Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 394]

You may say I'm a dreamer

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season! I played host to my mom and little brother and we took a brief jaunt up to NYC for a few days after Christmas. Got to see Alan Rickman on Broadway where I managed to refrain from drooling. Did lots of shopping, hit my favorite book store (Strand), and ate so much delicious food in just two days.

This was taken on a walk through Central Park on our way to the Museum of Natural History. I didn't even realize it was the famous Dakota Building until later. I just liked the way it peeked through the bare branches of the trees up the winding path.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mint Oreo Mocha Cupcakes

I'm back, baby! Back with the zany, madcap cupcake recipes. 'Tis the season for overindulgence, right? At least that's the excuse I'm going with for eating these cupcakes. When I saw Baker Royale's Peppermint Mocha Cupcakes I knew they'd be delicious. Of course, somewhere between deciding to make them and actually heading to the kitchen for an afternoon of baking I changed them up a bit to make them even more indulgent.

To start, I reused the idea from my Oreo Truffle Cupcakes to line the bottom of each cupcake with half of an Oreo, this time a mint Oreo for some of that holiday flavor, and nestled a mint Oreo truffle in the center of each cupcake before baking. This resulted in an ooey, gooey, minty center with a fun crunch from the cookie on the bottom. It was like eating a molten mint brownie. Since I lack the patience to make Swiss meringue buttercream and am not too fond of the stuff anyway, I substituted my favorite mint buttercream recipe, the same one that topped my world-famous Thin Mint Cupcakes. Ok, that famous claim might be a bit untrue but that is the most popular recipe on my blog. For good reason. Although I think these new cupcakes might be even better.

I also left the peppermint extract out of the cupcake batter as they were already overloaded with mint from the Oreos and the Andes baking chips. This was probably a good call as the mocha flavor is pretty much overpowered by the mint as it is. The coffee in the batter just seems to enhance the richness of the chocolate flavor rather than standing out as its own flavor. Which is fine with me. The original recipe calls for an extra drizzle of chocolate sauce on top, which looks quite pretty but seems unnecessary to me when there's already so much chocolate in the cake. So I omitted that but if you're up for consuming some extra calories and fat you can snag the recipe for that from Baker Royale.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll also admit that even though I keep referring to them as "Oreos" I actually used a knockoff version that Aldi sells this time of year. Trader Joe's also has a similar seasonal cookie so anything that vaguely resembles an Oreo with mint flavor should work just fine.

I feel as if I've truly got my baking mojo back with these beauties. They were a hit with my book club tonight and since there are any left I might share one or two with my family. We'll see...

Mint Oreo Truffle Filling
Recipe adapted from Inside BruCrew Life

11 Mint Oreo cookies (or similar), finely crushed
2 ounces cream cheese, softened

Blend crushed Oreos and cream cheese until fully mixed. Shape into 1" balls, place on a baking sheet, and refrigerate while making the batter.

Mint Mocha Cupcakes
Recipe adapted from Bakers Royale

6 Mint Oreos (or similar substitute)
1 cup (4.5 ounces) all purpose flour
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and warm
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7.3 ounces) sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon instant coffee (recommended: Starbucks Via)
1/2 cup hot coffee
3/4 cup Andes baking chips

1) Preheat oven to 350 F and line 12 cupcake wells with paper liners.
2) Divide each Oreo into two halves and place each half into the bottom of each paper liner, frosting side up.
3) In a bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
4) In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until well combined. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat at medium speed about 40 seconds.
5) Scrape the sides of the bowl and add 1/3 of the flour mixture. Beat briefly until mixed in. Add 1/4 cup of hot coffee and 1/2 tablespoon of instant coffee. Beat and repeat with 1/3 of the flour mixture followed by the remainder of the coffee and instant coffee. Finish with the last 1/3 of flour mixture. Fold in Andes baking chips
6) Spoon a small amount of batter into the bottom of each well, enough to cover the Oreo cookie. Add one Oreo truffle to the center of each cupcake and top with enough batter to completely cover the truffle.
(You may wind up with a little extra batter as the original recipe didn't use the truffle filling. I made two extra cupcakes in a separate pan without any Oreo filling.)
7) Bake at 350 for 23-26 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool in pan on rack for ten minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on rack.

Mint Buttercream
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon peppermint oil
Red food coloring (optional)

1) In a large mixing bowl, cream butter for 45-60 seconds.
2) Add powdered sugar and beat at a low speed until the mixture comes together.
3) Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add heavy cream and peppermint oil. Beat until combined and then beat an additional 45 seconds. If necessary, add more powdered sugar for desired consistency.
4) If desired, divide the frosting into two separate bowls and add red food coloring to one. Using a spatula or flat butter knife, "paint" one side of a pastry bag with the red buttercream and the other side with the white buttercream and pipe evenly onto cupcakes.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 390-392]

Another one of those photos where it didn't turn out as I'd planned so I forced it to work with the aid of Photoshop.

