Chocolate silk pie with salted caramel ribbons

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A perfect past time for me is to dig into a new baking cookbook.  My latest find, The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl and Griffith Day, featuring treats from their bakery of the same name in Savannah, GA, is a true gem.  While perusing this book at my children’s gymnastics class last week, I felt inspired to bake a cream pie with ingredients I had at home.

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Before we begin, let me just say with pride that – yes – I do generally have chocolate chips, heaving whipping cream and a can of sweetened condensed milk just sitting around waiting to pour into something fabulous.

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My other impetus for baking this pie was to congratulate a friend on a job well done after she completed her first marathon this fall!  Go Ellen!  I wanted to make something special for her and caramel is pure gold when it comes to special.  As you might know, most crust recipes make enough for a top and a bottom for one pie, or a shell for two cream pies.  Since we were in cream pie territory, there was plenty of crust to thank another dear friend for supporting and sharing in my baking business dreams.  Go Amy!  So here’s to you Ellen and Amy.  Love ya!

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As the recipes below describe, this pie rolls out to completion through a twelve step plan of sorts.  After gymnastics class last Friday; I made, chilled and baked the pie crusts.  Then I made the chocolate custard, poured it into the shells and allowed the custard to set overnight.  The next day, with renewed energy, I made the caramel sauce.  This is my usual go-to recipe for caramel (the stuff literally glistens like gold), but I cooked it for less time (up to 220 degrees F instead of 250 for caramel pieces) to create a thick, perfectly “bite-able” sauce.  Divine.  Once cool, I drizzled the caramel sauce over and around the set pie, allowing some sauce to drip down over the edges of the crust.  Then, before the caramel set, I immediately sprinkled on Maldon sea salt flakes.  Divine squared.

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Finally, I whipped the cream to soft peaks using the whisk attachment on my standing mixer and added 1/2 cup of cooled caramel sauce.  Thereafter, I beat the cream to stiff peaks and spread it over the pie with a sprinkling of chocolate bits to hint at the chocolate silk inside.  A perfect fall package that I insist on day dreaming about through Thanksgiving and beyond.    It’s highly advisable.  (;

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Old-Fashioned Flaky Pie Crust

Slightly adapted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl and Griffith Day

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cake flour (not self rising)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt flakes (table salt is ok)
1 large egg
1/2 cup plus 2 to 3 tablespoons ice water, plus more if necessary
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into cubes
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar and salt; set aside.

2.  In a large measuring cup or a small bowl, beat the egg with 1/2 cup of the water and the vinegar.

3.  Add the shortening and butter to the flour and, using a pastry blender, cut it in until the butter resembles small peas.  Add the egg mixture, gently tossing and mixing with your hands or a fork just until the dough comes together in a ball.  If the dough seems too dry, add a little more ice water, about 1 tablespoon at a time as necessary.

4.  Gather the dough together on a lightly floured work surface and divide it evenly into 2 balls.  Wrap each half in plastic wrap and flatten with the palm of your hand into a disk.  Chill for at least 1 hour.  The dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

5.  To roll out the dough, dust your hands and the rolling pin with flour.  On a lightly floured piece of parchment, roll out the chilled dough into a 12-inch round.  Roll the dough from the center out, rotating it slightly as you roll to prevent sticking and to keep it round.  Dust off any excess flour.  Roll up the dough onto the rolling pin and place it in the pie dish.  Carefully arrange the dough to slump inside the dish and press it into the edges.  Trim the excess dough with kitchen shears, leaving about a 1 inch overhang.

6.  For a prebaked shell, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line the pie shell with aluminum foil or parchment and fill with dried beans or pie weights.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove the parchment and pie weights and bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until golden brown.  Let cool before filling.

Chocolate Silk Pie Filling

(Enough for one pie, double recipe for 2 pie shells.)

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon sea salt flakes (table salt is ok)
2 1/2 cups milk
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1.  In a bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar, the cornstarch and 3/4 teaspoon salt.

