homepage logo

Growing up baking

By Staff | Aug 25, 2017



Growing up, Megan Freel loved to bake.

Her Grandma Mable Torres taught her how to navigate a kitchen and a cookbook, but eventually, Freel’s skill set developed so much, it pushed her past using recipes.

“My main thing is baking. My mom’s mom taught me how to bake and the first thing I made was a chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of the bag,” Freel said. “We would make those every time I’d go to her house. Then I started making more complicated recipes.”

Her personal culinary challenge allowed Freel to excel in the 4-H food and nutrition exhibit area.

“My senior year, I had two items go to the Iowa State Fair,” she said. “My cake pops and root beer float cupcakes.”

After graduating from Southeast Polk High School in Des Moines, Freel attended Iowa State University, where she was in the marching band. She majored in chemistry and focused on its correlation to food and nutrition.

Following graduation, Freel landed her dream job; the 4-H and nutrition internal program coordinator for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

“I work with the 4-H programming and nutrition databases,” Freel said. “I make updates to our website, work on the Clover Power newsletter, put on workshops and fill in at the library or have programming at schools.”

As an adult, Freel still carves out ample time to bake. She also enjoys preparing healthy and creative dishes for her work week. One of her favorite baked goods to whip is the Guinness chocolate cake.

“It’s dark chocolate and instead of adding liquid, like water, you add a bottle of Guinness,” she said. “It gives it such a rich flavor. It’s one of my favorites to make for St. Patrick’s Day and special occasions.”

What Freel is best known for is her holiday heyday in the kitchen. During Christmas, she creates a crazy amount of cookies she packages up and shares with friends and families.

“It started out a couple of years ago with me making a couple of hundred cookies that I delivered to family members. It’s grown every year and I make more and more,” she said. “Last year, I hit 1,700 cookies. I make a variety, but I really like the peanut butter blossoms. Those are a personal favorite.”

For those new to the kitchen, Freel recommends following directions for each recipe and reading it before cracking any eggs.

“Read it fully first. Even if you make a mistake, it’s still edible,” she said. “But you’ll never get better unless you start trying.”

Cinnamon rolls from

Mable Torres

For dough

Pillsbury (or other brand) hot roll mix

3 tablespoons sugar

1 cup hot water

2 tablespoons butter

1 large egg

For filling and topping

1 cup butter, divided

1 3/4 cups brown sugar, divided

1/2 tablespoons of cinnamon

Prepare a 9-by-13 inch non-stick pan by generously spreading 1/2 cup of softened butter in the bottom. Top with a generous layer of brown sugar (approximately 3/4 cup).

Prepare dough according to directions on hot roll mix package. Cover bowl loosely and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. Punch down dough and roll out into a rectangle shape (approximately 10-by-15 inches).

Spread 1/2 cup softened butter on dough. Then top with a layer of 1 cup brown sugar and sprinkle the cinnamon on top of the brown sugar.

Starting at the long edge, roll up tightly and seal edge. Cut into 12 pieces using a serrated knife or piece of string. Place cut-side down in the prepared pan. Cover loosely and allow to rise until doubled in size.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Immediately turn out on to a foil-lined surface and let the melted topping drip over the rolls. Let cool completely before cutting.

“This is one of the first recipes I made with my grandmother,” Freel said. “I modified it slightly to take to the Polk County Fair in 2009 where it placed in the blue group.”

Dandy cake

Originally from the Hershey’s Cookbook

Freel says she has modified this recipe to make cake pops


1 cup water

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine

1/3 cup Hershey’s cocoa

2 cup all-purpose flour

2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

3/4 cup dairy sour cream

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

Chocolate topping

12 ounce package Hershey’s dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 tablespoons shortening

1 package of each white and chocolate almond bark

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 15-by-10-by-1-inch jelly roll pan.

Combine water, butter and cocoa in small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture boils; boil and stir for 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

Stir together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs and sour cream; beat until well blended. Add cocoa mixture; beat just until blended (batter will be thin). Pour into prepared pan.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Do not remove cake from pan. Spread peanut butter over warm cake. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.

Prepare chocolate topping

Place 2 cups chocolate chips and the shortening in small microwaveable bowl. Microwave at medium (50 percent) power for 1 1/2 minutes, stir. If necessary, microwave at medium an additional 15 seconds at a time, stirring after each heating, just until chips are melted when stirred.

