 
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    I mean it sincerely when I say that this is the world's best banana bread. Not that I've tried them all, but I don't need to. The brown sugar brings out the flavor of the bananas, instead of over sweetening like white sugar. The rich and creamy flavor is complimented by the addition of chopped walnuts, which make this banana bread filling enough to be a complete breakfast.


Ingredients:
2 c flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 c butter, softened
3/4 c brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 large, very ripe bananas
1  1/2 c chopped walnuts

Directions:

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, mix together the butter and brown sugar. Mash up the bananas, and add them, the eggs, and the walnuts to the butter and brown sugar, mix well. 

    Pour the banana mixture into the large bowl of dry ingredients, and mix together until smooth.

    Grease a 9x5 loaf pan, and bake for 60-65 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before turning out to a wire rack to cool completely. 

    This is my take on a recipe I originally found here.

 
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    This is one of those recipes that is not necessarily good for you... although if you love chocolate as much as I do, it's good for your soul. There's just something about a cake baked from scratch that makes you feel good. 
    This is the recipe I used for Max's dinosaur cake at his dino party. It's much more rich and dense than a cake from a box. I like to top with with buttercream frosting, because you can color it for kids' cakes, and there's so much chocolate in the cake, that it doesn't need chocolate icing, although there's no such thing as too much chocolate...




Ingredients:
2 1/4 c all purpose flour
2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 c butter
2  1/2 c packed brown sugar
3 eggs
2 t vanilla extract
8 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
1 c sour cream
1 c boiling water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine butter and brown sugar, and mix until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue to mix. Then beat in the vanilla extract and melted chocolate. Add in 1/2 the sour cream and 1/2 the dry ingredients, and blend well. Then add the rest of the sour cream and dry ingredients and boiling water, and mix together until consistent.

Bake in a greased 9x13 pan for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Wait until it has cooled completely to decorate. If you have time, bake it a day early, so that the chocolate flavor has time to fully develop.

This is my take on a recipe I found, here.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net



 
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This is absolutely the best apple pie you will find anywhere. Just make sure you have plenty of vanilla ice cream!

Like any pie, this one is only as good as its crust. If you're like me and loathe rolling out a pie crust, you can pick up a pre-made pie crust in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.



Ingredients:
1 whole unbaked pie crust (top and bottom)
6-8 Granny Smith apples
1/2 cup salted butter
3 T flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Unroll the bottom pie crust and place it in the pie pan.

Peel and slice the apples, and place them in the pie crust. If you want a traditional apple pie, leave the slices larger. If you want more of an applesauce consistency, slice the apples very thin on a mandolin slicer. 

Cover the apples with a lattice crust.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour to thicken. then add white sugar, brown sugar and water, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let simmer for about 3 minutes. 

Pour sugar mixture over pie, filling in space between apples. 

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown.