Sunday, December 25, 2011

2 For the Price of 1

Merry Christmas! In the spirit of the holiday and the notion that it's better to give than it is to receive, I'm giving you my final 2 Christmas cookie recipes to finish off what has been my Christmas cookie extravaganza. Hope you've enjoyed your holiday and the cookies that I've made to go along with it. First up...
Gingerbread Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
1 large egg
decorating sugar or sprinkles (optional)

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, spices, baking soda and salt; set aside. With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses and egg. With mixer on low, add dry ingredients; mix just until dough forms. Divide dough in half; place each half on a piece of lightly floured plastic wrap; pat each half into a 4-inch square. Wrap well; chill until firm, 1 to 2 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Working with one half at a time (keeping other half wrapped and refrigerated), place dough on lightly floured parchment or waxed paper; roll out 1/4-inch thick, turning, lifting and lightly flouring dough (and rolling pin) as necessary. Using paper, lift dough onto a baking sheet; freeze (on paper) until firm, about 20 minutes.

3. Remove from baking sheet. Using a long offset spatula, loosen dough from paper. Cut out shapes and transfer to baking sheets. Brush off any excess flour. Decorate with sugar or sprinkles, as desired (I decorated mine with white chocolate that I piped on).

4. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until firm and edges just begin to darken, 10 to 18 minutes (depending on size of cookies). Cool completely on sheets.

I saved the best, and my personal favorite, for last...
Soft Christmas Cutouts

5 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tsp baking soda

1. Mix butter, sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla. Add dry ingredients. Chill dough for 1 hour.

2. Roll dough 1/4-inch thick and cut out.

3. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Do not overbake so cookies stay soft. Once cooled, frost and decorate cookies as desired.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Butter Pecan Cookies

Another new addition to this year's Christmas cookie collection, Butter Pecan Cookies. Also found in my little Martha Stewart cookbook. I really revamped this year, throwing in a couple new additions with the old tried and true cookies that have been around for years. I chose these because I wanted another "plain" cookie to the mix to offset the chocolate, peanut butter, molasses and gingerbread (you'll meet them soon) flavors that I already had. Again, I like a nice variety, it's the spice of life.

As far as making these cookies is concerned I followed the recipe, but changed a few things along the way which I'll mention in the recipe below (for starters, I doubled the recipe to make enough cookies). I've said before I'm not a big fan of nuts, and don't usually include them when I make cookies, but I do like Butter Pecan Cookies. Plus, these wouldn't really be butter pecan cookies if I didn't include the pecans. They'd just be butter cookies. While tasty, what fun is that really?

Butter Pecan Cookies

3/4 cup pecans
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for coating and sprinkling
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, toast pecans until fragrant and crisp, about 6 minutes. Remove from sheet; let cool completely. Finely chop.

2. With an electric mixer, beat butter and 1/3 cup sugar until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Beat in vanilla, salt and flour, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary, just until dough comes together. Fold in pecans.

3. Separate dough into 12 equal pieces (I didn't do this because I wanted more than 12 cookies so I rolled the dough into 1-inch balls and then rolled them into sugar and placed them on cookie sheet). Squeeze dough into balls; roll in sugar. Place balls on baking sheet, 3 inches apart. Gently flatten with the bottom of a glass (reshape sides if necessary). Sprinkle with more sugar.

4. Bake until cookies are golden brown, about 15 minutes (because my cookies were smaller than what the recipe said I started with less baking time, 10 minutes, but increased it to about 13 minutes per batch when all was said and done). Sprinkle with more sugar. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chocolate-Espresso Snowcaps

These Chocolate-Espresso Snowcaps are making their debut in my Christmas cookie collection this year. I haven't really ever made a chocolate cookie for Christmas before, and I definitely haven't ever made a chocolate-coffee cookie before. As previously disclosed I'm not a fan of coffee and most coffee-flavored things but these weren't too bad. Whether you love coffee or hate it like I do, I think (and hope) you'll enjoy these.

Chocolate-Espresso Snowcaps

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 tsp instant espresso powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 Tbsp milk
1/2 confectioners' sugar, for coating

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, espresso, baking powder and salt. With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg until well combined; mix in cooled chocolate. With mixer on low speed, gradually add dry ingredients; beat in milk just until combined. Flatten dough into a disk; wrap in plastic. Freeze until firm, about 45 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place confectioners' sugar into a medium bowl; working in batches, roll balls in sugar twice.

3. Place balls on prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies have spread and coating is cracked, 12 to 14 minutes; cookies will still be soft to the touch. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chewy Molasses-Spice Cookies

These cookies are one of the newest additions to my Christmas cookie cast (yep, just made that up on the fly). I made these for the first time last year and enjoyed them myself, and also received a good response from family and friends so I decided they could make a repeat appearance this year. I like to try to get a good variety of flavors, I don't want everything to taste the same, and these have a nice little kick to them. A little bolder than a gingerbread cookie, which is also part of the Christmas cast. You'll meet them soon. Don't worry.

My recipe for these Chewy Molasses-Spice Cookies comes from, you guessed it, Martha. There is no holiday she doesn't touch. This recipe is in the same little book where my Snickerdoodles recipe can be found. I've used that little cookbook quite a bit and all thanks to my college roommate who got it for me when she was interning for Martha's show. I know, I wasn't that jealous of her at the time, but looking back, I should have had her get me a lot more swag and maybe a job. Hindsight.

There isn't much to this recipe, the worst part is the time it takes to roll the dough. A majority of the cookies I made this year required the dough being rolled into balls and then rolled in sugar. It's a lot of rolling that can get quite old after you've baked several dozen cookies. I'd much rather be rolling in dough than just rolling it. Get it? Just me? Fair enough. Hope you enjoy.

Chewy Molasses-Spice Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 sticks (12 Tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with rack in center. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In a shallow bowl, place 1/2 cup sugar; set aside.

2. With an electric mixer, beat butter and remaining cup of sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and then molasses. Reduce speed to low; gradually add dry ingredients, beating just until dough forms.

3. Using 1 level tablespoon per cookie, roll dough into balls. Then roll each ball in reserved 1/2 cup sugar to coat.

4. Place balls on baking sheets, about 3 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time, until edges of cookies are just firm, 10 to 15 minutes (cookies can be baked 2 sheets at a time, but they will not crackle uniformly). Cool 1 minute on baking sheets; transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ritz (Tag-A-Longs)

Don't they look delicious? That's because they are! Ritz, as my family calls them, have been part of the Pavlock family cookie tray since I can remember having Christmas cookies. It wasn't until I had moved away from home and made these that my friend said, "they're like Tag-A-Longs," the delicious peanut buttery cookie the Girl Scouts tempt you with every year. She was right, I had just never called them that, and I still don't. To me, they will always be Ritz, but they can be whatever you want to call them.

These "cookies" are extremely easy to make, they take less than an hour from start to finish. Enjoy!

Ritz (Tag-A-Longs)

60 Ritz crackers
2 1-lb bags milk chocolate Make 'N Mold candy coating (available at A.C. Moore and Michaels)
Creamy peanut butter

1. Line 2 cookie sheets with wax paper. This will make it easier to peel the "cookies" off the sheets once they are set.

2. Spread peanut butter on Ritz crackers. Use enough peanut butter to cover the crackers but not too much or they will be difficult to cover with chocolate.

3. Melt candy coating according to directions on package.

4. One at a time drop each peanut butter covered cracker in chocolate, turning until completely covered. Place covered cracker on cookie sheet to set. Repeat until all crackers are covered and let them set. To speed up the process crackers can be placed in the refrigerator or freezer until chocolate coating is firm.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles have been a part of my Christmases for as long as I can remember. I made them as a kid with my mom and still make them today. The recipe I use now is different from the one I used to use with my mom. When I first moved away from home I didn't have my mom's recipes at my disposal so I had to find my own and I stumbled across Martha Stewart's recipe (she even manages to make an appearance when we're not talking about cupcakes!) for Cinnamon-Sugar Cookies (known to me as Snickerdoodles) that I tried, and liked better... sorry mom. Martha's version are a little thinner and crispier than those I made with my mom, and they just suit my fancy. Enjoy!