Carefully spread chocolate topping over top of cake, covering peanut butter. Allow topping to set, and then cut into squares.

To make them into cake pops

Perform steps of the cake as listed above, but do not add the peanut butter to the top of the cake, and allow to cool instead.

Remove cake from pan and crumble up into a medium-sized bowl, add in the peanut butter and chocolate topping. Form mixture into 1-inch balls and insert a stick into each ball and place in the freezer for an hour.

Melt some white and chocolate almond bark on double broilers, remove cake pops from freezer (a few at a time) and dip in melted almond bark, returning to the freezer to set.

Once all of the cake pops have been dipped you can add drizzles of almond bark on top or decorate in other ways.

“This recipe for cake pops received a purple ribbon at the 2011 Polk County Fair, which made it eligible to move onto the state fair, where it placed in the blue group,” said Freel.

Chicken teriyaki rice bowls

1-2 pounds chicken thighs

Soy sauce

Sesame seeds

Teriyaki sauce

Broccoli (bag of frozen or fresh)

2 cups rice

3 green onions

Take the chicken out and put it in a Zip Lock bag. Add the Teriyaki sauce to the bag and put in the fridge for 2-4 hours to marinate.

Put your 2 cups of rice in a pot with 4 cups of water and cook over medium high heat.

Cook the chicken thighs in a skillet over medium heat until they start to turn white. When they are just about done, remove from skillet one at a time, slice into bite size pieces and return to skillet.

While the chicken is finishing up, put your frozen bag of broccoli in the microwave and cook according to directions. If you went for the fresh broccoli, boil in water for around 5 minutes.

Remove the roots from your green onion and slice into small strips.

Divide the rice, broccoli and chicken up into four to five containers and sprinkle with sesame seeds and green onion. Add soy sauce to taste. This will refrigerate for up to 4 days and is perfect for lunch or dinner.

“When I started my job with Iowa State Extension, I also started preparing weekly meals for myself,” said Freel. “This one is a go-to for me as it is really simple to throw together, does not cost much, tastes great and isn’t too bad for you.”

Tall, dark and stout chocolate layer cake

Originally from Betty Crocker


1 box Betty Crocker Super Moist Devils Food cake mix

1 cup stout beer (Freel uses Guinness)

1/3 cup vegetable oil

3 eggs


12 ounces semisweet baking chocolate

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

1/2 cup butter

Caramel filling

6-9 tablespoon caramel topping


Heat oven to 350 degrees

Grease bottoms only of three 9- or 8-inch round cake pans. Make cake batter as directed on box, using cake mix, beer, the oil and eggs. Pour about 1 1/2 cups batter into each pan.

Bake 18 to 22 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pans. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, for frosting, place chocolate in medium mixing bowl. In 2-quart saucepan, heat whipping cream and butter to just boiling over medium heat. Pour cream mixture over chocolate; stir with whisk until melted and smooth. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour and stir. Refrigerate about 1 to 1 1/2 hours more or until spreading consistency.

Place 1 cake layer on serving plate. Frost top of layer with 1 cup of the frosting. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons caramel topping. Top with another cake layer, 1 cup of the frosting and remaining 3 tablespoons caramel topping. Top with remaining cake layer and frosting. Garnish with chunks of chocolate covered caramels with sea salt, if desired.

Freel said she stumbled upon this cake when she was looking for something fun to make for St. Patrick’s Day a few years back. “This cake has quickly become a favorite of my friends and family,” she said. “The alcohol in the cake bakes out, but the flavor it leaves behind is fantastic. It is one of my most requested for birthday cakes and friend get-togethers.”

Peanut butter blossoms

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1 cup butter

2 eggs

3 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

Additional granulated sugar (for rolling)

Hershey’s Kisses to top

Heat oven to 375 degrees

In large bowl, beat 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, peanut butter, butter and eggs with electric mixer on medium speed, or mix with spoon. Stir in flour, baking soda and baking powder.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll in additional granulated sugar. Place about 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are light brown. Immediately press 1 chocolate candy in center of each cookie. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.

Freel said this is her favorite to make each Christmas to give out to friends and family.

Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page