Mocha Midnights

Mocha Midnights

To their fans at the bakery, these cookies went by many names: Mocha Madness. Moonlight Mocha. Mocha Mania.

We just smiled at the alliterative misnomers, knowing that by any other name they would taste as sweet.

Mocha Midnights is what we actually named them, because of the espresso: It makes the chocolate taste deeper and darker, for a potent hit that goes a long way. These are smaller than most of the cookies I bake, but they’re just as satisfying.

The biggest fan of these cookies is my father. You might have met him at Lola’s: He was there on opening day in 2006, helping give away free cookies to an enormous crowd, and he worked alongside me during our final week before closing in 2013 — our busiest week ever, as it turned out.

What a champ! To say Dad was overqualified to wash dishes and run the register is a huge understatement, yet he worked with his trademark cheer and requested only an occasional break for cookies. I was happy to see him get a few Mocha Midnights fresh from the oven.

So here they are, for Dad and for anyone else who needs a Mocha Delight — a Moonstruck Mocha — a Mocha MMmmmmmidnight.

[ As with all my cookie recipes, please read these baking tips before you start. ]

Mocha Midnights
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 60
  • 10 oz bittersweet chocolate bits
  • 6 oz unsweetened chocolate bits
  • 2 sticks butter, cut up into chunks
  • 13 oz light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp instant espresso powder (available in most supermarkets)
  • 3 oz all-purpose flour
  • 2 oz cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1¼ tsp baking soda
  • 10 oz semisweet chocolate chips
  • Nonpareil chocolate candies for decoration
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Melt the bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate together. I do this in a metal bowl in the oven: Put it in for about 5 minutes, then stir it around til smooth, pop it back in for another minute, and stir again. (You can also use a plastic bowl in the microwave: Just microwave in short bursts, stirring between each zap until it's fully melted. Be careful not to cook past the melting point, however: No bubbling.)
  3. Let your melted chocolate cool slightly as you complete the next steps.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar on low speed until the butter is broken down. Then increase the speed to medium and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl.
  5. Add two eggs and beat them in for about 20 seconds.
  6. Reduce the speed and add the vanilla extract and espresso powder, then slowly mix in the melted chocolate.
  7. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda. Add this mixture to the chocolate batter and run the mixer on low speed.
  8. Add the semisweet chocolate chips and stir until combined.
  9. Now scrape down the bowl and the mixer blade. Turn over the batter thoroughly and then run the mixer one more time to make sure any lumps are worked out.
  10. Scoop this dough onto a cookie sheet with a small (0.75 oz) #40 scoop.
  11. Bake for about 9 minutes at 350 degrees. The tops will just begin to crack when they're done.
  12. Set the cookie sheet on a heat-safe surface and, while the cookies are still hot, press a nonpareil chocolate into the top of each one.
  13. Note: These cookies are VERY soft when they're warm. Don't try moving or serving them until they've cooled off.
Before you start, be sure to read my Cookie Baking Tips!



Gingerbread Cake

Gingerbread Cake

This is my new favorite holiday cake — and I love the creative process that inspired it.

It started last year when a former Lola’s employee made a paper snowflake with “Ho Ho Ho” cut into it. It looked great, so this year I urged my daughter to make something similar for our windows. And when she did, I realized this wasn’t just a snowflake: It could be a powdered-sugar stencil, too, perfectly sized to cover … a cake!

I chose to make a Gingerbread Cake because — well, because Christmas! At the bakery we used this same recipe for Gingerbread Cupcakes, a huge holiday hit. I like lemon cream-cheese icing because citrus brings out the flavor of gingerbread: I always add lemon to the royal icing for gingerbread men, too.

A few details on this cake:

  • I baked mine as two 6-inch layers, each of which I trimmed flat and sliced horizontally for a four-layer cake. That looked great and allowed me to boost the icing-to-cake ratio — (important, since there’s no icing on top or sides as I did it “naked” style). If you want to try this, use a long serrated knife and a rotating decorating stand (a must-have for cake bakers) and get yourself at eye level with the cake. Or just use two trimmed, unsliced seven-inch layers, so they’re thinner, and be generous with the icing.
  • Using the powdered-sugar stencil isn’t hard, but you should practice a few times on the counter top to get the hang of it. Make a snowflake or stencil of whatever you like and check it for size. I laid the stencil — just regular paper is fine — directly on the uniced cake-top, then used a sifter to spread a very light coating of powdered sugar over the design. The tricky part is removing the stencil without disturbing the sugar. If the paper overhangs both sides, just lift very slowly from two sides at once. Otherwise, use two sets of tweezers to pick it up carefully from the edges.

I am so happy with how this came out. Ho Ho Ho!