Snickerdoodles (Cinnamon-Sugar Cookies)

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks (16 Tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature but still slightly firm
1 2/3 cups sugar, plus 1/4 cup for topping
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (I never do this, I just use cooking spray to grease the cookie sheets... don't tell Martha). In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt; set aside. With an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 2/3 cups sugar until light and fluffy, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add egg and vanilla; beat until combined. Add dry ingredients; beat, scraping bowl as necessary, until dough comes together when squeezed (it will appear dry).

2. Make the cinnamon and sugar: In a small bowl, mix together remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the cinnamon.

3. Using 1 level tablespoon dough per cookie, squeeze each tightly and roll into balls. Roll each in cinnamon sugar, coating evenly. Place on baking sheets, about 1 1/2 inches apart; flatten with bottom of glass. Sprinkle tops with any remaining cinnamon sugar.

4. Bake, one sheet at a time, until tops are puffed and crackly, and bottoms are golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Cool slightly on sheets; transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Blondies

Officially called Rainbow Blondies per the recipe, but I like to rename things for Christmas and since these use M&Ms and are only green and red, calling them Rainbow Blondies just doesn't quite seem appropriate. While I do always manage to incorporate M&Ms into my Christmas baking in at least one way, in all of my previous years it has been through making cookies with M&Ms. This year I decided it was time for a change. Spice things up a little. So instead of going with an M&M cookie, I went with an M&M blondie. I thought they would look a little prettier and the colors of the M&Ms could stand out a little more. I was right. Go me.

Off the top of my head I can't quite remember where I got this recipe, but part of me thinks it was from the M&Ms website. If you're ever looking for baking recipes involving M&Ms their site has some options for you. Happy baking!

Christmas (or Rainbow) Blondies

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup light-brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 (12 oz) package of M&Ms
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (I chose not to use these)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy; add egg and vanilla.

3. Combine flour and baking soda; add to creamed mixed just until combined. Dough will be stiff (very stiff in fact).

4. Stir in M&Ms and nuts.

5. Spread dough into greased 9 x 13-inch baking pan (this will be difficult to do with a spoon or rubber spatula due to the stiffness of the dough. In my case is just plopped all the dough into the pan and then spread it out and patted it down with my hands, worked like a charm). Bake 30-35 minutes until wooden toothpick inserted comes out slightly moist with crumbs. Cool completely before cutting.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Peanut Butter Blossoms

Here it is... the 1st Christmas cookie of the season! I've been baking fast and furiously for the past few days. There's only so much time before I have to start distributing these scrumptious treats and I can't distribute what I have yet to bake.

I have been baking Christmas cookies since I was a very little kid with my mom. Back then I didn't really help much other than making a mess. But now I make the cookies and the mess all by myself. I've decided to share the recipes for my Christmas cookies rather than what I've been doing with Project Cupcake. Cookies are pretty self explanatory and I've made most of them before so it's not quite as exciting as embarking on new cupcake adventures.

This recipe for Peanut Butter Blossoms I got from my mom. Where it originated before her I haven't the slightest idea, but here it is and I hope you enjoy it.

Peanut Butter Blossoms

48 Hershey's Kisses
1/2 cup shortening (I used butter)
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 egg
2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
extra sugar for rolling

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove foil from Hershey's Kisses.

2. Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well.

3. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.

4. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in sugar and place on ungreased cookie sheet (I always grease my cookie sheets).

5. Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate into the center of each cookie; cookie will crack around the edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Make It a Double

I interrupt this regular scheduled post about cupcakes to bring you 2 things...

First, I'm putting Project Cupcake on a brief hiatus for December. After some contemplation I have decided that keeping up with cupcakes and my holiday baking while working full time, plus my normal everyday life responsibilities is just too much at once. And, since I can't quit my job, and the house still has to be cleaned one of my baking items had to go. Since I give Christmas cookies as gifts to friends and family not baking for the holidays just wasn't an option, so I decided to take a little break from cupcakes. But don't worry, come 2012 we'll be back on track.

Second, since I've been sick the past couple days (I have a head cold that is getting the best of me) I haven't baked anything. I don't want to potentially infect anyone with my germs. Therefore, I'm bringing you a blast from the fairly-recent past. If you can't have cupcakes... why not have cake?

As I've mentioned before (I think) co-workers occasionally ask me to make cakes for birthdays, bridal showers, etc. This request was for 2 birthday cakes, one for a 6-year-old (I think) boy, and a 2-year-old (I'm positive) girl, brother and sister. Their birthdays are about a week apart and I made their cakes last year as well... repeat customers! Trevor wanted a Lightning McQueen cake (a character from the movie Cars for those who don't know), and Kate doesn't care because she's 2, but her mom asked for something pretty and girly and sent a picture of a cake she liked to serve as inspiration for me.

Before starting each cake I did some Google image searching to learn everything there is to learn about what Lightning McQueen looks like. I had a base knowledge of what he looks like, but I needed specific details. I found some good images and saved a few on my computer of Lightning McQueen from several different angles (yowza!). I continued my Google searching to see what other people had done to make Lightning McQueen cakes because this would be my first attempt at truly sculpting a cake and making it 3D. I didn't want it to be a complete failure and ruin Trevor's birthday party. No cake equals no fun, at least it does at my birthday parties.

After completing my research I decided to make 2 9x13 cakes and layer them. Then I would sculpt from there. Plus with using 2 9x13 pans I knew exactly how many batches of batter I would need. The cakes were both chocolate, so I used the same recipe for both cakes and just tripled it to have enough batter for both. It worked out perfectly.

I wasn't sure how to start sculpting, but I know from my sculpture classes in college that once you take something away, you can't really put it back (Mom and Dad would be so proud that I'm using those tuition dollars!). There's a little more wiggle room with cakes, since frosting is a baker's form of glue, but still, I'd rather not have to go that route. In my Google research someone suggested drawing out the form of the car on a piece of paper and then putting it against the side of the cake and carving along the edges of that to get the shape. This seemed like a great idea, so that's what I did. It worked out great and I got the basic shape of the cake. I did a little more carving around the edges and "touching up" to get as close to the shape of the car as possible. To be honest, it looked a little wider than I liked, but overall I was pretty pleased with my first attempt at sculpting a cake. Once the sculpting was complete I threw on 2 layers of vanilla buttercream frosting and popped that baby in the fridge.

The next day (after 8 hours of my day job) I came home to do the remainder of the decorating. Two days prior I made the frosting and fondant and left them waiting patiently in the fridge until I was ready for them. I made 1 batch of red marshmallow fondant for Lightning McQueen and 2 batches of white, one for Kate's cake, and then another to have for the details of both cakes. I ended up having more fondant than I needed, but I'd rather have too much than not enough.

First, I covered the cake with the red fondant and watched it start to sweat. That's what happens when you take a buttercream-frosted cake out of the fridge and cover it with with fondant in a non-air conditioned, humid house. But, I wasn't too concerned because I knew at some point it would stop sweating once the temperature evened out, and the fact that it was wet made it easier to stick on all the details (the next morning when the cakes were picked up they were both sweat free thanks to sitting in their respective cake boxes in a dehumidified basement overnight). I made several different color fondants from one of the white batches for the windows, wheels, lightning bolts, numbers, headlights, taillights and any other detail I can't remember. For the wheels I had previously made rice krispy treats and cut them into circles using a cookie cutter. I covered those with fondant and stuck them to the cake using toothpicks so they wouldn't flop over. Lightning McQueen won't be lightning fast if he's missing a wheel. I finished up some of the small details, such as outlining everything and the wording by piping on some of my leftover buttercream icing. Finally, Lightning McQueen was finished. I'm very proud of my work, and Trevor loved it, which is the most important thing. Being the perfectionist that I am, I think it could be better, and I'm sure the next one will be.