2.  In a saucepan over medium-high, combine milk and chocolate, stirring occasionally, until chocolate melts completely.  Whisk 1 cup hot milk mixture into sugar mixture until smooth.  Whisk milk-sugar mixture into remaining milk mixture in saucepan.  Cook over medium, stirring constantly, until bubbling and thick, 4 to 5 minutes.

3.  Whisk egg yolks in a medium bowl until combined.  Whisk in milk mixture in a slow, steady stream.  Return mixture to saucepan.  Cook over medium, stirring constantly, until it just begins to bubble, 1 to 2 minutes.

4.  Pour through a fine sieve into a large bowl, and stir in vanilla.  Let custard cool, whisking occasionally, about 10 minutes.

5.  Pour into crust.  Press plastic wrap on surface of custard.  Refrigerate until set, 4 hours (or, wrapped in plastic, up to 1 day).

Caramel Sauce and Caramel Whipped Cream

(Caramel sauce recipe makes more than enough for 2 pies – freeze the extra sauce.  Double the whipped cream recipe for 2 pie shells.)

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 stick (1/2 c.) salted butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups light corn syrup
Maldon sea salt flakes

1.  Remove paper wrapper from can of sweetened condensed milk.  Place unopened can in a pot of water, making sure to cover the can with water.  Bring water to boil on a burner set to high.  Turn the heat down to medium and simmer the can in the water for 2 hours.  Make sure the can is covered by water at all times.

2.  While the milk simmers, generously grease a large rimmed cookie sheet with butter.  If using crackers, popcorn, chocolate or other treats, arrange them on the pan.  I would advise using a few chocolate chips because the caramel does not adhere well to a “sheet” of chocolate.

3.  After two hours, off heat and remove the can from the pot of water.  The contents are under pressure, so open the can carefully with a can opener, preferably in the kitchen sink, because a bit of cooked milk will squirt out.  The milk should be a light caramel color.

4.  Pour the cooked milk in a heavy pot.  Add the butter, sugar and corn syrup, and mix with a wooden or silicone spoon.  Have an instant read or candy thermometer handy, and place the pot on a burner set to medium.

5.  Stir the mixture continuously, taking care to scrape the bottom of the pot, for approximately 20 minutes, until the temperature reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit.  Check to see if the consistency is right by dabbing a bit of the sauce on a plate to see if it runs down a bit, but generally stays put.

6.  When the mixture reaches 220 degrees and the sauce is the consistency you desire, immediately remove the pot from the heat and place the pot in the prepared ice bath.  Leave the pot in the ice bath until the caramel sauce is cool, approximately 20 minutes.

7.  Drizzle the caramel sauce over the cooled custard and the edges of the pie.  Immediately sprinkle on Maldon sea salt flakes before the caramel sets.

8.  For the whipped cream, beat 3/4 cup cream with the whisk attachment on high until soft peaks form.  Gently fold 1/2 cup cooled caramel sauce into the whipped cream and whisky until stiff peaks form.  Spread whipped cream over pie.  Garnish with chocolate shavings or bits.

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Looking forward sun cake

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I thought this post would work for today, a day we fall back an hour for daylight savings.  The gesture reminds me of a cake I did for a gal’s 40th birthday party a few months ago.  It was a surprise couple’s party at a bar, hosted by the birthday girl’s best friend.  After finding a boat load of golden streamers, plates and other party stuff at the dollar store, the host landed on the theme “40 is Golden.”

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When she first presented the theme to me (to translate into a cake on a budget), I couldn’t get past images of golden anniversaries and the decadent frills of my grandparents’ cake that marked their 50th wedding anniversary.  I knew right then – while beautiful – gilded roses entwining the cake just might strangle the just-leaving-her-30’s recipient (that is, if she is even 1/10th as vain as me).

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So…I opted for modern whimsy with a sun face that winks to the future, knowing that the days ahead will be just as promising and full as the days already gone.

The cake was yummy and a bit of a hybrid – 3 layers of my go-to chocolate cake with a Nutella cloud icing topped with a made-from-scratch marshmallow fondant with gold details made with piping gel and gold disco dust.  It felt like a bit of a risk – but then so is life – if we let it.

