Sunday, June 25, 2017

S'mores Indoors

A family friend recently got married. This young lady has been a friend of mine since she was five years old. Making her wedding cupcakes meant the world to me, and I wanted them to be perfect. She has an adorable precocious little boy, and his cupcake request was a S'more cupcake. As important as it was to make her happy, I have to admit, pleasing this little guy was top on my priority list. Kids are brutally honest, have high expectations, and they haven't had any baking disasters yet (my point there being the empathy level is pretty much at nil). So naturally I wanted these to be PERFECT.

I'm not sure if I achieved ultimate perfection, but by the end of the reception, there was a happy boy on a sugar high. Mission accomplished.

With this recipe, I struggled with three things. Number one - marshmallow frosting. I really wanted it to taste like a s'more, so I needed a strong marshmallow flavor. I researched a million different recipes. I've made a marshmallow buttercream with marshmallow fluff before, adding graham crumbles, a mini marshmallow garnish, and a chocolate square.

They turned out well, but they just were not marshmallow-y enough for me. I decided to rework the recipe to make a true s'more, one that even a child would find faultless.

I found their is no substitute for actual marshmallow but marshmallow. I found some giant marshmallows on sale and just cut them in three slices. If you cut them neatly, they melt ever so slightly under the broiler (but watch them like a hawk!! They burn easily.) and they have a good shape with that beautiful golden brown color when toasted. After it cools that will make a light crisp over the marshmallow.

My second challenge was the amount of sweetness. The main flavors in a s'more are chocolate, marshmallow, and graham. None of these have any savory or acidic notes to them. So to counteract the sweet - and to amp up my s'more flavor profile, I added a graham cracker pie crust bottom with some salt added. Graham crusts are usually graham crumbs, butter, and sugar. I just added a little salt to this, and it turned out great.

My third and final issue - avoiding a bitter or dry chocolate cake. I do a couple things to avoid this: add pudding & hot fudge. What chocolate isn't better with pudding and hot fudge??? They're delicious and moist. Just be sure to keep the hot fudge in the fridge until you're ready to use it. It needs to stay cold before baking. And make sure you get that little bit of chocolate well covered in the middle of the batter.

Whenever you bake follow the all important rule of beat Beat BEAT the wet ingredients, and fold ever so gently once you've added the dry. You should end up with a nice and fluffy batter, even after dry ingredients have been added.

S'more Cupcakes
(Yield: 36 cupcakes)

Graham Crust
1 1/2 cup finely crushed graham crackers
1/3 cup butter, melted
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 tsp butter

Chocolate Cake
1 1/4 cup butter, softened
1/3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cocoa
3 tablespoons instant chocolate pudding
1 3/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp imitation almond extract
hot fudge, chilled (use about 1/2 teaspoon per cake)

Chocolate Glaze
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
4 Tablespoons corn syrup
4 Tablespoons strong brewed coffee

1 sleeve graham cracker
12 giant marshmallows, sliced in 3

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2, Mix together graham crust ingredients and press 1 tablespoon into each cupcake liner.
3. Beat butter to cream and gradually add sugar, beating 5 to 7 minutes, until very light and fluffy.
4. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping the side after each addition.
5. Sift together flour, baking powder, soda, salt, cocoa, and pudding.
6. In a separate bowl, mix together milk and extracts.
7. Add flour to butter batter, alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
8. Beat at low speed until just blended or fold by hand, scraping the sides after each addition.
9. Spoon into paper lined cupcake pan.
10. Drop hot fudge into each cup, and cover well.
11. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until done.

To make the glaze

1. Combine all ingredients over a double boiler. Heat until mixture begins to thicken. It will look like this:

Assemble by adding about a teaspoon of glaze to each cooled cupcake, spread over the top and add graham cracker, broken in pieces.

Top with marshmallow slice. Place the cupcakes under the broiler and watch them carefully! They will be done in a couple of minutes. Remove when top is a golden brown.

Enjoy your s'more!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

My Favorite Cake Recipe

Cake made from scratch is all about beating. So if you don't have a good stand mixer. GET A KITCHENAID. I love mine. It's white and lovely and I call him George. He's never let me down.

