Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mimosa Cupcakes

I love Champagne.  A lot.  Last Christmas, my mom had the brilliant idea of having mimosas on Christmas morning and I think it was unanimous that they should make an appearance again this year.  I really, really like Champagne so when I saw this recipe, I knew I had to make it a reality.  Side note: the blog this links to is super adorable, so after checking out the cake you should really look around.  They've got such cute things!

I would like to take this opportunity to point out that I really don't always use mixes when baking, even though three of the recipes I've posted on this blog use them.  It actually drives me nuts to use a box mix, it feels like cheating, but I'm still learning and didn't want to mess with the original recipe too much.  One of these days I'll figure out how to make "cake mix" that's not from a box and when it happens, I'll be a much happier girl.  I know it's weird, but I'm crazy like that.

Moving on.  Since the cake on the website is considerably prettier than I could ever dream of making, at least with my current skill set, I knew I'd be doing a cupcake version.  I couldn't really decide about frosting though.  There are so many choices, but I figured if I was going to buy a whole bottle of Champagne I should try to incorporate at least a little in to the frosting.  I brought my dilemma to Crystal and Kay, a momentary break in working was necessary, to try and get some ideas.  Kay suggested using orange zest or juice in the frosting to make a mimosa cupcake.  I was sold.

Mimosa Frosting

1 stick of butter, room temperature
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon Champagne (a rough estimate, I really just poured some in, wondering how it would taste)
1 teaspoon orange zest (this required about half of a HUGE orange, and a lot of elbow grease from Anna)

I really enjoyed these.  So did the people in my office.  The only adjustments I'd make for next time are to add a bit more Champagne to the cake batter.  I don't think it would really mess with the texture, and when isn't more Champange a good idea?  Plus, the batter gets all bubbly when you add the Champagne.  See?

Also, I only baked my cupcakes for 20 minutes and they were perfect.  That may have more to do with my oven being crazy than anything else; Anna's convinced the kitchen is trying to kill us and I'm beginning to think she's right.  Lucky for us, we're moving soon and won't have to deal with the tiny, evil kitchen for very much longer.

Pioneer Woman Cinnamon Rolls

If you know me, you know I've got a fear of yeast.  I'm afraid to bake with it even though I've never even tried it.  There's something about the temperamental nature of it, the fact that the yeast is ALIVE and using the ingredients you've prepared to grow.  I don't know why, but it just gives me the creeps.  That and it's a lot of responsibility.  These are living organisms that have nutritional needs!  It's almost like kids!  Except for the putting in the oven and eating part.  I'll leave that to Jonathan Swift thankyouverymuch.

I'd seen this recipe a while back, it's actually what got me started on The Pioneer Woman, and decided that if I was going to try baking something with yeast it would definitely be these cinnamon rolls.  The only trouble is, my tiny kitchen doesn't have enough room for me in it, much less me and lots of yeasty dough.  Enter my mom and her fabulous new kitchen.  Since it's Christmastime and she was taking requests/suggestions for meals, I asked if she'd be willing to let me take over the kitchen and attempt to make these while we were all home for the holidays.  Thank goodness she did! 

After trying to figure out how many rolls the recipe would make, you need nine cups of flour, we decided to just go ahead and make the whole thing.  If there were leftovers, we'd give them away.  Dominique and I made the dough on Wednesday night (or Christmas Adam as my friend Kristen put it) and assembled them on Christmas Eve morning.  As you might be able to tell from the pictures, our first two pans weren't that pretty.  They tasted delicious though, that's for sure.

The directions say to split the dough in half, much more manageable that way, so we knew there would be time to make adjustments.  After some discussion it was decided that we'd add some more flour to the remaining dough to make it more firm during the rolling process.  It was a huge improvement over the previous try; perhaps I lost count while adding all that flour in the beginning?  We won't talk about that though.  Look how pretty the third pan turned out!  
One note about these, we assembled them on Christmas Eve and then froze the dough overnight.  We took them out with plenty of time to thaw and rise before baking on Christmas morning and I couldn't tell a difference, aside from the fact that they were prettier and considerably more uniform in size than the pans we baked right away the day before.

The pictures are courtesy of my step-sister, Amanda.  She's got some talent with that camera of hers and I appreciate that she took these pictures for my little blog so, thanks Amanda!
Speaking of blogs, check hers out!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bark Party

For as long as I can remember, the holiday season has brought with it a flurry of activity.  Along with the traditional sights of Christmas trees and twinkling lights, the familiar smells of cookies baking and apple cider, the sound of Christmas carols in the background everywhere, for my family there's a different sound that signals the beginning of the holidays.  It's a peculiar "tink, tink, tink" sound, made by forks being tapped against my great-grandmother's mixing bowls (the red bowl below is one of them, my mom's favorite).  You see, in addition to baking cookies, we make white and milk chocolate covered pretzels, coconut, and pecans.