Gingerbread Cake (or Cupcakes)
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 12
  • 1 stick butter, cut up into chunks
  • 8 oz granulated sugar
  • 1¼ cups molasses
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 13½ oz all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup water
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Put butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer set on low. Run the mixer for a minute or two until the big chunks of butter are broken down a bit, then switch the mixer to medium speed and run it for 3 minutes. The butter and sugar should be light and fluffy now, with no chunks of butter left.
  3. Scrape down the bowl, then add the molasses and stir in at low speed.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time to the mixer, beating for ten seconds after adding each one, then stop the mixer.
  5. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, spices, baking soda, and baking powder. Add one half of this to the mixer and stir it in on a low speed. Once it is fully incorporated, pour in the water and stir again. When that is mixed in, add the rest of the flour mixture.
  6. Scrape down the bowl, then run the mixer one last time.
  7. Now you can scoop the batter into either two prepared 6-inch cake pans (for taller cakes that can be cut into four layers) or 7-inch cake pans (for wider, thinner layers) -- or into cupcake pans (will make about 24 cupcakes).
  8. Either way, bake at 350 degrees. Cupcakes will take about 24 minutes, cakes will take about 45 minutes. Always use a cake tester to determine "done-ness." :)



Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Use this for Gingerbread Cake or Gingerbread Cupcakes
  • 3 Tablespoons butter, cut into tablespoons
  • 12 oz cream cheese
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (or possibly a bit more)
  • 1 lb confectioners' sugar, sifted (possibly a bit more)
  1. Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and run first on low speed for about a minute, then on medium speeduntil the butter is completely smooth and creamy.
  2. Scrape down the bowl, then add the cream cheese and beat again until the two ingredients are well blended.
  3. Now turn the mixer down to low again and add the vanilla, lemon zest, lemon juice, and about ⅓ of the confectioners' sugar. Stir these together.
  4. Once those ingredients are blended, add the rest of the confectioners' sugar bit by bit, continuing to blend, until it is all well-mixed.
  5. Stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula or bowl scraper to turn the frosting over and make sure it is truly all mixed. If it's not, run the mixer one more time.
  6. Check the consistency. If the icing is a bit stiff, add another teaspoon of lemon juice and mix again. If it's not stiff enough, add a little more powdered sugar.


Pecan Bars

Pecan Bars

Over the years I’ve become best known for a few recipes in particular. Several are the treats for which I won my very first baking awards, back in the early days of Lola’s. These Pecan Bars are on the list, as are my Belgian Fudge Brownies (recipe here) and my Ginger Chocolate Cookies (recipe here).

In each case, fans were smitten on their first bite — and stayed smitten. It was like a relationship where you meet someone new and instantly know they’re special.

For myself, I love Pecan Bars because they’re an update of pecan pie, the Southern classic. When you add caramel and put it in bar form, it’s more modern and casual — and even more delicious.

Another reason this recipe is special: It comes with a bonus video tutorial featuring … me 🙂 A few years ago I worked with Monkey See on videos demonstrating how to make a couple of Lola recipes, including this one.

Want to see me make Pecan Bars in the old Lola’s bakery? (I felt seriously nostalgic seeing the place again!) The tutorial is broken into five short segments that total less than 14 minutes, and it uses the same recipe I share below. The segments link to each other on the Monkey See site, or you can click on each one separately:

Have fun!

Pecan Bars: Base
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 35
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut up into chunks
  • 1 lb 4 oz dark brown sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 13½ oz flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  1. Put sugar and butter into bowl of stand mixer. Set on low speed and run until all bits of butter are broken down.
  2. Beat in vanilla and eggs on medium speed for 20-30 seconds, then scrape down the bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add these to the mixer at low speed til combined.
  4. Remove paddle from mixer and turn the batter over with a spatula a few times, making sure all ingredients are evenly mixed.
  5. Spread batter into one 11"x17" parchment-lined pan or two 9"x13" pans. Spread the batter evenly across the bottom and push into all corners.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees until a cake tester comes out clean.
  7. Chill this base in refrigerator for a couple of hours before covering with pecan/caramel topping (see separate recipe).

Pecan Bars: Topping
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 35
This is the fresh caramel/pecan topping to spread on top of the pecan bars base (see separate recipe). Chill the base before you start making the topping.
  • 4 cups pecan halves
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • ½ cup water
  • ⅔ cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  1. Toast the pecan pieces and halves: Spread on a baking tray and place in a 350-degree oven until they are fragrant, about 6-7 minutes. Let them cool as you make the caramel.
  2. Put the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a large saucepan and place on a burner set to medium. Stir occasionally until the mixture turns a medium caramel color. This will take roughly 20-25 minutes, but it varies -- go by the color.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately stir in cream and vanilla. This will produce a lot of steam, so be careful.
  4. Stir caramel until smooth, then mix in the toasted pecans.
  5. Working quickly, spread this warm mixture over the top of your cooked and chilled pecan bar base.
  6. Put tin foil over the finished bars and chill again so that you can slice them neatly before serving.
  7. To slice, carefully remove entire base from pan (including parchment paper), peel off paper, and place onto large cutting board. Slice into triangles or rectangles.


