cake

Maple Apple Dump Cake

Yesterday, for many, marked the official end of summer. That must make today the official start of fall, then, right? The day when it’s acceptable to start posting all things pumpkin spice lattes and apple cider and all things autumn? I certainly hope so, because I have the perfect cake to get your autumn kicked off the right way!

The best part is that this cake requires so few ingredients… some cinnamon apple sauce, a can of apple pie filling, some Instant oats, a stick of butter, and the main feature– Pillsbury Maple Brown Sugar cake mix. Oh, and if you accidentally pick up the Pillsbury Maple Brown Sugar Cookie mix, well, it won’t work for this recipe, but it’s definitely worth getting anyway. Yum. Who doesn’t love all things maple brown sugar?

The thing I love about dump cake is that it’s so incredibly easy. But your standard dump cake is so summery, with it’s pineapples and cherries. This cake is just as easy, and perfection for fall. Start by pouring a cup of cinnamon applesauce in the bottom of your pan. If you’re wanting to just open and dump, you can use 2 of the 4-ounce individual cups.

Now, pour half a cup of plain instant oatmeal on top of the applesauce. Making a true dump-and-go cake? Just add about 3 (Quaker-sized– 1.51oz) packets of Instant Oatmeal. It’ll be a bit more than the measured-out recipe calls for, but it won’t negatively impact the cake at all. It’ll taste pretty much exactly the same.

Now, evenly dump your can of apple pie filling on top. If you have some on hand, you could even use your own canned apple pie filling, but I used some store-bought apple pie filling for ease.

Now, dump your cake mix on top. Hence the name… “dump cake.”

Chop up a stick of butter, spaced out. Anything under the butter or touching the apples will become a cake like texture, and anything dry is going to be more like a crumble topping… perfection!

Bake it at 350 for 30 minutes, until butter is melted and everything’s hot and bubbly.

Serve it hot with some ice cream for dessert, or eat it at breakfast (hey, it has apples, oatmeal, and applesauce. That counts as breakfast, right?), or even drizzle it with a little caramel or some maple syrup.

Everything about this is so perfect for kicking off autumn, from the smell, to the taste, to the warmth of it. It’s beyond delicious, and I know you’ll love it for any occasion or meal. You could take it for a church potluck, serve it for fall festivities, or, like my family, grab some spoons and enjoy it straight out of the pan during a family game night.

Hungry for more recipes to get your fall started right? Try my Tuscan Bean and Sausage Soup, or one of my absolute fall favorites, Better than Pumpkin Pie Dessert.

Happy Fall, Y’all!

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Cherry Nut Cake

I’m a huge fan of cherries. And also nuts and coconut. That’s why, when I found this recipe lurking in my box of inherited recipes, I knew I’d have to try it. I mean, I haven’t tried an inherited recipe I didn’t love, so this one was very likely to be great. My family had great taste when they were compiling that recipe box (I mean, I’m sure they still do, but that box is a goldmine of awesome flavor combinations!)

You’ll want to start with everything pictured: a box of Betty Crocker Cherry Chip cake mix, a box of Jello Vanilla Instant Pudding, 4 eggs, 1/2 cup oil, 1 1/4 cup buttermilk, and a cup each of pecans and coconut. I really like the Fisher nuts Cookie Pieces because they’re chopped so finely that you get a little taste of pecan in every bite, but normally chopped nuts will work. Don’t have buttermilk on hand? It’s okay. Put 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon of white vinegar in your measuring cup, then pour milk in to make 1 1/4 cups total. Let that sit for about 5 minutes, and you’ll have a very similar flavor.

Start by putting everything except the pecans and the coconut into a bowl, then mixing. You’ll want a fairly large bowl for this, because there is a good amount of volume here. Once mixed, you can leave it as-is, or do what I did and add a few drops of red food coloring for a lovely pink color. I added 5 drops of Americolor Red into my cake batter.

Fold in your nuts and coconut. As you’ll see, there are literally bits of nuts and coconut in every bite of this cake. It’s also an incredibly moist cake!

Pour your batter into a well-greased bundt pan, and put it in the oven. This will bake at 350 degrees for approximately 50 minutes.

The best way to cool this cake is to put it on a wire rack and leave it in the pan for a full hour. It’ll allow the underside of the pan to get air circulation, as well, for a quicker cooling than just setting it on your countertop. You don’t want to turn it out onto a plate yet, because this additional in-pan time helps the cake finish baking and getting perfectly set.

Once the cake has cooled for an hour in the pan, you can flip it carefully onto a plate. Then, take a bit of powdered sugar and sift it over your cake for a light dusted topping. You might want to let the cake wait a bit longer before cutting into it.

Then, you can slice it and serve. I drizzled this plate with a little bit of chocolate syrup and grenadine. Yummy!

This is the perfect cake to take to a pot luck dinner, or serve to your beloved on V-Day. It’s effortless and tastes so good, like you made it from scratch.

 

Because this cake isn’t covered in frosting, but instead lightly dusted, it’s a huge calorie saver, clocking in at only 211 calories per half-inch slice, according to MyFitnessPal. Changing ingredients could change the amount of calories, so always be sure to double-check.

 

Do you have a special cake that is a pot luck staple? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Ultimate Showstopper Pudding Pecan Poke Cake

Every year at Thanksgiving, I try really hard to top the dessert I brought in last year. So many readers, and so many family members, raved about the Better Than Pumpkin Pie dessert that I knew it would be hard to beat.

However, I thought about what constitutes the perfect Thanksgiving dessert. Everyone loves a good pumpkin pie. Everyone else loves a good pecan pie. So how do you combine those flavors in a new way? Well, for one, you can’t top those pies with another pie…

So it’s time to go to a CAKE.

Not just any cake. An Ultimate Showstopper of a cake. A cake that is so moist, so decadent, and yet so light and airy, that you could easily eat the whole thing yourself. Easily.

And the best part? This is not hard to make.

Start with Cool Whip, Jello Pumpkin Spice Pudding, and Betty Crocker Butter Pecan Cake Mix, plus the ingredients to make the cake and pudding as listed on the back of the box. You can also add in pecans or cinnamon (or both) as a garnish at the end.

Bake the cake as listed on the back of the box. You’ll want to do the directions for a 9×13 pan. (Of course, this recipe works for round cakes or other things, but I’ve found the 9×13 is easiest to cut and serve at a large family event).

As you allow the cake to cool for about 10 minutes, you can begin making your pudding, again, according to package directions.

Using a wooden spoon handle (or any similarly sized object), poke holes in the cake just about every inch. Make sure you poke the holes as deeply as you can– you’ll want to feel as though you’re hitting the bottom of the pan.

While the pudding is still soft-set, you’ll want to pour the pudding over the warm cake.

Spread it evenly over the entire cake. The pudding will start seeping into the holes of the cake and adding a moist, flavorful infusion.

Finish the cake with a container of Cool Whip, and then sprinkle cinnamon or chopped pecans over the top. Or both. You choose.

I knew this cake was probably the right kind of cake for Thanksgiving when my brother, who doesn’t often indulge in the food I make, ate 3 pieces in one sitting. It’s THAT good.

If you’re planning your Thanksgiving desserts, I’m telling you, don’t leave this one off the list. It’s so easy that you could almost make it blindfolded while cooking your turkey, but it won’t fail to impress your guests. I’m telling you, this is THE dessert to serve at this Thanksgiving if you’re a fan of pumpkins and pecans.

 

What are your plans for Thanksgiving dinner? Let me know in the comments below!

Caramel Apple Nut Cake

Apples. Caramel. Nuts. Streusel Topping. You literally cannot get more “fall” than this cake unless you served it inside of a pumpkin. Which I don’t recommend, because that’d be kind of weird. Anyway, this cake is like fall in… well, cake form. And it’s so good.

Start with some ingredients. Except not those tricky caramel bits. I bought them for another recipe and they somehow snuck into the picture! Sneaky, tricky caramel bits. Everything else in the photo, though, you need.

Grab your Pillsbury Caramel Apple Cake Mix and prepare it according to package directions, baking it in 2 greased 6-inch pans. Once it’s baked, remove it from the oven and let it cool before de-panning.

As you wait for it to cool, it’s time to prepare fillings.

The streusel topping starts with 1 cup of quick oats, 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt, and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.

Add in 2 cups of diced apples, and then 2 Tablespoons of melted butter. Microwave the mixture for two minutes, stirring after each minute. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, then set it aside.

In a separate bowl, empty one can of your favorite apple pie filling, then run a knife through it to cut the apples all into small chunks. Stir in 1 cup of chopped walnuts.

Once your cake is cooled, de-pan it, then use your favorite cake leveling method to first trim off the top dome, and then cut each cake into 3 layers (so you’ll have 6 layers total). Try to keep the layers as even as possible. I prefer to use the Wilton Cake Leveler to get even, easy slices, but you can also use a serrated knife and turntable.

Place your first layer on your cake board on your cake plate or turntable.

Using any tip or a Ziploc with a cut corner, pipe Pillsbury Creamy Supreme Caramel Apple Frosting around the edge of the cake. I used this tip because I planned to use it for decorating later, but any will work. You’re just creating a barrier to keep the fillings from running amok.

On top of the first layer, spoon your pie filling and walnut mixture. Top with a second layer of cake.

On the second layer of cake, repeat the frosting swirl around the edge, but instead of the apple pie filling mixture, spoon on the streusel mixture. Top with the third layer of cake, repeating cake-pie filling-cake-streusel until all 6 layers have been placed.

The top layer of your cake should be the bottom of one of the cakes. This will create a very flat top for the cake decorating.

Before I decorate, I like to use the new Wilton Spray-N-Seal. It’s odorless, flavorless, and doesn’t change the texture of the cake. You spray it on the exterior of the cake, refrigerate the cake for 3 minutes, and then decorate as normal. It prevents crumbs from getting mixed into your frosting and creating a sloppy surface.

Apply a layer of the Caramel Apple Frosting, then decorate as you’d like. I decided to do some quick rosettes on the side for a cute, rustic, almost tree-trunk inspired appearance.

Pipe one layer of frosting around the top edge (or do beadwork or your preferred technique for finishing an edge), then top with a mound of leftover pie filling mixture. Finish with a generous sprinkle of streusel topping.

Mmm, check out that delicious close-up!

If you don’t want to do a layered cake, there are two other ways you can serve this cake recipe.

Trifle Method

Bake cake mix in a sheet or 8×10 pan, whichever you prefer. Dice cooled cake. Layer cake, pie filling, cake, streusel, cake, and frosting, until you’ve filled the trifle pan with all of your toppings. Serve by the spoonful, making sure each serving contains a bit of every layer.

Cupcake Method

Bake cupcakes using the Caramel Apple cake mix. When baked, hollow out the cupcake slightly using a knife, fill it with the pie filling mixture, then replace a flat piece of cake cut from the removed portion of cake. Then, frost with the Caramel Apple frosting and top with a generous sprinkling of the streusel mixture.

