Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons

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As much as I love spending time in the kitchen baking, there is one part of the process that I really detest. I hate going to the grocery store. I’ve hated grocery stores and grocery shopping all my life. My list of complaints could go on forever—from inadequate parking, to confusing store layouts and poor food selection—it seems as though the deck is always stacked against me when I walk through those sliding doors.

Given my grocery store-averse personality, I often plan my desserts around what ingredients I have at home. If a recipe requires only a few items that I don’t have, I’ll prioritize that recipe over one where I’d need to purchase more items. All this leads us to these delicious coconut macaroons. What inspired me to bake these cookies? I only needed two items from the grocery store—an obvious win in my book.

So let’s chat about these cookies a little bit. Coconut can be a pretty polarizing ingredient when it comes to desserts. If you aren’t a fan of coconut, steer clear of these little beauties. I brought these cookies into work this week for a baby shower. I usually do most of my baking on the weekend when I have more leisure time. When it comes to work-week baking projects, I’m always on the lookout for something that comes together rather quickly. These cookies take about 15 minutes of prep work and need about 15 minutes in the oven. It doesn’t get any easier!

Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons
Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
5 1/2 cups flaked sweetened coconut
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/4 teaspoons almond extract
2 cups melted semi sweet chocolate chips

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, coconut and salt. Stir in the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla using your hands until well blended. Use an ice cream scoop to drop dough onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about golf ball size.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until coconut is toasted. Once cooled, dip cookies in melted chocolate and cool completely on waxed paper.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
I chilled my mixture for 15 minutes before baking. This helps things firm up a little bit and produces a rounder shaped macaroon that is perfect for dipping in chocolate!

Homemade Pop Tarts

As a Minnesota girl at heart, the heat and humidity of summer can feel a bit oppressive at times. I’m usually okay up to about 80 degrees, but anything beyond that is just… hot. Add in some humidity and I’m far from a happy camper. The heat and humidity have both settled on Ann Arbor recently, and it leaves me dreaming of mild autumn days. That being said, the hot days of summer do bring some things that I love. Matt and I recently went camping which was great, and who doesn’t love s’mores cooked over a campfire?! We also went on a kayaking adventure, which (minus one tip over) was a fun time. The passing of the summer solstice also reminded me that summer never lasts forever. The change is ever so slight, but I can already tell it’s a little less light when I wake up for my early morning workouts.

But enough about the passing of the seasons. Let’s talk about revamping a classic breakfast “dessert” many of us love. When I was growing up, I never ate Pop Tarts for breakfast or even as a snack. It wasn’t until later in life that I tried one and I was far from impressed. This homemade version elevates Pop Tarts from a simple “meh” to a definite “wow” factor. While you can’t stick these in a traditional toaster, you could pop them in a toaster oven. However, I think you’ll find they are just as delicious at room temperature. I made these to bring to a brunch and I found myself wishing that I had some left over to snack on when we got back home!

Homemade Pop Tarts
Original Recipe from Smitten Kitchen 

Pastry Ingredients 
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 large egg
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) milk

Cinnamon Filling Ingredients
1/2 cup (3 3/4 ounces) brown sugar
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, to taste
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 large egg, to brush on pastry before filling

Directions
For step-by-step directions along with beautiful pictures, check out the original recipe at Smitten Kitchen. You will also find some suggestions for alternative fillings such as chocolate and jam.

Heather’s Helpful Hints 
There is a fine art to rolling out pastry dough that only comes with practice. I’m still learning as I go along but have found two things that always help with the process. First, always work with well-chilled pastry; otherwise, the dough will stick to the counter and tear. Second, never roll out dough by rolling back and forth over the same section. Each time you press on the same spot, more gluten develops that can toughen the dough.

Red, White, & Blue Flag Cake

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Happy Flag Day dear Sweet Precision readers! Usually Flag Day is one of those holidays that sneaks up on me. I don’t realize it’s the day until I see small flags lining the sides of residential streets. This year, I actually noticed the holiday coming up when I looked at my calendar last week. Since Matthew has been busy teaching his class this summer, I’ve had a little more time on my hands during the weekends. I decided to put that time to good use—in the kitchen—this past Saturday!

