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About Amanda Brown

If you are new to AmandaJaneBrown, I would love for you to subscribe for free updates! You can subscribe via Email or RSS Feed. I would also love to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for stopping by!

Chocolate Chip Pistachio Cake

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www.amandajanebrown.com
With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, Chocolate Chip Pistachio Cake is the perfect green treat!  This cake is much like a traditional chocolate chip pound cake but with a hint of pistachio and almond. The pistachio pudding mix gives the cake a green color, and the flavor is subtle and delicious! This recipe came from an Arkansas friend during our newlywed days, and the cake is always a hit wherever I take it!

Chocolate Chip Pistachio Cake is super simple to throw together. Basically dump the ingredients, mix, and bake!

Chocolate Chip Pistachio Cake

1 box Pillsbury white cake mix with “pudding in the mix”
1 box Pistachio pudding mix
1 t. almond extract
3/4 cup oil
3/4 cup water
2 eggs
12 oz bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
Baker’s Joy baking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.

Mix all ingredients except chocolate chips with a mixer.  Stir in chocolate chips. Spray a bundt pan with Baker’s Joy and evenly pour in batter.

Bake 40 minutes.  Check to see if knife comes out clean and add a couple of minutes to bake time if needed.

Turn out onto a cake plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.
Printable Recipe
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Linking to:
Tidy Mom, Weekend Bloggy Reading, The Freshman Cook, Kitchen Fun with My 3 Sons, Diana Rambles

Popcorn Wreath Tutorial

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www.amandajanebrown.com
Our baby turned 7 last week, and in lieu of a sleepover, we met in the middle and celebrated with a Popcorn and Pajamas birthday party. These adorable Popcorn Wreaths greeted our guests at the front door! We cloaked the wreaths in hot pink ribbons to match our party theme, but imagine how pretty these would be at Christmas with the addition of cranberries and Christmas ribbon! They’d also be terrific with traditional red, black, and white accents for a movie-themed birthday party!

The Popcorn Wreaths were very easy to make, and kids can help with assembly, too! We have double doors, making our project a bit time consuming, but one wreath did not take much time.  Here’s how we made these…

Popcorn Wreaths

Supply List: (makes one Popcorn Wreath)
1 sheet foam board (or large cardboard box)
Pencil
Electric Knife or X-acto knife
Popped popcorn (about 2 microwave bags or pop your own kernels)
Hot glue gun/glue sticks
Ribbon for hanging
Florist’s wire for hanging

First, trace a circle onto the foam board. Mine is about 16 inches.  Trace a smaller circle in the middle.  The small circle shown is about 6 1/4 inches.  If you have a very wide front door, you may want to enlarge these measurements.

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Cut out the wreath form.  My electric knife is as old as the hills and works like a dream for cutting foam board!  An X-acto knife works well, too, just be careful that you are working on top of a safe surface!
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Begin arranging the popped popcorn onto the foam board.  I found it was easiest to apply the hot glue to the foam board and then add the popcorn.  If there was an odd spot to fill, it was easier to apply the glue to the popcorn and stuff it into the spot.  Play around with it to see what works best for you!
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Below is the inside of the wreath where the foam board was showing more than I preferred.  We added a bit more to cover this area, and we added popcorn on top of popcorn to fill in spots elsewhere, making sure every inch was covered.
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Loop a wide ribbon around the wreath and add an extra bow to the top, if desired.  You can secure the bow to the wide ribbon using florist’s wire.  Create and secure a small loop of wire for hanging onto a nail or wreath hanger.
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Our Popcorn and Pajamas welcoming committee!
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The Popcorn and Pajamas party was a hit…here are a few pics from the party. Praise the Lord for my 13-year-old and her friends to help manage the chaos at the party!
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Popcorn and Pajamas Party
A precious cake from Lisa Whitehead in Oxford, MS.
Popcorn and Pajamas Party
Sweet girl loved every second of her party…
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These cute bags were 10 for $1 at the Dollar Tree!
Popcorn and Pajamas Party
These decorations would be perfect for any movie-themed party for a boy or a girl!

