Camp Hanover Fudgies

When I was younger, I went to summer camp. I was a summer camp expert: I climbed the ranks of the YMCA swimming tier (though..not very far, I must admit…), I slid down mudslides and went tubing on lakes, I grew into a four-square master, I learned how to gently de-hook fish, I became a seasoned canooer and archer, and I could write a mean group skit.

I also began a love affair with peanut butter at summer camp. For obvious reasons, I was never a peanut butter and jelly kind of girl, but one summer at Camp Hanover, which is probably the best sleepaway camp in the world, I learned about the real best friend of peanut butter: chocolate. And it is about time I shared with you my favorite cookout treat, since this is grilling season.

I will always associate these cookies with my childhood camp experiences. Every week, my group would gather next to the tether ball poles and anxiously discuss cookout plans: hoagies or hamburgers? Red bug juice (er…Kool-Aid) or orange? S’mores or FUDGIES!? The kitchen would send us a box full of supplies and we would hurry to our campsite and unload our goodies. You have no idea how delighted we were if we discovered our request for fudgies had been granted. And after our main meal, after cleaning our plates off with dirt (ah, those were the days) we’d get to enjoy our dessert. Let me tell you, those things disappeared quickly.

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Ricotta Cheesecake

There is almost nothing more luscious than a cheesecake, am I right? Thick and creamy, sweet and slightly tangy…the perfect canvas for any flavor you are craving, be it chocolate, caramel, or even cherries.

But if you are anything like me, heavy-laden slices of cheesecake just don’t make good summer fare. That’s why, when I found a recipe for ricotta cheesecake, the cream cheese cake’s skinnier cousin, in Ready for Dessert, I immediately went out and bought an obscene amount of ricotta cheese so I could try it. Why not have your cake and eat it too?

Now, before you get all excited about eating a guilt-free cheesecake, let me warn you that the ricotta version is more like a custard than a cheesecake. It is much less dense, though still creamy, and still a good canvas for your favorite add-ins. David Lebovitz suggested adding fruits…which I, of course, ignored.

I tried out two versions of this recipe. The first aimed to see whether I could sacrifice any of the dairy fats and still result in a cheesecake that was creamy enough to substitute for the New York-style cheesecake I am used to. I used part-skim ricotta and added extra flour to compensate for the extra liquid in the cheese. That version was fine, though a bit crumbier than I would have liked. But the second version, which was more true to David Lebovitz’s recipe, was a delight.

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Double Chocolate Buttermilk Cookies

It’s Spring. The blogosphere is running wild with fresh fruits and fruit bars and fruit tarts. Not being a fruit-lover, I feel puzzled and occasionally jealous when I start seeing all of the colorful desserts splashed across magazine covers and blog entries. I have never once walked into a grocery store and gotten excited about raspberries. Thus, my kitchen knows no Spring, and honestly, I don’t think it knows the difference. Chocolate is timeless.

Today was the perfect day to curl up on the couch with some chocolate cookies and a book. Outside, the sky struggled to make up its mind…is it sunny? is it about to break into a thunderstorm? I erred on the side of thunderstorm and whipped up a batch of double chocolate chip cookies.

These cookies live up to their “double chocolate” headline. Filled with chocolate chips and Dutch-process cocoa powder, they are so rich they are almost black. They bake up crispy on the outside and soft, almost gooey, on the inside. One cookie is definitely not enough (though you should probably stop after two).

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Cardamom Tea Cakes

I have told you before of my love affair with cardamom. It is by far the most interesting spice I have tasted to date. But I will admit that the first time I smelled it and tasted it, I was not so sure I wanted to do it again.

I found this recipe for tea cakes a while back, when I was trying to find a cookie I could make for my grandfather, who is diabetic but loves the classics (a.k.a., cookies with lunch). Ultimately, I doubt this itty-bitty spiced cookie would be up his alley, but I’m so glad I tried it! These are basically sugar cookies in ball form (not what you’d immediately think of when trying to find diabetic-friendly desserts…but hey, they are tiny so each one is low in carbs). The cardamom will kick you right in the taste buds, but let me tell you, as soon as I eat one of these cookies, it’s all I can do not to gobble up ten more of them!

Don’t worry, if you are afraid of cardamom, you can substitute ginger…or even cinnamon. But I recommend you be daring!

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Nana’s Blondies

When I was in middle school, I used to stay at my grandparents’ house after school. Now, before you jump to conclusions, my grandparents weren’t the spoiling type; they were a little more like my parents with extra experience. I diligently did my homework, they tolerated my endless hours of clarinet practice, and my grandfather taught me HTML so I could create my own webpage about how much I loved Hanson. Yes. You read that last thing correctly.

My grandparents are pretty much amazing (well…whose grandparents aren’t?). I could wax on about all of their creative genius accomplishments, but instead, I will tell you about Nana’s blondies.

My grandmother was very involved with outreach and local charities. She used to bake for church events and local food banks. And for me 🙂 The first time she gave me a blondie for my afternoon snack, I couldn’t even figure out what it was. All I knew was that it was chewy and caramelly and buttery and full of butterscotch chips, and I had to have another one. (Yes…I did often sneak seconds…maybe in that respect, my grandparents were the spoiling type, because they never said anything.)

It wasn’t until years later that I even heard the term “blondies,” and when I asked my grandmother for the recipe, she firmly denied ever having made such a treat.

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Mascarpone Brownies

I have been dying to make mascarpone brownies for years, ever since one of my good friends from college, Melissa, set them out in front of me during a movie night. I think I ate half of them…and I was hooked.

My friend has been baking her way into hearts and stomachs basically forever. In fact, she was my model when I first started to bake: be adventurous, and bake for every occasion, especially the made up ones. I have been on the receiving end of many of her delicious treats…and I wish I could say that this was her recipe, but in actuality, I lost that recipe in an email address swap and have been too embarrassed to ask for it a second time!

Nevertheless, these brownies are amazing. After I stuck them into the oven and geared up for my long wait, I scraped the remaining batter out of the bowl to the point where it looked like it had been washed.

Mascarpone, for any folks who haven’t tried it, is a creamy soft cheese, sweet like French chantilly, and oh so delicious. It is the hero of tiramisù and (so I am told by my husband) would make an excellent base for strawberries and cream.

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Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’ve always thought the quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie was a bit silly. I mean, most people just love the one they’re with, right?

For years, I’ve ignored new recipes for chocolate chip cookies, because the cookies I grew up with, the recipe I’ve had memorized since I was 11, had no need for improvement. The cookies were soft, the chips were melty, and the flavor was rich and rounded. What more could a girl ask for?

I’ll tell you: butter. My beloved chocolate chip cookies have a Crisco base…and as I’ve become more invested in baking, I’ve also grown to realize that baking with shortening is not a virtue unless you are lactose intolerant or vegan. And I quickly discovered that replacing the Crisco with butter 1:1 resulted in a flat, sticky mess.

So what’s a girl to do?

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