Tag Archives: pecans

Vintage Vanilla Wafer Cake

This is not just a story about a recipe – it’s about a quest. A search and conquer mission. Okay, there IS a recipe, but it’s also about the journey to get here.

vanilla-wafer-cake-sliced

When The Complete Package and I moved to the Austin area last spring, we discovered Opie’s Barbecue in Spicewood, Texas. On a whim, he grabbed a slice of what they called Coca Cola Cake and a new obsession began. Each time we visited, he would look for the cake on the dessert rack, and most of the time it was sold out. Life can be cruel, and missing this cake became a constant topic for him, just as Opie’s famous butterbeans became for me (sold Friday-Sunday only; dine-in only; no whining allowed).

Because the cake became so elusive, I began to dig for recipes. Searches for Coca Cola Cake resulted in chocolate sheet cakes with fudge frosting, which is the traditional Texas way. Those cakes, however, did not resemble Opie’s version in the least. The cake TCP pined for tasted of vanilla, coconut and pecans. It was sold by the slice and slathered in cream cheese frosting. No chocolate. No fudge. No hope in sight. Then I ran across a blog post about a trip through Spicewood and a coca cola cake that prompted the writer to share a memory of her grandmother’s old-fashioned vanilla wafer cake. She included a family recipe, and that’s where I decided to begin.

The first time I made the cake, I followed the recipe exactly and the result was brickish. Too dense, too sweet, and no hint of coca cola anywhere, thus leading to further confusion about why Opie’s would call it such. The second time I made it, I scaled back on the sugar and liquids, reduced a Coke in a saucepan to create a syrup, and glazed the warm bundt with coke syrup before frosting. Result – still brickish, still too heavy, and slightly soggy from the syrup. Two fails in a row, but my mama didn’t raise a quitter.

On my third attempt, I went a completely different route. What the cake lacked was lift. Soft, fluffy lift. It was at that moment that it struck me. What if I added a plain yellow cake mix to the otherwise traditional ingredients? What if I gave up on the cola aspect all together and focused on keeping it simple? Could I use that dusty can of coconut milk in my pantry to boost the overall flavor? What was there to lose in trying? Sometimes one must be bold, or at least willing to fail. Again & again.

The surprising part is that it worked. Not just worked, though. It was delicious. So much so that The Complete Package declared it a winner. And that’s how we came to create our own version of this vintage Vanilla Wafer Cake with a modern twist. Thank you, Betty Crocker.

This comes together quickly, so pre-heat your oven, grease/flour your bundt pan, gather your ingredients and let’s get started.

vanilla-wafer-cake-ingredients

NanaBread’s Vanilla Wafer Cake:

  • 1 box (11 ozs.) Nilla Wafers, crushed
  • 1 bag (7 ozs.) shredded, sweetened coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups pecan pieces
  • 1 box (15.25 ozs.) yellow cake mix
  • 6 whole eggs
  • 1 can (13.5 ozs.) coconut milk  (not reduced fat)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raw or granulated sugar (I used raw)

Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Grease and flour a bundt pan and set it aside.

In a food processor, combine the vanilla wafers, coconut and pecans. Pulse until blended to the consistency of coarse sand and no large chunks remain.

vanilla-wafer-cake-processor-collage

Pour the crumb mixture into a large mixing bowl and add the cake mix, eggs, coconut milk, vanilla and sugar. Just dump it all in there. No need to be delicate.

vanilla-wafer-cake-dry-wet

Grab a spatula and stir to combine (no mixer needed), just until all ingredients are moistened. Pour into your prepared bundt pan and smooth out the top.

vanilla-wafer-cake-ready-to-bake

Bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean or with a few small crumbs. Keep an eye on it near the end. You don’t want to over-bake this one. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a cake plate and allow it to cool completely.

vanilla-wafer-cake-naked-bundt

I swear, your house will smell like heaven right about now. This cake is good enough to eat as is, but I think we all know everything’s better with cream cheese frosting. I like to keep mine simple.  In a small mixing bowl, combine one 8-oz package of cream cheese and 1/2 a stick of unsalted butter. Allow both to rest at room temperature until softened. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (my favorite), and 1/2 to 1 cup of powdered sugar, depending on how sweet you like it. Whisk until smooth and put it in a bag for piping.