Whether you serve it as a mile-high 6 layer cake, a trifle, or a cupcake, your friends and family are sure to be delighted by this incredible fall treat!

Fall Flavors Tour: Caramel Apple Cake

If you’ve been watching my facebook page at all, you know that today is the beginning of my Fall Flavors Tour… basically, it means that I’ll be spending the week exploring some exciting autumn flavors throughout some really great recipes! If you want to make sure you see all of the posts, subscribe by email in the right sidebar, or like me on facebook, also in the sidebar.

Today, we’re starting with some very fall-ish flavors– Caramel and Apple.

I want to give a little backstory on this cake. When I was in college, I had some friends over for a Halloween party, and we decided to make this outrageous cake that had a fudge cake base and then caramel, sweetened condensed milk, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, Snickers, all kinds of really insanely rich things, all piled into one cake.

The cake was really crazy rich, obviously, but it stuck with me, and I thought I just had to try to modify the concept a little bit, with a lighter, fresher fall flavor.

Start by taking one Duncan Hines yellow cake mix (any brand will do, though), 3 eggs, and a can of Duncan Hines Comstock Wilderness Apple Pie Filling (again, any brand will do if you don’t have Duncan Hines handy). Dice up my pie filling into small chunks if possible, then mix the ingredients together. That’s it– no oil, no water, nothing else. Just the eggs, cake mix, and pie filling.

Pour that into a greased 9×13 pan and bake it at 350 for 35 minutes, then remove from the oven. Go ahead and turn off the oven so it can begin cooling, and then poke holes into your beautiful cake using a straw.

All over. Everywhere. Leave an inch or so between the holes, of course, so you don’t go too horribly overboard!

Now, pour an entire jar of Hershey’s Caramel Ice Cream Topping on top. No, I’m not kidding. The whole jar. Do it. Just trust me. Spread it so it covers the entire cake and starts seeping into the little holes. Then, put that into the warm (but NOT on!) oven for 10 minutes.

After the 10 minutes is up, let it cool, then stick it in the refrigerator until completely cool, at least 3 hours, but preferably overnight. Once it’s totally chilled, go ahead and dump about a cup or so of Cool Whip on top.

Then, grab a bag of Limited Edition Caramel Apple Milky Ways. Yes, they taste just like an incredibly sweet caramel apple, perfect for fall, crisp and delightful.

Go ahead and cut each mini up (I cut mine into fourths, because I’m OCD, but go ahead and just dice those up however you’d like). Now, sprinkle them all over the top of that cake.

And, viola!

Seriously, this cake encompasses so much that is fall, and it’s got a really great texture.

My taste testers had some amazing ideas, as well, to either leave the Cool Whip frosting and Milky Ways off entirely, or substitute a different frosting. We also discussed adding walnuts, which you could absolutely do on top of the caramel (or below the caramel, or on top of the Cool Whip, or mixed into the cake…). You could frost the entire thing with Caramel Frosting (Duncan Hines Frosting Creations, anyone?), or just leave it naked. It truly is a versatile cake that could be eaten many different ways, but personally, I love mine with the Cool Whip and Caramel Apple Milky Ways… it’s better than that crazy rich fudge contraption of my college days, for sure. Plus, isn’t it just so pretty?

This cake is perfect for potlucks, family functions, or even just an evening playing board games with the family. I had taste testers of all ages who loved this dessert, and it’s easy to transport (plus you can always bake it in a disposable pan, of course!)

Caramel Apple Cake

1 box Duncan Hines yellow cake mix
1 can Duncan Hines Comstock Wilderness Apple Pie Filling
3 eggs
1 jar Hershey’s Caramel Ice Cream Topping
1 Cup (approx. 8 oz) Cool Whip
1/2 bag Caramel Apple Milky Way Minis

Cut pie filling into smaller pieces, and mix with eggs and cake mix. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Remove from oven. Poke holes in cake, pour jar of caramel ice cream topping over cake and spread to cover. Place cake back in warm (turned off) oven for 10 minutes. Let cool, then refrigerate for 4 hours or more, overnight if possible. Spread with Cool Whip. Dice Caramel Apple Milky Ways and sprinkle over the top of the cake. Serve chilled.

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Stay tuned as we continue along the Fall Flavors Tour and see what other exciting flavors we encounter next. See you tomorrow with another fun recipe!

If you’re trying any of these recipes along with me, I’d love to see photos or comments about it in the comment section below!

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A Winning Weekend at Duncan Hines

Words cannot even begin to describe how amazing my trip to the Duncan Hines facility was. It was truly incredible, beyond my wildest dreams. I want to go back to the beginning, where my journey began. And yes, I’m probably going to break it down into itty bitty details, but that’s because this trip was so exciting, so amazing to me, that I’m still trying to process everything that I experienced.

I’ve shared with you a few times how I worked painstakingly on my Duncan Hines recipes. In fact, it was so ridiculous that I picked up every flavor of the Frosting Creations. There are 12, but I submitted 8 recipes to the contest, each using a different flavor. Seven of the recipes were made in two days (I actually made the winning recipe later, my Cherry Masher Sandwich Cookies). I baked all weekend, and luckily, it was a weekend that two of the exchange students were staying with us, so they were able to be our guinea pigs. It got to the point where I was literally calling people over and having my mom invite people over, just so they could get some of the sweets out of the house. My mother was frustrated because I’d destroy the kitchen, we’d clean it up, and I’d destroy it again. And of course, having 8 recipes worth of sweets in the house was just purely ridiculous.

