Sweets for the Sweetest

By Lucie R. Willsie

February 12, 2014

Writer’s Note: With Valentine’s Day almost here, I gathered some of the best sweets recipes — cakes, cookies, cupcakes, even a pudding or two — that I have come across over the past year so readers out there can do it up right for their sweeties for this year’s “sweet” holiday.


“I don’t consider myself a wonderful cook,” said Peggy Tim, program assistant for the Healthy Families Program in the N.C. Cooperative Extension Agency, with genuine modesty. But she also does admit that she spends most of her time in the kitchen, whether or not she is at home or at work, cooking for others. “It’s just that I know how to use spices and how things go well together.”

One of her favorite family recipes, for example, is Italian Fig Cookies — made with figs, dates, nuts, raisins, ground cinnamon, honey and orange marmalade. It is a dearly beloved recipe that Tim makes every year at Christmas time, even though it is extremely time-consuming.

The Pumpkin Parfait and the Italian Fig Cookies are Tim’s recipes.


Beulah Ruritans are known for helping their community.

The group is a service organization that work on various community projects, said Goldie Sparger, secretary for the Beulah Ruritan club.

But the group and its members also are known for their cooking and baking.

Members of the Beulah Ruritans meet regularly once a month on the first Thursday, but only about twice a year do they bring in a dozen or more homemade dishes, a veritable feast, from entrees to desserts, veggies to appetizers, to enjoy before their meeting.

Sparger made the Strawberry Pie recipe.


Lydia Taylor always figured she would get married and be a stay-at-home mom and raise her children.

She did — get married and have children and raised them beautifully.

But life also had other plans for Taylor.

What she never expected, never anticipated was that she would also have a career in home economics as well.

In fact, she had a 40-year, give or take, teaching career right here in North Carolina at Surry Community College.

“I taught it all,” she said. “Nutrition, bread baking, foreign foods, interior design … I’m a born teacher. I enjoy helping people learn.”

She loves watching the cooking shows and chefs on TV, particularly “Rachel Rae” and the “Barefoot Contessa.”

Taylor also admits she’s a “sugaraholic.”

“I love sweets,” she admitted.

“Some I haven’t made in a long time,” Taylor said.

Taylor made the Hummingbird Cake Bites and the Apple Dumplings.


Food is a fond memory and a significant part of special events in a person’s life, said Chef Chris Wishart, owner and chef at his restaurant — Trio — right here in Mount Airy.

“I cook a lot at home. I cook at home like I do at the restaurant. I sometimes cook even more at home,” Wishart said. Beef bourguignon. Salmon fillets. Pan-seared scallops. “It’s one of my most favorite things in my life to do.”

And he has made sure he shares his love and enjoyment of food, conversation, friends and family with all — even when he’s enjoying a weekday meal with his two children — Isabell, 8, and Lauren, 5.

“Other things can wait,” he tells his two girls. He reminds them they have at least 45 minutes to just sit down with dad, enjoy great food, talk with each other, enjoy each other’s company and share some great times and memories for a lifetime — “like civilized people,” he’s taught them.

“No T.V.,” he said. “No distractions.”

Wishart made the Belgian Chocolate Ganache Torte.


Sherry White is an administrative assistant in the corporate and continuing education department at Surry Community College.

But she is best known for her chocolate chip cookies, hummingbird cake, peaches and cream pie, cup cakes and pecan muffins.

“I love sweets,” she admitted. “And I enjoy making good food, all the much more when I know someone will enjoy it.”

“My mom always baked … She was a wonderful cook too … She still is … In fact, so were both of my grandmas,” White said. White learned all the “ins and outs” of cooking from these three. “She pretty much taught me what to do in the kitchen … altering recipes … making do with what we had … substituting ingredients … I have been blessed to have their guidance in the kitchen.”

But her first foray into baking was chocolate chip cookies, she said, when she first made some in her high school economics class.

In fact, White and her friend, Angela Dawson, started trying to perfect making the best chocolate chip cookie possible.

“She had a love of chocolate chip cookies as I did,” White said. They experimented, traded various recipes back and forth, made their own tweaks, changing the amount of sugar, adding corn syrup — and shared them with each other — until they came up with what they thought was the best chocolate chip cookie ever. “The perfect soft, chewy chocolate chip cookie.”

“You would think that baking would be easy,” White added, but a baker has to be precise when measuring to have the dish turn out properly. “You can’t just add a little of this and a little of that,” she emphasized.

