I’ve mentioned my cousin Erin before in my ‘Easier Than Ina’s Pecan Squares‘ post a while back. Well, she’s getting a shout out again. Erin lives in L.A, doing casting for all kinds of fun shows like Hell’s Kitchen, Nanny 911 and even the Biggest Loser (which clearly is a conflict of interest based on her baking talents) and the few times a year that she’s home, I think myself and the rest of my family feel like it’s our celebrity family member coming home from Hollywood to grace us with her presence and fill us in on all the latest goings on in Tinsel Town.
Like any hot L.A. celeb, Erin’s always reinventing herself and her style, rocking the sassiest of outfits and accessories that only someone who lived in L.A could pull off. So in addition to guessing what color nail polish and lipstick she’ll be wearing when she comes home, we also loveeeee being ‘tasting guinea pigs’ to all her latest baked goodies from her side business, BellaBoos Bakery. And she never disappoints in that department either. The dessert table grows exponentially any time Erin’s home for the holidays, and last year, it grew to include these ADORABLE snowmen cake pops, almost too cute to eat, but let’s be honest – nothing is that cute 🙂
Snowman Cake Balls (or pops)
*My Celebrity Baker Cousin Erin
*yields 18 snowmen
1 box cake mix, made according to instructions
(I used chocolate devils food cake mix)
1/2 cup of chocolate frosting (or flavor of your choice)
White melting chocolate
(I used Wilton’s white chocolate melting discs (2 – 12oz bags) – I would HIGHLY recommend using these…you’ll see why later)
Oreo cookies, 2 sizes – the mini sized and regular sized ones
Mini chocolate chips
1) Prepare your cake mix according to the instructions. Once it has baked and cooled, crumble it up into pieces and place in a large mixing bowl.
2) Add frosting to the cake – a lot of recipes for cake balls/pops call for the entire can of frosting, however I think this is far too much. I only used 1/2 cup and it was plenty. The cake itself is already quite moist, so personally, I think too much frosting can make it too mooshy, but start with 1/2 cup and feel free to add more until your cake ball dough reaches your desired consistency.
3) Take a good scoop of the dough (maybe 1/4 cup or so, depending on how large you want your snowmen to be – 1/4 cup will yield about 18 balls/snowmen) and roll it into a ball. Place on a wax paper lined cookie sheet. Once all your balls have been rolled, place them in the fridge to chill for about an hour (this just ensures that they’ll stay together when you dip them in the chocolate).
4) While your balls are chilling, prep your ‘top hats’ by pulling apart an Oreo cookie, scraping the cream off the sides, and placing the single cookie on wax paper, with a mini oreo on top.
5) Melt your chocolate discs in a double boiler. Once your chocolate has melted, start by taking just a little smidge of it to fuse the mini oreo to the larger one to make your hats. Then, with the remaining chocolate, dip your chilled cake balls in the chocolate with a toothpick or skewer of some sort, letting the excess chocolate drip a bit, then placing them on the wax paper.
6) Take your mini chocolate chips, making 2 eyes, a mouth, and then stick the orange tic tac in the center to make his ‘nose’. For the final touch, put that top hat on Frosty’s head – it’s winter for goodness sakes! Heat escapes through your head! (even if you are a snowman)
I must admit, these snowmen caused some heartache and frustration, and the source of that was brought on by the seemingly difficult task of melting white chocolate. I never have problems with milk or dark, but white….ohhhhh white….pain in my rump.
On my first try, I actually used Ghiradelli White Chocolate Chips. When I melted them in the double boiler, they turned to a big pasty ball of yuckniess, and I tried to remedy this by adding cream, which seemed to do the trick, however, when I went to dip the snowmen, well, let’s just say the finished product looked like a snowman does in March (see below)
So I sent a frustrated email the next morning to none other than celebrity baker cousin Erin, and this is what she said:
She typed the words right out of my mouth.
So to Michaels I went, gave it another go last night and the results were amazing! My sad, melty snowman became the happy, smiling ball of white stuff that I knew he was meant to be 🙂
By the end of the night, I couldn’t help but smile back at Frosty – he just looked so happy….
But then I ate him…and one of his friends…I think getting eaten is a lot less painful than a slow melty death don’t you?
I’ve mentioned before that my family is pretty serious about desserts – well, they’re even more serious about cookie swaps, or so I learned this weekend.
