Thursday, November 9, 2023

Natural Whoopie Pies and Updated Natural Homemade Chocolate Cake Mix

Oh I love exploding myths and making convenience foods from scratch. Why is it? Why do I love it? Well...perhaps it's the sweet stream of email flowing to my heart thanking me for saving family budgets around the world. Literally. It's so highly motivating to get a thank you note. It warms the coggles of my heart.

How many recipes call for a box of cake mix? Well, in America anyway, I've seen whole books written on the subject. They're books that doctor a cake mix into a lot of other stuff. However...what if the person making the cake or doctored mix had some crazy stipulations? I do. I want the mix being made with all natural ingredients, from scratch and things most people have access to. I want it made to taste wonderful without adding a lot of chemicals to my diet. Yikes...did I just say "diet" in blog entry about chocolate cake? Oh the irony of my existence is sometimes scary.

You will need some very high quality vanilla. It will still make a very impressive cake. If this recipe looks familiar, It is in fact an adaptation of the Chocolate Toffee Buttermilk Cake Mix. A simple form of that cake with some subtle changes. The texture is still perfect.

Chef Tess' Natural Chocolate Cake Mix

yield 16 cups mix (4 mixes total)

1 cup (8 oz) Avocado oil
6 cups (1 lb 11 oz)  Organic grains sprouted  white wheat flour here
3 cups (11.5 oz) baking cocoa
1 cup ( 4.5 oz) non-fat milk powder or soy milk powder
2 1/2 cups coconut sugar or  Pyure Organic Stevia Sweetener
4 tsp salt
1/3 cup baking powder (2 oz)
1T double strength vanilla bean paste
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp cayenne pepper

To prepare mix: In a large 3 gallon or larger bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, dry milk
sugar, baking powder and salt very well. You may use an electric mixer if you have one with a large enough bowl. With a wire whisk, ease the avocado oil into the dry ingredients in a steady stream until the mixture resembles sand. Take the mix and a couple of cup fulls at a time, run through a flour sifter. I use a hand flour sifter that works very well to help the mix become smooth and homogeneous. ( Need a picture tutorial on the mix making process? See: My Yellow Homemade Cake Mix) Divide into quart size bags. 20 oz of mix equals one  conventional cake mix. This is almost exactly 4 cups of measured mix.

To bake:
Combine with 3 eggs
1/3 cup Avocado oil
1 cup water
200 strokes by hand or 3 minutes medium speed.

Bake time 350 degrees:
Pan size: 2 8 inch 33-35 minutes
2 9 inch 28-31 minutes
13 by 9 inch 32-35 minutes
bunt 38-43 minutes
24 cupcakes 18-21 minutes
High altitude: stir 1/4 cup all purpose flour into mix. Mix as directed.

Whoopie Pies from Cake Mix

4 cups cake mix
3 eggs
1/3 cup Avocado oil
Mix to combine. Scoop by rounded Tablespoon onto parchment lined baking sheet, allowing 1 inch between cookies for spreading. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes until cake springs back. Remove from oven and cool completely. Sandwich with cream cheese white chocolate frosting (below).  

Cream Cheese and White Chocolate Orange Frosting
3 ½ c powdered sugar
 ½ c butter, softened 
8 oz cream cheese, softened 
6 oz white chocolate*, melted and cooled 
½ t orange extract 
1 T orange zest

Chop the white chocolate and melt in the microwave. Start with 30 seconds then stir and microwave in 10 second increments until nearly melted. Stir until remaining small chunks melt entirely. Set aside to cool. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until it is completely smooth, with no visible lumps. Add the cream cheese and beat until combined. Add the powdered sugar and orange extract and beat until smooth. Gently fold in the white chocolate and the orange zest. Do not over beat the filling, or it will lose structure. (The filling can be made 1 day ahead. Cover the bowl tightly and put it in the refrigerator. Let the filling soften at room temperature before using.) *Please use real white chocolate. White“confection,” “dipping chocolate,” “bark,” or “morsels” will not work. You know it’s white chocolate if in the ingredient list you see cocoa butter. If you can’t find white chocolate, it’s better to leave it out than to use the fake stuff.

There you go darlings! Something wickedly delicious and somewhat healthy for a crazy day.