White made the Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, the Peaches and Cream, and the Vanilla Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting.







4 cups of flour

1 ½ Tablespoons of baking powder

¼ teaspoon of salt

½ cup of sugar

1 cup of vegetable shortening

1 egg

1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract

½ cup of milk


1 cup of dried figs (cut “tails” off)

1 cup of dried dates

¾ cup of raisins

½ cup of walnuts chopped

½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon

¼ cup of honey

¼ cup of orange marmalade

2 Tablespoons of whiskey or rum (this cooks away but helps preserve)


2 cups of powdered sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

4 Tablespoons of milk (approximately)

Colored sprinkles


Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk in the sugar and combine well. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender and work it until it resembles cornmeal. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and vanilla. Add the egg mixture to the dry mixture and mix with an electric mixer for 3 minutes. The dough will be soft. Remove the dough and knead by hand on lightly floured surface for 5 minutes. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for several hours. To make the filling, grind the figs, dates and raisins in a food processor until course. (COOK’S NOTE: Bakers used a hand crank meat grinder years ago.) Place this mixture into a bowl. Add the remaining filling ingredients. (COOK’S NOTE: This filling is very thick and sticky.) Preheat the oven to 375-degrees Fahrenheit and line the two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Work with one piece of dough at a time, leaving the remainder in the refrigerator until needed. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a 12-inch square. Cut the dough into 2x3 inch rectangles. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the filling into the middle of each rectangle. Carefully fold the short edges over to meet in the middle and pinch to seal. Seal the sides as well. Place each cookie, seam side down, leaving about 1 to 2 inches between each cookie. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until they are golden brown. Cool on a wire cooling rack until completely cooled. Continue in the same fashion to finish the cookies. Mix the ingredients for the icing, adding the milk a bit at a time to keep it smooth. Add enough milk to make a frosting thick enough not to run. Sprinkle with colored sprinkles and let the icing completely set up. Store in airtight container.






2/3 cups of skim milk

1 cup of pure pumpkin puree

1 regular size of fat-free/sugar-free instant vanilla pudding

1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger

½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1 container of low-fat, thawed whipped topping

1 cup of crushed ginger snaps cookies or graham crackers


In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, spices, and dry pudding mix. Beat on medium speed with an electric mixer while slowly adding 2/3 cups of the milk. When completely blended, fold in 1 cup of whipped topping with a spoon. Crush the cookies or graham crackers in a large plastic bag. In parfait glasses, layer the pumpkin pudding mixture, cookie crumbs and some extra whipped topping. Continue layering and finish with the whipped topping. Chill until ready to serve. COOK’S NOTE: The pudding mixture may also be used to fill a premade graham cracker crust and topped with extra whipped topping for an easy pie. This pie can be made ahead and frozen for a later time. Just thaw several hours in the refrigerator before serving.





First step — Crust

1 1/2 cups of self-rising flour

1 1/2 sticks of margarine

1/2 cup of chopped nuts

2 Tablespoons of sugar


Mix all the ingredients and press into the pizza pan. A size 9-inch-by-13-inch pan is recommended. Bake for 15 minutes at 350-degrees Fahrenheit.

Second step — Filling


8 ounces of cream cheese

8 ounces of Cool Whip

2 cups of confectioner’s sugar


Cream together the cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar. Fold in the Cool Whip. Pour over the crust.

Third step - Strawberries


1 pint of mashed strawberries

3/4 cup of sugar

3 Tablespoons of cornstarch


Mix well and cook until thick. Cool. Spread over the cream cheese layer.

Fourth step - Finishing


Garnish by arranging strawberries on top. Refrigerate.





Makes 48 cake bites


1 ½ cups of all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 eggs, lightly beaten

½ cup vegetable oil

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup crushed pineapple with juice

½ cup finely chopped pecans

1 cup mashed ripe banana

Cream Cheese Frosting

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

½ teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line mini muffin tins with 48 paper liners. Set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, soda, salt and cinnamon. Stir in egg, oil and vanilla just until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not beat. Fold in pineapple and juice, pecans and banana. Gently spoon batter into the cups, filling about 2/3 full. Do not overfill. You will have just enough batter for all 48 cups. Bake 20 minutes, rotating the top and lower pans at the 100-minute mark for even baking. If you have a convection oven, this is not necessary. Cake bites are done when they are dark golden brown and gently crowned on top. Remove from oven and cool at least 20 minutes before frosting. Prepare frosting by stirring together ingredients with a small wire whisk until smooth. Place in a zipper-top plastic bag with one corner snipped or a cake decorating bag. Swirl a small amount of icing over each cake bite in a decorative fashion. Serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap until ready to serve. Wooden picks can be inserted in a few of the bites to keep plastic wrap from smearing the tops.





