Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving and Christmas and Birthdays. Oh, My!

I am just back from Buffalo where I celebrated Thanksgiving, (early) family Christmas, my Father's birthday, and the birthdays of my twin nieces.  It was a whirlwind trip but SO much fun!  I was able to do a lot of baking for my family and loved every second of it.  I could use a bit of a rest now.  However, in a few hours I will be boarding a plane to India.  I'll be traveling around with my husband for two weeks, so I won't be baking or posting anything new for awhile.  The trip should be exciting, I'm sure, but I'm already looking forward to coming home and baking for Christmas!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoys this holiday season.  Try something new and be creative in the kitchen!  You'll be surprised by the things you can do.  Enjoy and I'll be back mid-December!  In the meantime, enjoy some photos of the birthday girls with the cupcakes I made for them (their choice, of course!).  I love them to pieces!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chocolate Chip and Cream Cheese Cookie Dip

Okay, this is delicious.  Even for someone (me) who is not terribly fond of cheesecake, this dip is fantastic.  And, even BETTER, it's ridiculously quick and easy to make on short notice.  Your guests will love it.  Just be sure to make enough, it disappears pretty quickly!

Chocolate Chip and Cream Cheese Cookie Dip

1 package (8 ounces) Cream Cheese, softened
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup miniature chocolate chips

In a large bowl beat together cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract until fluffy.  If you are not using a hand mixer be sure to beat until completely combined.  Add the sugars in small increments, stirring well with each addition.  Next, add the chocolate chips and mix until well combined.  Refrigerate at least two hours and serve with graham crackers.

See?  Easy!  Except that I don't like graham crackers, and I'm sure I'm not alone.  I decided to make chocolate cookie sticks to use for dipping.  I mixed up a batch of Chocolate Cut-out Cookies.  They are not too sweet and complement the dip perfectly.  After refrigerating for 20 minutes, I began to cut the sticks using a square cookie cutter.  

Once the square shapes were cut, I used the same square cutter to make sticks.  I decided I didn't mind if the sticks were evenly cut or all different widths, so I did not focus on perfectly shaping them.

I baked them as directed, but I think they could have used another minute or two.  They were a bit on the soft side, so not all of them were sturdy enough to actually dip.  Next time, I will make them thicker and bake them longer.

This is a phenomenal dessert perfect for parties, showers, holiday get-togethers, book club meetings, or just because!  You can also use Nilla Wafers, Sugar Cookies, Tea Biscuits, or any type of cookie you wish.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fall Flavors - Apple Cider Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting

I feel like I've been gushing over everything I've made recently.  The thing is, though, is that the last few recipes have been THAT GOOD!  I wish I could say I was responsible for these creations, but I must give credit to the amazing bloggers out there who are kind enough to share their creative, tasty recipes.  These cupcakes are no exception. I absolutely, positively love them.  They are the very essence of autumn with a wonderful apple flavor.  Without further ado, here is the recipe!

Apple Cider Cupcakes

2 eggs (at room temperature)
 1 2/3 cup flour
1 cup pasteurized apple cider
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter (at room temperature)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease or place liner in cupcake wells.  In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  

Add eggs, beat well.  Add the baking powder, cinnamon and salt.  Combine ingredients, alternately adding the flour and apple cider in small increments until thoroughly combined.  Pour into prepared cupcake pan.  Fill each cup 3/4 full.  Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean.  Makes about 12 cupcakes.

At this point my kitchen already smelled SO good!  One of the responsibilities of a baker is to taste test at certain intervals of the process.  You know, someone has to do it....So, I tried a cupcake and already I was in love.  I was hoping the caramel icing would compliment and enhance these cupcakes.  I set out to find the answer and gave it a try!

Caramel Frosting

1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter.  Next, add the milk and brown sugar.  

Obviously, I didn't read the recipe correctly, as I did not melt the butter completely before adding the milk and sugar.  In this case the icing turned out just fine, but you should always read the recipe entirely before you begin!!