On to cake No. 2 for little Kate. Hers was much easier which is why I saved it for last. I knew Trevor's cake would be a lot of work and I wanted to have as much energy as possible to tackle it. Kate's cake was a 6-inch round, 3-inch deep cake. I cut it in half so it would have layers and frosted it with 2 applications of buttercream before I started decorating. I covered it twice with white fondant because the first pass was a little thin in some places and I didn't want to risk it ripping. Especially with the moisture issue I was facing and the fact that I had more than enough fondant. I made several colors of fondant for the flowers on the cake; yellow, orange, blue, pink and purple. I bought Wilton flower cookie cutters from Michaels and used those to make the flowers. They worked great. I cut out about 6 flowers in each color, more then enough since I was working with a small cake, but I didn't want to have to go back and make more flowers later if I needed them.

Before I put any of the flowers on the cake I wanted to get the number 2 on it. This was the only specific request that was made fore the cake, everything else was up to me. I used some pink fondant and rolled it into a rope, made it into the shape of a 2 and put it on the top of the cake. Next, I put on the flowers in a not so organized or patterned fashion. I didn't want to use too many, because I wanted the cake to look pretty and dainty, but I didn't want it to be to sparse because I didn't want the cake to look naked. For the finishing touches I attached white pearl sprinkles to the center of the flowers with some of the leftover buttercream frosting. It was a really nice touch and made a difference, it made everything look complete and finished. I don't know if this is my favorite cake that I've ever made, but it's definitely high on my list. It's so dainty and pretty and lovely... just like the birthday girl.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Streusel Cupcakes

Who loves coffee cake but not coffee? Me. While I was very excited to make streusel cupcakes (this recipe has a different name, but I'm almost 100% certain it's the same one) I was also a little scared because there were a lot of steps for these cupcakes and a lot of steps makes me a little nervous that I'm going to mess something up. I had to make the cupcakes, the streusel topping and the glaze. That's 3 whole steps. Yikes.

First, I prepared the cupcake batter which was easy. Nothing had to be prepped other than leaving out the butter and eggs to get to room temperature. Second, I made the streusel topping. Now, had I read ahead like I'm supposed to I would have seen that the streusel topping was supposed to be refrigerated for 30 minutes before it gets put on top of the cupcake batter. But, I didn't read ahead because I can't even follow my own rules. Shame. Once I completed the streusel topping I put it in the fridge for 30 minutes and cursed myself. On the bright side while waiting the allotted 30 minutes I played outside with Rollins, so really, everyone wins. Except maybe the cupcake batter that sat out for 30 minutes. Ugh, drives me crazy when I do that.

When it came time to fill the cupcake liners Martha let me down. For real this time. She didn't tell me how full to fill the liners, so I did what I have done for roughly the 10 previous cupcakes and filled the liners 3/4 full, then added the streusel topping. Small mistake. The cupcake liners probably could have been filled about 1/2 full and still produced lovely large, rounded cupcakes like I like. Filling them 3/4 full gave me a pretty decent-sized cupcake and also yielded me about 5 less than I should have gotten. Oops. Bigger is better, right? And, it's not my fault, Martha didn't tell me what I was supposed to do. In the future, if I were to make them again, which I probably will because they were so delicious, I would only fill them halfway. In addition, since they turned out to be so large, I also had to add about 3 minutes of baking time. So instead of 20 minutes, each batch got 23 minutes. No one wants an undercooked cupcake.

Onto the milk glaze! Super easy. It required milk and confectioner's sugar. My only problem with the glaze was that once it was drizzled onto the cupcake it didn't really harden and stay white like the pictures led me to believe it would. In most cases it absorbed into the cupcake so you couldn't really see it. There were a few instances when you could see it on the edges of the cupcakes, but that's about it. It didn't ruin the cupcakes or anything, I just thought they looked a little prettier when you could see the glaze.

Taste test time! I really enjoyed these cupcakes. They reminded me of a coffee cake my mom used to make when I was younger. She usually made it for Christmas morning or Easter brunch and I loved it. Even while these were baking they smelled like the coffee cake she made. So these cupcakes get extra points for taking me back to the simpler times of my youth and making me think of my mom. Aw.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Brown Sugar Pound Cakes

We are now officially into the world of dipped and glazed cupcakes, the second section in Martha's cookbook. Progress people! I will say, we eased into this section because the first recipe, brown sugar pound cakes, was pretty easy. So easy that I only needed 7 ingredients (if you don't count the icing).

Even though this recipe only required 7 ingredients I still read through the whole thing beforehand so I wouldn't encounter any surprises. I hate when that happens! It's extremely frustrating to think that you're almost done and then BAM! You find out that there was something you should have had prepared and didn't. Total killjoy. So, I try to avoid that at all costs. Although, had I not read ahead in this case, I wouldn't have come across and surprises.

Once completed the batter was pretty thick so I couldn't pour-by-Pyrex (tear) but I scooped about 1 1/2 tablespoons into each cupcake liner. I think I came out with about 2 less than the recipe said I would yield so I did pretty well. The recipe said to bake the cupcakes for 25 minutes with a turn halfway through the total baking time, but as we've been over before, my timer doesn't work in 1/2-minute increments so I baked the cupcakes for 12 minutes, rotated them, and baked them for 12 minutes more. It worked just fine. The cupcakes came out pretty flat, but I imagined they would since that's what they looked like in Martha's picture. Plus, when I think of pound cake I don't really think of puffy rounded cake. I think of flat, dense and delicious cake.

Making the cupcakes was very easy, and overall the brown-butter glaze was too, I just had a couple moments of uncertainty while making it. Like the cupcakes, and really all types of icing there wasn't much needed as far as ingredients go. My biggest question right from the beginning was what were the little brown flecks in the picture of the icing? I figured they were vanilla bean, but the recipe called for vanilla extract. I was confused and thought Martha had messed up (like that could ever really happen). I should have known better.

The first step of the process gave me the most concern because I was worried I would burn the butter, or take it off the heat too soon, before it was the proper nut-brown color. I stared at the pan like a crazy person, swirled it and debated back and forth about when it was the right color. When I felt confident that the color was satisfactory I poured the melted butter into a bowl and stirred in the rest of the ingredients. Turns out those little brown dots came from the brown butter. Crazy!

The icing was delicious. Seriously delicious, but I didn't let myself eat a lot of it because all I could think about was that the main ingredient was butter, and it can't be good to consume a lot of butter. Especially when you're shedding for a wedding like me. I wasn't sure how to ice the cupcakes. I didn't want to use so much of the icing that it would run off the sides of the cupcakes too much. Luckily this icing set after it had been on the cupcakes a few minutes so I didn't really have to worry about that. I just used a spoon to spoon some of the icing onto the cupcake and then spread it a little bit with the back of the spoon. Worked like a charm.

After I had finished icing the cupcakes I performed a taste test and they were scrumptious. I've never made a pound cake of any variety before and these were very good. I ate more than I normally do when I make cupcakes. I had to give them away so I would stop. I'm serious. I took a half dozen to our neighbors. They plowed our driveway after the giant and ridiculous snowstorm that we had. It was the least I could do.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Day Late, But Not a Cupcake Short

Yes, I normally post on Sundays, but this Sunday someone threw a monkey wrench in my plan. I worked until 8pm last night and was going to get to blogging when I got home from work, but while still at work I got a text message from Bobby and the conversation went like this...