The key to this simple, simple recipe is just knowing when to beat, and when not to beat. An easy rule of thumb with any cake recipe is this, if it's just wet ingredients, beat it a lot. Once you add the dry ingredients, fold gently. Stick with that and this recipe will come out great. It's moist and light, and has a great flavor.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups whole milk, warmed to room temperature
3 tablespoons french vanilla instant pudding
1 tablespoon pure vanilla
1 teaspoon imitation almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 325.
2. Sift  dry ingredients and set aside.
3. Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy and pale in color.

4. Beat the eggs in one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. 
Here is where you really DON'T SKIMP ON BEATING. Just beat, beat, beat, beat, beat. 

Once you've got that lovely airy batter, you're ready to move on.
5. Add the extracts to the milk.
Now remember, when you add the remaining ingredients to mix as LITTLE AS POSSIBLE. Feel free to fold it in by hand if you like. At this point over mixing will kill all that lovely air that you've beat into it. 
6. Add about a third of the flour mixture, and gently beat or fold to incorporate. Add about half the milk mixture and gently incorporate. Repeat this process till all the remaining dry and wet ingredients are mixed together. 

7. Scoop out batter with an ice cream scoop and fill paper cups. This makes about 36 cupcakes. Bake for 12-18 minutes depending on your oven. In the picture below, I'd incorporated some sprinkles as well for fun. 

Add cinnamon to dry ingredients for a snickerdoodle cake. Play with adding different extracts, oils, zests, and pudding flavors to make it your own.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Quick and Easy Cookies & Cream Cupcakes

Some time I will post my from scratch base recipe for making super moist cupcakes, and avoiding the pitfalls that hurt them.

Today is not that day.

Sure, I love making those deliciously moist perfect cakes, and being able to say, Yes. I made these from scratch. That feels great. But who has the time?? Sometimes we don't have room temperature eggs and milk right when we need them. Not too mention, do we all have cake flour sitting in the pantry just waiting to be used? Not so much. Most busy ladies are more likely to grab a quick mix, throw in a couple ingredients and get those bad boys in the oven. And know what - YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULD :) Cake mixes are awesome. Sure they aren't exactly like a from scratch recipe, but they are pretty much fool proof, they're fast, and they're cheap. Best part - with usually one or two quick little additions, your box mix batter can be every bit as impressive as that made from scratch batch.

Here is one of my favorites. It is very kid friendly, so perfect for the next birthday party for your littles, and best of all - it is a mix, with one teeny tiny extra step.

Cookies and Cream Cupcakes

You can of course, use any cookies or cake mix you want. This is America.
But don't.

If you're going to use a mix, use a good one, and for this recipe, I recommend, Betty Crocker Super Moist French Vanilla. It is very good and very vanilla-y.

Don't skimp on the cookies either. I go straight for real Oreos. No substitutions here. Of course, they are a dollar or more expensive than an off brand. If you're feeling bad about that, remember it will cost you $3 a cake to buy these at a bakery. The cakes you are about to make are going to taste (and look, depending on your piping skills) as good as any of those!

Prepare the batter as instructed on the back of the box. (I use the whole egg version. That yolk-y goodness can't be beat. If I were trying to be healthy I would not be making a cupcake.)

Crush up the cookies. I use about half a regular package of plain Oreos. If you don't want to get the food processor out, throw them in a giant Zip Lock and beat them with a rolling pin. This method is a little slower, but very cathartic. Whatever works for you.

Fold cookie crumbs into the batter. And that's it. All that's left is to spoon them into cupcake pans and throw them in the oven. It is just the one step. It usually only takes 1 or two extra steps to take a mix from boring to extraordinary.

They're fantastic. You can use a fudge buttercream or vanilla (click here for my best vanilla butter cream) to frost these once cooled. If you want, top them with mini cookies - for a special touch.

These always get rave reviews and are so simple to make.

So next time you're looking for bakery caliber cakes, at home cook prices, and that fit your busy schedule, you're all set!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

My best Best BEST vanilla buttercream

Ok, so the secret to my favorite, and most delicious, vanilla buttercream... (It's not vanilla.) Just kidding - there's a ton of vanilla in there, but that's not what makes it my smooth and creamy, so delicious you want to lick it like an ice cream cone, best Best BEST vanilla buttercream.