I never expected to win this. I really, truly, didn’t. For me, this was a great way to challenge my creativity and expand my baking skill. My brother was a huge part of the process, helping me brainstorm ideas for the recipe contest. Of course, many of the ideas were my brainchild, and it was great to see one of those win, because I felt such an ownership in it. I truly felt like this was the pinnacle of my creativity, the true extreme that I was prepared to go to.

When I got the email saying I won, I was in shock. It was complete disbelief. After all, baking is just a hobby for me, something I enjoy doing, so to actually realize that I won for this contest was incredible. In the weeks leading up to the trip (there weren’t many- it was about 2 weeks!), I started to receive flight plans, itineraries, and even had one of the other winners get in touch with me. It truly was a short amount of time between when we were contacted, and when the trip was, that it was almost like a total blur. But finally, the day arrived when it was time to go to New Jersey.

The most heartbreaking thing in the world to me was saying goodbye to my baby boy at the airport. Of course, he was kind of blissfully unaware of the fact that mommy was getting on a plane and wouldn’t be back for a day, because we’ve been apart literally no more than half an hour at a time since he was born. The unfortunate thing is that I knew I wouldn’t be able to see him for over 36 hours, and that was devastating. I tried to hold the tears in, and I was able to do pretty well until that last goodbye. I just hugged him and hugged him, then passed him off to his uncle. Jeffrey took him to the window to look outside, and not see the fact that mommy was leaving through security, instead of with him. Before heading to the window, he waved to me, and smiled, and walked away. I, of course, burst into tears, grabbed my mom and hugged her. I went through security, and was putting my shoes on, and they called my name looking for me. I practically ran over, boarded the plane, and waited for liftoff.

I landed in Chicago around 10:30. By this point, it was the time that I would have been awake at home, and I was starving! I stopped quickly and picked up one of the most yummy lemon squares in the world. Or I guess it was more of a lemon triangle, but really.

I waited a little bit, called home, and bam, it was time for flight number two.

I boarded the flight, and this time, I got the window seat. It was nice- I love window seats when I fly. It truly gives you that weightless experience. After buckling in, the man who had the ticket next to me came and said “I was supposed to get the window seat. But, I guess it just doesn’t really matter, whatever.” He was super irritated, but I just replied “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought seat D was the window seat.” Y’know, I was seat D, and I had checked the diagram and all that, and the window seat? It was totally mine. He double-checked with the attendant, and it turned out that yes, the window seat was mine (whatever, I was totally willing to swap with him, but that’s cool). Anyway, when all of the passengers had boarded, there were several empty rows, so he was able to move to another row and sit at the window. Where he promptly, y’know, closed the window, and didn’t look out of it at all. Seriously? You try to kick me out of my window seat so you can close it? Someone doesn’t know how a window seat works, am I right?

Seriously, though, I’m just kidding. Mostly. That situation really happened, and I still think that guy is insane for closing the window, but it’s neither here nor there- it was just funny to me! I am a totally paranoid flyer, though. I’ve barely flown since 9/11, and you know that whenever you head towards New York, that does flash through your mind, “What if I’m on a flight and someone hijacks it?” and you also have that thought of “There’s been all of these stories on the news about people going crazy on the plane, what if it happens to me?” And yeah, you ignore the fact that thousands of planes fly every day with absolutely nothing going wrong, but it’s that handful of stories that psychs you out. I was all panicky, but I was holding it in as best as I could. And then, someone sneezed.

And I jumped. Not literally, but like, that whole, body jumping out of it’s skin thing? Yeah, that’s how I felt. Until he sneezed again, and I realized that the first time was probably a sneeze (I thought he had yelled instead of freezing). It took me the rest of the flight to calm down after that, but I did end up getting to New Jersey safely, without having any sort of trouble.

When I arrived in Newark, I saw a wheelchair. And yes, that wheelchair had my name on it. Of course! They had gotten the wheelchair thing mixed up, which is why there wasn’t one for me at Chicago. I hopped in, which was good, because the trip from the gate to the baggage claim in Newark was much farther than walking from one gate to another in Chicago. I got to the baggage claim, and I found my driver from Flyte Tyme.

We waited because there were three other ladies he was there to pick up. In addition to myself, there were two other contest winners, and the amazing Christy from Love from the Oven. I am a huge fan of her blog, and I was so excited to get to chat her up a little bit and pick her brain on the blogging front.

We drove over to the hotel, about half an hour away, in Parsippany. We were staying at the Courtyard Marriott, and when we checked in, we were given a gift bag, courtesy of Duncan Hines.

Upon getting up to my room, I peeked inside. The wonderful people at Duncan Hines had provided some snacks and bottled water, and since the only thing I had eaten all day was a lemon square, I looked at the trail mix inside as though it was manna from heaven. I grabbed a couple of handfuls, called my mom to let her know I had arrived, and promptly crashed on the bed until time to leave for dinner.

At dinner time, we headed over to Delicious Heights in Bedminster. Let me just tell you, if you ever get the chance to go there, please do. When we arrived, we were ushered back to a private bar area with a dining room off to the side. There, we were able to mingle with the marketing, product development, and baking teams at Duncan Hines and get to know the other winners and bloggers. I was so excited to chat with everyone! O f course, I don’t drink, so I think everyone looked at me a little funny when they’d ask “Oh, what are you drinking?” and I’d respond with “Pineapple juice!” They totally prettied it up with a cherry, though, so I’d say it counts as a cocktail, right?