Bring to a boil and continue to boil for 1 minute.  Remove from heat and whisk in 1/2 cup confectioners sugar.  Let it cool slightly, then vigorously whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup confectioners sugar.  If you have problems doing this by hand, use an electric mixer.  It is very important to whisk very quickly or frosting will not be smooth.  Frost cupcakes while the frosting is still slightly warm.  There will be enough icing for about 12 cupcakes.

This is what the finished icing looked like after beating.  I used an electric hand mixer.
When it comes to frosting with this icing you should be as quick as possible.  It begins to harden very quickly and does not have a nice finish.  Here is the progression of my icing experience:

Next time I think I would add just a touch more milk to keep it smooth.  My favorite finish is the second cupcake.  The first one settled too smoothly.  The second had a nice little flourish I think is cute.  From there the icing hardened and was not as easy to spread.  It's a bit touchy, but worth it because it's DELICIOUS!!

And so it was time for the final taste test.  Heaven.  I'm not exaggerating.  One cupcake was so fulfilling and the perfect amount of sweet after a meal.  Now, my husband did not care for the caramel icing.  It may not be for everyone, but you should definitely give it a try!  This is my new favorite treat of the season.  What is yours?

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Ice Cream Pumpkin Pie with Hard Sauce

I have a confession to make.  I don't like pumpkin very much.  Not pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins.  Not even pumpkin spice coffee at Starbucks.  I always feel out of place this time of year when everyone is all about pumpkin baking.  For me, the fall season is about apples.  However, there is one exception to my disdain for pumpkin pie.  It is a pie recipe my Mother used to make for us while growing up.  It is one of the most delicious Thanksgiving desserts we had and I feel it's a perfect compromise for the requisite pumpkin items on a Thanksgiving table.  My people from Buffalo will be well familiar with the John's Flaming  Hearth Ice Cream Pumpkin Pie with Hard Sauce.  John's Flaming Hearth was a Buffalo area restaurant, which has since closed.  But it's legacy is this pie and I'm forever grateful!

It's pretty easy to prepare and put together.  Here are the ingredients:

John's Flaming Hearth Ice Cream Pumpkin Pie with Hard Sauce

1 quart vanilla ice cream
1 pie shell, baked and cooled completely
1 cup cooked or canned pumpkin
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
additional whipped cream, for garnish

Spread slightly melted ice cream in pie shell.  If you are using a pie plate that is not very deep, you may want to use less than 1 quart of ice cream).  

Place pie shell with ice cream in the freezer until it is completely hardened.  In a mixing bowl, blend the pumpkin, sugar, salt and spices together.  

In a separate bowl, whip 1 cup of heavy cream until stiff.  Fold whipped cream into pumpkin mixture.  

Smooth the mixture over the ice cream layer of the pie.  

Place pie in the freezer and remove it 15 minutes before you are ready to serve it.  

To Make the Hard Sauce:

1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/4  hot water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and hot water in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil and continue to boil until it starts to thicken.  Don't let it become too thick.  

Let cool and add vanilla.  Drizzle on top of whipped cream garnish.

Oh, just looking at the pictures makes me want a slice!  I want to give a quick word about the syrup.  My Mother did not add it to the pie so this was my first time making and working with it.  It becomes HARD pretty QUICKLY!  I kind of almost broke a tooth biting into a piece.  I think, rather than drizzling it, it would be better to make some kind of artsy shapes on waxed paper, peel them off, and place them decoratively around the plate and on the pie....more of a hard candy garnish instead of something that looks warm and syrupy.  I could not even get the pooled bit of sauce off of the plate!  

Cleanup can be a challenge, also.  I filled the saucepan I made the syrup in with HOT water, put everything that came into contact with the sauce (spoon, bowl, etc.) into the pan and let it steam with the lid on it.  After three rotations of this my kitchen tools were finally free of hard sauce!  I think the pie is just as tasty without it, so you can make your own choice whether the serve it that way or not.  Some cinnamon sprinkled on top of whipped cream could give the pie some extra flourish without the hassle.