Bobby: "How much do u love me?"
Me: "I'm marrying you, so I guess that means I love you a whole lot."
Bobby: "Ok well I locked my keys in my car at Fishers."
Me: "So I'm marrying an idiot."
Bobby: "Yes lol... buuut if you drive over my spare set you will get a home-cooked meal by chef Pedrozov."

So clearly you can see what happened. I left work, stopped at home, fed Rollins, got Bobby's keys and drove over to our friend John's house. I did get dinner, but they had all already eaten without me, and I had to reheat my food. It was good, don't get me wrong, and it was nice to not have to cook for myself, but at the very least my beloved fiance could have waited for me. I ate, the Sunday Night Football game was on, so we watched that and I indulged in some leftover Halloween candy the boys still had. Mini Twix are delicious and my downfall. But, today is a new day, and as far as I know Bobby hasn't locked his keys in his car.

Now, to the important part... the cupcakes. Ladies and gentlemen, it's official. The first phase of project cupcake has concluded. The baking of the peanut butter and jelly cupcakes has resulted in the completion of the swirled and sprinkled portion of Martha's cupcake cookbook. 18 cupcakes are in the books (no pun intended), I can't quite believe it either. In honor of this momentous occasion I thought it would be fun to take a walk down memory lane to relive some of the highlights, the low lights, and everything in between.

To get it out of the way... let's start with the "bad" news, and my least favorite (and also ugliest, two for one!), tres leches cupcakes.
The horrible picture speaks for itself. Next time around these bad boys will get less tres leches (and much better lighting) and maybe I'll like them more.

Of course, there always has to be a beauty queen on the bunch, these blueberries-and-cream cupcakes were the best looking in my opinion. But then again, it may just be that I'm partial to purple. My bridesmaids will be wearing that color after all.
Most surprising cupcakes goes to...
... rhubarb cupcakes! I had no idea what to expect with these cupcakes, and I thought for sure I wouldn't like them. I had never worked with or even eaten rhubarb so my expectations were low. Turned out I really liked the taste and thought they were quite pretty as well. Too bad I couldn't convince anyone else that they were delicious. As soon as anyone heard rhubarb they ran. They didn't know what they were missing.

Most likely to never make again goes to...
... date-nut mini cupcakes! It's not that these cupcake weren't good, because they weren't horrible, it's just that if I had to pick one of these to never have again, I wouldn't be sad to miss out on these. We already know I'm not a big fan of nuts in my cupcakes and after making these we also learned that I'm terrified of dates because they look like giant slugs. That's an image I'm not going to be able to get out of my head, and to be honest, when I think of these cupcakes I just see a giant slug in my mind. Not the mental image you want when you're eating something.

Last, but not least, the favorite. This shouldn't be a shocker. The winner is...
... carrot cake cupcakes! Carrot cake is my favorite cake, hands down. I love it. It's my dessert of choice if and when I get dessert at a restaurant. While this recipe is different from the recipe that I use when I make carrot cake it's still just as tasty. And, out of the 18 cupcakes I've made so far, I would pick carrot cake first every time I had to choose.

Hope you enjoyed this little walk down memory lane. It made me want a carrot cake cupcake. What's coming up next? You'll just have to wait and see.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes

Peanut butter jelly time, peanut butter jelly time, peanut butter, jelly, peanut butter, jelly, peanut butter, jelly... Family Guy anyone? Or at least I think that's from Family Guy. It's ok, I don't watch it either, but I've heard that somewhere before. First, let me start with the photos. A lovely friend of mine recently purchased for me a portable photo studio as an early birthday gift and these cupcakes were my first guinea pig in trying it out. I think they came out pretty well, especially since it came with no instructions. Practice will surely make perfect, right?

I should also apologize for being a day late with my post. You may or may not be aware of the massive snow storm that came through Connecticut this weekend. We were one of the fortunate ones to not lose power and to not have any significant damage to our home. However, some of our friends lost power and still don't have it back, so we've been taking people in so they have a warm place to sleep and hot water to shower. Needless to say things have been a little busy around the house and my office has been monopolized by house guests. Right now the house is currently empty, except for Rollins who's sleeping on the couch (gotta love a full day of doggy daycare) so I'm trying to make the most of my free time tonight before everyone comes back.

So, moving on to what's featured in my pictures... peanut butter and jelly cupcakes. These cupcakes are the last in the first section of the cookbook so I was excited to make them for many reasons. One, because I feel like I've reached a milestone in my project in the fact that I've completed the first section. Two, Bobby's favorite thing in the whole world is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Yes, he may be 30 years old, but he could eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (or pizza) everyday and be completely happy with that. So, I was excited to see how my peanut butter and jelly sandwich expert would like peanut butter and jelly cupcakes.

Before I started baking I remembered to leave out everything that had to be at room temperature before I started working. I also read through the entire recipe. My first order of business was chopping the peanuts, which is rather difficult considering that peanuts are pretty small (I also ended up using honey roasted because I can't read. But I will swear that when I put them in my shopping cart, the package said dry roasted). But, I did manage to successfully chop the peanuts without successfully chopping off any of my fingers. Hooray. After chopping the peanuts all the hard work was pretty much done.

Similar to these applesauce-spice cupcakes, the batter for these cupcakes was also quite thick so I wasn't able to use my pour-by-Pyrex method for the second week in a row. Very depressing. Again I used a tablespoon and spooned about 1 1/2 tablespoons into each cupcake liner. All the cupcakes came out pretty perfectly and I only yielded 2 less cupcakes than the recipe said I would. Both batches of cupcakes were baked for 22 minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. They came out perfectly with this amount of baking time. Golden brown, and just the right size.

Time for the frosting, and a new one to make at that! Double win! These cupcakes called for creamy peanut butter frosting, doesn't that sound delicious and fattening? This frosting wasn't too difficult to make (and I got to use my stand mixer) but I did have a moment of panic when I was afraid the heavy cream wasn't going to turn into medium-firm peaks. It took a little longer than normal and I nervously stared at it every few minutes wondering if it was ever going to firm up, and what my back-up plan would be if it didn't. Luckily, my whisk and mixer started doing their thing and I had peaks! I folded the whipped cream into the peanut butter-cream cheese mixture to finish everything off. The frosting wasn't as thick as I thought it would be and it was actually quite spreadable. For the finishing touch each cupcake got a little dollop of strawberry preserves. I went with preserves instead of jelly because I like that preserves have little chunks of strawberry in them.

To be honest, from the start I didn't think I would like these cupcakes. Not because I'm not a fan of peanut butter and jelly, because I am, but because I had a feeling these would be pretty dense and pretty peanut buttery cupcakes... I was right. I think I would have liked them more if the frosting was a little sweeter. I kept tasting it as I was adding each ingredient while making it, waiting for the sweetness to emerge and I got nothing. I didn't try a completed cupcake until I took the pictures and I still had the same issue. I needed more sweetness. I had one bite and didn't eat any more. I hate to say I didn't like a cupcake, because it feels wrong. But, I didn't like these. Luckily for me and my taste buds, there are roughly 50 more cupcakes to make... yes, I counted.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Applesauce-Spice Cupcakes

Finally we have come to a recipe that I've made before. It only took 18 cupcakes to get here (tells you how much I have baked from this cookbook). The first time I made applesauce-spice cupcakes (Martha doesn't have them on her website, she really wants you to buy the cookbook) I didn't include the pecans because as I've mentioned numerous time I'm not a huge fan of nuts. But, as I've also previously mentioned I'm doing my best to follow these recipes to a T in the spirit of my self-assigned project.

