Monday, December 24, 2012

Peppermint Bark

Don't say that I didn't warn you! I have become slightly obsessed with the beautiful presentation and ease of chocolate bark, but now it takes a Christmas-y turn. Peppermint bark makes a great, inexpensive gift for all of those people who you are constantly adding to your gift list during the holidays. Don't you dare darken the dreaded aisle of cheap hot cocoa mix sets and poorly made stuffed animals clutching holiday themed tins full of peanut brittle. Instead, get in your kitchen and make something that truly comes from the heart, homemade gifts show that you actually thought about what would please your friends. Once again, this recipe requires very little output for maximum gain. All you need is two flavors of chocolate, peppermint starlight discs, and your favorite bludgeoning tool!

Peppermint Bark

  • 12oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 12oz. bag of white chocolate chips
  • 10 - 15 unwrapped peppermint starlight discs, pulverized
Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl, three to four minutes should do the trick, be sure and stir after every one minute interval to ensure there are no lumps. Spread the chocolate into a parchment paper lined baking dish. Place it in the freezer for 10 - 20 minutes or until frozen. While you wait, unwrap the peppermints and put them into a sealed sandwich bag, wrap it in a kitchen towel to muffle the noise. My father decided to assist me in the crushing process, and his tool of choice was a hammer. This stage in the bark making can be the most cathartic and worthwhile, depending on how much pent up anger you have. 
Repeat the same melting process for the white chocolate, and quickly spread it over the frozen dark chocolate, then sprinkle the crushed candy all over the top and push it in gingerly with your hands, to make sure it stays on the bark. Freeze it overnight, and I have found that the best way to break it apart is to take a sharp knife and insert it vertically into the bark, it will break up into perfectly shaped pieces. Package it in holiday themed take-out containers with tissue paper and a loving note and your friends are sure to appreciate the thought you put into their gift this year!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nutella Cookies

Let me preface this post by saying that if you have not yet tasted the chocolate-y hazelnut bliss that is Nutella, then you just don't know what you are missing. Shoved unceremoniously in the back of the cupboard was half a jar of Nutella just begging to be used in some form. With an upcoming weekend trip to visit my best friend, a simple treat that was easily transportable sprang to mind. Cookies! Considering that the spread contains more oil than peanut butter does, some changes must be made to the recipe to ensure that it retains the proper "cookie consistency." It is close to Christmas, so the excuse to make treats in our house was largely uncontested. Besides, once the New Year comes around and resolutions are made, that lone jar of Nutella would be yet another shameless victim in my quest to purge all sugars from my life. For a few weeks at least!

Nutella Cookies

  • 3 cups of AP flour
  • 2 Tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 Tsp. salt
  • 1 1/4 cups Nutella 
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 Tsp. instant espresso powder
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside. With an electric mixer cream together the butter, sugar, and Nutella until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and espresso powder and blend together. Reduce the speed of the Nutella mixture and alternately add the milk and flour mixture until it comes together and the smell of the batter makes you light headed, that is when you know it's going to be good! Line the baking sheets with parchment paper and spoon the doughy goodness onto the sheets, dust them with powdered sugar and bake for 8 - 10 minutes. They will still be rather gooey in the center, but with adequate time to cool, they will come out being perfectly chewy! 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pretzel Caramel Chocolate Bark

Now that I have been schooled in the ease of making chocolate bark, I will probably become rather obsessed with all the different variations. Just to warn you. The simple recipe and mess-free cleanup gives me time to broach different subjects for this the relationship of food and family. Since it is Thanksgiving weekend I suppose I should say something profound and touching detailing how thankful I am for all of my blessings in life. Don't get me wrong, my life thus far has been filled with beautiful memories and wonderful family....but let's all just say what we really feel about this holiday. It's an excuse to bring all of your dysfunctional family members together and buffer their feuds and fights with copious amounts of rich and fatty foods. Nothing can simmer down a bad temper like sleep-inducing turkey and sweet pumpkin pie. This chocolate bark was an easy way to use up some pantry staples, like half a bag of crushed pretzel pieces and a bit of leftover caramel sauce. The recipe is so simple that my 3 year old niece was able to help me make the whole thing, and the rustic look of the broken bark helped to hide the obvious fingerprints where she decided to dip her finger in the melted ingredients, "Just to check it, Auntie."