Want a quick tip for piping frosting? I do it with a Ziploc freezer bag. Simply take a quart freezer bag and put your hand inside. Then put your hand & the bag down into a tall drinking glass and remove your hand. Then fold the edge of the bag over the rim of the glass. It keeps the bag upright while you fill it.

vanilla-wafer-cake-frosting-in-the-bag

Fold the edges of the bag up, press out the air, and seal the bag. If you have time to kill before your cake is cool, simply pop the bag back into the refrigerator. When you’re ready, snip the corner off and you’re ready to pipe. I love this time saver.

vanilla-wafer-cake-piping-bag-trick

I like to use a sheet of parchment paper to keep excess frosting from running off the cake plate after it’s piped. You’ll see what I mean in a second. Twisting the top of the bag to press the frosting down to the corner, start piping in the center of the bundt and work your way from inside to outside around the entire cake.

vanilla-wafer-cake-cream-cheese-frosting

I’m not playing when it comes to cream cheese frosting. I put it on thick, and I make sure there’s excess frosting in the middle, just in case I want more. And I always want more.

vanilla-wafer-cake-sliced

So simple, y’all. And so flavorful. And look at that lift! This one’s a keeper.

Sorry, Opie. I’ll gladly stand in line for your beautifully smoked meats, your creamy tater tot casserole, and your dine-in only butterbeans every weekend, but I’ll be having dessert at home from now on. Care to join me?

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My Favorite New Salad: CousCous

Couscous - Banner Shot - Inside NanaBread's Head

I am addicted to couscous. I blame my little sister (aka #4). She’s the one who first introduced me to it, and since then I have come to love it beyond words. It’s hard to even pinpoint what I love most. Maybe it’s the couscous grain itself – so buttery and delicious. Or perhaps it’s the combination of fresh & dried fruits; it does pair my favorite tart dried cherries, cranberries and apricots with the sweetness of fresh melons. Or maybe it’s the nuts? That’s a strong possibility, since toasty roasted pistachios, walnuts & pecans are showcased.

Couscous - Ingredients - Inside NanaBread's Head

Who am I kidding? It’s all of it, tossed together to create a sweet & savory, soft & crunchy perfection you just can’t find in other salads. And the best part is that you can customize it to include any of your personal favorites. My little sister loves to add pomegranate seeds. I adore it with the fresh melon and dried papaya. Any way you choose to make it, be forewarned – once you try it, you may never stop obsessing over it. Trust me.

NanaBread’s Easy CousCous:
1 cup water
1 pinch of table salt
1 tablespoon agave nectar or honey
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup uncooked couscous
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried papaya, diced
1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
1/2 cup dried, pitted tart cherries
1/2 cup fresh honeydew melon, diced
1/2 cup fresh cantaloupe, diced
1/2 cup roasted & salted pistachios
1/2 cup toasted pecans
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
zest & juice of one orange

In a saucepan, combine the water, salt, agave, cinnamon and butter; stir over medium-high heat until the water mixture comes to a boil. Quickly add the couscous and stir constantly for one minute, to prevent the couscous from sticking. Cover tightly with a lid, turn off the heat, and let it sit for 5 minutes.

While the couscous is resting, chop your fruits and nuts into roughly the same size pieces and place them in a large mixing bowl; toss with the juice and zest of one orange. Once the couscous is ready, fluff it with a fork and pour it over the fruits and nuts; toss to thoroughly combine.

Couscous - Close-Up - Inside NanaBread's Head

Let the mixture sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving. Leftover couscous should be refrigerated in an airtight container and should keep for at least 4-5 days. I don’t think mine will last that long. Not even close. Nope. Not at all. Not sharing, either. Nuh-uh. {going back for more}

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Recipe: Dorie’s Baby Cakes

NanaBread's take on Dorie Greenspan's Baby Cakes


I made my first Dorie Greenspan recipe this week. That’s not a big deal for some people, but it is for me. Fancy French food intimidates me, and I think of Dorie as one of those great French cooks. She writes cookbooks, for God’s sake. Fancy, wonderful, gorgeous cookbooks. Don’t get me wrong – I love eating French food. It’s the making/baking part that freaks me out. Here’s what I learned from Dorie this week: fabulous doesn’t have to mean fussy. This recipe was beyond fabulous, and it could not have been easier. All you need is a handful of ingredients and a few pieces of the right equipment.

On Dorie’s blog this week, she posted a recipe for Almond Baby Cakes. I was intrigued. As I read it, I was amazed that so few ingredients were required. Then I got to the part where she said, “If you play around with the recipe, let me know what you do … please.” Those of you who know me know it takes very little to get me to play with my food. I have a hard enough time sticking to recipes; I’m a recipe fiddler. But when you INVITE me to mess with a recipe, well I just can’t say no. There’s something wrong with my wiring when it comes to stuff like that.

