1 Frosting Recipe, 5 Flavors

Today is all about frosting. This is my 100% favorite part of any cake. Frosting is smooth, creamy, rich, sweet goodness that I could eat by the spoonful. My (not so) secret dream is to one day have a birthday cake made entirely out of vanilla frosting. If it could be incorporated into a pie crust, that would be cool, too. And Blue Bell triple chocolate ice cream on the side….but I digress.

The reason I chose to go all vanilla this month is to show how you can take one basic recipe with a nice, neutral flavor like vanilla and turn it into anything you want. Vanilla cake and vanilla frosting are great on their own. I love the flavor of vanilla, but I also really love taking one recipe and turning it into something else I love. So I’m going to share my favorite vanilla frosting recipe with you and then show you how to turn it into 5 other flavors!

The ingredients in frosting are incredibly forgiving, so don’t be intimidated by this process. I always thought frosting would be super hard to make, but once I tried it I was hooked. The frosting you can make at home is every bit as good (if not better) than what you get at the store, and you control the ingredients in it. While some things, like pie crust, require a gentle touch, you can beat the heck out of the butter in frosting and it will still turn into something delicious. If you have a stand mixer, I do recommend using it to make life easier, but hand mixers work great, too. If I only need a small batch (like 1 cake or a dozen cupcakes) of frosting I regularly use my hand mixer.

Here are the ingredients you need for 12 cupcakes or an 8″ 2 layer cake:
1 stick butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 ½ cups powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon salt

The first step is to take the butter out of the fridge about 30 minutes to 1 hour before you are going to use it. Softening the butter makes it way easier to work with and will help you achieve a nice, smooth frosting with no butter chunks without wearing out your arm in the process. Once the butter is soft enough that it gives a little (without melting out of the package completely), stick it in a mixing bowl and start your mixer on medium-low. The butter should break apart pretty easily. If it doesn’t, turn up the speed of the mixer or let the butter soften a little longer.

Once the butter is nice and smooth, stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Why is this important? The mixer mushes the butter down against the sides and bottom of the bowl and you want to make sure it’s fluffed up enough to mix thoroughly with the other ingredients. I used to ignore this step all the time and my results were inconsistent. Once I started scraping the bowl, my frosting became much smoother more easily and the texture and taste were much more consistent. So take 15 seconds and scrape the bowl to save yourself time and energy.

Next, add 1 cup of powdered sugar, 2 teaspoons of vanilla, and ¼ teaspoon of salt to the mixing bowl and turn the mixer back onto medium low. This time, you’ll give it about 1 minute to start mixing the ingredients together. You want them to be somewhat incorporated, but don’t be worried if you have some chunks. Those will work out as you go. Next, add the rest of the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until it is fully incorporated. The frosting should be mostly smooth at this point. If not, turn the mixer up just a smidge. If it is almost entirely smooth, check the texture. If it is still a little runnier than you prefer, add ¼ cup of powdered sugar at a time until you have the consistency you want. Just remember- it’s easier to add than remove, so go easy on the additions. It takes a little more time but it’s worth it in the end. Once it’s the consistency you’re looking for, turn up the speed of the mixer to medium-high to add some air. This helps make the frosting a little lighter.

After about 30 seconds to 1 minute, you’re done! Spread the frosting onto a cake, cupcakes, or eat it by the spoonful. Or, add some flavor to the vanilla frosting and really go crazy. The 5 options I have here to change the flavor of the frosting require a little more powdered sugar and 1 additional ingredient.

For my cupcakes, I used one batch of frosting and split it between 6 flavors. You can also flavor one batch of frosting. I have amounts below for whichever option you choose.

