Friday, November 23, 2012

Giving Thanks - Cupcake Style

I used to HATE Thanksgiving.  I was always thankful - don't get me wrong.  I just didn't enjoy the holiday.  Most of my family wasn't in the area, so we never had a big family gathering around the table.  It was me, sissy and mom.  A great group of ladies, but not really what I really had in mind for Thanksgiving.

Then, we had the idea to host Thanksgiving at our house - and all of my negative Nancy feelings about the holiday went right out the window.  Husbo's family are all in the area, and my family - without any super strong Thanksgiving traditions - were willing to travel.  So four years ago, we had our first Thanksgiving and have had it at our house ever since.  I'm not sure why I had a change of heart, but I don't question it, since it was a change for good.  Each year the group has been just a little different, but it's always family.  I love laying the table out, trying to figure out how everyone will fit the night before; making name cards and seating arrangements; helping husbo manage cooking times of all of his yummy dishes; and making cranberry sauce that I never eat because I prefer the stuff in the can.

Last year's Thanksgiving was especially special as we announced to our family that we were expecting our little cupcake, Amaya.  We had gift bags for everyone on the table, with sonogram pictures and t-shirts.  And this year, our little cupcake was stuffing her face with yams.  It was a very cool full circle moment.  Life is full of those, huh?

So, in the spirit of giving thanks and of the month of pumpkins, squash and all things quintessentially fall - I did a twist on last month's pumpkin cupcakes.  Same recipe, but with these sweet additions...

For the cake - toss about 2 cups of chocolate chips (dark, milk, bittersweet - pick your poison) in some flour.  The batter isn't thick enough to hold them up, and so if you don't coat 'em in flour they will all sink to be bottom - still good, but not really what you're going for!  Remove the excess flour (I put them through a sieve) and stir them in.  Be careful not to over stir our your cakes will be flat!

Then, for the frosting - add a dollop of pumpkin puree to it (or to taste).  It's got just enough pumpkin in there to amp it up a bit and really put you in the holiday spirit.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Mummies and Ghouls and Spiders, Oh My!

Don't you just love the fall?  The colors, the clothes (man do I love me some boots and a cozy sweater!), the holidays and traditions...I love it all.  I also like the next couple of months because when I bake cupcakes for my class, it is easy to make themed decorations, starting with Halloween.

It was my daughter's very first Halloween, and one of my students got her the most appropriate and perfect costume (in addition to the owl her dad and I had already gotten)...a cupcake!  Now is this not the cutest little cupcake you have ever seen? >>  Next year I"m thinking round 2 with this costume...

I had two things to bake cupcakes for this month - one was my daughter's Halloween play date and the other was my normal baking for my class' birthdays.  I had big dreams of using fondant because of a cool idea I saw on Pinterest...but then the reality of mommyhood and lack of free time kicked me in the butt, and I "just" did frosting.  I'm still super pleased with the results, though, and based on the "no cupcake left behind" - my students thought they were pretty good, too!

For this, I turned to my trusty (and crusty) Martha Stewart book for this tried and true recipe...

Pumpkin - Brown Butter Cupcakes

3/4 cup butter (@ room temperature)
1 2/3 cup all purpose flower
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg  (I use more than this - I LOVE nutmeg, especially fresh)
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated shugar
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 325.

In medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat.  Swirl occasionally, until butter turns golden brown.  Skim foam from top and remove from heat.  Pour into bowl to stop the cooking - leave the crusty sediment in the saucepan.  Let it cool.

Whisk together flour, powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves.  In the bowl of your electric mixer, whisk puree, both sugars, eggs and brown butter mixture (after it's cooled).  Mix until just combined - don't overdo it or you're headed for flat top cupcakes!

Divide batter evenly and bake - rotating 1/2 way through.  Bake for 20 minutes or until a test stick comes out cleanly!