I spent a lot of my time talking to the marketing team. Being a marketing major, it’s always exciting to me to get to pick their brains a little bit and find out more about marketing in the field. I do have to admit, I found out some of their marketing guys were New York Red Bulls fans, and that Sporting Til I Die girl that I am died a little bit inside (I’m totally kidding. I have mad respect for NYRB, and I even have a couple of players on my fantasy team). It was really nice to interact with the Duncan Hines team, and realize that even though they all are so incredible, and I feel so in awe of them, they’re real people, too, and that was a really neat peek behind the curtain for me.

During our cocktail and chatting hour, we were served some incredibly impressive appetizers, too, and the food lover that I am, I wanted to try a little of everything. They had these great mushroom cream cheese filled puff pastry sort of things that were just flaky and savory and incredibly delicious, so I know I’ll be craving those again from here to eternity. They also had some skewers with beef and a teriyaki sauce, some bacon-wrapped scallops with a mango sauce, and some gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches featuring brie, mozzarella, and ham. And, of course, I tried them all, because why not? They’re delicious! I seriously was starting to get full before I was ever seated at the table.

At the table we were served a first course of bruschetta, spinach dip with chips, and a cold cut sort of tray that had an incredibly fancy name I don’t know and probably can’t pronounce (I just looked it up- it’s called Charcuterie?) By this point, I’m positively stuffed, but then they bring us out our choice of tomato soup or salad. I went with the salad, because I knew with all of the sweets I was eating, I needed something to balance it out.

See, in Kansas, I’m a big fan of the bagged salads. They’re easy… you go to the store, you buy one, you open the bag and set it on the table. But this, well, it was no bagged salad. We’re talking about amazing field greens and delicious flavors and textures. It was an amazing salad. Our next course was a choice of crab cake, NY strip, or Filet Mignon. I chose the filet, and it was truly just perfection.

They served it with beautiful mashed potatoes piped with a star tip, and some asparagus that was delicious. As a little girl, I used to go out to my grandparents’ garden and eat the asparagus raw out of the garden, not even washing it, so it’s always a little weird to me to eat cooked asparagus, because, come on, why would you cook it and ruin it? However, the asparagus from this experience was just perfectly tender, but still had crunch, but had that great buttery flavor… so of course, when I intended to only eat a portion, I ended up leveling that plate, as well.

By this point, I am truly ready to pop. I have eaten so many different treats and delightful foods at Delicious Heights that I can’t even begin to consider the fact that even more is coming. And then, dessert arrives. It is… incredible. Chef Joe DiPaola from Duncan Hines was the mastermind of this recipe, and I am so excited about the fact that he is sending the recipe to me! I know this dessert is going to be my go-to dessert for dinner parties. It is so incredibly impressive! The bottom layer is actually a thin layer of Duncan Hines Chewy Brownie, which, hello, I’m already a total fan of. You can’t get much better than a Duncan Hines brownie. Instead of cooking it in your average 9×9 or 8×10 pan, it was baked on a sheet, in a nice, thin layer. On top of this layer of brownie was this amazing peanut butter layer that was filled with crunchy bits of what is essentially just a crunchy crepe (it’s called feuillantine). The peanut butter paired with the chocolate so nicely (who doesn’t love that combination?) and the crunch just completely made the dessert. On top of that layer, there was a layer of chocolate mousse, about two inches high. I am in heaven. It was served plated with raspberry and chocolate sauce, pulled sugar on top, and some candied apricots soaked in rum and cinnamon. The dessert was just incredible, and impressive!

I truly am now at the point in the evening where I cannot eat another bite. And that’s when they serve coffee. And cookies. And guess who has two thumbs and had coffee and cookies? Yup, this girl. I swear, I was seeing stars, but everything was so good that it was impossible to resist.

We made our way back to the hotel, where I was able to call home, shower, and completely crash. I think I was dead asleep within five minutes of my head hitting the pillow, but since I didn’t fall asleep until 1:30, and because 6:30 eastern time is actually 5:30 my normal time, my alarm going off was a shock. I jumped up, though, despite the late night, because, HELLO! Today was my day to actually get to the really exciting part. I mean, yeah, dinner was great and all. Dinner was fantastic, but this, this was the day each of our winners had been waiting for. Within half an hour, I was totally ready… I did end up taking a silly self-portrait, because I feel like it’s been forever that I looked more like a professional than a mom. That’s makeup on my face… yes, actual makeup!

When we arrived at the Duncan Hines facility, we were greeted with a red carpet. It was true VIP business right there, or rather… VIB. Very Important Baker.

We walked in, and let me tell you, this is a stunning facility. Everything is truly bright colors, bright everything. It’s just like walking into a painter’s palette. It is incredible. The first room that we visited was the Ideation Room. This is where a lot of the magic happens, a lot of the brainstorming.

The trim and some wall sections are painted in brilliant, bold, Duncan Hines red. All of the furniture is moveable, which is awesome, because I bet people tend to move around a lot in that room. Oh, and one little thing… all of the white sections of wall are whiteboard painted. As in, you can actually write on those puppies. And wipe it off, and write again.

We were actually given the opportunity to write on those walls. One of the walls, we were asked to write some great ideas for new flavors of Frosting Creations. I suggested Root Beer, Watermelon, and Pina Colada, because honestly, those are the ones that I think would be amazing, and because those are flavors that I’ve heard people ask about again and again. Seriously, anytime I would create a dessert and explain the product to anyone, they’d say “Oh, is there a root beer flavor?” or “Oh, do they have watermelon?” So I made sure all three of the most requested flavors were on that board/wall.

In the back of the ideation room, they have a kitchen. This small kitchen is larger than my actual kitchen, and it allows the vendors from companies to come in and bring in their product for them to try out. For example, if Duncan Hines needs a good chocolate flavor, they can bring in a chocolate vendor and try different kinds until they find the one, or multiples, that they want to try, and continue playing around with in their work.