  • To create lemon frosting, add 1 teaspoon of zest and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to the frosting and mix. If the frosting seems runny, add ¼ cup of powdered sugar. For a full batch of lemon frosting, add 2 tablespoons of zest and 2 tablespoons of juice. Again, add powdered sugar by the ¼ cup if you need it a little stiffer. You can add more or less juice depending on how strong you like the lemon flavor.
  • Orange frosting is the same as the lemon- 1 teaspoon of zest and 1 teaspoon of orange juice is what I added to frost 2 cupcakes. For a full batch, it would be 2 tablespoons of zest and 2 tablespoons of juice, plus additional powdered frosting as needed.
  • For the jam cupcakes, add ¼ cup of powdered sugar to the split batch of frosting and 1 tablespoon of the jam of your choice. You definitely need to add the powdered sugar to this one because the jam makes the frosting runny and it will slide right off your cake if you don’t stiffen it a little. For a full batch of frosting, try add 1 cup of powdered sugar and 4 tablespoons of jam.
  • Caramel frosting also requires extra powdered sugar. To make this frosting, I used 1 tablespoon of salted caramel ice cream topping and ¼ cup of powdered sugar in the split batch (4 tablespoons of caramel topping and 1 cup of powdered sugar for the full batch).
  • Last but not least is the cookies n’ cream. This just requires 2 cookies for a split batch of frosting and 6 cookies for a full batch.

Once you have the extra ingredients in the bowl, blend them into your frosting, either with your mixer or by hand with a spoon. Proceed with frosting your cake or cupcakes and enjoy!

Fun Fillings for Vanilla Cakes

One of the great things about vanilla cakes and cupcakes is that they can be paired with a huge variety of fillings to change up the flavor and make them more interesting. You can have chocolate, fruit, cream, or any other filling your heart desires, and it will taste great with the neutral vanilla cake.

The beauty of a filling is that, not only does it ramp up a cupcake’s wow factor, it can also be as simple or as complicated as you desire. One of the best and easiest fillings I do regularly is jam. Yep, you just buy a jar of jam at the store and add it to your cake or cupcake some jam. Once you top it with frosting, you have a delicious dessert with a fruity surprise filling sure to please any sweet tooth. Another crazy easy option is marshmallow fluff. If you want to lighten up your vanilla cake a little but keep the flavor pretty similar, toss some marshmallow fluff in the center. You can also use syrups if you want a really runny filling, ice cream if you’re going to eat the dessert right away, pudding, peanut butter, or pretty much anything else you imagine.

Cakes are easy to fill because you just put the filling between the layers, but what’s the easiest way to make room for the filling in a cupcake? There’s nothing wrong with using a knife or spoon to cut out the center. These options are actually nice because you can make the hole as large or small as you want. But what really changed the game for me is a little, unassuming cupcake corer a friend gave me a few years ago

This little cupcake corer is just about the coolest thing in the world. You set it on top of a cupcake, push down, and a neat little chunk of cupcake pops out. It’s the coolest thing and makes cupcake filling sooooo much faster!

If you’re interested in making your own filling, here are some great options from around the web:

  1. Strawberry: http://www.food.com/recipe/strawberry-filling-10045
  2. Chocolate ganache: https://addapinch.com/ganache-recipe/
  3. Lemon curd: http://thepioneerwoman.com/food-and-friends/how-to-make-lemon-curd/
  4. Whipped cream: http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/sweetened-whipped-cream
  5. Cream cheese: http://yummiestfood.com/chocolate-layer-cake-with-cream-cheese-filling/

Are you a fan of filled cakes and cupcakes? What are your favorites?

Vanilla Cake Mix Competition

There are a lot of vanilla cake mixes on the shelves of your local grocery store. You probably see them every time you go to the store and walk past them or grab a box without thinking too much of it. But if you’re looking for the best vanilla cake mix and frosting for guaranteed delicious cakes and cupcakes every time, you should definitely consider which mix you get.

I tested three of the most common mixes on the shelves of the local grocery store to see how they compare in terms of instructions, ingredients, and outcomes. I also tested their frosting counterparts to see how they compare. Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, and Pillsbury are all household names that have similar mixes for easy quality comparison. It’s really hard to find “vanilla” cake mixes (they tend to be yellow or white, even though the flavor on both is actually vanilla), so I went with the classic white cake for all three. Most of the time, a white cake is a vanilla cake that is made with egg whites, while a yellow cake is a vanilla cake made with whole eggs. With cake mixes that line is blurred some because white cakes are extra white and yellow cakes are super yellow and the directions often allow for the use of either whole eggs or egg whites. For the purposes of this post, we’ll call the white cake a vanilla cake, since that’s what flavor it really is. I made the mixes with whole eggs, except for the Duncan Hines because the directions specifically called for egg whites and I wanted to ensure that the results were as accurate as possible. I also used the same size ice cream scoop to portion the batter, so any differences in size of the cupcakes were due to the way the batter rose, rather than differences in the amount of batter used.

