Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Snickerdoodle Muffins

I have very little resistance and self-control when it comes to snickerdoodles.  Do a quick "snickerdoodle" search on this blog and you will see cupcakes, varieties of the cookie, biscotti, blondies, and now I am going to add muffin to that list.  I think that calling such a delight a "muffin" completely legitimizes the consumption of cinnamon and sugar for breakfast.  It is a breakfast of champions, in my humble opinion.

Snickerdoodle Muffins

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 1/4 cup sour cream

Rolling Sugar:
1 cup sugar
2 tbl. cinnamon
Mix together.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with liners or spray each well with cooking spray.

In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy, 3 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Add the vanilla.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cream of tartar, and nutmeg.

Starting and ending with flour mixture, alternately add flour mixture and sour cream to the butter-sugar mixture, scraping down the bowl a couple times.  Mix until all ingredients are incorporated evenly.

Using a scoop (I used a tablespoon from my everyday silverware), roll into a ball and drop into the cinnamon-sugar mixture until it is coated completely.  Place into prepared muffin pan.  Repeat with remaining batter.

Bake for 20-22 minutes until golden brown and cake tester comes out clean.  Cool slightly in pan before removing.  Transfer to wire cooling rack to cool completely, or serve warm.  Store in an airtight container.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Vanilla Latte Cupcakes

Vanilla lattes are my absolute, hands-down, "this-is-the-drink-I-always-order-anywhere-possible" favorite beverage.  I'm about 15 years running on this one.  :)  I rarely deviate from my standard vanilla latte, and the times that I have, I ended up wishing that I had just ordered my "regular."

Do you have a favorite like this?  Do tell.

When I saw this recipe, there was absolutely no question that I would make them.  And there was never any doubt in my mind that I would love them.  The question was "When would I make them?" and I wondered if I needed to plan to make them to give away or just resign myself to eating the entire batch single-handedly.

As my luck would have it, I ended up with the best of both worlds.  I made them for a gathering, and since I made them mini, there were a lot--and I mean, a lot!--left over.  Perfect.

The coffee flavor in these cupcakes really shines through and isn't distracted by any chocolate (you know me and chocolate!  I just don't require it!), the crumb is perfectly tender and soft, and the swiss meringue frosting is borderline sinful.  I've been calling the mini ones "poppers" and I figure it takes about 4 of them to equal one regular size one.  Again, perfect!  {I also like to believe that calories are non-existent in the mini ones.  Just sayin'.}

*A little sidenote on the yield:  for this recipe, which I made as written, I ended up with 48 mini cupcakes and enough batter left over to make 6 regular cupcakes.  For all regular size, you will end up with 12-18 cupcakes.  I also made the frosting as written, and ended up with some left over as well.

Vanilla Latte Cupcakes
Adapted from Pink Parsley

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup strong brewed coffee {I used espresso}
1/4 cup + 2 tbl. milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake pans with liners.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed for about 30 seconds. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a liquid measuring cup, combine the brewed coffee/espresso and milk.

Starting and ending with the flour, in a few additions alternately add the flour and milk mixture to the mixer, mixing on low speed until just incorporated.

Divide the batter between 18 cupcake liners, filling each cup about 2/3 to 3/4 full or 2 pans of mini cupcakes.

Bake 18-22 minutes (15 minutes for mini), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Vanilla Espresso Swiss Meringue Buttercream

3 large egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but cool, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped OR 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder (or to taste) dissolved into 2 teaspoons boiling water
Pinch of salt 

Combine the egg whites and sugar in the clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer. Place over a pot of simmering water, and heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture reaches 160 degrees.

Attach the bowl to the mixer (fitted with the whisk attachment). Starting at low speed and gradually increasing to medium-high, beat the mixture until the bottom of the bowl cools to room temperature and the egg whites are thick and glossy and form soft peaks.

While mixing, add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, until it has all been incorporated. Continue mixing until the frosting comes together. Switch to the paddle attachment and over medium speed, add in the vanilla extract, vanilla bean, coffee mixture, and salt. Beat until well combined and taste and adjust flavorings as necessary.

Frost cupcakes as desired.  I used a reusable pastry bag fitted with a mini star tip.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Fruit Christmas Ornaments

I am sure that many of you will agree that there is something magical about a home that is beautifully decorated for Christmas.  The house is usually more de-cluttered than normal (a huge temptation for me to keep Christmas decorations up year-round!!  Just kidding--they are all put away before school resumes in January!), the lights twinkle, and all the extra touches that are meaningful to each person give one's home a special feeling during the Christmas season.

Several years ago, I made some of my own Christmas decorations....I'm not really even sure where the idea came from, but I went with it.  They are simple and lovely in their simplicity.

I simply placed sliced fruit in a food dehydrator and then poked a hole in the dried fruit to string a ribbon through.  I hung it lovingly on my Christmas tree, and voila!  Decorations!

I guess when I say "several years ago" it was really like 10 years ago, for the second year that my husband and I were married.  Time flies when you're living life!

This year I decided it was time to freshen up my fruit ornaments, and lucky for you, I took pictures along the way so I could share it with you.