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Best Easy Pumpkin Pie Pecan Sticky Buns

I don't know about your house, but at my place, the Pumpkin pie and pecan pie are always the top picks for dessert at the Thanksgiving table. What if those pies' flavors could be captured in a fantastic swirl of spiced flavor-like frenzy embodied in a fluffy roll for your dining enjoyment? Breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch, snack options, and a dessert buffet would be fair game for these babies!

Behold, these glory rolls are about to become your family’s most requested “yummy thing” that must always be made for Thanksgiving and every holiday close to it. 

This recipe features a method of yeast bread called Tangzhong.

Tangzhong is a yeast bread technique with origins in Japan and Asia. It involves cooking some of a bread recipe’s flour in liquid before adding it to the remaining dough ingredients. Milk is the most popular liquid used in this method. Bringing the temperature of the flour and liquid temperature to 65°C (149°F) pre-gelatinizes the flour’s starches, making them more able to retain liquid, thus enhancing the resulting bread’s softness and shelf life.

When used for sweet rolls, the result is a soft, pillowy texture and velvety crumb. You need this method in your life. Please don’t skip it. Please don’t change the recipe. Just accept that this is part of the magic.

Best Easy Pumpkin Pie Spice Pecan Sticky Buns


  • 1/2 cup (113g) whole milk
  • 3 Tbsp. (23g) Bread Flour


  • 2/3 cup (151g) organic hazelnut creamer (or whole milk)
  • 2 1/2 cups (300g) Bread Flour
  • 1 tsp. (6g) salt
  • ¼ cup (50g) granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. Red Star instant yeast
  • ¼ cup (57g) unsalted butter, melted
  • ¼ cup wheat germ


  • ½ cup (107g) dark brown sugar, packed
  • ½ cup (113g) Libby’s solid pack pumpkin
  • 1 Tbsp. (8g to 10g) pumpkin pie spice

Caramel Nut Topping

  • 1 jar, 11.5 oz. Smucker’s Simple Delight® Salted Caramel Topping OR caramel-flavored Spoon-able ice cream topping. Up to 12.5 oz.
  • 1 cup toasted pecans, toasted and chopped


To make the tangzhong:

  • Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan and whisk until no lumps remain.
  • Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook the mixture, stirring regularly, until thickened, paste-like, and the spoon or spatula leaves lines on the bottom of the pan. This step should take 1 to 3 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer.

To make the dough:

  • Weigh your flour or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup and sweeping off any excess. Add the creamer, the flour, and the remaining ingredients to the mixing bowl in the order listed; the heat from the tangzhong will help warm the creamer.
  • Mix on low speed of a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment. Increase the speed by 8-10 minutes.
  • Shape the dough into a ball in a bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a reusable cover.
  • Let the dough rise until about doubled in size, about 60 to 90 minutes in a warm kitchen.

To make the filling:

  • Combine all ingredients for the filling in a small bowl until smooth.

To assemble the rolls:

  • Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface and roll the dough into a 10″ x 12″ rectangle about 1/2″ thick.
  • Spread the filling over the dough, covering all but a 1/2″ strip along one long side.
  • Starting with the filling-covered long side, roll the dough into a log.
  • Score the dough lightly into eight equal 1 1/2″ to 2″ pieces, making large, saucer-sized cinnamon rolls. Cut the dough at the score marks. We use unflavored dental floss for the cleanest cut: pull off a long piece of floss, loop it underneath the log at the score mark, and pull the ends in opposite directions to cut the dough. Repeat until you’ve cut all of the rolls. Note a bench knife or sharp knife will work; be sure it is sharp and serrated is preferred.
  • Lightly grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.
  • Place the rolls onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing at least 2″ apart and 2″ away from the edges of the pan. Tuck the ends of the spiral underneath the rolls to prevent unraveling during the rise and bake.
  • Lightly coat the top of the rolls with melted butter or oil, cover them with plastic wrap or a reusable cover, and let them rise for 45-60 minutes (depending on the warmth of your kitchen). They should be very puffy.
  • Preheat the oven to 375°F 20 minutes before you bake, and position a rack in the top third of the oven.
  • Bake the rolls for 15-20 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown, and a digital thermometer inserted into the center of one roll reads 190°F. Bake for less time for extra-soft rolls and extended time for rolls with a bit more color and slightly firmer texture.
  • Remove the rolls from the oven, place the pan on a rack, and brush the hot rolls with 1 ½ Tbsp. (21g) of the melted butter.