Because of the whiteboard walls, this is where brainstorming ideas come to life. They said that there are so many meetings where they hand people markers and they just go to town on coming up with ideas and sketches and working some stuff out, and that is just amazing to me. There is no better flow of ideas, I think, than to be given a marker or something, and just going.

While we were in the ideation room, we got a little bit of insight into how Frosting Creations came to be, the steps it went through, and how it finally ended up the way it did. Originally, Duncan Hines had considered putting the product into sticks, very similar to a Crystal Light pouch, but because instead of selling them in boxes, they’d be selling them a single pouch at a time, they were worried that it would get lost too easily. That’s why they chose to redesign the packaging to the square type that they currently use! They also considered using the flavor packets on their own, as in, you could mix them into any kind of icing. However, after a lot of product testing, they realized that it was hard to mix the product with many kinds of icing because it was simply too thick, or there wasn’t enough headroom in the frosting container for easy mixing. In order to make an easy-to-use product, the best solution was to design a frosting starter that the flavor packets were designed to work with! They had originally also thought to just have the items designed so they would fit on the shelves, but after consumer feedback in their test panels, they discovered that it was really hard to figure out how to use it, or that both products were intended to fit together, and little packets can be hard to keep organized on a shelf. That’s why Duncan Hines designed the bright, exciting shelving unit that they use to sell the Frosting Creations today! I loved getting to hear the story behind the creation process, and all of the variations that Duncan Hines went through before it ended up being the right version, that we see today! It just goes to show how much work goes into each and every product that winds up on our store shelves. As consumers, we tend to only see the finished product, but not the hundreds and thousands of steps and trials that go into the creation of products we love and use regularly. From the initial idea, to the development of the product and making sure the product is just right, in consistency, taste, and ingredients, making sure it’s going to be affordable to implement and for consumers to purchase, and trying to ensure it will be successful, as well as the marketing and packaging design, the promotion and public relations, and more, there are so many things that go into creating each and every product you use in your kitchen, or really, any product you use in general. It was a really unique peek behind the curtain to hear a little bit of the story behind this one particular product that truly sets Duncan Hines apart from all other companies. Truly, no other company has a product like the Frosting Creations.

From the ideation room, we were taken to many other parts of the building. Because so much of what Duncan Hines does, and so much of what Pinnacle Foods does, is very trade secret, we were asked not to bring cameras on this portion of the tour. What I can tell you is, the space is beautiful, the space is bright, and the space is just truly incredible. Everything is very open and happy and fun. They have a fireplace in their lunch area! Seriously! They quipped that it’s not unusual for some employees to bring in some marshmallows and sticks.

We got to also explore the product development system and see how Duncan Hines figures out which flavors will make it, and which won’t, through consumer testing and research. Because we, as winners, are actual consumers, we were able to give our opinion about various flavors and concepts that Duncan Hines was hoping to bring to light in the near future. It was exciting to know that some of the things that we tried might become actual products someday! I know that I’m going to be incredibly thrilled if any of these products become available on the market, because I feel like I played a role in their development by giving my opinions and thoughts about them.

After that, we were able to view what’s called the “cutting room.” This is the room where ideas come to life (or get cut). They’re able to try different things, and see which one works better, or which one isn’t so hot.  They’re able to compare multiple items side by side, and figure out which is the best, and which aren’t worth investing more time in. In the test kitchen, there is what is called the Chef’s Standard. Essentially, they come up with an idea, and they tell the chefs to go to work, and just have fun. The chefs are able to create something, no matter the cost or the ingredients, or whether or not they can make it come to the consumer in a do-able fashion. That item that they finally produce is the chef’s standard. This standard is what they compare everything else to. They create items that will work for the consumer, and if they don’t compare well enough to the chef’s standard, then it’s back to the drawing, or rather, baking board. They keep trying until the product is finally perfect, finally meeting the chef’s standard, and that’s when a product is starting to come to light.

In the cutting room, each of us had a station piled up with goodies that Duncan Hines will be shipping to us. These items are from Wilton, and they are absolutely life-changing for me. The items that I’ve always looked at and drooled over in the baking aisle? Those are the items that I am getting for myself. I’m not kidding, I was in tears when I saw the amazing items that Duncan Hines was gifting us. When you’re a single mom, you have to have priorities, and unfortunately, sometimes buying your son diapers comes before buying yourself a cake decorating turntable. Thanks to Duncan Hines, I now have all of the supplies I need to really ramp up my baking and truly take it to the level it deserves. I am so blessed and amazed at the items Duncan Hines is sending to me. I feel like the items they are giving me are instrumental to my blog, and to my love for baking, and I was near tears when I saw them.

We even got a copy of one of the books that Chef Joe highly recommends, The Pastry Chef’s Companion.

Chef Joe started demonstrating some great ways to use the new tools we’re getting. He demonstrated how to cut cakes easily using a turntable (hint: you keep the knife in one place, but turn the turntable, so you’re only cutting about halfway through the cake and letting the knife do the work).

How to do various icing techniques (and how they look using a star tip versus using a plain tip, and how both of them can be elegant approaches), and about how to smooth frosting, and make great-looking cake edges every time. Do you want to know the secret to perfect sides on a cake? Apply a layer of frosting, and then coat the sides in chopped nuts, chocolate chips, coconut, whatever… it hides all of the flaws and imperfections, but makes an incredible statement.

One of the best parts of the demonstrations was that Chef Joe, like myself, is a leftie, which means he did a lot of his demonstrations using his left hand. It helped me figure out how to do the techniques a little better, without having to try to mirror him.

