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How Sweet It Is

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Written by Peggy Fallon   
Friday, 05 March 2010

Photo by Leigh Beisch
Jill O'Connor makes the kind of desserts everybody loves to eat. I'm pretty sure she's never published a recipe for anything like tarragon-quince panna cotta sprinkled with fleur de sel and drizzled with a chai reduction laced with chipotle pepper.

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey Treats for Kids caters to the kid in each of us. Just to be on the safe side, the author employed an official tasting panel that ranges from her husband and two young daughters to the local Brownie troop and kids in the park. I mean, how can you not like someone whose official bio ends with the line, "She firmly believes every earthquake survival kit should include a case of Marshmallow Fluff." You go, girl.

Ms. O'Connor's talent in the kitchen is not just some lucky fluke--she is a bonafide pro who studied at the International Pastry Arts Center in New York and holds a certificate from the Cordon Bleu in London.  I've been a big fan of her books for many years; this latest volume comes on the coattails of her utterly wonderful Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey: Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth.

In addition to standard baking information, the book contains three chock-full chapters brimming with kid-friendly recipes. The first covers breakfast, with wake-up wonders like Sticky Butterscotch French Toast, Banana Split Pancakes, and Curiously Sticky Caramel Monkey Bread, guaranteed to catapult any sleepy-head out of bed. The next chapter honors every day as a holiday - either real or imagined - with Heaven-Sent Angel Biscuits, Wicked Good Chocolate Peanut Butter Pudding Cups, and Quickberry! Quackberry! Blackberry-Apple Crumble. The final chapter concentrates on sweets suitable for parties (or any other celebration), with recipes like Pinkalicious Princess Cupcakes (surely the stuff little girls' dreams are made of), Flufftastic Fudge, and The Best Chocolate Birthday Cake Ever. What's not to like?

Photo by Leigh Beisch
Beyond the good solid recipes, this book is a fun read. People might be surprised to learn how much time is spent fine-tuning the text and head notes that precede each recipe in a cookbook. The author is expected to offer some relevant vignette or helpful information concerning the origin of the recipe; or perhaps details concerning an unusual ingredient; or some other tip for success. And as if that were not enough, all this must be expressed in delicious prose gushing with enthusiasm, so the reader will be inspired to make the recipe immediately. If the writer misses the mark in capturing this emotion, the editor throws it back to you for a re-write. Sometimes again and again. Not a big deal for a couple of recipes, but the process can become very tedious after the first 20 - especially when you wonder how many people will actually take the time to read them once the book is published. So I always make a point of reading headers, as a show of solidarity with fellow cookbook authors. With that said, I must say Jill's head notes are genius. In fact, I actually looked forward to reading each one; and was often moved to laugh out loud at her wit. This, paired with charming photos and graphics and pages with die-cut edges, all secured in a sturdy spiral-bound binder, makes a book that is both practical and gift-worthy.

I snagged a copy with the intention of baking for my grandchildren, but I know plenty of grown-ups - myself included - who will gladly gobble up this collection of recipes.

Hunka Chunka Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies 

From Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey Treats for Kids by Jill O'Connor (Chronicle Books, 2009)

There is nothing like watching a group of 7-year-olds taste a batch of chocolate chip cookies - they do so with the same intensity and concentration usually reserved for sampling a fine, aged Bordeaux. These big, fat, saucer-size cookies are crisp around the edges but lusciously soft and chewy in the center. Chockfull of chips and picture perfect, they have been sampled many times to great acclaim-touted as much for their simplicity as their flavor. Starting the batter with melted butter keeps these cookies chewy and dense, and chilling the dough for a little while before baking yields cookies that one young tester told me "look like they came from the bakery." Compliments, indeed.

Makes 18 big cookies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups semisweet chocolate chips

{Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or coat lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the melted butter, sugars, vanilla, eggs, and egg yolk. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into the bowl and stir the ingredients together to form a soft dough. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Using a 2-ounce self-releasing ice-cream scoop or a 1/4-cup measuring cup, form large balls of cookie dough. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, 9 to a sheet to allow room for spreading, and chill the dough for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake the cookies until they are golden brown and crisp around the edges but still slightly soft in the center, 15 to 17 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and allow cookies to cool completely on the baking sheet before eating.