To make the caramel topping:

  • Combine the sauce with the toasted chopped pecans.
  • Scoop several Tbsp. Of the nut mixture over each roll, allow the caramel to drizzle down the sides. Serve warm.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Easy Homemade Banana Bread Granola


Hello, my darlings! Welcome back to my homemade everything series. I swear I've made everything from Homemade cottage cheese to homemade veggie dogs. Those who have been on this journey with me for the past 15 years of blogging saw a ton of the homemade stuff when I started. Back then, I was a full-time stay-at-home mom with two small children. They are both fully grown adults, and I am happy that we often still make homemade Breakfast cereal.
 My two sons are now full-time missionaries (for missionary and college student cooking; see  posts). It has been one of my favorite experiences in my life having this happen! 

Back to breakfast cereal. It's a food group among college kids...well, any kids. My guys will eat a couple batches a month. I like mixing it with cornflakes or bran flakes for added staying power.

If you’ve been paying attention to baking trends, you might have noticed the advent in popularity of the spice blend known as Speculaas. Speculaas Spice Mix is often used in the Netherlands and Dutch cuisine during Autumn and Winter. Holiday baking and cold weather bring a full spectrum of delicious recipes calling for Speculaas spice blend. Though most often associated with the Netherlands, it is also a blend of spices used throughout Europe, though known by other names in different countries. In Germany and Austria it’s called Spekulatius, and in Belgium and France, it’s called Speculoos. It is similar to the American Pumpkin Pie Spice mix but is a lot more complex in flavor. Generally, all Speculaas include cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, aniseed, white pepper, and coriander. Next to that, people add ginger, cardamom, and sometimes mace. I have included the recipe for speculaas below, in case you'd like to try to make it from scratch. 

In its origin, Speculoos spiced baked goods in the shapes of animals were offered to the gods as a supplication for good harvests. As Christianity rose in popularity, the cookies and baked goods took on the shape of beloved patron saints like the bishop of Myra AKA Saint Nicholas. This tradition continues even in our age as Speculaas spiced goods are still served on Saint Nicholas Day. Traditionally, every baker had their own unique blend of Speculaas. At one point, there was even a custom of giving a male or female-shaped baked good to a suitor or lover as a token of your affection. We love it in our baked goods no matter what they are intended to represent, as long as they are delicious!

This whole-grain granola is just such a treat. Adding this complex spice gives it a unique and divine flavor, and will surely become one of your favorites.

Banana Bread Speculaas Granola


¼ cup Coconut Oil or olive oil
½ cup Coconut Sugar or Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp. Vanilla, pure extract
2 Medium ripe Bananas, mashed
4 cups  Rolled Oats
¾ cup Whole Almonds, raw, chopped
¼ cup Teff, Chia Seeds, or Flax seeds
1 Tbsp. Dutch Speculaas spice or Cinnamon
½ tsp salt


    • Wash and sanitize all work surfaces and tools.
    • Preheat the oven to 325°F.
    • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
    • Combine coconut oil, sugar, vanilla, and mashed bananas in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and stir well.
    • Bake the granola by dividing it between the two baking sheets. Bake for 35 minutes, stirring halfway through baking. Remove from oven and cool completely. Yield 20 1/4 cup servings.

Estimated Nutritional Information: 144 cal, 7 g fat, 18 carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 3 g protein.

Speculaas Spice blend

3 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. white pepper
½ tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground cardamom
Directions: Combine all the spices well. Transfer to an airtight spice jar. Yield approx 1/4 cup.
There you go, darlings! Make some homemade granola!

Always My Very Best,
Chef Tess

Saturday, September 2, 2023

6 Grain Red Bean Pilaf with Grilled Garlic Jalapeño Chicken

 Healthy, whole-grain, budget-friendly meals are one of my specialties! This recipe uses Triticale, Red Wheat, White Wheat, Barley, Oat Groats, or Rye interchangeably. If you use all of the grains, it is very colorful and has a more significant nutrition range, but there's no wrong way to make this! I know it will surely be a hit at your dinner.