So what’s the result? In terms of frosting, get whichever is cheapest. I could not detect a significant difference in taste or texture of any of the frostings. I even left the frosted cupcakes outside on a hot day for 15 minutes to see if any of them held up better than others and…nothing. They are virtually identical. For the cakes, my vote for the best all-around is Betty Crocker. I was actually surprised by this because the batter was really runny and I was afraid the cupcakes would be too flat. However, they had a good shape for a basic cupcake.

The main differences between the mixes is the proportions of eggs, oil, and water. The Duncan Hines cupcakes turned out the driest, with a crumbly texture. They also didn’t have as much flavor as the others. This is to be expected because the total liquid was less than the other 2 mixes, and only egg whites were used instead of the whole egg. Whole eggs help add moisture and depth of flavor to a recipe. The cupcakes had fairly flat tops. The Pillsbury recipe was the most domed of the three, so if that’s the look you’re going for, this is the mix for you.

Overall, the mixes turned out fairly similar in taste, so you should be pretty safe picking from any of the three. If you want a good, standard cupcake Betty Crocker is my pick. If you really need a flat or domed cupcake, Duncan Hines and Pillsbury would be your best respective options.

Vanilla Cake and Wine

Happy July! I hope you had a great Independence Day and that you’re ready for a new month of desserts and wine! This month, we’re going to talk about one of the most versatile desserts I know: vanilla cake (and cupcakes). This classic dessert is an important part of any baker’s repertoire because, while it’s great on its own, it can be turned into different flavors and combined with different fillings and frostings to become something entirely different. If you can successfully make a vanilla cake you can make hundreds, if not thousands of desserts.

Here are just a few ways you can transform vanilla cake:

  1. Add fruit juice or extract to the cake to change the flavor
  2. Add a filling to the cake, like jam, whipped cream, fruit, cookie dough, or ganache
  3. Add fruit juice or extract to the frosting to change the flavor
  4. Do 2 of these options at the same time (or all 3) to come up with something completely different

A few of my favorite combinations that all start with vanilla cake and vanilla frosting are lemon cake with raspberry filling and lemon frosting, vanilla cake with strawberry filling and vanilla frosting, and vanilla cake with cookies n’ cream frosting. To create these, you seriously only add one additional ingredient to the cake batter or frosting and turn it into something special. And you only need one recipe

Another wonderful thing about vanilla cake is that it pairs really well with wine! I absolutely love vanilla cake and vanilla frosting with Vermentino. Vermentino is similar to sauvignon blanc in terms of body and taste- light and refreshing with a mild citrus flavor. With the cake, the citrus and vanilla combine to produce a mellow, lightly sweet combination that is very smooth and pleasing. I hadn’t had Vermentino previously but it will definitely be part of my regular stock in the future, especially with vanilla desserts.

You can also try an off-dry white with citrus and vanilla flavors. I don’t recommend anything too heavy, like a dessert wine, because the body of the wine is going to overwhelm the delicate flavor and texture of the cake. A nice, light wine is a good option to match the vanilla cake. I had a Lobo e Falcao white wine with vanilla cupcakes and it was a really good combination. It was a touch more tart than the Vermentino, which was fun.

If you opt to change up the flavor of the cake or frosting or add a filling, you may need to change up the wine. The Vermentino and white blend are both nice and versatile so they might work, but it all depends on the flavors you choose. I am a big fan of sauvignon blanc or white Bordeaux with lemon or lime cake, or even an orange one. If you add a chocolate ganache, try a light red, since the ganache makes the cake a little more substantial.

Stay tuned next week for the best boxed cake mixes for those times you just don’t feel like measuring a lot. After that, we’ll have a round-up of fillings to change up the flavor and texture of your cakes and cupcakes. At the end of the month, I’ll show you how to turn one frosting recipe into five different flavors.