One thing I didn’t realize about decorating is that instead of doing the “two hand squeeze” on the pastry bag that I typically do, you should actually apply pressure with one hand (your dominant hand), while guiding the bag with one finger from your opposite hand. Then, you won’t strain your hands too much, and you’ll avoid getting carpal tunnel and other ailments. Lightbulb moment!

After a great amount of time checking out the techniques, we went back to the ideation room to grab our lunch, and, more importantly, see what the chefs did with our recipes. You see, in the process where they were deciding which twelve people would be invited to the event, they went through and selected the recipes that followed the rules, and seemed like they were creative, and appealing to customers (creativity, appeal, and taste were all part of the judging process). Then, they took all of those recipes, and they baked them. After baking them, they tasted, and narrowed it down. Then, they baked all of those again, and narrowed it down again. And they baked and narrowed down, baked and narrowed down, until they got the finished recipes. They took the recipes, then, and tweaked them with Duncan Hines flair.

Because my winning recipe was never posted here on the blog (aside from being linked through the website), I do plan to make that recipe again and share it with you here, implementing the changes that Duncan Hines made between the original that I dreamed up, and the one that they decided on as the finished product. I will tell you that their minor change was absolutely for the better, and it made my cookie taste a lot better than it did, and look a lot prettier, as well. Their change to my cookie was simply to drizzle it in chocolate icing instead of dipping the entire cookie. Duh! Why didn’t I think of that?

It was amazing getting to see all of the winning recipes in person… I remember during the contest seeing several of them and thinking “That looks good,” or “that looks interesting,” and I was so excited at the thought of tasting them! Each of the pictures below is linked to the original recipe on the Duncan Hines website.

Orange Creamsicle Soda Fountain Cake from Sandra Downey

These orange creamsicle soda fountain cakes from Sandra were amazing! Duncan Hines decided to remove them from the soda glasses they had originally been in, and instead put them into a push pop form, but I must admit, I am a huge fan of the soda glass that Sandra originally put them in. To me, they’d be a hit at a 50’s-themed party, don’t you think?

Lemon Rhu-berry Upside Down Cakes from Lisa Antonelli

These cakes were yummy! Duncan Hines did remove the Rhubarb from them, and instead added blueberries. You see, they had trouble finding good rhubarb in season, but Lisa had been lucky enough to get it from her dad’s garden!

Holy Spumoni Cake by Kimberly Lombardi

In Kimberly’s recipe, which she had originally made using a bundt pan, she had mentioned a variation on her recipe that would allow it to be made with a waffle iron instead of a pan and oven! This variation is what the people at Duncan Hines decided to do. I think it turned out beautifully, and it tasted delicious!

Chocolate Marshmallow Mousse from Toni of Make, Bake, Celebrate

Toni’s chocolate marshmallow mousse is a very simple recipe, with really incredible results. Duncan Hines decided to amp her mousse recipe up by making it into more of a single-serve trifle, adding layers of cake and whipped topping within the dessert. It’s perfect for entertaining!

Cotton Candy Fudge from Becky McKay

Becky’s fudge was really yummy, and a really exciting flavor! She said that she loves to create foods where people think “Oh, I don’t think I’ll like that,” and then have them try them, so they can walk away pleasantly surprised. She mentioned that many of her foods are kind of made for the shock value. Duncan Hines left her easy three-ingredient recipe pretty close to the same, but they sprinkled the top with dried cotton candy, and cut it into triangles for a very pretty presentation.

Grasshopper Pie Cakepops by Renee Thompson

Renee was actually the first winner that I heard from, and the only one I “met” online before the winners weekend. She is an absolute sweetheart, and these grasshopper pie cake pops are a true delight. Of course, I’m a sucker for anything mint, so I may be slightly biased. Duncan Hines decided to make the coating much greener, but kept much of the original recipe the same.

Bubble Gum Cake Blow Pops by Yvonne Velez

Yvonne’s Bubble Gum Cake Blow Pops were actually created for her granddaughter’s birthday, and were made with the intention that they would look like actual Blow Pops (think the suckers with the gum inside!). They are truly adorable, and have a really rich bubblegum flavor, using  three packets of frosting creations bubblegum flavor! Duncan Hines changed her recipe slightly by replacing the colored sugar on the outside with a pretty drizzle.

Cinnamon Caramel Apple Cake Pops by Brittney Syrie

Brittney made the third winning variety of cake pops, and hers incorporated both the cinnamon roll and the caramel flavors! She won her recipe in the cinnamon roll category. Duncan Hines took the approach on this one that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and left her cake pops exactly the way they were.

Bazinga! Raspberry White Chocolate Cake by Jeannie Majka-Sherwood

Jeannie (a total sweetheart and fellow Big Bang Theory fan) created some amazing Bazinga! Raspberry White Chocolate Cupcakes. Duncan Hines shook it up by eliminating the cupcake part all together, and turning it into a pretty cake with two layers of frosting sandwiched between the three cake layers, and topped with more frosting and fresh raspberries, which really ramped up the “wow!” factor on an already incredible recipe from Jeannie.

Apple-Spiced Cinnamon Roll Sundaes by Nikki Norman

I’m pretty sure that cake for breakfast is always a good idea, and after tasting Nikki’s Apple-Spiced Cinnamon Roll Sundaes, I know for sure it is. These are an amazing cake sundae portioned into a waffle bowl and piled high with yummy Duncan Hines Caramel Frosting Creations. Um, hello, good morning! They ended up caramelizing the pecans on it… yum!

