tips for making homemade ding dongs

I’ve been meaning to bake my Mom homemade Ding Dongs for a while now since she loves the wrapped-in-tin-foil version. Since her birthday is fast-approaching, I decided to give A Cozy Kitchen’s recipe a whirl (which is adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe). I’m very grateful I tried this out a couple days before as a test-run, because these cakes were way more temperamental than I ever imagined.  So here are my tips, tricks and observations in the event that you try out this recipe yourself.

1. Get a a high-quality chocolate for both the cake AND the ganache. This does not mean Nestle-brand quality folks. I made the error of using a random baker’s chocolate form Ralph’s, and next time I will totally splurge on the pricier, high-end chocolate because I can taste a difference.

2. Second, if you decide to make these in the shape of smaller cakes (as opposed to Smitten Kitchen’s regular-sized layer cake), then skip the part where you flip out the cooled cake entirely. Instead, use the pastry cutter and cut each mini-cake while still in the pan. Then, carefully pull out the outer bits of cake and set aside ( I fully intend to use these scraps for rum balls by the way). Use a spatula to slide the cake out of the pan and thus, avoid dealing with it sticking or having to use parchment paper. I used this method with half of the cakes with success (except for one little guy on the left that was accidentally diced in the wrong spot). This method will yield pretty little complete cakes.

3. Contrary to both blogs that insist on 10″ pans, this recipe worked great with two 9″ pans AND baked at 300 degrees for 45 minutes.

4. Use a larger-sized, round pastry cutter, especially if you want to stuff these with a decent amount of frosting. I experimented with both and definitely prefer the larger cake (but I’m also a glutton, so don’t necessarily listen to me…)

5. I did not have success with Smitten Kitchen’s directions for 7-minute frosting. I’ve made several 7-minute frostings before throughout my life with great success. Smitten’s failed on me three times and was too “liquidy” (I think the fault could be with a too-hot temperature over the double-boiler). I ended up beating some heavy cream and then adding a tad of runny 7-minute frosting to make a thicker filling because after my third attempt I was about to have a kitchen meltdown.

Even though these turned out good with 1/2 heavy cream and 1/2 marshmallow frosting, I wouldn’t recommend heavy cream as a filler for these.

6. Take time cutting out the holes in the cake in a calm and rationale way, and don’t forget which top pairs to the cake… seems simple enough, but the last thing you want to do is spend an extra ten minutes trying to match cake tops!

7. When you put the tops back on, be sure to cut off part of the bottom of the tops! I ended up pushing a lot of the frosting out from my too-big tops.

8. Be sure everything is cool… I was impatient and worked with hot cake, which is a major no-no. Impetuous people don’t make great bakers…

In the end these tasted great and didn’t leave a typical aftertaste in my mouth like normal ding-dongs. Next week I’ll post a follow-up to let you guys know how the REAL batch came out for Mom. In the meantime, my freezer is full of ding dongs. Any takers?

Decadent, Creamy Chocolate Coconut Smoothie

Let me start by saying that I really wanted to make chocolate chip cookies instead of a smoothie for my post-lunch snack. I REALLY wanted to. While browsing Pintrest I found a recipe that looked amazing and different than my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. But then the angel on my right shoulder kicked in and told me not to. “Make yourself a healthy, filling and nutritious smoothie instead,” it whispered to me.

It wasn’t tough to change my mind. I walked 4 miles today and have been on-target all week with my points and nutrition. Why blow it the NIGHT before my weigh-in? The whole point of Weight Watchers in my eyes, is to learn how to make smarter choices. You don’t have to feel deprived, but it also doesn’t mean you should give in to every craving and whim on a weekday afternoon. So I’m saving the cookies for tomorrow night. 

Smoothies have a supernatural ability nonetheless, to convince my taste buds that what I am drinking is a dessert. So, it’s a win-win.

Here’s the recipe I made up, and I’ve included the Weight Watchers Points for those of you who might be on the plan. Most of you who know me know that I am a little coconut obsessed. If you don’t like coconut, you can replace it with regular milk, or even almond milk if you’re feeling snazzy. 

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup light coconut milk (3 points)
  • 1/3 cup low-fat milk (1 point)
  • 1 cup ice (0 points)
  • 1 banana (0 points)
  • 2 tbsp sugar (3 points)
  • 1 tsp vanilla (0 points)
  • 1 tsp shredded coconut (0 points) *optional*

Combine everything in the blender & sprinkle with shredded coconut. Total count: 7 points. It’s extremely filling, and makes 2 large cups worth. More importantly it provides real nutrients instead of butter, sugar, flour and chocolate chips.