Have a great weekend!
Linking to:
Tidy Mom, Pin Junkie Pin Party

22 Wreath Ideas for Every Occasion

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www.amandajanebrown.com
Wreaths, wreaths, and more wreaths! If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know my affection for seasonal goodies for the front door! Recently, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Hometalk to curate a collection of wreath ideas for every occasion! Folks have made wreaths out of just about everything, and I was amazed at the creativity and unique twists on traditional wreaths! The curated board includes the full list of wreaths and their individual supplies, tutorials, and additional photos!

While most of the wreaths I chose to showcase are occasion-specific, there are a few that certainly can be made and displayed year round!

If you are not familiar with Hometalk, it is a site dedicated to all things home decor and gardening.  You can easily browse through endless ideas and be inspired by some seriously talented folks!  Many of the Before/After photos will blow you away and inspire you to create! One of the best features of Hometalk is that you do not have to be a blogger to submit your own ideas and photos, so be sure to check it out!

Head on over to the Wreath Board to get some wreath ideas!
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16 Lessons Learned in 16 Years of Marriage

Lesson Learned in Marriage

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2015 marks 16 years of marriage for me and David, and as a 23-year-old naive bride in 1999, I assumed that people who had been married for 16 years and were 40 years old were wise in all things marriage, parenting, and life. (Insert hysterical laughter) Fast forward to January 2015. I am turning 40 soon, and Lord knows David and I don’t have marriage or parenting or life figured out.  Just ask our teenager.

There is a very real, societal war being waged on marriage today, and in light of our own family histories, we have been careful to guard and invest continually in our relationship, and it has made all the difference.  Marriage is sacrifice, hard work, and countless small, repeated decisions to keep loving when it’s easier to just quit.  In the words of my dear friend, Julie, from Pine Cove Family Camp, “We fail, get back up, fail, try again, love some more, forgive some more, and the very thing that brought us together (Christ) is what keeps us together.”

There is no shortage of “marriage advice” out there, and you’ve likely read alot of it. While that advice can at times be helpful, we have learned that the most important thing to keep in mind is that grace is the name of the game. Different seasons of marriage and ever-changing schedules require couples to make adjustments often. Over the last 16 years, we have learned a lot as a couple. This is not a list of rules or a secret formula to a happy marriage, just a few things to keep us going, growing, and thriving as a couple.

1. Recognize that your spouse is not Jesus, and he/she did not come to save you.
The pressure to be someone’s “savior” is far too great to bear. I vividly remember in late college after a painful end to a relationship, I wrote in my journal, “God, You are Enough.” This marked the beginning of a spiritual and emotional paradigm shift that has been key in our marriage. From the beginning, David was free to love me well without my expectations of him being everything I needed to survive.

2. Go to bed at the same time. Sounds silly, but it’s proven to be key for us.  Many days, this is the first opportunity we have to actually talk.

3. Do not speak poorly of your spouse to others.  Have a couple of safe friends to be transparent with about your marriage, but choose wisely.  There are those who will spur you on to love your husband well, and those who will not.  There is no room for public criticism of your spouse.

4. Go on a date at least once a month. Finances, babies, fatigue, kids’ activities, and just life can really put a wrench in this one. Breakfast or lunch dates can stretch the budget and accommodate schedules, too!  To keep it fresh, a date idea we are currently loving is to eat at every restaurant in Oxford.  Oxford, Mississippi is a small, but culinary-rich town, so we are slowly working our way through our own “hometown food tour!”

5. Be the first to ask for forgiveness. This is difficult for most folks.  Being willing to admit and discuss how you may have hurt your spouse can open up the floodgates, yet can lead to genuine reconciliation rather than ignoring issues that will eventually resurface again and again.

6. Laugh a lot. Life is hard.  There’s an awful lot of pain and suffering on the news, on our Facebook feeds, on church prayer chains, and in our own homes and families. Kids have definitely helped foster humor in our home. Sometimes you just have to laugh to avoid crying!  Thankfully, David appreciates my mildly inappropriate sense of humor, too;).