Over the weekend I dragged my husband to go see a cabaret/burlesque version of The Nutcracker being performed in Philadelphia. It was a fun enough time that was sort of ruined by the misery we had to suffer upon returning home.

It was shortly after 10:00 PM on a cold winter's evening when we discovered that our front door no longer wanted to open. It was as if the doorknob wouldn't turn far enough to unlock. Called an emergency locksmith who, because our doorknob is old and weird like everything else in our house, was unable to use any of the usual methods to get the door open. In fact, every time we have someone out to repair something the worker always comments on how he's never had to work with a __ (fill in the blank) so strange and difficult to fix. Over the course of the next hour the locksmith wound up hacking the entire doorknob to pieces, bit by bit, using a drill, metal cutters, and a saw. I'm sure our neighbors loved us for the sound of power tools echoing through the peaceful neighborhood at midnight. Let's not even talk about how bloody cold it was locked out of our house as frost formed on the grass and cars. Let's really not talk about how much the entire thing cost us by the end of the ordeal. Still, I was never so grateful to see the inside of my house. The poor cats who were inside when this all went down were petrified beyond belief and didn't recover until the next day.

Hark! Glory to my new-found holiday-flavored milk! What to my wondering eye did appear while wandering the aisles of Target than this red velvet chocolate milk. Yes, it is as odd and tasty as you'd imagine. I simply couldn't resist buying it for my husband.

Gift Giving Guide for the Weirdos In Your Life

I know the posts around here have been few and far between lately. The truth of the matter is I've been keeping busy in real life and don't always find the time to blog. On top of that, I've been baking less and my crafting has mostly consisted of making presents for others. So I have to keep those under wraps.

Instead of a typical post I will share with you some of the holiday ideas that I've been enjoying this year. I'll begin with a helpful gift guide for any weirdos in your life. This list is, of course, based on the sorts of things I would like.

First up is this $24 cupcake cookie jar from Sourpuss. Sure, it has a skull on top but it's an awfully cute skull, right? See that tiny little bow? Not too threatening.

While you're there, you could also pick up some of these X-ray hand paper napkins for your upcoming holiday soiree. Very festive! At the very least they would get your guests talking. I could so go on a huge shopping spree at Sourpuss. My kind of stuff!

What girl doesn't love a bit of jewelry? Again, in keeping with the weirdo theme you could give the gift of one of these artsy skull pendants from Pamela Love for $70. That may seem like a lot but compared to the $920 talon cuff that first attracted me to her designs it's a bargain.

I have absolutely no idea what I'd do with my own personal library kit but as a librarian's daughter there's something appealing about it. It is a little scary that I grew up using libraries with card catalogs and checkout cards and now those things qualify as novelty vintage items. But oh, the power I could wield with my very own due date stamp!

If I had sassier co-workers I'd buy a batch of Bluntcard mousepads as fun office gifts. Heck, I'm tempted to get the one on the left for myself.

I am dying to get my hands on some of these dessert-themed chocolate bars from Dylan's Candy Bar with flavors like red velvet cake, banana cream pie, and tiramisu. At $8.50 for the set they're not badly priced but it's the shipping expense that kills me. Hopefully you're not as stingy as I when it comes to spending money on your loved ones.

Who in your life doesn't need Star Wars light saber chopsticks? Hmmm? Isn't $12.99 a pittance to pay for something this awesome? Available from Think Geek, another great site for a shopping spree.

It is a little-known fact that Christmas is based on a pagan holiday honoring the undead who have risen from the grave in search of tasty brains. Our tradition of leaving out cookies for Santa actually derives from the ancient practice of leaving tender morsels of brain matter out on December 24th in an attempt to sate the the zombies' hunger for another year. Back then, no one got so ridiculously caught up in the commercialism of the holiday as everyone's sole Christmas wish was that the zombies would stop eating the children of the village. There was no need for any other gift. Following that tradition, I present to you this zombie Christmas ornament from Neatoshop. They have a few other zombie-themed ornaments to choose from for those of us who remember the true spirit of the holiday.

Lastly, what Christmas season would be complete without a visit from some Gremlins? Yes, technically this is a Mogwai, the pre-Gremlin form, but odds are you'll accidentally spill some water on this adorable little ornament while watering your Christmas tree, the Mogwais will get loose late at night and eat the cookies you left out for Santa, and then you know what you'll wind up with. If you're willing to take that chance for an opportunity to display this cutie on your tree head over to Urban Outfitters to buy your very own Gremlin ornament. Pick up one for me too while you're at it!