So here’s what I did to Dorie’s Baby Cakes. Instead of almonds, I chose pecans. And since I love coconut, I decided to throw some of that in there, too. Coconut and pecans go together like peas and carrots. Chocolate and peanut butter. Biscuits and gravy. And since the recipe called for a little rum, I grabbed my bottle of Parrot Bay Coconut Rum. Laugh all you want, but God help me if coconut rum & Coke over ice isn’t a little piece of paradise on a hot summer day. So armed with my collection of substitutions and one secret ingredient, here’s how my version of Dorie’s Baby Cakes went down.

The Ingredient Perp Walk - they're all guilty of being delicious

Coconut Pecan Baby Cakes:
1 cup of pecans, halves or pieces
1/2 cup of flaked, sweetened coconut
2/3 cup of granulated sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
5 tablespoons of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons of coconut rum

To start, make sure you place an oven rack in the center rung of your oven and pre-heat it to 350F. Using a standard 12-count muffin pan, butter each cup of the muffin tin generously. Using parchment or waxed paper, cut a small circular piece of paper to fit the bottom of each muffin cup. (Hint: I used a small-mouth canning jar lid ring as my pattern.) Place the paper in the bottom of each cup, then generously butter the paper as well.

In a shallow baking pan, I toasted my pecans and coconut for approximately 10 minutes, or until I could smell their lovely fragrance coming from my oven. Dumping them into the food processor with 2 tablespoons of the sugar, I pulsed the pecans and coconut until they were coarsely ground, but not dust. If you have a few pea-sized chunks in there, don’t sweat it.

Using my KitchenAid stand mixer with the whisk attachment, I combined the rest of the sugar with the eggs and beat on medium-high speed for 5 minutes. Turning the mixer off just long enough to add the pecan/coconut mixture, I then turned it back to medium-high and beat for one additional minute. At this point, you’ll want to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Turning the mixer back to medium-high, I added the softened butter (you’ll want it to be super soft) one tablespoon at a time. (Note: Dorie’s recipe says to use 5 tablespoons of butter, but I softened an entire stick and lost track, stopping at 6 tablespoons. The extra tablespoon of butter didn’t seem to hurt at all, but next time I will use 5, as directed.) Once the butter is incorporated, turn the mixer to low speed and add the coconut rum, beating just until blended.

The batter will look a little curdled, just as Dorie described, so don’t panic. There’s no flour in this recipe to smooth things out, so just relax and go with it. Why? Because Dorie says so. I used a gravy ladle to spoon equal portions of batter into each of the 12 muffin cups. Each cup should end up about half-full.

Here’s where my secret ingredient came into play. It was this little can of dark chocolate-coated cocoa nibs from my friend Kirsten of Comfortably Domestic. She sent them in a box of goodies earlier this week. I’d never had them before, and my eyes just about bugged out of my head when I tried them. The nibs are crunchy, the chocolate coating is creamy, and together they are simply dreamy. SO when my baby cakes were ready to go into the oven, I sprinkled 10-12 of them on top of my cakes. I left 3 plain, just to try them without the cocoa nibs. BIG mistake. Lesson learned: next time, go all in.

Dark chocolate-coated Cocoa Nibs on top? Yes, please!

Bake the cakes on the center rack for 27-29 minutes, turning the pan halfway through the baking process. In my case, I set the first timer for 14 minutes, then turned the pan and re-set it for another 14 minutes, which turned out perfect. You’ll know they’re done when the edges are crispy brown and a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Remove the pan from the oven and invert immediately. (Hint: I used a flat cookie sheet that was a little larger than my muffin pan. Just turn the cookie sheet upside-down on the muffin pan, then grab both pans with hot pads and flip them both at the same time.)

Baby Cakes so yummy you'll just want to nibble them to death

Gently tap the muffin pan to release the cakes. Once the cakes are out of the muffin tin, give them a few minutes to cool, then remove any parchment paper that may still be stuck to the bottoms, and use a flat spatula to flip them back to their full upright positions. These are best served warm or at room temperature. Even better, serve them with homemade whipped cream spiked with a little vanilla bean paste. That stuff makes everything better, but it is BFFs with whipping cream. Plop a big spoon full on the top and go to town.