There wasn't much prep involved in this recipe, which I knew, and I almost didn't read all the way through it because I had made it before, but I did. And I'm glad I did. Because, I saw that I was supposed to include toasted pecans. Since I hadn't included them the first time I made these cupcakes I forgot that they were supposed to be in the recipe. So, first order of business, toast the pecans. While the pecans were toasting I worked on the rest of the recipe, which was extremely easy. Although I did leave out the butter to get to room temperature, since the weather has started to cool off it was a little hard when I was ready to start the batter. I nuked it in the microwave for 10 seconds and it was good to go (I also remembered to leave the eggs out to get to room temperature, but they were still quite cool as well). Fall is here!

Since the batter was a little thick I didn't employ my pour-by-Pyrex method to fill the cupcake pan. I used a tablespoon instead (I really need to get one of those ice cream scoops that I see the people on Cupcake Wars use) using about 1 1/2 good-size spoonfuls to fill the liners. Not the most perfect method, but almost all the cupcakes turned out to be the same size so I was pretty happy with how they turned out.

Now for the brown sugar cream cheese frosting (no luck on Martha's website for this one either), whew, that's a mouthful. This is the first time I've made a true frosting in awhile. My most recent cupcakes have for the most part been frosted with whipped cream. Very unexciting. I like to get the practice of making different frostings. Yes, I had already made this frosting in the past to go with these cupcakes, but still, it was a nice walk down memory lane. It was a pleasant walk as well since this frosting is very easy to make. I just used a thin icing spatula (I don't even know if that's what they're called, but they look like this) to frost the cupcakes since that's what the cupcakes in the picture from the cookbook looked like they were frosted with. I tried to give the cupcakes a little height so they would make for more interesting pictures. Without using all my frosting for one cupcake I did my best.

As I sometimes do, I took these cupcakes to work with me to share and I received a really nice compliment. It's not uncommon for people to tell me they enjoyed the cupcakes, or they're delicious, things like that, and I of course appreciate everyone's kind words. But, on this particular day I was very flattered. After I had passed out the cupcakes to various coworkers I received an email with the subject line of Thanks. It's pretty rare that anyone emails me to thank me for a cupcake, especially someone I don't really know like this person. In all honesty, I introduced myself and then handed him a cupcake. I digress... within the email he had said that he enjoyed the cupcake. He went on to ask if I'd ever seen Cupcake Wars and that he had recently been a judge on the show that's going to air sometime in January. I am of course familiar with the show, duh, I blog about cupcakes. But he doesn't know that. So anyway, he continued to say that the cupcake I had given him was better than most of the ones he tried on the show. I know, I know, he didn't say it was better than all the cupcakes he tried, but I'll take being better than most. After all, I'm no professional. Part of me wanted to reply and ask him if he could point me in the direction of the Cupcake Wars people, but then I came to my senses and realized I have no business on that show. I would be blown out of the water. So instead, I simply replied thank you for the compliment, that's very nice of you to say, and forwarded the email to my home email address so I'll have it when I'm in the need of a pick-me-up. Dork? You bet.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Like to Eat Cupcakes... Not Look Like Them

Nope, this post isn't about cupcakes, or even baking (sorry). It's my second post about my, scratch that, mine and Bobby's upcoming wedding. Since I previously mentioned here that I was recently on vacation and while on that vacation I went wedding dress shopping with my mom, I thought it might be nice to share my tales on wedding dress shopping. And, if you don't think it's so nice, I promise there are many more cupcake adventures that will be coming your way. But right now, it's all about the dress.

Before we got to Florida my mom had arranged 3 appointments at bridal shops that I had chosen from a list she had sent me of shops in the area. Two in Jacksonville and one in St. Augustine where my parents now live in their (my) beach house. I hadn't tried on any wedding dresses before my appointments... except one. This one.
This is my mom's wedding dress from 1978. I know it's hard to believe since it looks so contemporary. My mom had told me I could have her dress if I wanted and asked if I'd like to try it on. I knew I wasn't going to get married in my mom's dress (sorry mom) but I was curious if it would actually fit. My mom is a small woman. I've probably got at least 3 inches on her and more than a couple pounds. She's a petite little thing whereas I am less petite and have a more athletic build. I truly didn't think the dress would zip up... but it did! Of course while I was basking in my glory and the fact that I fit in my mom's dress, she so nicely said that when she got married it was "hanging" off of her. Thanks mom.

But, I digress. I didn't really know what to expect with this whole experience, but I did do some research the day before by watching several episodes of "Say Yes to the Dress" and taking copious notes (not really) while my dad, brother and fiance made fun of me. Typical. In reality my preparation included looking online and printing out pictures of what I was thinking of, deciding how much I wanted to spend, and making sure I was wearing cute underwear since I would be running around in it for most of the day.

Before we proceed I want to make it clear that you're not going to see the dress that I ended up choosing. That little secret is saved for myself, my mom and Diana, the woman who helped me try on all the dresses at the store where I purchased mine and also got to see me run around in my underwear all day. She was a lovely woman. I've decided not to show anyone my dress because I want it to be a surprise for the wedding and I don't want anyone else's opinion about it. Everyone only has to wait about 11 more months. If I can handle the wait I think everyone else can too.

On to Shop 1 and the first dress I tried on. I covered my face, not because I don't want you to see what I look like, because you can see my face in other posts, or if you look to the right, but because the faces I'm making in most of these pictures is not cute. These pictures are about the dresses, not me.
This was the style of dress I thought I wanted because I really liked the back. While a woman who was sitting in the store waiting for a friend told me she was going to cry when I walked out really liked it, I wasn't completely sold. It was more coverage than I wanted (I didn't want my shoulders to be covered). But, as I was told countless times by every woman who helped me try on dresses, almost anything could be changed.

Now for the monster dress as I so affectionately called it.
This is the style of dress I never in a million years thought I would want. It was strapless (strike 1), it was huge (strike 2) and I don't have a strike 3 because I really liked it. I loved how it fit me and was surprised that it was so flattering on me. I'm really not a fan of strapless dresses for myself. I just don't like the potential for armpit-area chub. It's not cute and on my wedding day I want to look way better than cute. I did try on several other dresses from this shop but had I decided on a dress from this shop, this would have been the one. There would have been some major chopping off of the train, because it was just way too much dress for me, but I really did like it.

Shop number 2! This was the first dress I tried on at our second stop and I thought this might be the winner.
It had straps like I wanted and it was a v-neck which I think is flattering on me. I liked the back, and it had just enough sparkle but not so much that I would look like a disco ball. This dress was the frontrunner until I found Maggie. Her name isn't actually Maggie, it's something different that I'm not going to tell you, but we'll call her Maggie since she is a Maggie Sottero dress. And that is all the designer information you will be getting. I was pretty much sold on her as soon as I put her on. She was perfect. There wasn't a think I wanted to change. But, just because you think you've found the perfect dress doesn't mean you stop trying them on! You never know what you could be missing, so you might as well try on a couple more just to be sure, so... I carried on.

Of course, even though I didn't like the dress with the keyhole back that I had tried on at the first shop I wanted to try on another one of the same style to see how I would like it and I came across the same issue.
Please don't mind my bra strap. Minus my bra strap I LOVED the back of this dress, it was exactly what I had wanted, but again, the front was more coverage than I wanted. I struggled between this dress and Maggie but in the end I decided that this dress would need a good amount of alterations to really change the front of it to make it what I wanted. And, after the alterations I still might not have what I wanted and I would have already spent so much money on it. Unfortunately I'm not able to buy 5 dresses like some brides (yes, that actually happens, Diana my bridal dress helper told me so) so I wanted to make sure the dress I ended up getting wouldn't need to be severely overhauled in order for me to be 100 percent happy with it.

Although I was fairly certain that Maggie was my dress, we did have one more appointment left and I wanted to go just in case this shop had something I liked better. Leave no stone unturned, leave no dress untried. Plus, it was a lot of fun playing dress up for the day.

