I love cruising my local bakery. Any bakery really. The beautiful sweets and treats all lined by like colorful, glossy little jewels, enticing and…
A single cookie can cost $4 which, for the price, you can bake an entire batch. Don’t even get me started on scones, absurdly easy to make and again, for the cost of one, you can make an entire batch. And a cake? They start at $15 dollars for tiny cakes and you can make five of those or more for that price.
So, what if you are not a baker? We who about to bake (moment of reverent silence, please) salute you. But seriously, if you are not a baker, you rookies can still beat the prices of your local bakeries by doctoring up dollar store mixes. You don’t need any baking skill to do this, just a bit of imagination, some basic ingredients and a pantry armed with dollar store finds.
Some quick ideas:
Cake mixes. The possibilities here are nearly endless. Dollar store cake mixes just need a little love so try adding chocolate chips, flaked coconut, dried fruit, even canned pie mix (double dollar store win here). I find dollar store cakes make decent cupcakes when you toss in a bit of vanilla or almond extract to amp up the flavor. Just follow directions on the box. If you are making a chocolate cake mix, pour in a splash of cold coffee from your morning brew. Coffee and chocolate love each other. For cupcakes, I like to bake them with just a touch of almond or vanilla extract and after they have cooled, scoop out a small hole in the middle and add a dollop of pie filling before replacing the cooked batter and frosting the tops, a nice surprise inside. For a grown up dessert, I add a splash (or three) of rum or coffee liquor.
Corn muffin mixes. That little blue and white box can take a lot. A LOT. The muffins tend to come out rather dry so add away. I like minced hot peppers, leftover corn, cheese, bacon, green onions, various spices (cumin, paprika, cayenne, etc.). you name it, I’ve added it. Try mixing up a batch and cooking the batter in your favorite cast iron frying pan. When cool, just cut into wedges like a pie. Yum. I always add in an additional splash (1-2 tablespoons) of corn or canola oil to keep them moist. As I said, the mix tends to be dry so don’t be afraid to embellish a bit.
Scone mixes. From blueberries to any old dried fruit you have on hand (dried cranberries are a personal favorite), these mixes take anything you can throw at them. And don’t discount going savory with scones. I like adding a 1/2 cup goat cheese and mined rosemary or a 1/3 cup of caramelized onions and a sprinkle of fresh thyme. Just be sure and add the goat cheese in small chunks at the very end and don’t stir too much. Scones get tough easily so handle with care. One of the best additions i know is actually diced pears and a bit of blue cheese crumbles. Peaches and a small pinch of nutmeg or ground cloves. A diced apple and a teaspoon of cinnamon. You almost can’t screw this up. Just keep the additions to a 1/2 cup at the most or you might throw off the proportions.
Cookie mixes. I find these are best used to make bar cookies. The texture just works better. If you add more than 1/2 cup of goodies (chocolate chips, dried fruit, candy, etc.) , toss in an extra egg for good measure or a splash of milk. I like the chocolate chip cookie mix as the base to make my ‘junk yard cookies (recipe below).
Pie crusts. Normally you can find graham cracker pie crusts at the dollar store along with the crushed chocolate cookie variety. Both are great for freezer desserts that you can pull out for your family at a moment’s notice or bring along to a pot luck. My pot luck pie recipe is below.
Canned Pie Fillings: You can add any flavor of these to a tub of whipped topping to make a quickie version of my Pot Luck Pie (see recipe below). Peach or cherry pie filling both make a great addition to slow cooker pork dishes but that’s for another blog. You can also add these as the fruit base to my Best Ice Cream Ever recipe and use them, along with cut up pie crust, to make hand pies. I have also used this as a quick and easy filling in dollar store cupcakes.
Condensed, sweet milk: Of course, this is one of the main ingredients in my Best Ice Cream Ever recipe. This canned treat is also great to mix with dollar store canned pie filling and freeze into popsicles (though plain yogurt is obviously healthier). If you love Vietnamese coffee or other sweet coffee-based treats, you need this can of goodness to make your own, recipe below. And if you melt two cups of chocolate chips with a can of sweetened condensed milk and a splash of vanilla extract, you have instant fudge. Just melt together, spread into a greased square cake pan and let set in the fridge for an hour or so before cutting into squares. Makes a thoughtful hostess gift for friends with a sweet tooth.