Pretzel Caramel Chocolate Bark

  • 1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 to 1 cup of caramel sauce, the fruit dip variety works best
  • A few handfuls of crushed pretzels
Melt the chocolate chips by tempering them in the microwave, heat for 30 seconds and stir after each stint in the microwave. Spread the melted chocolate on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Allow it to set for 10 - 15 minutes in the freezer or until hard. Then spread the caramel sauce evenly over the top of the chocolate and top with the crushed pretzels, I like to use a meat tenderizer, it allows for maximum satisfaction when crushing your enemies....I mean the pretzels. I set my bark to freeze overnight just to ensure that the caramel set up sufficiently. Break it up with a small sharp knife or your fingers and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Drunken Salted Caramel Apples

In the spirit of being traditional this Halloween season, I embarked on an endeavor, to turn the classic caramel apple on its head and turn up the flavor. In my mind, nothing enhances flavor better than a good dark spiced rum, it gives it just the right amount of, how shall I put this....."alcoholic-goodness?" Two weeks ago I made a delicious salted caramel sauce, the kind you dream of bathing in, courtesy of Brown Eyed Baker. The tempting amount that has taken up refuge in the fridge, and the surplus of apples have forced me to make them into something delicious. The only way to make this salted caramel apple even better is to drizzle it with rum infused vanilla glaze, right? The resulting concoction has helped to give me new appreciation for Halloween traditions, now to conquer other various holiday treats! Stay tuned.

Drunken Salted Caramel Apples

Salted Caramel Sauce (recipe follows)
Rum Infused Vanilla Drizzle (recipe follows)
Gala Apples, I find that they work best for this, not too sweet and not too tart!

Salted Caramel Sauce

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon Fleur de Sel, French flaked sea salt found in specialty stores

Heat the sugar over medium heat, stirring often with a whisk, any clumps that form will melt back into the sauce. Continue cooking until the sugar has reached 350 degrees when tested with a candy thermometer and the sugar has turned a deep amber color. Here is where the kitchen pyrotechnics begin, add the butter all at once and quickly whisk as it will boil up. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the cream, it will try and kill you again with awesomely sweet bubbles of sugar, so beware! Mix slowly until the cream has created a smooth sauce, add in the flaked sea salt and you have survived making caramel. Easier than you thought, huh? This can be saved in a sealed Mason jar for up to two weeks, or however long your midnight cravings last.

Rum Infused Vanilla Drizzle

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 capful of Capt. Morgan's Dark Spiced Rum
  • Food coloring, if desired
This is quite possibly the most foolproof recipe I have ever found for vanilla glaze, God bless you, Betty Crocker. Simply mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, adding food coloring if you wish. I suggest one capful of rum, but everyone's different, sometimes the occasion just calls for more...

Now the simplest instructions ever:
Ladle warm caramel sauce over apple until evenly coated
Place in freezer for 10 minutes, then repeat the previous step
Drizzle with vanilla glaze and place in freezer for 10 minutes again
Set it out to thaw and enjoy!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Petit Fours

I took a much needed hiatus from working on the food blog to cultivate some of my other writing, I was met with both success and failure. But the one event that was able to roust me from the ever-growing pile of research material and crumpled failed attempts at poetry was the first birthday of my youngest niece, Sadie aka Sadie-bug. While I can side with those who believe that a birthday party for a one year old is bordering on the ridiculous, (It's not like they will remember it, right?) it wasn't for her benefit but ours. So there. In honor of our vivacious little girl we decided to throw a traditional English tea party. There were peanut butter and jelly tea sandwiches, sparkling white grape juice, and the "be-all-to-end-all" petit fours. Now, for the sake of ease and the fact that when my mother and I plan anything we go all out with lace tablecloths and china tea cups; we used a boxed pound cake mix and canned frosting. But the end result was fantastic! They were the hit of the party and made for a darling centerpiece.

Petit Fours

  • 1 Box of Pound Cake Mix
  • 1 - 2 Tubs of Vanilla Frosting, depending on the desired cake to sugar ratio
  • Royal Icing (recipe follows)
Mix the cake as per the instructions, but be sure and use a half sheet pan, spread the batter evenly with a rubber spatula and bake as directed. We found, after trial and error, that placing the cake in the freezer for a few hours helped with both the cutting and frosting later. After you have the desired shapes set out on a wire rack with plenty of wax paper beneath for catching any strays, the fun part, I mean the frosting, can begin. The frosting can be easily heated up in the microwave until it reaches the right pouring consistency. Place the cakes on a small spatula and slowly spoon frosting over the top, ensuring that all sides are equally covered. Allow them to set up for 4 hours or overnight. 

