December 29, 2011

2-Layer German Chocolate Cake

I made my first-ever layer cake today!  We're celebrating my dad's 60th birthday this weekend, and his favorite cake is German Chocolate.  I can see why people prefer making box cakes because it did take a few hours, including cooling time, but it was worth it.


The main ingredients in this cake are German's sweet chocolate, coconut and pecans.  It's quite rich, and the "Kraft Kitchen Tips" on the recipe I followed had me laughing. 
  • "This beloved and classic 3-layer cake is the perfect choice for a special occasion. Plan ahead and eat accordingly before enjoying a slice of this cake." 
  • "Enjoy this rich, classic BAKER'S recipe. A small amount goes a long way so keep tabs on portions." 
Having never made a layer cake before, I consulted The New Best Recipe by America's Test Kitchen because I love their step-by-step illustrations.  Here are some tips I found helpful on pages 848-853.

Parchment Rounds -
  • Trace the bottom of your cake pan roughly in the center of a sheet of parchment paper.  Fold the traced circle in half and then in half again, then cut just inside the outline of the quarter circle.  The resulting rounds of parchment will exactly fit in your pan.
Portioning Layers -
  • To ensure that you put equal amounts of batter in each cake pan, use a kitchen scale to measure the weight of each filled pan.
Frosting Layer Cakes -
  • To anchor the cake, spread a dab of frosting in the center of a cardboard cake circle.  Center the first layer of cake on the cardboard, bottom-side down. 
  • To frost, place a large blob of frosting in the center of the cake and spread it to edges with an icing spatula.  Push the filling into place, as opposed to scraping it.
  • Using a second cardboard circle, slide the second cake layer, bottom-side up (place the cardboard on top of the cake layer and flip it), on top of the frosted bottom layer, making sure the layers are aligned.  Then, press the cake firmly into place. 

While browsing online for German chocolate cake recipes, I came across a photo I liked on Joy of Baking, and decorated the top of my cake in a similar fashion.  I recommend pulling out the most intact pecan halves before chopping them for the frosting.


2-Layer German Chocolate Cake
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients (16 servings)
    Cake
    • 4 oz package German's Sweet Chocolate
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 4 eggs, separated
    • 2 cups flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1 cup butter, softened
    • 2 cups sugar
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 1 cup buttermilk
    Frosting
    • 2 egg yolks
    • 6 oz evaporated milk
    • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 6 tablespoons butter
    • 1 1/3 cups (3.5 oz) sweetened coconut
    • 3/4 cup chopped pecans (5oz package, if you want to decorate with pecan halves)

    Instructions

    Cake:
    • Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cover bottom of two (9-inch) round pans with parchment paper and spray sides with cooking spray. To cut parchment rounds, trace the bottom of the cake pan on a sheet of parchment paper. Fold the traced circle in half and then cut just inside the outline of the circle.
    • Microwave chocolate and water in large microwaveable bowl on high for 1 1/2 minutes, stirring after 1 min. Remove from microwave, and stir until chocolate is completely melted.
    • In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt.
    • In mixer bowl, beat egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form, then transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
    • Next in the mixer bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then add melted chocolate and vanilla, mixing until incorporated.
    • Next add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating until well blended after each addition. Finally add egg whites, stirring gently until well blended and then pour into prepared pans.
    • Bake 30 minutes or until cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean. Remove from oven to wire racks, and immediately run a small spatula around cakes in pans.
    • Leave cakes in pans and cool for 15 minutes, then remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.
    • Spread coconut-pecan frosting between cake layers and on top of cake, leaving the sides exposed.
    Frosting:
    • In a large saucepan, add egg yolks, milk and vanilla. Then whisk until well blended.
    • Add sugar and butter, then cook over medium heat for 12 minutes, stirring constantly.
    • Remove from heat, then add coconut and pecans. Mix well.
    • Cool to desired spreading consistency.
    Recipe adapted from: Kraft Foods
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    December 22, 2011

    Lessons in Making Ravioli

    As a follow-up to my previous post about my first time making ravioli, I wanted to share a few things I learned during my second attempt.