Peanut Butter-Pretzel Bonbons

From Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey Treats for Kids by Jill O'Connor (Chronicle Books, 2009)

If you love peanut butter in your chocolate, and chocolate in your peanut butter, these baby bonbons were born just for you. Sweet and creamy, with a savory, crunchy kick from crushed pretzels and a lively crackle from bits of chopped English toffee, these candies will knock your socks off. They have been sampled by hungry elementary school teachers, skeptical culinary students, and little kids at the park, and everywhere they went these fat little bonbons were met with astonished delight at how tasty they were-and you will be amazed at how easy they are to create in your own kitchen.

Makes 35 to 40 bonbons

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 2 cups creamy peanut butter
  • 2 cups (about 10 ounces) finely chopped pretzel sticks
  • 1 cup crushed Heath English Toffee Bits, or Heath Almond Brickle Bits
  • 1 1/2 pounds finely chopped semisweet chocolate melted with 4 tablespoons vegetable shortening, or 1 1/2 pounds dark chocolate confectionery coating, melted, or 2 tubs (7 ounces each) dipping chocolate
  • 1 cup finely chopped salted peanuts for rolling (optional)
  • 1 cup Belgian chocolate jimmies (or vermicelli) for rolling (optional)  

In a large bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer set at medium speed, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the peanut butter until combined. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the pretzel sticks and toffee bits.

Cover and refrigerate the mixture until it is very firm, 2 to 3 hours. Roll the mixture, by heaping tablespoons, into 1-inch balls. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Cover the bonbons with plastic wrap and freeze until they are very firm, about 30 minutes.

Combine the chopped chocolate and shortening, cut into small bits, on a large, microwave-safe dinner plate. Microwave at half-power for 1 minute. When melted, the chocolate will appear soft and shiny but will still hold its shape; stir smooth. If the chocolate is not completely melted, heat in 30-second increments, stirring until smooth. Transfer the chocolate to a medium bowl.   If using confectionery coating, repeat this process without using the shortening.  If using dipping chocolate in a tub, follow the dipping directions listed on the container.

To make dipping the bonbons easy, and less messy, try wearing latex gloves, available in most pharmacies. Working with one bonbon at a time, quickly dip it in the melted chocolate, rolling it around to coat it completely. Rest the bonbon on a fork and let any excess chocolate drain away. Immediately roll the bonbon in the chopped peanuts or chocolate jimmies and place on the parchment-lined baking sheet to harden.

Alternatively, place the dipped bonbon without the jimmies or nut coating, on the parchment-lined baking sheet and top with one perfect salted peanut or a sprinkling of crushed English toffee, or when the bonbon is firm, drizzle lightly with melted white chocolate.

About Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey Treats for Kids

ImageTeeny tummies love yummy treats. Sticky Chewy Messy Gooey Treats for Kids is bursting with 30 tasty but simple recipes for sticky sweets and gooey breakfasts. Such delights as Pinkalicious Princess Cupcakes, Wicked Good Chocolate Peanut Butter Pudding Cups, Banana Split Pancakes, and Hunka Chunka Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies are the kinds of treats kids will love. With a lay-flat binding, an easy-to-clean cover, and step-by-step instructions, this book gets the whole family gathered around the mixing bowl.

Available at

Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.


Last Updated ( Thursday, 04 March 2010 )
spm (Author) 2010-03-07 09:42:52

I'm salivating reading these recipes. These seem like the type of recipes that one must make and take somewhere. Otherwise, one would sit down and eat the entire batch. Thanks for the great review!
peggy (Author) 2010-03-07 13:09:56

Ah my hips!
These recipes are definitely meant to be shared--which makes them all the more appealing. Take a tip from the Boy Scouts and stock up on butter and chocolate (and, of course, Marshmallow Fluff). This way, you'll always be prepared.
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