It's that time of year, the time when everyone is out and about, braving the crowded stores and getting prepared for the holidays. It's crazy-busy, and exhausting, and if you live on the flight path between your friends and the local shopping center, you will probably get some spontaneous drop-in visitors in search of a restorative cup of tea, a supportive hug, and a rest room with no waiting line. Even if you didn't get more than a quick text message saying, "I'm coming over in a few minutes", you can throw together a cake that's sure to cure the shopping blues. This last-minute from-the-pantry chocolate gingerbread cake comes together in less time than it takes to preheat the oven, and in an hour, start-to-finish, it's baked and cooled and ready for visitors. Even better, if you have a few minutes at the end of the day, throw one of these cakes in the oven. When it's cooled, cut it into four pieces and freeze. Each piece will serve 3-4 tired friends. Dust the cake with powdered sugar, or top it with ice cream, right before serving.
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RIDDLE: How many cooks does it take to make cinnamon chocolate crinkle cookies? Answer: three. You definitely want to have two granddaughters with you in the kitchen, because the cookies just come out better that way. The one who can read organizes the dry ingredients, while the other measures the sugar and cracks the eggs into a bowl. You get to do the hard stuff, like turning on the stand mixer. And when it's time to form the cookies, one girl wields the ice cream scoop to portion out the cookies, one rolls the balls of dough in cinnamon sugar, and you do the hot oven maneuvers. These cookies were a spur-of-the-moment activity for us (hence the iPhone photos), and we didn't want to run to the store for any ingredients. The original recipe calls for chocolate chips, but we didn't have any, and the cookies really don't need them. We added some cinnamon into the dough, for a slightly more complex flavor, and the cookies were a huge hit. You have everything you need -- except two of my favorite kitchen assistants -- right in your own perfect pantry.
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Dear readers, I blame you for the fact that these bite-size chocolate muffins materialized in my kitchen last weekend. I'm sorry, but I do. I've been systematically emptying the house of all quick-and-easy sweet nibbles like chocolate bars and M&Ms, because of late my willpower has been absent. So, last Sunday afternoon when my chocolate craving hit hard, there was no candy in the house; however, I found both cocoa powder and chocolate chips in the pantry. Uh-oh. Before I could reroute myself toward the celery sticks, it occured to me that you, dear readers, would love some chocolate muffins (I wasn't wrong, was I?). Of course I needed to taste a few to be absolutely certain they were worthy of you. They were -- I'm sure, because I tasted plenty of them -- and they were super-easy to make without a mixer. The recipe will make 12-14 large muffins, but I'm glad for the built-in portion control of mini muffins when self-control fails me.
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The forced confinement of a recent snowstorm made me a little bit stir-crazy, but also reminded me that my perfect pantry holds everything I need to soothe my sweets-starved spirit. A quick browse revealed some decaf espresso powder and cocoa powder, and from that starting point -- and my jars of flours and sugars and extracts -- I created these quick and easy sugar cookies. I could have chilled the dough, rolled it flat, and cut it with cookie cutters. Instead, I put my small ice cream scoop (a disher with a quick release) to work, and set the balls of dough on the baking sheet without pressing them down. The result? Mounded cookies that browned gently on the outside while remaining quite chewy on the inside. The light mocha flavor was a perfect match to my afternoon coffee as I watched the snow pile up outside the kitchen window.
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