    Lesson #1 - The type of ravioli filling that I made the other day should be cooked the same day it's made (or frozen inside ravioli).  Not only did it taste terrible when we cooked it the next day, but an off flavor always gets me worried about food poisoning. 

    Lesson #2 - Small cookie cutters work well for cutting ravioli shapes out of the scrap dough.  My favorite were the little Christmas trees I made.  However, I filled some too full and the seams didn't seal which led to ravioli exploding in the boiling water.

    Lesson #3 - Substituting whole-wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour worked really well. All the photos you see below are of ravioli made with the half whole-wheat flour dough.


    Lesson #4 - A pastry mat is great for rolling out the pasta dough, but once it's rolled out it should be transferred to cutting board.  I cut two holes in my pastry mat, while attempting to trim the edges of the square raviolis.

    Lesson #5 - The best way to freeze ravioli, is to place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and then place them in the freezer until they're frozen solid.  Then you can transfer them to a freezer-safe container. 

    I really liked cutting ravioli with a medium-sized biscuit cutter because it was faster than using the press, and the size is smaller than a body pillow, which a friend on Facebook said about the size of my square ravioli :)

    The square ravioli are 3x3 inches, and the round ravioli are 1.5 inches in diameter.  Below is a photo of round ravioli I made using the first batch of dough made with only all-purpose flour.


    Spinach & Three Cheese Ravioli

    Prep Time: 1 hour
    Cook Time: 3 minutes


    Ingredients (12 servings)
      Dough
      • 6 eggs, slightly beaten
      • 2 teaspoons salt
      • 6 cups all-purpose flour
      • 1/2 cup water
      Filling
      • 15oz container ricotta cheese
      • 2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese
      • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
      • 2 cups fresh baby spinach, finely chopped
      • 1 large egg
      • salt and freshly ground black pepper
      Sauce
      • 1/3 cup butter
      • 1 clove crushed garlic
      • 1/4 tablespoon dried basil
      • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
        Instructions

        Dough
        • In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Make a well in the flour, add the eggs and water, then mix. Mixture should form a stiff dough. If you can't get all the flour hydrated into a dough, add more water until you can form a nice firm but sticky dough.
        • On a lightly floured surface, knead dough for about 3 to 4 minutes until it is smooth and stretchy. With a pasta machine, or by hand, roll dough out to desired thinness.
        • Although you can roll out the ravioli sheets immediately, letting the dough rest for 20 minutes or more allows the proteins in the dough to relax and makes rolling much easier. Rest the dough covered under the mixing bowl so it won't dry out too much.
        Filling
        • In a large bowl, combine all ingredients.
        Sauce
        • In a small saucepan melt butter, add garlic and saute until cooked. Add dried oregano and dried basil and stir until heated through. Serve warm.
        Recipe adapted from: Dough-All Recipes, Filling-Food Network, Sauce-All Recipes
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        December 20, 2011

        Spinach & Three Cheese Ravioli with Garlic Butter Sauce

        We bought a ravioli stamp at Glorioso's Italian Market this summer, but did not attempt homemade ravioli until tonight.  I'm still shocked at how well they turned out! 
         

        Step 1 - Make Pasta Dough

        I followed the Basic Pasta Recipe on All Recipes, doubling the original recipe.  It was quite simple to make, but until I started kneading the dough I was worried about how dry the dough was.

        Step 2 - Make Ravioli Filling

        We had Gruyere in our fridge, so I opted for a Spinach and Three Cheese filling from a Food Network recipe.  I followed the recipe exactly with the exception of subbing Gruyere for mozzarella.

        Step 3 - Roll Out Pasta Dough

        I now understand why people own pasta machines.  I found the dough to be really hard to roll out, so I enlisted the help of my husband.