Regardless, I love this pie and look forward to it every year!  When I host Thanksgiving for my Husband's family it is always on our dessert table.  I hope you give it try and enjoy it, too.  Happy Holiday!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Baked Apple Cider Donuts

I've been on a baked donut kick since I bought my donut pan.  I didn't think anything would be as tasty as the chocolate donuts I made, but I was wrong.  These apple cider baked donuts blew me away with their flavor and donut deliciousness.  I don't make this claim lightly, as I absolutely *LOVE* the fried version.  So much so I almost didn't try to make these since there was no way I could figure it would result in anything but disappointment.  Wrong.  I *LOVE* this baked version!

Making donuts is so easy I'm not sure I will buy fried ones anymore.  Of course, there are a few exceptions.  Whenever I make a trip home to Buffalo nothing can stop me from getting a Tim Horton's peanut donut.  It's a mystery to me why you can only find peanut donuts in Buffalo.  They. Are. The. Best.  I suppose it's better that they remain a rare, special treat for me.  And then there's the blueberry cake donut.  Can't resist them.  I found a recipe for blueberry donuts I will be giving a try.  We'll see how they stack up.  In the meantime, let me share this recipe with you.  I urge you to make them as soon as possible!

Baked Apple Cider Donuts
Recipe adapted from Squirrel Bakes

2 Cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped apple
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup apple cider
1/3 cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoon vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease two donut pans and set aside.  In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Set aside.  

Chop apple into small pieces or use food processor to puree and set aside

In a large bowl combine egg, brown sugar, apple, maple syrup, apple cider, yogurt and oil.  Mix until well blended.  

In small amounts add in flour mixture and combine until just moistened.  Spoon dough into donut pan about 3/4 full.  Wipe away any dough on the center part of the donut cavity to  ensure a hole bakes in the middle of the finished donuts.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned.  This recipe make a dozen donuts.  They are best when eaten within two days of baking them.

I did not have wheat flour so I used all-purpose four.  This may have made the donuts a bit more absorbent when I glazed and sugared them.  I did some reading on substituting whole wheat for all-purpose flour.  You can do it, but you need to adjust the liquid quantities, which I did not do.  I took my chances and they turned out just fine.  Also, I did not puree the apple.  I liked the idea of chunks of apple throughout the donut, and after tasting them I was happy with my choice.

After reading many recipes for baked cider donuts I could not decide if I wanted to sugar or glaze them.  I decided to do both - half glaze, half sugar.  I mixed up some cinnamon sugar while the donuts were baking.  Also, I mixed up the glaze using confectioners sugar, cider, and a bit of cinnamon.  I did not use exact measurements.  I added enough cider to the confectioners sugar to create a paste like consistency.  I really loved the flavor of this glaze!

Cinnamon Sugar/Apple Cider/Cider Glaze
When the donuts were completely baked, I placed them on a cooling rack with waxed paper underneath to catch the excess sugar and glaze.  To coat the donuts in cinnamon sugar I used a pastry brush to paint liquid cider around the top of the warm donut.  Immediately after applying the cider I used a spoon to sprinkle the sugar on the top of the donut.  I spooned the glaze on top the of the remaining donuts.

Once the donuts were coated with their toppings and still warm, I finished up with the last step.  The tasting. A glass of cold cider. A warm cider donut.  Happiness.

Actually, I misspoke.  The LAST last step was finding a home for the remaining donuts.  Luckily, my husband's office staff are more than happy to take baked goods off of my hands.  I packed them up and (a bit reluctantly) sent them on their way.  

I hope they loved these donuts as much as I did!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Peanut Butter Cup/Chocolate Cupcakes: The Flavor of These "Turn It Up to 11"

Today is 11/11/11 so in honor of Nigel Tufnel I wanted to make a cupcake that turns decadence up to 11!  Anyone who has seen "This Is Spinal Tap" will know what I'm referring to.  And if you haven't seen it, you must!  I don't think I stopped laughing the entire movie.  It's an absolute must-see classic!!  But, back to the cupcakes.  These are chocolate cupcakes with a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup on the bottom, with chocolate buttercream icing sprinkled with Reese's Pieces.