7. Figure out your spouse’s love language, then speak it!  “Love Language” is how a person expresses and experiences love. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman is an easy must-read.  After reading it, you will be on your way to filling your spouse’s love bank, yielding far greater returns than you can imagine!  Do a quick assessment!  Gifts, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.  Chances are, you have a good idea off the bat.

8. Find a married couple who is a stage or two ahead and befriend them! We’ve known a few of these dear friends and mentors over the years, and their wisdom and encouragement continues to leave a legacy in our marriage.

9. Read a trustworthy book on marriage once a year.  While real-life mentors are invaluable, they are not always available. Trusted authors have been excellent “mentors” to us over the years.  We’ve read a few of these books simultaneously, which has helped us grow closer and has exposed areas that need some attention.
Messy,Beautiful Love by Darlene Schacht; His Needs, Her Needs by Willard F. Harley, Jr.; Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggrichs; Sheet Music by Kevin Leman; For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn, Sacred Marriage by Gary L. Thomas; Team Us:Marriage Together by Ashleigh Slater

10. Get away once a year for a night or two without kids. For some, this is nearly impossible financially or logistically. It was for us for a long time.  If you can swing it, it is a great time to recharge and spend time together without the demands of home life. PS…if you live within driving distance of Oxford, Mississippi, plan a weekend to visit with your spouse!  It is a fabulous weekend getaway! Head over to VisitOxford to take a peek!

11. Once a year, do a marriage “check up.”  Typically, this conversation starts for us at Pine Cove Family Camp where, during the week, they provide the questions and build in time for couples to go through them. Long after camp is over, we are finishing this conversation. These talks can lead to hard conversations, yet they are so life-giving in the long run. Here’s an idea for starting this conversation in your own marriage…take some time to journal the current highs and the lows in your marriage and share it with one another once a year.   

12. Call or text at least once a day from work to check in. Calls aren’t always feasible, but both keep us connected despite busy schedules.

13. Assume the best of your spouse.  Don’t keep score.  Never hold a grudge. We are on the same team! Keeping a running tit-for-tat list of who’s done more with the kids, home, and work, breeds resentment, discontent, and distance. One way we avoid this is coordinating calendars to schedule personal time. I look forward to an occasional Saturday alone, guilt-free, knowing David is with the kids. I can shop and relax knowing that he won’t hold that time against me.

14. Spend time together doing a shared activity.   This can be recreational activities like exercise, sporting events, or other hobbies. Or just spend time at home watching your favorite Netflix shows! We try to cut off homework help and have the kids finished with lunch prep by 9pm. While it’s not always possible, it does communicate to the kids that our time together is important, too.

15. Pray regularly for your spouse! We have the privilege of knowing tiny, intimate details of our spouse’s life, whether it be emotional, spiritual, physical, or work-related! We can pray for them like no other person can and see God work “behind the scenes.”  Pretty cool! Kat Lee’s Praying for Your Husband Calendar is a great guide!

16. Your marriage is a testimony to those around you, kids included.  Kids see the good, bad, and the ugly in our marriages. We long for our children to know that our marriage is a priority and that we are committed to following Christ and loving each other well, above all else.  Prayerfully, this will translate into their own lives and marriages one day as their time in our home becomes a cornerstone for their future relationships.

Marriage is hard, but investing in it can lead to a healthy, thriving relationship no matter what life throws us.  Here’s to the next 16!

Leave a comment and share your ideas!

Superbowl Party Food!

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Superbowl Sunday is just a couple of days away, and I’ve pulled a list from the archives of some of our favorite Superbowl party foods.  Every single one on this list is a crowd-pleaser!  Enjoy!
Click HERE for the individual recipes.
Superbowl CollageMain
Have a great weekend!

Valentine’s Candy Trees

Valentine'sCandyTrees

Valentine'sCandyTrees
Valentine’s may not typically be an occasion that you decorate for, but these Valentine’s Candy Trees are so fun and easy to make!  Little helpers can sort and beg for “just one more,” too!