Top with cream cheese frosting and enjoy!!!  So, so good, my friends!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mudsliding into 30

I rang in my 30th, a little bit late, but in high style.  We threw a cupcake and champagne party where guests were asked to bring a bottle of bubbly or some cupcakes from their favorite spot (or their own kitchen!)  It was QUITE a successful night.  Lots of bubbly was imbibed and many sweet cupcakes were enjoyed.  

I, of course, had to whip something up for the occasion - so I went to my Pinterest board for some inspiration!  I have had lots of successes with the recipes I have found on there, and these Mudslide Cupcakes were no exception!  Lots of dishes - but worth it!  The cake is a kahlua chocolate and the frosting is a swirl of kahlua and bailey's buttercreams!  It was a bit challenging to achieve the swirl (even for my froster, my husbo Mike!)  Loved the overall taste and look, though!   

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Good Golly, Miss Molly!

I have officially celebrated living three decades on earth.  That's right - I'm thirty.  Thirty sounds so damned old when you're younger.  But when you actually get here - when you actually wake up one morning and you're magically the dreaded "30"... it's not so bad.  Not so different than when you're 29 - well, maybe just a little.  There's definitely something weird about saying "I'm 30."  The connotations of that word (for me) were: responsible, old, settled, successful, figured stuff out, life is over.  Of course those were all BEFORE October 2, the day I entered my 30's.  Now, the number connotes: contentment, achievement, happiness, youth, and...really good cupcakes.  

In celebration of my big birthday, my family and I took a trip to Chicago.  Many people asked us "Hmmm, why Chicago?"  It seems like such a random place to go on a trip - at least to those who have never been.  My husbo and I have been wanting to go to Chicago for a couple of years.  We have heard nothing but positive things about the place, and wanted to see what all the chatter was about!  We had a GREAT time - so much to do, such nice people, and such a walkable city.   

Of course, before we went, in addition to scouting out the sights to visit, I wanted to find a cupcakery.  This cupcakery, my friends, was the find of the century.  When I Googled "Cupcakes in Chicago", Molly's was the first to pop up.  Once I read a bit about them, I was in love, and knew I would be visiting.  Get this:
Miss Molly: Molly was my third-grade teacher. Whenever one of us had
a birthday, she would bake us cupcakes. I still remember how good they
were. She had her own special recipe for chocolate and vanilla. Just
about everyone who tries them thinks they're the best cupcakes ever.
Our Mission: In honor of Molly and as a way to help our children, a
portion of our profits is donated directly to schools in our community.
Every time you eat a cupcake or sip a latte, you help our kids. So
eat up!
Oh my gawd.  How SWEET is this?  What a story.  I loved it.  I didn't, actually, research any more.  I just read that, on their home page, and I knew I had to go there.  I didn't know about the amazing flavors that would await me once I opened that door!

The ambiance of Molly's is kitchy, crazy and funky, which I didn't expect having read that the guy named it after his third grade teacher.  Not to mention how demure and sweet the front entrance is.  However, we enter and they are blasting Pit Bull; the cupcake dealers are tatted out to the nines.  They have swing seats at a bar.  The walls are stacked, floor to ceiling, with take out boxes.  Tucked into a few nooks and crannies are stacks of old school board games.  Think Connect 4.  Marbles.  Clue.  There are framed pieces of childhood memorabilia littering the walls.  It is eclectic and very cool.  

Their sign was on a chalk board - how very third grade.  Loved it.  (this is a crappy picture, but you get the idea!)

Then, I see it.  The amazing collection of cupcakes awaiting my taste buds.  How could I choose just one?  Just two?  Just three?  I had to have five.  That's right.  Five.  Didn't you read my earlier paragraph?  Chicago is a walkable city.  I EARNED those cupcakes.  

I loved their case - each cupcake had a little graphic explaining what was inside.  They were really fun to look at, and had there not been a huge line behind me, I would have cobbed a squat and sat there reading all afternoon.  They had some classics (red velvet) but then some crazy ones I have never heard of, nor will ever hear of, again (Ron Bennington).

I also really liked their funky decorations >>.
I really appreciated the reminder to not frolic with your cupcake.  People are so careless these days.