Granted, the 2 tbsp of sugar is… not ideal, but it tasted too chalky with only 1 tbsp, and I don’t like Splenda or artificial chemical sweeteners. I’d rather have a little of the real thing and feel satiated. Hope you enjoy this.

Eating Out @ Claro’s Italian Market

A couple of the families I teach for live close to Claro’s Italian Market in Tustin. This means that once a week on my route, I am consumed with one thought:

Italian cookies.

We don’t really have many options here in Orange County when it comes to good, authentic Italian bakeries and stores. Growing up in Arcadia & Monrovia, CA I was lucky enough to live close to another Claro’s and I have tons of nostalgic memories of going there with my Nana on her trips to get fresh deli meat, cheeses and of course, cookies.

So, once in a while I cave in and make a pit stop for some of my favs. I really want to master some Italian cookie and pastry recipes (namely, the chocolate buttons, rainbow cookies, shells with cream, plain anisette cookies, Mom’s chocolate chip biscotti, fig cookies and sfogliatelle, which you can’t find in So Cal). My Nana is the person to go to for that Italian fig cookie recipe. Every year she makes them around Christmas and I hope to have her teach me this year so I can continue the tradition in my own home.

[gasp: stolen photo from the internet #1]

Anyhow, I went to Claro’s a few weeks ago to garner all of the ingredients for tiramisu which I brought to Dhi’s family reunion in Cayucos. The tiramisu turned out “ok.” You definitely need to soak the ladyfingers in authentic espresso and a liquer to give it any sort of oomph. Mine was only soaked in (dare I confess it) instant espresso. It was an Italian brand, but it was on a pinch since I was sans espresso maker at the time. The actual dessert is REALLY expensive to make though! I mean, for the sweet marsala and marscapone alone, you’re looking at a $15 cake.’

Anyhow, sweet dreams of cookies.

[gasp: stolen photo from the internet #2]

(PS: Despite having a crazy birthday week including a 6-course French meal, lots of cupcakes, sweets galore and many splurges, I lost 2lbs at my weigh-in today! How cool is that? The pilates, walking and counting points paid off for the rest of the week. I’m officially down 4.6lbs on Weight Watchers, and loving it. I’ll post more about it when I hit my 10% loss and have something substantial to boast about.)

Gifted Food: Turkish Coffee & Chocolate Waffers

One of the many perks of being an in-home music instructor is that I am often given food and snacks from the families I teach for (once and a while, even a whole meal). I thought it would be fun to share what some families are dishing up, especially since I work for an extremely culturally vibrant set of students.

One of my student’s parents is from Syria and she often serves me the most exquisite mint tea and Turkish coffee. Once, on a particularly hot day, she gave me a huge sorbet with fresh nectarines and strawberries in it– I dream about that dessert on a regular basis now.

 

A pound of love

It happened as I thought it would:  a pound of See’s chocolates later and I’m convinced I definitely gained more than a pound during the past two days of debauchery.

Let me re-cap my “cheat day” (which turned into “cheat days”) as of Sunday–

Breakfast was comprised of onion bagels, whipped cream cheese, fresh blueberry pancakes, cheesy scrambled eggs, coffee and chocolate truffles from TJ’s.

Then Dhiren pulled out the pound of chocolates from See’s, which made me unbelievably happy (though, not as happy as the gorgeous ring he bought me!!!) 

I love Valentine’s Day– the only day where you can binge on decadent chocolates  served in a big, pretty heart-shaped box (although now I realize that the heart alludes more to heartburn you endure later than love).  For dinner we went to El Torito, where I packed in about 8 freshly made flour tortillas (served with honey butter), 2 huge peach margaritas, a shot of tequila and fish tacos.  MMM.

I don’t regret it, but I definitely feel the mental challenge of climbing back “on the wagon.”  But tomorrow I’m beginning my fitness regime at Newport Beach–one hour of walking at 7AM and I’m planning my meals out now to avoid temptation and having to make any decisions:

2 eggs, tomatoes with olive oil and salt & pepper
15 almonds & a cheese
Arugala salad w/ 1/2 c. of Indian lentils
non-fat Greek yogurt w/ 15 blueberries
turkey burger and asparagus

I’m also going to sport my pedometer to make sure I hit 10,000 steps and up the water intake.  I’m determined to lose 2 pounds by Friday morning damn it and I need to meet my weekly goals in order to hit my target weight by my senior recital!