Shop number 3 didn't have many options and I truthfully didn't think I would even find any that I wanted to try on. I didn't want to be rude since the owner had come in especially for us. So, I grabbed a couple dresses that I thought might have potential and were different from one I had previously tried on and headed to the dressing room. This was the last dress I tried on.
Had I not settled on Maggie this one would have probably been one I seriously considered purchasing. I thought it was very flattering on me, I just wasn't sure about the straps. They were a little too thick. I also wasn't sold on the bug, yes bug, that seemed to come with it. Notice the small black dot inside the blue circle. That's a bug in between the layers of fabric of the dress. How that got in there, I couldn't tell you. Had I noticed it before the dress was on my body I would have seriously considered not putting it on (I'm not a complete whimp). But, it wasn't until I was out of the dressing room and getting clipped into the dress that the shop owner said, "Oh my God, that's a bug." Yes, yes it was. Best of all... it was still alive. Call me crazy, but there are just some things that shouldn't be in wedding dresses. I'm going to be so bold as to say that live bugs are one of those things.

After our last appointment I was 99% sure that Maggie was my dress and she was just waiting for me to come get her. To make sure I was 100% sure I looked at the pictures my mom had taken over and over and slept on it. When I woke up in the morning I was still super excited about Maggie so I called the shop and asked if I could come pick her up the next morning. Normally you would order your dress and pick it up after the weeks or months it would take for it to arrive. But Maggie is a discontinued design meaning she couldn't be ordered and she was the only one like her in the store so I had to take her with me. It's like she was meant to be my dress.




Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ginger and Molasses Cupcakes

I have baked with ginger before, but not fresh ginger. I've baked with the kind of ginger that's dry, comes from a small container and costs about $7 (why are spices so expensive?). Fresh ginger is not ground up and dry, it doesn't come from a small container and doesn't cost $7... unless you buy a lot of it. I will say that due to the amount of work fresh ginger requires I prefer the $7 container, but I was happy to finally try using fresh ginger in a recipe.

When shopping for this recipe fresh ginger was the only thing I needed to buy (hooray!). Though I'm a fresh ginger novice when it comes to baking or cooking with it, I know what it looks like and felt confident I could find it at Stop and Shop and not have to make a bunch of trips to various grocery stores. I was right. Yeah me. The recipe said to buy about 2 6-inch pieces of ginger to yield what I would need. I bought 1 large and 2 small pieces thinking it would equal what I needed. I probably could have weighed it to see if it was the number of ounces the recipe specified, but that would have been a smart decision. Smart decisions are things I don't always make.

When it came to prepping these ginger and molasses cupcakes I started with the ginger. First I peeled all the pieces and tried to remove the "nubs" to make it easier to peel. Then, I minced. I actually looked up the difference between mincing, chopping and dicing (love me some Google) so I would now exactly how small the pieces of ginger were supposed to be. I assumed mincing was the smallest because I didn't think having giant chunks of ginger in these cupcakes would be very good. I was right again. I am on a roll. And, in case you're curious in terms of size of the pieces of whatever you're working with, from smallest to largest it goes minced, chopped, diced. You're welcome. Back to mincing. It was fairly easy to do, some of the pieces of ginger were harder to chop than others, not sure why, but overall it was a pretty painless, though sticky process. In an exciting not normal turn of events my eyes proved to be great measuring cups this time around because I got the perfect amount of ginger that I needed for the recipe. Chances of that ever happening again... 1 in never.

The rest of the recipe was easy, except for one minor hiccup. Before going grocery shopping I checked my molasses supply to make sure I had the 2/3 cup that was necessary. I looked in the cupboard, and the jar looked to have enough molasses. Of course when it came to measuring out the molasses while preparing the batter it turned out that I didn't have enough. Using my perfect measuring-cup eyes I concluded I was a little less than 1/4 cup short. Crap. I was tired and now annoyed, I had already worked all day and I didn't feel like making a trip to the store for one thing. I did think about it for about a minute and then decided that being roughly 1/4 cup short of molasses was not a crisis and couldn't possibly make that much of a difference.

During the baking time I added 2 minutes to the total time since these weren't quite done after 20 minutes. When I poked them with the toothpick after 20 minutes I still had batter on the toothpick and the middles sunk in a little. After a little more time in the oven they were fine. When I tasted them I didn't notice anything missing due to the small amount of molasses that I didn't have. Then again, this was the first time I tasted them so I didn't really have anything to compare them to. Ignorance is bliss!

As many of the cupcakes so far in this project have been, these were topped with whipped cream. I made the whipped cream while the cupcakes were baking since it's so easy and put it in the fridge in a Ziplock bag until I was ready to frost the cupcakes. When it was frosting time I noticed that the whipped cream had become a little liquidy (may or may not be a real word) even though I left it in the fridge. I decided to re-whip it in my stand mixer to get it back to the consistency that I wanted. Worked like a charm and I was proud of my head's-up thinking. I did forget one thing. To garnish the cupcakes with the $7-container ginger before I served them and took their pictures. Next time I'll remember the garnish and I'll have the required amount of molasses... unless I forget.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Date-Nut Mini Cupcakes

Miss me last week? If you did, my deepest apologies. We were in Florida basking in the sun and sand (and also shopping for wedding dresses with mom... we have a winner!). But now we're back, and we're baking.

I don't know much about dates, but I do know they look like giant slugs. I discovered this when opening my recently purchased container of Sunsweet pitted dates. I was going to taste one since I've never had one before to see what they were like, but once I saw what they look like I couldn't make myself do it. To me they just looked like a giant slug or some other type of creepy crawly creature that I couldn't put in my mouth. Even after I chopped them up I couldn't make myself try one. All I could think about was how they looked in their original unchopped form. Not pretty.

I set my expectations low when making these date-nut mini cupcakes (recipe not available on Martha's website) because I didn't know how I felt about dates at the time I first read the recipe, and I'm not a big fan of walnuts. Since those 2 things were the main components of these cupcakes I didn't think they stood a chance. Truthfully I wanted to skip this recipe entirely and move on to the next one for that reason. And, because ground cardamom is $14 for a 2 oz. bottle which just seems utterly ridiculous. While I did briefly contemplate skipping the recipe, I'm not a quitter so I sucked it up, spent $21 on ground cardamom and walnuts and started getting to work.

As has become my practice I "prepped" everything before I started to really get to work. I chopped the slugs... make that dates, toasted the walnuts and turned on the tea kettle to start boiling water. My timing has become quite impeccable if I do say so myself. I have always loved mini cupcakes because they're cute, as are all mini things. But, filling mini cupcakes is not cute, not cute at all. There's no good way to do it. I didn't use my glass Pyrex measuring cup like I normally would because I knew that once I started pouring the batter into the liners I would almost have to immediately stop pouring since mini cupcakes are so small. Which meant that stopping the momentum of the batter would be difficult, the batter would probably overflow and make a mess. I wasn't willing to deal with all of that. So, I used a teaspoon and carried a small measuring cup underneath it to catch any batter that might fall. This wasn't the best method and I still made a mess, but it wasn't the worst method either.

These cupcakes were supposed to be baked for 15 minutes with a turn halfway through the total baking time. I started with 7 minutes, then turned the cupcakes and baked them for 7 more minutes. With the toothpick test I thought a little more baking time was needed so I added 2 more minutes and did that for the remaining 2 batches of cupcakes. In the end each batch was baked for 16 total minutes. The nice thing about making mini cupcakes is that I have 2 mini cupcake pans, so I could have a batch ready to go into the oven as soon as the batch before it was done. Eventually I will invest in a second regular-sized cupcake pan... eventually. Maybe I'll put one of the wedding registry!