I’ve posted a Conversation Heart Tree on the blog before, but sadly, he did not survive the move in one piece.  In addition to the conversation hearts, we decided to make a couple more with other candy, and we love how they turned out!  
Valentine'sCandyTrees3
Lainey and I worked on this Conversation Heart Tree over the Christmas break when it was bitterly cold and dreary outside.
Valentine'sCandyTrees1
Browse through the Valentine’s aisle at any store, and you will find so many possibilities for these adorable trees!

Valentine’s Candy Trees

Supplies:
White styrofoam cones, varying sizes (Dollar Store, Hobby Lobby, Michael’s)
Hot glue gun/hot glue
Assorted candy (shown are conversation hearts, gummy hearts, and peppermint marshmallows)
Ribbons (optional for top of trees)

Starting at the bottom of the cone, place a dab of hot glue on the cone and begin to arrange the candies in rows.  Lainey helped me sort the conversation hearts into colors, making it easy to grab the color needed to keep a pattern going:).  We did find that putting the glue on the cone instead of the candy worked best.

Tie small bows, if desired, and glue to the tops of the trees.
Valentine'sCandyTrees2
**Update to post: Lots of questions raised about storing these guys! I have been making these for Christmas and Valentines for years, reusing them year after year.  They are wrapped in bubble wrap and stored in big plastic storage tubs with tops.  The only tree that has needed replacing is the marshmallow one due to drying out.  Hope this helps!

Click HERE for other Valentine’s Day decorating ideas!
Valentine'sCandyTrees
Linking to:
Artsy-Fartsy Link Party, Catch as Catch Can, Tidy Mom, Craft Frenzy Friday, Freedom Fridays, The Pin Junkie, Kitchen Fun with My 3 Sons, Serenity Now, Diana Rambles, Lady Behind the Curtain, The Freshman Cook, Flamingo Toes, I Should Be Mopping the Floor, Naptime Creations

Pom Pom Heart Wreath

Pom Pom Wreath 1

Pom Pom Heart Wreath
Valentine’s Day is more than a month away, but these cold, dreary days of January are perfect for making a few easy Valentine’s projects while you stay warm inside! Also, January gives you plenty of time to shop for supplies if you decide to make this adorable wreath!

This is an easy project for kids to “help” with, too!

Supplies:
Styrofoam heart wreath form (Michael’s or Hobby Lobby)
4 packages Valentine’s pom poms (The Dollar Tree)
Hot glue gun/glue sticks
Fishing line or ribbon
Pom Pom Heart Wreath 2
Glue pom poms all over wreath form, except for the back, as shown below.  You can fill out the entire wreath form, but I wanted to ensure the heart would stay flush against the door.
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Tie a piece of fishing line or ribbon around the top of the heart for hanging.  Fishing line you can simply tie around the top of the wreath. Ribbon probably needs to be pinned into the foam in the back to form a loop for hanging.
Pom Pom Heart Wreath

Linking to:
Tidy Mom, Weekend Bloggy Reading, Artsy-Fartsy Link Party, Catch as Catch Can, Craft Frenzy Friday, The Pin Junkie, Kitchen Fun with My 3 Sons, Diana Rambles, Lady Behind the Curtain, Flamingo Toes, I Should Be Mopping the Floor, Naptime Creations

What’s Christmas Without a Hissy Fit?

WhatsChristmasWithoutaHissyFit

WhatsChristmasWithoutaHissyFit
It’s Christmas Eve morning here in Mississippi.  The pinnacle of the days leading up to Christmas.  Christmas week is always special, yet there is a bit of little girl left in me that longs for these “magical” days to feel the same as they did when I was 7.  But lo, we grow up. Facebook and Pinterest and Instagram and even real-life people lead us to believe that Christmastime (and life in general) can be right up close to perfect if we had that house or this job or those kids or that spouse or these talents or gifts.  Liars. Christmastime can be a pressure-cooker for “creating the magic, making lasting family memories, and setting the perfect Pinterest table.”  Jesus gets thrown out with the bath water.