3 ½ cups chopped apples

½ cup white sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 (10 ounce) canned biscuits

6 Tablespoons of butter

1 cup of sugar

1 cup of hot water


Mix apples with ½ cup white sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon and mix lightly. Melt butter in 1 cup hot water. Add sugar. Keep hot while preparing the crust. Roll biscuits out thinly. Place about ¼ to 1/3 cup of apple mixture in the center of each and pinch together at the top. Drop into hot syrup. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.





3 tablespoons slivered blanched almonds

6 tablespoons sugar

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces

14 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350-degrees Fahrenheit. To make the dough: In a food processor, pulse almonds until finely ground. Add sugar, flour, zest (if desired), and salt; pulse until combined. Add butter, pulsing until coarse crumbs form with no large butter lumps (dough should clump together when squeezed with fingers). Immediately transfer dough to a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Using a measuring cup, evenly press dough in bottom and up sides of pan. Bake in center of oven until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour. To make the ganache: Place chocolate in a large mixing bowl. In a small saucepan, bring cream to a boil. Pour hot cream over chocolate. Stir until smooth and creamy in texture. Mix in vanilla. Pour chocolate mixture into center of cooled tart shell (if chocolate is lumpy, pass through a sieve). Let stand until set, about 2 hours, or chill for 1 hour.





2 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon of baking soda

2 sticks of butter, softened

1 cup of packed brown sugar

¼ cup of super fine granulated white sugar

1 package (3.4 ounces) of instant white chocolate pudding (You can use any flavor.)

2 eggs

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 Tablespoon of white or dark corn syrup

12 ounces of semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup of chopped walnuts (optional)

2 to 3 squares of Bakers semi-sweet chocolate, chopped


Preheat oven to 350-degrees Fahrenheit. Sift together the flour and baking soda. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar and white sugar. Beat in the instant pudding until blended. Stir in the eggs, vanilla and corn syrup. Blend in the flour mixture. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips and nuts. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Edges should be golden brown. NOTE: You can use any flavor pudding for this recipe. Chocolate works well for an all chocolate cookie.





½ stick of margarine, melted

1 cup of water

2 cups of graham cracker crumbs

1 package (3 ounces) of peach gelatin

4 cups peeled and sliced peaches

1 package (8 ounces) of cream cheese

1 ½ cups of sugar

½ cup of milk

2 heaping Tablespoons of cornstarch

1 carton (12 ounces) of Cool Whip


Make a crust of margarine and crumbs. Reserve ½ cup for topping. Press remainder in bottom of 9-inch-x-13-inch pan. Stir a scant ½ cup sugar into the peaches and set aside. Mix ¾ cup sugar, cornstarch and water. Cook, stirring until clear and thick. Remove from heat and add gelatin. Stir until dissolved. Allow to cool to room temperature and then add peaches. Beat the cream cheese and ½ cup sugar until fluffy. Gradually add milk and continue to beat. Remove from mixer and fold in Cool Whip. Spread half of the mixture over the crust. Add all the peach mixture. Top with remaining half of the cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with reserved crumbs. Chill overnight or until firm. Tip: You can make this recipe with any fruit that you want to use. Just replace the peach gelatin with the same flavor as the fruit that you are using. Strawberries work really well.






24 cupcake liners

1 package of white cake mix

1 cup of whole milk

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) of butter, melted

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract

Buttercream Frosting

¾ cup of solid vegetable shortening

1 ½ sticks of butter or margarine, softened

1 ½ teaspoons of vanilla

6 cups of confectioners’ sugar

3 Tablespoons of milk



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the cupcake liners in muffin pans. In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, mix cake mix, milk, melted butter, eggs and vanilla on medium speed until well combined (approximately 2 minutes.) Use the cookie scoop to fill liners 2/3 full. Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until an inserted tooth pick comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Buttercream Frosting

In another large mixing bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add icing color of your choice and mix until smooth. Put into pastry bag and pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

Lucie R. Willsie can be reached at 719-1930 or on Twitter at LucieRWillsie.