         Step 4 - Cut Ravioli

        I cut the dough slightly larger than the stamp, then added a tablespoon of filling.  Top with another cut piece of dough, stamp, trim the edges and you've made ravioli!


         Step 5 - Cook Ravioli and Sauce

        After bringing water to a boil, I cooked the ravioli for 3 minutes.  At the same time, I melted butter with garlic, oregano and basil for the sauce.  The sauce recipe I followed also came from All Recipes.


        Step 6 - Enjoy!




        I was worried that dinner would take forever, but from start to finish it only took 1.5 hours.  I thought that was pretty good considering I've never made homemade pasta, much less ravioli, before.  A ravioli stamp is only a few dollars, so if you have the strength to roll dough, I highly recommend trying it.

        Spinach & Three Cheese Ravioli
        Prep Time: 1 hour
        Cook Time: 3 minutes
        Ingredients (12 servings)
          Dough (for 48 ravioli)
          • 6 eggs, slightly beaten
          • 2 teaspoons salt
          • 6 cups all-purpose flour (or half whole-wheat flour)
          • 1/2 cup water
          Filling (for 48 ravioli)
          • 15oz container ricotta cheese
          • 2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese
          • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
          • 2 cups fresh baby spinach, finely chopped
          • 1 large egg
          • salt and freshly ground black pepper
          Sauce (for 16 ravioli)
          • 5 tablespoons butter
          • 1 clove crushed garlic
          • 1 teaspoon dried basil
          • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
          Note: You will also need a biscuit cutter, ravioli stamp or something similar to shape the ravioli.
            Instructions
            Dough
            • In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Make a well in the flour, add the eggs and water, then mix. Mixture should form a stiff dough. If you can't get all the flour hydrated into a dough, add more water until you can form a nice firm but sticky dough.
            • On a lightly floured surface, knead dough for about 3 to 4 minutes until it is smooth and stretchy. With a pasta machine, or by hand, roll dough out to desired thinness.
            • Although you can roll out the ravioli sheets immediately, letting the dough rest for 20 minutes or more allows the proteins in the dough to relax and makes rolling much easier. Rest the dough covered under the mixing bowl so it won't dry out too much.
            Filling
            • In a large bowl, combine all ingredients.
            Sauce
            • In a small saucepan melt butter, add garlic and saute until cooked. Add dried oregano and dried basil and stir until heated through. Serve warm.
            Recipe Notes
            • This filling should be used the same day it is made.  You can freeze any leftover ravioli by placing them in a single layer on a baking sheet in the freezer. Once frozen solid, transfer to a freezer-safe container.
            Recipe adapted from:
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            December 18, 2011

            Leek Soup with Potatoes & Carrots

            So far, I have loved every leek soup I've tried.  I think it's because the flavor of leeks is perfect for soups.  The recipe I made for dinner tonight comes from Mark Bittman's book "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian."

            I chose this recipe because it utilized three CSA items - leeks, potatoes and carrots.  The original recipe does not call for the soup to be puréed, but after trying the soup straight by the book, I got my immersion blender out.  I love the creamy texture that puréeing gives soup.



            Leek Soup with Potatoes & Carrots

            Prep Time: 5 minutes
            Cook Time: 25 minutes


            Ingredients (4 servings)
            • 2 tablespoons olive oil
            • 3 medium potatoes, washed well and cut into small pieces
            • 3 leeks, white and light green parts only, well washed and sliced into thin rings
            • 1 cup shredded carrots
            • 5 cups vegetable stock
            Instructions
            • Heat oil over medium heat in a stockpot.
            • When the oil is hot, add the vegetables and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.
            • Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.
            • Purée the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender, if desired. I puréed approximately 75% with an immersion blender, because I wanted some remaining chunks of potato.
            Recipe adapted from: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman (page 106)
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            December 16, 2011

            Spinach & Artichoke Dip

            This dip is one of my favorite appetizers for a party.  I made it today to bring to a holiday party at Chris' co-worker's house and I'm planning to make it again for New Year's Eve.    