Mocha Crunch Pie by Sara Masters

Sara was totally speaking my language when she invented this delicious chocolate-y coffee inspired delight. I would gladly eat it again and again. Duncan Hines shook this recipe up a little bit by making the actual pie portion a smooth, creamy treat and decorating it with some delicious chocolate whipped topping. To die for!

For lunch, we actually got to eat in the Boardroom. Yes, THE boardroom. The one where Pinnacle Foods holds their meetings, and I got to sit at that table! And, let me tell you, it was a massive table. After lunch, we then were able to taste the recipes and see what our fellow winners made. Let me tell you, there was a lot of talent, and a lot of great recipes that were executed so well.

After lunch and dessert, it was back to our learning, where Chef Joe showed us a lot about plating. When the dessert was served at the restaurant, Chef Joe wasn’t entirely happy with how it was plated, because he had provided some pretty specific instructions. Chef Joe was able to show us exactly how it should be plated, and then he demonstrated exactly how to make that incredible dessert.

He had already made the bottom brownie layer using the Duncan Hines Chewy Brownies. On top of that was the crunchy peanut butter layer.

On top was the mousse layer, which he whipped up very quickly and easily, using heavy cream, egg whites, chocolate, and more. Can you tell Chef Joe talks with his hands a lot, like I do?

While he made the mousse, he talked about the importance of tempering, not just hot into cold, but also light into heavy. You have to temper these parts of the recipe, or it won’t work!

When he poured the mousse layer on, he noticed it had some bubbles, so Chef Joe used one of his favorite kitchen tools… a butane torch. He recommended we all go to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and pick one up, because it is a great tool for any culinary artist. He also suggests looking at Home Depot for items that could be useful in the kitchen (his icing smoother? It’s a tool traditionally used for spackle and grout work!)

In addition to talking with his hands a lot, and being left handed, we also have another thing in common… we both stick our tongue out when we’re focusing. I think it’s a creative thing. It is, right? We’re not just weird? (P.S. Weird=Innovative).

Because he’s giving us the recipe, I am definitely planning on sharing the exciting flavors with you, so be on the lookout for a great version of Chef Joe’s dessert from my Duncan Hines’ dinner. Of course, I’m making a few of my own signature tweaks on it, but I’m hoping that I can somewhat live up to the original.

Torches are used for a lot more than just popping mousse bubbles. Chef Joe also used it to add some dimension to this marzipan-topped cake, and added some chocolate roses, for an elegant and low-effort cake decoration.

Chef Joe was also kind enough to show us how to write and do scrollwork using chocolate, which is a technique I’m definitely going to be practicing.

We also got an opportunity to learn the techniques of creating chocolate roses out of some chocolate that was the consistency of play-dough. We wore gloves because sometimes when you don’t, you can leave fingerprints on those roses- not pretty!

Once we had all completed a chocolate rose, we were able to add them to a wedding cake, essentially making it ours! It was amazing to get to collaborate in this way with the bakers and bloggers who were there, and Chef Joe himself, to make a pretty decorated creation. My rose sat right on the top, next to Chef Joe’s!

One of my fellow winners, Sandra (love her!) was a star at making the roses. Here, she is showing a little bit of how to pinch the edges of the rose petals to give them a realistic looking shape.

Not long after that, it was time to say our final goodbyes. We got to leave a message on the whiteboard walls of the ideation room, thanking the Duncan Hines staff for the amazing weekend.

I just wish that my message were even close to enough of a thank you, because there is no way that I can ever thank them enough for the experience that they provided me with this weekend. I’m not kidding when I say that this weekend was a dream come true. It’s no exaggeration. I truly feel like this is the best thing that has ever happened to me, second only to becoming a mom, of course. It was amazing, and I feel like my words cannot even describe it.

It was sad to say goodbye to everyone at the end, but I know that I’m going to be keeping in touch with many of the bakers and bloggers for years to come, and hopefully even the wonderful people from Duncan Hines and Pinnacle Foods. As someone who has been a lifelong fan of their products and their company, this was like going through the looking glass, seeing everything from this other world, almost. The bus ride to the airport and the plane rides home, all I could do was think about this experience, and the many tools that I will use from it, both the physical tools, and the amazing things that they taught us this weekend.

I am excited to recreate each and every one of the winners’ recipes. It was also amazing getting to meet them, and to meet the incredibly sweet Christi from Love from the Oven, Shelly from Cookies and Cups, and Doug from Hoosier Homemade and Pocket Change Gourmet. Of course, the designated bloggers were not the only bloggers who were there this weekend, so I am going to link you below to the blogs of the many great women (and of course, Doug), that I met this weekend!

As I journeyed home, I thought about how this weekend is one that is going to stay with me forever, and in some ways, it’s going to stay with my readers, as well, because I am excited to have gotten so much inspiration that I want to share with you from this experience, using delicious Duncan Hines products, especially the Frosting Creations, of course, and many other great things that we learned (like techniques and tricks from Chef Joe!)

I truly hope that you’ll stay tuned on my Duncan Hines journey with me, because trust me, it’s far from over.

Here are the links to the blogs and content from the amazing people I got to meet this weekend.

Pinnacle Foods Parent company to Duncan Hines, Bird’s Eye Vegetables, Vlassic, Aunt Jemima, Comstock Wilderness, and more!

Website

Duncan Hines

Website          Facebook          Twitter          Pinterest

Love From the Oven

http://www.lovefromtheoven.com

Cookies and Cups

http://www.cookiesandcups.com

Hoosier Homemade

http://www.hoosierhomemade.com

Make, Bake, Celebrate

http://www.makebakecelebrate.blogspot.com