Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Leslie

I've decided that in order to up the appeal of my baked goods I am going to start naming them after people, it seems to work for clothing companies so why can't it work for me? Case in point, this bag that I love from J. Crew. So, instead of "chocolate cupcakes" or "world's most decadent brownies" I'm going to start calling things: the Elizabeth, the Aaron, the Libby, the John, etc. I guess that is how you will know you are important, if you get a baked good named after you....(well, I can only bake so many things so don't get too offended).

This inaugural cupcake is named after Leslie, my friend, who has a particular fascination with caramel and especially caramel flavored cupcakes. She recently purchased an expensive caramel cupcake from a local vendor and as she ate it I thought she might die of pleasure. Like literally pass out and expire on the floor where we were sitting. I decided I should try to replicate those flavors. This is a hodge-podge recipe--the cake is a vegan vanilla cake based on the "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" recipe and the icing is a Swiss meringue buttercream with homemade caramel mixed in. I think I came close here, but it needs a bit of improvement--I ran out of caramel in this round so next time I will make extra and swirl some on top of each cupcake for maximum impact.

Notes: I doubled both the caramel and icing recipe in order to pipe the icing on the cupcakes. As noted above, I ran out of caramel so I would recommend at least tripling the recipe. I also sprinkled just a tiny bit of sea salt on each cupcake (a little bit goes a long way).

Vanilla Vegan Cupcake
Adapted from Post Punk Kitchen

Makes 1 dozen cupcakes

1 cup soy milk
1 t. apple cider vinegar
1 ¼ c. all purpose flour
2 T. cornstarch
¾ t. baking powder
½ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
1/3 c. canola oil
¾ cup ugar
1 ½ t. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 and prepare your muffins tins. Whisk the almond milk and vinegar together in a small bowl and set aside to curdle. Sift together the dry ingredients—flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt—into a large bowl.

Beat the almond milk, oil, sugar and vanilla together in a larger bowl. Sift the dry ingredients into the wet mixture in two additions, mixing until no lumps remains.  Pour into the prepared cupcake pans, filling until 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Salted Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Adapted from Crispywaffle

**This recipe calls for making your own caramel—if that is something you really do not want to do, you can buy caramel, but making caramel is not that difficult and I think worth it!**

½ c. sugar
2 T water
¼ c. heavy cream
pinch salt

3 egg whites
¼ c. granulated sugar
1/8 t. cream of tartar
2 stick of butter at room temperature (I use unsalted b/c I think the added salt makes it salty enough, but this is up to you)

Making the Caramel:

Mix the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat the mixture on low heat, swirling and stirring until the sugar has pretty much dissolved. Do not let it boil. Once it has dissolved, raise the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it is boiling, cover it and set a timer for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, uncover the mixture and continue to swirl/stir until it becomes a dark amber color (I actually used my whisk at some point). Be careful to watch the mixture because it will burn quickly once it gets to the dark amber point. As soon as it is the right color, remove it from the heat and slowly pour in the cream, stirring constantly with a whisk. Whisk until it is smooth. Set aside your caramel at this point to make your buttercream.

Making the Buttercream:

Stir together the sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar and water in the bowl of an electric mixer (or, if you do not have an electric mixer use a larger stainless steel bowl that you can use for a double boiler). Set this bowl on top of a large pan of water that is simmering (essentially you are creating a double boiler here). Whisk the mixture constantly until it reaches a temperature of 140 degrees, you will know it is reaching that temperature when the mixture get really foamy and white.

Remove the bowl and put it in your stand mixer, beating on high speed for 3-5 minutes, until it holds a glossy, marshmallow-like peak. Put this meringue into a separate bowl.

In the stand mixer, beat half of the butter and 1/3 of your meringue mixture. Continue adding the remaining meringue one dollop at a time. Your mixture may look curdled as you add the meringue, but don’t worry! Add the butter one tablespoon at a time and the mixture will smooth out. Once your mixture is smooth, add the caramel.

Frost your cupcakes and, if desired, drizzle with caramel and sprinkle with sea salt.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Homemade Cereal

This blog post is all about my favorite meal (no, not dessert): breakfast. I could eat breakfast all day.  I love diners that serve eggs and pancakes all day, I consistently eat quiche or frittata or similar items for dinner during the week. But, for normal breakfast I normally have cereal because I'm in a rush. Plus, eating eggs or pancakes for breakfast every day can become a little much. My favorites are Kashi or good old-fashioned Cheerios, but I also indulge in a good granola sometimes. I am fairly picky about my granolas, though, too sweet, too bland, too many nuts, so it is difficult to find one that I can eat time and time again. This granola solved that problem.