6 Grain Red Bean Pilaf

1 1/2 cups Whole hard red wheat, white wheat, oat groats, barley, rye, or triticale
3 cups Organic Red Beans, canned, drained
2 Tbsp. Montreal-style Steak Seasoning
3 Tbsp. Garlic, minced


  • Add 6 cups water to the grain in a 4-quart slow cooker on high for 1 ½ hours to cook the grain. Drain the grain well.
  • It should make about 5 cups. After the grain is tender, add the remaining ingredients and cook for 30 minutes more on high.

You can use any combination of those whole unrolled grains or one grain by itself, as long as it equals 1 1/2 cups of uncooked grain. The cooked amount of grain will be 5 cups.

Grilled Garlic Jalapeño Chicken


4 Jalapeño, seeded and chopped fine
3 Tbsp. Garlic, minced
1/2 cup Olive or Avocado Oil
1/2 cup Lime Juice
2 tsp Sea salt
1 Tbsp. Black Pepper

8 Chicken and leg thighs


  • Combine the first six ingredients and whisk well.
  • Retain 1/2 cup of the marinade for drizzling over the chicken after cooking. In a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, combine the chicken with the remaining marinade and place in the fridge overnight (up to 3 days).
  • When ready to eat, bake in a covered cast iron dish for 20-25 minutes until the internal temperature is over 165 degrees.
  • Finish cooking on a BBQ grill or a stove-top grill pan. Serve over the 6 Grain Red Bean Pilaf.

There you go! Make a delicious and healthy whole-grain meal today!

Always My Very Best,
Chef Tess 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Grandma's Classic Soft Ginger Molasses Cookies


Looking for a soft, spiced molasses cookie with flavors to instantly transport you back to Grandma's kitchen? This is it. I bake them most often during the holidays, but I love them all year round!

I used freshly grated ginger for the most distinct flavor in this recipe, but you may use dry ginger if you'd like. We favor adding a little vanilla to the dough, as it mellows the flavors and marries them. We also love them with a good coating of Raw sugar. Raw sugar is the residue left after sugarcane has been processed to remove molasses and refine the sugar crystals. With a flavor similar to brown sugar, it should not be confused with brown sugar. We coat these cookies in Demerara sugar, a coarse-textured, dry, raw sugar from the Demerara area of Guyana, just before baking. It gives them a crispy, sugary coating that remarkably compliments the soft ginger cookies.

Soft Ginger Molasses Cookies

¾ cup butter softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
¼ cup blackstrap molasses
1 tsp. vanilla
2 ½ cups All-purpose Flour
2 tsp. freshly grated ginger root (or 1 tsp dry ground)
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. Ground Saigon cinnamon
½ tsp. Ground cloves
½ tsp. salt
1/2 cup Raw Demerara Sugar for Garnish


  • In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in egg, molasses, and vanilla.
  • Combine the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt; gradually add to the creamed mixture and mix well.
  • Roll into 1-1/2-in. balls, then roll in Raw sugar.
  • Place 2 in. apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350°F until puffy and lightly browned, 10-12 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

The Best Money-Saving Homemade Baking and Mix Ideas for the Holidays


It's that time of year. We all know the crunch as the season of giving stresses our budgets to the limit and sometimes makes us wish that the whole process of gifting didn't have to be so materialistic. I've long been a person who considers gift-giving as my love language. I listen intently all year long when friends and family talk about their secret wishes or favorite flavors. I mentally store away that magical information to find or make that perfect present. When someone else does the same for me, my heart will almost skip a beat. I feel it on a deeply personal level. Yet, that warm need to share never goes away. 

I've also been known for many years for my Meal in a Jar mixes and baking mixes. I love to make jar mixes because they can be kept on hand and used conveniently. As a result, there's less temptation to eat all the treats at once. 

So without further blah, blah, blah. Here are some of the best Money-Saving Homemade Baking and Mix Ideas for the Holidays. They're not in any particular order. 

Sweet Potato Buttermilk Sticky Bun Baking Kit

I build the kit in a large #10 can and wrap the can with a holiday apron when I give it away.

Evil Genius 4 Holiday Cookie Mixes in One

Probably one of the most popular posts of all time! Holiday Cookie Mix! 

Neighbor Gift Ideas for Christmas!

Okay, it's not actually baking, but we use this vinegar in many of our baking recipes. 

Fruit Crisp Mix

There you go! Make some great and extremely cool personal gifts this year! I know we're doing the same. After issues with my personal health and some setbacks, it's time to save money. 

Always My Very Best,

Chef Tess