Rather than stress about getting little gifts for everyone she comes in contact with on a regular basis, my mom puts together little treat bags for her coworkers, not-that-close friends, the mailman, and when we were all still in school, our teachers (I'm not above bribing a teacher for a grade, not that it ever worked). My cousin Cody even gets his own special bag of pretzels every year, so he doesn't have to share with his brothers.

The pecans and coconut aren't too challenging, just melt the chocolate then pour in coconut or pecans and scoop them out in bite size pieces.  The pretzels though...  Oh goodness.  They take so much effort because the excess chocolate needs to be removed from the pretzel, otherwise the balance of sweet and salty really is affected.  The removal of said excess is what results in that very distinct "tink, tink, tink" that I've come to associate with Christmastime.  That sound means we're having a Bark Party at my mom's house and our family will soon be all together though this year Anna came home with me and the two of us, plus my mom, did most of the barking. 

Things are changing for my family; my step sister and Dominique are both back in Texas now, and my brother-in-law will be stationed in North Carolina this coming October, taking my lovely sister and sweet baby niece with him.  It'll be tough to adjust to not having them around every time I go home, but I suppose that's part of growing up and it'll make the time we do spend together at the holidays even more special.   

Chocolate Cake Cookies

A few years ago, when I was still living in a dorm room and didn't have a kitchen of my own, my friend Julie brought me cookies for the holidays.  She was much fancier than I was, and lived in an apartment off campus.  Because she's a nice girl, she included the following recipe with the delicious cookies. 

1 box of cake mix
1 stick of butter, softened to room temperature
1 egg

I can't even tell you how many times I've made these cookies since then.  As with the Ice Cream Cupcakes, this recipe can be done any number of ways depending on what flavor cake mix you buy, what kind of mix-ins you add, or even what frosting you top them with so go crazy!  They're so easy and the texture is amazing.

One thing about these though...  In the early stages of mixing, the dough (especially when you're using chocolate cake mix) looks like dirt.  No really, every time, I get convinced that I don't have enough moisture in the bowl and that they're going to be terrible.  Want proof?  

Told you.  Anyway, just don't worry about it, keep mixing!  It'll turn out fine, promise. 

In the original version, Julie used yellow cake mix, blue sprinkles, white frosting, and then piped blue snowflakes on the cookies she brought me that first time.  Festive, no?  I've made them with yellow cake and pink sprinkles for a party for Shelby.  More recently I made a chocolate version, half of which were topped with leftover peppermint frosting and the other half had toffee bits mixed in. 

Before I frosted the plain cookies, Anna was able to try one and declared them her new favorite cookie.  You have no idea how much of an accomplishment this is.  My roomie doesn't enjoy the sweets, she's more of a savory girl, so for her to proclaim the plain chocolate cake cookies the best baked good I've ever made is pretty significant.

Chocolate Peppermint Cupcakes

I should not be allowed to just hang around grocery stores.  When that happens, I get ideas.  Ideas about things to bake, even though I had decided NOT to bake anything for the week.  Oh goodness.  So here's what happened...  I had to refill a prescription so I figured I would run in, they'd hand me my prescription, and I'd be out of Wal-Mart in no time.  Boy was I wrong.  I waited in line for 10 minutes just to have them tell me it wasn't ready yet, so I thought I would entertain myself by walking around the store. Big mistake.

After walking around and thinking about my plans for the weekend, I was going out of town and staying with my friends' parents, I thought I should probably bake something.  I wandered around and thought about what to do.  "Candy canes are always festive.", I thought to myself and picked some up.  I sent a text to Dominique for inspiration.  I saw chocolate cake mix, "I haven't made cake cookies in a while." and picked up a box.  What to do, what to do.  Then Dominique sent a text back, mini chocolate cupcakes!  Of course.  People love tiny things, and don't feel as bad about eating them.  It was decided.  All I needed now was a frosting.  I thought about what I could do, and remembered I have a bottle of peppermint extract at the house. Peppermint buttercream, perfect!

When I got home I decided against cheating by using the chocolate cake mix and looked around for a cake mix recipe online.  The Hershey's Chocolate Cake recipe, found here, seemed to go over well with everyone who'd made it so I decided to give it a shot.