I found this recipe on Orangette (which if you haven't read, you must start). Or, you could check out Molly's book A Homemade Life or her occasional columns in Bon Appetit magazine. In other words, read what she writes somewhere because not only does she have great recipes, but also great writing.

Back to granola. This recipe is perfect: not too sweet, not too nutty, not too soft, perfect amount of crunch and clusters and best of all--endlessly adaptable to suit your needs. This time around, I followed the recipe almost exactly (with one substitution), but I think next time I will make some more additions/subtractions. For this batch, I substituted maple syrup (Grade A) for the brown rice syrup because I couldn't find it on my trip to the grocery store and didn't feel like making a zillion stops. The substitution is 3/4 cup + 2 T/1 cup brown rice syrup. Next time, I think I will cut down on the amount of nuts and also add some dried fruit (cranberries, raisins) after cooking. Otherwise, I like it the way it is.


Dry Ingredients:
5 cups rolled oats
2-3 cups raw almonds or raw pecans halves (or less if you like)
1 cup raw, hulled sunflower seeds
¾ c sesame seeds
¾ cup brown sugar
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. salt

Wet Ingredients:
¾ c. unsweetened apple sauce
1/3 c. brown rice syrup (or ¼ c. maple syrup + approx. 2 t.)
¼ c. honey
2 T. veg. oil

Preheat oven to 300 F and put two silpats on two cookie sheets (or use parchment).

Mix together all of the dry ingredients in one bowl. Mix together all of the wet ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix well. Spread the mixture over the cookie sheets. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Every ten minutes, stir the mix and rotate your sheets so that the granola is evenly cooked. This granola should be stored in air-tight containers in the refrigerator.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer Peach Pie

Alright people, if you have ever read my blog (which not many of you have) you should know that I hate pie. Like, really hate. Now, this is strong language coming from someone who basically substitutes dessert for every meal. Breakfast: brownies. Lunch: ice cream. Dinner: brownies AND ice cream. Total win. And that is on the days that I run out of cake. But, give me a piece of pie and I will gladly skip out on dessert altogether. Now, there are several small exceptions to this rule, for example, I will indulge in a small piece of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving and, on occasion, I enjoy my Aunt Judy's chocolate pie. Otherwise, I'm pretty much against the idea of pie, I'm not sure why. (One recent theory that I came up with while explaining my dislike to Aaron is that I hate the gooey fruit stuff in pie--why does the fruit have to have that weird texture?)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Special Cupcakes

A few Mondays ago we attended a wedding (actually we participated in the wedding). More exciting than that, at least if you ask me, was the dessert that followed the wedding: CAKE and CUPCAKES and CANNOLI and FRENCH MACARONS. In other words, DELICIOUS!

Let me tell you, I had been looking forward to these particular desserts for weeks--no, months--no actually a year and a half. And, they did not disappoint. I really only ate the cake, but I ate enough of the cake to make up for not eating everything else (so much, that it would be too incredibly embarrassing for me to admit how much on this blog---oh,okay, almost the entire top layer...eeek, don't judge me). The cake is a princess cake and if you've never had such a cake then you should probably find the closest bakery that makes such a thing and order one ASAP. Otherwise, you should probably come to Charlottesville--it may be the only worthwhile reason to come here. Basically, its a white cake with Bavarian cream filling topped with a layer of marzipan. I guess it sounds just 'okay' but it is amazing.

The cupcakes, are lemon/lemon and peanut-butter cup aaaannnd I made them! Since I like to bake I thought it was only fitting that I contribute some cupcakes to this dessert display. In addition, it gave me something relaxing to do. These you can't buy, you just have to wait for me to make them for you :)

All in all, I think it was a successful day (and I'm only showing you dessert!).

Note: These photos are by the talented Jeff Greenough

Monday, July 4, 2011

Elizabeth's Birthday (Round Three)!!!

My friend Elizabeth had a birthday this week, and if possible, I try to make my friends cake or some other dessert for their birthday. You can see Elizabeth's past birthday celebrations here and here when she picked chocolate cake and strawberry shortcake, respectively.

It just so happens that Elizabeth is also departing for a five-month long journey around Europe to do research for her dissertation so this was an extra-special birthday. She was planning to just buy an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins!!! The horror! So I told her, I would make an ice cream cake--I have been meaning to make a chocolate version since my last strawberry and cream version two years ago--and this seemed like a great opportunity. She picked chocolate cake with mint chocolate chip ice cream, which as you can imagine is a great combination. I topped the whole thing off with a sweetened whipped cream-yum!

It turns out, the cake is actually too tall to fit in my cake carrier, so it got a little smooshed when I put it in. It still tasted great, but the icing was a little damaged...