            Pitas and melba crackers are great with this dip, and the pitas are even better if they're warmed for 3 minutes in a 350 degree oven.


            This recipe is really easy to make and only requires a few ingredients.  Any brand of Alfredo sauce will work, but I especially like Newman's Own.


            My favorite trick for draining spinach is to press it between two plates to squeeze the water out.  After you defrost the spinach (either in the microwave or overnight in the fridge), you place the spinach on a plate, then stack another plate on top (same side up) and press the plates together over the sink.


            After you bake the dip, I recommend transferring it from the baking pan to a mini slow cooker.  Mine was half full, so I estimate that you could fit a double batch in the mini size.  Then keep the slow cooker on the warm setting during the party.


            Artichoke & Spinach Dip

            Prep Time: 15 minutes
            Cook Time: 30 minutes


            Ingredients (serves 12)
            • 4 cloves garlic, minced
            • 10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
            • 14 oz can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
            • 15 oz jar Alfredo pasta sauce
            • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
            Instructions
            • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
            • Combine all ingredients in an 8x8 inch baking dish.
            • Cover with aluminum foil and bake in the preheated oven 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly.
            • Transfer dip to a mini slow cooker to keep warm for serving.
            Recipe adapted from: All Recipes
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            December 15, 2011

            Peppermint Crunch Cookies

            I'm not a big fan of candy canes, but my friend made cookies last Christmas with crushed candy cane decorating the tops and they were fantastic.  So when I saw Andes Peppermint Crunch baking chips at the grocery store, I knew I wanted to try making cookies with them this holiday season.

            I followed the recipe on the back of the package and I'm really happy with how the cookies turned out.  Chris tried a tiny bite and said "yuck, it tastes like a candy cane."  The peppermint flavor is a bit strong, but I still think these cookies are great. 


            If you're unsure about peppermint cookies, you could just use the baking chips to decorate the top of each cookie instead of adding 1 1/2 cups of baking chips to the dough.  That would result in much milder flavor, yet the cookies would still look festive for the holidays :)



            Peppermint Crunch Cookies

            Prep Time: 10 minutes
            Cook Time: 10 minutes per batch


            Ingredients (60 cookies)
            • 1 cup butter, softened
            • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
            • 1/3 cup sugar
            • 1 large egg
            • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
            • 1/2 teaspoon. baking soda
            • 1/2 teaspoon salt
            • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
            • 1 cup rolled oats
            • 1 cup sweetened grated coconut
            • 1 1/4 cups coarsely chopped pecans
            • 1 1/2 cups (10oz package) peppermint baking chips (I used Andes Peppermint Crunch)
            Instructions
            • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
            • Cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until fluffy (about 3 minutes).
            • Beat in egg and vanilla extract.
            • On low speed, add baking soda, salt and then flour. Mix completely.
            • Stir in oats, coconut, pecans, and peppermint baking chips.
            • Roll 1-inch balls (I used a small cookie scoop to measure the dough), and place on a cookie sheet two inches apart.
            • Press each ball down lightly with your hand, and then sprinkle some of the remaining chips on top of each cookie.
            • Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly brown being careful not to overbake.
            • Let cookies cool on the pan for 5 minutes. Note: cookies may not look completely cooked, but they will continue to cook on the pan.
            Recipe adapted from: Andes
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            December 11, 2011

            Spinach Salad with Pomegranate and Oranges

            I love making this salad in December because oranges and pomegranates are two of the only fruits in season.  It's also a festive looking salad that would be a great addition to a holiday dinner or brunch.


            I learned a new trick in my cooking class last week, which makes me want to make more pomegranate recipes.  I previously soaked pomegranates in water to release the seeds, but it turns out you can simply tap each half with the back of a spoon and the seeds easily fall out.  Love this trick!