It's almond extract. (Loud gasp. Dramatic Pause.)

No, for real - this recipe is a sure fire delicious hit, and with a little bit of almond (or imitation almond, depending upon your allergy permissions) it really hits the vanilla craving spot.

Don't take my word, though. Give it at try.

4 cups powdered sugar
2 sticks salted butter, softened
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (NOT IMITATION, JUST NO, NO, NO, NO!!! Pure is the only way to go here)
1/2 tablespoon almond extract (or imitation almond - works just as well, see I'm far less dramatic about that)
3 tablespoons whole milk
Pinch of salt (for the reasoning behind that see my previous post)

Cream butter, then add other ingredients and beat till light and fluffy. Then ENJOY!

Side note - if you want the buttercream to be lighter (like the layer in the middle of the cupcake above, as opposed to the cream pictured on the top) add a teeny tiny (we are talking the tip of the toothpick and that's it!) amount of purple gel food coloring. It counteracts the yellow tint.

So that's it. My best Best BEST vanilla buttercream. Use it in good health!!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Secret To Perfect Buttercream

For my first post, I'm going to give away my best secret. Why? I don't know. I'm probably stupid. But this is a new age, and apparently all information is free.

I don't know about you, but my goal when I'm making a buttercream frosting is for it to be so delicious that whoever I serve it to, demands a tub of it to eat with a spoon. If that doesn't happen, it's an utter failure.
Of course, that means, my buttercream can't just be good, or great. It must be insanely addictive! It should become a craving that MUST BE SATISFIED.
So, in order to do that, there are few SUPER EASY tricks, that I add to any basic buttercream, that make it undeniably THE BEST in the world.

  • The butter. It must be room temperature. This is not optional. I just keep a box of butter on my countertop at all times. Then I'm ready whenever it suits my fancy. It won't hurt the butter to be left out at all. And that way, you aren't forced to attempt a microwave softening. Don't be that girl. When your butter is the right temperature, it's the right texture. This will also help to avoid adding extra sugar later. Your butter to sugar ratio should always be 2 cups of powdered sugar for every 1 stick of butter. You should NEVER need more sugar than this. (Unless you went crazy with espresso powder, than you might need a touch more...)
  • The mixing. You have to mix it the proper amount of time. When your butter is the right temperature it is ready for all this lovely air to be beat right into it. It's just waiting to be that silky, light, pile of sugary loveliness. Don't underbeat. If your frosting is thick, you've either left out some of the liquid or you haven't beat it enough. 
  • FINALLY. Here it is - the secret: DON'T FORGET THE SALT. 
No, I'm not an insane person (well, not for that reason, anyway.) And yes, I know frosting is not a savory food. But you know what bad frosting is: overly and sickeningly sweet. How many times have you heard someone say - it's too sweet!!!! Well, it's hard to make a recipe whose main ingredient is finely ground and processed sugar not too sweet. That's why, I add a tiny dash of salt. It cuts the sweetness and even though you never even taste it, it is AMAZING the difference it makes. There is a reason that God compares His followers to salt. Just like this dash of salt that makes a buttercream perfect, the presence of a Christ filled believer can change everything in the lives of those around them. They don't always know it, but their little addition of savor is the secret recipe to success in every group they take part in. 

So ALWAYS ADD THE SALT - in your Christian walk, and your buttercream!

Basic Buttercream Recipe

2 sticks butter
4 cups powdered sugar
1 T pure vanilla extract 
4-6 T whole milk
Dash of salt

  1. Cream butter.
  2. Add sugar, vanilla, and milk with mixer on low until blended. 
  3. Increase mixing speed and mix well until frosting is light and fluffy. Add more milk if needed.
  4. Add a dash of salt.
  5. Mix well
  6. Enjoy your perfect buttercream
To vary this recipe, substitute any extract for the vanilla, and any kind of flavorful preserve, jam, or unsweetened juice for the milk. For fudge flavor, add cocoa powder to the powdered sugar. Just don't forget the salt!