Nothing beats homemade whipped cream with vanilla bean paste

If you’re like me, don’t even bother with a plate and fork. Just blob on some whipped cream and eat it with your fingers. The toasted pecans and coconut paired with all that butter and coconut rum makes these dreamy. But the addition of the chocolate-covered cocoa nibs pushed this recipe right over the cliff. I swear I don’t know how these could get any better.

Dorie, you said to let you know if we messed with the recipe, so here’s my contribution. If you try these, I hope you’ll return the favor and let me know. Until then, I can’t thank you enough. These may be Baby Cakes, but they are absolutely HUGE in flavor. And I am totally in love with these little cuties.

Note: this recipe makes 12 baby cakes which can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 days, or frozen in the same container for up to 2 months. Here’s the recipe link again in case you missed it: http://doriegreenspan.com/2012/03/im-chugging-away-on-a.html

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TCP Cooks: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Read it & weep, ladies. My man bakes chocolate chip cookies.

That’s right, ladies. The Complete Package bakes cookies.
Homemade chocolate chip cookies with pecans.
They’re big, they’re warm and they’re wonderful.
(That’s what she said!) Here’s how he does it.

The players, although some of those chocolate chips didn't make it

Complete Package Chocolate Chip Cookies:
2 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
3/4 cup of brown sugar
2 sticks of unsalted butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 bag (12 ounces) Guittard Extra Dark chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans

This makes me question why I separate things into cute little bowls.

To begin, set your butter out on the counter to soften. Once you can squeeze it and it gives a little, it’s ready to go. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and sugars. Whisk to combine. Add the softened butter, eggs and vanilla and mix just until combined. (Note: TCP likes to mix the cookie dough with his hands so that he doesn’t over mix the cookie batter.) Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans just until they are evenly distributed.

Do what you want, but I'm not giving up my KitchenAid.

Using an ice cream scoop, TCP creates large balls of cookie dough that are slightly smaller than a baseball. He puts the dough balls into a mixing bowl and places the bowl in the freezer for 20 minutes. Depending on how warm your kitchen is, it may take a little longer for your cookie dough to firm up.

While the dough is chilling, pre-heat your oven to 375F. Once the dough balls feel firm to the touch but not frozen solid, they’re ready. For baking, The Complete Package insists that a thick heavy-duty baking sheet is the key to great cookies. It prevents the cookies from burning on the bottom.

One they’re ready to bake, TCP takes the dough balls out of the freezer one at a time, twists them in half, and places the “torn” side up in order to get better lift.

Grab one big dough ball at a time & twist it in half.

Place them torn side up for better lift while baking.

He bakes them six cookies at a time to give them some room to spread out. You’ll want to keep the dough balls in the refrigerator while each pan is baking so they don’t get soft. Here is TCP’s theory – soft cookie dough spreads out when baked and makes for thin cookies. Cold cookie dough that’s piled high will form taller, fluffier cookies. He must know what he’s talking about, because his cookies turn out consistently fabulous every single time.

Bake each tray for 15 minutes on the middle rack of your oven until they start to turn a light golden brown around the edges. Keep in mind that everyone’s oven is different. You may want to start watching yours at 12 minutes in case your oven runs hotter, or bake them longer if you have the opposite problem. Once they’re done, remove them from the oven, allow them to cool for a few minutes on the pan, then move them to cooling racks.

Your house is going to smell SO good when these are baking!

Once they’re cooled, grab a gallon of cold milk and get ready for a stampede. This recipe makes approximately 2 dozen cookies, and they won’t last long.

One last tip: if you can find them, try the Guittard Extra-Dark chocolate chips. They are our favorites, and they are worth seeking out. They will rock your world. Guaranteed. Or my name isn’t NanaBread. Well, actually my name is Jeanne, but let’s not get tangled up in technicalities here. Just try them!

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Rocky Road Cake Mix Cookies


Cake mixes are on sale at my grocery store. That’s a bad thing. Bad, bad, bad. Did I mention they were only 50 cents a box? Yeah. It’s not just bad, it’s dangerous. I bought six. Okay, I bought eight, but that does NOT make me a cake mix hoarder. Funny thing is, I’m not really a cake eater. In an effort to rationalize the irrational, I was thinking the kids love cupcakes, and I could bake them when they come to visit or vice versa. But then I started doing the math. Each box makes at least 20 cupcakes. I have 8 boxes. There’s a good chance that 160 cupcakes might just be too much for two small children. Way too much.