            Spinach Salad with Pomegranate and Oranges

            Prep Time: 5 minutes
            Cook Time: N/A
            Ingredients (4 servings)
              Dressing

              • 2 tablespoons orange juice
              • 2 tablespoons olive oil
              • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
              • salt & pepper
              Salad

              • 1 large pomegranate
              • 2 large navel oranges
              • 5 cups baby spinach leaves (or leaf lettuce)
              • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
              • 1/2 cup candied walnuts
              Instructions
              • To make dressing, combine orange juice, olive oil and vinegar in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake to mix well. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
              • Cut pomegranate in half. Hold one half in your hand, with the seeds facing a medium bowl. With the back of a spoon whack the outside of each pomegranate half until all the seeds falls out.
              • Cut top and base from each orange, then remove the skin and white pith. Cut between membranes to separate the segments.
              • In a medium bowl, combine spinach and about one-third of the dressing and toss to coat. Add half of the orange segments and half of the pomegranate seeds, and gently toss.
              • Divide salad among four plates. Top with remaining orange segments and pomegranate seeds. Then add feta cheese and walnuts. Serve immediately.
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              December 09, 2011

              Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

              Peanut butter and chocolate seem to be universally loved, so I always make peanut butter cup cookies each holiday season.  They are a great addition to a Christmas cookie tray, especially because they're pretty easy to make.

              After baking the cookies, I removed them from the mini muffin pan and placed each cookie in mini baking cups.  I bought these particular red and green ones at Target.


              The only trick to this recipe is remembering to remove all the wrappers from the mini Reese's peanut butter cups before the cookies come out of the oven because they need to be pressed in immediately.

              You may want to store the Reese's in the freezer because they tend to melt in a warm kitchen, when holiday baking is in progress.


              I've found that there are rarely 40 peanut butter cups in the package, so you'll likely have a few cookies without candy at the end. This is my preference, of course, since I hate chocolate.

              I didn't think I was a fan of peanut butter cookies until I tried this recipe sans peanut butter cup. I absolutely love them and make them year-round with no peanut butter cups :)


              Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

              Prep Time: 15 minutes
              Cook Time: 16 minutes
              Ingredients (40 cookies)
              • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
              • 1/2 teaspoon salt
              • 1 teaspoon baking soda
              • 1/2 cup butter, softened
              • 1/2 cup white sugar
              • 1/2 cup peanut butter
              • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
              • 1 egg, beaten
              • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
              • 2 tablespoons milk
              • 40 mini Reese's peanut butter cups, unwrapped

              Instructions
              • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
              • In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt and baking soda; set aside.
              • Cream together the butter, sugar, peanut butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg, vanilla and milk. Add the flour mixture; mix well.
              • Roll into 40 1-inch balls (I use a small Oxo cookie scoop) and place each into an ungreased mini muffin pan.
              • Bake for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately press a mini peanut butter cup into each ball.
              • Once the cookies have fully cooled, remove from pan (I use a paring knife to help lift them).
              • Store in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent cookies from getting dry.
              Source: All Recipes
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              December 05, 2011

              Celery Root & Apple Salad

              Each time I get a celery root in my CSA box I wonder what I'm going to do with it.  I have a favorite recipe for almost every other item I receive, and now I finally have a favorite celery root recipe. 

              Chef Robert De Nicola of Bon Appétit taught this recipe in a recent cooking class that I attended.  The only change I've made from his original recipe is to double the amount of apples.



              Chef Robert showed us different "plating" options which I attempted to recreate tonight.


              The stacked apples looked a lot better when he assembled them.