Frosting: The cans you get at the dollar store are smaller than what you might buy at a regular grocery store so you may have to double up and buy two. You can extend the can with some melted chocolate and a bit of heavy cream. This product is perfect for quick cupcakes, cakes and to smear on bar cookies. I like to amp up the flavor with a half of a teaspoon of extract like coconut, almond or vanilla for chocolate and coconut, lemon or lime for vanilla frosting. And don’t forget the dollar store sprinkles.
Junk Yard Cookies
Note: My junk yard cookie recipe came about when I was clearing out my pantry and wanted to add in everything I could find. They ended up being as salty-sweet treat that my family continues to ask for time and again. Who knew? I happen to keep a bag of bacon ends in my freezer because my local discount grocery store offers large bags of bacon ends for a really cheap price. I just pull out what I need and am able to add bacon-y flavor at a very low cost to any number of dishes. You should save up the odds and ends of crushed potato chips and pretzels for this one. I just bag up all the crumbs and pretzel bits and freeze them in a small plastic freezer zip type bag and when I have a couple of cups saved up. I toss everything frozen into the cookie mix.
2 bags chocolate chip cookie mix from the dollar store
Eggs, oil, etc., per the package directions
1/2 cup crumbled bacon
1-2 cups mix of crushed potato chips and bits of pretzels
1/4 to 1/2 cup coated candies such as M&Ms (if you use peanut M&Ms, chop them up roughly)
At least one extra egg, a tablespoon of butter and a hefty pinch of salt — you will have to eye ball this depending on what you are adding in to the cookie mix
Coarse finishing salt
Method: Make the cookie mix according to package directions and add in the extra ingredients starting with the extra egg and butter and salt. Then add the bacon and the candy and finally the crushed chips and pretzels, stirring in lightly. Spread the batter in a square cake pan and smooth. Top with coarse finishing salt and bake according to package directions plus 5 additional minutes. Just keep an eye on it. When cool, cut into bars. You can dip one end of the cooled bars in melted chocolate if you wish.
Pot Luck Pie
Method: You can use a 8 ounce carton of heavy cream whipped to stiff peaks but because it freezes and travels well, I’ve been known to use that iconic tub of frozen whipped topping. Ironically, I can buy the generic brand for just 99-cents at my local discount grocery store. I like to mix frozen, mashed strawberries or blueberries with the tub of whipped topping and then alternate layers with fresh berries and jam or chocolate syrup (I also have used melted chocolate chips) in the crust. I just alternate thin layers until all ingredients are used up and then freeze for several hours. I also make a margarita version that is a mix of whipped topping mix, lemon and lime zest and a prepared package of lemon or lime pudding (another dollar store find). I alternate this with layers of crushed pretzels and if I have them, perhaps a layer of vanilla cookies. I finish with a layer of the whipped topping mix and sprinkle with coarse salt and sugar crystals and a nestle a couple of springs of fresh mint in the center of the pie along with slices of lemons and limes. Finally, try my the quintessential chocolate version using the chocolate crust and mix of a tub of whipped topping with a small box of prepared chocolate pudding (dollar store). I alternate this with chocolate syrup and crushed chocolate cookies, whatever I happen to have on hand. I then top with shaved chocolate curls or chocolate chips.
The only caveat to the recipes above is that they are all obviously frozen pies so I tend to bring it to my own pot lucks so I can just pull it out of the freezer a few minutes before I serve dessert. When I transport it, I pack it carefully in a small temperature proof picnic container layered with ice packs and sitting on a layer of ice cubes. I then commandeer my host’s freezer the minute I arrive to keep the pie frozen.
Note: I don’t bother with a fancy Vietnamese coffee press, I just make my favorite brew, a little stronger than usual for this.
Method: Pour a tablespoon or two of sweetened, condensed milk in a heat-proof tall glass. Pour in your coffee about half way to the top. Add in ice cubes and stir. To finish, drizzle some heavy cream down the sides of the glass. Top with freshly whipped cream for extra comfort. I serve this when I get the very occasional call from a friend who suddenly wants to stop by. This typically means my friend is either in the throes of a difficult break up or is really mad at their partner and contemplating said break up. I call this is my breakup for a friend comfort drink.