My Grammy Murphy is quite the grandmother – she was the first of anyone to get AOL, email and a ‘screen name’, her recipes for things like whoopie pies and pecan rolls are legendary (even though they never taste quite as good as when she makes them), and at 84, she still manages to have more style than I will ever have in my entire lifetime. AND, her new digs at the Assisted Living facility she just recently moved into are straight up 5-star, making Dave and I’s ‘love nest’ look like just that – a nest – made of sticks – where birds live. But if anyone deserves a sweet pad to hang their hat, it’s grammy Murphy – so that makes me just a little less bitter about it 🙂
My mom organized a cookie swap with all my Aunt’s this weekend to put some trays together for all those fab people who are there to help my grandparents on a day -to-day basis and everyone dawned their best baked goods and prettiest bows and ribbons to make some seriously good looking goody trays. Coming from a family that loves to bake, I think that the best part of the holiday season is that a huge tray of freshly baked treats wrapped up in cellophane and tied with a bow can be just as great a gift as a cashmere scarf or that blender you’ve been eyeing all year – and appreciated just as much, if not more, because there’s the added ingredient of TLC in them!
One of my favorites are these amazingly easy to make Chocolate Dipped Pretzels. I can’t remember when my cousin Jen started making these, but like many other things in the Murphy Family, they must be present on the dessert table for at least one Holiday to avoid stomping, shouting and crying fits – and that’s just my reaction! Pretty basic I know – pretzel – chocolate – dip – let dry – repeat. But, she took them to a new level by adding fun toppings and even hidden surprises like a slab of peanut butter hidden under the chocolate. So while being visually appealing, they’re equally as tummy appealing, especially when you bite into one and say “Wait, is that….is THAT what I think it is?”.
Holiday Chocolate Pretzels
* Adapted from my cousin Jen (if you think these are good, you should see her Trifle!) and Twist, A Unique Approach to Pretzels
mini salted pretzels
milk/dark/white chocolate (one or all three!)
*again, I use the Trader Joe’s 1lb chocolate bars and Ghiradellis’ White Chocolate Chips
1) Lay out your pretzels on wax paper-lined cookie sheets or wire racks.
2) In a double boiler (or in the microwave), temper your chocolate. To temper, take about 2/3 of the chocolate and place it in the double boiler (or microwave-safe dish). When the chocolate starts to really melt, remove it from the heat and add the remaining unmelted chocolate to the pan, stirring constantly until it melts into the melted stuff. The tempering will provide a nice shiny looking chocolate and avoid those unsightly little white spots that can sometimes pop up on chocolate. If you’re doing 2 or 3 different kinds of chocolate, be sure to repeat this process with each kind.
3) Assemble your pretzels:
For the Peanut Butter/Fluff pretzel – on one half of your pretzel, take about 1/2 tsp. of peanut butter and 1/2 tsp. of fluff, and stick them on the 1/2 of the pretzel that will go in the chocolate. Then dip that side in the chocolate and place on wax paper to dry. Top with sprinkles (or if you’re feeling really fiesty, mini peanut butter chocolate chips or rescees pieces!)
For the Nutella Pretzel – repeat the same process as above, only with Nutella. Top with sprinkles like I did, or for the fiesty (and not cheap like I am) dipper, sprinkle some chopped hazelnuts on the top.
For the Heath Bar Pretzel – dip pretzel in chocolate (with no filling) and sprinkle with Heath Bits (you can find those in the baking section a the grocery store)
For the Almond Joy Pretzel – same as above, and sprinkle with chopped almonds (I used the sliced almonds) and coconut
Honestly people, I think the thing I love so much about these is that your options are essentially endless – I had soooo many other ideas but 1) it’s a week night and 2) I still have a sugar hangover from the swap yesterday, so I kept my pretzels to a minimum. But really, you could do a spin on the last post, and do Dark Mint Chocolate with either Oreo crumbles or Peppermint bits. These are fun, so easy, and a serious crowd pleaser. Who doesn’t love Chocolate Covered Pretzels? I mean, really? They also wrap/travel really well, so load them into a holiday tin with some wax paper, or a fun jar with a snap top!
So shake up your Cookie Swap this year – be the mysterious swapper that brings Chocolate Pretzels instead of Chocolate Chip Cookies or Peanut Butter Kisses – make them wonder – and drool at the same time 🙂