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Halloween grab bag!

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This little set came together as  favors for a Halloween themed birthday party.  Cute stuff for a cute kiddo!  We started with classic jack-o-lanterns –

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those bug-eyed bats from last year (still searching for their anxiety meds) –

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and some giant candy corn, gone cute.

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I just can’t get enough of those wide set eyes and a little turn of a mouth on cookies.  It must be my affection for pop art with a Hello Kitty sensibility.  Nothing says Halloween like Hello Kitty’s cousin –  a saucer-eyed candy corn – right?  Who needs skulls and gore and haunting when the sugar’s so nice, don’t you think?

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Have a great fall!  In the meantime, I’ll keep orange on the royal icing palette through Thanksgiving!

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Easy chocolate swirly stuff for swirly, busy seasons

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There’s a great big part of me that can’t believe we’ve already hurled ourselves through the first month of school, with all of its morning bells, fill-in-the-sport practices x-times a week, dog-eared music books and homework logs.  And the lunches.  Endless boxes full of snatches of things like half an apple (sliced), a handful of crackers and a few dried cranberries (never to be mixed) with toasted sandwiches and a little something sweet.  Sweet because I’m the mom in this scenario and life just cannot continue hurling away without some sugar, as thoughtfully presented as possible.  These days, that usually means Teddy Grahams (chocolate).

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And all of this shall be done in and around normal life and evening meetings for the grown-ups.  To discuss school budgets and harvest parties and fun runs and school rules and when the next meeting shall take place….

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In times like these, cookie time gets nixed.  My plans for back-to-school cookies, including shiny red apples and clapboard school houses with old fashioned brass bells, never made it past my list of things to do that’s always running through my head every night before bed.

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Instead, I scrambled for a frozen set of heart cookies, made a couple months before.  Extras from a summer wedding.  Remember summer?  All blankets on tall grass, and worries about the weight of the sunscreen bottle, summer?

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Anyhoo, back to my butter hearts.  For these, I relied on my all time favorite vanilla-butter sugar cookie recipe that I have enhanced a bit after finding the original recipe at Bake at 350.  If you know me at all, you know this recipe changed my life, even more than packing lunches 165 days a year.

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To make these hearts something special, I whipped up a quick chocolate glaze that is from a Mrs. Field’s cookie book.  It’s a great little recipe – much like a classic ganache – but the chocolate sets a little harder yet it still yields perfectly when you bite into the cookie.  I like the shine and once set, I like how you can arrange the cookies on a plate without worrying about the cookies sticking together or GASP!, marring the piped designs.

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I’ve used this chocolate glaze for years to dip and add swirls to almond cookies that I make at Christmastime.  This time, when I wanted a quick sweet treat to bring to a school meeting, it took me less than 20 minutes to make the icing and decorate the cookies.  Plus, you can freeze the extras for another harried week.  But that won’t happen for a while now that September’s behind us, right?  Right?

Vanilla-Butter Sugar Cookies

Makes approx. 24 cookies

3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup sugar
2 sticks (salted) butter, cold
1 egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1  teaspoon pure vanilla paste (optional – use vanilla extract if you don’t have vanilla paste)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream the sugar and butter on medium speed, approx. 3 minutes.
3.  Add the egg, extracts and vanilla paste, and mix. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat just until combined, scraping down the bowl, especially the bottom. The dough will be crumbly, so knead it together with your hands as you scoop it out of the bowl for rolling.
4.  Roll onto a floured surface and cut into shapes. To avoid sticking, it’s okay to add extra flour while you roll out and cut the dough.

5.  Place the cookies on parchment lined baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes, until the bottoms are just beginning to get a golden edge.  When done, gently pull the parchment paper (with cookies) to a wire cooling rack.  Frost as desired.

Mrs. Fields Chocolate Glaze

1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons light corn syrup

1.  Scald cream in a small saucepan, then remove from heat.  Stir in chocolate chips and corn syrup; cover and let stand for 15 minutes.