Royal Icing

  • 4-6 Tablespoons of cold water
  • 3 Tablespoons of Meringue Powder
  • 4 cups Powdered Sugar
Whip the meringue powder and sugar together, when they have been sufficiently whipped add the cold water one tablespoon at a time until it reaches the desired consistency. We divided our icing and added artificial coloring for decorating, just be sure that you go pastel with your colors and not neon. This is a proper English dessert after all...

After the decorating has concluded they may look something like these!

Bear in mind, my piping skills still leave something to be desired, but it was for little girls who were just going to eat them for the sheer fact that they were cake covered in sugary icing.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes

As Summer draws to a close I'm holding on desperately to these last sweltering days, wishing that Winter would decide to take some time off for a change. But alas, I will have to satiate myself with some of my favorite treats and sadly say goodbye to my collection of tank tops and flip flops. August used to hold a daunting power over me, another semester was gearing up to challenge me and my life took on the never-ending pace I had become accustomed to. But now that I have graduated college and my semi-professional life has begun I find myself pining for those days. Now, this month hosts a parade of birthdays and Labor Day celebrations, and the most significant event of August is my oldest niece's birthday. She may not be a baking maven as of yet, but she inspires me with great ideas, and I have yet to find a better "Frosting Tester",  she loves everything! I strayed away from my usual cupcake cocktails, cause the parents at the party might not have appreciated liquor-tainted frosting in addition to all of that sugar. Instead I decide to tackle the ultimate Summer treat, Creamsicles! Who could say no to that...

Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes

  • 3/4 cup of unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1  teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 - 1 1/2 teaspoons orange extract, depends on the flavoring
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy, and then add the eggs one at a time. Beat in the vanilla, and slowly add the extract and orange juice until it reaches the appropriate "batter" consistency. Bake them for 18 - 22 minutes or until edges are brown. The middle of the cupcakes may dip a bit, but don't worry imperfection only adds character! After they have cooled you have the option, and I highly recommend it for optimum sweetness, to add a dollop of marshmallow cream to the middle of the cupcakes. I was able to put to use my amazing new Cupcake Corer for this task, but a small parring knife will also do the trick. Allow these to sit and set up for at least 2 hours before you add the frosting.

Orange and Vanilla Frosting

  • 3/4 cup of unsalted butter
  • 7 - 8 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • Food coloring

Cream the butter in a large mixing bowl, slowly adding the vanilla and milk until relatively smooth. One cup at a time add the powdered sugar until the frosting reaches the desired consistency. Divide the frosting evenly between two bowls and add the orange juice to one of them. Beat it well and at your own risk add the food coloring. I'm not a terrible fan of children running around a crowded party room with color stains on their faces from cakes and cookies, so I toned it down a bit. The juice adds a tinge of color but, the rest is up to you, you may choose a light pastel shade of orange or go bold and try for neon. I used a large and small star tip for these designs, I wanted the frosting to resemble the ice cream pop, so it has the tangy orange on the outside and a pinch of creamy vanilla in the middle!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes with Vanilla Rum Glaze

In my family the Fourth of July rivals Christmas in its importance and it draws family from all over. We are known for our amazing fireworks displays, the food, and the great one-liners. Not to say that we are "backwoods, country folks", but we do enjoy some of the finer things in life. This year we brought out the big guns, literally and figuratively. Shotguns and .22s were in good supply as were the moving targets whether they be the stationary targets set up on the property or the occasional stray bird or squirrel who happened to cross our path. The now infamous "Diet Coke and Mentos Event" will be added to the annual calendar after a very successful trial run, and the sticky clothes to prove it. Grilling out is the American staple when it comes to summer gatherings, and considering that the birth of our nation is celebrated with the traditional hot dogs and hamburgers what better dessert than apple pie to top it off! My own spin on this classic involves cinnamon cupcakes with apple pie filling in the cake, topped off with a crunchy streusel topping and finished with a vanilla rum glaze.

Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups of cake flour
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder 
  • 1/2 Tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 Tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 14oz. can of apple pie filling, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, Sift together both flours, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add the eggs one at a time, mixing well. Add the vanilla, and slowly mix in the flour mixture until well combined. Divide the batter into muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The smell that will soon fill your home will beat the stuffing out of any candle.

Streusel Topping
  • 3/4 cup of flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
Crumble the ingredients with your hands, don't be afarid to get dirty, that is the bets part. Be sure and top each cupcake with some of the streusel mix before baking and they will have an amazingly sweet crunch on top. 

Vanilla Rum Glaze
  • 3/4 cup of unsalted butter
  • 8 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 Tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbsp. Spiced Dark Rum, the Captain works well for this
Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy, gradually add the milk and vanilla until it reaches the desired consistency. Now here is the kicker, I mistakenly added too much rum to my glaze, so it had a wonderful flavor to it. You may add as little or as much as you would like, but like my family motto says, "If a little bit is good, a lot will be better"!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day Double Feature

My father happens to be a diabetic, so what do I do in honor of Father's Day? Make a cake covered in chocolate and provide him with deep fried starchy-goodness! All joking aside, the sweet and savory recipes for today's post embody the two sides of my Dad that I love the most. We can watch baseball together for hours and effortlessly bond over our mutual love of needless minutia. (We are BIG Jeopardy fans in this house!) On the other hand he has that uncanny ability to call up his 'Daddy-voice' and pull out the 'Command Hand' when I have done something incredibly stupid. But in the end this is my one day out of the year that I am obligated to put on a smile and show my love for my Dad with a good old fashioned diabetic coma!
What follows are two recipes: one for an amazing Boston Cream Pie and the other a tasty twist on fried onion rings. Now, before you take me out in a dark alley and beat me over the head with Betty Crocker cookbooks I will readily admit that I feel no shame in using a box cake mix. But when you consider that you have to make both a pastry cream and a chocolate ganache for this recipe, you will understand the necessity for the box cake mix. I can't spend all day in the kitchen, and neither can you. The onion ring recipe will easily become a snacking staple, its better than any restaurant variety. Keep your ketchup at a distance, as it would be blasphemy to dare cover these onion rings with any kind of condiment.

Boston Cream Pie

For the Pastry Cream:

  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 3 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 4 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 1/2 Tsp. Vanilla 
Heat the half-and-half, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt in a saucepan until simmering. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and remaining sugar together in a small bowl until well combined. Add the cornstarch and mix until the mixture is pale yellow and creamy. Gradually add some of the hot liquid to the egg mixture to temper it and be sure that you don't scramble the eggs. Once it is all combined put it back over the heat and bring it back to a simmer. Off the heat add the butter and vanilla and then strain the cream through a wire sieve, to ensure that there are no ugly lumps. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream so it doesn't form that alien-like "skin" over the top. Cover fully and refrigerate it overnight. At this point in the process you can begin to prepare the evil vanilla box cake mix, be sure that you follow the blissfully easy instructions. Ideally this recipe works best if you make two small cakes in 9" pans and let them cool completely before you assemble the cake itself. When you are ready take the two cakes from their pans and layer the cream between them, a rubber spatula works best for this.

For the Chocolate Glaze:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 Tsp. vanilla
Bring the cream and corn syrup to a simmer over medium heat in a saucepan, remove it from the heat and add in the chocolate and vanilla. Let it stand for 8 - 10 minutes, both to cool and to create that wonderfully thick glaze texture. Once your cakes are assembled you may carefully pour over the glaze, it should require a little bit of help to reach the edges but gravity is your best friend with this stuff. You could simply sit back and  let your mouth water as the chocolate slides down over the cake. All in all, your finished product should look  like this once it has had time to sufficiently sit and the glaze has hardened a bit!

*Disclaimer: Flowers and Mint come from Lori's (Mom) garden, gotta give her props :)

Now cut into it and admire the beauty! 

Now let me switch gears to the ultimate onion ring recipe....