For the first time in this project I didn't have to make a frosting/topping for the cupcakes. I almost didn't know what to do with myself. The recipe said to add creme fraiche to these cupcakes. Confession... I have no idea what creme fraiche is and I didn't Google it to find out. I assume it is French and in French it means fresh cream. I could be incorrect. As we learned earlier, I studied Spanish, not French in high school so my vocabulary is limited. Lo siento (I'm sorry in Spanish). I guessed that creme fraiche didn't mean whipped cream, otherwise Martha would have told me to make it. So from the picture in the book I took it to mean something along the lines of a Cool Whip. I'm sure Martha would gasp in disgust if she knew that's what I purchased (lo siento, Martha), but I didn't know what else to do. I taste tested the cupcakes without Cool Whip because I like a "naked" taste test to see how much the frosting/topping helps or hurts a cupcake. The cupcakes sans Cool Whip were good. Turns out slugs (dates) aren't too bad, and I didn't mind the walnuts that much. With a dollop of Cool Whip the cupcakes were slightly more delicious. Though Martha might disagree with me, I find absolutely nothing wrong with Cool Whip. It's delicious, and I could, and have eaten it by the teaspoonfuls. Judge me if your must.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tres Leches Cupcakes

No, your eyes are not deceiving you, these pictures are not the best, that's what I get for not being patient and taking them when the lighting wasn't so good. There's only so much Photoshop and my Photoshop skills can do.

Tres leches... that means 3 milks for all of you non-Spanish speaking readers. For the first time in awhile I finally had a recipe where I didn't have to search for an ingredient I didn't have! It was nice for a change. Scavenger hunting for ingredients isn't always fun. My streak of reading through the entire recipe before starting to bake is still alive (the same cannot be said for the Patriots 15-game win streak against the Bills... go Bills!), even for a recipe as easy as these tres leches cupcakes (the link provided is for tres leches cake, that's all Martha had on her website).

I'm particularly proud that before I started baking I did all the prep work. I started melting the butter and while the butter was melting I separated the eggs that I had left out during the day so they were at room temperature. While the butter was cooling I used my beloved stand mixer to whisk the egg whites until they formed soft peaks and then whisked in the egg yolks and sugar. Once the butter had melted and cooled I folded that into the batter and then folded in the flour. At that point the cupcakes were ready to be baked. The recipe said to fill the liners halfway, and while I tried to do that, I think I filled them a little too full since after all the baking was said and done I got 5 less cupcakes than the recipe said I was supposed to. Oops. It could also be that I ate some of the batter... it happens.

I baked the cupcakes for 24 minutes with a turn halfway through the total baking time. The recipe said 25 minutes, but as I've stated before, my timer only works in whole minutes so I always go less because you can't un-bake something. While the cupcakes were baking I whisked together the tres leches so it would be ready to brush on the cupcakes when they were done. As soon as the cupcakes were baked to golden-brown perfection I took them out of the oven and immediately poked them with a skewer, make that toothpick. Because Martha told me to, I kept the cupcakes in the tins and brushed on the mixture. I gave each cupcake 10 brushes and then placed the cupcakes in the fridge for 30 minutes so the cupcakes could absorb the mixture. In hindsight I wish I had stopped at 10 coats per cupcake, but I'll get to that in a minute.

After the first batch of cupcakes had set for 30 minutes I took them out of the tins and baked the second, very small batch. When that batch was done I repeated the brushing process. Now that each cupcake had been given 10 coats of the tres leches mixture I continued brushing the cupcakes until the mixture was gone because that's what Martha said to do. I stopped after each cupcake had been given 20 coats because I didn't want the cupcakes to become soggy. They were already extremely heavy, and I also figured that since I didn't get 20 total cupcakes, I should account some of the mixture that I had left for that cupcakes that I didn't have.

These cupcakes were to be topped with whipped cream, which I have made several times up to this point with these rhubarb cupcakes and these blueberries-and-cream cupcakes. It is very easy to make and I like using a Ziploc bag to pipe the whipped cream on top so I did that again this time. I also garnished the tops with cinnamon (tigers love pepper, hate cinnamon... name that movie!). While taking the pictures for these cupcakes (which I'm unhappy with as previously mentioned) I gave them a taste test and they were too soggy for my liking. I wish I had stopped at 10 coats each. Even though that wouldn't have used all of the milk mixture I feel like they would have been more enjoyable. They tasted fine, I just wasn't happy with the consistency. Perhaps they would have been better if I had eaten one immediately after taking it out of the fridge. But, I wanted to bring the cupcake to room temperature for photographing purposes and Martha also said to serve them that way. Maybe she doesn't know everything (still love you Martha!).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mocha Cupcakes

We already covered how I feel about coffee when I made these tiramisu cupcakes. I suppose however, that there is a difference between coffee and espresso, but I couldn't tell you what that is and I don't feel like doing my typical Google research to find out. I'm just going to plead ignorance and move ahead to baking mocha cupcakes (the recipe on MarthaStewart.com was not the same one from the book... sorry!). First order of business, get all the ingredients. The 2 most glaring items that I didn't have in my pantry, and I thought might require some looking into were espresso powder for the cupcakes themselves, and coffee extract for the frosting (which search I will detail later).

I assumed I would be able to get espresso powder in the grocery store and I was right. See, assuming doesn't always make an ass out of you and me like they say. Anyway, there were a few different kinds of espresso powder at the store and I had no idea which one I should purchase. Bobby had come with me on this particular shopping trip so I consulted with him and after some discussion I did what I always do, opt for the cheapest one. I'm saving for a wedding you know! And, I'm also frugal (sounds better than cheap). In reality, I'm not going to spend $12 for a canister of espresso powder that I'll probably never use again when I can spend $3 on one. I feel a lot less guilty about wasting $3 than $12 because as I already mentioned, I'm saving for a wedding!

For 2 weeks now I have read through the entire recipe before I started baking. Kudos to me! See, I'm learning. I also remembered to leave out the eggs before I went to work this morning so they would be at room temperature. I didn't however remember to leave out the sour cream so it would also be at room temperature. There are only so many things I can remember after waking up at 4:50am, and to leave out sour cream just isn't one of them.

First thing I did was brew the espresso in my "espresso machine" or what regular people like myself call a coffee maker. This may or may not be the correct way to make espresso, I truthfully have no idea, but I can tell you I most certainly was not going to be buying an "espresso machine" for these cupcakes. I don't drink espresso and I have more than enough kitchen appliances already. While my espresso was brewing I started working on the rest of the recipe giving the espresso some time to cool, though Martha never did say it was necessary. After mixing all the ingredients together I had to add the espresso-espresso powder mixture to the rest of the batter. I was thinking that the espresso powder should dissolve into the espresso, but it didn't, and I poured it into the batter. Mixing the espresso-espresso powder mixture into the batter made quite a mess. There was some minor batter spray that spread across the kitchen, as well as my white tank top. I have at least 3 aprons. You'd think I'd wear one of them... you'd think wrong. I was worried the batter was going to be too watery, but after a good dose of mixing it was okay. I baked the cupcakes for 22 minutes, turning them once halfway through the baking time.

After I had taken a break from baking the cupcakes I started working on the coffee version of the seven-minute frosting that was to accompany them. I have made this frosting before with these coconut cupcakes but I didn't like it with the coconut extract... way too coconutty for me. I was worried that I would have the same opinion of this frosting as well. But, before I could even worry about how the frosting would taste, I had to find the coffee extract to make it. I had a suspicion that Stop and Shop wouldn't have coffee extract. They do have several different extracts that I didn't expect them to have, but sadly, coffee was not one of them. I figured this would happen and was prepared to search online and order myself some coffee extract, which is precisely what I did. I did a simple Google search for coffee extract and picked the website that had the cheapest one. Of course I also Googled myself a coupon code so I could save a couple bucks. Just call me Miss Frugal!