I adapted the buttercream frosting I made for the Car Bomb cupcakes and, though I was initially a little concerned that it tasted like toothpaste, I was happy with it after refrigerating it overnight.

8 t (1 stick) butter
3 C powdered sugar
Splash of milk
1 t peppermint extract

After the cupcakes cooled, I frosted them and topped with crushed candy canes. 

I took these with me as a hostess gift for my friend Julie's parents who were gracious enough to let me stay with them for the weekend.  I've now re-named myself Julianna (a combination of their actual daughters' names; Julie and Joanna) and have invited myself to their family.  Thank you so much John and Betty Jo for allowing me to stay with you, I had a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Caramel Apple Cookies

I usually don't like making cookies.  They always seem to take such a long time and I often discover that I've left them in the oven for too long.  When I saw this recipe, I can't remember where, I was instantly interested in the flavor combination.  Who doesn't love caramel apples?  After putting off making these for several weeks I finally made them and, after some initial disappointment, I think I got it right.  Here's the recipe, with a few tips I used to make things go a little more smoothly. 

1 C butter
1 C brown sugar
1 C white sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
2 C flour
2 3/4 C old fashioned oats (not quick cooking oatmeal)
1/2 t salt
1 t baking soda
12 oz. caramel baking bits (I couldn't find caramel baking bits so I bought a bag of caramels and cut them up)
2 C Granny Smith Apples (this ended up being two regular sized apples)

In a large bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy.  Add the vanilla and egggs, beat until combined.

Measure oatmeal into a food processor and pulse until ground finely.  In a medium-sized bowl, stir the oatmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda until combined.  Set aside.

Peel and finely chop the apples.

Using an electric mixer stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until combined.  Stir in the caramel bits and apples.  Refrigerate the dough for an hour (after making an initial batch, I froze the dough overnight and the next batches were considerably better).

Roll the cookie dough into balls, about golf ball size and bake on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet in an oven preheated to 350 for 10-12 minutes.  Cool the cookies on the pan for 4 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

These cookies spread like crazy and the caramel escaped (and burned) in the first batch.  They were considerably more successful after I froze the dough, much less spreading and the caramel held up a little better in the hot oven.  I also thought the flavor improved after freezing; much more like a caramel apple.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Zebra Cookies

I came home for Thanksgiving on Wednesday to spend time with my family.  We're really close and always have a good time with each other so I've been looking forward to the holiday for a while now.  One of my favorite parts of the holidays is getting to spend time with my three year old niece, Shelby.  She's so sweet and it's been amazing to watch her change from a little blob to a real person who talks and has opinions.

On Thursday, Shelby found a cookbook that my mom used with my sister and me when we were growing up.  It's from Gold Medal Flour and, even though I haven't seen it in a while, when she showed it to me it brought back a lot of memories.  It's called Alpha-Bakery and has a different recipe for each letter of the alphabet.  Shelby flipped through the pages and stopped at Z, Zebra Stripe Cookies.  She asked if we could make them and I told her that, because it was still Thanksgiving Day and she had another meal to eat, we would try to make them on Saturday.

Saturday came and it was decided that after my mom, Dominique, and I finished shopping we would pick Shelby up for baking and a sleepover.  We picked her up, got back to the house, and set about getting all of our ingredients out.  Have you tried baking with a three year old?  It's tough.  Keeping her focused was an issue but Dominique and I managed to let her help as much as possible while still getting the cookie dough together.

The recipe was easy enough, but the instructions for making the stripes weren't very good.  After a couple of tries, Dominique managed to figure it out and we were in business.  Here's the recipe with what I'm pretty sure was the method Dominique devised for the striped dough.
3 C all-purpose flour
1 C granulated sugar
2/3 powdered sugar
1 t vanilla
1 1/2 C margarine or butter, softened
1/4 t salt
1 egg
1/4 C cocoa

Mix flour, sugars, vanilla, margarine, salt, and egg until dough forms.  Divide dough in half, mix cocoa into one half.  Pat or roll each half into a nine-inch square.  Cut the cocoa dough into thin strips and lay on top of the plain dough, make sure to press the strips firmly into the dough so they bake in to each other.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, 1 to 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 375.  We didn't much feel like cutting zebras out of the dough, so we used cookie cutters to make shapes out of our striped dough.  Shelby was in charge of picking which cookie cutter we used, so there's an assortment.  Christmas angel, Texas, gingerbread man; it's a mixed bag.  Put the cut out cookies on a cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes.  When we ran out of space on the dough for cookie cutters, we just smushed the left over dough together and made marbled cookies.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Blueberry Banana Pie

It's Thanksgiving week!  Aside from getting ready to go home and help with making all sorts of things for my family, I've been signed up to make a dessert for my work's Thanksgiving lunch.  After discussing with my kickass boss and officemate, it was decided that I would NOT be making anything containing pumpkin.  Even though I love the smell, I really don't enjoy it and neither does my boss.  It feels un-American, but that's how I feel.  Blueberry banana pie was suggested and, since I've never made a pie, I was up for the challenge.  