BBQ Onion Rings

  • 2 Tbsp. BBQ Sauce, your favorite brand
  • 1 Tbsp. Tabasco
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 Large Yellow Onion, sliced to desired thickness
  • 2 cups Buttermilk
  • 2 cups Flour
  • 1 quart Canola Oil, for frying
Mix the sliced onions with the BBQ sauce, Tabasco, and salt and pepper. Let it stand for 5 - 7 minutes so the marinade can sink in. Top this with buttermilk, you may cheat and add a splash of lemon juice to regular milk to achieve the same effect as buttermilk. Because, come on, what else are you going to use buttermilk for! Let this mixture rest for 15 minutes while you mix the flour with any desired seasonings or be really brave and add some Panko Japanese breadcrumbs like I did, they make it extra crispy! 

Heat your oil to at least 350 degrees or simply test it with a bit of flour to see if the oil is hot enough. These rings are best done in small batches, putting the finished rings in a 200 degree oven to keep them crisp between fryings. I learned my lesson with my first batch....I should have made more. My Dad loved them and I'm sorry to say that he might not have gotten enough for his Father's Day dinner. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Frosting and Nutella Glaze

No two things go together better than gratuitous violence and cupcakes...! With the Memorial weekend premiere of History's Hatfields & McCoys, the classic feud inspired me to think about opposing flavors. From a baking standpoint, chocolate and vanilla could not be more at odds. The sweet depth of flavor that chocolate provides battles nicely with the light, flowery taste of vanilla. Although moonshine was the more appropriate liquor of choice in post-Civil War Appalachia, the thought of it in a cupcake makes me cringe. A good dark beer will do the trick for this cupcake. It provides a strong foundation to balance out the buttery vanilla frosting. To add even more of a contrast to this decadence a creamy homemade Nutella glaze tops it all off. The following is one of my "stand-by recipes" for brownies, which also makes for a wonderfully dense cupcake, and the dark beer gives it a great kick!

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes

  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup of cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup of dark beer, room temperature
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla; add eggs and beat well. Stir together flour, cocoa, and baking powder and gradually add to the wet mixture. Using a large serving spoon or an ice cream scoop fill baking cups 2/3 of the way full and bake 15 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The cupcakes may shrink a bit after they have cooled, but don't fear the frosting will hide any imperfections!

Vanilla Bean Frosting

  • 2/3 cup of unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup of milk
  • Half of a vanilla bean, with seeds scraped from the center OR 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 6 - 8 cups of powdered sugar

In a large mixing bowl cream the butter until smooth, add the milk and 2 cups of powdered sugar, beating well. Gradually add the remaining powdered sugar until it reaches the desired consistency. If you opt to use the vanilla bean, (and you should, it's SHAMAZING!) carefully slice it down the middle with a paring knife and gently scrape the seeds from the open pod. If vanilla extract is more convenient for you then add it and ensure that the frosting is well flavored.

After the cupcakes have cooled, you can spread the frosting with a rubber spatula or use a piping bag and a 'big star' tip to create designs if you wish. If you cannot contain yourself any longer or you are one of about four people left on the planet who have not experienced the awesome-ness that is Nutella then you may skip the last step and politely stuff your face. But you just don't know what you are missing...

Nutella Glaze

  • 1/2 cup of Nutella spread
  • 1/3 cup of milk
Over low heat in a small saucepan heat the milk and Nutella together and mix with a whisk. Don't allow it to come to a boil, it will thicken in about 8 - 10 minutes, but you have to babysit it, no running away to check Facebook or anything of that nature!

After decorating and glazing your cupcakes step back and admire the beauty you have created, you may even want to share them with family or friends, but no one will blame you if you keep them all to yourself. The Hatfields & McCoys unfortunately couldn't get along, but the chocolate and vanilla flavors in these cupcakes marry very well together! They are even Autumn-approved...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Journey

With this being the inaugural post I may as well introduce myself and my distinctive, if not avant garde form of cooking and baking. I'm a complete mess in the kitchen, dirtying every bowl and dusting every surface with powdered sugar in my wake. I've been known to make some amazing mistakes with my flavor choices, and I'm  particularly fond of adding a little, (okay, a lot) of alcohol/liquor to my treats. It enhances the flavor, if I do say so myself! This blog may predominantly be centered around my adoration for cupcakes and their sweet simplicity, but I may stray into the experimental cooking side of my varied skills. But have no fear the "sauced sweets" are the star and will always make a triumphant return. With summer fast approaching and numerous events and parties to be had, I figured this would be the ideal time to share my culinary adventures with you. So, be prepared for a wild ride through my crazy world of sweets and treats!