Bobby and I went away for a couple days (to look at wedding venues) and when we got back my coffee extract was happily waiting for me on the front porch. The fact that we were away and doing fun things like looking at wedding venues made the wait that much easier. I digress. So, with the coffee extract in hand and after some rest from baking earlier in the day I could start and finish the coffee seven-minute frosting. Like last time, making this frosting was a bit of a process and yielded way more frosting than needed for the amount of cupcakes I got from the recipe (22). But, the most surprising thing of all was that I didn't hate it, even with the coffee extract. I thought for sure this was going to be a repeat of the coconut seven-minute frosting, but it wasn't. Meaning, I could actually eat the cupcakes once they were frosted. Hooray for me, not hooray for my waistline.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Zucchini-Spice Cupcakes

My earliest memory of zucchini is from my very early childhood when I used to go to my babysitters, and for lunch one day we had to eat raw zucchini. Of course, we were given other, more delicious food during that meal, but all I remember is the zucchini and how I wanted to gag when I had to eat it. Lovely visual I provided for you. Needless to say from that point on, I have had no interest in eating zucchini... raw, cooked or otherwise. About a year ago I tried zucchini bread for the first time, hesitantly of course, and I have to say, it was very good. So, when it came time to make zucchini-spice cupcakes I figured they had a chance of being tasty.

I was not expecting it to be so difficult to find zucchini. I figured it'd be right there next to the cucumbers or squash and that would be that. I was wrong... kind of. I made several passes through the produce department trying to find zucchini with no luck. There were several kinds of cucumbers, there was yellow squash and green squash, but no zucchini. Stop and Shop failed me... not the first time. The other grocery store in town, Price Chopper is less than 5 minutes down the road so I decided to make a stop there to see if they'd have any zucchini. I figured at the very least I could get a loaf of bread that they sell, that I really like and haven't had in awhile because I don't normally shop there anymore (Stop and Shop is closer). Again, I stalked the produce department with no luck. Nothing was labeled zucchini, but I was becoming suspicious of the "green squash" that looked an awful lot like zucchini. Then I thought maybe the freezer section would have frozen zucchini, and while not ideal, could still work. No luck.

It was then I decided I would give the produce department one last try, but before I did I was going to use my trusty iPhone and do a little Google research to see if there was another name for zucchini that may be living in the produce department. I didn't find that much that I didn't already know. So, as a last-ditch effort I mustered up all my courage and decided to just ask an employee of the store. I honed in on a nice young gentleman and asked him if the store had any zucchini because I wasn't having any luck finding it. He said yes (wahoo!) and led me to the zucchini a.k.a. green squash. I still wasn't completely convinced that this was the right thing, but I wasn't going to drive 20 minutes to Whole Foods and I wanted to make the cupcakes today. I grabbed 2 "zucchini" and headed to the checkout line.

This is the most efficient I have been with a recipe to date. I read through all the ingredients and the steps to make sure I had all the prep work done before I got started so I knew what I was in for. First, I grated the zucchini using my food processor. The recipe calls for 3 cups of grated zucchini and I came up just shy of 3 cups. I didn't care. I wasn't making another trip to the store. If I was a little short, I was a little short. Once the zucchini was grated I started preheating the oven so I could toast the walnuts. I figured by the time the oven was warmed up and the walnuts toasted I would be ready to fold the walnuts into the batter... and I was! Go me.

While I was pouring the batter from the mixing bowl into a large measuring cup (if the batter is more liquidy I like to pour it into the cupcake pan from my large glass measuring cup, it's less of a mess) I spotted some larger chunks of not-so-grated zucchini and pulled them out. I didn't want someone to bite into a cupcake and get a chunk of zucchini. I know these are zucchini cupcakes, but they're not supposed to be chunky zucchini cupcakes.

I baked the cupcakes for 20 minutes, rotating them halfway through the total baking time and they came out perfect. Naturally I gave one taste test soon after it came out of the oven and they were good. It turns out green squash and zucchini are the same thing, or at the very least they can be interchanged. I'm still not really sure. All I know is the cupcakes turned out to be delicious. The only thing I would change if I ever make them again is the walnuts. I would choose to omit them the second time around. They're not terrible, I just know I would enjoy the cupcake more without them. The cream cheese frosting I have made before to accompany these carrot cupcakes and while it is delicious, it still didn't help to mask the taste of the walnuts.

Recently I've started sharing the cupcakes I've been making with our neighbors (in addition to co-workers) because I figure it's a nice neighborly thing to do and you never know when you might need a favor. Plus, these particular neighbors are very good to us. I had taken them a few cupcakes for their family, and a couple days later the wife, Diane, came over with 2 huge zucchinis in her hands and asked if I'd like them to cook or bake with since I had just made the zucchini cupcakes. I said sure, thanked her and told her I'd make her some zucchini bread in the not-too-distant future. In my head I was thinking where were these bad boys 2 days ago when I was driving all over town looking for zucchini! Only in my world do things like this happen. But now, if I ever need it, I've got a whole freezer-sized Ziploc bag full of grated zucchini waiting for me in the freezer.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Blueberries-and-Cream Cupcakes

I'm finding myself caught in the same conundrum (I spelled that right on the first try!) I was when I made the banana pecan cupcakes. Though the fruit in this case is a blueberry as opposed to a banana, the question remains the same... when does a muffin become a cupcake? I'm still going to maintain what I said before, that it's the frosting that turns a simple muffin into a cupcake. But, in the instance of these blueberries-and-cream cupcakes (no link on marthastewart.com) they were much more cakey than your average muffin. This could mean it's more than just the frosting that transforms a muffin into a cupcake. Jury's still out.

I still haven't learned to read through an entire recipe before I start baking, but in this case, it didn't matter. This was a fairly simple recipe, nothing too tricky involved. I was surprised though, that I didn't have to toss the blueberries in flour before folding them into the batter (like I did with these chocolate chip cupcakes) to help them "float" in the batter so they wouldn't all sink to the bottom. But, I didn't. Turns out blueberries are less dense than chocolate chips, who knew?

Like I said, nothing too tricky about these cupcakes, the batter was done relatively quickly and ready for the oven. I filled the liners about three-quarters full and for the most part was happy with the size of the cupcakes when they came out of the oven. Only a few were a little larger that I normally like, and they were all flat. Not the rounded beauties that I strive for. Martha said to bake these cupcakes for 25 total minutes with a turn halfway through the total baking time. Since my oven timer only works in whole minutes I baked in 12-minute intervals and the cupcakes came out perfectly, with a lovely golden hue.

While the cupcakes were baking I made the whipped cream that was to accompany them. Normally I wait a little while to give myself a baking break before making the cupcake's topping, but since whipped cream is very easy I found the energy to get everything done at once. It took less than 5 minutes (thank you stand mixer with whisk attachment) and it was done. I put the whipped cream in the fridge to keep cool while the cupcakes continued baking, and then cooled.

The last time I made whipped cream was for these rhubarb cupcakes and for those cupcakes I piped the whipped cream onto the cupcakes directly from the Ziploc bag I stored it in. Since I liked how those cupcakes turned out so much I did the same thing with these cupcakes. Unfortunately my piping this time around wasn't as good as the last time. I think I cut the hole in the bag a little too big this time. The cupcakes looked fine nonetheless, just not as good as the rhubarb cupcakes. Like the rhubarb cupcakes these cupcakes also got a little garnish, naturally blueberries would make the most sense and that's precisely what the garnish was. I had a good amount of blueberries left over, turns out my eyes are not very good measuring cups, so I liberally gave each cupcake 4 berries. I thought 5 might be a little overkill. The garnish on top definitely gave these cupcakes a little something extra, but my favorite part of these cupcakes was the blueberries that you can see through the cupcake liner. Like a pretty little secret.