Kristi brought me the recipe that her grandmother used to make for family gatherings, here it is.

2 pie crusts
2-3 bananas
Whipped cream filling (instructions below)
1 can blueberry pie filling
2 teaspoons lemon juice

For the filling:
8oz. package cream cheese, room temperature
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 pint of whipping cream, whipped. (I did this by hand for the first time EVER, it was delicious and I'm pretty proud of myself)

Combine first four ingredients in a large bowl, mix until just combined.  Gently fold in the whipped cream, making sure to distribute the cream cheese mixture throughout the whipped cream.

Bake pie crusts using your favorite recipe, or do like I did and cheat with frozen pie crusts.  Let the crusts cool, then thinly slice the bananas and line the pie crusts with them.  Fill crusts with whipped cream filling, then put in refrigerator to chill for one hour.

Add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice to blueberry pie filling, mix well.  Divide the mixture in two and pour over the pies.  Chill overnight.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

When Anna and I went to Quiz last week I took along what was left of the Butter Pecan cupcakes as a treat for Team Vince and the wonderful bartenders that allow us to bug them every week.  As I passed out cupcakes Tom the Bartender announced his birthday would officially begin at midnight.

Let me stop right here and say that I LOVE birthdays.  From the time I was little, my mom made a big deal out of them.  On your birthday you got to pick a restaurant for your birthday dinner (we didn't go out to eat much when I was younger so this was a HUGE deal), pick what kind of cake you wanted (and eat it for breakfast!), and of course there were presents.  My mom always made our birthdays special, so I guess I want to bring a little of that to everyone else.  That desire, combined with my love for baking, resulted in me offering to bake something especially for Tom's birthday.

He requested chocolate chip cookies and, internally, I scoffed.  Yes, I scoffed at chocolate chip cookies.  I love a chocolate chip cookie as much as the next girl, but there are so many other flavor combinations out there that it seems a waste to go with something so basic.  After thinking about all the exciting recipes I've been wanting to try, and remembering that we were in an Irish pub, I asked him how he would feel about an Irish Car Bomb cupcake.  "A what?  You can make something like that?", he said.  I told him the components; chocolate Guinness cake, Jameson's ganache, and Bailey's frosting, and he was in. 

I got the recipe from Smitten Kitchen and highly recommend it.  I've tried two different recipes for Guinness Chocolate Cake and prefer this one because the Guinness flavor doesn't take over the cupcake.  The cake isn't too sweet and pairs really nicely with the Bailey's frosting, which was incredibly sweet.  The one thing I did change was in the ganache.  I found that the amount of Jameson's to add wasn't enough to really impart any kind of flavor, so I ended up adding four teaspoons and there was still only the slightest hint of whiskey.

Here's a picture of the finished product! My roommate is responsible for the piping, she's pretty great and always willing to lend her creative skills to my baking adventures.  On a different note, I've got to learn to stage pictures better.   
 To finish up, here are some pictures of Tom, Devin, and Kyle participating in a Double Car Bomb Race.   Sorry the first picture is blurry, it was serious competition!  Devin thought he was winning, little did he know...

Tom had already finished, Anna timed it at 29.2 seconds.  Congratulations Tom, and Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ice Cream Cupcakes

I didn't make this recipe up, I found it through several different sites, but it's become my go-to recipe for cupcakes.  Maybe it's the fact that there are only four ingredients, or that it only requires one bowl, or that the results have consistently been deliciously moist and not too crumbly. Regardless, the beauty of this recipe is that it can be adapted in ways limited only by your tastebuds.

Here's the general recipe: 

1 box cake mix
1 pint ice cream, thawed
3 eggs
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 and line 24 muffin cups with paper wrappers.
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
Divide batter evenly into prepared muffin tins.
Bake for 15-19 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool cupcakes on a wire rack before frosting. 

That's it.  Really.  You're done.  I've made chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, and butter pecan versions of this cake.  Each one was delicious, but the butter pecan were my absolute favorites.  They smelled like breakfast when I pulled them out of the oven.  It reminded me of pancakes, and I love pancakes.  Go make these now!