{There is no recipe here, so just let your creative juices flow!}

Slice your desired fruit--I used 3 oranges and 4 Macintosh apples--about 1/4 inch thick and place in a food dehydrator.  I did mine overnight which was just about the right amount of time.  The apples will be soft and the oranges will no longer be juicy.

Make sure you leave a good amount of space between your slices so they dry evenly.

Remove your fruit from your dehydrator and get them ready to string the ribbon through.  My original set of ornaments I used strips of cute fabric with frayed edges for a more primitive look.

I redecorated my living room this summer, so this time around I decided to use some ribbon that was a bit shimmery and sparkly as to catch the lights on the tree.  However, the ribbon with the silver beads was way too thick to tie in a knot nicely, so I ended up not using that one.

I used a simple process here to poke my ribbon hole.  Once the fruit was dried and removed from the dehydrator, I used a small paring knife to cut a small slit in each slice.  With the oranges, it was easier to do this between the triangles of fruit flesh where there is a natural divider.  Just string your ribbon through and tie a knot on the end!  

Here are a couple of the finished pieces, all ready to be hung!  I think sometime I would like to make a fruit garland, and of course, the process is the same except you would put two holes in each piece and string them together.  Maybe next year that will be my project!

Here is my finished tree!  I need to play around with my dSLR camera and figure out how to take a picture with the lights blurred out, but until then, this one will have to do!  My Christmas tree is my absolute favorite part of all my Christmas decorations--cranberry garland, sprays of cranberries, rusted ornaments, rustic snowmen and angels, framed pictures of my 4 kids, homemade cinnamon gingerbread ornaments, fruit ornaments, and sometimes I stick cinnamon-scented pine cones in there too!  My tree is in my main floor living room, next to my fireplace, which is my favorite place to drink coffee!

Merry Christmas!  I would love to know what your favorite Christmas decoration is and if you have any homemade ones that you love!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Triple Layer Banana Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream

I grew up eating a delicious banana cake, homemade by my mom.  It was a classic dessert for her to make, which she did often, and she often took it with her as a contribution whenever our family was invited over to someone's home for dinner.  It was always a hit.

As an adult, looking back, I realize I have two complaints about her banana cake.

First, she always made it in a metal 9x13 cake pan.

I have decided that I am not fond of metal cake pans for serving cake from.  Not fond at all.

Second, she always iced her banana cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting.

As you might already know, I am not fond of chocolate.  Not fond at all.

So, I decided to put on my big girl boots and attempt a classic banana cake for the first time in my adult life.  No metal rectangular cake pan and no chocolate.

And while I was at it, I decided to make my cake a triple-layer one.

I might have a bit of a competitive streak in me.  Maybe.

I told my mom ahead of time that I was making this cake.  She suggested I top it with chocolate cream cheese frosting.  Her salivating tastebuds felt rejection, possibly for the first time when it came to banana cake.

It simply couldn't be helped.

When all was said and done, this cake was light, moist, sweetly banana-y (that's a word, right?!), and the frosting on it was killer!

For the best results, you will want to bake this a couple days before you serve it.  The banana flavor deepens for a couple days after it is baked, resulting is a cake that is pretty perfect.

Oh, and another thing?  Embrace the frosting technique.  While a bit odd and a bit unfamiliar (at least to me), this frosting rocks the peels right off those bananas!  Know what I mean?

Triple Layer Banana Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream Frosting
Source: How to Cook Like Your Grandmother, via Pinterest

For the cake batter:
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
2 egg yolks
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
3 crushed bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 egg whites, beaten

Combine the sugar and butter and beat on low speed until completely combined.

Add the egg yolks and beat on high speed until the mixture is smooth and fluffy.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients — flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt — and whisk thoroughly. You’ll want the baking soda to be well distributed throughout the flour before adding to the wet ingredients.

Alternate adding dry and wet ingredients (milk), beating each time until it is just incorporated. Start and end with dry.

Now mash the bananas and add them to the batter.

Add the vanilla and beat until combined.

In a separate bowl with a whisk, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, but not so much you dry them out.

Carefully fold the egg whites into the batter, trying not to deflate them too much.

Pour the batter into three greased and floured round pans.

Bake at 350° for 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry.

Remove the cakes from the pans and let them cool to room temperature, then frost with the brown sugar buttercream frosting.

To frost, place one cake on serving plate. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top and place with second cake. (You can be a bit generous on the amount of frosting in between layers--I ended up having frosting left over when I was all done).  Repeat frosting, and place third cake on top. Spread a thin crumb layer over the top and sides of cake. Let sit for about 30 minutes. Spread remaining frosting evenly over the top and sides of cake, making small decorative peaks on the top if desired.

Brown Sugar Buttercream Frosting

1 cup milk
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ cup brown sugar
1 cup butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt (if you use unsalted butter)

Stir the milk and flour together and mix over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until it thickens. It changes suddenly, so don't walk away. Set aside to cool.

Combine the sugar, butter and vanilla in a mixer;  beat on medium speed for 5-10 minutes until the sugar is dissolved and you don’t taste the graininess of it any more.

Add the milk mixture to the butter mixture and beat until smooth. Keep at room temperature until ready to frost on cooled cakes.