Cinnamon Heart Lollipops and Candies

A few years ago the girls and I started making cinnamon candy hearts, and now it is a Valentine’s week tradition. We use Wilton’s candy melts (the red ones) and cinnamon oil for flavoring.

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This year my youngest baker helped the most — especially with the stirring. Her dream is to become a French chef someday.

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She loves nearly all projects in the kitchen, except those involving the dishwasher.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother? #6

What chocolate recipe series would be complete without featuring chocolate chip cookies?

My mama always added oatmeal to her chocolate chip cookies. That way you don’t feel guilty about eating them for breakfast; the oatmeal practically makes them cereal bars. Right?

For the first several years of my childhood, my mama used the recipe on the Nestle Toll House chocolate chip package. But then one day someone gave her a photocopy of the urban legendary Neiman Marcus cookie recipe. There’s also a Mrs. Field’s version of the same urban legend. Anyway, the story around the recipe may have been a myth, but the cookies themselves are tried-and-true! My mama never went back to the Toll House version. She bought airbake cookie sheets and a melon-ball scooper, and her cookie baking was never better!

Fast forward a decade or two and imagine my delight when I discover my sweet friend Kate uses the same recipe! Somehow cookies just taste better when someone you love bakes them for you, and it had been a dozen years since I’d tasted cookies so similar to what my mama’s tasted like.

I watched Kate make these cookies one afternoon, paying close attention to see if I was missing a step. It turns out that Kate rolls the dough into balls by hand, rather than using the melon-ball scooper. This may seem insignificant, but it makes a big difference in the final product.

Tried-and-True Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 cups butter (softened)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 cups flour
  • 5 cups oatmeal
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 24 oz. chocolate chips
  • 6 oz. Hershey bar (chopped into small chunks or grated)
  • 3 cups nuts (optional)

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix in dry ingredients. Add chocolate chips, Hershey bar chunks, and nuts. Scoop out by the spoonful and roll into balls. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 375 degrees F for 6 to 8 minutes. Makes 112 large cookies.

Things I’ve Learned that Mama Didn’t Teach Me:

  • 112 large cookies may be too much of a good thing. I often half this recipe.
  • If you forget to half the recipe, put un-baked cookie balls on wax paper and then slide several dozen into zip-lock freezer bags and freeze them. You’ll thank yourself later, I promise.
  • Baking cookies on metal cookie sheets can be tricky in some ovens. I have had the most success using a Pampered Chef baking stone and baking them a few minutes longer.
  • Let the cookies rest 3 to 5 minutes before moving them onto a cooling rack. They hold together best this way.
  • God often shows His love for us through our friends. True friends are a gift from Him, whether they bake or not. But isn’t it lovely when they do?

Happy baking! And be sure to check out the other chocolate recipes in this series entitled “If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother?”

If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother? #5

Nope. Those aren’t tortillas. Or “breakfast pinatas” as we usually call them around here. Those are chocolate crepes.

Now, before I get too far into this I must confess, I don’t think my mother ever served up chocolate crepes. This is the same crepe recipe she used, but she served hers with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, which makes a delightful breakfast. However, this is supposed to be a recipe series only about chocolate, and because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my mom would have treasured the chocolate version of this recipe — here we go!

Mama’s Crepes

  • 1½ cups milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/8 tsp. salt

You’ll also need:

  • about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips (My favorite brand is Ghirardelli; I slip them inside the warm crepes, and they melt so nicely.)

For the crepes, combine the ingredients (not the chocolate chips, mind you) and beat with a rotary beater until combined. Heat a lightly greased 6-inch skillet. Remove from heat. Spoon in 2 tablespoons of batter, lift and tilt skillet to spread the batter; return to heat. Lightly brown one side. Invert pan over a paper towel and remove crepe.

At this point, slip a few of those chocolate chips in the middle of the crepe and roll it up tight. Let it cool for a bit. Then top with whipped cream and sprinkle with powdered sugar and a smidge of cocoa.

In our house, we use both Redi-Whip and homemade whipped cream, depending on what’s in the refrigerator and how early in the day the crepe-making happens. Here’s the homemade whipped cream recipe I use.

Homemade Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a chilled bowl, combine whipping cream, sugar and vanilla. Beat with chilled beaters of an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form. Serve with pie. Makes 2 cups.