2.  With a small wire whisk or wooden spoon, gently mix glaze until smooth, being careful not to create bubbles in the chocolate.

3.  Drizzle or pipe patterns on cool cookies with the warm chocolate glaze, or dip half of each cookie into the glaze.  Refrigerate the cookies on wax paper until the glaze has set, about 10 minutes.

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Chocolate adorned raspberry cheesecake

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I’ve been waiting to post this cake since last spring.  And today – maybe because the pictures evoke an autumnal tone, or because I just celebrated a birthday myself – I’m feeling happy and energized and ready to type up a recipe for you.

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This is a cake I made for my friend Elise, whom I am coming to believe is my “dessert twin.”  Everything sweet that she likes, I like.  Accordingly, the cheesecake with a handful of fresh raspberries and a hint of chocolate garnish that she chose for her last birthday is the cake that my mind wanders to when I’m dessert dreaming.  It happens a lot.

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This cake is a Dorie Greenspan beauty that I coronated with a crown of sugared raspberries and chocolate leaves.

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That firm but yielding outer layer of cheesecake, lightly browned like a marshmallow over a backyard fire, is what calls to me.  In this cake, the outer walls also reveal the rolling clump of raspberries casually tossed in the batter when the pan was half full and not yet baked.  That second layer of batter covers every inch of the raspberries like a fluffy, delicious blanket.

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For the topping, I made a half batch of chocolate ganache and piped on the double loops once the cake was set.  While the cake baked, I sugared the raspberries and made the chocolate leaves.

To create those delicate things, I chose mint leaves that I picked up in the fresh herbs section of the grocery store.  I thought mint leaves looked a lot like the leaves on a raspberry bush, plus they are almost always available for purchase, so that made the decision easy.

Here’s the directions for the Delicate Chocolate Leaves:

1.  Wash and dry leaves thoroughly.

2.  Using the best chocolate available, chop the chocolate into small pieces and melt it in a glass bowl covered with plastic wrap in the microwave. Cook the chocolate on high at 30 second intervals, taking care not to burn the chocolate.  Use of a double boiler on the stovetop would work just as well.

3.  Once the chocolate is ready and as smooth as possible, use a clean flat brush to paint the chocolate on the underside of the leaves, creating a thick layer. Then, place the leaves on a cookie sheet lined with wax or parchment paper and freeze for 5 minutes.

4.  Thereafter, paint a second layer of chocolate and place the leaves back in the freezer for at least another 5 minutes, or until ready to place them on the cake.

5.  When ready to place the layers on the cake, delicately pull the leaves from the chocolate and immediately place the leaves where desired. Work quickly, because unlike M&M’s these morsels do melt in your hands.

Raspberry Cloud Cheesecake

very slightly adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking:  From My Home to Yours

For the Crust:

1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

For the Cheesecake:

2 pounds (four 8-ounce boxes) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sour cream
1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries (divided)

To make the crust:

1.  Butter a 9-inch springform pan with sides that are 2 3/4 -inch high (any lower and the batter will spill over) and wrap the bottom of the pan with a double layer of aluminum foil.

2.  Stir the crumbs, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl.  Pour over the melted butter and using your fingers, blend until all of the dry ingredients are uniformly moist.

3.  Turn the ingredients into the springform pan and use your fingers to pat an even layer of crumbs over the bottom of the pan and about halfway up the sides.  Don’t worry if the sides are not perfectly even or not right at the midway point.  Freeze crust while you preheat the oven or are otherwise ready to use (crust can be frozen for up to 2 months).

4.  Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Place the springform pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.  Allow the crust to cool on a rack.

To make the cheesecake:

1.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F and put a kettle of water on to boil.

2.  Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until soft and creamy, about 4 minutes.  With the mixer running, add the sugar and salt and continue to beat for another 4 minutes or so until the cream cheese is light.

3.  Beat in the vanilla.  Add the eggs one by one, beating for a full minute after each addition – you want a well-aerated batter.  Reduce speed to low and mix in the sour cream.