So let’s chat a little bit about this flag cake recipe. This recipe takes some serious planning and dedicated time in the kitchen to pull off. The end result is more than worth all the time you’ll spend leveling and assembling your cake… I promise! This cake has been on my baking “to-do” list for quite a while, but I knew it would be a big undertaking—and it WAS! However, if you want a show-stopper cake, it simply doesn’t get any better than this. There are several versions of this recipe floating around on the internet. I chose to go with one posted on the All Recipes website. Below, I’ve shared the recipe directly from the website, but I’d also recommend watching the video which I found to be extremely helpful.

American Flag Cake Recipe
Makes approximately 16 servings

Ingredients
3 (10.25 ounce) packages white cake mix
9 egg whites
1 cup vegetable oil
3 3/4 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons clear vanilla extract
2 tablespoons red food coloring
1 tablespoon blue food coloring
1 cup white chocolate chips
10 cups fluffy white frosting
1 tablespoon white chocolate chips, or as needed
2 tablespoons white sugar, or as needed
1 4-inch round paper or cardboard stencil

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and line 4 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper.

2. Combine white cake mix, egg whites, vegetable oil, milk, and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl. Beat for 30 seconds using an electric mixer on low speed. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat for 2 more minutes. The batter will still be slightly lumpy.

3. To make the red cakes, measure half the batter into a separate bowl and whisk in red food coloring. Evenly transfer the red batter into 2 of the 8-inch prepared cake pans; smooth tops of batter with a spatula. Transfer half of the remaining uncolored batter into a 3rd prepared cake pan; smooth top as before. This will be the white cake portion.

4. Add blue food coloring to the remaining uncolored batter in the large mixing bowl; fold 1 cup white chocolate chips into blue batter until combined. Transfer batter to remaining prepared 8-inch cake pan; smooth top of batter with a spatula.

5. Bake all 4 cakes in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Remove the cakes from oven and place onto cooling racks until cooled completely.

6. Run a knife around edge of each cooled cake. Invert cakes, remove pans, and peel off parchment paper. Use a sharp knife to trim tops of cakes flat and even.

7. Cut both of the red cake layers and the white cake layer in half horizontally. You will have 4 thin red cake layers and 2 thin white cake layers.

8. Place a 4-inch round stencil on top of 1 thin red cake layer; cut out a 4-inch red cake round. Repeat, placing stencil on 1 thin white cake layer to make 1 4-inch white cake round. Center the 4-inch round stencil on the blue cake; cut out and remove center portion covered by the stencil to make a blue cake ring.

9. To assemble the cake, you will need 2 thin 8-inch red cake layers, 1 thin 8-inch white cake layer, 1 4-inch thin red cake circle, 1 4-inch thin white cake circle, and 1 blue 8-inch cake ring. Reserve the leftover thin red cake layer and other cake pieces for making crumbs for decorating.

10. To assemble cake, place 1 8-inch thin red cake layer on a cake pan and frost the top generously with white frosting. Place the thin 8-inch white cake layer on top of the red one, and frost the top. Place remaining 8-inch thin red cake layer atop the white one. Frost the red layer.

11. Place the blue ring cake on top of the 2nd red cake layer and carefully frost the inside of the blue cake ring. Gently fit the 4-inch white cake layer into the blue cake ring. Frost the top of the 4-inch white center. Place the 4-inch red cake layer on top of the white one. Gently press small cake circles flush with the top of the blue ring.

12. Frost the entire outside of the cake generously with the remaining frosting. To serve, cut cake into wedges. The inside of the cake will reveal its layers of red and white stripes and blue field with white chocolate chip stars in every slice.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
One of the keys to successfully executing this cake is ensuring that your cake layers are level. You can accomplish this with a serrated knife or with a cake leveler. Once your cakes have come out of the oven and cooled, use your knife to remove the dome and you will have flat layers to work with! I also found that it was helpful to freeze my cake layers overnight before assembling everything. Freezing your cake layers makes them easier to work with for the final assembly. When frosting your cake, you might also find it helpful to do a crumb coat first. This is a light layer of frosting that will lock in all the crumbs so they don’t appear when you do your final icing. There are great videos online that cover all of these topics!

Chewy Vanilla Cookies with Orange Glaze and Zest

Summer is officially here! I can say this with authority now that I have switched over to my summer wardrobe. Goodbye turtlenecks and wool sweaters… hello capris, tank tops, and sun dresses! There’s plenty to love about summer. I welcome the warm lingering nights, fresh fruits from the farmers market, and the occasional trip to Dairy Queen for a pineapple sundae. It seems as though people are so much happier when summer comes around. It’s the season completely devoted to leisure and good times with the people you love.