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Celebrating Independence Day with Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwiches

The 4th of July is right around the corner, which means it’s time to pull out your stars and stripes, do some grilling, spend time with friends and family, set off fireworks, and be grateful for the many freedoms we have. Many people spend the 4th of July outside- at parades, picnics, parties, camping- and I have the perfect dessert for any 4th of July celebration: chocolate chip cookie sandwiches!

Why do I like these chocolate chip cookie sandwiches for 4th of July? Let’s count the reasons:

  1. They’re simple
  2. They make a big statement in a small package
  3. They’re easy to make
  4. They’re a big crowdpleaser
  5. You can decorate them any way you want to make them your own
  6. You can do most of the work ahead of time
  7. They’re portable
  8. They hold up well in the heat
  9. They’re easy to eat on the move
  10. You can change up the flavors for something new and exciting or stick with the classic

The list could keep going but you get the point!

So how do you make these lovely little sandwiches? First, make chocolate chip cookies. You can use pre-made dough from the store (see reviews here) or you can make your own (need a recipe? Check out mine here). I personally like to make these in miniature so they’re super easy to grab and snack while you’re on the move. To do this, just make each cookie a little smaller than you normally would, and check them a minute or two earlier while they’re in the oven- smaller cookies usually cook a bit faster than bigger ones.

While the cookies are cooling, either make your own frosting or dump a can of store frosting into a bowl. If you want, play up the frosting a little. You can do this by coloring it red or blue, mixing in star sprinkles, or anything else you can think of to make it fun and festive. I do recommend using a slightly stiffer frosting than you normally do for basic cake frosting because you want it to stay put on the cookies and not slide off in the heat. If your frosting seems a little too wet, you can add a small amount (about ¼ cup at a time) of powdered sugar to thicken it to the desired consistency.

Once the cookies are cool, flip half of them over so the bottoms are facing up. Then, spread a healthy dollop of frosting on each one and cover it with another cookie facing right side up. Then you can roll the sides of the cookie in sprinkles if you want to up the wow factor a little

Have some fun with these little bites of awesomeness at your 4th of July celebration this year, and don’t forget to show off your delicious creations!

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Jazzing Up A Classic

Chocolate chip cookies are the perfect sweet treat that will never let you down. They are crunchy, chewy, melty, chocolatey, delicious, and perfect for any occasion. Despite all of this, there may come a day when you want a chocolate chip cookies with a little pizzazz. Fortunately, chocolate chip cookies are incredibly versatile! You can do pretty much anything you want to a cookie to help it go from a sweet treat to a delicious dessert- from cookie cakes to cookie sandwiches, to ice cream sandwiches, to just playing with the different chocolate chips to shift the taste. I scoured the internet to come up with 10 of the best ideas for you:

Double chocolate
http://www.kraftrecipes.com/recipes/bakers-one-bowl-chocolate-bliss-cookies-53456.aspx
I always use chocolate chips for this instead of chopping chocolate. Why? It makes my life easier. That’s why I count these as chocolate chip. I have tried a lot of different chocolate combinations on this and they all taste good!

Cookie sandwiches
Chocolate chip cookie sandwiches seriously take regular cookies up a notch and they’re so easy- all you do is make the cookies and slather frosting on top! Stay tuned next week for the perfect chocolate chip cookie sandwiches, just in time for those 4th of July parties.

Cookie cake
http://www.garnishandglaze.com/2016/04/21/chocolate-chip-cookie-cake-recipe/

Cookie cups
http://livforcake.com/2017/04/chocolate-chip-cookie-cups.html

Ice cream sandwich
http://pinchofyum.com/chocolate-chip-cookie-ice-cream-bars

Cookie pizza
http://utah.todaysmama.com/2014/04/04/chocolate-chip-cookie-pizza-fun-toppings/

Deep fried chocolate chip cookie dough
http://www.sugarhero.com/deep-fried-chocolate-chip-cookie-dough/

S’mores
http://www.cookingclassy.com/chocolate-chip-cookie-smores/

Dip
http://www.ericasweettooth.com/2014/01/chocolate-chip-cookie-dough-football-dip.html

Cannoli
http://thedomesticrebel.com/2013/05/22/chocolate-chip-cookie-dough-cannolis/

There are so many great options out there. What’s your favorite way to eat a chocolate chip cookie?