Saturday, July 2, 2011


I feel like there are foods that I associate with every season. For summer, it is definitely hot dogs (i know, gross, but baseball games), corn on the cob, diet dr. pepper, nectarines and s'mores. I don't actually like the components of s'mores alone, except for chocolate, but when put together they are really good. Every summer, I used to go to camp and we would eat s'mores. Unfortunately, I don't have a fire-pit or a fireplace or even a grill that could in any way simulate the charred marshmallows of s'mores.

So, I made these cupcakes. I was recently given a kitchen torch (thanks Libby!) and have been looking for different ways to use it. This recipe is actually fairly easy, although it requires several steps and it fairly messy. It isn't quite as good as real s'mores, but it is about as close as I'm going to get for a long time so it is pretty good! As a warning, these cupcakes are ridiculously messy. It is pretty much impossible to eat them without ending up with a ring of marshmallow all over your face.

S'more Cupcakes
Recipe: Annie Eats

1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers
1/4 c. sugar
5 1/3 T melted butter
4.5 oz. dark chocolate chopped

2 c. + 2 T. sugar
1 3/4 C flour
3/4 C + 1 T cocoa powder
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 c. veg oil
2. t. vanilla
1c boiling water

8 egg whites
2 c sugar
1/2 t. cream of tartar
2 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. mix together the graham crackers, butter and sugar and place some of the mixture in the bottom of each cupcake tin. press down until firm. sprinkle a bit of the chopped chocolate in each cupcake cup. Bake for five minutes.

For the cake: mix together the dry ingredients. Mix together the wet ingredients except the boiling water. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and beat for about 2 minutes. add the boiling water and stir just until mixed. pour the batter into each cupcake tin and bake for 18-20 minutes.

Frosting: mix the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in the top of a double boiler. continue whisking until the entire mixture registers 160 degrees F. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk, gradually moving from low to medium-high speed until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Ice the cupcakes.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The return of cupcakes!!!

It has been a while since I made cupcakes. It has been a while since I made anything, in fact. I decided that Valentine's Day was an appropriate occasion to return to the world of baking, at least for just a day. I really like making red velvet cake because people have this strange fascination with red velvet cake. Not because of the taste or anything, but purely based on its color. Also, I don't like red velvet cake or cream cheese icing so it is a huge plus that I am basically guaranteed to not eat any of these cupcakes :)

These turned out great and the icing was nice and creamy, almost enough to make a non-cream cheese frosting eater like me consider eating some. Almost...I topped each cupcake with a tiny, frosted heart and sparkly sprinkles as well. I think they looked quite festive.

I've also included a picture of sleepy Joe. Or rather, normal Joe since he is pretty much always sleepy.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Elephant Steps!

Among the cool things I saw in Pakistan was the Lahore fort, which I mentioned in my previous post. The fort was built by Mughal emperors and is a huge complex of buildings and gardens, which you can now walk around. Unfortunately, the complex is so big that it is difficult to get a good grasp of all of its parts without some sort of a map, but I had two personal guides (friends of my dad's) who showed me some of the highlights, the most important being the elephant stairs! These giant, extra-wide stairs were apparently used specifically for the elephants who were part of the court. There are no elephants there now, but apparently on special occasions they have dancing camels! ( i did not see any of these)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My Journey to the Land of Buses, Stupas and Friendly People

I've just returned from my semester break, which was a three week, multi-continent extravaganza. Usually, I go to my mother's house in Omaha for a week or two, but this year I began the trip with a journey to Pakistan to visit my dad. To put it lightly, this was a trip I have been waiting take for most of my life. After days of making "to-do" lists, packing and re-packing I sat through a lovely sixteen hour non-stop flight from JFK to Lahore (if you ever have a chance to do this, don't, opt instead for a stop somewhere) and before I knew it was immersed in a totally different culture--in a good way.

My visit to Pakistan was a lot of fun and to describe it all here would be impossible, but I will share some of the highlights. I was able to meet many of my dad's friends and co-workers, who were all incredibly friendly, warm and welcoming people. I ate countless meals of delicious (and very spicy) food along with cup after cup of wonderful tea. I visited the ancient archaeological sites of Taxilla, several ancient cities along the Indus dating as early as the sixth century BCE, which contain ruins of many Buddhist stupas. I had a tour of the Lahore fort, built during the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar (1556-1605) as well as the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, also commissioned by the Mughal emperors and one of the largest in the world (fifth largest in the world, second largest in Pakistan). I also visited a Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of the Guru Nanak Dev, the central figure in Sikhism.

The best part of the trip was seeing my dad, meeting new people and learning about a new place. Here are a few photo highlights:

Stupa at Taxilla
Lahore Fort

Badshahi Mosque, Lahore

Nankana Sahib