So now I have eight cake mixes that I got for the low, low price of 50 cents a box and I have to think of something to do with them. That’s when a light went off and I remembered seeing recipes for cake mix cookies on the internet. “I like a cookie!” (Name that movie…if you have young children and enjoy animated films.) With a little quick research, I found that you can covert a cake mix into cookies with a few simple ingredients. And that’s exactly what I done did.

Here’s what you’ll need:
1 chocolate fudge cake mix, 18.25 ounce box
3 large eggs
1/2 stick of unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (not pictured)
1 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1 cup pecan pieces

Pre-heat your oven to 350F. In a mixing bowl, combine the cake mix, eggs, melted butter and vanilla extract. This will start out very dry and take several minutes of hand mixing to get it to come together. I recommend using a heavy-duty wooden spoon, because this dough will be very thick. Once you’ve got it mixed together, stir in the chocolate chips, marshmallows and pecans. Using a cookie scoop or your hands, place golf-ball size dough balls onto cookie sheets lined with silicone baking mats or lightly sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake at 350F for 14-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on the cookie sheets for at least 20 minutes. Why? Because those marshmallows are going to be melted, gooey little napalm bombs and cooling them completely on the cookie sheets will allow you to remove them more easily. Would you like one? I’m happy to share. I’ve got a lot more cake mix where this one came from.


This recipe makes approximately 30 cookies. One last suggestion – make sure you have milk in the fridge before you mix these puppies up. Or a cup of coffee. Or a Slim-Fast.

RECIPE UPDATE: A reader on the Pioneer Woman’s Tasty Kitchen site tried this recipe and said hers came out too dry on the outside. I’m guessing her oven may get hotter than mine, since my batch came out soft and chewy. If your oven runs hot, you may want to reduce your baking time to 11-12 minutes instead of the 14 recommended. These don’t brown, so it’s hard to tell if they’re done by looking. The other option is to touch test them. If they’re relatively firm and dry on the outside, take them out of the oven. If they’re still sticky to the touch or too soft, leave them in a little longer. I appreciate your feedback!

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Miss Pat’s Orange Slice Cookies

Buttery, chewy goodness - Miss Pat's Orange Slice Cookies

My good friend Pat made these for a holiday cookie exchange years ago. When I was digging through my recipe drawer the other day, I found it again. Oh, the memories. I remember these being so unusual, and yet so very delicious. And that’s when I decided to make them for Christmas. Right then and there. Butter set out to soften…check. Look to see if I had oats, coconut and pecans in the pantry…check. Orange slice candies anywhere? Of course not. I don’t keep these things around my house. Sure I loved them as a kid, but I can’t remember the last time I bought a bag. Good thing there’s a new Kroger around the corner from my house, huh? And by the time I get back, my butter will be soft! Timing is everything. These cookies are super easy to make and really, really delicious. You should make them. Like today. Here’s the recipe, thanks to Miss Pat.

• 2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
• 1 cup brown sugar, packed
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1-½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 package Orange Slice candies (13 ozs.)
• 1 tablespoon flour
• 1 cup pecans, chopped
• 2 cups old-fashioned oats
• 1 cup shredded coconut

Pre-heat your oven to 350F. In a large bowl, beat softened butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until well blended. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until combined. In a separate bowl, mix together 2 cups flour, salt and baking soda; add to butter mixture and beat to combine. Cut up orange slice candies (I cut each slice into 5 pieces) and toss them with one tablespoon of flour to keep them from sticking together. To the cookie batter mixture, add the orange slice candy pieces, chopped pecans, oats and coconut. Mix until everything is combined. The dough will be really thick. I like to use a heavy wooden spoon or my hands to mix it. I also like to use a cookie scoop so these turn out uniform in size. If you don’t have one, use a spoon to scoop up about 2 Tablespoons of dough; roll it into a ball, and place dough balls about 2″ apart on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350F for 12-20 minutes (see note below). When the cookies start to turn a little brown around the edges, they’re done. Cool on cookie sheets for at least 10 minutes before removing them from the pan to cool. Makes 4-6 dozen, depending on how large or small you make them.

NOTE: This recipe is similar to an oatmeal or chocolate chip cookie dough, so baking time is a matter of personal preference. If you like them chewy like I do, bake them 12-15 minutes. If you like them crispy, bake them 15-20 minutes. If you want to get really fancy, you can top each cookie with a thin slice of the orange slice candies. Most importantly, get a glass of cold milk ready.

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