              Celery Root & Apple Salad

              Prep Time: 10 minutes
              Cook Time: N/A

              Ingredients (6-8 servings)
              • 1 lb celery root (celeriac)
              • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
              • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
              • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
              • 4 Granny Smith apples
              • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
              • 2 teaspoons chives, chopped
              Instructions
              • Peel and cut the celery root into julienne strips.
              • Peel and core apples. Cut into thin slices and toss with lemon juice to prevent browning.
              • Add celery root and apples to a large bowl.
              • Whisk together the mayonnaise, chives, mustard and pepper.
              • Fold the mayonnaise mixture into the apples and celery root until coated evenly.
              Recipe adapted from: Chef Robert De Nicola - Bon Appétit

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              December 04, 2011

              Rolo Pretzel Treats

              I've been making this recipe every Christmas season since my co-worker Jody introduced to me it.  The sweet and salty combination of pretzels and Rolo candy is fantastic!

              If you're looking for variety in a Christmas cookie tray, this makes a great addition because they are quick and easy to make.  In addition, they seem to be universally loved, as I have yet to meet someone who does not like these.



              Rolo Pretzel Treats
              Prep Time: 5 minutes
              Cook Time: 5 minutes

              Ingredients
              • round pretzel rings
              • pecan halves (I prefer salted)
              • Rolo candies
              Instructions
              • Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
              • Place one pretzel for each pretzel treat desired on prepared sheet. Top each pretzel with one Rolo candy.
              • Bake 3 to 5 minutes or until candy begins to soften, but is not melting. Remove from oven and top with a pecan half. Cool completely.
              Recipe source: Hershey's
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              December 03, 2011

              Cookie Dough Truffles

              According to Google, truffles are "A soft candy made of a chocolate mixture, typically flavored with rum and covered with cocoa."  So I don't think truffles are quite what I made today, but while researching uses for raw cookie dough, I found lots of recommendations for dipping dough in melted chocolate, which was referred to as truffles.

              The raw cookie dough I made last night was perfect for dipping straight from the freezer, and also easier to make a cake pop-type treat with than the standard cake and frosting combo.  For serving, I put each truffle in a small foil candy cup...small baking cups would also work, they're just slightly big for a 1-inch dough ball.



              I recommend buying crushed candy canes to decorate with.  Yes, you can crush them yourself, but the container pictured below only cost $1 at my favorite cake supply shop. 

              In addition, I recommend buying nonpareils for decorating.  They're cheaper if you add them to your own shaker container, which can be purchased anywhere spice jars are sold.



              Cookie Dough Truffles

              Prep Time: 20 minutes plus 30 minutes in freezer
              Cook Time: N/A

              Ingredients (makes 50 truffles)
              • 2 cups all purpose flour
              • 1/2 teaspoon salt
              • 3/4 cup butter, melted
              • 1 cup brown sugar
              • 1/2 cup sugar
              • 1 tablespoon vanilla
              • 4 tablespoons milk
              • mix-ins such as: macadamia nuts, pecans, coconut, craisins, chocolate chips
              • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds chocolate
              • 1 tablespoon paramount crystals (optional)
              • sprinkles (optional)
              • drizzle bottles (optional)
              Instructions
              • Beat butter, sugars, vanilla and milk. Add flour and salt to the same bowl; mix until combined.
              • Add desired mix-ins. I added a 1/3 cup unsweetened coconut and a 1/3 cup chopped pecans.
              • Roll the dough into 1-inch balls (I used a small cookie scoop), and freeze for at least half an hour.
              • Melt 1 pound of chocolate. Aadd 1 tbsp of paramount crystals, if desired, to make the chocolate thinner for dipping.
              • I use a Wilton Chocolate Pro melting pot, and highly recommend this method of melting chocolate. It takes approximately 15 minutes to melt one pound.
              • Line a rimmed baking pan with parchment or wax paper.
              • Remove dough balls from freezer and add one at a time to melted chocolate. Lift the dough ball out with a plastic fork, and tap the edge to remove excess chocolate. Slide the dough ball onto the prepared baking pan.
              • Decorate immediately if adding sprinkles. Wait until chocolate hardens, if you will be drizzling more chocolate to decorate (you will need another 1/2 pound of chocolate, if you drizzle all of the dough balls).
              Recipe adapted from: Cupcake Project
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