Our memory-making family time got interrupted pretty abruptly last night. We loaded up to go look at Christmas lights around Oxford.  Fun, Instagram-photo-opp, obligatory Christmas activity.  20 minutes in, we had stopped the car in the Tri-Delt House parking lot, taken away all electronics from the kids til they graduate, and sufficiently ruined any magical, memory-making mood we’d dreamed of an hour earlier.  Christmas Hissy Fit begins. Pulling into the driveway, slamming car doors for good measure, I felt defeated, frustrated, and like a fraud. Indeed, without Him, I am all of those things. But Christ…

I read the following just yesterday. It is out of Paul Miller’s A Praying Life and quotes John of Landsburg’s (a sixteenth-century Catholic monk), “A Letter from Jesus Christ.”  He is imagining Christ speaking personally to us:

I know those moods when you sit there utterly alone, pining, eaten up with unhappiness, in a pure state of grief.  You don’t move towards me but desperately imagine that everything you have ever done has been utterly lost and forgotten.  This near-despair and self-pity are actually a form of pride.  What you think was a state of absolute security from which you’ve fallen was really trusting too much in your own strength and ability…what really ails you is that things simply haven’t happened as you expected and wanted.

     In fact I don’t want you to rely on your own strength and abilities and plans, but to distrust them and to distrust yourself, and to trust me and no one and nothing else.  As long as you rely entirely on yourself, you are bound to come to grief.  You still have a most important lesson to learn: your own strength will no more help you to stand upright than propping yourself on a broken reed.  You must not despair of me.  You may hope and trust in me absolutely.  My mercy is infinite.”

Christ’s Truth endures the centuries and was the same for a Catholic monk in the 1400’s and a Mississippi mom in 2014.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  The reason we celebrate Christmas is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God’s mercy and love and grace and pursuit of us is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  What a relief.

As I write this post, the phrase “Not I, but Christ” floods my mind over and over. I googled it to make sure I wasn’t just making it up.  It’s from Galations 2:20. (Don’t you love how when His Truth is buried so deep in our souls that it just appears out of nowhere when we need it most?) I stumbled upon a beautiful hymn, and again, voices from long ago couldn’t say it better. Written in 1891 by a woman named Ada Whiddington.  I wonder what life circumstances led her to pen the very words that I can relate to perfectly 125 years later, raising kids and living a comfortable suburban life in Oxford, Mississippi.  The heart cries of all who love Jesus are the very same yesterday, today, and forever.

Not I, but Christ, be honored, loved, exalted;
Not I, but Christ, be seen be known, be heard;
Not I, but Christ, in every look and action,
Not I, but Christ, in every thought and word.

O to be saved from myself, dear Lord,
O to be lost in Thee,
O that it might be no more I,
But Christ, that lives in me.

Not I, but Christ, to gently soothe in sorrow,
Not I, but Christ, to wipe the falling tear;
Not I, but Christ, to lift the weary burden,
Not I, but Christ, to hush away all fear.

Not I, but Christ, in lowly silent labor;
Not I, but Christ, in humble, earnest toil;
Christ, only Christ! No show, no ostentation;
Christ, none but Christ, the gath’rer of the spoil.

Christ, only Christ! no idle words e’er falling,
Christ, only Christ; no needless bustling sound;
Christ, only Christ; no self important bearing;
Christ, only Christ; no trace of I be found.

Not I, but Christ, my every need supplying,
Not I, but Christ, my strength and health to be;
Not I, but Christ, for body, soul, and spirit,
Christ, only Christ, here and eternally.

Christ, only Christ, ere long will fill my vision;
Glory excelling soon, full soon I’ll see—
Christ, only Christ, my every wish fulfilling—
Christ, only Christ, my all in all to be.

Merry Christmas, friends.  I pray for my readers, I really do.  For whatever place you find yourself in this Christmas, I pray you will lean in to the One who we can trust and put our hope in.

Christmas Recipe Ideas!

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Merry Christmas week!  If you are like me, you may feel like Christmas snuck up on you this year and blink! Exams are done, kids are home, and Santa Claus is loading his sleigh!