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The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies

I don’t know if you’ve gotten the impression this month, but I love me some chocolate chip cookies. Aside from sentimental reasons, chocolate chip cookies are just good. They’re sweet but not too sweet, nicely balanced with chocolate and brown sugar. They’re great by themselves, with milk, or with a glass of wine. And there are so many things you can do to jazz them up!

Every time I make chocolate chip cookies, I tweak the recipe just a little. If it’s a new recipe, I’ll make it exactly as indicated so I’ll have a baseline. Then I’ll try adding a little more flour, a little more vanilla, maybe a little less salt, until I have the recipe just as I like it. Then I’ll try a different recipe to see what it’s like. All this experimentation has resulted in The Sugar Vine’s Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies. These cookies are crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and very flavorful.

So what makes these cookies so special? Extra vanilla and brown sugar help the dough pop, and dark chocolate is nice and bold. If you’re like me, you may often cut back some on the salt, but I don’t recommend doing that this time. The salt really helps draw out the flavors; without it the cookies aren’t bad, but they’re not spectacular. So don’t be afraid of the salt! These also have a little more flour than you normally find in a standard batch of chocolate chip cookies, which helps hold the cookies together when they bake. One common problem with making chocolate chip cookies is that they spread and get hard and flat. These stay nice and thick. And the beauty is, you can bake them right away, or refrigerate the dough for up to one week if you want to prep the dough ahead of time and make them later (or make a couple every day for fresh baked cookies daily!).

Making these cookies is not terribly difficult, even for a beginning baker. If you’ve ever made cookies from scratch, the process is going to be pretty familiar because the basic steps are the same, no matter what chocolate chip cookie recipe you’re following.

The first step is to pull 2 sticks of butter and 2 eggs out of the fridge to warm up. Softening the butter makes it easier to incorporate into the rest of the dough, and the same is true for the eggs to some degree. It’s not the end of the world if these are not room temperature, but mixing the dough might be a bit more challenging.

Once the butter and eggs are room temperature, you can start making the dough. If you plan to bake the cookies right away, preheat the oven to 350. Start by stirring the flour, salt, and baking soda together in a medium bowl. Just a couple quick stirs are enough to ensure that they’re well-mixed.

Next, put the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar in a large bowl and use a hand mixer on low to medium speed to beat them until they are smooth.

Then add the two eggs and vanilla to the butter-sugar mixture and beat until smooth again.

The dough will look a little runny at this point, when you add the flour mixture and beat until smooth again. I highly recommend starting on low and working your way up to medium-high; otherwise you’ll end up covered in flour!

Now, dump the chocolate chips into the bowl and stir with a spoon until they are mixed into the dough. Make sure to get them into the bottom of the dough as well, so you don’t have any chocolate chip-less cookies.

Now you can either make the cookies right away or refrigerate them until you’re ready to bake. If you refrigerate them, make sure to move them into a tightly covered container.

When you’re ready to bake the cookies, cover a baking sheet with parchment paper (foil will do in a pinch but parchment paper is really best) and drop spoonfuls of the dough onto the pan. Put the pan on the top rack of your preheated oven and bake for 8-11 minutes. The cookies should spread very slightly and turn a nice, light brown.

Let the cookies cool on the pan for a few minutes, then move them onto a rack to finish cooling. Be careful moving them off the pan while they’re too hot- they’ll break apart at this point and that’s never fun.

And that’s it! Measure carefully and watch the baking time, and you will have some amazing cookies to eat by themselves, with milk, or with a glass of wine!