Also, if your garden is overflowing with berries, I’m sure these crepes would serve up nicely with them. We especially enjoy strawberry or raspberry crepes — don’t forget the whipped cream and powdered sugar.

Be sure to check out the other chocolate recipes in this series entitled “If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother?”

If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother? #4

In the middle of a Costco shopping trip one afternoon, 8-year-old Linnea asked me thoughtfully, “Mommy, what is ‘scratch?’”

After I replied with a bewildered, “Huh?” she clarified, “You know, scratch. You always say that you make pies and things from scratch. What is it?”

No, scratch can’t be purchased in bulk at Costco. But it’s the essential, creative ingredient in baking that really appealed to my mom. And it appeals to me, too. 

I bake many treats from scratch, but I personally don’t bat an eye about serving up brownies from a mix. In fact, I often use and recommend Ghiradelli’s double chocolate brownie mix. But for my mom, brownies made from scratch was an indisputable law of baking. They were always one of her favorite desserts, and she’d usually serve up her brownies warm alongside a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. 

To her credit, Mama never, ever, ever used a brownie mix throughout my entire childhood. Instead she used two brownie recipes. One makes cake-like brownies, and the other makes gooey, fudge-like brownies — in one bowl. I always prefer less mess and gooey brownies, so I’m sharing the latter recipe. But first, here are four random things about brownies that my mama didn’t teach me.

4 random things about brownies that Mama didn’t teach me:

(1) Lining the pan with non-stick aluminum foil allows you to easily remove the brownies and helps them cool faster.


(2) It’s much easier to cut the brownies when they aren’t in the pan.

(3) Crumbs don’t stick to plastic, so using a plastic knife to cut brownies eliminates the crumbly, gooey build-up metal knives collect.

(4) Sprinkling powdered sugar on top of cooled brownies adds a lovely, lacy contrast and makes them completely irresistible to my husband. (He adores the white stuff so much I’m convinced he’d eat his own shoes if I sprinkled powdered sugar on them!)

That said, here’s how to make those gooey, yummy brownies in just one bowl!  

Mama’s Brownies

(aka Baker’s One-Bowl Brownies)

  • 4 squares Baker’s unsweetened chocolate
  • 3/4 cup butter (one and a half sticks)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup nuts (optional, which means I don’t include them)

Microwave butter and chocolate until melted.

Stir in sugar.

Stir in eggs and vanilla.

Mix in flour and nuts.

Pour into a greased or foil-lined pan (see random things #1 and #2 above).

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.

Makes 16-24 brownies, depending on how generous or stingy you feel when you cut them.

Please excuse me, I need to wash the dishes.

Be sure to check out the other chocolate recipes in this series entitled “If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother?”

If It’s Not Chocolate, Why Bother? #3

Disclaimer: I’ve posted this recipe before. But since my mama’s chocolate “mud” cake recipe ranks in the top 3 of all my favorite chocolate recipes, it’s worthy of repeating, especially if you didn’t catch it the first time!

We use this recipe for nearly every birthday cake in our family. Rumor is that my brother even has his wife bake this cake for him on my birthday, even though we live hundreds of miles apart! I’m not sure whether I should feel deeply honored or deeply disturbed by that…

Anyway, until just a few years ago, I was certain my mother had all but invented this recipe. If you saw the frayed edges and spatters on her blue recipe card, you’d understand how I came to that conclusion.

But then one day while baking the cake, I noticed a cake recipe on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa container. The title claimed it was “Perfectly Chocolate.” Immediately, I thought, “Ha! Perfectly chocolate whatever! These Hershey folks have not seen the likes of my mama’s chocolate mud cake.” So just for fun I compared the ingredients and now I almost wish I hadn’t.

I was utterly shocked — and somewhat deflated — to find the two recipes were identical! And since I don’t recall the Hershey folks ever snooping around my mama’s kitchen, I can only conclude they must have played some significant role in the recipe’s development. Since the recipe calls for nearly 1.5 cups of cocoa — if you count what’s in the frosting — I suppose I should have seen this coming. Although, in my defense, you should know that I come from a long line of bakers and my great-grandparents were the Hiersches.

Mama’s Chocolate “Mud” Cake (aka, Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake)

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • chocolate frosting (recipe follows)
Directions:1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with “PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE” CHOCOLATE FROSTING. 10 to 12 servings.

ONE-PAN CAKE: Grease and flour 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Heat oven to 350° F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely. Frost.