4.  Put the foil-wrapped springform pan in a roasting pan that is large enough to hold the springform pan with some space around it.

5.  Give the batter a few stirs with a rubber spatula, to make sure there is nothing left unmixed at the bottom of the bowl.  Then, scrape half of the batter into the springform pan.  Thereafter, drop in one cup fresh raspberries (reserve the remaining 1/2 cup to garnish the top of the cake).

6.  Top the raspberries with the remaining batter, until it reaches the rim of the pan.

7.  Put the roasting pan in the oven and pour enough boiling water into it to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

8.  Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, at which point the top should be browned (and perhaps cracked) and may have risen just a little above the rim of the pan.  Turn off the oven and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon.  Allow the cheesecake to luxuriate in its water bath for another hour.

9.  After one hour, carefully pull the setup out of the oven and lift the springform pan out of the roaster.  Be careful, as there may be water in the aluminum foil.  Remove the foil and allow the cheesecake to come to room temperature on a cooling rack.

10.  When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and refrigerate for at least 4 hours; overnight is better.

11.  At serving time, remove the sides of the springform pan (you can use a hairdryer to do this) and set the cake on a serving platter.

12.  Garnish as desired.

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I’ve dreamed about this cake since I last made it over six months ago.  Perhaps it’s time to pick up another 2 pounds of cream cheese….

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Classic children’s books, now in butterback

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I think I might have really fooled her this time – that almost 20-month old of mine. As I was photographing these cookies, she cried and cried when I wouldn’t give her a Very Hungry Caterpillar cookie, despite her repeated chest pumps and screams for “me, ME!!!,” which translates simply to “mine.”

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As in, “that’s mine. Give the book to me immediately or the screaming torture will continue indefinitely.”

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Unfortunately for Ren, these cookies were not painstakingly piped and painted for her, but for two little twin babies yet to be born – a boy and a girl – as wrapped favors at their mom’s baby shower. The theme was classic children’s books, a brilliant idea for a double gender baby shower!

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I must admit, my mission – which I chose to accept (sort of) – was to make some basic books with a cute bookworm peeking out. But I couldn’t handle those blank covers!

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Especially with all the silly, colorful, totally recognizable board books out there just screaming to be recreated in royal icing. So I went for it, all over scheduled, not-enough-time-in-the-day (or night) whole of me. Ultimately, I made four book covers (six cookies per design).

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Can you recognize this quality literature for the preschool set?

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Goodnight Moon, because of all the darn stuff in that room, was likely the most difficult. Remind me to stick with solid color curtains for all future decorating projects (baking or otherwise). Piping the starry window was my favorite part of this cookie.

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Recreating a cute Corduroy six times over was also a bit tedious, but worth it in the end with that red background!

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My husband likes the caterpillar the best because of the color pop, but I’m partial to that soft Pat the Bunny. Probably because it really is just for baby.

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For these cookies, I used the Kopy Kake and a lot of wet-on-wet technique. Once the first application dried over night, I did some actual painting with royal icing and various flat brushes. For Corduroy, I used a black fine tip food marker to add the face, fur and other details.  Final piping, such as outlines and lettering, were added last.

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Let’s go SAINTS! cookies

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Who dat said they gon bake dem Saints cookies? Who dat? Me, me!

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A work associate of my husband’s and a really great guy is a die hard New Orlean’s Saints fan.

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For his birthday this year, he asked for Saints cookies and I couldn’t wait to dive into the black and gold.

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In honor of the Saint’s 2013 season opener today and their late possession WIN over the Falcons (go defense!!!), I thought I’d post this Saints set.

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Before this little post is over, I must admit that while I spent a couple wonderful years in Louisiana in my early twenties, my true loyalties lie with my husband’s beloved hometown team. If you look closely, you might guess who dat.

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I couldn’t resist sneaking it in the set. Our buddy assured me that, he too, couldn’t resist biting into it first and bucking that bronco out of the field. Touche and…game on! (;

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