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The Sugar Vine’s Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2.5 c Flour
  • 1 tsp Baking soda
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 2 sticks Butter
  • .5 c Sugar
  • 1 c Brown sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 tsp Vanilla
  • 2 c Chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. About 30 minutes to an hour before you want to mix the dough, pull out the butter and eggs to warm up.
  2. Mix the flour, salt, and baking soda together. Stir it around so it’s well-mixed.
  3. Beat the butter and 2 sugars together until it’s nice and smooth
  4. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, and beat until smooth.
  6. Stir in the chocolate chips
  7. Drop spoonfuls of the dough onto cookie sheets
  8. Bake the cookies at 350 for 8-11 minutes

Cookie Dough Wars

I have a very special relationship with refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough and I am not ashamed to admit it. As some of you know, refrigerated cookie dough got me started on this path to sharing my love of baking and sweets with the world. It was junior year of college, my friend and I had a package of cookie dough and decided not to eat ALL of it raw, so we made cookies in the college dorm kitchen. It sparked an impromptu gathering that really struck me. I was amazed by how the smell of cookies brought people who normally didn’t hang out together into one room, sharing their lives.

So I have absolutely nothing against pre-made cookie dough. Sometimes you just don’t want to wait for butter to soften, get out the mixer, wash dishes, etc. Sometimes you just want a chunk of cookie dough and some cookies. If you don’t have cookie dough in the freezer already, cookie dough from the refrigerated section at the grocery store may be the way to go. At one point, it was rare to find many options besides Nestle Toll House chocolate chip, but things have changed. Now there are lots of options with different kinds of cookie to different brands. Since I want you to have the best of all things, I tested out all of the options available at my local Kroger so you can pick the best for you. I’ve always been a fan of Nestle Tollhouse, so I used this as my benchmark for all the others.

Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

The Nestle cookie tasted great, like Nestle always does. I like the balance of flavors, with the brown sugar, vanilla, and chocolate chips working together to create a sweet, melt-in-your-mouth cookie. It also cooks nicely with a soft center and crisp edges. However, the dough spreads a little too much, so it’s not the most attractive cookie in the world. It would be nice if it held its shape just a little more.

Kroger Break ‘n Bake Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

The cookie most similar to Nestle in taste was the Kroger cookie. The taste was almost indistinguishable from the Nestle cookie, and the Kroger cookie held its shape better. However, I would recommend checking it a little earlier than the package states because it was just a smidge too crunchy when baked at the stated cook time. I think if you took it out of the oven just 30 seconds to 1 minute shy of the recommended cook time the cookie would be just a little softer with better texture.

Immaculate Gluten Free Chocolate Chunk Cookie Dough

This is actually a pretty good cookie dough for anyone who needs to eat gluten-free. In the past, many gluten free baked goods had a weird texture or were bland, but these were nice and soft, held their shape, and tasted like chocolate chip cookies should. You can tell they’re a little different from a standard chocolate chip cookie (maybe the dough is a little sweeter?) but the difference wasn’t super obvious.

Annie’s Organic Chocolate Chunk Bake & Share Dough

The special thing about the Annie’s cookie is that it’s organic. If all organic ingredients are not important to you, I really don’t recommend these. The cookie browned unevenly and was crispier than I prefer. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the taste. It wasn’t terrible but it definitely wasn’t great.

Sweet Loren’s Chocolate Chunk Place & Bake Cookie Dough


This was probably my least favorite cookie, even though I really wanted to like it. It tasted like raisins, which I cannot stand. The whole grain dough was better than I thought it would be. The cookies had a good texture, with crispiness on the edges and chewy on the inside. However, these were not good at all with milk, which is a deal breaker for me.

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Crazy for Cookies and Cab

I’m so excited for this post because I’ve been doing a lot of work behind the scenes that I finally get to share with you! The Sugar Vine is 9 months old this month and it has been an awesome ride so far. My goal with this blog is to share delicious, approachable recipes and wine pairings with you. I am going to continue to do that, but in a slightly different way. In order to really help you up your wine and dessert game, each month I am going to focus on one type of dessert. Yes, one. Why? We are going to dig into it and find the best places to buy it around Houston, talk about what kind of mixes and pre-made doughs are worth your money, and find the best recipes. We’re also going to find the absolute best wine pairing for that dessert. By the end of each month, I want you to feel totally ready to tackle the featured dessert and pair it with the perfect wine, whether it’s the one I recommend or one you pick out yourself. And please, share your pairings! I love hearing about the wines you love, desserts you make, and pairings you discover!