After a Thanksgiving table blowout, mom and I vowed that our Christmas lunch should be simple…at least simple-er.  If you are putting your final grocery list together and are still wondering “what to fix” or “what to take,” browse through this list of tried-and-true favorites and add the ingredients to your list!  There are just a few listed here, but be sure to browse the pull-down categories on my homepage for even more great recipes!

Here are a few of our Appetizer favorites…

Hot Bacon and Swiss Dip
Hot Bacon Swiss Dip

Marinated Cheese
Marinated Cheese

Seasoned Oyster Crackers (These also make wonderful happies for neighbors, and they are quick and easy to make!)
SeasonedOysterCrackersMain

Cream Cheese Sausage Balls
CreamCheeseSausageBallsMain

If you are looking for a new side dish or two, I promise these will be a favorite at your table!

Green Bean Bundles
Bacon-Wrapped Green Beans

Shoepeg Corn Casserole
ShoepegCornCass

Or perhaps you want a little something different for Christmas Eve Dinner!  These three ideas are always a hit!

Shrimp and Grits Casserole
Shrimp and Grits

Cheese Soup
Cheese Soup

White Bean Chicken Chili
white bean chicken chili
And last but not least…Dessert.  Most of us have traditional pies that have been at our table for years, but maybe you want to throw a little something different in the mix! Here are some ideas:

Chocolate Chip Pie
Chocolate Chip Pie

Double Chocolate Mocha Trifle
DoubleChocolateMochaTrifle

Almond Torte
almond torte

Minnie’s Chocolate Pie (from the movie “The Help”)
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Be sure to let me know if you give any of these recipes a try!  Merry Christmas to you and yours as we celebrate God’s gift of Jesus to the world.

Love,
Amanda

Oreo Truffles

OreoTruffle1

OreoTruffle1
Oreo Truffles have been trendy and popular on Pinterest for years, yet I have never made them until now!  The outside of these adorable desserts is a creamy almond bark shell, and the inside is a moist, yummy Oreo filling!  It’s almost like taking a bite of oreo cookie dough! Lainey and I are hosting our first annual Mother/Daughter Cookie Swap this weekend, and Oreo Truffles will be her contribution.  (Maddie and I hosted this party for years in Arkansas, and it remains a highlight of her elementary years!)

Oreo Truffles can be made well in advance and frozen, so they are the perfect treat for when you know you will be pushed for time but still need something homemade and fun!

Oreo Truffles

1 pkg regular Oreos
1 block cream cheese, softened completely
16-18 oz vanilla almond bark (8-9 squares)
½ t. Crisco (to thin almond bark, if necessary-optional)
Sprinkles, crushed candy canes, crushed oreos, etc. for topping (optional)

Spread a sheet of wax paper onto a large cookie sheet before you get started.

In a food processor, pulse oreos until they are all fine crumbs.  If you do not have a food processor, place oreos in a large Ziploc bag and crush with a rolling pin until they are fine crumbs.

Pour crumbs into a separate bowl and add softened cream cheese.  With the back of a spoon, combine crumbs and cream cheese, pressing down into bowl until crumbs are evenly moistened.  Form 1-inch balls and place onto the wax paper. *Tip: Make the balls smaller than you think they should be.  Remember the almond bark will harden and increase the size of the truffle a good bit). Freeze truffles at least one hour or even overnight, as the dough will not hold the melted almond bark if it is not cold enough. This also gives you the option to do some of the work ahead of time!

When you are ready to coat the truffles, melt the almond bark according to the package directions, adding ½ t. Crisco. Remove the truffles from the freezer and set up a separate cookie sheet or flat surface covered with a large sheet of wax paper.  Now you are ready to dip the truffles in the candy coating!

The easiest way to coat the truffles is to rest each one a fork and lower it into the melted almond bark.  Gently lift the truffle out and tap the fork on the side of the bowl to allow excess almond bark to drip back into bowl.  Transfer truffles onto wax paper by placing end of fork onto cookie sheet and wriggling the truffle gently onto the paper.

Sprinkle your desired toppings on each individual truffle as soon it comes of the melted almond bark.

Refrigerate truffles to set the almond bark coating.  It is optional, but I think these are best served cold!

Printable Recipe

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OreoTruffle1