Pumpkin Muffins (aka “Pumpkin Yum”)

Pumpkin Muffins (aka “Pumpkin Yum”)

Among my bakery staff, these handfuls were known as “Pumpkin Yum.” I bake ’em Texas size, which means — in case you didn’t already know — BIG.

Like my Pumpkin Scones, this is another recipe that works great as breakfast or in a seasonal bread basket on the dinner table.

The muffins are versatile in other ways, too: You can make the batter ahead and store it in airtight Tupperware. In the fridge the mixture keeps for days — so you can bake muffins warm whenever you like. (Let the batter reach room temperature before baking, or add a few minutes to baking time.)

In the freezer the batter will last even longer: Several weeks at least. You can make it right now and save it for Thanksgiving breakfast, for instance. Just thaw out the batter beforehand, and bake it when you need.


Pumpkin Muffins
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 20
  • 2 lbs granulated sugar (~4¾ cups)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 lb 7 oz pumpkin purée (~3½ cups plus 2 Tablespoons)
  • 8 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 lb 13 oz flour (~5½ cups plus 1 Tablespoon)
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • 2 tsp salt
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together sugar, oil and pumpkin purée.
  3. Add eggs and stir again until just combined.
  4. Sift together remaining ingredients into a separate bowl, then scoop them into your batter and slowly stir them in.
  5. Take the bowl off the stand and scrape down the sides and the blade to make sure there are no lumps, etc.
  6. Run the mixer on low for another minute, then you're done.
  7. Fill giant "Texas" size muffin cups about ¾ full, then sprinkle with Streusel Topping (recipe below).
  8. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 and bake for an additional 22 minutes.
  9. Check with a cake tester. If it comes out clean, it's muffin time! (If not, give them another few minutes)
Streusel Topping
Prep time: 
Total time: 
  • 4 Tbsp softened butter
  • 15 oz light brown sugar (~1⅓ cups )
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 8 oz finely chopped walnuts (2 cups)
  1. Stir all ingredients together in a small bowl. That's it!


Pumpkin Cupcakes

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Thanksgiving in America has always meant a few things:

  1. Turkey;
  2. Family & Friends; and
  3. Pumpkin pie.

But times change. Now we can have vegetarian and vegan Thanksgiving, blended families, and friends from different backgrounds who add a twist to tradition.

I have nothing against tradition. Thanksgiving is a perfect holiday in many ways: Inclusive of everyone, gift-free, food-centered, and always on a four-day weekend — what better recipe?

But … but let me propose, quietly, that adding modern elements is how we keep things fresh.

And that maybe it’s time to push aside the pie and make room for Pumpkin Cupcakes at the holiday table.

Or maybe you just want to eat one regardless of what day it is.

These are the bomb.

Pumpkin Cupcakes
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 36
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 11 oz granulated sugar
  • 11 oz light brown sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 lb pumpkin purée
  • ⅔ cup milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 14 oz cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Beat eggs and both sugars in a stand mixer on medium for about 2 minutes.
  3. Add oil, pumpkin purée, milk and vanilla. Set on low speed and mix until blended.
  4. Sift together the remaining ingredients, then add them to the mixer and run it on low until everything seems combined.
  5. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and scrape down the sides and the blade, then run it again to make sure everything is evenly blended.
  6. Now scoop it into standard-size muffin/cupcake cups and bake for about 22 minutes. Use a cake tester to check done-ness.
  7. Let cool completely before icing with Pumpkin Icing (recipe below). I like to add a candied pecan on top, but of course, that is optional.
Pumpkin Icing
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 36 cupcakes
What goes on pumpkin cupcakes? Pumpkin Icing!
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks of about 1 Tablespoon each
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 8 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 8 oz pumpkin purée
  • 3 lbs 2 oz confectioner's sugar
  1. Put chunks of butter with salt in the bowl of stand mixer and run on low speed until broken down, then increase speed to medium and beat it until 100% smooth and creamy. (This will take a few minutes.)
  2. Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl.
  3. Stir vanilla into the pumpkin purée, then add half of mixture into the mixer. Stir on low speed.
  4. Add half of the confectioner's sugar and stir until combined.
  5. Add the rest of the pumpkin/vanilla mixture; stir it in again.
  6. Add the rest of the confectioner's sugar; stire it in again.
  7. At this point you need to asses if this icing is thick enough for your use. If you'll be applying it with a pastry bag, you don't want it to be too "loose" — you need it to hold its shape. You may need to add just a bit more confectioner's sugar to get your ideal.
  8. Another trick: chill the icing a bit before icing with it.


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