They had an option where you could choose your base cake, and your frosting.  It was a "make your own" type of deal.  But, I went with what the experts had already put together for me.  Five combinations of sweet amazing loveliness.  Washed down with a bottle of milk.

Starring (from L to R): Ron Bennington, Red Velvet, Spice World, Khalua, Cookie Monster
 Let's start with good ole' Ron.  OMG, Ron.  You are amazing.  With your crunched up Butterfinger top, moist cake and your peanut butter filling.  I love you.  We shall meet again.

Next, the Red Velvet.  Voted the best in Chicago, so I had pretty high expectations.  Expectations = exceeded.  Moist cake - rich creamy frosting.  Pure cream cheese - not too much sugar.  A bit bright, but overall amazing.  Next.

Cookie Monster.  Like its namesake, this baby is packed with cookie yumminess.  Cookie dough center, and a cookie on the top.  IMH, not as delish as this one, but I still ate every crumb, so overall, pretty legit!

 The Khalua came next - a beautiful little cupcake, dipped in ganache, topped with chocolate shavings. Again, super moist and just enough Khalua to make you want a mud slide.

And finally, Spice World.  Not my favorite - similar to a carrot cake, filled with autumnal spices (nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon).  Perhaps it was because the previous FOUR had been so different and delish, but this one was kind of a let down.

A+ for Chi town, and A+ for Molly's.  I would give this place.  Their flavors were amazing, cupcakes were moist and perfect, ambiance was fun and funky.  Minus a cupcake for the clutter and Spice Cake, but still, a MUST if you are within 3,000 miles of Chicago.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mountain [Sugar] High

I am from a sleepy little mountain town called Truckee.  It's one of the best places on earth, if you ask me.  I moved there when I was in the first grade, and lived a full and wonderful life there until I graduated in 2000 - go Wolverines!  I try to make it back often to visit my dad and his wife, who still live there.  The fresh mountain air, cool nights and clear sky filled with stars never gets old.  All of these elements bring me back to the adventures I used to have with friends - late nights at the lake, driving around town, snow days and summers filled with all the goodness Truckee had to offer.  There really is no place like home - that good witch really knew what she was talking about.

So imagine what would make this place even better than it already is.  That's right, folks; a cupcakery.  Freshly opened for business in my hometown, right in the heart of downtown.  

Growing up, I didn't spend a lot of time in downtown Truckee.  It is filled with shops and restaurants that are usually vacated by "the locals" on weekends to make way for those pesky Bay Area folk.  However, on Sundays, after church, my dad and I would go to Coffee &, one of the local restaurants, where I would try my darndest to finish a plate of french toast all by myself.  We would race from the car to the coffee cup that was inset in the sidewalk - I usually "won" - and then we would wander on to the counter and catch up on the funnies and world news, enjoying diner fare and chatting with the waitresses.  It wasn't until I was older, making trips back from college, that I started to hang out down there more, realizing how Truckee's downtown captures the quaintness and small town feeling in a short packed block.  And so, it is the perfect spot for a sweet stop at Cake Tahoe.

Their spot is very cool - a huge open space to let in all that fresh mountain air.  They open onto a patio right along Donner Pass Road - a perfect spot to sit, eat a cupcake and watch the throngs of people passing by which is just what we did, after enjoying a night at Truckee Thursdays.  The inside reads like a typical mountain shop.  It fits in well with the vibe of Truckee and the neighborhood.  Their location and set up easily earn: 

We ordered a few types - we wanted to be thorough in our research.  We tried the red velvet, carrot (well, actually my DAD had the carrot and didn't share!) and chocolate.

The decoration was pretty simple - not anything too memorable, but not the lamest thing ever.

All the cakes were moist, except for the elusive red velvet.  That is a hard one to get just right, and CT didn't quite nail it in my opinion.  The other cakes were yummy, but not necessarily something I would use calories on again!  You have to be selective, you know.  I can't really speak for the carrot, because my dad didn't let us try any.  But there were definitely no crumbs left behind, so I'll let you be the judge!  For the overall taste, I'd say:

Friday, August 24, 2012

Cookie Dough Heaven - A.K.A. The Best Cupcake I Have Ever Made!!