Now, let’s get started with our first monthly theme. This month, we’re covering chocolate chip cookies. They’re a delicious classic that you can’t go wrong eating during a quiet night on the couch or taking to a summer picnic. You can make the classic Nestle Tollhouse semi-sweet cookie, or you can go wild changing up the chocolate chips, adding frosting, or turning them into cakes. What other dessert gives you that many options with the exact same base?!

It’s also surprisingly easy to find wine pairing ideas online. With many desserts, there is a dearth of information on the internet, so you kind of have to fly blind when coming up with ideas. However, chocolate chip cookies are so fantastic there are a lot of people who have jumped on the wine and dessert pairing bandwagon. And that is so exciting! The three most common options I found online were cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and pinot noir. With so many people recommending these options, what could I do except try them out for you?

I didn’t love the syrah because I felt like the flavors in the wine were competing with the chocolate chip cookies. Pairings should enhance or complement each other, not compete, so I personally don’t recommend this option. The pinot noir, on the other hand, wasn’t bad. The cookies I used for the tasting had dark chocolate chips, and I felt like the wine mellowed the dark chocolate a good bit. They almost tasted like traditional semi-sweet cookies, so it definitely wasn’t a bad pairing. My favorite was the cabernet sauvignon. With both the dough (not that I would ever eat raw cookie dough) and the cookies, the pepper in the wine was really accentuated. I actually hadn’t noticed it that much until I tried it with the cookie. There wasn’t any underlying harshness, just good ol’ fashioned chocolate chip cookie and a nice, peppery cab.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy your chocolate chip cookies?

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Celebrating Memorial Day

Memorial Day is often considered the official start of summer. Most people are off work, it’s warm and (hopefully) sunny, and barbeques and other outdoor activities are the place to be. But Memorial Day isn’t really about these things and too often I think the meaning gets lost in all of the fun. I’d like to take this opportunity to share a little of the history of Memorial Day and ways to honor those who died for our freedom.

Memorial Day originated after the Civil War in 1866 in the South and in 1868 in the North to honor the soldiers who lost their lives during the war. The North and South kept separate holidays until after World War I, when the holiday became an opportunity to honor all Americans who gave their lives during any war, rather than just focusing on the Civil War. Memorial Day was officially designated as a federal holiday held on the last Monday in May in 1971.

Since its inception, Memorial Day has been commemorated in a number of ways. One of the oldest traditions is to decorate the graves of soldiers. This tradition harkens back to the period after the Civil War and continues today. Poppies are often used as decoration around Memorial Day as a symbol of remembrance. This was inspired by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields, which he wrote during World War I and inspired a poem in response by Moina Michael, who wore and sold poppies to benefit servicemen in need. Since 2000, the National Moment of Remembrance has been held at 3 pm on Memorial Day, which is a time to stop and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

There are also a number of concerts, parades, and sporting events held on or around Memorial Day, including golf tournaments, NASCAR races, and the Indianapolis 500. Then there are the barbeques. And the desserts that must accompany any good barbeque. And wine. Basically, there are plenty of options to have a good time and gorge yourself.

Desserts at a Memorial Day party need to be able to handle the heat, since there’s a decent chance they’ll be outside a good part of the day. I really don’t recommend having a cake, unless it is kept in the shade and there aren’t a ton of intricate buttercream decorations. Why? Frosting made with butter melts in the heat. Ice cream isn’t a great idea, either, unless you have a freezer nearby. I really love to do fruit desserts around Memorial Day because so many delicious fruits are in season at that time. It’s easy to do a simple, light dessert that tastes great with fresh fruit and whipped cream, whether it’s by itself or in a pie or tart shell.

Wine options abound at Memorial Day celebrations as well. I love a nice, cold white like pinot grigio or Semillon. However, you can also do a light red if you prefer, like a Lambrusco or gamay.

No matter how you choose to celebrate Memorial Day, please take a moment to honor those who gave their lives for our freedom. Without their bravery and sacrifice, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to celebrate with barbeques, dessert, and wine.

In Flanders Fields
By John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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