THREE LAYER CAKE: Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost.

BUNDT CAKE: Grease and flour 12-cup Bundt pan. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 55 minutes. Cool 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely. Frost.

CUPCAKES: Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups. Heat oven to 350°F. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. About 30 cupcakes.


1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
2/3 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. (I only soften mine so my icing stays fluffy and easier to decorate with.) Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

The appliances/tools I use for this recipe are my KitchenAid Mixer and my Wilton Desssert Decorator Pro. Hint: The cupcakes look prettiest when baked in brown or black baking cups.

Counting to 1,000 (192-220)

“I will remember the deeds of the LORD… I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds.” -Psalm 77:11-12

192. the welcome stranger who sings that spring is here

193. playful robins in the freshly fallen March snow

194. the kind neighbor with a snowblower

195. pink fuzzy slippers

196. a bubble bath on a cold night

197. the successful surgery for a little friend

198. music that prepares our hearts for Easter – Happy Day! – forever we are changed

199. a fresh batch of library books

200. tiny pieces of paper scattered everywhere – because she’s creating

201. watch-them-grow moments

202. the timeless joy of making paper dolls

203. how she pays such close attention to the details

204. paper doll houses

206. puffy pink clouds at sunset

207. dreams  

208. the sound of his voice on the other end of the phone line

209. all-around sillyness while playing in the ball pit

210. busy hands preparing the house for his return

211. lemon meringue pie — a special surprise!

212. heartfelt homecoming hugs

213. how that  precious two-year-old says, “Pizza!” and “Eggs!” with so much enthusiasum

214. pom-poms swishing as sweet little girlfriends all cheer together in the living room

215. how she helps her daddy memorize Scripture

216. another afternoon spent sharing and hearing testimonies

214. homeschool moms helping each other

215. her twirls and tiptoes as she shows off her new dance costume

216. new towels for the bathroom

217. warming up another little hand in my coat pocket

218. spring jackets that fit just right

219. hearing her heart as we study God’s mighty acts in creation together

220. a good night’s sleep

“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” -2 Corinthians 4:15

If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother? #2

The series on my mama’s favorite chocolate recipes continues with this delicious chocolate pie.

WARNING: This pie sets the standard and will ruin you! No store-bought pie or restaurant pie has ever even come close to matching this one. 

Chocolate Pie Filling:

3 cups milk

1 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla

2 and a half squares of baking chocolate (or 8 tblsp. cocoa)

5 tblsp. cornstarch

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tblsp. butter

Begin warming milk and chocolate squares in a large pot on the stove top, medium heat. Mix cornstarch and sugar and salt together in a small bowl and then add to the milk. Stir well. Add beaten eggs yolks. (I usually spoon out some of the warm milk mixture to add the beaten eggs before pouring the eggs into the saucepan. This warms them up slowly and prevents lumps.) Whisk mixture constantly and cook until thick. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and butter. Pour into pie shell. Allow to cool completely and then cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving. Serve with whipped cream on top.

I suppose you could buy a pie crust, but I love making my own. Here’s how:

Basic Pie Crust:

2 cups flour

2/3 cup shortening (I use Crisco)

1 tsp. salt

5-6 tblsp. ice water

Combine dry ingredients and use pastry cutter to blend. Add water and use fork to blend. Form a ball of dough with hands; roll out on lightly floured sheets of wax paper. Makes a pie shell and top. (You won’t need a top for the chocolate pie, so there will be some dough leftover.) Use a fork to prick holes in the crust and prevent air bubbles. Bake the pie shell at 450 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes.

Whipped Cream:

1 cup whipping cream

2 tblsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

In a chilled bowl, combine whipping cream, sugar and vanilla. Beat with chilled beaters of an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form. Serve with pie. Makes 2 cups.

Alternative: Skip the crust altogether and just serve up the chocolate pudding in individual dishes. Top with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles or chocolate shavings for extra flair.

If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother? #1

In honor of my dear, late mama, I’ve decided to start posting some of her favorite chocolate recipes. “If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother?” was Mama’s baking motto.

I think these yummy chocolate cookies are a great way to kick off this series. Mama’s recipe card calls them “Choco-Nut Chewies,” but my children have re-named them “Smushy Cookies,” so that’s the title we’ll use. While she never met her granddaughters, Mama was a word nerd who would certainly have approved of their re-naming her baked goods.