I began by making chocolate cake batter.  Next, I unwrapped the peanut butter cups and placed them in the bottom of each cupcakes liner.  Just for fun, I added some Reese's Pieces to three of the cupcakes (without placing a peanut butter cup on the bottom).

After filling each liner with batter I baked the cupcakes as directed.  As they baked, I started the buttercream icing.  I used a recipe by Williams-Sonoma.  It's fantastic and pretty easy.

Quick Chocolate Buttercream Icing
from Williams Sonoma

8 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 cups confectioners sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter
6 tablespoons milk, plus more if needed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Have all of the ingredients at room temperature. 
Put the chocolate in the top pan of a double boiler set over but not touching simmering water in the bottom of the pan.  Stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth.  

Let cool to room temperature.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, combine the confectioners' sugar, butter,  milk, vanilla and salt and beat on low speed until combined, about 1 minute.

Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Increases the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes, then reduce the speed to low.  Add the chocolate and beat until combined, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 minute more.

If the frosting is dry, add more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time until it is creamy but still holds peaks.  Makes about 4 1/2 cups.

Since I was only making 12 cupcakes, I cut all of the ingredient measurements in half to make half the frosting.  It was the perfect amount.  I used a piping bag and large tip to ice the cupcakes.

To garnish the icing, I sprinkled some Reese's Pieces on the top.  It is also nice that they are colored in fall hues, so this is a great time of year to make these!  Here's what they look like cut in half:

How delicious does that peanut butter cup look?!  They say that beauty is on the inside, and there is nothing more beautiful than the marriage of chocolate and peanut butter, as evidenced by looking inside these cupcakes!

As far as the cupcakes that had Reese's Pieces mixed into the batter, well, that didn't go too well.  The Pieces all sunk to the bottom and stuck to the liner.  I don't know how to correct that issue, but maybe there's a clever solution out there.  Anyway, if you like peanut butter and chocolate together (and who doesn't) these chocolate and Reese's cupcakes are the ones for you.

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Miz Helen’s Country Cottage

Cast Party Wednesday

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Make Way For These Baby Shower Favor Ducklings

I just love these little guys!   I had an order for baby shower favors and we chose ducks to go with the story book theme.  The first step, of course, it to make a good sugar cookie dough:

The  Best Rolled Sugar Cookies

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Stir in the flour, baking powder and salt.  Cover and chill dough for at least on hour (or overnight).
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.  Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter.  Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven.  Cool completely.

I mixed up some icing with confectioners sugar and water.  Add a very small amount of water at a time, you will need less than you think to reach your desired thickness.  If you've added too much water just mix in more confectioners sugar.  I don't have exact measurements, I just eye it.  I make it thick enough to outline the cookie to make a border.  I will then fill the bordered area with flood icing, which is thinned out (by adding a few drops of water) thicker icing.  Be careful not to make it too thin, or it will be harder to control and may not stay within the border.  For these cookies I used a squeeze bottle to ice the cookies.  I filled the bottle with icing using a funnel.

Begin outlining the cooled cookies working with three or four cookies at a time.  With these ducks I did not outline the beak, as I wanted to use orange.  Outlining the beak in yellow would just look weird after filling it with orange!

Next, take the flood icing (I used a separate squeeze bottle for the flood icing) and fill in the outlined area of the cookie.  I used a toothpick to spread the icing to the edge of the border.

Let the filled in cookies set for a few hours before beginning the next steps.  I used the border-thick icing to add wings to the ducks.  I added a bit of red gel coloring to the leftover yellow to make a shade of orange, funneled it into a squeeze bottle, and added the beaks. (I took this photo at night so the coloring is off.)

The last step was adding the eyes.  I used edible eyes purchased in the baking section at Michaels craft store.  My date was a bit hectic, so I didn't place the eyes on before the icing set.  So, I had to use icing to "glue" them onto the duck.  With a toothpick I spread a generous amount of icing on the back of the eye and placed it onto the cookie.

Adorable!  The baby is a girl, so I wrapped the cookies in plastic bags and tied them with pink ribbon.  Congratulations to the parents-to-be!!