The Sweet Precision kitchen always slows down a little during the summer months. But these citrus infused cookies were a recipe I wanted to share with you right away. These cookies are a great addition to your baking repertoire when you’re in need of a quick and easy dessert. I’m in love with the glaze which uses fresh orange juice and zest. The cookies look so unique, people will think you slaved away in the kitchen to create these little delicacies. No one needs to know your secret… which is that all you need is a box of vanilla cake mix! I made this recipe for a summer picnic when I didn’t have time to pull something elaborate together and they were a hit!

Chewy Vanilla Cookies with Orange Glaze and Zest
Makes approximately 36 cookies

Cookie Ingredients
1 (18.25 oz) package vanilla cake mix
2 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Glaze Ingredients
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice, or as needed

Directions
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.

Pour cake mix into a large bowl. Stir in eggs and oil until well blended. Place dough in refrigerator for approximately one hour.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Shape teaspoonfuls of dough into small balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 9 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. The bottoms will be light brown, and the insides chewy. Cool completely on a cookie rack.

Meanwhile, mix confectioners’ sugar, orange zest, and orange juice in a medium mixing bowl. Drizzle over cookies and garnish with leftover orange zest, if desired.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Be sure to cool your baking sheets between baking batches of cookies. To cool your cookie pans in a hurry, run them under cold water and then wipe dry before using.

Miniature Vanilla Cupcakes

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I made these cupcakes on a baking whim. It was one of those times when I wanted something sweet to eat and somehow—miraculously—we had all the ingredients for cupcakes in our pantry. It’s moments like these when it feels like all the stars have aligned to support my insatiable sweet tooth. Normally I’m short one egg or a stick of butter, and the walk to the grocery store seems like too much work for the reward. But not this time!

One nifty tip that made these cupcakes possible is that I used frozen buttermilk which I brought to room temperature for the recipe. Weeks ago I had extra buttermilk from a recipe and I simply froze it in ice cube trays for later use. I originally shared this tip when I made my Peach Upside Down Cake last year. Honestly, it’s a trick that has saved me time and time again because rarely do I have fresh buttermilk on hand.

Outside the Sweet Precision kitchen, it seems as though time has been flying! This is the first week that it’s truly felt like summer here in Ann Arbor. I broke down and had to turn on the air conditioner because we were sweltering away in 85 degree heat inside our apartment—ugh. Matt is teaching a course this semester which has been keeping him busy. I’ve been counting down the days to our Beyoncé concert, which has me ridiculously giddy. I’ve always felt like Memorial Day weekend marks the true start to the summer season. From here on out the days feel noticeably longer, the weather gets warmer, and you can officially break out those white pants! Hope everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!

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Miniature Vanilla Cupcakes
Makes approximately 20 miniature cupcakes 

Cupcake Ingredients
1/2 cup + 1/3 cup cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons butter (room temperature)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup + 1/8 cup buttermilk (room temperature)

Buttercream Frosting Ingredients
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit 20 minutes before baking your cupcakes. Spray a miniature muffin pan with nonstick spray and set aside.

Onto a parchment paper, sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg yolks 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Once all of the egg yolks are incorporated, add the vanilla extract and mix in.

Alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk, 1/3 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Start with 1/3 of the dry, mix well, and then add 1/3 of the buttermilk, and repeat two more times with remaining ingredients. Once everything is incorporated, beat well with a rubber spatula to make sure your batter is fully mixed and fluffy.

Scoop batter into prepared muffin pan. Bake for 18-22 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. When cupcakes are done, the tops should be golden brown and spring back when lightly pressed in the center. A cake tester should come out clean. Remove the pan to a cooling rack. Let rest 5 minutes. Run a small knife or metal spatula around the sides of the cupcakes and invert onto a cooling rack. Let cupcakes cool to room temperature.

In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency. Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes and decorate with your choice of sprinkles!

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Using fresh butter is very important when you’re making buttercream frosting. Now is not the time to use the butter that’s been sitting in your refrigerator for over a month. To test your butter for freshness, cut a small slice of butter from the block or stick. Look at the color. If the inside of the butter is the same as the outside, it is still fresh. However, if the inside of the butter is lighter than the outside of the butter, this means it has oxidized and is no longer fresh. Typically your butter will last about 1 month in the refrigerator unopened.

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