Yikes - it's been a while.  I know.  But, I had a baby, and that kind of takes up some time!  Not to say I haven't been sampling cupcakes - I have.  But I haven't been writing about it!  I have not, however, baked a single thing since my last update in May...sad.  But, this weekend, on the eve of returning to glorious Fremont High School to begin my 7th year of teaching, I tied on my favorite apron, and pulled up a Pinterest recipe that made my mouth WATER!!

As I have posted before, I make cupcakes for my students (only 1 class, actually) once a month.  I have had a class of students for the last four years - we have had lots of highs and lows together, and this year is their senior year.  So, of course, the first cupcakes have to be that much more special than they have been all the other years!  This recipe seemed like a good way to bid farewell to a glorious summer, filled with trips, relaxation and most importantly, the birth of my amazing daughter.  And also a sweet ringing in of a new year - one that will surely be full of adventures both at school and at home.

On Pinterest, the poster said that she decided on French Vanilla cupcakes so as not to be too overly sweet.  WHAT?  How is that even possible?  I followed the OG recipe and went cookie dough - top to bottom: Frosting, Inside Stash and Cake.   And the result? These are the best cupcakes I have EVER made.  Ever.

They are so good, in fact, that I am making them for two events I have coming up this weekend!

The recipe can be found here - lots of dishes and lots of steps, but so worth it.  (And the batter and frosting are yummy too!!)

Friday, May 25, 2012

For Hire!

Baking is definitely a hobby - actually, an obsession.  I love the smell of rising cupcakes in the oven, and certainly the joy on people's (mostly my students') faces when I bring them to work or to a party.  My students often say I should go on Cupcake Wars - which is outrageous because I need a recipe in front of me the entire time and I double and triple check it (mostly the math if I am doubling or halving the recipe), and even then, I still manage to screw it up sometimes. My husband wants us to buy a food truck and sell away.  But for me, it's just a hobby.

However, I won't turn away someone who wants to hire me to make something special just for them!  I was delightfully surprised when a friend Facebooked me to see if I would be interested in making cupcakes for her daughter's 1st birthday party.  After some important discussion about flavors, she decided on Strawberry Lemonade cupcakes - perfect for a hot summer day (which we have been having the last few days) and even more perfect for a little girl's party!

From Half Baked - The Cake Blog

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup lemonade powder mix
1 cup milk
3 Tbsp lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)
1 Tbsp lemon zest (zest of 1 lemon)
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line your pan with your favorite cupcake liners!

In medium bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, lemonade powder, lemon zest).  Set aside.

In your stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time.  Beat well after each and scrape down the sides so that everything combines.

Add lemon juice and vanilla - mix well.

Add dry ingredients in 3 batches, alternating with 2  additions of milk.

Fill your liners evenly and bake for 20 minutes!

These are nice and tart.  And then topped with the frosting - a perfect combo to refresh on a hot summer day!

From Martha Stewart

I added a sour strawberry candy straw
1.5 cups fresh strawberries (rinsed, hulled, coarsely chopped)
4 large egg whites
1.25 cups sugar
1.5 cups unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons at room temp (unless it is like 400 degrees in your house, like it was in mine - then your frosting will be very runny...)

Puree strawberries in food processor.

Combine your egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl (of your standing mixer) over a pan of simmering water.  Whisk constantly by hand until the sugar is dissolved (should feel totally smooth when you rub between your fingers)

Put the bowl in the stand mixer and start whisking on low and gradually increase to medium/high until stiff peaks form.  Continue mixing until it is fluffy and glossy and completely cooled off from stove time! (about 10 minutes)

Start to add the butter a few tblsps at a time.  Mix well after each.  Then scrape down bowl and switch to paddle attachment - mix for 2 minutes on low to get all air bubbles out.  Add strawberries and beat until combined.

The frosting started drooping right away - "room temp"was just too hot for my butta.  But they tasted delish!


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