Smushy Cookies

6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1 egg

1 cup flour

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

2/3 cup oats

1/2 cup nuts (optional)

Melt chocolate chips in microwave or double boiler. Be careful not to overheat them! In separate large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together. Add egg, vanilla, and melted chips. Add dry ingredients. Stir in oats and nuts (optional). Roll dough in spoonfull-sized balls. Smash each with a small drinking glass. Bake 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool 2 minutes on baking stones before removing to cooling racks.

A Quiet, Simple Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve and I have time to blog because we have no family visiting this Christmas, and no relatives nearby expecting us for dinner.

Of course family isn’t really what we celebrate at Christmas anyway, as much as we dearly love all those grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins who have decided against braving a frightfully White Christmas in Minnesota.

No, Christmas is about Jesus, celebrating Him and worshiping Him. Sometimes it’s easier to remember that when Christmas is simpler, quieter, and settled comfortably in a picturesque, snowy white background.

Every year our little family of four worships at our church’s 4 p.m. Christmas Eve candlelight service. The girls love getting all dressed up for the evening. Most years my husband participates in the worship band, playing guitar and sometimes singing. This year he also played the mandolin. The music was beautiful. Reverently the service closed, as is tradition, with everyone singing “Silent Night” by candlelight. Seeing my children’s hopeful faces glowing in the candlelight, that’s my favorite gift.

Back at home, with the pot roast still simmering in the slow cooker, the girls endure posing for a few photos.

 And then they ask — for the 100th time today — if they can open presents. They typically exchange gifts with each other on Christmas Eve. Perhaps someday when they are grown and have families of their own, this tradition will continue.

At dinner we light all five of the Advent candles, and the girls eagerly lead our discussion the story of Jesus’s birth. Linnea wonders about all the many details the Bible doesn’t tell us in this ancient story. A deep thought for an 8-year-old.

Once the dinner dishes are cleared, I mix up some bread dough and tuck it under a towel, letting it rise. The girls like to think of the dough as sleeping when it is rising, so they tell it “goodnight” and blow it kisses. I tell the girls it’s almost time for me to tuck them into bed, too. Already sporting their matching striped pink pajamas, they beg for a story. Of course, I was already planning to read one. 

Tonight we read Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck. Written in 1956, the book was a gift given to us last year by my dear friend Kate. And what a lovely story it is about a son who gives his father, a dairy farmer, a gift they both treasure for years to come. Be sure to read this heartwarming tale!

Next my husband reads the story of Jesus’s birth from Luke 2 and Matthew 1. We talk about favorite Christmas memories and the best gifts ever given or received. Then we ponder together what it would have been like to see Jesus as a baby. My husband decides he’d want to see the angels that appeared to the shepherds and the glory of the Lord that shone around them. Five-year-old Laurel is still pretty sure she doesn’t want to have anything to do with angels. (Click here to read about her recent angel trauma.) Will we ever convince her that real angels help protect her?

After prayers comes bedtime for little girls, and then comes stocking stuffing, cinnamon roll rolling and gift arranging for us grown-ups. As the evening closes, the tree boasts way too many gifts beneath its boughs, and all through the house the smell of cinnamon rolls lingers. 

This is our quiet, simple Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas!

More Piles of White Stuff

As the snow continues to pile up in frightfully large amounts outside — they say it’s the snowiest December on record here in Minnesota — the girls and I are making some additional piles of white stuff in the kitchen. You know, piles of flour and powdered sugar and sparkling sugar sprinkles…

Ahh, sugar cookies. Michael and I had mixed up the dough last night, so it was nice and chilled this morning. The girls and I started rolling out the dough mid-morning, and I don’t think we stopped until nearly 3 p.m.! Whew! 

It’s been nearly two years since we’ve made sugar cookies, and my children’s decorating skills seem to have progressed noticeably. The funniest thing about today was the red hot cinnamon candies because Laurel kept referring to them as “hot rods.”  Linnea decided that was easier and more fun to say, so all day long it was “hot rod” this and that…

After shoveling in countless cookies topped with buttercream frosting, I put my “sugar rush” to good use by shoveling the entire the driveway. Sadly, the snow was coming down at a rate of one inch per hour, so the driveway was completely white again when Michael drove in from work. At least I still had some sugar cookies left to show for our efforts!